Drumbeat: September 26, 2012

Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction

In the last five years, China has built 20,000 miles of expressways, finishing the construction of 12 national highways a whopping 13 years ahead of schedule and at a pace four times faster than the United States built its interstate highway system. Over the last decade, Shanghai alone has built some 1,500 miles of road, the equivalent of three Manhattans. China's urban population is projected to grow by 350 million people by 2020, effectively adding today's entire U.S. population to its cities in less than a decade. China has already passed the United States as the world's largest car market, and by 2025, the country will need to pave up to an estimated 5 billion square meters of road just to keep moving.

China's love affair with the car has blossomed into a torrid romance. In April, nearly a million people poured into the Beijing International Automotive Exhibition to coo over the latest Audis, BMWs, and Toyotas. But China is in danger of making the same mistakes the United States made on its way to superpower status -- mistakes that have left Americans reliant on foreign oil from unstable parts of the world, staggering under the cost of unhealthy patterns of living, and struggling to overcome the urban legacy of decades of inner-city decay.

Oil Falls to 7-Week Low on Demand Outlook, Stockpile Gain

Oil fell to the lowest level in seven weeks after a report showed rising U.S. stockpiles and the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia President Charles Plosser said a new stimulus plan probably won’t boost economic growth.

Futures slid as much as 1.1 percent, extending yesterday’s 0.6 percent decline. The American Petroleum Institute said crude supplies increased 335,000 barrels, a third weekly gain, while Citigroup Inc. cut its global demand forecasts. Bond purchases announced by the Fed this month probably won’t spur expansion or hiring, Plosser said in a speech yesterday. Oil surged to $100.42 a barrel on Sept. 14, its highest this year, after the Federal Open Market Committee said it will undertake a third round of quantitative easing.

Heating oil: prices will rise so buy now, says watchdog

Rural households that use oil for central heating should stock up now before prices rise, an official watchdog has advised.

Kenya inflation seen down for 10th month in row

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenya's inflation is expected to fall for the tenth month in a row in September to 5.40 percent as lower food prices offset upward pressure from a jump in retail fuel prices, a Reuters poll showed on Wednesday.

Projected Alaska North Slope oil production at risk beyond 2025 if oil prices drop sharply

Oil production on Alaska's North Slope, which has been declining since 1988 when average annual production peaked at 2.0 million barrels per day, is transported to market through the TransAlaska Pipeline System (TAPS). Because TAPS needs to maintain throughput above a minimum threshold level to remain operational, its projected lifetime depends on continued investment in North Slope oil production that itself depends on future oil prices. In the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 low oil price case, North Slope production would cease and TAPS would be decommissioned, which could occur as early as 2026.

Visualizing Peak Oil: Hype, Hope, Boom, Or Bust

While oil prices have slid in their ubiquitous post-QE manner in the last few days, they remain notably elevated amid growing tensions in Iran and central bank largesse spillovers. These short-term fluctuations, however, pale in significance to long-run implications of peak-oil and whether it exists or not. From cost implications to technological innovation and demand destruction and supply constraints, the feedback loops of oil prices over time provide vicious and virtuous cycles for the global economy as we know too well.

With Gulf energy to burn, it's time to learn when to save

Acknowledging an addiction is the first step to beating it. At a Royal Dutch Shell-sponsored debate in Dubai last week, regional energy experts asked: why do the Arabian Gulf countries use so much energy?

Among major economies, the UAE and Saudi Arabia are the fifth and sixth-most energy intensive in the world. Ahead of them are mostly former Soviet states with chilly climates and decrepit infrastructure.

China hones new pitch for Abu Dhabi oil

YINCHUAN, CHINA // Western oil majors have perfected a pitch when it comes to keeping their place in Abu Dhabi concessions, vouching for their technology and expertise that, it is implied, newcomers lack.

Now with a little more than a year to go until a prized concession expires, the biggest newcomer of all - China - is responding with a similar narrative.

Tycoons seek full BP Russia venture takeover

The battle for control of BP's Russian oil joint venture escalated on Wednesday when its local tycoon co-owners said they were putting in a cash offer for the British group's entire stake.

But analysts said the 50-percent holding in Russia's third-largest crude producer was still likely to end up in the hands of the state firm Rosneft and its powerful chief Igor Sechin -- a confidante of President Vladimir Putin.

Coal exports make U.S. cleaner, EU more polluted

BRUSSELS/LONDON (Reuters) - Shale gas has jolted traditional roles in the planet's climate drama, giving cleaner fuel to the United States, whose displaced coal has headed to Europe to pollute the old continent.

It is an ironic twist for the European Union, whose energy policy is largely based on promoting renewables and a target to cut emissions by 20 percent by 2020. The U.S. did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol to combat global emissions and its national goals are far less ambitious than Europe's.

Fertilizer could provide solution to Bakken flaring

(Reuters) - Northern Plains Nitrogen is developing ambitious plans for a billion-dollar fertiliser plant in North Dakota to extract better value from the state's abundant natural gas.

If launched, the plant would help reverse a long-term decline in U.S. nitrogen-fertiliser output, reflecting the competitive advantages conferred on U.S. fertiliser makers by cheap gas.

Biggest English Polluter Spends $1 Billion to Burn Wood

More than two centuries after coal power helped forge the world’s first industrial economy, Britain is going back to burning wood.

Drax Group Plc will spend $1 billion to turn the U.K.’s biggest coal-fired plant into western Europe’s largest clean- energy producer. The utility plans to convert one of the site’s six units to burn wood pellets by June, said Chief Executive Officer Dorothy Thompson. It intends to switch two more units to wood at a later date, investments that if completed will see it harvest a forest four times the size of Rhode Island each year.

Special Report - Chavez's oil-fed fund obscures Venezuela money trail

(Reuters) - The site of what may someday be Venezuela's first newsprint factory today consists of little more than a warehouse, several acres of cleared tropical savannah, and two billboards bearing pictures of President Hugo Chavez.

More than five years after Chavez first hailed state-owned Pulpa y Papel CA as a vanguard "socialist business," there is little else to show here in rural south-eastern Venezuela for the more than half a billion dollars that state investment fund Fonden set aside for the project.

China Bankrolling Chavez’s Re-Election Bid With Oil Loans

Edelmina Flores thanks God and Hugo Chavez for her apartment in a new housing complex in the Venezuelan president’s home state of Barinas. She might also want to thank the Chinese government.

Since 2007, the China Development Bank has lent Venezuela $42.5 billion collateralized by revenue from the world’s largest oil reserves, according to data compiled by Bloomberg from announcements of deals by the Chavez government. That’s around 23 percent of all overseas loans by the state-run lender and more than the $29 billion the U.S. spent rebuilding Iraq between 2003 and 2006. At least $12 billion was promised in the past 15 months, when stagnant oil output and the highest borrowing costs among major emerging markets would’ve made raising capital more expensive.

Paraguay Reclaiming Energy From Brazil in Franco Industrial Push

Paraguayan President Federico Franco said Brazil and Argentina will have to accept less hydroelectric energy as the land-locked country develops its industry and tries to accelerate development.

“We are no longer going to hand over our energy,” Franco said in an interview yesterday at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. “We’re going to develop internal markets, we’re going to industrialize our country and Paraguay will no longer just be a country that exports cattle and agricultural goods.”

Yemen president offers conditional dialogue with al Qaeda

SANAA, Sept 26 (Reuters) - Yemen's president offered dialogue to Islamist militants including al Qaeda on Wednesday, but said they must agree first to put down weapons and reject support from abroad.

Restoring stability to Yemen has become an international priority given fears that jihadi fighters could entrench themselves in a country and threaten world No. 1 oil exporter Saudi Arabia next door and important world shipping lanes.

Japan fires water cannon to turn away Taiwan boats

(Reuters) - Japanese Coast Guard vessels fired water cannon to turn away about 40 Taiwan fishing boats and eight Taiwan Coast Guard vessels from waters Japan considers its own on Tuesday in the latest twist to a row between Tokyo and Beijing.

Japan protested to Taiwan, a day after it lodged a complaint with China over what it said was a similar intrusion by Chinese boats.

China, Japan in tense talks on disputed islands

China accused Japan of violating its sovereignty as a territorial row simmered on Wednesday with Japanese carmakers cutting their Chinese output, saying the tense climate was hitting sales.

A spike in long-simmering tensions over disputed islands in the East China Sea also brought a warning from South Korea's president that Asia's security environment was becoming "increasingly unstable".

Japan's Automakers Scale Back Production in China as Sales Drop

BEIJING — Japanese automakers, including Toyota and Nissan, are cutting back production in China after anti-Japan protests that closed dealerships and darkened the sales outlook in the Chinese car market, one of the world’s largest.

Indonesia Seeks Rules of Road for South China Sea

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has been trying to patch up differences among Association of Southeast Asian Nations members on how to manage the maritime territorial disputes that pit China against several of its neighbors in a region where sea lanes are crucial to world trade, rich fishing grounds and potentially major reserves of natural gas and oil.

Tensions between Philippines, China have eased, says Chinese ambassador

MANILA, Philippines — Seeking to soften the impact of the report of a deadlock, China’s ambassador to the Philippines on Tuesday said that tensions between the two countries had eased after last week’s high-level talks on their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

Explosions rock Syrian capital

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) -- Two massive explosions rocked the heart of the Syrian capital on Wednesday, striking near the army and air force command headquarters and sending huge columns of thick black smoke over Damascus.

The bombings were the latest to hit the city as the uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime intensifies, highlighting the increasingly deep reach of the rebels determined to topple him.Syria's state-run news agency SANA said a fire broke out in the area after the twin blasts, which struck just before 7 a.m. near the landmark Omayyad square.

Libya Trains Thousands of Rebels to Guard Oil Facilities

Libya is training former rebels to protect oil installations across the North African nation, the head of the country’s state oil company said.

The ministry of defense is training 10,339 citizens and militiamen who took part in the revolt that ousted the regime of Muammar Qaddafi last year, National Oil Corp. Chairman Nuri Berruien said yesterday in a telephone interview in the capital, Tripoli. They will join an existing force of 2,500 security workers by the end of the year, he said.

Obama at UN Vows U.S. Won’t Let Iran Gain Nuclear Weapon

President Barack Obama pledged in a speech to world leaders today that the U.S. will do what it takes to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon and warned that time for a diplomatic resolution “is not unlimited.”

While there is still a chance to negotiate, Obama told the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, a nuclear-armed Iran would imperil Israel, ignite a regional arms race and destabilize the global economy.

Exclusive: Vitol trades Iranian fuel oil, skirting sanctions

(Reuters) - Vitol, the world's largest oil trader, is buying and selling Iranian fuel oil, undermining Western efforts to choke the flow of petrodollars to Tehran and put pressure on Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Vitol last month bought 2 million barrels of fuel oil, used for power generation, from Iran and offered it to Chinese traders, Reuters established in interviews with 10 oil trading, industry and shipping sources in Southeast Asia, China and the Middle East. A spokesman for Vitol declined to comment.

New York's Fractivists Keep the Heat on Cuomo

On a hot and breezy August morning, more than 1,000 protesters gathered in Albany calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban the drilling practice called hydraulic fracturing in New York State. Activists chanted anti-fracking fight songs and carried banners highlighting the dangers of the gas drilling practice. It was in many ways like the handful of rallies that had come before it.

But there was one subtle difference that tracked a trend in the anti-fracking movement. The first hint came with one of the first speakers: Bill McKibben, the environmental writer and activist who started the grassroots group 350.org to press for action on climate change. Last year, McKibben and his group organized a campaign that took the arcane local issue of an oil pipeline running through Nebraska and turned it into a national story, culminating in one of the environmental movement’s largest acts of civil disobedience ever, when an estimated 10,000 activists circled the White House in a human chain last November. In his speech at the August rally, McKibben called this a “gut-check” moment for Cuomo and suggested that banning fracking would make him a leader on the national, even international stage.

Arctic Oil-Drilling Delays Allow Time for a Safety Review

Shell Alaska’s six-year, $4.5 billion-and-counting attempt to tap into the oil under the Arctic Ocean has seemed snakebit recently (or, given the indigenous wildlife, whalebit?).

In July, one of its drilling rigs nearly ran ashore, and then this month it was almost hit by an ice floe many times the size of Manhattan. Meanwhile, an oil containment barge destined for duty at the drilling site has been plagued by mechanical problems and remains stranded in Bellingham, Washington. Drilling plans have now been put off until next summer.

To environmental groups, the delay is evidence that the company shouldn’t be allowed to drill in the pristine northern waters. Many of them would just as soon the Arctic seafloor be left untapped.

“EU has no authority in the Arctic”, says Norway deputy oil minister

In Norway, the industry has feared that the new rules will weaken Norwegian regulations in this area, but the government has made it clear that it does not consider the measure as having EEA relevance.

“The EU will respect this,” stated Deputy Minister Per Rune Henriksen, who met with Parliamentary members on both the Environmental and the Industry and Energy Committees on Tuesday.

Oil and Nature: A Landscape Reconfigured

In the stark white space of the Aperture Gallery in Chelsea, billboard-size photographs present an array of haunting scenes. A chemical plant with a cemetery in the foreground. An empty basketball court alongside a turreted oil refinery. A lush swamp filled with trees, one of which has a Shell Oil sign nailed to it.

The exhibition, “Petrochemical America,” and an accompanying book of the same title are the product of a collaboration between the photographer Richard Misrach and the landscape architect Kate Orff, an assistant professor at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. Together, they chronicle the history and the environmental and social impacts of the petrochemical industry in the Mississippi River Corridor in Louisiana, between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Warming to nuclear option

In 2012 it is just as foolish to be a ''nuclear denier'' as ''climate sceptic''. Recently, the IEA released a major report, which confirmed the role of nuclear power in combating climate change and providing global energy security at the end of the hydrocarbon fuel age. In summary, it stated: ''Nuclear power is the technology which must be accelerated, promoted and relied upon if the world is to stabilise carbon dioxide emissions at an acceptable level''.

Australia's Energy Resources Minister, Martin Ferguson, has often endorsed this view. Recently he chaired a meeting of the IEA where he stated: ''The only proven form of clean energy of a baseload and a reliable nature is actually nuclear from a global point of view.''

The Future Is Electric Cars: Fmr. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz

You probably missed it. National Plug-in Day this past Sunday when owners of electric cars and plug-in hybrids gathered in 60 cities to celebrate the fledging technology. The celebration didn't get much coverage given the relatively small number of electric vehicle owners, but their numbers are growing.

More electric cars than ever are expected to be sold in the U.S. this year, but the totals are, at most, in the tens of thousands and nowhere near the 14 million-plus vehicles that are expected to be sold. And the news for electric vehicles is mixed.

Tesla Told to Speed Repayment of U.S. Electric-Car Loan

Tesla Motors Inc., the startup electric car-maker that received $465 million in U.S. Energy Department loans, must come up with a speedier repayment schedule after getting a waiver on existing terms.

The Palo Alto, California-based company, led by billionaire Elon Musk, said yesterday in a U.S. regulatory filing that it has until Oct. 31 to submit a proposal for “early repayment” of loan principal to the Energy Department.

It's a myth that wind turbines don't reduce carbon emissions

Conclusive figures show that the sceptics who lobby against wind power simply have their facts wrong

Analysis: Coal fight looms, Keystone-like, over U.S. Northwest

(Reuters) - Call it the Keystone of coal: a regulatory and public relations battle between environmentalists and U.S. coal miners akin to the one that has defined the Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

Instead of blocking an import, however, this fight is over whether to allow a growing surplus of coal to be exported to Asia, a decision that would throw miners a lifeline by effectively offshoring carbon emissions and potentially give China access to cheaper coal.

Insulated homes - how many have been treated in Britain?

Of the 23.4m homes in Britain with a loft, 65% now have loft insulation. How many homes have been treated and how has the government scheme affected the numbers being insulated?

Global population is food for thought

PICK a number and forecast global growth population by 2060.

You know that by 2050 it will be nine billon.

Exponentially that figure will increase to 10b by 2060, according to consultant Julian Cribb, author of The Coming Famine.

Mr Cribb told delegates at last week's Global Agribusiness Conference the consequences of global population growth were dire considering the confluence of peak oil, peak water, peak fish, peak land and peak phosphorous.

Cold snap may hit Argentine wheat, rain seen ahead

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A cold snap in grains powerhouse Argentina could cause frost damage to wheat plants as they enter key growth stages, but the outlook for soy and corn crops remains bright thanks to rains soon expected to sweep the Pampas, specialists said on Tuesday.

Expectations for ample showers related to the El Nino phenomenon are raising farmers' hopes for a bumper harvest after a dry 2011/12 season in Argentina, the world's sixth biggest wheat exporter, No. 3 soybean provider and No. 2 corn supplier.

From Methane to Plastic to Methane, Without Waste

Imagine that you could go online and rent something in your neighbor’s garage rather than buy something new that you will need to use only a few times a year. Or that you could use microwave technology to transform timber residue or other waste biomass into a valuable industrial material like graphite.

Those were just two of the 50-plus entries in this year’s Postcode Lottery Green Challenge, an annual competition that awards the world’s largest prize for sustainable entrepreneurship. This year’s $630,000 check went to Molly Morse, chief executive of Mango Materials, a California-based startup that makes a biodegradable plastic from methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

As an expert in post-apocalyptic political economy....

I kinda like the idea of a reset in which electricity simply stops working for some malevolent reason, so I don't exactly have the same problem that the physics geeks have with the show. But Revolution's premise simply neither considers nor respects the lessons from history in trying to create it's post-apocalyptic world. Consider the following historical facts:

1) Countries and empires managed to maintain something resembling territorial integrity prior to the invention of electricity;

2) There's this little invention called the "steam power" which really only needs fire to be able to work, that the show completely elides. This matters one whole hell of a lot. Steam engines can power railroads, steamships, and even cars. So a blackout would have put some crimps in cross-country and cross-border communication -- but it wouldn't have slowed transportation all that much. Steam power would also allow things like industrial factories and foundries to continue -- albeit with considerable retooling. All told, the odds of state collapse are actually pretty remote.

3) Everyone in this show is either walking or riding a horse to get around. Now let's assume that everyone in the world developed historical amnesia about steam power. It's stupid, but OK. Where are the f**king bicycles?! Are those not working as well?

Rare Trout Survives in Just One Stream, DNA Reveals

A shift in the scientific landscape is not an entirely new experience for fish managers working with the cutthroat trout in the region. The 2007 study shook the very foundations of cutthroat trout recovery efforts, showing that managers had accidentally mixed a different subspecies of cutthroat trout, the Colorado cutthroat, with the rare greenback, and then stocked these hybrid strains into otherwise pure greenback streams.

The latest study, whose co-authors also include the biologist Chris Kennedy of the Fish and Wildlife Service and scientists with the University of Adelaide’s Australian Center for Ancient DNA and the University of Colorado, Boulder, shows that the last surviving greenback population lies within a four-mile stretch of a small alpine stream known as Bear Creek. The stream is about five miles southwest of Colorado Springs, on the eastern slope of Pikes Peak.

100 million to die by 2030 if world fails to act on climate

LONDON (Reuters) - More than 100 million people will die and global economic growth will be cut by 3.2 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2030 if the world fails to tackle climate change, a report commissioned by 20 governments said on Wednesday.

RE: Arctic Oil-Drilling Delays Allow Time for a Safety Review
and 100 million to die by 2030 if world fails to act on climate

Reading these two headlines together makes me think of "When You Are Governed By Psychopaths".

I have long given up believing we will do anything to mitigate climate change. The human species is just not psychologically well equipped to confront it. There are some, like us, who both know the problem and the drastic adjustment to our lifestyles which would be needed to deal with it. But most people either a) are too dumb to understand, b) are so brainwashed that they refute the science or c) are just plain greedy psychopaths who don't give a toss.

Either way, we are not going to avoid the full effects of rapid climate change. The only course of action for us 'enlightened' ones is to take personally action. The disaster is going to happen. Indeed it is already happening. And any time spent trying to convince the world to modify its behaviour is a waste of effort. There is no chance of it happening as witnessed by the utter failure of recent global summits.

I'm afraid I share your pessimism, HAc... And a decline in GDP of 3.2%?! This tells me that, again, the authors of these assessments are systemically challenged and don't fully understand the interconnectedness of things. Feedback loops, wars over resources and territory, desperation, will all contribute to GDP going off a cliff, IMO. 100 million additional deaths would be a best case, as I don't think things will hold together that well. Those who are living in an era of declining standards of living don't think or act sustainably, they do what they can to survive which includes burning and eating whatever is available, and dehumanizing those who would compete for their declining resources. A Robert Zubrin quote (about the only one I agree with) posted in yesterday's Drumbeat: "Only in a world of unlimited resources can all men be brothers."..

..."unlimited resources"... We live on a planet of declining resources and increasing human population. Our climate is changing in ways that will challenge societies that are not up to the challenge. Denial and divisiveness are well funded. There will be no 'Kumbayah' moment when all peoples come together in cooperation. There will be local solutions to some of these problems, local adaptation to our predicaments, but climate change and ecocide are global; nowhere to hide.


Feedback loops, wars over resources and territory, desperation, will all contribute to GDP going off a cliff, IMO. 100 million additional deaths would be a best case, as I don't think things will hold together that well.

You are a master of understatement today!

If, as the article states, climate change added 6 million deaths a year to the mortality rate it would be meaningless. Since global population growth is approx 75 million a year that would only reduce growth to 69 million a year and total population in 2030 would be 8.3 Billion. The article is just nonsense of course.

Demographers are betting on a growing global economy, resulting in rising affluence in countries with high birth rates, causing a big drop in those birth rates. Thus a slowing population growth. But reality bites. Declines in birth rates are slowing across the board, rising in some countries again, and the world economy is not likely to be quite the robust entity they envision.

Taking into consideration all the adverse factors such as Peak Oil (energy), shortages of critical minerals, loss of top soil, water shortages, increasingly adverse climate change effects, growing problems with disease, just to name as few, by 2030 we should have reached the point where the rising mortality rate has cut population growth in half. If not more.

But then I am a pessimist. I think.

The article points out that:

It calculated that five million deaths occur each year from air pollution, hunger and disease as a result of climate change and carbon-intensive economies, and that toll would likely rise to six million a year by 2030 if current patterns of fossil fuel use continue.

That is one holocaust per year currently.

You stated:

If, as the article states, climate change added 6 million deaths a year to the mortality rate it would be meaningless. Since global population growth is approx 75 million a year that would only reduce growth to 69 million a year and total population in 2030 would be 8.3 Billion. The article is just nonsense of course.

One holocaust per year is happening now, and is going to increase according to the article which was done by 20 nations, and is not nonsense.

The deniers poo poo one holocaust per year but make a big deal about one holocaust that happened long ago.

This is tantamount to saying "only one holocaust per year, but think about how many did not die" which would not go over well with those who mourn the one holocaust of the 1940's. How would they react to people who respond with "that is not very many because think of how many did not die, and how many will be born".

That is where the nonsense is.


You misunderstand me I think.

I believe that it is going to be MUCH WORSE than they think.

By 2030 I believe that we should be expecting something on the order of 40-50 million extra death per year. Not just 6 million. I think it is beyond optimism to think that it will be as small as 6 million.

More like all of the deaths of WWII each year.

But, as I said, even that would not result in a reduction in global population.



The dominant theme in estimations of the overall results of global warming induced climate change have consistently been underestimation, so your assessment that they underestimated has the better support.

The global death rate is about 200,000 per day, or one "holocaust" every month. The global birth rate is about 300,000 per day.

In the next few decades several billion people will die. It is just a matter of when.

Yeah this is worth pointing out.

It is axiomatic that population can only level out if deaths = births, and can only fall if deaths > births.

You see all of this "save the world" stuff we grew up with is false. That much is clear. We are trapped into decline and that's that.

Yes, this is what I was talking about above. The numbers are just intimidating if one is contemplating controlling population. And since population is the number one driver of all our climate and energy problems we should be thinking hard about it.

Per Wiki for 2011 (estimated)

135 million births
57 million deaths
78 million net increase in population

Reducing births is obviously far less painful than increasing the death rate, but even if we reduced births to ZERO for 25 years (and the death rate remained constant) the end result would still be a global population of 5.6 billion people. Well beyond what we can afford to have.

A true dilemma.

Well... it's a "dilemma" for us and all the species we are wiping out. For the planet? Not so much...


"One death is a tragedy; one million is a statistic." -Joseph Stalin

Also; if we reduce birth rate to below replenishment-rate (2.1 kids/woman if infant moratility is eliminated) we will still see population growth for decades; not until the generation that is born is equal in size to the generation that dies will the numbers balance out, and pop decline will set in only after that point. This is decades into the future if kids/woman rate is above 1.


In general accepted use the word holocaust does not mean natural death, it had to do with murder or some related form of death by other than natural causes.

In this case those who have initiated, and thereafter maintained civilization's addiction to fossil fuels, which cause global warming leading to unnatural deaths of 5 million per year is tecnically a holocaust.

People dying by natural means is not a holocaust no matter how many deaths naturally occur.

It will be hard to identify the specific 5 million per year who have died from global warming, separate from the other deaths during the year. The causal relationship between global warming and any specific death is something that I've not seen proven. Most often it is asserted that some small increase in the natural death rate will be caused by some aspect of global warming, e.g. more frequent drownings, freezings, or heat related deaths during severe weather events.


You bring up a new issue each time you are countered. That is avoidance.

It goes like "x amount die from car accidents each year", then you "but lots of people die each year" ...

"x amount die from cancer each year", then you "but lots of people die each year" ...

"x amount die from murder each year", then you "but lots of people die each year".

Cite to competent authorites if you wish to counter a study of 20 countries around the world conducted by competent professionals.

Your opinion is yours but it is unavailing on such matters.

Front Matter: Executive Summary, Findings, Recommendations, Research Process, Key Issues from Climate Vulnerability Monitor 2012

From Pages 17 on:

This report estimates that climate change causes 400,000 deaths on average each year today, mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases that affect above all children in developing countries. Our present carbon-intensive energy system and related activities cause an estimated 4.5 million deaths each year linked to air pollution, hazardous occupations and cancer.

Climate change caused economic losses estimated close to 1% of global GDP for the year 2010, or 700 billion dollars (2010 PPP). The carbon-intensive economy cost the world another 0.7% of GDP in that year, independent of any climate change losses. Together, carbon economy- and climate change related losses amounted to over 1.2 trillion dollars in 2010.

The world is already committed to a substantial increase in global temperatures – at least another 0.5° C (1° F) due to a combination of the inertia of the world’s oceans, the slow response of the carbon cycle to reduced CO2 emission and limitations on how fast emissions can actually be reduced.1 The world economy therefore faces an increase in pressures that are estimated to lead to more than a toubling in the costs of climate change by 2030 to an estimated 2.5% of global GDP. Carbon economy costs also increase over this same period so that global GDP in 2030 is estimated to be well over 3% lower than it would have been in the absence of climate change and harmful carbon-intensive energy practices.

Continuing today’s patterns of carbon-intensive energy use is estimated, together with climate change, to cause 6 million deaths per year by 2030, close to 700,000 of which would be due to climate change. This implies that a combined climate-carbon crisis is estimated to claim 100 million lives between now and the end of the next decade. A significant share of the global population would be directly affected by inaction on climate change.

Most of the increased mortality cited is due to an increase in air pollution related deaths from 1,400,000 / year in 2010 to 2,100,000 / year in 2030. Most of the increase in deaths from 4,975,000 in 2010 to 5,957,000 in 2030 (See table "Number of Deaths") is due to "carbon". Only a small increment of deaths are related to "climate", mostly due to hunger (up 155,000) and diarrheal infections (up 65,000).

Don't believe everything you read in the mainstream media.

Like I said, their record has been consistent underestimation, whether in the MSM or in the scientific journals. Five million deaths a year, now, will prove to be an underestimation as well.

But one has to realize that denial has worked against the reality all along the way, always alleging that the underestimations were and are overestimations.

The case of floating continents of garbage is another case in point.

Another piece of evidence showing that it takes minds filled with garbage to willingly fill the sky, land, and oceans with garbage.

Do they balance global warming against the deaths that would occur if Earth continued on its Milankovich cooling cycle and the climate became less suitable for food crops?

Do they balance the pollution caused by burning coal against the benefits brought by the electricity generated by the coal, like refrigeration that preserves life-saving drugs and reduces food spoilage?

These numbers are all a thumb-suck.

The highest point in Denmark is Møllehøj at 170.86 m. *laughs hysterically*

But wait, there's more...

Ejer Bavnehøj had been measured as the highest point in Denmark in the mid-nineteenth century but in 1941 new measurements established that the top of one of Yding Skovhøj's burial mounds was higher. This started a violent discussion about whether man-made structures could be counted as part of Denmark's highest point which finished with Professor N.E. Nørlund defining the highest point as being the highest natural point, without including the height of man-made piles of earth. As Ejer Bavnehøj was higher than the highest natural point of Yding Skovhøj it was then regarded as being Denmark's highest point until February 2005 when researchers discovered that in reality Møllehøj was slightly taller. -- Wikipedia

You're getting pretty desperate when you want to count a burial mound towards making your nation's highest mountain higher.

Perhaps Im missing something here? I happen to be a Danish citizen and from my experience the discussion about Bavnehøj is and has been an absolute non-event here. I do not think you will find 1 in 50 people who knows about that silly academic discussion about what is highest.

Obviously the Danish politicians aren't worried either since they are actively considering removing the incentives to invest in Solar panel installations.

I suppose they think that the elevation of the continental plate Denmark is placed on (which has been rising since last iceage) will negate the effect of rising oceans.. (sarc)

The average citizen is getting quite aware of the problems with resources, biological system destruction and overpopulation - but what is there to do? Nobody wants to be the "first" to change to an ascetic lifestyle and besides Denmark never matter in the big picture - so some of the "big ones" must be the spearhead...

It seems everybody is waiting for everybody else to do serious business since no country wants to be hinged off the possibility of renewed growth.

I am from Skåne. Isn't that land elevation working at something like 0.1 mm around here? And then I think I remember that south of the 0-bar, it actually goes into decline.

You can still consider the human species and its activities as part of the natural world, though ...

Fission, GMOs, antibiotics, heart by-pass surgery, mechanized extraction of resources? Hard to find analogues in the rest of the 'natural world' for things like these, especially on any scale that matters. Most other inhabitants of the planet don't have much capacity to continuously exceed the carrying capacity of their environment, but, if one is paying attention, nor do humans. You may be correct in this respect.

The decline of oil will result in transportation fuels being much more expensive.

International travel, transportation and trade will be in sharp decline. The world will no longer be "flat".

Affluence and catastrophe will be highly local.

Chaos helps a certain subset become wealthy.

I think the recent article by Dave Pollard on EB sums it up pretty well http://energybulletin.net/stories/2012-09-21/why-we-cannot-save-world



Great link.

That is exactly what I think.

It does not gie one much hope. Guess that is why I am crabby too often.

Thanks for the link to this article.

I dunno, Ghung. I thought this was a very sanguine item; only 3.2% reduction in GDP? Shucks, that's way less than I thought. Guess I'll just have to go buy me a big SUV, --- quick!


In yesterdays DB there is an article about Greenland, where the melting ice open up new ares for mining. There is a guy in the article who said he would not mind if all the ice melted away. Ok, never mind the 7 meter extra sea level. He is danish for gods sake. The country is even flatter than the Netherlands. Or at least just as.

I felt that I had to share this with the oildrum.

"A supermarket chain which advertises using a slogan that urges more common sense in shopping has been selling peeled bananas on plastic trays wrapped in foil."


Besides all of the obvious comments which could be made on this article, what kind of genius even thought it might be a good idea ?

I'm guessing they did it for the same reason supermarkets usually sell peeled and cut up produce. It's a way to sell produce that customers would not buy whole.

Looking at the photo, I'd guess that they were overripe and/or bruised bananas too ugly for any customer to buy. Notice the dark spots and the ends cut off.

If that's actually the reason, that's not so bad an idea --reducing food wastage. However... non biodegradable plastic & foam packaging = not so good.

" I'd guess that they were overripe and/or bruised bananas too ugly for any customer to buy."

The correct way to deal with those bananas is to convert them to banana bread or banana cream pie.

Or wrap red tape around a handful and sell them for half price.

And let the customer do the converting - or quick eating.

Best Hopes for Better Choices,


When my daughter worked for a produce company I found out that the "baby carrots" in the grocery store were ones damaged in picking (digging?). They just put them in a kind of blender and ground them down to a smaller carrot shape then packaged them as baby carrots.

I am 100% sure your daughter told you the truth.

Or banana chips. They are tasty, and crunchy. Can be stored for a few month.

They should try it over here. Americans love this sort of "work saving" wasteful excess. In fact, if anyone objects to the utter stupidity of removing the banana's natural "wrapping" to replace it with landfill-ready plastic wrap & foam, conservatives will just rally around the store.

I can see the throngs of Tea Party protestors outside the local Wal-Mart already: "Those tree-hugging leftist whackos are trying to take away our FOOD FREEDOM! They're just CAPITALISM-HATING FOOD NAZIS! No d*mned dirty hippie's gonna tell ME what I can't wrap my banana with! U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A..."

Harm, I heard on the world news last night that the company who was selling the pre-peeled bananas has pulled the product from the store shelves.

Excellent news. At least the Austrians are better tuned in than we are.

The human species is just not psychologically well equipped to confront it

You forgot d) Techno fanatics, some combination of a) and b), but who are so enthralled by science and technology that they are either unwilling or incapable of comprehending the scope and magnitude of our predicament.

These are people like Tom Murphy who are convinced that a massive build out of solar, wind, or nuclear is all it will take to solve all our problems. They dismiss out of hand as "doomerism" any talk of multiple converging crises and the highly non-linear behavior of complex systems as being capable of overwhelming industrial civilizations ability to cope.

This despite many historical examples of collapsed societies that failed in the face of similar complex problems, such as overpopulation, resource exhaustion, climate chaos, etc., but nothing even remotely as big and intractable as the global problems we face today.

And might as well save your breath trying to point out the heroic efforts by those studying systems dynamics to model a finite world in a highly aggregated computer simulation, more popularly known as Limits to Growth. The world view of the techno fanatic refuses to accept anything other than the standard propaganda that "Limits to Growth was wrong".


Of interest... while riding to work I heard on the radio that Jello emits alpha brain waves. I thought it was strange, so ...


Anyway, maybe Jello would do a better job husbanding the planet than Homo Sapiens sapiens.


Someone has been watching Qi and not crediting it. Seems quite common that items on there turn up as 'news' stories elsewhere a few days later.

Maybe that's the way to get people to recognise peak oil; make it an item on Qi.

This despite many historical examples of collapsed societies that failed in the face of similar complex problems, such as overpopulation, resource exhaustion, climate chaos, etc., but nothing even remotely as big and intractable as the global problems we face today.

Yes, but 21st century humans are "special". We have no physical/environmental limits, unlike all those other failed civilizations. We are living on Planet Wobegon, where everyone is above average.

These are people like Tom Murphy who are convinced that a massive build out of solar...

An odd choice. Tom Murphy is fairly realistic on the limitations of renewables. He likes his solar, but he is far from a cornucopian on the subject.

He likes his solar, but he is far from a cornucopian on the subject.

Exactly! The average cornucopian rarely even acknowledges we have a problem. The techno fanatics OTOH have accepted that we have a serious problem, but they think it can be "solved" with technology, which AFAIK is a good description of Murphy's point of view.

From what I've read he routinely trots out the standard techno fallacies of "gazillions of terawatts from the sun", "solar is as easy as a bucket of sand", and "we'll all be driving electric cars any day now".


Jerry - While I generally very much appreciate your comments, and consider myself quite the doomer, I do also appreciate Tom Murphy's posts. IMO he takes a hard, cold mathematic look at all the options, and presents the data transparently. Sure, he may think that things are more salvageable than you or I do, but that doesn't - again IMO - negate the value of his input. I think we're in the midst of abrupt climate change, and poised to fall of the peak oil plateau with a vengeance right soon. I grok and have been harping on the impact of declining EROEI and the insanity of population growth, and many other key facets of collapse. But I can't help but think it makes sense to downsize and use appropriate technology to provide ourselves with food and comfort on the descent. Tom informs us all on what can't, might, and won't work in that regard. That has value, IMHO.

Agreed. I think Tom Murphy is great. He's the opposite of a cornucopian, in my view. All his essays are about the limits to renewables. Proven with hard numbers.

Although quite often his assumptions for his analysis are unrealistically pessimistic. He likes to prove things "can't work" and fudges a bit in the set-up to reach that goal.


Tom Murphy on solar:

It is a recent phenomenon that people live their lives not adapting to the whims of nature. Many of us run numerous aspects of our lives on a rigid schedule in disregard of the weather, the season, etc. We expect energy to be available 100% of the time and take it for granted. It was not always so, and it need not be true in the future. When energy runs a little short, it’s actually not that hard to modify behaviors to get through the crunch. Absolute rigidity and a 100% reliability requirement can push a stand-alone PV system into ridiculous proportions.

So relax. During a shortage, read a book by LED light rather than watching TV. Turn off the fridge (winter is the tough time, anyway) and store food outside or in a cooler garage. Cope. If only 5% of your time is spent in modified mode, how bad is this, really? The variety, challenge, and awareness of one’s resources can easily make it worthwhile. And a period of relative abundance is around the corner to make up for the shortfall. Just learn to ebb and flow, and you’ll feel more connected to the world as a result.

From his article titled Battery Performance Deficit Disorder I hardly think he was saying we'll all be driving electric cars anytime now. I would hardly describe Tom Murphy as a Techno fanatic. He does like technology but seems to understand it's limits. I don't think most cornucopians or "techno fanatics" include unplugging the fridge in the winter and reading books in the dark as part of their vision of the future.

Whilst Tom Murphy does paint a better picture than most, I think there is still one blind spot he is missing. All these suggestions of renewables and other alternative means of living require a large amount of investment in fixed capital. For example in this scenario he assumes we will read books with LED light and that new TVs, fridges and other modern amenities will still be available to the average man. The only real difference would appear to be in our consumption habits and these will have changed due to adapting to the limitations of rewnewable energy production.

For this scenario to work we must assume that society will invest large sums of money, capital and energy into pursuing these options. My argument would be that all these things will be scarce going forward. The amount of credit and money which is so critical to future infrastructure development will just not be available for such a build out to take place. Let us not forget that the manufacture of these complex products often requires the use of exotic metals. To procure such metals we need a functioning global trade network to ship all those metals across the world. Without the necessary money or credit then these investments cannot take place making any of the future steps beyond this stage a moot point.

Moreover, the transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy will cause a long period of negative growth for the world economy (assuming everyone could agree to a substantial build out necessary to start a new paradigm) as the amount of utility delivered by $1 of renewable would be less than $1 of other fossil fuels. Such negative growth is anathema to the global financial system and would cause it to collapse. Our current paradigm only operates well when it goes through a period of consistent growth. Without consistent growth the system will fall apart. The failure of such a system will mean that the ability for countries to invest will be severely impaired and any potential solutions will most likely have to depend on what local resources are available.

Also another problem I have with techno fixes is they do not address the fundamental problem that is behind all this. That is, the issue we have, at the deepest root, is a behavioural problem. We do not manage our resources well and often our objective is to consume as much as we can as quickly as we can and expand the amount we expand in any given year. Technology has provided the platform to further these goals and in more recent years has allowed us to maintain our living standards (somewhat) by increasing the efficiently of how we use our resources but since the our fundamental behaviour for resource consumption has not changed all technology has done has bought us time. Buying time is indeed valuable and is one reason why we should not dismiss technology but to see it as a solution is to miss the big picture in my opinion. We must change the way we manage our resources if we want to truly live in sustainable manner. The fact Tom does not really hit that point home suggests to me he is still missing part of the picture. This is not to discredit Murphy, what he does provide is still insightful but it is not the whole picture and we need to recognise the limitations of this story.

Not if one improves efficiency when converting to renewable electricity. Manufacturers of clothes driers, beware.

Makers of solar clothes driers should do OK :-)


Why are Shell in such a hurry? A few more years and there won't be any ice to get in the way.

I think this is best answered using the 4th Law of Thermodynamics.


Swenson & Turvey (6) provided the example of a warm mountain cabin in a cold snow-covered woods with the fire that provided the heat having burned out. Under these circumstances there is a temperature gradient between the warm cabin and cold woods. The second law tells us that over time the gradient or potential will be dissipated through walls or cracks around the windows and door until the cabin is as cold as the outside and the system is in equilibrium. We know empirically though that if we open a window or a door a portion of the heat will now rush out the door or window and not just through the walls or cracks. In short whenever we remove a constraint to the flow (such as a closed window) the cabin/environment system will exploit the new and faster pathway thereby increasing the rate the potential is minimized. Wherever it has the opportunity to minimize or 'destroy' the gradient of the potential (maximize the entropy) at a faster rate it will. exactly as as the Law of Maximum Entropy Production says. Namely, it will "select the pathway or assembly of pathways that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the constraints". Once this principle is grasped, examples are easy to recognize and show in everyday life

And of course we are heat, so we follow the law.
Our mad economy removes the constraints.

How quickly can we act ?

A single example of the new tram in La Havre - done under BAU. 13 km in a "Y", including a tunnel between the Lower & Upper section, separated by a cliff. Expected ridership - 56.000/day (implies 28,000 round trips). Cost 390 million euros

Population 179,751 Urban population 246,195 Metro population 291,765

The key dates of the tram

2001 Creation of the CODAH
2003 CODAH adopt its urban transport plan (PDU) including the light rail project
2004 Le Havre is the first city in France to sign an agreement, which includes transit projects with the National Agency for Urban Renewal (Anru)
2006 Feasibility Study for the tram
2006 (November) / 2007 (March) Public consultation
2007 (March 13) By a decision adopted unanimously, the Council approves the Community project with a tram type system, the line Y and dedicated streetcar tunnel parallel to the tunnel Jenner
2007 (July 10) Choice of tram rail
2009 (October 21-December 2) Public Inquiry
2009 (December) - 2010 (February) Public meetings
2010 (March) Start of construction dealers
2010 (July) Choice of the company that built the rolling stock
2010 (Fall) Start work platform and implementation of the bus network "work"
2012 (March) First test trains
2012 (December 12) Commissioning of the tram

My translation of the translation - Bid award to ribbon cutting, 31 months, actual construction about 26 months.

A little over 6 years from feasibility study to ribbon cutting. All under BAU.

For a project that requires tunneling, this is impressive.

There is talk of a second line - a "tram train" running on existing railroad tracks and interlining with the tram line. Such lines (Mulhouse for example) typically have much more widely spaced stations and pull in more remote commuters. Fewer riders, but much longer rides, for excellent pax-km per euro invested and good operating results per euro spent on operations.

Best Hopes for More,



Imagine the benefit and direct economic stimulus that a 6-10 year, $2-4T passenger rail project in the US would bring!

Cheaper than a 6-10 year war, methinks. Throw in another $1T to put solar and wind all along the easments (where possible) :-)

Might as well start now. Printing $5 T for this is better than the constant QE magiCash they're doing now.


Let's make 'em do it. (But faster. I wanna see it.)

A single example of the new tram in La Havre - done under BAU. 13 km in a "Y", including a tunnel between the Lower & Upper section, separated by a cliff. Expected ridership - 56.000/day (implies 28,000 round trips). Cost 390 million euros

That works out to 30 euros ($US38.53) per millimeter. Quite impressive. Here in Houston it costs $46 per millimeter. And that's with no tunnels.

As I've said before, someone needs to figure out a way of building these things much more cheaply.


US$22.4 million per km (when the euro was higher).

Aubagne, with lighter capacity, is even lower.

However, do they really need to be that much cheaper ?

Certainly, more efficient construction and operations are to be sought after. And Besancon has been smart in several ways there.

Besancon has no grass running tracks - all are in poured concrete. A small but permanent loss to the urban environment. Are the euros saved there worth it ?

I find, for lack of a better word, the French emphasis on aesthetics in their new tram lines "charming". the extra costs do, IMO, add value.

Roads cost more and carry fewer people, using LOTS of oil. And none of them are "charming".

In 2010, the US subsidized roads & highways with $101 billion in non-transportation taxes.

Just stop subsidizing cheap gasoline and divert that money to investing in oil free transportation. Hopefully, "charming" oil free transportation.

Best Hopes for Better Priorities, including Aesthetics,


Roads cost more and carry fewer people, using LOTS of oil.


I hate to burst your bubble on this, I really do. I wish there was an easy solution. But according to my calculations the rebuild of the Katy Freeway in Houston in the early years of this century worked out at about $62 per millimeter (to keep units constant). Light rail is around $46 per millimeter.

But the light rail in Belgium which you quoted at the beginning of this thread is expected to carry 56,000 passengers per day, whereas the Katy Freeway carries over 200,000 vehicles per day. That is an absolute minimum of 200,000 people (we don't have Google cars here yet). It also includes something like (my guess from personal observation) 10% heavy trucks, or perhaps several hundred thousand tons of freight every day. Yes, it costs a bit more per millimeter, but only a bit. Yes, it uses a lot of oil (but very little coal, unlike light rail). But a freeway transports about ten times as many people as light rail for a similar construction cost, plus a vast amount of freight which light rail does not even attempt to carry.

I still cannot fathom why Houston's light rail -- dual track, taking the same space as two lanes of traffic on a freeway -- costs nearly as much (per mile or per millimeter) as a freeway with a minimum width of sixteen lanes. The freeway has to have continuous smooth pavement strong enough to carry axle loads of 20,000 pounds, and vehicle weights of 80,000 pounds. The light rail load is a bit higher (the vehicles used in Houston are 98,000 pounds empty and perhaps 150,000 fully loaded) but the load is only on the rails, and with six axles per car the axle load is only slightly higher than permitted on the interstate.

You are mixing apples and oranges.

Katy freeway was repaved, no new right of way.
Light rail system required new right of way, mostly in street with many utilities relocated, streets reconfigured and all new traffic control system for both light rail and streets. And light rail line cost included vehicles. The cost of 100,000 vehicles using the Katy freeway would have boosted its total capital cost by $3 to $4 billion.

And lets not forget that gas taxes only provide 50% of the cost for freeway construction/rebuilding. When the State of Missouri rebuilt the I-64 highway from St. Louis downtown to the intersection of I-270 (13 miles), The $600 million cost was 40% paid for with revenue bonds, which account for 50% of the highway's cost after interest payments. These bonds will be repaid with sales taxes, not gas taxes.

As for your freight benefit, I doubt that Katy handles more than 200,000 tons of freight per day. Average truck on urban highway carries about 10 ton, so 20K trucks X 10T is 200,000T or the same as 8 freight trains.

... and unless I missed a reference to it, how often must the Katy be repaved, VS the Rail Tracks (and the rolling stock/maintenance)? Lifespan, particularly under Freight Loads can quickly shift the equation.. if you're looking for it.

Why on earth would you include the cost of *vehicles* in with the cost of constructing (or rebuilding) a freeway? Houston commuters weren't all required to go out and purchase brand new cars specifically for use on the new Katy freeway; whereas one cannot ride a new commuter rail line without the taxpayer purchasing new cars (which are often a very specific type adapted to a particular rail guage, voltage, state requirements, etc.).

I like commuter rail where and when it makes sense, but it does not always make sense everywhere. Aside from the necessary critical mass of population density to make the economics/ridership work, rail also needs to have a well designed supporting network of "feeder" bus lines and park-n-rides so commuters can go the "last few miles", or it's simply not practical for most people. No one is going to sell his/her car and use rail exclusively to commute to work, shopping and other errands if that means a 5 mile hike from your house to the nearest station, followed by another multi-mile hike to your final destination on the other end. Physical fitness aside, almost no one has that kind of time.

Really, I just don't get the rail-centricity and intense dislike for all forms of personal transport and roads here sometimes (incuding EVs & HEVs). Aside from densely packed areas along the Eastern seaboard, most American cities are just too spread out geographically, and our neighborhoods and businesses too dispersed to make rail a practical option for a majority of the population. As discussed at length in previous Drumbeats, for the U.S. to develop a useable rail network anything like France, we'd have to destroy most of our existing neighborhoods and businesses (consuming vast amounts of energy in the process) and rebuild them from scratch along a TOD/high density blueprint (consuming even more energy and finite resources).

Retrofitting or replacing existing cars/trucks with better, more fuel efficient personal transports using existing infrastructure (what can be maintained of it anyway) to me seems like the path of least resistance here in the U.S., and far less wasteful in terms of resources and energy required overall.

Harm, all he's saying is that since the cost of the light rail project included the trains, it would only be fair to incorporate an equivalent amount of the overall system for the Highway to get a real comparison.

You could just as easily extrapolate that the costs to build either have some incongruities that need to be accounted for one way or another, but as currently cited, they don't give a full picture.

His post had none of the Anti-car vitriol that sometimes shows up.. you're spanking the wrong puppy.

No one is going to sell his/her car and use rail exclusively to commute to work

That is 110% wrong !

A good urban rail system will first see middle class couples drop down to one car - and then none. Car free (note the term) is common in cities with good urban rail.

And you are also quite wrong about the requirements to legally drive on I-10.

You must be legally licensed, with a legal tag, legally inspected, lawfully insured, lawfully able and driving a lawful vehicle.

To ride light rail or tram, you need the fare or a pass (day, month, etc.) That is all that is legally required.

And periodically, you will replace that vehicle several times during your driving years.


far less wasteful in terms of resources and energy required overall

If overall costs are included, maintaining, replacing and expanding BAU is MUCH more expensive & energy consuming - and already 30% of Americans do not want it. (I expect 50+% if 20% can move into TOD).

Suburbia has 4x the carbon footprint of TOD. The operating costs of Suburbia make replacing it a wise investment.

WHY do you insist on using the government and massive subsidies to force a life style on people that do not want it, is bad for them (healthwise, socially, economically), bad for society (see Iraq invasion amongst many other issues) and bad for the environment ?

Best Hopes for Wiser Choices,


Setting aside for a moment the 4:1 ratio that I see tossed around here so often as established fact (not quite), I am definitely NOT in favor of massive government subsidies to oil & gas companies that would be quite profitable without those subsidies, thank you very much, and I never said I was. Ditto for sprawling, thoughtless development that pays no attention to the surrounding environment or forces everyone to own a car whether they want to or not.

Here's the thing: if I had been dictator in charge of how the country was going to be developed 70 years ago, would I have chosen abandoning our architecturally and culturally vital city centers and discarding perfectly good public transportation in favor of sprawling carbon-copy Levittowns and strip malls everywhere? No not really. That's where you and I (and Kunstler) share opinions.

Problem is, the actual people in charge of all that did precisely that, and... here we are with tens of $Trillions in unrecoverable sunk costs in infrastructure. And not just residential housing and roads, mind you, but the electrical grid, water & sewer lines, gas, telecom, other utilities, businesses to employ and serve those communities, etc. Now that we're on the downslope of Hubbert's Peak, we have little choice but face the reality that we are not going to have enough cheap FFs left to completely remake the situation in what little time we have left (with a functioning global credit/growth-based economy). Unfortunately, we're going to have to make the best with what we've got for a long while, and to me that means retrofitting what's already here to make it more efficient and sustainable, and heavily promoting conservation.

Should we lay new rail lines where it makes sense? Yes.
Should we be heavily favoring smaller carbon footprint/sustainable architecture? Absolutely.
Should we abandon marginal neighborhoods and infrastructure in rapidly depopulating areas like Detroit? Sure.

We're not on completely opposite sides of the fence here. I just have serious doubts about us expending vast quantities of increasingly scarce resources to promote New Urbanism and TOD-centric development for it's own sake. Conservation can also be about "greening" what's already there. Other people here have commented that suburbs can also be gradually "densified" over time with sensible re-zoning. Once it reaches critical mass, presto --you have a rail-ready community! Makes sense to me.

Some quick facts.

The 4 to 1 ratio came from the Chair of the Congress of New Urbanism (a professor @ Georgia Tech) in a speech I attended about retrofitting Suburbia. It was not "dense urban" but specifically TOD vs. Suburbia. It included all support services (electrical, police, sewage, cable, UPS deliveries, etc.). I would have guessed 3 to 1, so it seems reasonable to me.

The $101 billion/year ($327/capita/year) is not for "oil & gas companies" but for cheap gas for the "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle. That is how much was transferred from General Funds, other non-transportation taxes and borrowing to roads & highways in 2010 (see my essay). Federal + State + Local.

President Obama 2+ months ago signed a bill that took $11.8 billion from Pension Guaranty Fund, $2.8 billion from environmental clean-up and $18.5 billion just transferred from the US Treasury for the Federal Highway "Trust" Fund.

This is my money subsidizing your lifestyle.

A lifestyle that harms our society in a variety of ways (see Invasion of Iraq for one).

The concept is not to densify first and THEN build rail (why would a place in non zoning Houston denisfy w/o a reason to ? The idea is just like the Suburbs, build roads and then housing.

Ed Tennyson talks about his first time getting off the new Orange Line in Ballston, VA . "Why on earth did they build a subway here ?" He saw pawn shops and low end, low rise retail.

Today, the decision to move the new Metro line off I-66 and under Wilson Blvd. in Arlington is widely praised as one of the wisest urban development decisions ever, although controversial at the time. The Ballston to Rosslyn corridor has seen an explosion of TOD development. Just Google Earth Arlington and it is very easy to see where the subway line is. (The Google Earth view option from an angle is best, since one can see the height of the buildings. They are highest right next to the stations)

More later.


The idea is just like the Suburbs, build roads and then housing.

A related analogy, if I may. I remember reading a screed written in the late 1950s about the idiocy of placing Interstate highway exchanges out in the middle of nowhere, so that a driver getting off the highway might have to drive for miles to find a gas station, a motel or a restaurant.

Now re: that 4:1 ratio...


The only way you can even approach that ratio is by seriously cherry picking your data (Manhattan vs., say, Kansas). While the best evidence (Brookings & Glaeser studies) shows that urban environments are generally "greener" than suburbs or rural areas, it is not typically by such a wide margin --the average carbon "savings" nationwide is only 14% in the U.S. This relationship is not even always the case in all countries. Chinese city dwellers actually consume *more* energy than their rural counterparts.

There is a Manhattan, Kansas, by the way :-)

Why on earth would you include the cost of *vehicles* in with the cost of constructing (or rebuilding) a freeway?

It's very difficult to drive on a freeway without a *vehicle*. You can try walking on it, but upon personal investigation, I've discovered the authorities make that very difficult to do.

No one is going to sell his/her car and use rail exclusively to commute to work, shopping and other errands if that means a 5 mile hike from your house to the nearest station, followed by another multi-mile hike to your final destination

That's why they should put in a rail station within 1 mile of every potential commuter (which is feasible), or failing that, put in a feeder bus system, which is cheaper. The way things are going, rather than selling their cars, it looks like the new generation of young people is going to achieve car-free status by not buying a car or even getting a drivers license in the first place. It is a sea change in the American way of life.

Really, I just don't get the rail-centricity and intense dislike for all forms of personal transport and roads here sometimes (incuding EVs & HEVs). Aside from densely packed areas along the Eastern seaboard, most American cities are just too spread out geographically, and our neighborhoods and businesses too dispersed to make rail a practical option for a majority of the population.

Really? You should try looking at Calgary on Google Earth some time. It is something like a 1/2 scale version of Denver and sprawls like a typical Western American city. However, it has the most successful light rail transit system in North America. And, unbeknownst to most Americans, a lot of German cities are quite spread out but have very efficient rail transit systems anyway.

Riding a modern rail transit system is like driving a new Mercedes, whereas taking the bus is more like driving a '59 VW, which is why commuters prefer the rail systems if they get the choice.

I'm afraid I just have a different perspective on a lot of things than most Americans (being Canadian). For instance, as I was walking along the abandoned Katy Railroad line, parallel to the Katy Freeway in Houston, I observed that it would have made a really nice pedestrian walkway and bicycle path, particularly since it was grade-separated from all the roads. A commuter rail system would have been doable, too.

It's very difficult to drive on a freeway without a *vehicle*.

Without incurring the cost of buying and owning a vehicle: car pool, van pool, bus

You are mixing apples and oranges.

The Katy Freeway rebuilding did require new right of way: the right of way was about doubled over most of the project, including taking over a railroad right of way, the parking lot of a YMCA branch, most of the commercial tax base of the city of Spring Valley, enough of the parking lot of a Fiesta supermarket to force the store to close, and lots more.

The cost of light rail that I used did not include vehicles (as far as I can determine: pinning down Metro on what something costs is extremely difficult).

But even if I accept all your arguments, the cost of the freeway would only go up to about $150 per millimeter, around three times as much as light rail. And it carries at least ten times the number of people, plus 200,000 tons of freight per day when the light rail carries none.

And if light rail requires no maintenance, why do operations (which I assume include maintenance) cost $0.60 per passenger mile? It certainly isn't the electricity, and the one employee operating a unit at 20 miles per hour probably makes no more than $20 per hour, so ten passengers average would put that part of the operating cost down to $0.05 per mile.

As for the 8 freight trains which could carry the freight carried on the Katy Freeway, I'm all in favor of heavy rail, and I think the heavy trucks on the interstates are grossly undertaxed.

The point I'm trying to make is that light rail construction appears to be vastly more expensive than it should be, and I don't understand why. Is it because it is vastly overspecified, for example? The cars used by Houston Metro for light rail weigh 98,000 pounds empty and have a maximum capacity of about 150 passengers: that's a payload of about 25% of the unloaded weight of the vehicle. Heavy duty truck/trailer combinations can have a payload well over 100% of the unloaded weight, and the buses Metro uses carry about 100% of their weight. Those light rail cars also have a top speed of 66 miles per hour, and I doubt if they ever exceed 40.

To look at it another way: in 1908 the average cost of building a mile of railroad track in the U.S., fully equipped, was $35,000. Adjusting for inflation, that's under $2,000,000 in today's dollars for double track. But Metro takes something like $73 million to build a mile of light rail line that is, admittedly, electrified. Is it really more than 35 times as good? After all, most of the rail lines which carry so much of the nation's freight today were built before 1908. Why have costs for building rail lines escalated so much? In 1909 the Ford Model T cost $850 ($19,780 in today's dollars), and today you can buy a Ford Focus with all of today's improvements for $16,200. If we could build a mile of rail line for under a million dollars in 1908, why, with all of today's improvements in technology, can't we build a mile of rail line for $1 million? Or for $5 million? Or for $10 million?

Today's light rail has electric power, sophisticated signalling, and so on. But today's Ford has four wheel disk brakes, radial ply tires, electronic ignition, fuel injection, air bags, air conditioning, radio, heating, and hundreds of other things the Model T never had. Yet it costs less. Why does rail cost more? Not just a bit more, but more than an order of magnitude more.

All excellent questions. I hope some of the rail enthusiasts here have some insightful answers, as I'd like to know more myself.

I'm not an expert but since nobdy else answer I will submit a few ideas about higher cost:
- Lack of cheap labor (no more Chinese slave labor for railroad...OK it was around 1850 but increasing labor cost is part of it)
- Cost of all the utilities you have to move when digging the fondation for the rail.
Cities grounds have more holes than Swiss cheese with cables for electricity, internet cable, phone lines, gas, sewer... At least in the US you rarely have to deal will archeological findings while digging which is a daily occurance in many cities in Europe.
This also slow down a lot the rate of construction, so increase the cost.
- Cost for right of way are certainly way higher.
- The cost of many basic construction materials, from concrete to iron, has increased a lot, specially in the past 10 years... peak everything starts to bite us.
- Red tape... Market studies, Environmental studies, financing accessory projects (handicap access, compensation for losses to individual and business). Sometime the prices are inflated to pay for works like road resurfacing or sewer update that would had to be done anyway but can then be financed more easilly.
- Better quality of the tramways: they have air conditioning, electronic information screens (also at the tramway stops with real time informations about waiting time), are low rise (no step to go in and out, so good for handicap or people with strollers, shopping cart...) and more efficient.

This is all true. Tainter used a similar example to illustrate "diminishing returns on investment."

Back when railroads (and highways, for that matter) were built, most of it was in the middle of nowhere. I've seen old blueprints for the Interstate system from the 1950s, and the survey markers are things like apple trees and Farmer Brown's chicken coop. The survey data was accurate to plus or minus 10 feet, because that was plenty good enough.

Now, plus or minus 10 feet could mean the difference between taking someone's house or not. We don't have the wide open spaces to build roads any more. And it's become a huge pain to maintain the roads we have, because we are so dependent on them. Building a new road or installing a new water line or power line is much easier than replacing an existing one, because people are dependent on it now and you have to maintain service during construction. One result is it costs a lot more for a lot less. For example, they use thin, quick-curing asphalt to resurface pavement so the traffic can get back on the road as soon as possible, even though it would be more cost-effective and produce a better result if they could stop traffic for a few months and do a proper job.

And yes, now there are environmental and archaeological concerns that did not exist in the old days. (Archaeological findings are a big issue here, too, though it's likely to be Native American sites or ancient fossils, rather than a medieval church, that stops construction.)

But I don't understand why rail should be that much more expensive a highway. Perhaps it's a matter of where it is built. Highways are more likely to be built where people aren't. Light rail tends to be built where density is highest.

"And it's become a huge pain to maintain the roads we have, because we are so dependent on them."

They actually still maintain roads somewhere? Not anywhere around here.

Thanks to you and Chris - those are some logical answers. But as you say, even after taking all that into account, the price of new rail still seems awfully expensive.

For example, they use thin, quick-curing asphalt to resurface pavement so the traffic can get back on the road as soon as possible, even though it would be more cost-effective and produce a better result if they could stop traffic for a few months and do a proper job.

How much longer would roads last if they used the good stuff and did it properly?

One of our busy roads is breaking up. They have been filling pot holes and making do for years. The road has about 2" of asphalt on top of packed soil and gravel. It really is not up to heavy traffic and the pathways are being destroyed too as vehicles run over them avoiding the holes. One bad area they patched up with about1" of asphalt and a week later it was a hole again. A week later (last week) they were patching it with earth. This week it was a hole again. I am wondering what it will be like next week when I go down there again.


(Pot hole: Anything up to 4+ meters wide and/or 1/2 meter deep)

Kind of depends on how you define it and where it is. (Water and freeze-thaw cycles are the killers, so a highway built in Arizona will last longer than one built in Michigan.)

However, the ideal is probably the so-called "perpetual pavement." Properly maintained, it should theoretically last 50 years to forever (compared to a couple of years for "paint the road black" type resurfacing), even with very high traffic (including truck traffic).

Perpetual pavements are very thick. There's something like five feet of subbase (compared to 12" in traditional construction), and over a foot of asphalt (compared to about 6"). They are designed so the top layer takes all the stress. Eventually, this top layer will have to be replaced, but it should only be every 20 years or so.

It's very expensive, both because you use a lot more materials, and because you have to shut the road to traffic. The excavation depth for perpetual pavements is a safety issue, not just for the traveling public but for workers. It's just a whole different level. Canada and Europe built roads like this a lot more than the US. They appear more willing to put up with the up-front expensive and inconvenience.

When the highest tunnel in the Transcontinental Railroad was closed and converted to a trail about 20 years ago (double tracked in 1920s with lower/better tunnel - then single tracked again) they found the original rail still in use.

Fairly light by modern standards. Cut up and given to employees and others as souvenirs.

Best Hopes for Perpetual Railroads,


Wasn't there an article on this in a recent drumbeat? The takeaway for me was that we had to add the cost of the consultants, and the cost of the consultant's consultants, and no one is good to holding any of those people to either the budget or schedule that was agreed in the origonal negotiations, but somehow it doesn't work that way in Europe...


Significant savings came from the previous West I-10. No RoW issues, subbase can be reused.

The Texas Dept. of Highways has gotten good about just building on top of old interstates. I have seen them crack the old pavement, pour asphalt on top for a pliable, adsorbent of shock layer, then pour new rebar concrete on top of that. Thus using all that sunk cost.

TxDoH has gotten good at building highways through lots of practice - just as the French have with building new tram lines.

The consultants in the US always over build. Our process is designed to ration by quota and not build urban rail.

A comparison between Houston & Bordeaux.

The standard railroad construction is the cheapest to build and cheapest to maintain (there are even work trains that can do it - amidst a cloud of rock dust at several mph). That is rail on ballast. Even when possible to do so in an urban setting, it is not good aesthetically.

The French typically build tram lines to a very high aesthetic standard, which adds both costs and value. But they are still cheaper than US Light Rail per km.

Underground utilities are a significant cost driver in urban settings, as are many more curves on Urban Rail.

Station costs are an area where, in my humble opinion, Americans spend too much money. "Transit Palaces" is a term I have used on occasion. Of course cars take MUCH more for their parking needs.

More later.


Significant savings came from the previous West I-10. No RoW issues, subbase can be reused.

The Texas Dept. of Highways has gotten good about just building on top of old interstates. I have seen them crack the old pavement, pour asphalt on top for a pliable, adsorbent of shock layer, then pour new rebar concrete on top of that. Thus using all that sunk cost.

I watched construction on the Katy Freeway on a daily basis. Every part of the freeway was regraded, with gentler inclines each side of the overpasses, every overpass was completely demolished and rebuilt, and the right of way was more than doubled in width. The only use of the old freeway was as fill for the elvated portions. At many of the intersections with surface streets the bridges on the surface streets were replaced with bridges on the freeway. But TXDOT has certainly become good at building freeways.

I still get back to the question: why does light rail cost so much (especially in the U.S., but also in Europe)?

Another example of lower costs, in addition to the Calgary example given by RockyMtnGuy is the Mandurah line in Western Australia. It is a 70km double track, electrified heavy rail line, completed in 2007. It cost $13.7 million Australian dollars per km of double track. The Australian dollar at the time of construction was worth a little less than the U.S. dollar, and that cost includes stations (eleven of them) and an underground section in Perth. This is only 30% of the what Metro pays for light rail double track, and I don't think anyone can claim Western Australia has cheap labor, cheap steel, or cheap anything.

Unless TxDoH (I cannot call them TxDoT) excavated 4 to 5 feet down, they reused the subbase.

And I know of people that pleaded with TxDoH to leave room for a future Light Rail line and were denied. I do not think 21' room room was left for Light (or Heavy) rail in that corridor. Future Light Rail plans were crushed with the concrete.

Western Australia was commuter rail (AFAIK, I looked at their electrification some years ago). A different technology and market. You might want to look at my DC area plans - "EMUs at 90 mph, Rockville to Crystal City" and "Ft. Meade Line".



The Paris RER Line A moves 55,000 passengers per hour in the Peak Direction at Peak. 262 million per year. Commuter rail technology in subway in the middle (the French connected two Suburban rail lines with a subway in the middle).

My mentor and partner Ed Tennyson specified the SEPTA Silverliner II EMUs in 1962. The last one was retired in June of this year. The first "modern" North American EMU.

But this is a different technology and market.As ED has said, "It is difficult, and not wise, to mix people traveling 5 miles with those traveling 30 miles too much".

The planning of Washington DC uses every mode of Urban Rail - Metro, Light Rail, Commuter Rail and streetcar - each in it's niche.

The most detailed breakdown of costs I have seen in France is for Dijon, 20 km in two lines, the first line opened four weeks ago.

Poste Coût HT 2008
Études d'avant-projet / projet Pour mémoire
Maîtrise d'ouvrage 7 000 000 €
Maîtrise d'œuvre de travaux 19 200 000 €
Acquisitions foncières et libérations d'emprises 14 000 000 €
Déviation de réseaux 23 000 000 €
Travaux préparatoires 12 100 000 €
Ouvrages d'art 10 100 000 €
Plate-forme 18 400 000 €
Voie ferrée 41 500 000 €
Revêtement du site propre 7 400 000 €
Voirie et espaces publics 41 000 000 €
Équipements urbains 14 900 000 €
Signalisation routière 4 300 000 €
Stations 6 000 000 €
Alimentation électrique 24 700 000 €
Courants faibles et PCC 17 400 000 €
Dépôt tramway 24 500 000 €
Matériel roulant 73 600 000 €
Opérations induites 3 500 000 €
Sous-total 362 600 000 €
Aléas (10 %) 36 300 000 €
Budget prévisionnel 398 900 000 €

Google translate

Item Cost HT 2008
Preliminary studies project / project to memory
Project management € 7,000,000
Control of construction projects € 19,200,000
Land acquisition and release of € 14 million allowances
Deviation networks € 23 million [moving traffic around worksite, some times permanently]
Preparatory € 12.1 million
Structures € 10.1 million
Platform € 18.4 million
Railway € 41.5 million [laying track - the figure you focus on I think]
Coating own site € 7,400,000 [repaving streets & sidewalks]
Roads and public spaces € 41 million
Urban facilities € 14.9 million
Road signs € 4.3 million
Stations € 6,000,000
Power € 24.7 million
Low currents and PCC € 17.4 million
Tram depot € 24.5 million
Rolling € 73.6 million [vehicles]
Induced operations € 3.5 million
Subtotal € 362.6 million
Hazards (10%) € 36.3 million
Budget € 398 900 000

I hope this helps,


Picture of special work under construction in Dijon (where the two lines meet). This is very close to mm precision work BTW. It should give you a better "feel" for some of the work


The main problem with American light rail systems is passenger volumes are so low. Another problem is that cities tend to "gold plate" the systems. If you take a more successful and heavily loaded one which was built relatively cheaply like the Calgary C-Train, you get the following.

Passenger volume: 264,900 passengers per day
Operating costs: $0.27 per passenger trip (don't know what it is per mile).
Capital costs: $25.4 million per mile
Capital costs: $2400 per daily passenger
Maximum speed: 50 mph (older design of vehicles than Houston)
Operating speed: 50 mph outside of the downtown core

Now, note that this LRT is carrying considerably more passengers than the Katy Freeway on two lanes of a rather narrow four-lane downtown street (buses use the other two lanes) with no pollution and very little noise. In fact, it carries the equivalent of a 16-lane freeway running right through the middle of the downtown core, even with stop lights every block.

Maintenance costs have been relatively low - in 30 years of operation they have not worn out any of the vehicles yet (the original ones have millions of miles on them), but they wore out all the downtown loading platforms due to the heavy passenger traffic and had to replace them.

As for the claim that the Katy freeway carries the equivalent of 8 freight train loads of cargo per day, the Canadian Pacific main line runs parallel to the LRT two blocks south through the downtown core, and carries about 24 freight trains per day - again with much less noise and pollution than a freeway. Outside of the downtown core, the LRT shares the ROW with the CPR tracks wherever possible to cut costs.

This is why I was looking so hard at the abandoned Katy Railway ROW as I walked along it, parallel to the Katy Freeway. It would have been quite easy to put two LRT tracks in the ROW parallel to the freight railway track, and achieve the same passenger and freight volumes without building the freeway at all.

And, in fact, this is what Calgary did. The voters rejected building freeways, and voted to build an LRT system instead. The LRT costs were less than 5% of the amount it cost Houston to build its freeway system, so it can be viewed as a cost-saving measure. Houston's freeways are likely to turn into a dead-weight loss if they have to abandon them as oil supplies decline, whereas Calgary's LRT system can be and is being expended to cover all sectors of the city - and as I always like to mention, the system is powered by wind generators.

I researched all this in detail when my company wanted to transfer me from Calgary to Houston. After running the numbers, I told them they would have to give me a company BMW to make it work for me, since my commuting costs would be much higher, and that didn't work for them.

Now that is a very pertinent comment!

I've traveled on the Calgary C-train and really loved it. It would be wonderful to have a system like that in Houston.

One advantage Calgary has over Houston is simply that it is smaller, which means the lower speed of the light rail (lower than automobiles, that is) is less of a disadvantage. I still think the cost per mile for building it seems high, but you do have more severe winters than Houston, and that probably impacts costs. On the other hand, you don't have hurricanes.

But the costs in Calgary, both for construction and for operation, are less than half those for Houston.

Your comment about the abandoned rail ROW is interesting. It was bought by Houston Metro, with the thought of putting rail along it, but has now been used for the freeway expansion. However, in return selling the rail ROW to TXDOT, Metro got the overpasses on the central lanes of the freeway built strongly enough to support light rail. There was quite a bit of support for putting light rail along the middle of the Katy Freeway, but this was rejected by Metro because it would take traffic away from their express (Park and Ride) bus service along the freeway, which was (at the time of the decision, and probably today also) the only service they operated with a small profit.

Another interesting light rail possibility in Houston is the "Westpark Corridor". The Westpark Toll Road is built along an old rail ROW, and when it was built enough of the ROW for a double light rail track was reserved. This limited the toll road to two lanes each way, with narrow shoulders, and really restricted (and made more expensive) the on and off ramps for the eastbound lanes. The first off-ramp east of the county line is eight miles from the last off-ramp in Fort Bend County. The concept of a future light rail line is foreign to the Fort Bend authorities, so no allowance for future light rail exists west of the Harris County limits.

Currently Houston Metro (which is controlled in effect by the Houston mayor) has no interest in rail lines to benefit suburban areas even if the money was available. The suburban areas generally have no interest in light rail either: it might bring in people who are too poor to own a car, people who might vote for Democrats.

There was quite a bit of support for putting light rail along the middle of the Katy Freeway, but this was rejected by Metro because it would take traffic away from their express (Park and Ride) bus service along the freeway, which was (at the time of the decision, and probably today also) the only service they operated with a small profit.

That was a mistake. Other than putting LRT tracks into the extra space in a freight railway ROW, another way the Calgary system saves money is by putting them into the median of a freeway. Often, this is just grass, so you can put a couple of tracks into it and put New Jersey barriers on each side to prevent the cars from intersecting it. (If people are anal about grass, you can grass the tracks - cover the ballast with topsoil and grass with only the tracks exposed - looks good, works perfectly well.)

Currently Houston Metro (which is controlled in effect by the Houston mayor) has no interest in rail lines to benefit suburban areas even if the money was available. The suburban areas generally have no interest in light rail either: it might bring in people who are too poor to own a car, people who might vote for Democrats.

An advantage that Calgary has is that most of its suburbs are internal suburbs - i.e. they are legally part of the city, although they display a lot of independence at times. Once some of the suburbs have light rail, all of the suburbs want light rail. And it also helps that the current mayor is Naheed Nenshi, whose family immigrated from Tanzania, although he was born in Toronto and raised in Calgary. He has a Master of Public Policy degree from Harvard University and is a Muslim. This probably wouldn't work politically in the Houston context, but the point is that he is not bound by the usual political rhetoric. A lot of the people who are too poor to own a car voted for him.

Actually, the situation is somewhat similar in Houston: it is a very large city in area, and about 2.1 million of the 5 million metropolitan area in the city. Perhaps half a million of those who live in the metropolitan area are in areas so detached from Houston (Galveston, for example) that they are not really suburbs, so about half of the real greater Houston population actually lives in the city. There are many internal suburbs such as Kingwood and Clear Lake City.

But the political situation is complicated. The city government is a strong-mayor type, and the current mayor, Annise Parker, is a gay Democrat who was elected in a non-partisan election. Her political base is the heavily minority inner city, particularly the eastern half of the inner city. The previous mayor, Bill White, was similarly situated, as were his predecessors. Houston did have a Republican mayor from 1964 to 1973, and again from 1978 to 1981, but with these exceptions there hasn't been a Republican mayor since Reconstruction. Of course, before the 1960s, as in the rest of Texas no one was elected who wasn't a white, male Democrat. But since the 1970s Democrats have relied on minority support, so that's where the light rail has been built. The city is much more racially diverse than Calgary: roughly 25% anglo, 25% black, 25% hispanic, and 25% others. About 400,000 illegal aliens live in Houston, mainly hispanic but plenty from many other countries too.

There was an I-10 West in Houston with many lanes (10 ? 12 ?) when I was there in the 1980s. So your costs are hardly the full cost of building 16 lanes of freeway.

You also do not account for the purchase (and repair & maintenance) of the vehicles on those rebuilt 16 lanes.

Le Havre bought 20 trams, with options for two more if demand exceeded their capacity. Alstom sells these for about 2 million euros apiece, with about a 40 year life expectancy. That is a significant fraction of the cost (40 million of the 390 million euros), and they need to be replaced once every 40 years or so.

How much did those 100,000 (assume round trip) vehicles clogging I-10 cost ? How long do they last and what will their replacement costs be ?

As the first tram line in Le Havre, the storage yard and maintenance shop were included in the price. The second line usually shares these facilities with the first line.

How much will the various repair shops and parking lots & garages cost for the 100,000 vehicles on I-10 ?

Be sure to included the price of the land for each space (unlike trams, cars & SUV have an average of 5 parking spaces each scattered around). So include land and asphalt or concrete for a half million parking spaces. Le Havre has parking for every one of their trams included in the price.

And what of the cost of the deaths - and even more expensive injuries (many life altering) among the I-10 drivers (on and off I-10) ?

And Houston has billions of costs every year from air pollution - much of it coming from I-10 and those vehicles traveling to & from I-10.

There is no doubt that moving from cars and a "Drive Everywhere to Everything " lifestyle to Urban Rail reduces the % of GDP devoted to urban transportation.

All the examples I gave are French BTW.


By the way, the city of Brest is also planing to add transportation by a funicular over the river and the port for a cost of 15 million. It will carry up to 1200 passenger per hour with a travel time of 1 minute (and 1 "train" every 3 minutes) instead of 15 minutes right now. It was way cheaper than building a bridge. You can look at some video about it (in French)
Some other city in France have made similar choice to use funicular to avoid building bridges or because of the topology (hills, canyons...).

Thank You :-)

I will add that to my "Trams of Brest" essay. Le Havre already has a funicular between the upper & lower parts of the town.

As a French citizen, how do you view my essays on French trams ? And on the tram boom going on in France (plus doubling the Paris Metro) ?

And my saying Can Texans work with the speed, efficiency and determination of French bureaucrats ?

Best Hopes for France,


There is no doubt that moving from cars and a "Drive Everywhere to Everything " lifestyle to Urban Rail reduces the % of GDP devoted to urban transportation.


If only it were so. I really like travelling by rail. But no matter how you shuffle the figures, light rail costs far more than roads to build, and travelling by rail costs far more than driving. You can talk all day about the costs of pollution (what about the costs of pollution by the lignite power station that supplies the electricity, or the steelworks that makes the rails?), and the costs of deaths and injuries, but these costs really are minor compared to the apparently limitless costs for a light rail system. A news article today points out that air pollution from grilling hamburgers is worse than that from diesel trucks.

The cost for the 25 miles of Katy Freeway expansion (and as far as I know every inch of pavement was rebuilt, even though eight lanes existed before the expansion) was around $2.5 billion. The total length of MetroRail in use, or under construction is approximately 22 miles, which will probably cost a total of well over a billion dollars, not including rolling stock. To service in any reasonable sense the most densely populated part of the Houston area (inside the beltway) Metro would need to build at least another 200 miles of track, which would cost around $10 billion at current prices.

Then the operating cost is ridiculously high too. It costs Metro about $0.70 to take a single person one mile by light rail. The cost of driving even a gas guzzler is less.

I wish it weren't so.

One, the electricity used by Light Rail vehicles is trivial. The convenience stores that sell the gas in Houston probably use almost as much electricity.

Two, the costs in Houston almost certainly include rolling stock, as well as parking and maintenance shops. I have only seen "track only" costs when an existing line is extended a station or two, and I have looked at quite a few.

Your accounting for costs is seriously lacking. I wish I had more time ATM, but later.

A "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle is not only bad for you, the society and the economy, but it is also the most expensive and energy intensive option available.

Why do we have to directly subsidize it with $101 billion in 2010 (more in 2012) ?


I am working on a "rail saturation" plan for Washington DC with one of the original planner of the original 103 miles system. The ROI on that first system was 19%.

Spend a little time looking over it.

Washington DC in the 1970s had the VMT and gasoline use of other non-transit cities like Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, etc. Once DC Metro was built, this changed significantly. The DC area joined peers like Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago.

Arlington County uses 288 gallons/capita/yr. Fairfax County 388 gallons/capita/yr. The rest of Virginia, 645 gallons/capita/yr.

We hope to drop this below 150 gallons and even 100 gallons/capita/yr.

Costs per person at this point, when light rail remains incomplete and inconvenient, aren't a fair yardstick, especially in places like Houston. Even so, are you saying it does not cost about that much to move a person on the roads, if one counts all the costs?

Meanwhile, so what if the costs are equal or even slightly worse for rail? You can't possibly imagine cars-first transportation is sustainable for more than another few decades, can you? Cars run on oil. Trains use electricity, and they use it far more efficiently than any EV fleet would.

Let us look at it from an alien POV for most Americans - A systems overview.

In the last 50 years, cars, trucks & SUVs have killed over 2 million Americans and seriously injured (life altering) 10 million Americans.

Care to put a cost on that ?

Last year with data is that 3 rail passengers were killed (most years it is zero).

The pollution from cars & trucks (directly) is the cause of most of the air pollution in this country. Add the indirect sources (air conditioning at car dealers, laying down new asphalt on a parking lot, etc.) and that majority grows. This pollution robs years from the lives of those that live in polluted cities (like Houston). It also damages property.

Care to put a cost on that ?

As noted the electricity from natural gas, wind, etc. used to run Light Rail is less than the electricity to run the car support network.

Suburbia (aka 95% of Houston) has 4 times the carbon footprint of TOD. This means that "Drive Everywhere to Everything" is helping to quickly throw the climate into chaos.

See the summer last year and this year's drought for just a very very small hint of the cost of that.

The 100,000 cars operating on the I-10 every day think they get "free parking". But they don't. Houston (no zoning) MANDATES minimum parking at every business and apartment complex. The result is 5 spaces for every car.

So those 100,000 cars DEMAND (use gov't coercion) to get a half million parking spots.

There is the direct cost of all of those parking spots (with access lanes).

Care to put a price on that ?

But those half million parking spots impose a price on EVERYBODY. Besides productive farmland destroyed forever (the nation and world suffer from that), it also makes everything further apart. Too far to walk, it hurts the economics of everybody by lowering density with sterile, ugly parking lots everywhere - so many that they are almost not "seen".

In Houston and Phoenix over half the land area is devoted to the automobile, in one form or another. This puts EVERYBODY and EVERYTHING much further apart, requiring more travel time.

Care to put a price on that ?

Only licensed drivers are supposed to drive on the roads & highways. Thus the fear of losing mobility that grips the elderly - and why the penalty of losing the right to drive (even by vehicular killers) is so rarely imposed. Too harsh a penalty ! (Ironic in death penalty Texas).

Studies have shown that the elderly without access to good transit quickly die after losing their driving licenses. Those with good transit have no such loss of life.

Care to put a price on that ?

Obesity is growing and it appears to be closely linked with a "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle (Manhattan is immune BTW). The average American will lose several years of life due to obesity.

Care to put a price on that ?

About 30% of Americans want to live in TOD, yet the government does not support that reasonable and healthy market demand. Instead we subsidize cheap gasoline, suburban McMansions and the "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle with $101 billion ($327/capita) in subsidies (General funds & non-transportation taxes) in 2010.

Americans that want to live a healthier and better lifestyle are simply denied that choice !

Care to put a price on that (above & beyond the $101 billion) ?

The above has lead me to the conclusion that the United States chose the highest cost option for urban transportation - and much of that cost was in human costs.


Suicide just passed auto accidents as the #1 cause of injury-related deaths.

So cars have gotten safer. And people have apparently become more depressed.


I'm strongly in favor of rail transport.

Quoting dubious statistics to get me to agree that rail is better than road transport won't change that, though it would drive a lot of people to change their minds. For example, comparing a fifty year total of road fatalities with a one year total of rail fatalities is ridiculous. I can quote similar figures which "prove" that sailing is far safer than driving.

As for half the land being devoted to the automobile, that is probably true. And a quick look on Google Maps suggests it is also true of central Paris, France. There's less traffic in a lot of places, but many of the streets are nice and wide, and look at all those courtyards with cars parked in them.

As for the government forcing businesses to provide parking spaces because of public demand, some might call that democracy.

If you're not in favor of subsidies, I'm sure you can explain how light rail can operate without subsidies. I've lived in places where I've traveled extensively by rail of all kinds, and not one such system has been able to run without a subsidy. Not in low tax America, not in high tax Europe. I note that the Paris (France) transit system uses a 2.6% tax on all gross salaries (except for the smallest businesses) to cover its operating losses, and as France is not America I'm sure the competition from automobiles is not subsidized.

I'd love to take a train to work. I'd also love to work a three day week with six weeks annual vacation (which, I assure you, I'd spend in ecologically correct pursuits) and still get paid a decent salary. But neither is going to happen.

I still want someone to tell me why light rail costs so much.

As my essay explains in some detail, I am against subsidizing bad things - such as gambling, smoking, alcohol and "Drive Everywhere to Everything" lifestyle.

I am not against subsidizing good things - such as education, fire protection and urban rail.

The ratio of rail passenger deaths to road deaths is four plus orders of magnitude. A mere 50 years will not affect the ratio much. I dare say that fewer than 1,000 American rail passengers have died in the last half century, but I have not added them up. There was one bad accident where a barge knocked down a bridge just before an Amtrak train crossed.

Our goals for Washington DC are for a tripling of ridership and no increase in the operating subsidy. One "trick" is to replace bus riders with rail riders ($1.12 per pax-mile vs. $0.18 per pax mile).

You should be MUCH more concerned about the bus subsidies than the rail subsidies.

And that employment tax (firms with 10+ employees) will be used to build 200 km of new Metro for 21 billion euros (plus a half dozen new tram lines, cost ?) from 2013 to 2025. 2 million new Metro riders, about 1.5 million being former bus riders. *MAJOR* operational savings there ! .
The cost of a tram-train in Mulhouse - 4 km of new tram track plus 18 km operating on an existing rail line with existing stations (electrification added).

The €150m project was financed by Alsace (€72m), m2A (€31m), the national government (€27m) and Haut-Rhin (€11m). The vehicles cost €52·9m while €84·4m was spent on infrastructure and €10m on the depot. RFF funded infrastructure works costing €8m while SNCF spent €1m on adapting its stations to accept low-floor tram-trains.




I (and lrd) actually agree with many of your points about TOD and the health & safety advantages of rail vs. car centric development. That said, I *do* have a problem with that 4:1 ratio you keep throwing around (suburban carbon footprint vs. urban footprint).

(re-posted from above):


The only way you can even approach that ratio is by seriously cherry picking your data (Manhattan vs., say, Kansas). While the best evidence (Brookings & Glaeser studies) shows that urban environments are generally "greener" than suburbs or rural areas, it is not typically by such a wide margin --the average carbon "savings" nationwide is only 14% in the U.S. This relationship is not even always the case in all countries. Chinese city dwellers actually consume *more* energy than their rural counterparts.

There has been some mis-understanding.

The ratio does not refer to Suburbia (where @ 50% of Americans line) vs. urban (where @ 25% of Americans live) but Suburbia vs. TOD (where <2% of Americans live).

Since the direct energy consumption of myself is 1/6th of one Suburbanite brother and 1/10th of the other - and my indirect use is also dramatically lower, I have no difficulty in accepting this.

Part of the difference may be the social norms (conspicuous consumption of energy in Suburbia vs. a "Green" ethic in TOD) but most of the delta is structural.

Best Hopes for Better Understanding,


Ok, so assuming that TOD:Suburbia is really close to 4:1 as you say (I'd still like to see more convincing data around that), let me ask you this:

Why can't suburban houses be retrofitted and redesigned to be far more energy efficient than they currently are? Such as...
--Installing better insulation and double-pane windows.
--Passive heating/cooling (large Southern facing windows for more free sunlight & heat in winter, awnings for shade in the summer.
--Much wider use of straw bale and cobb construction (agricultural waste material and basically dirt).
--Solar panels and wind (where applicable).
--Gray water irrigation of lawns or --even better-- suburban gardens that produce free food for your family.
etc, etc...

I'm convinced that suburban living doesn't *have* to be 4X as wasteful as TOD/urban living, and having a little living space doesn't make you the enemy of humanity.

I've lived in a high density cities and commuted mostly by transit and bike before, and it's just fine when you're young and single. However, as you get older, get a job and start a family, the urban hipster lifestyle loses some of its appeal. The demands on your time and requirements to be somewhere at a set time increase exponentially. You may not be as physically fit for bike riding as you age. You may also need to carry passengers different places (such as children) or cargo. It's also very nice to have a yard as a convenient place for your kids and pets to play, or for planting a garden, or simply to have something prettier to look out at than the condo tower next door.

Some people are just happier with having a little personal space and being surrounded by green living things vs. packed in a concrete box like sardines, and I happen to be one of them. I don't need or want a 4500sft McMansion or 3-car garage to make me happy either. 1500sft, one car for me and the wife + transit that can get me to work would be just fine. And I would prefer straw bale or cobb construction and the most environmentally efficient technology available to power it.

Harm - You're right, those things can be done to those houses. I'm living my life in such a 1500 ft house renovated much as you describe, and in circumstances largely as you say are your preference, 'cept we're further out than any real transit (there are some county run jitney type buses) is going to reach. But that's the rub. It's the fact that one gallon of gas = 34 kWh that makes transit such a big piece of the picture, especially as you rachet down household energy as we've done - 3kWh/day - the rest is solar/wood and a tiny bit of propane. But every trip to town, even in our Prius, means more energy burned than our monthly household energy usage...

Quick reply.

New Orleans has fewer VMT by residents than New York City - but we do it on a human scale, with quite a bit of greenery. Much of it in public spaces. We have (and want) less of the privacy/social isolation of Suburbia.


And for the record, it looks like rail really is a lot safer than driving, though the ratio is closer to 15:1, not 12,000,000:0 as you implied above --when comparing apples to apples.


US: 27.26 billion passenger-km/year (both Amtrak and commuter rail), 159 deaths over 20 years. Note the rate is more than twice that of China per capita, let alone per rail passenger. This is one death per 3.4 billion passenger-km.

For comparison, the US road network has 33,000 accident deaths and 7.35 trillion passenger-km per year, which is one death per 220 million passenger-km.

However, that VMT # would have been significantly lower had we not subsidized and invested in driving/roads & highways for so many decades.

Your statistic does not appear to include Urban Rail (which is generally safer than Amtrak per pax-mile) vs. Urban/Suburban only driving (rural interstates are the safest driving).

BTW, 47 Amtrak deaths were from that one barge accident in 1993.

For example, TxDOT could have left I-10 West at 8 lanes and invested in a 3 track rail line on the old KATY RR RoW (the 3rd track for express service in the Peak direction) leading to good rail service downtown and in the Galleria area.

TxDot has studied the ratio life cycle costs (rebuild every 40 years) vs. fuel taxes paid for different Texas highways. The ratio varies from just over 50% to about 15%.

So I guess, Best Hopes for Toll Roads & paid parking EVERYWHERE,


Deaths per passenger-mile is a statistic beloved of fast-moving transport like airlines, railways, motor cars etc, because it makes them look so good. But it's meaningless.

It is deaths per hour of life that is the important statistic. Multiplied by typical time spent in the activity.

Airplanes are quite safe, so we are prepared to spend many hours in them. Crossing the road is dangerous, but it only takes a few seconds. That's why we are prepared to do it.

Thus we choose our comfort zone of risk.

And rail travel should include the risk of walking to the station. I have a twenty minute walk through gangsterish territory, which is why I prefer the bus or minibus taxi. It's safer.

As for the government forcing businesses to provide parking spaces because of public demand, some might call that democracy.

And IME, it's actually the opposite. The businesses want parking spaces, and will have a cow if you try to take even one. Even if it's in the public good (for a fire hydrant or a crosswalk, say) and the public and the government want it, businesses will fight tooth and nail to keep a parking space.

You can kind of understand why. It makes a big difference for their sales, having convenient parking.

Merchants LOVE parking provided at no cost to them !

But many developers would prefer to provide fewer than required parking spaces (spaces at their cost), if the law would allow them to do so. I know of several specific cases.


While retail businesses do live and die by sufficient convenient parking, the parking minimum laws in almost every US city (including my own "green" Boulder) go far beyond that.

Every single family home is required to provide parking, whether or not the occupant even owns a car (still true in Boulder today, the building inspector checked ours even during completely un-related construction), multi-family developments are often required to provide 2 spaces per unit, parking on the streets is "free" (even if the amortized annual cost could be $10,000, it is "free" to the user, subsidized by everybody including the 25% of Boulder residents who don't own cars (mostly students). Office developments are required to be surrounded by seas of parking

Honestly, I see requiring space for at least one vehicle as pretty sensible idea for SFRs. Would you buy a house without at least one? I sure wouldn't. And even if you're one of those people who hates cars --even EVs-- and are lucky enough to live near a great transit hub or work from home, at some point you may need to sell your home. And the prospective buyers are not likely to universally share your disdain for personal transit.

If you're talking about high-rise condos in a very rail/transit dense neighborhood, then perhaps you can get by selling units with no parking spaces (though most condo owners I know have at least one vehicle to take them places that rail/transit cannot). Even so, that would be an outlier in the U.S. In most of the U.S., you need a car at least some of the time to get around, and there are many places rail can't go. I very much doubt that transit will ever solve that problem 100%, unless we all pack ourselves into dense cities and never travel far from home.

Personal transport also gives you a big measure of freedom and flexibility that mass transit simply cannot match. Need to see a client thanks to a scheduled-at-the-last-minute business meeting? How about that late night trip to the store to pick up some last minute items? Need to go pick up your spouse (and/or children) and baggage at the airport or train station? Need to get to a hospital quick and the nearest ambulance is busy and/or miles away? What about that road trip to see some natural splendor at a national park? Good luck getting there with mass transit.

There really is some truth to the cliche that "your car is your freedom". That's just reality, and wishing it away or hating cars won't magically make it change overnight.

Why is it that can't TOD/rail and dense urban city centers cannot peacefully co-exist with cleaner and more efficient personal transit and well designed suburbs? I just don't get the whole TOD fetish or the categorical dislike for personal transport in general.

Personal transport also gives you a big measure of freedom and flexibility that mass transit simply cannot match.

I disagree that has to be - it is only due to the massive subsidies.

Need to see a client thanks to a scheduled-at-the-last-minute business meeting? Faster (and no wasted time parking) by good Metro

How about that late night trip to the store to pick up some last minute items? Walk 3 or 5 blocks
Need to go pick up your spouse (and/or children) and baggage at the airport or train station? Take the train

Need to get to a hospital quick and the nearest ambulance is busy and/or miles away? Nearest emergency room is 8 blocks away - nearest doc in a box 6 blocks. Call a taxi or a neighbor with a car and say it is an emergency (I know my neighbors).

What about that road trip to see some natural splendor at a national park? Excursion trains were once the only way to get there.

Good luck getting there with mass transit.
No, better choices,


One can travel to and from Grand Canyon National Park by rail.

In places like Boston and NY parking often doesn't come with an apartment. You have to pay extra, and there's often a waiting list of months.

But they can do that because they have good public transportation systems. Many people live car free in those cities.

What about that road trip to see some natural splendor at a national park? Good luck getting there with mass transit. There really is some truth to the cliche that "your car is your freedom". That's just reality, and wishing it away or hating cars won't magically make it change overnight.

Ah, industrial tourism. The spirit of American the beautiful.

Not going to argue with you that there is 'freedom' afforded to those fortunate enough to own and drive an automobile in the car-centric artificial landscape. Of course, that freedom has been diachronically stolen from subsequent generations who bear the cost of environmental degradation levied by an oil-drunk society, and from contemporary people who do not own cars and for whom basic travel has become encumbered and deadly. But on the issue of witnessing the 'natural splendor' of the teeny slivers of land this nation has designated as 'parkland', why not ride a bicycle there? People of all ages have done it. Yet even in Yellowstone National Park the roads are so jammed up with motor traffic they typically resemble parking lots (those being full too). If getting there without a car is too difficult to fathom, why not just drive to the park's edge, and walk into the park from there? Would it be impossible to refrain from driving, even briefly, to see something so fenced-in and doomed by industrialized society?

I can't tell you how many times you'll see, in national parklands amid the lumbering procession of automobiles, someone's tiny sunbaked arm swiveling antenna-like outside their driver's side window, camera in hand, snatching pixelated mementos of some natural splendor while puttering by in a shimmering tunnel of exhaust fumes. Is that freedom? Of course, once the motorized explorers return home and are uploading their slideshows, they'll never know what they missed. And who knows what natural wonders they're missing back home even; what sights lie hidden behind the wall of billboards, or sounds drowning beneath the perpetual hiss of traffic.

The private automobile should not be allowed in national parks. This is not a new idea. National Parks are the last place we need their presence, the second-last being cities, the third-last being everywhere else. To quote Edward Abbey's famous polemic (sadly this was written over 50 years ago- how embarrassing for us):

Assuming... that population growth will be halted at a tolerable level before catastrophe does it for us, it remains permissible to talk about such things as the national parks. Having indulged myself in a number of harsh judgments upon the Park Service, the tourist industry, and the motoring public, I now feel entitled to make some constructive, practical, sensible proposals for the salvation of both parks and people.

(1) No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs — anything — but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.

(2) No more new roads in national parks. After banning private automobiles the second step should be easy. Where paved roads are already in existence they will be reserved for the bicycles and essential in-park services, such as shuttle buses, the trucking of camping gear and concessioners’ supplies. Where dirt roads already exist they too will be reserved for nonmotorized traffic. Plans for new roads can be discarded and in their place a program of trail-building begun, badly needed in some of the parks and in many of the national monuments. In mountainous areas it may be desirable to build emergency shelters along the trails and bike roads; in desert regions a water supply might have to be provided at certain points — wells drilled and handpumps installed if feasible.

What is so horrible about allowing limited roads and access for *electric* vehicles in national or state parks? Are you against the elderly or handicapped? What if I'm able bodies but my job only allows me a week of vacation (sadly typical in the U.S.)? We're not all blessed with the European 6-8 months of minimum vacation time. What about access for ambulances or park service vehicles?

Sometimes the anti-car vitriol here gets a little too thick for me.

When we talk about subsidy in this realm, we must talk about the hidden unpaid externalities of FF. Climate change is ravaging the planet, and will soon lead to widespread hunger, thanks to coal, certainly, but also to the gasoline in our tanks - both automobile and military. And speaking of military, the portion of the US 'defense' budget that can be attributed to what amounts to an oil protection racket is in the 100s of billions annually. How about land use? I don't know if anyone's ever measured all the arable land gobbled up by highways and parking lots, but I'm sure that no one's appropriately accounted for all the ag land lost to suburbia, that wouldn't have happened without 'cheap' gasoline for a century. When anyone who thinks that wind, solar and mass transit are given too much help, and calls for a level playing field, I say bring it on. We've never had one, and I'd love to see the result. Far too late, of course...

Bombardier Goes Loco Over Electrics as GE Digs Diesel

Bombardier Inc. (BBD/B) is betting that the heavy-duty diesel has had its day as the dominant force in the $11 billion locomotive market as oil prices hover at pre-slump levels and emerging nations electrify their railroad networks.

Electric locomotives will have the bigger market at 4.5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) a year through 2016, according to Hamburg-based consultant SCI Verkehr. That’s just 20 million euros ahead of the estimate for diesel sales, which it says will be less prone to order volatility. Electrics will reign in Asia and Europe, leaving diesel-oriented companies reliant on non- electrified Asian lines and pent-up demand from North America.

“The only argument for diesel is the lack of electricity,” Janis Vitins, marketing director at Bombardier’s locomotives business, said in an interview at the InnoTrans 2012 rail- industry trade fair in Berlin. “But Europe is pretty much all- electric and the world is moving in that direction. If you go to Russia, China, even India, they’re all electrifying like crazy.”

GE unveils EPA Tier 4 compliant heavy-haul locomotive

InnoTrans 2012: The Future of Mobility

Mitsumishi Electric Transportation Systems

General Electric Co. (GE), the world leader in large diesel locomotives, disagrees, predicting a bright future for engines that can weigh 200 tons and take days to cross continents with their cargoes of coal, iron ore and double-stacked containers.

That's a future scenario that "General Diesel" envisions, but I wouldn't call trainloads of coal crossing the continent a bright future. Pretty grim really.

Realistically What Might the Future Climate Look Like?

Figure 1: Three scenarios, each of which would limit the total global emission of carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning and industrial processes to 750 billion tonnes over the period 2010–2050. Source: German Advisory Council on Global Change, WBGU (2009)

someone needs to figure out a way of building these things much more cheaply.

Check out SkyTran. It is 10x cheaper than light rail, with the same capacity.

That has yet to be shown.

PRT is conceivably cheaper in trackage, but vehicle production, storage, control, station management..?? there are a lot of unknowns for how you'd practically move vast numbers of peanuts in mere 3-peanut bags.

The largest oil field in the Caspian has a decline rate of 8.4 percent per year since peak two years ago and a turnaround may be too expensive to even attempt.

Exclusive: Output to slide further at BP's Azeri oil giant

The investments required to cut the decline at the Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli (ACG) fields are so large that it may not even be commercially viable for the companies to spend the money unless they receive sweeteners from the government, the sources told Reuters...

However, ACG has not lived up to expectations. After hitting 823,000 bpd in 2010, output has fallen.
Production averaged 684,000 bpd in the first half of this year and oil executives and diplomats said the challenge is now to keep output to around the 700,000 bpd mark.

I have been studying decline rates whenever I have the data. The combined decline rate of four major projects in the Gulf of Mexico, Atlantis, Blind Faith, Thunder Horse and Tahiti is in excess of 20 percent per year. In September of 2009 they had a combined production of 583,144 barrels per day. In June of 2012 they had a combined 208,957 barrels per day. Mars-Ursa, in shallower water of about 1000 feet, has a decline rate of only 7.2 percent per year. (Atlantis has been off line for over three months but I think it is back on line now. But no reports of production yet.)

The North Sea, Norway, UK and Denmark, over the last two years, has a decline rate of 9.38 percent. And that is in spite of any new oil that might have come on line in the meantime.

Leonardo Maugeri in the now famous Harvard study Oil: The Next Revolution states: (Large PDF)

In fact, by balancing depletion rates and reserve growth on a country-by-country basis, decline profiles of already producing oilfields appear less pronounced than assessed by most experts, being no higher than 2 to 3 percent on a yearly basis.

Maugeri has badly miscalculated. And of course one cannot "balance" depletion rates with reserve growth and change "decline" rates. Where did he get such a crazy idea?

Ron P.

Thanks Ron.

It really does feel like we are about to plunge off the edge of the plateau.

In yesterdays post by Rune Likvern analysing Bakken production he stated the typical well decline 40% per year. Sure, a few old oil fields have decline rates of 3%, and some EOR can boost the production of old fields for a while. But most new production is in areas where EOR is not feasible (offshore deepwater) or simply not economical (refrac of shale formation).

The typical decline rate for new fields is averaging more like 10% overall, IMO.

NCS declines so far in 2012 (numbers from npd.no: thousands of barrels/day):

Item January August Difference Decline
Crude: 1681 1506 175 -10,42%
NGL: 276 265 11 -4%
Condensate: 80 64 16 -8%
Total: 2037 1835 202 -9%

Hi Ron,

Here's a small correction (which does not in any way affect any of your arguments or conclusions): Mars is in 3,000 ft of water; Ursa, I believe is about 3,300, but it's been 15 years since I've dealt with them (I've been on Mars, but not Ursa, although I did several projects for both).

David V.

Altosack, you are correct. The figures I gave were meters but I incorrectly stated them as feet. Thanks for the correction. All the other figures I gave should have been in meters also but I incorrectly stated them as feet also.

Dumb mistake on my part, thanks again for the correction.

Ron P.

Regarding As an expert in post-apocalyptic political economy...., above: I actually made time to watch episode 2 of "Revolution" and found it about as silly as the author of this article did. While a show that employed some of us here on TOD as consultants would likely be far more accurate, it might also be far too scary for consumption by the average TV viewing consumer. While many people enjoy being scared by vampires, zombies and such, they aren't real and never will be.

I would certainly enjoy seeing Greer's "Star's Reach" or Kunstler's "Witch of Hebron" being produced as a series, though I doubt either author would enjoy submitting their work to MSM corruption.

I agree with the author of the piece "that Revolution is a pile of derivative crap." However he misses something with this conclusion:

1) Countries and empires managed to maintain something resembling territorial integrity prior to the invention of electricity;

Of course they did but that doesn't mean that we could simply go back to that way of life without massive pernicious consequences. And of course, we We, as a people, are unequipped and untrained to live in the world that existed before the industrial revolution. To even suggest that we might, without a massive die-off as a consequence, is simply not to understand the problems with scenario.

In 1750, just before the industrial revolution, the world had about 700 million people, one tenth of today's population. Because we have so degraded our carrying capacity, I doubt that the earth would support nearly that number today without the aid of fossil energy and all the modern miracles that fossil energy brought.

Ron P.

Is anyone aware of any scholarly work that has been done at estimating global carrying capacity in the absence of fossil fuels? In more than one source I have seen "one billion" bandied about, because it was the population in 1800 (a date also chosen as "just before the industrial revolution").

It is true that, as Ron says, we have significantly degraded our environment in the interim. On the other hand, we know a lot more about the world now than we did in 1750 or 1800, and that knowledge is not all going to disappear overnight. That means that long-term carrying capacity could exceed 700 million or a billion.

But even supposing that long-term carrying capacity were as high as two billion, that's less than a third of the current world population, and probably less than a quarter what the population will be when it peaks. It would be a matter of something more than academic interest whether the decline in world population from 8 or 9 billion occurs slowly or quickly. If it occurs quickly, then the surplus of deaths over births would have to be composed of an awful lot of deaths that are, well, premature. How many, I wonder?

There is a lot of information on this subject. I would recommend you first read the Wiki page as it gives good background. It has a number of links also. This is a controversial subject and, depending on what factors you use in your analysis, different people have come up with wildly different numbers (many are ideologically based as would be expected, some are just ignorant, some are pretty well done).

Once you run through the Wiki stuff you can just Google (and Google Scholar) to find a wealth of articles.

There has been several debates on this list as to how fast the collapse will be. Most people on this list seem to agree with Greer that the collapse will be slow. I however agree with David Korowicz that the collapse will be fast and dramatic.

As to post collapse carrying capacity, I don't recall many debates on that subject. But I suppose most of us have an opinion. I know I do. I would suspect that the carrying capacity, in the first one hundred years after the collapse will be less than half a billion. At any rate it will take perhaps a century to even get the population up to half a billion... because of undershoot.


Ron P.

It's interesting how that graph resembles R(t) of a collapsing, cavitating bubble:

It is hard to believe that there could be a collapse. Everything still seems to be going so well, all things considered. But it is a possibility. Isn't that why the authors of Limits to Growth released their study somewhat prematurely? Against their expectations, most scenarios showed sudden collapse rather than gradual decline, and they were shocked. Of course the world has spent 40 years steadfastly ignoring this warning.

And also whenever any animal population has grown exponentially like the human population has over the past 200 years a collapse usually follows. It seems surreal at this point, but a collapse is certainly a possibility.

It seems surreal at this point, but a collapse is certainly a possibility.

We don't like to believe that unimaginable can happen, despite all the evidence to the contrary. Just look at what happened to the American Indians, particularly those who were living on the Great Plains:

When nineteenth-century Europeans first made their way to America's steppes, then the most fertile grasslands on the planet, they were teeming with wildlife: birds, antelope, deer, grizzly bears, elk, wolves—and especially bison, that most emblematic of prairie species, with herds so vast they were likened to a brown inland sea. Amid all this richness were the indigenous Americans, who ruled the land on horseback.

The Plains tribes built their culture and mythology around this wildlife... And then watched in horror as most of it vanished in just a few decades. The most surreal example is probably the American bison. In 1830, there were somewhere between 30 and 60 million of them in North America. By 1884, that number had shrunk to 1,091.

Talk about having your entire world turned upside down...

That buffalo statistic, among many, is so depressing. The Americas must have truly been a paradise, if one had the knowledge to live off of Nature's bounty rather than just destroying it.

I'd recommend 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann.

By the time the native population on the plains were riding horses their population had been decimated by disease, and the peak buffalo population quoted was an overshoot due to the collapse of the human population that kept them in check. As the Europeans colonized the Americas they moved into a vast area that had been depopulated in front of them, just long enough before them that the evidence was disappearing. What they found was not what had been, but the result of the largest human society and population collapse in history.

It was kind of a temporary paradise. What really happened was that when Europeans arrived in the Americas, they brought diseases that killed off about 90% of the Indian population. With the Indian population decimated, the bison population exploded to several times its prehistoric level, so when the Europeans finally made it to the Great Plains, it did look like some kind of paradise.

In reality, it wasn't so good in pre-European times. There were too many Indians for the game supply, they didn't have horses, so they relied on dogs to pull their belongings (they called those their "dog days"), and they didn't have guns so they had to kill the buffalo by stampeding them over cliffs - not a reliable way to get food.

When people look at classic paintings of Plains Indians on horseback, most of them don't realize that the horse was a European re-introduction. When paleolithic people arrived in the Americas, the first thing they did was hunt all the indigenous horses into extinction. Without horses, it was a lot less fun for them to walk around the great plains with only dogs to pull their teepees and other belongings.

After the European arrival, the local Canadian Blackfoot Indians (those who survived the plagues) had it really good. They got horses from the south, and repeating rifles from the fur traders. The fur traders stayed out of their territory except to trade furs (they were scared witless of the Blackfeet) and the Canadian Indians didn't have the US Cavalry to contend with - so everybody else stayed out of their territory, too. And, best of all, there were lots and lots of bison to hunt with their new horses and repeating rifles.

Unfortunately it all came to an end after a couple of centuries - even in the absence of White Men, they hunted out all the bison and had to go on government welfare. Fortunately the British and subsequent Canadian governments were relatively generous compared to the American government and refrained from driving them off their land and shooting them.

I'm just mentioning this to make people aware that it wasn't really the paradise many people imagine - the pre-conquest American Indians were stuck in a Malthusian trap just as the Europeans were before they discovered the Americas. What you get in the media is an idealized version, if you talk to archaeologists or old Indians you get a somewhat different picture.

Repeating rifles didn't arrive anywhere in any quantities until after the American Civil War which ended in 1865, long after the disruption of American Indian culture by Europeans. The horses, for example, arrived with Ponce de Leon in 1513, 3-1/2 centuries earlier.

Well it is true that prior to the introduction of repeating rifles with the Winchester Model 1866, the Blackfeet had to shoot bison with flintlock muskets. It probably worked well, they just couldn't shoot bison as fast. Shooting them with bows and arrows was also fairly effective, but was the repeating rifle that decimated the bison herds and brought them to the edge of extinction.


Actually I believe it was the breech loading rifle that made the big difference. As you noted, repeating rifles didn't appear in quantity until after the US Civil War. Breech loaders such as the Sharps Rifle had become available earlier. While not a true repeater, a breech loader could be loaded and fired much faster than a muzzle loader. They were much easier for a man on horseback to use.

The "Buffalo Guns" used in the US West were 50 to 60 caliber and best shot from a prone position (heck of a kick). Single shot breech loading.

Buffalo hunters would often ride ahead of the larger processing party, find a convenient knoll, dismount, set up and kill dozens to hundreds of buffaloes at a time from a distance. It could take hours to do so.

Amazing carnage.


Shooting prone, while highly accurate, is the worst way to absorb heavy recoil. There is no way for your body to give with the kick. My understanding is that the buffalo hunters usually shot from sitting position, using a rest for the rifle. This gives a good compromise between high accuracy and absorbing recoil.

The railroads also played a large role in the buffalo's demise. First they engaged buffalo hunters to provide meat for the crews building the railroads. Once built, the railroads invited eastern sportsmen to shoot buffalo from the trains. The railroads also transported the buffalo hides to the eastern markets.

Buffalo Hunters

There is a book of plains american indians drawings from the 19th century that I find quite impressive, some extracts below :
(not the best ones)
The book :

There was a study back in the '90s. I saw it written up in Scientific American; can't remember where the original work was published. It estimated that the "natural" carbon cycle (that is, no fossil fuels, or petroleum-based fertilizers) would support about 2 billion people.

This analysis suggests 1 billion people.

It looks like what the Zabel article is saying is that biomass energy alone would only have allowed the world's population to reach one billion (which is about where it was in 1800). He stops a bit short of saying that's what the population will decline to in the future.

Zabel suggests three future scenarios:

1. Continued Fossil Fuel Consumption Growth.

2. Fossil Fuel Decline and No Sufficient Substitute.

3. Fossil Fuel Decline and a New Energy Source.

The first scenario is unrealistic after 2030. I'll believe the third scenario when I see it. The second scenario ("Fossil Fuel Decline and No Sufficient Substitute") is, I think, closest to what we are actually going to experience.

Zabel discounts wind and solar as "low quality." He is surely right on the basis of EROI, to suggest that they are not "sufficient" to replace our current level of fossil fuel consumption and to suggest that relying on them would "lower the population ceiling." But lower it to what? He doesn't really say. And is he suggesting that wind and solar, because they are low quality, would be of no value at all? I really couldn't tell.

Since the 1800s there have been two major agricultural provinces opened up: Eastern North America and Southern South America. So these have to be added to Northeast Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Northern Europe. Outside of that, there are smaller areas including West Africa, South Africa, Mediterranean Europe, Nile Valley, Coastal California/Washington, Carribean, and so forth.

Historically, China supported a population of 100 million for centuries after the introduction of double-cropped rice. This is probably the biggest single agricultural area, and they could probably sustain more like 400 million of their current 1300 million population -- after all they did so a few decades ago on relatively meager amounts of fossil fuel. Similarly for other areas like India and Southeast Asia. So I'd think that a billion globally is quite reasonable.

It is areas requiring high energy inputs, such as the irrigated California Central Valley or irrigated corn in Nebraska, that will effectively cease production. Areas with good soil and sufficient rainfall will be farmed intensively, even if more primitively.

"Historically, China supported a population of 100 million for centuries after the introduction of double-cropped rice. This is probably the biggest single agricultural area, and they could probably sustain more like 400 million of their current 1300 million population -- after all they did so a few decades ago on relatively meager amounts of fossil fuel."

I submit that going back to that (or whatever) will be nigh impossible. The land has changed, the people have changed, the climate...

I think it's not possible to reasonably compare the past with what the future holds; we've burned too many bridges, lost critical connections with the land, and degraded what was to the point that it can't support what it did. We've altered biosystems, from whole oceans down to the microbes that inhabit our bodies. Rebalancing of these systems will take millenia. We have so many fingers in so many dikes, the deluge is likely be enormous when the dikes inevitably fail. The natural world is prone to correcting imbalances, and we humans have 'progressed' with great spite and defiance of this reality. Nature is snapping back, like a spring wound too tight. Humanity is faced with going back to grade school.

We'll need to return to adapting to the conditions we're faced with rather than adapting the world to us, if we humans are to make it through the bottleneck of our own making. Most folks/societies won't handle having their expectations shattered to this degree well at all. We'll turn on each other, and I think it's highly likely that nuclear weapons will be used at some point. I know,, unthinkable.

We'll need to return to adapting to the conditions we're faced with rather than adapting the world to us

Well said - a keeper that.

The rest of that sentence is also relevant:

We'll need to return to adapting to the conditions we're faced with rather than adapting the world to us, if we humans are to make it through the bottleneck of our own making.

“ We have met the enemy, and they are us.” -'Pogo' by Walt Kelly

I think the story of China's population is more complex than that.

Double-cropped rice was introduced at the beginning of the Song dynasty, and you can see the population increase that followed. But it didn't last. 100 million was a brief blip until the current spike began.

China suffered repeated booms and dieoffs in its history. I guess on the bright side - it wasn't fun, but it wasn't collapse, either.

Another estimate of Chinese populations is at China's Population Growth, A.D. 0 - 2050.

This indicates that the population was closer to 100 million for an extended period of time during the Ming Dynasty.

China is instructive because the drops in population are most often associated with invasions, peasant rebellions, war between states, etc. Indeed, humans are different than yeast because human populations are not controlled solely by exhaustion of food supplies. Humans have an evolved propensity for controlling populations by violence before they starve to death.

War is very advantageous to populations that are subject to swings in food availability, such as hunters subject to predator/prey dynamics, herders subject to changes in grazing land productivity/availability, and farmers in temperate or dry conditions. War keeps the population down to a level such that much of the population remains fed and healthy during the periods of low food availability, which is a far better strategy than uniformly starving to death or dying of disease in a population weakened by starvation.

Therefore, in those parts of the world most stressed by lack of resources, I would expect large scale violence to actually precede famines and reduce the degree to which resources are fully exhausted. The king's foresters and wardens will protect the kings forests and deer even while the peasants are starving.

I'm not arguing with your 1 billion number. It may be good. I don't know. But the problem is that the more one thinks about carrying capacity the harder the problem looks. What was possible in the past cannot necessarily be extrapolated to tomorrow as we no longer have the same world to work with.

For instance I read recently that for every 1C increase in the average global temperature the estimates are that global agricultural productivity drops by 10%. We are at a 0.8C rise now and will pass 2C by 2050 and may be as high as 4C by 2100. It is going to be much harder to grow food than it is now even if you do not count any of the other problems. As the climate warms the growing regions will move poleward in many areas. In North America that will result in agriculture moving into areas where the soils are much less productive than in the mid-west. A lot of agriculture all over the world depends on melt water from the high mountains (especially China and India) and this will eventually decrease dramatically further reducing productivity. Then there is continuing topsoil loss everywhere industrial farming equipment and techniques are being used. There will be increasing salinity problems due to poor irrigation techniques and salt water intrusion due to rising sea levels and ground water pumping. Over grazing is still occurring on a wide scale. Urbanization, which will occur on a wide scale for many years to come almost always takes good farmland out of production so we will lose millions of acres of good land that way for a long time still. And there are lots of other factors besides the above ones of course.

By the time we get our population down to what the future world can support just what will be left of the world we have now. Tough question I think. Thinking about that question gives a lot of credibility to those that think we will shoot past the number on the downside at some point.

I believe that there is no avoiding the crash and having a slow decline (a la J M Geer) due to the number and complexity of our problems and that there is no longer slack in the global system as there has been for all other collapsing civilizations.

Just a comment that I may as well stick here as anyplace, RE Greer's long descent/slow decline, etc. I like it, I bought the book. But...

He compares his future with history, but only the historic outcomes we've experienced. Single-valued actual outcomes don't necessarily reflect the odds that existed, or that now exist.

The other day I was discussing with my brother the case of Vasili Arkhipov,

Under tortuous conditions, dehydrated and believing his homeland probably under nuclear attack, he nevertheless held out against firing nuclear torpedoes against the US fleet and starting a global thermonuclear war.

What were the odds of him being there and resisting peer pressure while under bombardment? Gradualist projections of Greer's sort tend to discount highly-probable abrupt events that didn't happen, even if by dumb luck or extraordinary heroism. Like, y'know, most of us being dead now.

"What were the odds of him being there and resisting peer pressure while under bombardment?"

Yeah, what are the odds of getting that lucky again,, every time? [if luck it is] ;-/

Good to know the Soviets were selecting for level headedness. It kind of goes with the job.

[if luck it is] ;-/

If indeed.

It's possible that Arkhipov's agreeing to launch the nuclear torpedoes would have saved the planet from BAU destruction by CO2, by ratcheting down human population size and societal complexity for a long time.

So it was luck, it's just too early to tell whether good or bad in the long term. Ain't that a hell of a note?

When populations decrease following extreme overshoot, it is not atypical for the crash to drop far below 'sustainable' levels. In fact, it would not be impossible for species extinction to result.

As always, I will refer to the St. Matthews Island reindeer.


Of course, an extreme climate event intervened and contributed to their demise. Having said that, the prospect of increasing climate instability looms far larger, IMO.


Is anyone aware of any scholarly work that has been done at estimating global carrying capacity in the absence of fossil fuels?

I agree with other comments that you could easily have answered your own question with just a few minutes of homework. Take for example this study first published 40 years ago which shows population peaking in the next decade at about 7-8 billion and then going into decline to levels last seen in the 1950's:

From Limits to Growth - The 30 Year Update

Keep in mind that this is a "best case" scenario that aggregates generally higher death rates and does not explicitly take into account specific instances of war, famine, plague, or genocide. Any of which could make the situation much worse than what is shown here.


I'm thoroughly familiar with the Limits to Growth study. That chart doesn't say anything definitive about long-term global carrying capacity, since it's truncated at the right end by the decision to cut off the modeling exercise at 2100. To whatever extent that it hints that the world's population might be sustainable at "levels last seen in the 1950's," that would imply a global carrying capacity of something like 2.5 billion. That's three and a half times what Ron thinks is likely. Or maybe Ron's saying that, because of undershoot, the population might crash to 700 million before rising again to a long-term sustainable level of -- what?

I don't believe the graph represent a best case scenario, but rather the "standard run scenario."

Coyle, I have absolutely no idea what the long term carrying capacity of the earth is. I don't think the question can even be answered at this point because we don't know what destruction we may do the earth on the way down.

All that being said, I think that undershoot may take us well under half a billion. And it will take at least one hundred years, likely a lot more, to get back up to whatever the long term carrying capacity actually is. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse will take a deadly toll on the population for centuries after the crash.

So I would expect the population of the earth to be less than half a billion for a long, long time after the crash regardless of what the long term carrying capacity actually may be at that point.

Ron P.

The long term carying capacity of the earth is 2,453,567,195.


The long term carrying capacity is zero... in about 250,000,000 years. And, in about 5+ Bn years, the planet will be absorbed into the red giant that Sol will become.

Long term capacity, as has been stated several times today, is somewhat a misnomer. Far more likely, the reduction overshoots carrying capacity by a great deal, and with luck it may rebound. As was also stated, this is not going to happen overnight, or (we hope) in the next decade, but over a period of time dictated by many factors, not the least of which will be whether we continue to add CO2 to the atmospher and if so what new and unforeseen problems (other than in the most general way) that might cause.

If the only impact is 4deg C warming, some parts of the equitorial latitudes may become uninhabitable, much of present farmland unfarmable, and some considerable part of what is today unfarmable may become the bread basket of the planet. In any event, factory farming is not likely to continue as the costs of amonia fertilizer made from NG precludes purchase by any but the 1%.

We can only hope that some of those 47% will survive. I would not be the farm on that.


A hypothetical sapient hominid species would consider the block-time total number of human lives possible to be lived on earth, not just the number who could exist at any one time.

Failure to do this gives us massively messed-up contexts.

Figure there have been roughly a hundred billion human lives lived to date, and are roughly 10 billion alive now (or soon).

Now if we simply didn't destroy the planet but lived at a 1 billion population for 100,000 years - which would probably have been realistic without fossil carbon being added to the atmosphere, that'd be roughly 10^15 human-years. If we allocate a generous average of 100 years per life, that takes us down to 10^13 human lives to be lived in that period. That'd be ten trillion with a T, real human lives.

And that's what's at stake, even if we only care about our fellow monkeys and not about the other species who made it this far. The total human-life footprint to be lived on earth, which should dwarf the total number who have lived to date and damn sure dwarfs our temporary overshoot numbers. By destroying oceans and messing up the climate, we are seriously curtailing the 4D size of this footprint. These are real human lives being precluded by cowardice, self-indulgence, and stupidity in the Now.

Isn't it amazing how just postulating "no species suicide" gives us numbers that sound like science fiction?

Trillions of human lives lost. That's what's happening now, as we blog and drive around. And that's where destroyed carrying capacity really shows up.

Why would maximizing total human-years lived by future populations be a good objective?

Maximizing the life satisfaction of the current population and of the next couple of generations projected on the basis of fairly stringent population controls would seem like a better objective.

We, matter our kids matter, maybe our grandchildren matter. But great grandchildren are expendable! And will our kids be happy, knowing their grandkids were expended? Certainly our grandkids, knowing their chance to have surviving children was expended, won't be happy campers. Somehow, I don't think we are equipped psychologically yo deal with the consequences of such a policy were it made explicit. We only tolerate because it is implicit in our current lives -and hence ignorable.

Speaking of "what if's", if we were not warming the planet, in about another 10,000 years the Holocene Interglacial Period would end. The rapidly cooling climate would also end any human civilizations present at that time (and fat chance of that, anyway), as sea levels drop and ice sheets rebuild upon the land. Winds pick up all over, with droughts everywhere except a narrow band of stormy weather along the equator. It'd be like that movie "The Day After Tomorrow" except not as fast and not as hokey, but every bit as scary as the movie for those there to experience it.

But alas, we get a rerun of the Pliocene or Middle Miocene coming our way, instead. Hominids evolved through those times, but as bands of hominds, not as 7 billion fat-assed humans driving cars around in circles, eating fast-food industrial corn turned into McChickens, McPigs and McBeef. Frankly, I'm amazed that they still offer what appears to be fish in those Fillet-o-Fish sandwiches. Does anyone know if it's farmed? Can't be wild cod, that's for sure.

We can experience both !

A super heating episode now, a few thousand years to let the GHG dissipate and human technology to disappear and be forgotten, then orbital forcing into the next Ice Age !


I saw a show once that showed a factory ship catching Alaskan Pollock exclusively for McDs. They apparently have pretty high standards for quality and "sustainably caught" fish. They also use hoki. They stopped using cod when the fisheries were becoming depleted.

The Filet-O-Fish

The Filet-O-Fish contains a battered fish patty made mostly from Alaskan pollock and/or hoki, half a slice of processed cheese and 30ml of tartar sauce. Currently in the UK, however, new operational procedures in practice have reduced the amount of sauce to 20ml of tartar sauce and Fillets are no longer salted. The tartar sauce is made with dill relish and seasoning on a steamed bun. It is similar to the English favourite, the fish finger sandwich.

The McDs fish sandwich was introduced by a franchise in a largely Catholic neighborhood so the faithful could eat them on Friday. Extra tarter sauce on mine, please ;-)

Inquiring minds wanted to know...

Thanks for the info Ghung. Alan's correct, some lucky survivor humans get to experience the extremes of Earth's climate, assuming the species does not go extinct before the next Ice Age.

Interestingly I saw an analysis by someone (can't remember who) who computed the optimum rate of fossil fuel burning. He wanted to optimize how long we could fend off the next ice age, with excess CO2. He calculated something like 600,000 years. But, we are blowing it, and burning the stuff way too fast.

Actually, if are are both technological, and not too sparse on the ground, I think we could come up with enough geo-engineering to fend off an ice age. In any case, and ice age isn't an end of civilization, but the net carrying capacity of the planet might be lower during those times.

I too think an ice age brought on by a Milankovitch Cycle would be easy to defeat: compact the snow, move some black cinder around, apply soot or apply dirt. If the trigger is a massive volcanic eruption or meteor impact that spews dust into the stratosphere, it may not be possible to counteract it due to massive multi-year crop failures causing more pressing problems.

Here's another "what if" for you. What if it turns out that Global Warming triggers another Ice Age? After all, the last round of Ice Age conditions began to end some 16,000 years ago (mol) and the Holocene maximum warmth happened at roughly 8,000 years ago. Things have been in trending toward cooler conditions in more recent millennium. The idea that Milankovitch insolation changes control the timing of Ice Ages may not apply to our present situation in which there's much more CO2 in the air.

For example, as the sea-ice declines over the Arctic, one result may be the reduction of the Thermohaline Circulation, which moves water from the surface at high latitudes into the deepest layers of the Atlantic. Without the warming effects of the THC's flow, the open Arctic would provide lots of moisture to produce snow cover over large areas around the Arctic. High latitude snow cover could increase and last winter's conditions over Northern Europe may become the new normal. If local snow cover increases at high latitudes in areas which are now "snow deserts" as the snow belts migrate toward the north, things might not turnout to be what some people are now expecting...

E. Swanson

Highly unlikely. If we did get extra snow cover in the summer (and less heat transferred via ocean circulation) in these high latitudes, the cooling would bring back the sea ice. So we would have a negative feedback effect going on.

Now in the very long term, it is possible that giving the planet a many thousand year extra warm spell, might store up potential energy in the system so the next deep freeze might maybe overshoot more, but that is tens of thousands of years away.

I have to say I think that's a valid point. I'm not sure our goal should be to maximize total human-years. Maybe to maximize total "quality" human-years - if such a thing could be defined, say by some measure of happiness + spiritual satisfaction.

Also, I feel more responsibility to those who exist and to those who will exist, than to those who might have existed but won't - if that makes any sense at all!

Actually, just experimenting with the meme.

I actually don't think that maximizing human-years is the prime consideration. For one thing, I don't prefer humans over other species. For another, I think that life quality is more important than quantity. (though not in the psychotic way we're currently pursuing it as a species; how about the block-time total of human happiness over the next million years? That is not an irrelevant consideration if human life has any worth whatsoever).

This particular memeplex mentions "human-years" only because it is mind-sized. The point I was inserting into discussion was the concept of trillions of human lives in jeopardy, because it's interesting to see the reactions, rationalizations, pushback, etc to the concept in general. The oildrum crowd is useful that way, a good cross-section of intelligent folks and coping mechanisms.

Of course, one must exist in order to be happy & spiritually satisfied, though I'd expect pushback from humans even for that hypothesis.

Look at the resistance, or non-engagement, with the very concept of a trillion human lives being lived. It is dissonant with most current worldviews, and for no good reason.

A trillion lives.... Can human minds really conceive big numbers, or long time spans? Sounds maladaptive. I think generally not. And I know you are smart and have thought about this stuff. Can we use our minds to overcome our base instincts?

Saying: "Your grandkids will suffer and die miserably" may be about as far as most folks can conceive...

Similarly, how strong is human will? We can definitely will ourselves beyond our bodily abilities to survive (will ourselves to death). When strong will meets immovable object, who wins?

I know one can will ones self to catch more waves!

As an aside: I am in the process of eliminating all my coping mechanisms! It's going pretty well! Can one see denial in ones self?

My view is a high-water mark for human civilization, never mind how many individuals lived to reach it, much less how happy they were. Probably this would somehow be proportional to the number of really smart individuals. Don't know whether Einsteins are statistically more probable in a maximal or minimal population scenario.

Since it is generally true that most people have made their contribution by the age of 40, Mozart for example, maximal population might be the answer. There are other factors of course, leisure, education, resources, lack of pollution.

Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen said the same thing in The Entropy Law and the Economic Process. We should maximaize human-years on the planet. We should be sapient and reasonable about it. I agree. I would like it. It would be a calmer world full of intelligence.

But we might not have a lot of dramatic highs and lows, like Renaissance art based on gory Greek myths, which after all reflect human nature more than divine personalities.

We would not be our messed up, foolish, dreamy, time-wasting, idle, preening selves. We would not be "humanity" as we have come to know it.

One economist, Keynes, hailed "animal spirits" as a major motivator in the economy. It means we are really animals, with all that implies.

And singing, someone told me, is closer to an animal crying than someone talking.

Throw away our animal natures and we can manage, I am sure. But would life be more boring? Would we bother with music?

Which would you choose for your descendents living in 2500?

A. One billion population living at the Malthusian limit in a mainly agrarian society with most of the population living a Ming Dynasty peasant lifestyle (except for the small population of Mandarin and noble overlords).

B. 200 million population living in 100 cities of one million population with the rest living in towns and hamlets in the best regions for agriculture and recreation.

I would chose the latter, since reasonably abundant sustainable resources could be used to support a rich, varied, and complex civilization offering much more satisfying and lengthy lives to the people and allowing for a continued development of civilization and humanity. This is far superior to life in a stagnant society trapped at the Malthusian limit.

I'm not sure about how to get to alternative B, but I doubt that my few hundred thousand European peasant ancestors living in 1500 had any idea that we would get to where we are now.

One economist, Keynes, hailed "animal spirits" as a major motivator in the economy. It means we are really animals, with all that implies.

Clever animals, with a highly developed talent for abstract thought, but you have a good point. One of the early lessons in my studies of global ecological overshoot, gleaned from my reading of the late ecologist H. T. Odum, is that complex systems at all scales, both living and non-living, will self organize into hierarchies to maximize available energy and resources.

This seems to explain many of the physical and social structures that humans have created these many centuries, and I personally think it explains the huge disparity in both income and political power we see in our celebrated and increasingly unregulated free market economy.

I would also hazard to guess that it is the reason why impoverished future generations can look forward to living in slums ruled by warlords, drug gangs and corrupt police, just as we see in many countries today.


The fact that the nearly meaningless term "animal spirits" was and still is used to discuss economics tells me that it is still a very primitive academic field. And the fact that Keynes coined the term is sad because he was one of the better ones since he came up with econometrics used to quantify things. The Austrians and their praxeology seem more like a religion than an academic pursuit.

pi - Thank you for keeping us grounded (or attempting to, anyway). I for one much appreciate your perspective - both what I can glean of you personally from your posts, and also the fact that you live in Japan. Keep posting.

specu - While what Keynes said and pi posted about our animal spirits motivating humans, in spite of what we may 'think', I agree with you (I think) that economics is little more than hand-waving (I was going to say 'little more than voodoo', but I didn't want to dis the witch doctors...)

Let's do a back-of-envelope calculation.

An example of a western pre-industrial society that experienced a population crash is Ireland. Peak population 8 million, crashed to 4 million, now about 6 million. Area of Ireland is 84,400 km2.

Assume the whole world is as fertile as Ireland.

There is 48.8 million km2 of agricultural land, which will support pro-rata 4.6 billion people using pre-industrial methods assuming no catastrophes, 2.3 billion after catastrophe, and 3.4 billion long term.

You can probably cut those numbers in half because average rainfall is nowhere near as much as Ireland gets.

EDIT: After an industrial crash, modern contraception will be unavailable, so the birth rate will rise sharply and humanity will always be bumping along at or near maximum carrying capacity.

I don't believe the graph represent a best case scenario, but rather the "standard run scenario."

Care to back that up with some well reasoned arguments? Or are you merely rushing to salvage a shred of credibility? I characterized that scenario as a best case, not the authors, for all of the reasons already stated in my comment which you seem to have either misinterpreted or willfully ignored.

Long term carrying capacity is indeed a complex subject, many interrelated factors affecting the stock of human population in relation to available flows of energy and resources, as described in detail in the aforementioned book Limits to Growth which presents what is IMHO one of the best estimates of population dynamics over the next few decades.

But then, being so "thoroughly familiar" with that study you will already know that, which makes your original question all the more perplexing.


If modern medicine fails or people can not afford it, then infant and child mortality will increase.

It's not really modern medicine that made the big difference in infant mortality. It's basic sanitation and nutrition.

Antibiotics are pretty important. And widespread vaccination.

I wouldn't want to live without them. But they are still minor compared to sanitation and nutrition.

Especially nutrition. The reason the population has reached the heights it has is not antibiotics and vaccination. The population is growing very fast in many areas where those are not available.

While many people enjoy being scared by vampires, zombies and such, they aren't real and never will be.

Ummmm...it may be worse than you think. Apparently so many people have become convinced that there is some sort of zombie virus out there that the CDC issued a public statement denying the existence of zombies. Course that will just fuel the paranoia as everyone knows the more the gubmint denies something the more likely it is to be true.


It's a bit naive to expect this show to be decent. If you watch TV, you're aware that automobiles and their allied businesses remain the #1 sponsor source. Any version of "Revolution" that was realistic would be un-airable, due to advertiser withdrawals. Corporate TV is right there with cars and WMDs and capitalism itself -- a grave threat to the continuation of human progress.

I also saw the first and second episodes. It ranks along with countless other TV absurdities that call themselves apocalyptic fiction. I think shows like these have a specific purpose, they serve as black holes which attract all ideas and opinions ranging from the plausible to the absurd. Nothing escapes their grasp. After you get such shows it's impossible to have a meaningful discussion about resource limits because deniers use these as props to lampoon even valid criticisms.

The zombie apocalypse is not entierly impossible any more. Today genetic engineering is advanced enough that someone theoretically could develop the virus. It is a low risk event, but not totally off the chart. A bit absurd realy.

Where are the f**king bicycles?! Are those not working as well?

Without synthetic rubber to make replacement tires, bicycles will not last 15 years. A wagon wheel is a wooden wheel with a steel ring. The wheel on a rail car is all steel.

If one does not have enough food or must defend against marauding and taxing militias, one will not have enough time for invention and manufacture. Constant war and struggling for survival would prevent reconstruction and invention. Revolution appears to be set during the ongoing decline of civilization. Paranoid warlords are in charge. Anyone who attempts to gain power and advantage is instantly put down as a threat to their power. A better question is why does a militia not have a steam engine? Maybe they do, and we just have not seen their full complement of weapons yet.

It is possible that whatever shut off the electricity also disabled other forms of technology. Perhaps the lack of certain types of technology is a consequence of what happened.

Some issues I do critique:

1. Because candles and fuel for torches would be expensive and scarce, no one would use them during the daytime. All buildings would be illuminated by sunlight from the windows.

2. When 310 million people suddenly have their food supply removed, all game would be hunted to extinction within a few months. 15 years later there would be nothing left to hunt. Birds and sea life might escape extinction due to difficulty in capturing and a minimal number of sailing ships to catch them.

3. They are too nicely dressed.

Kuwait halts refinery over sea water shortage


It has already been restarted.

"We normally get our water from a government authority. There was a problem with supply at the source, possibly a broken pump or another problem with their system," the spokesman for the state-owned refiner said.

As Arctic ice melts, shipping companies test new transportation route

... In 2009 German shipping company Beluga was the first to send two of its ships from Ulsan to Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Two years later, the number of ships taking the route had already increased to 34, and experts say the number will only rise further.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak's recent trip to Norway and Greenland is seen as largely influenced by Korea's ambitions to become a major player in the Arctic: The country is eyeing the large oil and gas reserves in the region as well as the shortened shipping route to Europe and North America.

... The new icebreaker transporter will be able to carry up to 190,000 tons, around double of what commercial counterparts can carry. It will be possible to navigate through ice up to 1.7 meters thick at a speed of up to six knots. Hyundai says doing so will reduce fuel consumption by 5 percent compared to other transporters in the same league. The specifications, Hyundai officials boast, are all in accordance with the company slogan to build the biggest, safest and greenest ships.

Where they gonna find ice 1.7 meters thick any more...?

There's still some multiyear ice and, ofcourse, there's ridging of first-year ice and Greenland will continue to shed ice-bergs for a few hundred years at least.

Yeah, I know. But we doomers gotta find our snarky humour where we can...

First year ice can sometimes be as much as 2 meters thick. The problem is that these days very little of it lasts through the summer.

"This growth process yields first-year ice, which in a single season may reach a thickness of 1.5–2 m."

This last winter had ~2 meter thick ice form near Barrow: Alaska's view of the sea-ice minimum

“The first-year ice thickness was pushing six feet,” Andy Mahoney, a sea ice expert at the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ Geophysical Institute who often visits Barrow, said of conditions this spring. “It was like those legends from the 1970s, when six-foot-thick ice was the norm.”

Created by the bitter cold air experienced in the winter of 2011-2012, the “first-year” ice on the Arctic Ocean was exceptional off Alaska’s coast both in thickness and how far south it formed.

“People in Barrow were happy; they hunted bearded seal and walrus (from the ice) in August,” said Hajo Eicken of UAF, who has ventured on the ice north of Barrow since the 1990s. “And if you’d ask walruses, they’d be happy. They’re hanging out on ice longer than usual. In other years, they’ve had the rug pulled out from under them.”

The recent Alaska view of sea ice is not representative of the Arctic as a whole, Eicken said.

“You’re thinking, ‘Is there going to be some kind of recovery,” he said “But all the evidence points the other way. We’re just one small part of the Arctic. There was a very early and very extreme ice retreat in western Siberia. On our end, every year since 2007 our sector has been pretty empty of ice now. It just took longer this year to get rid of ice in summer.”

Though Barrow featured a lot of ice this summer, researchers had to search a long way for what they call “multi-year ice,” which is more resilient to melting.

“We were only able to see multi-year ice at the end of our helicopter limit,” Mahoney said.

Wow. The Mercator projection really distorts distances. Going the northern route cuts the Korea-Rotterdam trip in half, from 27,000 km to 13,500 km (using Google Maps measuring tool). By eyeball, it looks about the same.

Why not go through the Suez Canal ?


I was worried about pirates. And I don't think the big container ships can squeeze through the canal. Anyway, via Suez comes to about 21,000 km, so the Arctic route is still a big saving.

Rubber bullets and batons used in Madrid demonstrations

... Spanish media reported that at least 20 people had been arrested and more than a dozen injured. The protesters dispersed after MPs left the building.

The "Occupy Congress" protest came as the government prepares to unveil further austerity measures on Thursday.

Police and protesters clash in Greece

Greece's creditors have demanded more fiscal reforms if they are to continue handing out rescue loans preventing the country from a messy default that could roil the euro.

... Politicians in Athens have struggled to come up with more punishing austerity measures that would be acceptable to its rescue creditors, with disagreements arising between the three parties that make up the coalition government.

Markets Tumble on Unrest in Greece and Spain

... Leaders in Greece and Spain are confronting difficult decisions on spending cuts designed to satisfy either international lenders, or the bond markets, and events in the two nations highlighted the growing European backlash against the politics of austerity.

... The renewed spike in borrowing costs indicates that the E.C.B.’s pledge is losing its power to calm markets, at least in the case of Spain. Higher borrowing costs also put pressure on the Spanish government at a time when it is hoping to avoid a full-scale bailout.

Thanks for those links Seraph.

As a follow up to those stories I'm wondering if anyone can suggest an article / book etc. that explains how the european banking crisis has progressed - especially with a focus on how the "too big to fail" banks have subsequently systematically attempted to scapegoat the citizens of Greece etc.

I've been reading about this for years now but I can't seem to put it all together - how everything has worked with the bailouts and austerity plans etc. etc.

Is it a combination of factors - just overall greed across the board - everyone could be blamed, citizens and banks ? Or is that just the narrative put out their for popular consumption ? European socialist programs of (supposedly) generous healthcare, pensions etc. - they are clearly the scapegoats but is it justifiable to make them such ?

I find bits and pieces of information as to where the blame primarily should be placed but I can't seem to find anything that puts it all together in a coherent narrative. Perhaps such a thing doesn't actually exist for this particular crisis ?


All totally ignored in the American news. THE most important story, repeated every half hour on the radio, is a bad call by football umpires.

Shhhhh... quiet... ...sleep... ...sleep...

"Warming to nuclear option"

"Politically incorrect power source is the best way to a clean energy future and to mitigate climate change, LESLIE KEMENY writes.... Professor Leslie G Kemeny is the Australian Foundation member of the International Nuclear Energy Academy,"

Need I say more.. But.. I will..

I strongly oppose nuclear power.

I estimate that the recent 3/11 incident in Japan has already cost Americans 3 to 4 months of average lifespan. I expect that the Japanese lost several years of average lifespan. A major incident on US soil could easily subtract 10 years off our average lifespan.

Just how could our government compensate us for that??? No way.. no how.. not going to happen.

So why take this silly/stupid risk??
Get rid of nuclear power before you pay the price for someone else's negligence/greed/stupidity!!

I estimate that the recent 3/11 incident in Japan has already cost Americans 3 to 4 months of average lifespan. I expect that the Japanese lost several years of average lifespan. A major incident on US soil could easily subtract 10 years off our average lifespan.

There are many good reasons to be skeptical about both the economics and perceived safety of nuclear fission power. However what you have just written is absurd in the extreme. In fact it is not only absurd, it is frankly bizarre.

The Chernobyl accident
UNSCEAR's assessments of the radiation effects

For the last two decades, attention has been focused on investigating the association between exposure caused by radionuclides released in the Chernobyl accident and late effects, in particular thyroid cancer in children. Doses to the thyroid received in the first few months after the accident were particularly high in those who were children and adolescents at the time in Belarus, Ukraine and the most affected Russian regions and drank milk with high levels of radioactive iodine. By 2005, more than 6,000 thyroid cancer cases had been diagnosed in this group, and it is most likely that a large fraction of these thyroid cancers is attributable to radioiodine intake.

Maybe the radiation causes a genetic mutation that destroys the aging gene, thus causing the average lifespan to increase by 34 years, 7 months, and 4 days. However, our skin is now a turquoise blue and glows in the dark.

I come here for both the education and the bizarre.


Let me trot-out my favourite whipping boy...

Point Lepreau restart further delayed

The Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station will not be back online by the end of the month as hoped, according to NB Power's president and chief executive officer.


The refurbishment is about three years behind schedule and $1 billion over budget.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/story/2012/09/24/nb-point-le...

The best reader comment: "In other news, the sky is blue..."

I spent part of today helping my guys replace 90-watt halogen lamps with 18-watt PAR38 LEDs. The installed cost is less than $700.00 per kW saved; new nuclear power in Ontario is forecast to cost fifteen to twenty times that.


Awesome Paul, great work as allways!

Who needs new nuclear when you have much cheaper new negawatts?

We're planning a building expansion at work. The architect said we'd need to sort through a list of "green building" options. They said most companies don't do them due to cost, but they always present them.

One of the options was LED lighting. They said the economics were sound, but the upfront cost was high, so most companies pass them by. We have no issues with financing, so we will do them where reasonable. I'm hoping we can consider replacing some of the existing factory and office lighting, but given the sunk costs I'm less certain of success.

We'll see what the rest of the list might be. I am enthused that enough options are mainstream enough and mature enough to be routinely considered. I'm disappointed that doing an ROI or NPV calculation appears to be beyond many purchasers.

Meanwhile in South Australia ....

"The integration of wind energy generation into the electricity grid in South Australia is a success story.
The gross statistic often quoted is the total electricity produced as a percentage of the supply. In the year to June 2012, the electricity generated by wind farms in SA amounted to 3,349 GWh, or 26% of the total supply. This was behind the 50% supplied by natural gas and ahead of coal’s 24%."


"Politically incorrect power source is the best way to a clean energy future and to mitigate climate change"

Forget it.
Australia is too small to have any significant impact on climate change.

Its our Asian neighbours (ahem ... coal customers) driving CO2 emissions ...


Here is a very interesting read.

Inuit perspectives on climate change.


Climate change is clearly having a significant impact on Arctic communities. I would point out though, that the Inuit no longer live off of the land using traditional technologies. The reality is that the per-capita consumption of fossil fuels is much higher for people living in the Arctic than it is for people living down south. The primary reason for that is the heavy reliance on air transport.

Yes. No roads, so everything is delivered via boat or plane.

I talked to a young woman from Alaska recently, and she said energy is a huge issue there. Just huge. Even in big cities like Anchorage, there are frequent warnings about cutting back on electricity use to avoid rolling blackouts. (Which can be pretty serious when it's 40 below.) She said the warnings air on TV when power use is high.

I asked her what Alaskans think about Sarah Palin, and she said it's complicated. But what most Alaskans remember is what she did in 2008. High energy bills were causing extreme hardship to Alaskans, and she gave $1,200 to every Alaskan who had lived in the state 180 days or more. This was seen as life-saving in the face of Alaska winters. (So apparently they love her for her socialist tendencies. ;-)

I got the feeling that many Alaskans wonder why they are paying among the highest energy costs in the nation, while that pipeline ships all that oil south.

Leanan, a couple of comments.

Re: "Even in big cities like Anchorage, there are frequent warnings about cutting back on electricity use to avoid rolling blackouts. (Which can be pretty serious when it's 40 below.) She said the warnings air on TV when power use is high."

This is a bit of an exageration. There is an issue with natural gas during cold spells. The bulk of our electricity in Anchorage is generated with natural gas. Also most people in Anchorage heat their homes with gas. All of this gas comes from Cook Inlet gas fields. The city has grown dramatically, and currently roughly half the population of Alaska linves in or near Anchorage. And the gas is no longer as abundant as it was. Hence there are concerns that during an extreme cold spell, the deliverability of gas might be insufficient to meet demand. New exploration in Cook Inlet, and gas storage projects are somewhat addressing this issue, but it is still a potential concern. I should add that -40 F is highly unlikely in Anchorage. I think the all time record low is somewhere around -30 F. Typical winter lows in most of Anchorage would be 0 to -10 F.

Re: "...what Alaskans think about Sarah Palin, and she said it's complicated. But what most Alaskans remember is what she did in 2008. High energy bills were causing extreme hardship to Alaskans, and she gave $1,200 to every Alaskan who had lived in the state 180 days or more. This was seen as life-saving in the face of Alaska winters."

It is indeed complicated, and depends on who you ask. Giving away money will always be popular, but many people recognized that it didn't really do anything to address the long term issues of people's energy needs. She also tried to turn down Obama stimulus money that would go for making public buildings more energy efficient. Also stimulus money directed towards education. Finally, she resigned halfway through her term as governor. The upshot is that while she still remains popular with Alaska Tea Party crowd, she isn't nearly so popular with the public as a whole. I doubt she would be elected to state wide office today.

Thanks, I was hoping some Alaskans would weigh in.

The woman I talked to was not actually from Anchorage. I think she was from Juneau. Or was it Sitka? Not Anchorage, anyway.

It seems a lot of peak oilers dream of a doomstead in Alaska. It's beautiful, and relatively underpopulated, and so isolated. But as with Hawaii, that isolation could be a trap. That's what struck me about Alaska - the isolation.

I have lived in Fairbanks since 1976. When I arrived oil was cheap and no one worried about heating bills. Now the price of heating oil has gone way up. One person I know who lives in a well insulated home paid $1000 for oil last winter even with supplemental wood heat. I and the rest of my friends have wood heat and we are not worried. Last year I purchased 10 cords of birch firewood logs for $1700. That's enough to keep me warm and cook food for four years.

Electricity has gone from 9 to 22 cents/kwhr since 2002, since 37% on the average is supplied from oil fired generators.

We don't have natural gas in the greater Fairbanks area. Some folks think there is a lot more natural gas in Cook Inlet and we should get serious about drilling for it. If gas is found in the hoped for quantities we could pipe it to Fairbanks and lower both heating and electrical bills. The other alternative for supplying cheaper electricity is damming the Susitna river to generate 300 MW. That will cost 4.5 billion $.

I am a conservative. I do not expect society to supply me with cheap oil, electricity and motor fuel. I chop wood, stoke the stove, read with a headlamp. I am well content.

We do not feel _isolated_ from the important things in life. There is a wealth of interesting people up here. Many of them moved up here for the money and remained here for the life style. Some had impressive credentials.

I emigrated to Alaska when a fac at the university wanted some one to run a mass spectrometer. I moved here, thinking I would stay a few years and then return to the lower 48 and finish my PhD. Ha!! I should have known better. I got some land, built a cabin, acquired a dog team and walked or skied two miles to work each day. The job was so interesting that I could not imagine a better job elsewhere. I was hooked.

And yes we are at the end of a very long pipeline for food and consumer products. But we remember that Alaska fed itself a century ago and we need to keep that option open. Some expert once said that Alaska could supply its caloric requirements with 60000 acres of potatoes, which grow well up here. When global warming really kicks in I expect the short list of crops we can grow gets longer. Intensive wind and rain storms seem to be increasing and that closes supply lines for a few days. This makes us worry about food security so local agriculture and animal husbandry is getting a lot of attention.


Interesting, I thought (hoped) to go there back in 2004, but they hired someone else. I would a loved the skiing/dog sled thing. A path not followed in my case.

People either love Alaska and never want to leave, or they hate it and can't wait to move out. Not too many are in between. Obviously ffdjm and I fall in the first category. The state is full of people who will tell you "I came up here for a 3 month summer job.....and that was thirty years ago...." and stories like that.

We do not feel _isolated_ from the important things in life. There is a wealth of interesting people up here. Many of them moved up here for the money and remained here for the life style. Some had impressive credentials.

That's not what I meant. I mean physical isolation.

I'm from Hawaii, and often, newcomers there complain about the isolation. Especially when something happens (like after 9/11, when all planes were grounded, or when they had to shut down the airport after an earthquake damaged the power plants) - you are keenly aware that you are on a rock in the middle of a very large ocean.

It doesn't matter as long as BAU continues, but if it doesn't...no matter how much you love a place, and how suitable it seems for doomsteading, I kind of want the option to leave, if necessary.

Wind In Alaska: Energy Lessons From The Edge Of The Earth

The fact that the local jail is one of the only lodging options for visitors to the native Alaskan village of Tuntutuliak is a clear indication of its remote location. But what really stands out about this village isn’t its isolation but instead its incredible story of renewable energy—specifically, the use of wind and smart-grid technology that has the potential to fundamentally change the energy landscape of rural Alaska.


Currently in Alaska there is quite a bit of interest in wind power, both for remote villages and urban areas.

Most villages generate electricity using diesel. Because in diesel fuel needs to be shipped in to these villages, either by water (seasonally) or by air, it has always been very expensive power. With fuel prices increasing, this has become even more expensive. Hence there has been a good deal of work to develop wind/diesel hybrid systems.

In urban Southcentral Alaska, most of our electricity is generated from natural gas. However, gas deliverability is becoming an issue, so there is some progress in adding large scale wind power to the mix. Near Anchorage the Fire Island wind project has just started operation. The Eva Creek wind project is also under development near Healy.

Fire Island turbines now producing wind power for Southcentral Alaska

All 11 wind turbines are now generating power according to the Alaska Public Radio Network. The turbines went through a checklist of things necessary before Fire Island Wind, a CIRI Inc. subsidiary, could start delivering power to its buyer, Chugach Electric Association Inc., starting Friday, Sept. 21.

The $65-million project is expected to produce 50,000 megawatt-hours of power annually -- enough to power 4,000 Southcentral Alaska households. All together, that's about 4 percent of the power Chugach produces.

No one listens to the Aborigines anymore. Even a casual talk reveals how much humans have altered the biosphere and the climate.

Summary of Weekly Petroleum Data for the Week Ending September 21, 2012

U.S. crude oil refinery inputs averaged 14.6 million barrels per day during the week ending September 21, 292 thousand barrels per day below the previous week’s average. Refineries operated at 87.4 percent of their operable capacity last week. Gasoline production decreased last week, averaging 8.9 million barrels per day. Distillate fuel production increased last week, averaging 4.6 million barrels per day.

U.S. crude oil imports averaged 7.6 million barrels per day last week, down by 2.3 million barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged 8.5 million barrels per day, 272 thousand barrels per day below the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 491 thousand barrels per day. Distillate fuel imports averaged 108 thousand barrels per day last week.

U.S. commercial crude oil inventories (excluding those in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) decreased by 2.4 million barrels from the previous week. At 365.2 million barrels, U.S. crude oil inventories are above the upper limit of the average range for this time of year. Total motor gasoline inventories decreased by 0.5 million barrels last week and are in the lower half of the average range. Finished gasoline inventories decreased while blending components inventories increased last week. Distillate fuel inventories decreased by 0.5 million barrels last week and are near the lower limit of the average range for this time of year. Propane/propylene inventories increased by 0.3 million barrels last week and are above the upper limit of the average range. Total commercial petroleum inventories decreased by 2.7 million barrels last week.

Total products supplied over the last four-week period have averaged 18.4 million barrels per day, down by 3.4 percent compared to the similar period last year. Over the last four weeks, motor gasoline product supplied has averaged 8.8 million barrels per day, down by 1.0 percent from the same period last year. Distillate fuel product supplied has averaged about 3.5 million barrels per day over the last four weeks, down by 8.7 percent from the same period last year. Jet fuel product supplied is 0.2 percent lower over the last four weeks compared to the same four-week period last year.


US gasoline inventories fall to lowest levels since 2008, with Northeast regional supplies unusually low

This week's EIA report confirms that the sudden 30 cents/gallon rise in Northeast retail gasoline prices a few weeks back was motivated by stark supply and demand factors (and not due to speculation and hoarding). In particular, NE wholesale gasoline distributors ended the summer driving season with low supplies due to a combination of recent developments. Among these developments, which left the US with lower than typical seasonal supplies, the most influential forces were: a refinery fire in California, a refinery explosion in Venezuela, a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico, other disruptive weather events in the Atlantic, and a seasonal changeover from summer to winter blends of gasoline (where many refiners had already started the transition to making winter blends).

The national refinery utilization rate slipped last week from 89.9% to 87.4%, but almost all of that decline occurred in the Eastern region, as some refiners underwent maintenance for a seasonal changeover to better prepare for production of winter blends of gasoline and other oil products more commonly used in cooler months. East region utilization fell from 91.1% to 82.5%. [Major US pipeline companies generally start accpeting winter grade gasoline about September 15]. But there was some good news, concerning where some refiners gradually returned to operations after extended maintenance and improvements - especially two key refiners in the Northeast. Therefore later in the fall season, refiners could return to a fairly high utilization rate if necessary to meet demand. However it is still not clear when the nation's largest refinery, Motiva, will start a large new unit capable of processing lower grades of Saudi crude (which previously only could be used in a limited manner in just a handful of other US refineries).

Exports from Saudi Arabia to the US, after increasing for about two months starting around March 15, have recently slipped. They fell to a little over 1 million bpd last week, after reaching a sustained are of over 1.5 million bpd a few months ago. Shipping sources indicate that Saudi Arabia, through Saudi owned shipper 'Vela', is planning again to ship this kind of heavy crude, with tankers leaving the Mideast about October 10 (which may not arrive in the US until mid-November or so). In sum however, OPEC exports have gradually weakened since the start of August - contrary to numerous media reports that OPEC has already stepped up output to fully offset falling Iranian exports. The US appears to be ending up with a disproportionate share of the falling OPEC exports, with last week's overall US oil imports from all sources indicated to be below recent trends.

Wholesale Gasoline Prices Rise 21 cents/gallon in just one day after Irving Oil refinery explosion, EIA report indicating lowest Eastern Region gasoline supplies since 1990

Gasoline futures prices rose about 11 cents/gallon today, but wholesale prices in NY harbor rose an additional 10 cents/gallon relative to futures prices, for a total gain of 21 cents/gallon in just one day.

September 26, 2012, 7:29 p.m. ET
Oil Futures Drop, Gas Rises After Explosion

U.S. gasoline futures jumped 3.8% Wednesday while crude-oil prices declined, after an explosion at a major refinery in Canada focused attention on low U.S. fuel supplies.

Gasoline futures surged as high as $3.0874 a gallon on the New York Mercantile Exchange midday Wednesday after a blast at Irving Oil's 300,000-barrel-a-day Saint John Refinery in New Brunswick, Canada.

The refiner said damage was minimal and operations would resume later Wednesday. But the accident highlighted the increasingly tenuous gasoline-supply situation in parts of the U.S. Fuel stockpiles in the Northeast U.S. are at their lowest level since November 1990, according to the Energy Department.


Ministry Warns of Russia Gasoline Shortages

Several Russian regions may face gasoline shortages by the end of fall, RBK Daily reported on Wednesday, citing Energy Minister Alexander Novak.

Gasoline shortages across Russia in October-November 2012 could reach an estimated 400,000 tons of fuel, or 15 percent of Russia’s monthly consumption. Gasoline shortages in Moscow may hit 69,000 tons in October and 62,000 tons in November.

The ministry cited the growing demand for fuel and stoppages at several refineries for planned repairs as the main causes for the shortage.

... lot of competition for gasoline in the coming months.

Tanker tracker 'Oil Movements' reported today that OPEC exports continued their fall, extending a trend that started about two months ago. Exports are now down about 350,000 bpd from July levels and down about 650,000 bpd from the peak reached last spring when Saudi Arabia was sending extra shipments of heavy crude to the Motiva refinery - in expectation of a start-up which did not yet occur.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will curb crude shipments into next month as demand from China declines and refiners carry out maintenance, tanker-tracker Oil Movements said yesterday in its weekly e-mailed report. OPEC will export 23.66 million barrels a day in the four weeks to Oct. 13, down 1.2 percent from 23.95 million a month earlier, it said.


Sea of the living dead

The world's coral reefs have become a zombie ecosystem, neither dead nor truly alive, and are on a trajectory to collapse within a human generation according to an academic from The Australian National University.

Professor Roger Bradbury, an ecologist from the Crawford School of Public Policy in the ANU College of Asia and the Pacific, said overfishing, ocean acidification and pollution are pushing coral reefs into oblivion.

"The scientific evidence for this is compelling and unequivocal, but there seems to be a collective reluctance to accept the logical conclusion—that there is no hope of saving the global coral reef ecosystem," he said.

"There is no real prospect of changing the trajectory of coral reef destruction in less than 20 to 50 years. In short, these forces are unstoppable and irreversible.

A World Without Coral Reefs

I hope that he's wrong, but fear that he's probably right. Or rather, I know that the decline of corals (and oysters, and pretty much everything in the sea and on land as well) will continue until the human experiment with industrialization is over and human numbers fall drastically. I just think we will probably hit that wall sooner and so leave more behind.

But I think one day, tens of thousands of years after that, the ocean will once again be full of coral reefs. It will just take a long, long time. Types of corals have gone extinct, but coral has returned after other disasters. As much as we are a unique force of destruction, I am not sure we are worse than what has come before. That's the hope I have, at least.

Honestly, I've stopped caring about the human race. People can be great, individually, but as a species we deserve what we get. Roger Bradbury is wrong to think we humans can live without nature, or that we can "ecologically engineer" anything. He may be right that we can't stop the destruction of most coral reefs, but I find it hard to believe that we can keep going forever as we destroy the world we live on. Eventually we humans will die out.

Apparently Google is doing an underwater map of coral reefs. That may soon be all that's left to look at.

Probes possible crimes at Chevron's Calif. refinery: report

... California pollution investigators have also been investigating the use of the 3-inch (7.6-centimeter) pipe, which allowed emissions from a hydrocracking complex to bypass the refinery's pollution control equipment on the way to the refinery's safety flare system, at the discretion of the complex's operator.

Chevron told the Chronicle the use of the pipe was inadvertent.


1.Not resulting from or achieved through deliberate planning; unintentional.
2.(of a mistake) Made through lack of care; negligent

Don't Buy It! The language of economic nonsense exposed

A new book offers insights into why we're still dazed and confused by a totally predictable economic catastrophe.

... it's important to note that the background for Shenker-Osorio's argument rests on two well-established facts, which contradict a lot of what many people - particularly educated liberals - tend to believe.

The first comes specifically from the study of cognitive metaphors: people routinely and unconsciously use concrete, experientially-gounded models to talk about relatively abstract ideas or phenomena. The economy is just the sort of thing that we're always going to describe in terms of some sort of simplifying model or another. The only question is which one(s) were going to use, and what the results of that choice will be.

The second fact is a more general truth about how our minds work - that unconscious influences are generally more powerful than conscious ones, because we never stop to question them.

... Conservative models tell us that the economy is autonomous (most typically, a self-regulating body) and morally demanding - a view encapsulated in an episode of South Park. Progressive models are less clearly developed, but do exist, however deeply buried they may usually be. They tell us that the economy is a constructed object (most typically, a vehicle) and that it exists to facilitate our varied individual dreams and desires, rather than to impose its desires on us.

The Mistake that Cost Norway Huge in Oil Wealth

Spooked by '80s recession, it sped up extraction of crude worth way more today. Eighth in a series.

Mitchell Anderson, TheTyee.ca

But in politics as in life, nothing is permanent. Norway experienced a stinging recession in the late 1980s when oil prices collapsed and the jobless rate reached six per cent -- mild by North American standards but a shock for a country accustomed to full employment. These political pressures led to a quiet but dramatic increase in Norwegian oil production in the 1990s with wide-ranging consequences now being felt by the Nordic nation.

Record Arctic Snow Loss May Be Prolonging North American Drought

Across the Arctic, snow melted earlier and more completely this year than any in recorded history. In the same way ice loss exposes dark water to the sun’s radiant heat, melting snow causes exposed ground to heat up, adding to the Arctic’s already super-sized warming.

This extra heat retention appears to alter the polar jet stream, slowing it down and causing mid-latitude weather patterns to linger. It’s even possible that the ongoing North American drought, the worst since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, was fueled in part by climate change in the Arctic, making it a preview of this new weather pattern’s ripple effects.

... “There’s just basic physics behind it. We’re dealing with a very different energy budget up in polar regions than previously, because we’re exposing the land earlier in the season to the warming rays of the sun,” Robinson said. “The physics are indisputable.”

... “It’s not just the initial warming. It’s the cascade of events.”

Drought rekindles talk of strategic grain reserves

... No one questions why the United States maintains a Strategic Petroleum Reserve. The very threat of bringing reserves to the market can moderate the spiking price of crude oil. But when it comes to food prices, our country cannot even threaten to bolster the national supply because the United States does not possess a national grain reserve.

Such was not always the case.

The modern concept of a strategic grain reserve was first proposed in the 1930s by Wall Street legend Benjamin Graham. Graham’s idea hinged on the clever management of buffer stocks of grain to tame our daily bread’s tendencies toward boom and bust. When grain prices rose above a threshold, supplies could be increased by bringing reserves to the market — which, in turn, would dampen prices. And when the price of grain went into free-fall and farmers edged toward bankruptcy, the need to fill the depleted reserve would increase the demand for corn and wheat, which would prop up the price of grain.

Following Graham’s theory, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created a grain reserve that helped rally the price of wheat and saved American farms during the Depression.

If the United States was really concerned about its grain supply and feeding people, it could just stop turning 40% of its corn crop into fuel ethanol and feed it to people. The fact that it doesn't do so just indicates where its priorities lie.

On a related note to grain reserves how about we NOT waste ton after ton after ton of food to begin with.A TED video with the dark facts on food waste.14 minutes long.

Tristram Stuart: The global food waste scandal:


Well . . . if you want to take a doomer perspective, such waste is probably for the best. If it is used more efficiently that will probably just grow the population even bigger thus making the eventual reckoning that much worse.

Swedish nuclear regulator increases inspections following Belgian scare

The Swedish Radiation Safety Authority has stepped up its inspections of Ringhals AB nuclear power plant, as a precaution, following the news that the same company responsible for Belgium’s nuclear woes also constructed the Swedish facility.

The Spanish Nuclear Safety Council also confirmed to PEI last week that they were investigating the Santa María de Garoña and Cofrentes plants for signs of deterioration, as had been found in Belgium’s Doel 3 plant.

A meeting was held last month involving all of the countries affected by the involvement of Dutch firm Rotterdam Droogdok Maatschappij in nuclear power plants in their respective countries, after serious fracturing was found in the construction of the Belgian plant.

"Bond purchases announced by the Fed this month probably won’t spur expansion or hiring, Plosser said in a speech yesterday. Oil surged to $100.42 a barrel on Sept. 14, its highest this year, after the Federal Open Market Committee said it will undertake a third round of quantitative easing."

After exhaustive research I may be on track for understanding QE, at least through a metaphor:

Although not sure if a gilded farthing is still just a farthing, in this day and age.

Coal exports make U.S. cleaner, EU more polluted and
Analysis: Coal fight looms, Keystone-like, over U.S. Northwest

It's disappointing that the US, home of NOAA, Pew Climate Centre, James Hansen etc is getting heavily into coal exports. It's like the pastor of your local church moonlighting as a crack dealer. In truth coal exports are probably a key reason Australia has had 21 straight years of economic growth.

The switch to gas fired generation in the US seems to be largely an accident of geology not deliberate emissions policy. Other parts of the world now fear high gas prices and are returning to coal eg the new lignite fired power station in Germany. Clearly Kyoto type policies are not delivering serious CO2 cuts elsewhere in the world.

In my opinion coal exporters like the US and Australia should not get a free ride. If an adult supplies alcohol to minors and they have a car crash the adult takes some blame. For starters I would like to see CO2 from exported fuels added to national tallies. Without doing the numbers US coal exports could partly or wholly erase the emissions savings from the domestic gas switch.

The Future Is Electric Cars: Fmr. GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz

Wow. I'm an advocate for EVs and believe that they will play an important PART (just a part) of future transportation, I think he is spewing a bit of BS. He is right that the Volt has been unfairly vilified. However this is a bit too much . . .

"[Eventually] you'll have a $28,000 medium-sized car with a battery pack and an electric motor in it and every morning when you wake up you'll have 400 miles in the tank. what's wrong with that?"

Yeah, I don't ever see that happening. The battery prices are just not going to come down that much. But I don't think they'll need to. A solid 100+ EPA rated miles would be good enough. Grab a hybrid/ICE car from a car-sharing service when you need to drive long distances.

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

William Goldman, screenwriter - THE PRINCESS BRIDE

(also the known for the line, "Nobody knows anything.")

That's inconceivable

I think an electric robotic horse would be a better investment. If gasoline gets that unaffordable, the roads aren't going to get fixed either.

A 20 Year Old Energy Efficient House Goes to Net Zero in Florida

Steve Larson, a builder and home energy rater in Florida, recently sent me an email with his energy bills for February through July of this year. When you subtract out the monthly service charges, he paid only $5.35 for electricity during those six months. That's right — less than a dollar a month for electricty...and then $9.88 a month for the service charge. "Saving energy has been my passion for a long time," Larson wrote. Since he added the solar electric system to the house in 2008, producing it has become a passion, too.

I just found out yesterday that my boss and her family are living in a house that is off the electric grid, solar electric only. Her big want, though, is a way to run a washing machine (stopping and reversing the tub puts too much strain on the system). The house was designed to maximize cross-ventilation (essential in Florida).

they could go retro:

Or futuristic:

"Her big want, though, is a way to run a washing machine (stopping and reversing the tub puts too much strain on the system)."

Sounds like they undersized their inverter (or bought the wrong one). Our washer has performed well for 10 years on inverter power, though it's been a bit cranky recently (typical for this unit - circuit board issues).

Staber washers are very efficient and inverter friendly, a favorite of off-grid folks.

Hi Ghung.

You might want to change the electrolytic capacitors before the unit burns its fuses and possible other components.

Those are the normal part that wears out due to vaporization of the electrolytic fluids inside.

Its possible - not certain - that an investment of a maybe 100$ will revive it to last another 10 years.

Thank you for that link. I will pass that info on.

I enjoyed reading this... gave me some hope for the future.

The upstart cattleman
Will Harris broke the mold on farming and built the most successful organic beef operation in Georgia. But first he had to break with four generations of family history.

But then, one day, without consulting anyone, he just stopped. He stopped feeding his cattle a mixed ration of grain and powdered dietary supplements they digested poorly, and he stopped implanting estrogen pellets behind their ears. He stopped buying bull semen and instead bought bulls. He stopped loading weaned 7-month-old calves into 53-foot-long double-decker hauling trucks to travel 1,400 miles in their own filth to a feedlot. Soon, he stopped spraying his pasture with pesticides and fertilizing them with ammonium nitrate, and as they turned brown and died, he knew he was risking everything. But he kept going.

“The thing is, those fields were already dead,” Harris says...

Hat Tip: BPA

Thank you, that was very encouraging!

I'm interested in how he brought the dead pastures back and stopped the erosion. The article doesn't go into detail. Just sheep as mentioned, or sheep + subsoiling, or seeding with forbs?

By the way, it takes cojones to just quit conventional range management. The organic approach is totally different.

I'm reminded of the difference every time I am out gardening. I rented a quarter acre on an organic vegetable farm this year, as a family garden and room for grain variety trials. My spot is on the edge of a large and well-managed market garden, surrounded on three sides by conventionally farmed grass for silage. So there I am, Japanese crescent hoe in hand, when giant machines come by, blowing the grass into rows and then vacuuming it up and spitting it into a ten ton trailer. Meanwhile, the organic vegetable farmer tootles by on his modest tractor. So it's the 21st century and the 20th century farming sandwiching me in the 14th century.

Me with my Japanese hoe, I figure I'm the future of agriculture.

You might want to have your library find a copy of Out of the Earth by Louis Bromfield (1948 - my copy is a 1950 edition). Bromfield bought a number of worn out farms in central Ohio and restored them to productivity. Although he grew some row crops, they were mainly devoted to grazing. It's a great inspiring read.


Re: Heating oil: prices will rise so buy now, says watchdog

Mainers keeping an eye on home heating prices

BRUNSWICK, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- It's late September and there's a chill in the air. That means Mainers are starting to think about heating their homes for the winter - and how much it will cost.

Heating oil is still the primary fuel for home heating in Maine, and prices have gone up over the summer. At Downeast Energy in Brunswick, vice-president John Peters says their June pre-buy price was $3.54 per gallon. He says wholesale prices have jumped dramatically since then, and today's cash price was $3.73.

Will prices go much higher? People in the business say they don't dare predict if prices will keep climbing... only that prices will remain volatile.

See: http://www.wlbz2.com/news/article/216412/3/Mainers-keeping-an-eye-on-hom...

Our last fill was August, 24th 2009, some 1,130 days ago and I'm guessing that we've burned 150 to 200 litres during this time (40 to 50 gallons); much of that can be attributed to exercising the boiler periodically so that things don't seize-up.


I just put the money down on my first heat pump. A Nyle Geyser RO, made in Maine. This will feed a preheating water storage tank (250 gal) that will also be getting solar heat inputs.. and a few experimental inputs as I come up with them. (IE, small wind, direct to resistance heat.) Also adding another Air Heating Panel, to feed new heat to the basement, as it will now be getting chilled by the HP, which isn't one that likes sub 45 air..

I've rerouted the Dryer Vent indoors, as I usually do after the summer, but now I'll have a more efficient way to capture the heat and deal with the moisture.

I have to think of how I'll use that heat pump to grab the very warm air in the third floor apartment and the roof peak during the warmest months.. give that tenant some relief, and use the HP to best effect. (I have an inert chimney-shaft that offers direct access to all floors.)

Congratulations, Bob ! I hope that your new Nyle serves you well and look forward to hearing back on your findings. One thing to keep in mind is indoor air quality and perhaps the energy overhead of circulating air between the various parts of your home.

NSP read our meter on Monday and it appears that we used a total of 813 kWh over the most recent sixty-two day billing cycle, or an average of 13.1 kWh per day. Our dehumidifier is responsible for about one-third of this, our electric water heater perhaps another third, and the balance would be lighting, plug loads and major appliances. A heat pump water heater such as your new Nyle would provide us with a low-cost source of DHW and eliminate the need to run our dehumidifier, so the potential savings are significant.


I recently installed a Geyser RO heat pump as well. It feeds a 40 gallon indirect tank from my System 2000 boiler. The cold feed come from a 80 gallon solar heated tank. The goal was to eliminate firing the boiler when the solar system was inadequate. I have had the solar hot water system for three years and am very pleased. The Geyser comes set with a 120F set point and a 30 degree differential. Since I am feeding it a minimum 100F water(at the moment)the heat pump never starts. I am still adjusting the set point and differential to maintain 110F to 120F in my tank. The unit was easy to install. As with any heat pump you need to be aware of having sufficient room volume for the heat pump. The jury is still out on the de-humidification potential. It works but will it be adequate by itself?

On a separate note I also recently replaced a 1970's split air conditioner with a Energy Star heat pump. I seriously considered the mini-splits but stayed with the central unit. I would have needed a minimum of three indoor units and I already had a duct system supplying six rooms. I replaced all of the ducts in the attic (where my air handler is located) as well. I haven't turned it on yet (Connecticut) but am looking forward to minimizing my heating oil use.

Thanks for the info, Stumpjumper.

No surprise, I'm eager to see how all these parts work with each other, and I know there will be some jockeying of elements required to get a good balance.

Since I've created this largish reservoir for preheating the water, (unpressurised 250 gallon) I'll be able to make very conscious choices about just how much to run the heat pump, basically by adjusting the height of the Temp Sensor within the tank, while I'll also see about putting a parallel trigger onto the unit which will sense when the Vent from the Dryer is blowing, so I can grab that heat and humidity right out of the well-filtered gate ..(in theory).

Sounds like a fun project. We gave up on using the electric dryer years ago. We line dry outside most of the year and inside during the winter. I have a Kill-A-Watt dedicated to the Geyser to keep track of my usage. Rarely a week goes by that I don't find something in the house to insulate or tweek.

Yeah, this is a 3-unit rental building, with limited and inappropriate yard space, unfortunately. Without parking to offer, one of the perks is the laundry, while I've told the tenants that I'm about to go Coin-Op with the dryer.

One of my other dryer brainstorms has been to try routing a handful of solar-hot-air collectors into a dryer, and letting it be coin-op when the resistive heat is on, and free when they can do it with the solar sourced hot air. That'll take a bit of testing and a bit of patience, no doubt. I've considered an alternative to that with some cedar closets that have the solar air venting through them, so you don't have the same time constraints you would with an 'Appliance' dryer.

And, as I always like to point out to people in the Eastern States and Provinces, now is not too soon to abandon heating oil and switch to some other heat source. There is no upper limit on how high oil prices can go in the post-peak oil era.

What is energy efficiency doing to power demand? Maybe something real

Macquarie Equities Research said in a client note several days ago that energy efficiency measures really do seem to be having an impact on electricity demand, and the effect is likely to continue.


Ben Fowke, Xcel’s chairman and chief executive, said that while economic issues may be weighing down commercial and industrial sales, major improvements in home appliances may be holding down residential power sales. “Technology is really getting better. I think it’s a trend we’re really going to watch,” he said. According to Fowke, Xcel’s efficiency programs are dampening demand about 0.7%.

Likewise, Brian Tierney, AEP’s CFO, said stricter appliance and building code standards are having an impact.

See: http://blogs.platts.com/2012/09/24/energy-efficiency/

For the first six months of this year, Nova Scotia Power's electricity sales are down 16 per cent. This does not reflect the loss of their second largest customer, Bowater Mersey, in July. That's an additional 16 per cent of provincial load that has since vaporized (they also came perilously close to losing their single largest customer which accounts for nearly 20 per cent of their total load).


While there has been a lot of whinging and moaning about CAFE standards, some auto companies are continuing with incremental improvement anyway ...

This Golf concept, powered by another new 1.6-liter TDI (turbodiesel) consumes 3.2 l/100 km (73.5 mpg US), equivalent to 85 gCO2/km. The 81 kW / 108 hp Golf BlueMotion is a five-seater that is capable of 202 km/h (125 mph). This third generation Golf BlueMotion will be launched into the market in summer 2013.

Of course lead-foots need not apply.


meanwhile, in the UK


The Toyota Yaria hybrid is a petrol engine generating 79g/km and rated at 67 mpg (US).

On sale today (and yesterday). Not a nice driving experience, apparently, but then why should driving be nice?

Thanks for that.
While they don't include the prices, a quick bit of searching seems to suggest that the small car hybrids and TDIs are the sweet spot in terms of sticker price vs fuel economy performance.

The devil is in the details, or comments in this case. One commenter to the article wrote:

To go that far with 1L of diesel you have to keep a steady speed of no more than 72 kph, on a flat terrain/road without head wind, without passengers nor cargo in the trunk and less than 10L of fuel in the tank. That's what VW has told my son-in-law to do to get more than the current 800 Km/tank full with his Jetta TDI. The original VW claim was 1100+ Km/tank full.

I can pull 60+ MPG in a TDI beetle (year 2000 technology), but doing so requires driving behaviors that p_ss off other drivers. Average (American) driving behavior gives about 43 MPG in the Beetle. Moderate driving behavior, with predominately 55 MPH speed, gives about 51 MPG.

Adaptation of the human behavior combined with technological advancements can be far, far more effective than technology alone. In fact, you can get a benefit just from changing the behavior. Price domestic gasoline at over $6 USD/gallon and watch the behaviors change!

I just want to point out that an mpg saved is worth much more near the lower end of the scale. To use your numbers, 43, 55 & 67 are 12 apart. So compared to a baseline of 31mpg (12 lower), getting 43 mpg saves 90 gallons over 10,000 miles, getting 55 saves an additional 51 gallons, and getting 67 'only' saves 33 more gallons. Each 12 mpg increment has diminishing returns. Societally, we'd get much more value by improving the vehicles at the lower end of the scale - those that get less than 25 mpg, say - than by getting an equal number of really high mpg vehicles on the road. And I say this as one who has a Gen II Prius and is planning to convert it to a plug-in... Speaking of which, any experience out there?

re: Prius plug-in conversion experience.

Yes, with a Hymotion unit - now sadly no longer available.
Would be nice to have a longer range and regen into the extra pack.
But having technical/warranty support, clean install, CARB and DOT approvals are nice.

These days might look at plug-in supply.
Would definitely be scouring priuschat et. al. for info.

more info on kits, etc. at

CalCars.org list is dated - still has Hymotion on it

good luck.

longer range and regen into the extra pack

Two of the reasons we are seriously considering Plug-in Supply (link provided for others who may be curious)

How long have you had yours? Any issues? Range compared to spec?


Yes - I saw that reader comment, hence my own comment "lead-foots need not apply".
As you say, best fuel economy requires a change in human driving behaviour.

Amazing Engines Promise 60 to 100 MPG

Achates, an engine developer based in San Diego, claims its opposed-piston, compression-ignition two-stroke diesel can power a 40-mpg (highway) economy car like the Ford Fiesta with a 50 percent or more improvement. Yes, 60 mpg is possible, the company says, while also meeting the tough smog/greenhouse gas emissions regulations that automakers soon will face.


On recent drive of 130 miles when roads weren't busy and I was in no hurry the car computer reported 97.4 mgp (UK). No new technology needed. New attitude to driving essential, however.

To anybody in a hurry, meaning that time is money, much improvement over 20mpg ($12 per hour at $4 per gallon and 60mph) will hit diminishing returns. Driving 80mph would save 15 minutes, or $5 for a person whose time is worth $20 per hour. That would cover an additional gallon of gas with some left over, so dropping to 15mpg would be fine. The trade is more pronounced if the basic mileage is higher. I'd get a Prius or VW TDI and drive 100+ all the time if I could. Who cares if you only get 2/3 the mileage if you can save all that time?

The attitude change that is needed is to shift away from measuring based on cash value. Good luck with that!

China hits back at Japan PM's statement on islands

BEIJING (AP) -- China on Thursday attacked Japan's prime minister as obstinate and wrong for saying his nation won't compromise in their dispute over who owns tiny islands in the East China Sea.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said in New York a day earlier that the islands are clearly an "inherent part of our territory, in light of history and international law." He said that issues over the islands should be resolved peacefully and by the rule of law.

Speaking of China trying to extend their sphere of influence they are trying to copy one US proven technique: aircraft carriers. They just announced the launch of their first carrier yesterday. It was originally built by the Soviets but never put into service. The Chinese have upgraded its engines as well as most of the electronics. The official word from China: the primary goal is to allow their navy to learn how to handle a very large vessel...a rarity in their fleet. But intelligence has been monitoring Chinese pilots practicing on land based carrier deck simulators. Also reports that the Chinese are using this carrier as a design template to begin building their own carrier fleet from scratch.

For many years the Chinese have been expending their power base with regards to energy via direct acquisition of foreign oil fields as well as tying up production contractually. With the news of the new carrier I wonder if the current agitation with other Asian nations over offshore mineral rights is a coincidence or not. The US has for decades used its carrier force to extend its power far from American shores. I would imagine that a nation getting into a territorial dispute with China might take a different approach if Chinese air power was an hour away vs. many thousands of miles. Not so much a question of an outright attach but the just the ability to quickly launch one and, additionally, to put armed obstacles in the way of that country's aircraft. I recall some years ago the Chinese successfully doing that to US surveillance aircraft the Chinese felt had encroached their territory too closely. If they were willing to bump a US military aircraft out of the sky what would they do to a Viet or Japanese aircraft?

UAV carriers I think are a good investment for a technocopian warfare future, as well as ageis-types and rail gun platforms.

Aircraft carriers are a relic of WWII. They work very well when one is trying to bully a powerless country like Iran but would be ineffective against countries like Japan and Vietnam and they would make very good coral reefs in a real war. China knows this, which is why they didn't build one till now.

In a serious confrontation between nearly equal rivals there are only two types of ships on the ocean: submarines and targets. Yes; today aircraft carriers are only useful for beating up the little guys.

The magazine Wired and their website cover China's attempts to become a player as a naval force in the region.
Their carrier? "Junk". Stealth fighter/bombers are a decade(?) away and the engines are supplied by Russia, who can control or curtail availability and parts for mtnce. China currently lacks the technology to produce military-grade jet engines.
The US has ELEVEN Carrier Strike Groups.
Some links:





RE: Weapons of Mass Urban Destruction

The refuse from these urban WMD eventually make their way into the oceans ... the latest garbage continent to be found is in the Southern Ocean.

New Indian electric car

Reva’s NXR is a significant improvement over its predecessor. Now, it needs the right kind of push — like country-wide charging infrastructure — to make it a viable alternative.

Gone is the quaint, fragile-looking machine, gingerly weaving its way in between lumbering SUVs and smoke-belching buses. The NXR, which is the next generation Reva — India’s indigenously-produced, all-electric car brand — is scheduled to hit the roads sometime around October this year and comes across, more or less, as just another small car.

I am planning to get one if the reviews come out well.

Linkifier didn't work: (actually a missing "f" in the code.)

yeah...thanks for that

Wind energy beat iPod in U.S. job creation

The PCIC researchers found that the U.S. wind industry has created nearly 27,000 direct jobs, and 9,250 non-U.S. jobs.

By contrast, the iPod, the PCIC researchers found, created nearly 14,000 U.S. jobs and 27,250 non-U.S. jobs in 2006.

But as many as half of the wind energy jobs may disappear if a tax credit is allowed to expire at year-end, say the PCIC paper and the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).

Did Spearhead signal a Brent-WTI bottom?


".... Cushing once represented the best possible price some inland producers could achieve for their oil.
At least for the last part of 2012, that is no longer the case."

While reading the story about Will Harris, the Georgia Cattleman, with a difference.., a comment about Antibiotics in feed and weight gain caught my eye. Sure enough, the fact that people are showing signs of their exposure to this continual stream of AB's in their meats, milk, eggs and other foods is starting to be looked at as another key to the obesity issues we are facing.

Antibiotics Linked to Weight Gain (in Mice)

The bacteria in treated mice activated more genes that turn carbohydrates into short-chain fatty acids, and they turned on genes related to lipid conversion in the liver. Presumably, these shifts in molecular pathway enable fat build-up.

Wonderful to note at the end of the article that where they've also seen microial activity that prevented animals from gaining weight, signalling problems at the other extreme, it was treated as a potential tool for solving weight and health issues, the doorway to yet another drug solution. How about "Get the manufactured chemistry sets OUT of our food! We know what to eat!" ?? .. In such a case, I appreciate the phrase about 'the cause of problems is solutions'.. while I'm not going to tar them all!

.. What could possibly go right?

BP’s Texas Refinery Sale Shows Volatile Industry’s Decay


Belgians to Build Prototype Nuclear Reactor with Particle Accelerator to Reduce Waste Threat

Researchers at the SCK CEN Belgian Nuclear Research Centre have announced that they are going to build a Multi-purpose hYbrid Research Reactor for High-tech Applications (MYRRHA) which is an experimental way of producing electricity via a nuclear reactor using a particle accelerator as a neutron source. The benefits of such an approach would mean spent nuclear fuel would have a far shorter half-life than conventional reactor technology methods and increased safety as runaway chain reactions cannot occur.

... The idea is to build a nuclear reactor that relies on a neutron spallation source (the particle accelerator) for its reactions, rather than the fuel itself. Doing so would mean the chain reaction could only continue if the particle accelerator continued to operate, which means it could be stopped immediately if there are any signs of trouble. But, more importantly, the neutrons could be used to transmute the fuel waste into fissionable material that has a half life of just a couple hundred years, thereby greatly reducing the toxic threat.

Oil pipeline blown up in northeast Syria

The Britain-based watchdog said plumes of smoke could be seen rising from the scene of the burst pipeline in Hasaka, the main oil producing region in Syria, followed by neighbouring Deir Ezzor province.

Several attacks have targeted Syria's oil infrastructure since the uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad erupted in March 2011, cutting production in half from pre-revolt levels of 420,000 barrels per day.

The oil fields, which mainly provide for domestic consumption, are guarded by special units of the army.

Natural Gas Pipelines to Expand U.S. Supply Glut: Energy Markets

Natural gas pipelines coming into service by year end may boost deliveries from the Marcellus shale deposit in the U.S. Northeast by 30 percent, extending a supply glut that helped send prices to decade lows.

As much as 2 billion cubic feet of gas a day are set to flow from the lines in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, bound for markets along the Eastern Seaboard, based on government and pipeline-company projections. About 1,000 Marcellus shale wells sit uncompleted, mainly because of a lack of pipeline infrastructure, according to the Energy Department.

“There are new pipelines coming up and more Marcellus gas is going to flood storage going into winter,” Phil Flynn, senior market analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago, said in a phone interview. “Unless you get a really cold winter, prices are going to be in the $2 range.

also Gas-products pipeline to advance Marcus Hook refinery’s rebirth

Sunoco announced Wednesday that its shuttered Marcus Hook refinery will be reborn as a facility to process Marcellus Shale natural-gas products, fueling new construction and new traffic through the Delaware River port.

Sunoco's pipeline subsidiary, Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P., is moving forward with a plan to transport high-value propane and ethane by pipeline from western Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook, where the materials will be processed in a new plant and shipped by sea to domestic and export markets.

For your amusement . . . ConservativesForum discuss abiotic oil:

Prepare to face-palm.

Thanks for that, spec :-0 I actually get nauseas reading this stuff, especially the comments. Takes my doom-o-meter up a few notches.

U.S. Oil Production Is At Highest Level Since 1997; Yet Gas Prices Remain ‘Stubbornly High’

American crude oil production is at its highest level since 1997, according to government figures reported today. The increase is being driven by innovations in hydraulic fracturing, which have allowed producers to access previously inaccessible oil deposits in shale formations.

This development is likely to be trumpeted by fossil fuel proponents as: a) the key to cheap gasoline prices; and b) a shining example of the free market working when government gets out of the way.

Don’t believe the hype.

Firstly, gas prices are still high, even with all this new crude output. Secondly, these hydraulic fracturing techniques driving the production boom didn’t just magically appear out of the free market — they were pioneered through many decades of government tax credits, loans, R&D programs, and mapping tools.

In other words, the two major talking points pushed by the fossil fuel industry (“cheap energy forever! Just let the free market decide!”) are proving to be vastly overblown.

S - "The increase is being driven by innovations in hydraulic fracturing, which have allowed producers to access previously inaccessible oil deposits in shale formations." I'll belabor the point again: all this innovative tech was available when oil was selling for 1/3 of what it is today. And no big drilling boom. One of the heaviest horizontally drilled and frac'd trends (the Austin Chalk) boomed many years ago using the same methods being used today in the Bakken and Eagleford. Impressed with 5,000' laterals being drilled today? How about 35,000' laterals being drilled by Maersk in the Persian Gulf years ago.

It's about the price of oil...not the tech. Just as the east Texas shale gas boom: same tech being used today but when prices collapsed so did most of the play.

What about the laterals drilled by Kuwait into Iraqi oil fields ?


Alan - What about them? Finders keepers...losers weeppers. LOL. Actually in the old days (30's - 40's) there were suspisions of "slant drilling" in Texas. Wells that were suppose to be vertical actually drifted a bit over onto someone elses lease. these days you have to run a certified directional survey to prove were the bottom of your well is.

Seems this guy was treated like a naughty teenager. Not sure the punishment fits the crime:

Although not authorized to invest company cash in trades, Steve Perkins, a long standing, senior broker at PVM Oil Futures, had managed to spend $520 million on oil futures contracts throughout the night, the FSA said.

New from Congressional Research Service ...

Energy Policy: Election Year Issues and Legislative Proposals

Energy policy is an important issue in the Presidential campaign, and there are sharp differences between the positions of President Obama and Republican candidate Mitt Romney, and between most Republicans and Democrats in the Congress. The Obama Administration has vigorously pushed energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives, at the same time claiming to encourage development of oil and natural gas resources. President Obama has declared global climate change a major issue.

The Romney campaign argues that the Obama Administration has blocked oil and gas development, and declares that so-called green technologies are too expensive to compete in the market. Alternative energy funding, according to Romney, should be concentrated on basic research. On global climate change, Romney acknowledges that human activity contributes to global warming, but claims there is no consensus on its extent or severity. He opposes unilateral measures that do not include actions by developing countries.

Policy Goals................................................. 2
● Conservation and Energy Efficiency ........................ 2
● Increasing Domestic Supply................................. 2
   ● Production of Oil....................................... 2
   ● The Price of Oil and Gasoline .......................... 3
   ● Natural Gas............................................. 3
   ● Electric Power Production............................... 4
● Replacing Conventional Energy Sources ..................... 4
Energy Policy in the Presidential Campaign .................. 5
● Obama Energy Policy........................................ 5
● Romney Energy Policy....................................... 6

also Mexico: Issues for Congress

The future of oil and gas production in Mexico is of great importance for Mexico’s economic stability and for U.S. energy security; Mexico is consistently a top U.S. crude oil supplier. Mexico’s state oil company, Pemex, established in 1938 as the world’s first major national oil company, remains an important source of government revenue, but is struggling to counter the country’s declining oil production. Production reached a peak of 3.48 million barrels per day in 2004 and has been declining since then, falling to 2.60 million barrels per day in 2011.120 There are concerns that Mexico’s proven reserves are also declining because Pemex has been so heavily taxed by the government that it has been unable to invest in exploration of the country’s significant deep water and shale oil reserves.

Enacting energy reforms is a task which Peña Nieto has said will be a top priority for his administration. However, constitutional reforms require a two thirds vote in the congress. And, the PRI-led coalition’s failure to capture a majority in either chamber of the congress may mean that Peña Nieto will encounter the same type of opposition to his reformist agenda that Calderón has experienced, unless he is able to reach agreements with the PAN.124 The PRD and portions of the PRI remain opposed to increasing private involvement in Pemex.

Energy and Environmental Issues .............................. 30
● Oil Production in Mexico and Efforts to Reform PEMEX ....... 30
● U.S.-Mexican Energy and Environmental Cooperation........... 31
● United States – Mexico Trans-Boundary Hydrocarbons Agreement . 32

The Eurozone Crisis: Overview and Issues for Congress

What started as a debt crisis in Greece in late 2009 has evolved into a broader economic and political crisis in the Eurozone and European Union (EU). The Eurozone faces four major, and related, economic challenges: (1) high debt levels and public deficits in some Eurozone countries; (2) weaknesses in the European banking system; (3) economic recession and high unemployment in some Eurozone countries; and (4) persistent trade imbalances within the Eurozone.

Additionally, the Eurozone is facing a political crisis. Disagreements among key policymakers over the appropriate crisis response, and a complex EU policy-making process are seen as having exacerbated anxiety in markets. Governments in several European countries have fallen as a direct or indirect result of the crisis.

Impact on the U.S. Economy: The United States has strong economic ties to Europe, and many analysts view the Eurozone crisis as the biggest potential threat to the U.S. economic recovery. U.S. Treasury officials have emphasized that U.S. exposure to the Eurozone countries under the most market pressure is small but that U.S. exposure to Europe as a whole is significant.

Recently, the euro has fallen against the dollar; a weaker euro against the U.S. dollar could cause the U.S. trade deficit with the EU to widen. Uncertainty in the Eurozone is creating a “flight to safety,” causing U.S. Treasury yields to fall, and volatility in the U.S. stock market.

An overview of EROI from Frank Kreith at CU Boulder (my alma mater, even had Kreith for a class).


Other recent studies of wind farms have found EROIs ranging from 14 to 25. And the technology keeps improving: while the average EROI for systems built in 1983 was a mere 2.5, by 1999 the average for new systems had increased to 23.
Solar power is another renewable technology that has kept improving. In some ways, solar power is a misleading term, since the principles and operation of solar thermal power systems are quite distinct from photovoltaics or passive solar heating. But each has followed a curve of greater efficiency and lower costs as material science and engineering has improved. Thermal applications—both for heat and for power—have improved, so that their EROIs are around 10 for active systems and between 20 and 40 for passive systems, depending on the system details and location.
Photovoltaics are still rapidly improving, encompass a wide range of materials and approaches, and are dependent on a number of site-specific factors. Depending on the assumptions made in the calculation, present-day photovoltaic systems have EROIs ranging from 4 to as high as 20 for a utility-scale installation. Photovoltaic technologies that are more efficient in their use of energy-intensive materials, such as thin film PV, are expected to perform even better.
Other renewable energy technologies are difficult to assess in terms of sustainability. Hydropower can produce enormous returns—EROIs in the neighborhood of 100—but the number of optimal sites for new dams is small. And ocean thermal and wave energy systems have not been deployed widely enough to make an assessment.
Nuclear energy is a particularly problematic case. Its operation provides baseline power and doesn’t produce greenhouse gases, and the marginal cost of electricity from a nuclear plant can be quite low after the initial investment has been repaid. But the amount of energy tied up in the construction and eventual decommissioning of the plants can be enormous, so much so that the EROI calculations can be surprisingly low. In the 1970s, for instance, Oak Ridge National Laboratory conducted an economic analysis of commercial nuclear power plants that determined their EROI to be about 6. More recently, Ceedata, a consultancy in the Netherlands, released a report on the total cost of nuclear power that concluded the EROI was only about 2.3 for an unrealisitcally short life of 30 years; that latter figure was hotly disputed by the World Nuclear Association and other groups.
A more optimistic assessment for nuclear’s EROI is on the order of 10, but that does not include the final safe deposit of spent fuel and decommissioning. The number is also greatly influenced by the operating life of the plant: if a nuclear plant could be safely and reliably run for 60 years, that would increase the EROI, since the net energy return would accumulate while the energy investment would not grow substantially. Further study is warranted, but it does not appear that the EROI for nuclear power is clearly superior to wind, solar, or hydropower...


'Romney or Obama Win Means No Escape From Fiscal Crisis of Debt'

It wouldn't be so bad if the national debt was the only thing we were dealing with. You add the wars, a broken EU currency, unrest and solvency issues in Greece and the middle East, a lousy education system, systemic inability of families to consistently feed their children, chronic un or underemployment, continual bankruptcies, followed by defaulted mortgages, tremendous personal debt, student debt held by students with no jobs, uncertainty about the status of healthcare, pensions underpaid, or in the case of Illinois, not paid for years, and you have a sizable tsunami of economic disasters.

Peak oil?