Tech Talk - Thoughts On the Precautionary Principle

As Michael Brander tells it in his book on the Scottish Highland Regiments, the Scottish Highlands produced, between 1740 and 1815, men for some 86 Highland Regiments who travelled around the world to strengthen the British Empire. But towards the end of that period, sheep were introduced into Scotland and the great land clearances began that replaced the crofters on the estates with the occasional lone shepherd and his flocks. Thus, by the time of the Crimean War when the Duke of Sutherland tried to raise a regiment, he got no volunteers. As an old man explained to him:
I am sorry for the response your Grace’s proposals are meeting here today, so near the spot where your maternal grand-mother, by giving some forty-eight hours notice, marshaled 1,500 men to pick out the 800 she required. But there is a cause for it, and a genuine cause, and, as your Grace demands to know it, I must tell you, as I see that none else is inclined in the assembly to do so. These lands are now devoted to rear dumb animals which your parents considered of far more value than men . . . . your parents, yourself and your Commissioners have desolated the glens and the straths of Sutherland where you should find hundreds, yea thousands of men to meet and respond to your call cheerfully had your parents kept faith with them. How could your Grace expect to find men where they are not?
The anecdote illustrates that there are long-term consequences to policy decisions, often not fully recognized when the original decisions are made. I was reminded of the Scottish situation as I contemplate the great race to renewable energy and natural gas, and the rapid replacement being urged for coal-fired power stations and nuclear power plants. And there are some grounds for seeing an analogy to that earlier situation.

Coal and uranium are found underground and while there is a large surface mining component to mining, as these reserves are exhausted, or embargoed for environmental or other political reasons, the need, over time will move increasingly to the development of the deeper reserves. Mines, however do not spring up overnight. Just as you cannot get a baby in a month by making nine women pregnant, so the process of discovery, raising capital, permitting and development can mean that over a decade can pass before coal is produced in commercial quantitites. And that assumes that the Administration is somewhat favorable to the idea. As a candidate, now President Obama said "If someone wants to build a new coal-fired power plant they can, but it will bankrupt them because they will be charged a huge sum for all the greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

As President he appointed Dr. Stephen Chu to head the Department of Energy, an individual who has said “Coal is my worst nightmare.”. And to follow on his statement as a candidate, the President appointed Lisa Jackson to the EPA who issued a finding that greenhouse gases constitute a threat to public health and welfare, with a series of actions to reduce carbon pollution. In such a political climate it is unlikely that applications for new mines and plants will receive an accelerated resolution. (Just consider the case of decision on the Keystone Pipeline, which continues to drag on.) If there is a sudden discovered need for new coal and nuclear power plants they will not (as with the Highlanders) be there to answer that call, and nor can they be for over a decade after the call is made.
Now it is not my intention here to argue the logic of a current change to natural gas, as the large reserve within the United States becomes available and, at low cost, provides a source of energy that helps keep the nation’s industry competitive. But what I would like to do is to invoke the same Precautionary Principle that has been used as an initial basis for action on control of power plant emissions and other factors with environmental impact. (see for example principle fifteen).

The precautionary principle can be briefly stated as:
the theory that an action should be taken when a problem or threat occurs, not after harm has been inflicted; an approach to decision-making in risk management which justifies preventive measures or policies despite scientific uncertainty about whether whether detrimental effects will occur.
There is a significant scientific question as to the long-term reliability of the production levels for oil and natural gas that is being produced from the shales of the United States, and it has been articulated well both by Art and Rune, among others at the Oil Drum.

And as China draws an increasing amount of fuel out of Turkmenistan, Iran and the Middle East, with the potential for an additional increase in the draw from Russia, there is some concern that as China buys for the long term, that tightening supplies will begin to limit the availability of fuel for Western Europe and the United States.

With the occasional collapse of the odd wind turbine, and the difficulty in seeing how solar power can help in the blizzards and snow storms I have gone through in the last week, there is some concern over the size of the contribution that these technologies can make into the energy mix of the next decade.

In those circumstances, a wise application of the Precautionary Principle to future energy supplies in both Europe and the United States might suggest that sufficient legacy power systems be left in place to ensure that neither community is left short of energy in the years ahead. This is to guard against the proposed replacements being either inadequate or insufficient to meet the future need.

And yet, unfortunately, this is not likely to occur. As with many arguments and tools used in political debate, once a position or an argument has been adopted it is extremely rare for it to be renounced. The consequences of current decision making rarely come back to haunt those politicians who make them since they often occur past the current elective term and are thus of less interest to those who are more focused on the next election.

Yet longer-term events do eventually arrive, and time having passed, the day of reckoning is becoming visible. It is likely that the Bakken will peak before the end of the current Administration. Ofgem has already raised concerns over an over-reliance on imported natural gas into the UK, and warned of possible shortages by the end of 2015, and urged a diversification of supply types. The IEA recently issued a chart that shows their projections for the energy future to 2035.

Figure 1. Past and future distribution of energy demand for the different sectors of the world (IEA)

The writing is beginning to appear on the wall. And while the Precautionary Principle is aimed more at less obvious, high risk scenarios – the risks to the world of a failure in the global supply chain, or even a national one is of such a high impact that even with a lower probability of occurrence than is becoming evident, it would be wise to start looking for answers. It is likely already far too late, and the world remains replete with folk denying the existence of a problem (even as gas prices continue to rise) but it will be interesting to see how the new Secretary of Energy addresses the situation.

How 'bout taking the precaution of not tipping the climate over into a totally untenable state? How 'bout taking the precaution of leaving something combustible in the ground for, say, seven generations hence? Oh, wait, I've got a better idea - let's burn everything as fast as we can right now.

The idea that Obama is impeding coal use is ridiculous. Economics are doing that for the moment. But he is approving coal plants and oil leases, whilst preaching his greenwashing garbage to the masses. Hard to believe you bought it. Read any of Rockman's comments?

With the occasional collapse of the odd wind turbine, and the difficulty in seeing how solar power can help in the blizzards and snow storms I have gone through in the last week, there is some concern over the size of the contribution that these technologies can make into the energy mix of the next decade.

Good points! And while you are at it, you could also remind us that the sun doesn't shine at night... well, at least on one side of the planet. That and what clifman said!

A mechanical fault at our local supermarket has the refridgeration system offline for 48 hours while repairs are made. Though not an electricity supply problem as such, it makes you wonder nonetheless (well, myself at least) how we'd get on without all those charged particles being bumped along all those copper wires and such. A world without refridgeration, now there's a challenge!

Cheers, Matt

From the 5th of May, 1978 edition of the Dayton Daily News:

Solar Energy photo Solar_zps9bbfdc69.jpg


You want solar? We, er, ah, oh yes! We own the oil that goes into them, we own the rare earths they need, we own the factories where they're made, we own the roads that will deliver them, we own the banks that hold your mortgage, we own the prisons where you'll go if you don't stop being so damned uppity!

Sorry. Couldn't resist. A little gallows humor there...

The 20 solar panels I put on my house back in 2007 clearly say "Shell Oil Company" on them, and they cost a small fortune. They have produce over 36,000 KWH delivered as AC power to me or SoCal Edison, which is a good deal for me because the incremental rate reaches $0.48 KWH when I'm over 200% baseline (run the A/C and I'm there). But yes, I need SoCal Edison to provide power at night when I'm not back feeding the grid.

clifman – All valid points as usual and a clear perspective of a potential future. But you know my dark expectations of the American public’s reaction to a true energy shortage. We’ve already seen acceptance of trillions of $’s and hundreds of thousands of lives spent on protecting oil production. Not much of a trade off, eh? Burn more coal and damage the environment more or burn up our $’s and bury more casualties as a result of more efforts to “export democracy” to more oil producing regions. Unfortunately with China’s thirst for coal it doesn’t appear to be an either or choice.

It's not just China.
South Korea just announced a big new expansion of coal.
Government plans 18 thermal plants
Hyundai Merchant Marine picks up coal delivery pact

But as they say, 'Every cloud has a charcoal lining'. At least we didn't get the four new nukes.
(with credit to Professor Pan of the Chinese Academy of Science for the saying.)

Well, okay, so then what is the plan if we're not to rely on the old technology? I live in a "conservation community" north of Chicago. We have open space, and a lake, and a farm, and lots of walking trails, and I commute via rail, and walk everywhere I can, and when I need to I drive a fourteen year old Saturn that gets 36 mpg, and we have native plants in our yard, and open prairie behind our house, and on and on and on. And on.

I'm now on our homeowners board. I nearly always attend the meetings anyway. Our charter school tried to install one lousy, extremely tiny, windmill to permit the students to learn about the technology and as a general learning tool. The homeowners got up in arms. It'll degrade our home values!

I can just wait to go to this group to get approval to install a few solar panels on my house. Should be a roaring good time! Better bring plenty of Scotch, I figure.

If this group of homeowners won't stand for renewable energy within the confines of our subdivision, who will? And if the solution is plant these things somewhere else, how do you get them to agree to it? And have you looked at exactly how many of these things we're gonna need?

Open to suggestions. What's the plan?

If you live where you need the approval of an essentially clueless collective, seems the only choice is to move to where you don't. Sorry about that. Time is too short to wait for others to come around to reality. The process by which they finally 'get it' is the process you want to avoid if possible. You'll fall victim to the same epidemic that you've been warning them about. There's a small chance that they will act rationally when that time comes; very small. Frogs,, in pots.

Some jurisdictions, state/county/city have passed laws that make it difficult for homeowners associations to outlaw solar. I think we have something like that here in California. In much of my town, you can't repaint your house a different color, but you can put up PV. Of course in "red" parts of the country I suspect attempts to actively impede progress will be made.

Personally, I don't approve urban wind, largely for technical reasons (doesn't downscale well, very gusty environment, possible safety issues). The big windturbines out in the country have no-public access zones around them for a reason.

I know the thread is young, but I'm hoping the suggestions will get interesting. So far Ghung has recommended I move, and Enemy has suggested a local ordinance may allow me to place panels on my house, association bylaws be damned. Should make me real popular with my neighbors, but I'll see if there are any such regs in the area.

Chicago itself is quite blue, but the northern burbs (where I live) are quite red, should political leanings play into folks suggestions.

In the sunny climate where I live, one is not allowed to dry clothes outdoors. The association requires one to rely on an electric dryer.

Hmmm..too bad trees take so long to grow...A hedgerow of tall trees (perhaps dense pine) along the perimeter of your property would serve to keep neb-nosed neighbors' prying eyes at bay...but then your HOA might have rules about how many trees, how high, what type, trimming standards, etc.

fences grow faster or aren't those allowed either?


Well....a fence won't keep nosy neighbors from seeing one's 'illegal' clothes drying on clothes lines...I am thinking of a chain-link fence (see-through)...

Where I live, most houses have concrete block walls (opaque) between the houses, including surrounding the back yard...but city zoning ordinances limit them to 6' in height. Not high enough to keep a neighbor from narcing to the HOA if they want to exercise petty control trips over one's life.

In that case there is Russian Vine though I was thinking more of a real fence using wood ;)


In the sunny climate where I live, I dry my clothes indoors on a rack. Doesn't take very long, and the clothes aren't subjected to UV which will cause colors to fade.

"The association requires one to rely on an electric dryer."

I'm so glad I don't live there. My association only requires than I have no more than 4 pigs with young. Horses, cows, chickens, llamas are all OK.

A windmill would be fine if it was situated so that it could not fall onto someone else's property, and so that it is only 35 ft high, which is set by county zoning. A waiver for that restriction probably would not be too hard to get.

I'm really interested in details about this community. What is the unifying force of why people move there?

Prairie Crossing. Folks move here for the same sorts of reasons they move anywhere else. Some like all the conservations aspects, others just like the house they bought, others got a deal, others, well, who knows?

Hopefully no one will hunt me down for my various beliefs!

And yes, we have homes for sale here. Things have picked up a bit since the Great Recession, but only a bit.

It is so weird...with everything the site talks about they should be the most amenable of any place to small scale renewable generation. Makes me wonder if a lot of the people that are up in arms don't actually subscribe to the 10 principles.

What is your thought about pointing those out? For instance, it talks about "Lifelong learning and education," "Aesthetic design and high-quality construction," "Energy conservation," "community and conservation can go hand in hand," "environmental protection," and when all else fails, "Economic viability."

Renewables (including well sourced biomass) fit strongly into all of those. Have you heard about communities in Germany and Scandinavia that are basically 100% energy self produced? They use a combination of wind, solar and anaerobic digestion plants that are owned through a village co-op so that all proceeds go back to individuals in the community (that most often choose to turn around and invest back into public commons). It has greatly strengthened their communities on the social and economic level.


Bingo. They should be amenable.

To be fair, however, the request for the wind turbine happened not all that long after the Great Recession hit. We all took a massive hit on our property values, and at least one of the homeowners who objected had just lost his job and he and his family were looking to sell their house in a very depressed market. The market still ain't all that great, so I actually fully understand why folks here are leery of any sort of modifications which might even hint of a drop in value.

The point is the turbine, and potential panels, are potentially viewed as negative value propositions, so far as the subdivision is concerned. Which is itself a reflection of how our larger (regional) community appears to view these things.

And I'll reiterate what I posted elsewhere within this thread. I may be able to convince my neighbors on the panels. I'm going to work on the insulation/chalking first. These homes were supposed to be built to higher environmental standards. In some ways they were, in some ways they weren't. That is just the reality.

Once upon a time some of the homeowners were looking into producing biodiesel. Not sure whatever happened to that, but now that I'm on the board I'll see if anything ever came of it.

The bottom line is even a subdivision like this faces the hard realities of a depressed economy. There's only so much people are going to be willing to do.

Well I moved out of the US because even the people that think they "get it" tend to just want techno fixes and pretty things, rather than integrated living.

That said, installing solar increases home prices and that premium will only go up as it becomes more and more of a status-moral issue.

There was a leak from a PR firm that was hired to entrench the status quo. It basically talked about isolating the radical idealists by casting them as dangerous outsiders and then co-opting the pragmatists by creating a hardline status quo group that would be hard to negotiate with, then "reluctantly" giving in on compromises that were mutually beneficial.

In my relations I attempt to inspire the radical idealists by arguing from principles and ethics of what could be, while co-opting the pragmatists by pointing out the mutual benefits and then marginalize the status quoers through repeated presentation of how much things obviously suck. Even though this is often in unrelated social organization (like how to create software) it touches individuals on a deep level that then opens them up for broader discussion about the world. It is a fight against fear and robotization of the individual, tapping into a larger community through individual expression. It works because I try to maintain courage while the other side expresses cynical calculation. I admit I also just do things on my own without the group understanding and only when it's nearly done is it tied back in.

In essence, I'm saying that there may be tons of hidden idealists in the community that just need encouragement and a pattern of how they can act on a personal your path may turn out great. The issue with a community consensus thing (and thus the source of many problems in the US) is that it is difficult to get recalcitrant but pragmatic people to jump in because they are skeptical of what MAY happen.

You have all the facts and curve of history on your side, so just do it and force people to stop you, providing the platform for teaching others.

I've only realized this since I moved from the US and got out of its pathological state. Before then I wasted all my free time on sites like this one and fretting about how to convince the whole community to do something or else we'd be screwed. I came to NZ because I thought it'd be much more likely to change on the community level.

While this is true, it is also not true in the American sense. There is a lot of complexity in that point I don't want to get into now, but the moral of the story is that I'm using the lessons I'm learning here and exporting them back to the US in ways that I can, such as supporting a friend that graduated from Northwestern and was in despair because he would never be able to find a real job. He is now working to get up an aquaponics installation into the BooCoo community center in order to demonstrate what can be done, and I'm working with him on how to create a patterned way for people to adopt his design/processes without being a from scratch tinkerer; e.g. aimed at the pragmatic crowd. The overall aim is that he can then reach out to people of his age and convert them as well, so they feel they can act without seeking "permission" of social acceptability.

So I'll probably get a few of the frustrations you're experiencing since it'll be somewhat of the same crowd!

Well, I guess best of luck to both of us, eh? I admit I tend towards the techno fixes (not so sure about the pretty things, tho. LOL). Techno or no techno, tho, it looks like we're up against it. It's just gonna keep getting more and more interesting, I'm sure. I suppose I'll go to my grave still trying to think of something which could have been done. Nature of the beast, I suppose.

Welcome to New Zealand. :-)

I do wonder sometimes how we are truthfully different to the people in the U.S.A. it really seems most people work on a position of justification after the fact regardless of where they sit in the spectrum.

I'll be curious to hear more of what you notice in this regard.

I've got a feeling that the model of modern, grid connected commuter living has been replicated worldwide.. and to some extent it has seemed completely workable, which is why people still hold that model out there and work to protect it.

I'm not going to call it 'BAU', since the great overuse of that term has let it become too vague to do anything useful with the critique now.. but if we can look at disentangling individual sections of this model that are currently woven in tightly to the whole Suburban Image, I think advances can be achieved by taking it in pieces, and letting the goal for change not be 'Eradicate BAU and Suburbia'. Target both individual money, time and energy wastes.. and highlight the reason for making those wastes targets.

Like MikkelNZ suggested. I think there are many who know to wear the BAU mask out in the yard, say the right thing, keep it positive, etc.. but they are hurting, and they want to figure out how to patch up this tattered situation before they fall through the cracks.. they'll perk up their ears to ideas that show them smart tricks to outrun the rat race, whether they'll be able to implement them right away or not.

What I mean is that people adjust their perceptions based on the circumstances they find themselves in. I don't believe people are really that different, they just exist in different circumstances so for instance I believe that Europe is only as enlightened about climate change as their knowledge of their diminished access to fossil energy increases. People tend to pick a desired position based on circumstances and then justify it afterwards, so Europe's position on climate change is dictated more by their circumstances than it is their ability to set aside short term gain. It really picks up on the disconnect people have between cause/effect and since people often don't see the cause of the effect they make it up by some other justification.

I think people really don't see the systemic links which makes one form of BAU better than another. For instance in a world where people are being increasingly replaced by machines is having a large concentration of people ideal? If we no longer need to all be in the same place at the same time whilst at the same time the value of labour is being reduced and concentrated sources of energy are being diminished then can we really say that high density living will be more sustainable than low density suburbia? Or perhaps that the best compromise is medium density whereby people live in concentrated dwellings with larger unpaved areas for growing food giving the best of both worlds given a reduced supply of energy and a need to make the most of limited materials?

Tell them you are putting it up, and let them know the law if they have a problem:

The windmill isn't covered, but PV is. You can legally put it up and they can't stop you. Your biggest problem is not getting permission (you don't need it), it's maintaining the goodwill of your neighbors.


Please sharpen your argument a bit.

The situation in some countries that have precipitously closed their nuclear reactors in
response to the tsunami.... you think this is a policy mistake?

The second situation where, in the US, the average coal plant is 35 years old, and numerous
plants are closing under pressure of the addition of 4 MBd oil equivalent of new shale gas
in just 8 years.... this is another more market-based response to a new set of energy realities.

The so-called "war on coal", at least the war on *old* coal plants, is being fought with drilling rigs not primarily by the EPA.

Looking ahead, the problem for those proposing new coal plants is that they are 2x the cost of an equivalent amount of natural
gas generation, which we've got boatloads of in any case.

US electricity demand is flattish, and the closure of ancient coal burners is inevitable, but hastened by the collapse in nat gas prices.


The truth is natural gas is a more important fuel than coal now.

Everyone's been wondering what "clean coal" actually means. Well, in practice it means "natural gas." That's true in a second sense, too: If leaks of natural gas from compressors, wellheads, and the distribution system are as high as they might be--larger than 4% in the Uinta Basin according to a recent study--then of course
natural gas isn't much if any better than coal from a GHG perspective.

When I think of the precautionary principle in terms of US energy policy, two issues come to mind: Whether to export US gas overseas, and, from a climate standpoint, whether to export coal-to-Newcastle, ie China.

Of course the biggest failing, from a precautionary principle standpoint, is the daily production of 90 MT of co2, some of which will still be in the air 500 years from now.

Listen closely and you might be able to hear unborn generations beseeching us: "WTF are you thinking?"

Precautionary principle we'd be planting wind turbines like they were trees.

In regard to the damage from the tsunami, folk seem to forget that there was a more modern nuclear plant at Onagawa where, with a bit more common sense the plant had been sited to survive, and did. There is a rush in Europe to do away with coal and nuclear power plants, with increasing concerns being raised by more and more qualified groups that the replacement technologies are not going to be adequate to meet the changing demand. Scaremongering to get more plants shut down faster goes against the safety record that many of the German and other European plants achieved over the decades.

America had a "dash to gas" in the past, and then folks started running out. I am not saying that this is definitely going to happen this time around, but I am saying that there are some warning signs that all is not going to be as easy as folk anticipate to find that alternate fuel, too many folk leaping on a bandwagon can cause it to overturn. Thus there should be some precautions taken to ensure that there remains enough plant in reserve should it be needed, rather than having it all torn down and unavailable. Bulgaria was looking at such an option in 2009.

I have a tile stove that burns wood downstairs, that has kept us comfortable most of this winter - apart from the time I have to split the wood. I mention this only because it seemed wise, when we bought the house some decades ago, that there be more than one source of heat should the power ever fail. It has, several times in the winters over the years, and each time we have kept warm as we listened to the power saws from the utility company gradually getting closer and finally returning us to the grid.

In the same way too ernest a commitment to a power source over which questions still remain can get one into trouble. And there are large swaths of the MidWest - including where I live, where turbines are not viable. We have a couple installed by the University in town, (small ones) and the data is compelling, though the on-line production record is currently not available as they are replacing some of the equipment.

There is a rush in Europe to do away with coal and nuclear power plants, with increasing concerns being raised by more and more qualified groups that the replacement technologies are not going to be adequate to meet the changing demand. Scaremongering to get more plants shut down faster goes against the safety record that many of the German and other European plants achieved over the decades.

I would be very interested if you have links to these concerns raised by qualified groups. There used to be quite some scaremongering about the lights going off because of moderated wind and solar on the grid, which has proven wrong even with high amounts on the grid in Denmark, Spain and Germany.

In Germany, first rate research institutes with focus on application like Fraunhofer Institute clearly support the Energiewende and have delivered concepts for scenarios with 100% renewables.

They also provide estimatses on costs, more precise, differental costs and projections of differential costs, which point to the fact that within 15-20 years the renewables scenarios are cheaper than the conventionals.

In contrast, proponents of different solutions, here the pro nuclear groups are the most important, have failed yet to propose alternative scenarios, only to cherrypick data without own complete concept, i.e. one which could compete with the Fraunhofer work, is not accepted in a scientific discussion. Bring own model/scenario or shut up. :-)


Have you seen the renewable energy study out of the University of Delaware?

Above is a link to an article summarizing the study, a link to the full paper is below:

click on PDF link at upper left of page linked above to read the paper.

The bottom line, renewable energy can replace 90-99 % of traditional power sources for the electric grid at lower cost by 2020.

So by pursuing renewable energy and energy efficiency aggresively we are using the precautionary principle for both possible energy shortages and potential devastating climate change.


Styno, I sometimes feel that I preach to deaf ears with regard to Europe and renewable energy.

Western Europe's synchronous electricity grids are subdivided into four, Ireland, the UK, the Nordic area and mainland Europe, all four are interconnected but remain seperated by either HVDC or phase change transformers.

Many people still believe that the intermittant nature of renewables, wind, solar etc mean that integrating high levels of these tech's MUST therefore cause grid stability issues but this just isn't the case.

Ireland routinely supplies 50% of electrical demand solely from wind with absolutely no issues whatsoever and saves hundreds of millions of euro's every year in natural gas imports because of it. EirGrid the grid operator, will be in a position to allow 75% of demand to be supplied from wind by 2017.

Ireland is now the first country where the government are considering imposing an export tax on renewable electricity exports to Europe rather giving any further subsidies.

The Nordic grid has almost reached the same penetration levels as Ireland. The major remaining problem on mainland Europe is the capacity of the grid to transfer electricity from North to South and vice versa but solutions are being found.

Sometimes you simply have to decide to do something in order to make it happen.

Thanks, HO.

I developed my own precautionary principle years ago when it was clear that such principles were generally lacking on a society-wide scale. That our collective political and capitalist principles seemed to be increasingly incompatible with a lond-term view of things didn't mean that mine had to be. I've encouraged others to consider this, with limited success. As our systems become progressively more structured for short-term goals, short-term gains, they also become increasingly brittle.

No bridges to the future excepting the ones we build ourselves or in local collectives; this is the future we face.

This is what John Michael Greer calls a predicament:

1) We can try to get rid of all the fossil fuels to save the climate (which will get worse in spite of what we do, but maybe not as much worse) and run into all kinds of shortages of energy and the attendant problems.


2) Or we can take a short-term view and continue burning fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow (thus assuring that there will be no tomorrow).

Based on the science, I choose bad choice #1. It isn't great, but it's a lot better than choice #2. Either way, we are in for some rough times, especially for our children and grandchildren.

This dichotomy is simple but misleading. Clearly you suppose the correct thing to do is scenario 1), but even if you, personally, make that choice, there will surely be many people who choose scenario 2) and are beyond the reach of whatever political power you have to enforce scenario 1). This is scenario 3), the real world: enclaves of type 1) and type 2) spaced apart by some distance that is yet to be discovered, maybe the range of hunting rifle shot.

This scenario 3) will persist as the fossil fuel resource is gradually depleted and the CO2 concentration gradually rises. This can happen rapidly, or over many human generations. Think of the type 2) people as relieving the burden on the emergent technology in its infancy, not as an enemy with which to do battle. In this view, the precautionary principle should be to avoid over committing to a technology the depends on a continuation of a climate condition (high wind, or high solar influx, or whatever) that may not persist at higher CO2 levels.

Resource depletion by nearby type 2) enclaves is not a precautionary planning, it is plain planning for the future. You know that the type 2) life style is unsustainable. What is your plan for when sustenance stops?

What do you say to the leaders of China and India, countries that now account for over half of all global coal consumption and a growing share of oil and natural gas? They are trying to lift another billion people out of poverty. There are an entire list of things that the developed countries are unable to offer them:

  • A way to become rich, or even middle class, that doesn't require huge increases in reliable scheduleable base load electricity supplies,
  • A base load generating technology that is inexpensive in direct costs, can be deployed quickly, and is within their current technical grasp (because they don't trust us enough to become dependent on us, and given history, I don't blame them) that isn't coal,
  • Any working technology that would render coal-based generation clean (from a CO2 perspective).

The one thing that we all know they will ignore if we tell it to them is "Don't try. Stay poor."

Could anyone point me to some stats regarding coal in electrical production; about how much coal for a megawatt? about how much of which pollutants per ton burned. I acknowledge that these are most likely widely variable, but I would like a rough estimate of much coal burning is displaced by news reports of local energy projects, not the "X houses" measure that is usually given.


10. A 500 megawatt coal-fired electrical plant burns 1,430,000 tons of coal, uses 2.2 billion gallons of water and 146,000 tons of limestone a year.
Desmogblog (

I haven't double-checked with the source from which these data were derived.

Wow, Heading Out. You've got chutzpah, I'll give you that. Invoking the precautionary principle to argue for fewer regulations on coal and nuclear plants? Wow. Then you casually toss out wind and solar because wind turbines sometimes collapse and there are blizzards and snowstorms in some places at some times.

Would you care to go back and discuss how the precautionary principle relates to more coal being burned on a planet whose climate is rapidly changing due to human CO2 emissions? Or how the PP relates to permitting new nuclear plants post Fukushima Daiichi, maybe with a discussion of the likely long term consequences to that area, potential similar events at any of the existing or proposed nuclear sites, or a discussion of the current state of long term waste storage in the major nuclear countries? No, not interested? Ok then, thanks!

Um! There is nothing in my post that says that I am against rational regulation, and I believe I have written in the past about the need to ensure that mines are properly inspected by qualified individuals with rigorous enforcement of safety regulations.

Engineers, unfortunately, make wrong decisions all the time - the control room for one of the refineries near New Orleans was in the basement - when the hurricane hit all the controls were under water and their replacement was the cause of most of the down-time before the plant came back on line. Increasingly many design decisions are based on an evaluation of risk. So it was in Japan where they made an estimate of the size of the likely tsunami, and they were wrong.

As I noted in my comment to Randy earlier when I bought this house I considered the risk that there would be a power outage in the winter of sufficient size that I made sure we had an alternate source of heat. And I turned out to be right. A recent report notes that there were over 25,000 "excess" deaths in the United Kingdom during the winter of 2010/2011 due to the cold, and the high price of power. These are not hypothetical numbers.

You need to reread that article about excess deaths. There are always about this number--and in fact the number has been declining over the years (about 70,000 in 1960). "However, the number of excess winter deaths in the two most recent winters were about 30 per cent lower than the level seen in 2008/09 when there were 36,450 excess winter deaths." What occurs to me as the reason for these excess winter deaths is the flu--not energy.

Irrespective my views on coal burning and CO2 emissions levels above 350ppm, my precautionary principle includes spending money on energy efficiency measures as well as renewables. Perhaps the Secretary of Energy could take the same view. Perhaps you could support him. Surely conservation is better over a long enough time frame?

In my opinion, the time when we might be able to "safely" burn coal on an industrial scale is hundreds of years into the future, when current levels have fallen. No doubt we'll have bigger problems with the tailing ponds of the current coal and tar sands mines before then.

Yes, but I would add that conservation- and not the false "improved efficiency" kind (Jevons paradox)- but the kind where things unnecessary are simply gone without by those who practice it, should be at the top of any serious discussion about energy and our future. Yet even among those who are aware of the enormity of the looming Peak Oil/Global Warming predicament, the word sacrifice is rarely uttered except to point out that we are sacrificing our children's future.

Comforts will have to be sacrificed in dealing this issue, whether voluntarily or by will of Nature. The less we sacrifice now voluntarily, the more our children and theirs, and those of most other species, will have to.

Common sense and research both indicate the Jevon's paradox applies something much less than 100% to many kinds of energy efficiency improvements.
When I doubled the insulation in my attic, I certainly did not double the set-point on my thermostat from 70 to 140 F.
Certainly many wasteful forms of consumption will eventually be curtailed either voluntarily or by necessity, eventually almost nobody will likely be able to afford gasoline for wasteful empty SUVs.
But there is nothing "false" about trying to minimize the environmental and financial impacts of our actions.
You are posting on the internet from some form of computer. Is there anything "false" about trying to design and purchase the computer with the most "improved efficiency" in total life-cycle impact possible?

Give everyone fuel-efficient cars and we’ll use less fuel, right? According to some economists—and opponents of mandated improvements in energy efficiency—we'll squander some of the savings by driving more. That argument goes for other forms of energy efficiency, suggesting they all can actually lead to greater energy use through a rebound effect. However, a group of economists and others, led by Kenneth Gillingham of Yale University, argue in a new Nature commentary that the rebound effect is exaggerated.

According to their article, the effect is real but small: 5 to 30 percent of energy savings may be lost due to greater use. At most, this could reach a little over half of intended savings lost on large scales—but energy is still saved overall. These numbers are supported by many (“vast” is the word used by the authors) academic studies and simulations.

To be fair, the rebound effect is not simple. It actually comes about via four factors that interact and combine in a complex manner. The first is the “direct” effect, where a drop in the cost of using some energy-consuming device (like a car or washing machine) results in slightly increased use. For cars, various studies show that this reduces savings in energy from the improved efficiency by 5 to 23 percent initially. After everyone becomes accustomed to the lower fuel costs, this could eventually rise to 30 percent.

This number is smaller for other devices like home appliances—around 10 percent. How much more often would you use your washing machine if it was more efficient? Would you even notice? The authors argue that these numbers are probably overestimates. People don’t use efficiency directly to gauge how much energy to use, but rather price. That brings the numbers down to somewhere between 5 and 10 percent...To sum everything up: the rebound effect exists, and it should be taken into account when planning policy and legislation. Taking all the various aspects together, studies estimate the combined effects to be between 20 and 60 percent on a macroeconomic scale. This certainly isn’t negligible, but it shows that improved efficiency will still lead to reduced energy use overall.

Some potential precautionary principle ideas:

1. Invest heavily in sound campaigns to reduce U.S. energy use:

- implement a carbon tax, or fuel taxes if an overall carbon tax cannot be done.

- Mandate higher efficiency metrics for vehicles, appliances, etc.

- tax coal, NG, and nuclear power to encourage conservation

- Use these revenues to subsidize building energy audit maximally efficient furnaces, heat pumps, water heaters, lighting, much better insulation, new windows, etc.

- Invest in subsidizing solar PV for builindings

- Invest in more public shared tranit (trams, busses) and encourage private shared transit (Zipcar, etc).

2. Invoke 'Supreme National Interest' by the Federal Government and implement the Yucca Mountain repository and transport nuclear wastes there as safely and quickly as possible.

3. Conduct a top-priority program to provide robust redundancy for nuclear power plants' hotel load provisions for reactor equipment and cooling ponds. Take a hard look (quickly) at the nuclear reactors presenting the greatest risks and either mitigate the risks or close them.

There are many other potential ideas out there...such as implementing redundant electrical transmission lines, and a combination of persistently and aggressively trimming/cutting trees around urban power lines and burying some of those...many many more ideas beyond these.

(Edit) 4. Fund a persistent, comprehensive approach to population control, leading to planned non-sinister/non-catastrophic population reduction. Stopping and reversing the war on reproductive rights, including birth control, is a great place to start. Implement serious, effective immigration controls.

On a related note, I am impressed by the Japanese ability to adapt to the temporary loss of their entire reactor fleet...they must have implemented some strict conservation measures, /and/ had a generous amount of fallow/idle FF generating capacity on hand to spin up.


Thanks for that. Your suggestions should be sent to every politician in the country every day until they come around.



I only wish that the people in the United States could have an adult conversation about things such as this...I have been appalled for decades at how many people are so ill-informed and seem to have only the most rudimentary critical thinking skills.

I would like people to understand that 'National Security' should encompass far more than military weapons and tactics and fundamentally involves heath, wellness, and energy security, as well as a strong domestic employment situation. "...provide for a common defense and promote the general welfare..." We need to obtain a wide and deep understanding of what we are spending our resources on and have a rational conversation on examining and setting our priorities on how to use our scarce resources.

Unfortunately I don't see reason to be optimistic on these fronts...however, I do not advocate a 'stick the head in the sand' and/or roll over and die attitude.


Sorry, not sure where you are from? Your list of items seems completely outside the realm of possibility here in the States. So I have to assume wherever you live these sorts of suggestions have been implemented, or are at least in process?


I an a natural-born U.S. citizen, who lives in the U.S. and always has...although I have traveled to various parts of the World as part of my job.

If only discussions such as happen on this forum would start to occur in more 'mainstream' media/venues. Ignorance is bliss for many folks.

"...There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Cant you see
This is a land of confusion..."


Thanks for the reply. I re-read mine, and it probably came off a bit more snarky than I intended. On a more upbeat note I think there are more discussions of all the issues covered on TOD out there in the wild. Just not in the main stream yet. Hopefully it'll head in that direction gradually, but that's just being hopeful. If the main stream doesn't have the discussion at some point, and it doesn't sink in to the J6Ps, it won't get funneled to our hallowed halls of Congress, to be sure.

I'm actually a bit more positive I can get our HOA to go along with me putting some panels up, mebbe this summer. I've mentioned in past posts some more insulation and caulking will probably get me more bang for the buck before I head there. And the charter school did actually get their windmill, but only by placing it on their property in a location that was less than ideal, and against homeowner wishes, but hey, they got it. Wasn't long, though, before there was an article in our local HO newsletter that the thing had decapitated a hawk.

One step forward, two steps back.


I am glad to hear the school was able to site its wind turbine...hopefully it provides an educational example to base some discussion/learning on within the school. I am sorry to hear about the hawk...perhaps this would provide the impetus for an experiment in the school...maybe partnering with a local business or people who are mechanically craft a grill ( thin yet rigid metal wires?) around the turbine blades, similar to one on a pedestal-mounted house fan. The educational opportunities would be to baseline the turbine's energy-generating performance without, then with, the bird-deflecting grill. The big teaching point is learning about cost-benefit analysis, unintended consequences, and the general rule that 'there is no free lunch' and that consequences need to be envisioned, priorities need to be established, engineering implementation tried, and outcomes monitored, and then adjustments made as necessary and feasible.

I also hope you can convince your neighbors that your PV panels will not be a burden to theorize aesthetic sensibilities, and that the benefits to you and to the greater public will be worth their effort to understand and adapt.

Also, please understand that I did not detect any snark in your reply, and I apologize that my reply caused you to think that was the case. In my case, my attempt to write in a formal manner for clarity unintentionally conveyed to you an impression that I was being defensive, which was not the case.

Perhaps you can craft a presentation to give at a HOA meeting outlining the costs and benefits from various home insulation, efficient lighting, and PV ideas. These topics could be featured in your HOA newsletter, if your HOA has one of those. My wife wrote our 1200-home Neighborhood Association (not a HOA, it is voluntarily to join) newsletter for three years, and we had the latitude to insert a variety of articles, from dog poop etiquette, to local zoning codes and covenants, to star-gazing, to geocaching, to descriptions of local restaurants and event at the zoo and the theater etc. to solar PV panel opportunities. Our city requires every Neighborhood Association to publish a hard-copy news letter and mail it to each address in the area covered, whether the resident belong or not.

Keep on keeping on, keep a stiff upper lip, keep putting out honey to catch the flies, and realize that you win some, you lose some, and progress comes in sometimes in uneven lurches, pauses, and (hopefully) small set-backs.

On small wind, it's increasingly difficult nearly impossible for small wind to compete
with declining prices of solar electricity. David Blittersdorf who spent $5 to $10 M of his own
money to develop a reliable small wind machine shares this view.

On solar in the subdivision, just tell them the Germans installed more solar in 2010 than we Americans
had in 60 years--even though we invented the stuff.

Then tell them: "It's one thing for the Germans to do that, they are after all the Germans. But the Italians! did
the same thing."

After the laughter dies down, you can issue a blanket apology to all Italians in the room, then make your pitch.

Really, rooftop, or tastefully done ground-mounted solar, is pretty unobjectionable. The big thing in our valley
is community solar projects, up to 1MW in size. Cost is $3 per watt of capacity, local utility credits you for 11c/kwh
on your bill for many decades to come. No maintenance issues, not that there typically are, anyway.

This works out to be about a 5-6% return on investment; best low-cost and low-risk investment available to
householders around here.

Yair . . . I am continualy surprised by the continueing perception that small scale wind power 'can't compete' or can't be made 'reliable'.

It's all been done. In my youth many of the stations had Dunlites . . . some had two or three. There was not a lot of power . . . mostly 32volt but it made a HUGE difference to life on stations to just flick a big black Bakelite switch for lights.

Maintainance was a once a year job and around the southwest many of them were set up on hinges so the tower could be lowered with a tractor.


If you focus on efficient lighting, talk about the financial side of doing a retrofit. Our small HOA did a retrofit of fluorescent lighting (mainly in the underground parking garage), changing from T12 with magnetic ballasts to T5 with electronic ballasts. We also lowered the lighting levels some, as they were overkill. Everyone was on board when I told them it would cost $4,000 to do the retrofit, but that over a 10 year period we would actually end up saving a total of about $14,000. We cut our electricity bill by 30-35% and everyone is happy.

Nah, point out that the hawks fate was due to the wind mill being forced into a less favourable, hawk unfriendly location as opposed to the original, hawk friendly one.


I like it. I'm going with it. ;)

There are those who think that doomers are self-centered, fatalistic, pessimistic, etc.

For some who genuinely reflect on the situation, doom is the only reasonable conclusion. We've just been through this so many times before. Like somebody who has a series of bad relationships then decides they're done, or a soldier who comes back from war a pacifist.

On YouTube, which is part of the zeitgest now, you will find inane music videos and video game reviews getting millions of hits. Millions. You prove my point with your link...sure it's a decent song, but it has more than 3 million hits, for an old song from the past.

Discussions on energy and the most pressing issues of our time? Accessible to anyone with an internet connection and a brain? A few thousand hits at best.

I mean, at what point do you say...this situation is beyond hope. I'm finished. I'm not interested in saving America anymore.

At what point do you say that? Or do you go to your grave trying and trying and trying to fight?

I can not believe that accepting doom is ever a reasonable conclusion.

Promoting or believing doom to be inevitable is worse than the ignorance of the masses. They at least do not fully understand where their actions are wrong. To encourage or broadcast pessimism can only lead to a decline in the morale of others, and therefore would be a matter of guilt to oneself. By definition, nothing good can come from a fatal attitude. It serves only the short term interests of those you should fight.

The soldier turned pacifist has found a new cause and a new reason to live. That is not fatalism. Asking others to consider whether or not there is any point to continue to support what they believe in is entirely different.

Hope is a matter of expectations. Any success, however small, is a cause for celebration. Cheer what you can and hold hope for more of the same.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
- Dylan Thomas

There are limits to growth in our little "universe", a physical and mathematical reality difficult to counter. Hard not to be pessimistic when the vast majority doesn't give a toss.

Physical growth is limited. Change is not and may be either gradual or rapid depending on circumstances that have nothing to do with the prevailing attitude of the masses. At many points in history, the actions of small groups of individuals can change entire societies regardless of the wishes, actions, and opinions of the majority. Likewise, unforeseen events can and do change individuals and the majority no matter what the wishes of either may be.

The majority of Germans were not in favour of path to which Hitler led them, his began as a minority government.
Churchill led England to fight the Nazis against improbable odds without asking for a public poll.
The Black Death changed living conditions for the better, for serfs who survived.
Lincoln was, to quote F. Douglass, a man with all the prejudices of his people who changed himself and his nation because he was given little choice. His greatness was that he had the strength of character to make that change where others might have failed leaving a broken ideal and nation.

Change will happen, often with great loss and suffering, but optimism is just as valid as pessimism.

For those willing to make the change, opportunities to reduce our individual impact on the environment and our dependence on industrial society are present, are growing more accessible, and are dawning on the awareness of the uninformed public.

It is too soon to live without hope. Those without hope do not act to change with the times and suffer more as a result.

Hi Mark,

As an average bloke, living in suburbia and surrounded by family and friends who either do not or refuse to get it, really I have few options but to play the BAU game (am I to ditch the wife and kids and move out to the flood and drought lands of Australia? No thanks). So these past few years, I've worked hard at the only option I really have... Get the mortgage down to zero. Four months to go, give or take, so hopefully my personal suffering will be minimised.

Yes, all those things in history happened, however these days "unforeseen events" are a furphie - unless you're talking about asteroids, ebola, nuclear war or the like. But I still see those same friends and family doing the big holidays, buying the new cars, credit, waste, consume like there's no tomorrow. I still hear TPTB push growth, growth, growth.

As it stands today, all we need to know is downloadable, and yes there's hope in that. However, IMHO, the "hope" for most is that BAU will continue indefinitely, well at least for their own personal lifetimes anyway, so voluntary change will be a rare endeavour; and there's sadness in that :(

Regards, Matt

PS. Just watched a snippet on the news re why petrol prices are so high; "...mainly commodity traders", said the talking head. Be refreshing to hear, "Well, we've extracted all the easy oil..." Oh, well.

Hi Matt,

I have much the same life with a few years left on the mortgage. Still, there are hopefule signs. Almost no one had heard of global warming 40 years ago. Now it is recognized as a problem by most. There was not a road worthy electric car to be had in this city when I bought my last vehicle. I have several brands available to choose from now.

We have just reached the point where people have real options, within their budget, to cut their emissions and good arguments in favour of savings. How fast can things change when change becomes easy? Forty years ago, a calculator was a huge expense and my brother was taught to use a slide rule. Within 5 years, they were common in my school. My own school budgeted for their first two PC's in the year I graduated, and had no idea what they would use them for. Within five years, they were a common tool of business.

In 1995, the internet was still barely understood. In five years, there was a world panic over our dependance on the service. Cellphones with amazing programming are showing up in the hands of people who laughed at the concept 20 years ago. There is precedent for the extremely rapid deployment of technologies such as EV's and solar panels. Germany stands as an example that the transition is possible and no longer a sci-fi fantasy.

There is no way to know yet if any of this will change the world as rapidly as needs to happen to give our children any kind of stable society. Still, I think it is too soon to sink entirely into pessimism and gloom. William Garrison first became interested in ending slavery by joining a group working to have African Americans deported to Africa. That was the extent of enlightened thought at the time. He faced civil charges and uncivil death threats by publishing his opinion, yet lived to see the US constitution amended to eradicate slavery.

I do not think we are any more dependent on carbon fuels than America was economically tied to slavery in the 1830's and, in this fight, the counter arguments are far stronger than simple morality.

I'm probably not of the, "if we choose to ignore history, we are doomed to repeat it" clan. I look at a trend graph and shrug my shoulders; what does a stock market index tell me about the future? Sure, Al Gore's doco pricked up an ear, and the film, "A Crude Awakening" had the hairs on my arm bristling, but all I can do with that "knowledge" is try and dissect it best I can. Unfortunately, as a middle-ager with limited brain-processing ability, all I really have is my eyes, ears and a bit of common sense.

So, what I see happening day to day, week to week is where I draw reality from. But my belief in limits-to-growth - and associated dilemmas of scale - is the foundation I pin all observations to. I'll watch talking heads on the TV attempt to ramp up interest in bio-fuels at the bi-annual airshow, US warplanes as backdrop. They spout all the pros of clean, green energy out to 2050, of doubling and trebling of use, messages of hope. But they make no mention of the cons, the limitations, EROI, the difficulty of scale, the end of easy oil, the waste. At the same show our QANTAS CEO shares his thoughts; "we consume $3billion each year on jet fuel. By using bio-fuel, we hope to save 2% by 2025". (I presume 2% on FF use, not $$$ saving).

Really, 2%? Is that it?

There's so many news items that link the "growth is good" mantra. All the vote against the Italian government's austerity (90% of the pop?) demonstrates to me is their poor understanding of the mantra's downside.

Regards, Matt

The lack of genuinely useful information on TV spots is universal, and admittedly is probably appropriate for an audience that can't immediately fact check and really only turned on the tube for light entertainment anyway. I sincerely hope that the next generation has access to the internet and is taught to obtain information for themselves rather than having it spoonfed by MSM.

I took the time to scan the CSIRO Sustainable Fuels Road Map, to better understand your point regarding QANTAS. Not being Australian, I didn't read it word for word. Still, that document seemed to delve into all the costs you mentioned, except EROEI. As I understand it, there would be a 10-15 year lead time to develop Pongamia plantations to maturity to provide seed for a biofuels program and there would be issues with habitat/farmland use as well as water availability.

As near as I could tell, the 2% could be dollar savings (a CEO perspective). The carbon footprint reduction is projected at 17% by 2030, with a 50% reduction in aviation fossil fuels. Will it happen and make a difference? I have no idea.

Conservation and efficiency are the lip-service words of state government. Nearly every state has raised their speed limits substantially over the last 20 years. Like a dog chasing its' tail we are raising fuel economy standards and giving away those gains and then some by actions like this. Utah just increased to 80 mph. Until this country actually implements meaningful conservation measures then all of this talk about concern for rising prices and ecological effects is meaningless when being spoken by governmet.

I must have read a completely different post than you did (and those others who are jumping on HO). In any case - whether you agree with the content or not, HeadingOut took the time to provide his thoughts, your comment implies that the post is entirely without merit, rather than provide a terse one-sentence dismissal courtesy would demand you explain what it is you find unacceptable. At least those others who disagreed did so. For that reason alone I am flagging your comment as unacceptable.

RagnaRock (love the name!), I second your comment. HeadingOut has done a fine job of putting his thoughts down, as he always does. Many of us have thrown our ideas out, and taken the heat when others didn't care for them. I've asked for suggestions in this thread, and some have started to come out, Ulan's being the longest list to date. Sure, I'm not sure his list is terribly practical, but hey, at least he has a list, and I for one appreciate that he stuck his neck out.

Bl4ckVo1d throw out the reasons you think HO's article is without merit. We'd love to hear them.

HO is prompting us to think about the precautionary principle. Which is great. Let's think about it.

We've got some challenges in doing that, obviously. Because the PP cuts different ways depending on your world, the scale in
question, and the issue of concern.

If you are concerned about GHG, then the Germans rushing to shut down nukes and replace them (or some of them) with lignite...
seems really ill-considered.

I live in the country and heat with wood, but if I lived in town and heated with wood than even my EPA certified stove could be considered
by some to be a health hazard. So, familial resilience might weaken community resilience in that instance.

Coal... I tend to suggest, sometimes, that we are in "coal's debt." But this gets you very strange looks, depending on the audience.

That doesn't mean we shouldn't try to move away from it asap.

How about the precautionary principle and fracking? I'd argue that greens are really missing the boat here. Not that fracking can't be more tightly regulated, but that the real issues are wellbore integrity, disposal of produced water, and methane leaks. It's possible that the latter are offsetting the entire climate protection benefits provided by all the wind/solar installed since 2000.

Data are insufficient to say that declaratively, at least to my mind, but the precautionary principle would argue for focusing on methane emission reductions as much as on co2 emission reductions in the short term.

I've got a good friend that runs a local utility and his precautionary principle is pretty damn simple: keep the goddamn lights on and rates reasonable, because the grid is The Original App.

We've spent in this area of 50,000 homes about $40 million to install solar PV (some of that funding incentivized by this same utility.) Solar now provides 1% of our electricity. The next 1% will be cheaper.

The PP with respect to CChange would be halt the rise in emissions very soon, then begin steady significant reductions of at least 2 or 3% per annum before 2020, and do it globally.

But getting "off" coal or "off" natural gas.... The latter seems particularly challenging when you ask, how are you gonna heat all the buildings in a Colorado winter. Not with on-site solar. That's impossible.

And it's one thing to say America could get off coal over coming decades, although HO might argue that this is unrealistic.

But think of China... Think about the PP from the Chinese point of view? They are probably in HO's camp: secure enough natural resources to insure energy security, while also attempting to dominate clean tech as a burgeoning new industry.

Here, we are arguing about how big a clip you should be able to buy for the Bushmaster.

Which, for some households, is another PP: be well armed, and prepped for the perps.

What am I missing? If we do not apply the Precautionary Principle globally, then what have we gained? As an example, if we reduce coal plants in the USA, but China increase coal plants where is the benefit?

It is pretty clear that the only solution to our predicament is COLLAPSE.

It will happen anyway, whatever you do! This will never ever happen in a planned way. It will be chaotic. And the sooner it happens, the better chance future generations get to start over.
If we do it really slowly, then the collapse will not only wipe out the current civilization but 90% of the species on the planet as well. Including humans.

Propagating coal use is insane. Yes, unfortunately the Asians are doing it anyway, but collapse will not avoid them either.

Collapse. Yup, definitely a plan I can recommend to my neighbors. No doubt about it.

Ha. I can just picture if the collapse comes your neighbours digging up their pretty lawns and putting in crops instead out of necessity. They resist PV panels. Do they let people dry their clothes outside? But if the crap hits the fan such trivialities will be forgotten.

But I am incredulous at all the ballyhooing about unconventional fossil fuels. They are still finite. Where is the fantastic new energy source that will have to come after? (and fission doesn't seem to fit the bill)

Chris, re-read the post. We already have a farm (and a stable too. No draft horses yet, but I've friends with some). Most of my neighbors' lawns are native plants. Yes, we can hang out laundry, but when it's 10ºF outside that's a bit problematic. I wish Lake Michigan were a bit higher, but hey, have to deal with what we've got I guess.

Those TODsters who believe collapse is inevitable, hands up...

...50%? ...75%? ...25%?

Versus the 7,100,200,000 or so rest (

Nah, sorry the I's have it. Ain't gonna happen, so drink up.


It is pretty clear that the only solution to our predicament is COLLAPSE.

Uhmm, no, collapse most likely is not a solution.

There's a pretty good chance that we've already raised CO2 levels sufficiently that, were industrial civilization to collapse tomorrow and anthropogenic carbon emissions plunge to near-zero, atmospheric CO2 levels would continue to climb. They would do so much less quickly than they are now, but the rise would likely continue for several thousand years. It would culminate in a replay of something like the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM)of 55 million years ago, when global average temperatures were 9 C higher than present. Land temperatures were probably 15 C higher, and mammals larger than shrews unable to survive at tropical and temperate latitudes.

Arctic warming has already proceeded far enough to turn the permafrost regions from carbon sinks to carbon sources. Permafrost covers 25% of northern hemisphere land mass, and has been a slow carbon sink ever since the start of the current ice age, about 2.5 million years ago. Organic material accumulated in that period and held frozen is estimate at double the total amount currently held in the atmosphere. Now it's starting to be released, with much of it escaping as methane. The release rate is still slow compared to anthropogenic emissions, but it's growing. A study recently released from the United Nations Environment Programme details the situation.

The bottom line is that if we want any descendents - or at least any of our mammalian cousins -- to inherit a habitable world, it will not be sufficient to simply collapse and die off. We will have to stick around as a functioning society long enough to clean up our mess.

The Precautionary Principle is also known as a "No Regrets" policy.

Anybody familiar with decision making can understand how it works.

The premise is that we are all trapped between a rock and a hard place.

The rock is that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is at least lukewarmly accepted by key figures on both sides of the issue.

The hard place is that we are on this plateau of peak oil that is only being kept up by Hiding the Decline of a Down-turned Hockey Stick

The stone is what you use to wedge between the rock and the hard place.

The stone is the thing that you can kill two birds with.

The stone is that we get off crude oil and start pushing alternatives.

This is the No Regrets policy: We apply the precautionary principle and err on the side of caution while planning well in advance.

There are four possibilities in the No Regrets truth-table:

Peak oil is real, climate change is real : No Regrets for moving toward alternatives
Peak oil finds a Black Oil Swan, climate change is real : No Regrets for moving toward alternatives
Peak oil is real, climate change is a bust : No Regrets for moving toward alternatives
Peak oil is a bust, climate change is a bust : No Regrets for betting on a very low probability outcome. The probability of both not happening is the multiplication of the two probabilities each not happening (assuming I.I.D).

3 out of 4 clear no regrets, and 1 out of 4 low probability.

That is the precautionary principle in action.

The "great race to natural gas" appears to be, in principle, the process of putting steel into the earth in order to get gas out of the earth. As shales are drilled, it appears that the tons of steel per million barrels of oil equivalent in natural gas, condensate, and liquids must be an increasing ratio. This is particularly so, since the wells are horizontal in thin strata, the fracking extends a limited distance from the bore hole, and the flow of hydrocarbons is short lived.

The steel comes from iron ore, metallurgical coal, and limestone, to which must be added alloying metals.

If we are to replace a substantial part of the current crude oil energy source with natural gas, etc., - say 40 million BOE/day - what is the impact on iron ore and metallurgical coal production to produce the needed steel? Are any of the metals used in the production of alloys a limiting factor?

Does this look like a "great race to natural gas" to you?

The great Shale Gas Revolution is a bit of a non-starter. The proponents tend to forget that, like rust, depletion never sleeps.


I argue here

that shale gas and tight oil are, in a way, a miracle but one with a wasting disease

they are infected with what you might call "petroleum progeria."

Progeria is a rare disease. Kids with it are like Benjamin Button in reverse. They go bald, get heart disease, and die by 15.

Shale wells are sorta like that, born a-dying.

That said, the 6 MBD o/equivalent we've garnered since 2005 in shale gas and tight oil rival the new supply America put up in the 1960s. That is, this latest burst
is equal to, or slightly greater than, the largest increase in domestic o/g production ever.

Yes, it's now flattening out, the shale gas piece at least, not the tight oil, not yet.

But that's in part due to the collapse in gas prices. Throw a few hundred rigs at some of the dry gas shales and we could jack
US domestic gas a bit higher, not to the moon obviously, but somewhat higher than it is today.

Using a conversion factor that 5800 cubic feet of gas equals 1 BOE, the US would need an additional 50 bcf/day more of natural gas production to displace 8.5 Mb/d of crude oil imports. That, of course, does not allow for use of natural gas to displace the burning of coal.

Merrill - Good point and one more qualification: subbing NG for oil will require $trillions in gas to liquids plants and/or $trillions in electrifying motor transportation. And, of course, society becoming dependent upon NG will naturally increase the price of NG.

Like many nice sounding theories it doesn't tend to stand up well against detailed analysis.

If that is the case then electricity prices are going to rise fast and those with solar power will be laughing....

One oblique aspect of the Precautionary Principle is that preacting to a menace creates opportunities to pursue new and unrelated tracks that might not seem practicable without the opening that an emerging menace affords.

For capital-intensive industries. such as railroads, the desirable main chance for investors is a disruption-free environment where long plant amortization life proceeds unmolested. Clamor about climate change and fine particulate diesel emissions' health consequences aren't likely to be welcome topics either in a railroad's boardroom or it's HQ cafeteria.

But the unwelcome emergence of a paradigm shift like hydrail (Google it) might galvanize—for instance—American locomotive builders into envisioning the post-diesel and post-catenary rail world and looking into traction system designs based on nuclear and intermittent renewably-sourced hydrogen, thus getting a toe into the next generation traction tech market before it's completely sewed-up offshore.

Thus, the goose that lays the golden egg may be rescued from the stealthy fox by irritating bluejays disturbing a comfortable, but deadly, peace.

The Principle is a good one if not taken too far. When you try to think of all downside risk, you may never take action, then you have to think of the consequences of taking no actions.

Right now we are in a holding pattern because the country is broke. This is our own fault, Congress voted for all those tax breaks and wars. There is a prime example of consequences not considered while they were rubber stamping deficit budgets.

To the extent that the Precautionary Principle applies here, it suggests actions quite different from those HO proposes.

Without precautionary action, the normal operation of markets will solve problems that arise--just not in the way that HO or some others would like.

High prices are not the problem, in this view. They are the solution. High prices spur investment by consumers to reduce their demand. The result after a few years of high prices is fewer coal miners and gas drillers, and more insulation, lighting, and window installers. Oh, and fewer excess deaths from the production, transport, burning, and disposal of fossil fuels.

If the Precautionary Principle tells us to do anything about electricity supply, it tells us to retrofit the entire building stock with better draft control and insulation, lower transmissivity windows, and better external claddings and colorings. Doing those things increases resilience by reducing dependence on all forms of energy. By coincidence, high prices tell us to do the exact same things.

High prices/market forces will do absolutely nothing at all in relation to the global warming problem as there is no cost at all for the individual business no matter how much it contributes to global warming (the tragedy of the commons).

70's bumper sticker . Let the @!#$%^&* freeze in the dark

Did I miss what are supposed to be the precautions around the disaster of Windpower? I do see in the picture of the wrecked Turbine a few workers or inspectors standing right next to the ruins, but it's hard to tell whether they have protective clothing on or not.. ooh, they do, looks like Windbreakers! There you go.

But (a little more) seriously,

Cuba's Two Wind Farms Survive Hurricane Sandy

Before Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast of the US, she actually hit the Caribbean first. Two of the hardest hit islands were Haiti and Cuba. ...

... However, in the province of Holguín, there were two wind farms installed in 2008 and 2010 one with six 850 kW turbines and the other with six 750 kW machines. Both of those wind farms were hit by hurricane Sandy with wind speeds of up to 110 miles per hour and neither of them had any major damage and continued to provide electricity for the local grid.

Now of course, it can't be like this for every storm, but that's a pretty good showing right there, as opposed to the single case you've pointed to, leaving that argument feeling a bit undefended.

The financial channel, CNBC has an early morning show called Squawk Box. It regularly features CEOs, economists and financial types who haven't a clue about Peak Oil. Anyone who presents any negative views about the economy gets grilled, while those that give the normal positive spiel on everything, with the exception of aggressively attacking higher taxes and any new government regulation, are high-fived. And they get an almost endless stream of the latter. The one refreshing guest they have had is T. Boone Pickens who was a believer in Peak Oil and a proponent of wind energy and more use of natural gas. In fact, he once said that "you'll need all of that" with regard to dealing with our energy future and various solutions. Although they didn't attack his negativity like they normally would, since he has the proper credentials to earn their respect - he is a billionaire, they were not buying his story.

However, on his most recent appearance last week, Pickens said something remarkable. After referencing the new oil output from fracking, he turned to the show's cocky host - Joe Kernan - and said "I want to apologize to Joe about being wrong about Peak Oil". To which Kernan responded knowingly - "All Malthusian predictions are always wrong".