Drumbeat: March 18, 2013

Days of Promise Fade for Ethanol

MACON, Mo. — Five years ago, rural America was giddy for ethanol.

Backed by government subsidies and mandates, hundreds of ethanol plants rose among the golden fields of the Corn Belt, bringing jobs and business to small towns, providing farmers with a new market for their crops and generating billions of dollars in revenue for the producers of this corn-based fuel blend.

Those days of promise and prosperity are vanishing.

Nearly 10 percent of the nation’s ethanol plants have stopped production over the past year, in part because the drought that has ravaged much of the nation’s crops pushed commodity prices so high that ethanol has become too expensive to produce.

On the Rise

A strong rebound in gas and then oil production in the United States over the past few years has taken markets and policymakers by surprise. As a result, natural gas prices in the United States are at a 20-year low after adjusting for inflation, while light sweet crude oil from the landlocked production areas in the U.S. Midwest is selling at an unusually large discount from international benchmark prices.­

The surge in production is largely the result of the new ability of producers to extract oil and gas from unconventional geological formations—so-called shale rock and tight rock or sand formations. The revolution in production occurred first in natural gas and more recently in oil.­

It is already widely accepted that the availability of shale gas resources has fundamentally changed the outlook for natural gas as a source of energy. Prospects for unconventional shale and tight oil production are more uncertain though. Could its development foreshadow a long-term decline in oil prices, as happened during the mid- to late 1970s after the 1973 Middle East war triggered a surge in oil production? Conversely, are there risks that the revolution will not last? Moreover, how will it alter the macroeconomic effects of sharp changes in oil prices (so-called oil shocks) on the U.S. and other economies?

Naimi says oil price at $100/barrel 'seems reasonable'

Dubai (Platts) - Saudi Arabian oil minister Ali Naimi said Monday that the price of oil at $100/barrel seemed "reasonable" and would not deter economic growth in Asia while reiterating the kingdom's commitment to maintaining spare oil production capacity for the sake of market stability.

"Over the past 15 years, it is clear that oil prices have fluctuated more than at any time in history," Naimi told the Credit Suisse Asia Pacific conference in Hong Kong.

WTI Drops From 3-Week High on Cyprus; Libya Pipeline Shut

West Texas Intermediate crude fell from the highest price in three weeks as an unprecedented levy on bank savings in Cyprus threatened to worsen Europe’s debt crisis. Libya shut an oil pipeline after protests.

Futures slipped as much as 1.4 percent in New York, dropping for the first time in three days. Cyprus bowed to demands by euro-area finance ministers to raise 5.8 billion euros ($7.6 billion) by taking a piece of every bank account, sending the euro tumbling and sparking public outrage. The closing of the Waha Oil Co. pipe after a strike by truck drivers cut Libyan crude output by 120,000 barrels a day, according to Oil Minister Abdulbari al-Arusi.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq Raise January Oil Shimpents Slightly

Saudi Arabia and Iraq raised crude oil exports in January for the first time in three months, as demand from Asian countries climbed, according to the Joint Organisations Data Initiative.

The Saudi kingdom shipped 7.09 million barrels a day, up 30,000 barrels a day from December, data posted today on the initiative’s website showed. Exports in January were 5.5 percent lower than the same month last year, according to JODI.

U.S. Natural Gas Rises to 17-Month High Amid Cold Weather Demand

U.S. natural gas futures rose to their highest in almost 17 months as colder-than-normal weather boosted demand.

The low temperature in New York City will remain below the 30-year average for at least 8 days, according to CustomWeather Inc. Below-normal temperatures in northern states over the next five days will spread across the East from March 20 through March 29, Commodity Weather Group LLC said March 15.

Pemex’s Proven Reserves Gain for Second Year After Discoveries

Petroleos Mexicanos, the state- owned company, posted a gain in its proven reserves for a second year, supported by discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore.

Mexico’s reserves rose 0.4 percent to 13.868 billion barrels as of Jan. 1 from 13.81 billion a year earlier, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto said today on the 75th anniversary of the state-owned company. Last year, reserves rose 0.1 percent, the first gain in more than a decade.

Statoil Starts Production From Skuld Field in Norwegian Sea

Norwegian oil and gas major Statoil ASA (STO) said Monday that with its partners Eni S.p.A. (E) and Petoro, it has started production from the Skuld field at Norne in the Norwegian Sea.

Libya’s Waha Oil Output Cut by 120,000 Barrels a Day, Arusi Says

Waha Oil Co.’s pipeline in Libya was shut because of a strike at its Gialo field resulting in a cut in the country’s crude output by 120,000 barrels a day, Oil Minister Abdulbari al-Arusi said.

The protest is continuing today at the Gialo field, which feeds crude into a pipeline that runs to the Es Sider export terminal, Abduljalil Mayuf, spokesman of Arabian Gulf Oil Co., a unit of National Oil Corp., said by phone from the eastern city of Benghazi.

Statoil reports new gas discovery in Tanzania

Gas exploration off Tanzania has yielded good results for Statoil. On Monday morning, the company reports that it has made a major new discovery. This is the third in one year.

“The success in Block 2 is the result of an ambitious and successful drilling campaign. We have so far completed five wells within 15 months and will continue with further wells later this year,” says Tim Dodson, executive vice president for Exploration in Statoil.

Russia Adopts Texas Drilling to Revive Soviet Oil Fields

Fracking isn’t just for shale. In Russia, producers are importing techniques from the U.S. to squeeze billions of dollars of extra oil from Soviet-era fields.

TNK-BP, Russia’s third-largest producer, will use hydraulic fracturing combined with horizontal drilling in almost half the wells it sinks this year, a sixfold increase in just two years, the company said. OAO Rosneft, OAO Lukoil and OAO Gazprom Neft have similar plans.

Russia tax breaks for shale, offshore oil seen on Jan.1

(Reuters) - Russian tax breaks for shale and offshore oil, to unlock millions of barrels, will come in to force on Jan. 1 2014, a Finance Ministry official said on Monday.

The tight oil tax package will make Russia one of the few countries to incentivise the production of energy resources from shale and other 'tight' rock.

UK should use shale gas to cut emissions, report says

The UK should use natural gas, including from "fracking", to help cut carbon by replacing coal for power supplies over the next few years, a report has suggested.

But it would be risky to assume gas prices will be low in the coming years or that the UK has extensive supplies of shale gas which is extracted through the controversial process of fracking, the study said.

Saudi Arabia to Drill Seven Shale Gas Test Wells, Al-Naimi Says

Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest oil exporter, will drill about seven test wells for shale gas this year, according to Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi.

“We know where the areas are,” Al-Naimi said at a conference in Hong Kong today, referring to the country’s shale gas deposits. “We have rough estimates of over 600 trillion cubic feet of unconventional and shale gas so the potential is very huge and we plan to exploit it.”

Chesapeake Energy to Sell $2.3 Billion of Senior Notes

Chesapeake Energy Corp. intends to offer $2.3 billion of senior notes to help fund a tender offer for roughly $938 million in outstanding senior notes.

TNK-BP Billionaires Plan Global Oil, Telecom Deals After Sale

With $14 billion from selling out of TNK-BP, Mikhail Fridman and German Khan’s Alfa Group is planning to return to the oil industry and expand worldwide, according to Stan Polovets, chief executive officer of the Alfa- Access-Renova Consortium, which owned the Russian oil venture 50:50 with BP Plc.

Iran launches destroyer, a made-in-Iran guided-missile ship

Tehran - Iran launched a domestically built destroyer in the Caspian Sea on Sunday, its first deployment of a major warship in the oil-rich region, state TV reported.

Oil import from Iran slashed by 27%

India may slash import of crude oil from Iran by as much as 27 per cent this fiscal because US and European sanctions have made it difficult to ship oil from the Persian Gulf nation.

No favours for Scotland on energy, warns UK energy minister

UK Energy and climate secretary Ed Davey has thrown down the gauntlet to advocates of Scottish independence, warning that it would place Scotland in direct competition with Norway and Ireland to provide the cheapest electricity supply to the UK.

Dow Chemical to build specialty plants on U.S. Gulf Coast

(Reuters) - Dow Chemical Co said it plans to build several specialty material production plants on the U.S. Gulf Coast to take advantage of cheap shale-derived natural gas.

Margins in Dow's performance plastics business have been squeezed in Europe and Asia as the company uses more-expensive crude oil-derived naphtha to make some plastics in these regions.

Saudi Aramco, Dow Venture Begins Bond Sale for Chemicals Complex

Sadara Chemical Co., a joint venture of Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW), started selling an Islamic bond that may raise at least $1.4 billion to fund construction of a chemicals complex.

The sale of floating-rate securities in Saudi riyals is open only to Saudi nationals and institutions and will have a tenor of about 16 years, the Dhahran-based company said in an e- mailed statement today. Investors will receive a payment every six months equivalent to the six-month Saudi Interbank Offered Rate plus a margin to be decided later.

California Fracking Fight Has $25 Billion Taxes at Stake

California’s reputation for environmental protection may be jeopardized by the lure of a $25 billion tax windfall that depends on how the state permits oil companies to take advantage of vast deposits lying two miles beneath its golden hills.

The Monterey Shale formation running through the center of the state may hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil -- equivalent to five years of U.S. petroleum imports, according to a state report. Releasing it requires drillers to smash the rock by forcing millions of gallons of water and chemicals underground, a technique known as fracking.

Eastern Cape to be South Africa’s energy hub, says Peters

THE Eastern Cape is on track to become South Africa’s energy hub, as national power utility Eskom plans its first nuclear plant in the region at Thyspunt, near Cape St Francis, Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said on Monday.

Speaking at the Nuclear Africa conference in Johannesburg, Ms Peters said the government was willing to implement a nuclear energy programme with the urgency it deserved.

European Car-Efficiency Rule Would Cut Fuel Bill by 25%

A European Union plan to tighten emissions standards on cars would cut auto-fuel costs by almost a quarter in 2030, according to a report e-mailed by a group promoting policies to reduce carbon emissions in the region.

Fuel bills would fall 57 billion euros ($75 billion) from a projected cost of 245 billion euros in 2030, said the European Climate Foundation, which contributed to the report prepared by Cambridge Econometrics and Ricardo-AEA. Producing fuel-efficient vehicles would add 22 billion euros of capital costs, it said.

Everyday Externalities

Via Mark Thoma, a new paper in Vox on the effects of increased rail service, making clever use of natural experiments created by changes in German ownership and regulation. The results aren’t that surprising — more frequent rail service sharply reduces pollution and other costs associated with driving — but it’s good to have this kind of solid work to back our intuition.

Congestion Pricing Is a Force Multiplier for Transit

Writing up a cool paper on the positive externalities of mass transit, Paul Krugman describes transit investment as a kind of useful second-best policy: "the right answer is to get the incentives right, and charge large fees for driving in congestion."

That's correct, but I also think it's important for transit fans to see that congestion fees are a kind of force multiplier for transit.

My Train Fantasy

Some conservatives had a different description for Twu and his map. “High-speed rail supporter Alfred Twu has gotten a lot of attention for having boldly drawn a map of where he thinks high-speed trains should go,” wrote Randal O’Toole of the libertarian Cato Institute. “Twu’s map is even more absurd than Obama’s plan,” he wrote, describing the map, and high-speed rail in general, as a “ridiculous fantasy.”

O’Toole’s reaction demonstrated one of the principal reasons why American high-speed rail has been mostly stymied: One person’s beautiful vision of the future is another’s terrifying government boondoggle. The Obama plan to use $8 billion in stimulus money as a carrot to get states to invest in high-speed rail went down in flames two years ago. It failed largely because Republican governors in states such as Florida rejected federal funds. But if there were some way to get beyond partisan politics and legal battles over right-of-way issues, what would an ideally efficient map of an American high-speed rail system actually look like?

Abu Dhabi Boosts Solar Power 10-Fold With Shams Plant in Desert

Abu Dhabi, the largest sheikhdom in the United Arab Emirates, is making a 10-fold boost in its capacity to generate electricity from the sun by starting the Shams 1 solar plant with partners Total SA and Abengoa SA.

Masdar, the state-owned renewable energy company, will supply 100 megawatts of electricity from the Middle East’s largest facility using concentrated solar technology, Chief Executive Officer Sultan al Jaber said today at the plant’s inauguration in the inland desert west of the U.A.E.’s capital, also called Abu Dhabi.

Suntech Said to Get Default Notice on $541 Million Unpaid Bonds

The trustee administering $541 million in bonds from Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. sent the solar company a notice of default yesterday as the deadline to redeem the notes passed, a person familiar with the matter said.

The move allows bondholders to sue the Chinese company in U.S. courts, according to the person, who asked not to be named because the information hasn’t become public. A default would be the first by a mainland Chinese company. Suntech said holders of 63 percent of the bonds agreed to delay exercising their rights for two months until May 15.

Gas Thieves and Gas Defenders in the 1973-4 Oil Crisis

Like all of the Documerica photographs of the shortage—images of shuttered stations, lines of cars, and reluctant pedestrians and cyclists—this one provokes questions about citizens’ behavior toward each other in a crisis. Was it as “Mad Max” out there as this photo would imply?

Citizen-on-citizen gasoline thefts like the ones this man feared seem to have been more common in some areas of the country than others. The Los Angeles Times — the newspaper of record of car-dependent Southern California — reported in February 1974 that gas siphoning, in which criminals used a tube to get gas out of a parked car, was rampant. A policeman thought that most of the perpetrators were juveniles: “These young people are going to drive and they are determined to get the gas somehow.”

Micro-Apartments in the Big City: A Trend Builds

Imagine waking in a 15-by-15-foot apartment that still manages to have everything you need. The bed collapses into the wall, and a breakfast table extends down from the back of the bed once it’s tucked away. Instead of closets, look overhead to nooks suspended from the ceiling. Company coming? Get out the stools that stack like nesting dolls in an ottoman.

Micro-apartments, in some cases smaller than college dorm rooms, are cropping up in North American cities as urban planners experiment with new types of housing to accommodate growing numbers of single professionals, students, and the elderly. Single-person households made up 26.7 percent of the U.S. total in 2010, vs. 17.6 percent in 1970, according to Census Bureau data. In cities, the proportion is often higher: In New York, it’s about 33 percent. And these boîtes aren’t just for singles. The idea is to be more efficient and eventually to offer cheaper rents.

Man-made desert lake: Ecological paradise or disaster?

The lake is an industrial byproduct of the desalination system used to meet the UAE's water needs. With few sources of fresh water in the region, the country has relied on desalinating seawater for domestic use -- a technology that has been essential to the country's growth, according to advocates.

"Desalination started here 50 years ago," said Corrado Sommariva, president of the International Desalination Association. "There wouldn't be any development of the industry or society if there was no desalination."

The waste water is treated and just over half reused for industrial purposes, according Mohamed Al Madfaei, executive director at the Abu Dhabi Environmental Agency.

But the other 45% of recycled waste water was simply discharged at sea or released on to the land, where it had been pushing up groundwater levels, and eventually resulted in the creation of Lake Zakher.

Pentagon weapons-maker finds method for cheap, clean water

(Reuters) - A defense contractor better known for building jet fighters and lethal missiles says it has found a way to slash the amount of energy needed to remove salt from seawater, potentially making it vastly cheaper to produce clean water at a time when scarcity has become a global security issue.

Tornado debris study could lead to better warnings

Knowing where the debris is likely to fall could help protect the public if a tornado were to strike a hazardous site and suck up toxic biological or radioactive debris, Knox said.

"We need to get enough understanding so we can get fairly reasonable predictions of where the stuff goes," said John Snow, a professor of meteorology and dean emeritus at the University of Oklahoma who studied tornado debris in the 1990s. Knox's study builds on research done by Snow and others.

Though nuclear reactors are designed to withstand the force of tornadoes, radioactive materials such as fuel rods are often stored nearby, Snow said. A direct hit on such material is one of many catastrophic scenarios involving tornado-blown debris.

A Green Pope? Many Wonder If Environmental Activism Will Continue

The Catholic Church got a new pope on Wednesday — Pope Francis, who has taken his new name from the patron saint of animals and the environment. But will the man formerly known as Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina live up to the ideals of his 13th-century Italian namesake?

Earth Hour Is a Colossal Waste of Time—And Energy

The organizers say that they are providing a way to demonstrate one’s desire to “do something” about global warming. But the reality is that Earth Hour teaches all the wrong lessens, and it actually increases CO2 emissions. Its vain symbolism reveals exactly what is wrong with today’s feel-good environmentalism.

Earth Hour teaches us that tackling global warming is easy. Yet, by switching off the lights, all we are doing is making it harder to see.

Resilient agriculture, water reservoirs crucial for Pakistan - scientists

LAHORE, Pakistan (AlertNet) – Leading climate scientists in Pakistan have called for the development of high-temperature-tolerant, climate-resilient, genetically modified crops and the construction of huge water reservoirs to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Speaking after the launch of Pakistan’s National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) last month, Ashfaq Ahmad Chattha warned that rising temperatures due to climate change were leading to reduced water supplies and affecting crop production.

Inuits worried as they confront new realities

The rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice has rejuvenated interests in the region, ranging from oil and gas and mineral exploration to the possibility of shorter sea routes and increased tourism. But all this poses fresh challenges to the survival of the Inuit and other indigenous people who live there.

While some speakers at The Arctic Summit held by The Economist on March 12 seemed to favour the line that the local people needed money just as anyone else and would welcome the chance to blow it up on fast cars and gizmos, a more studied view was put forth by Aqqaluk Lynge, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council, who was quite firm that “We don’t want the fate of the North American indigenous people.”

Will be interested in Alan's comments on the Train Fanatasy posting.

It would seem to me that there is a fallacy involved in the analysis provided. If the high speed line is built, populations will shift to access points. Also, there is an implied statement that it is somehow sustainable to continue airline and roadway supports as these systems become increasingly out priced relative to their utility.


If the high speed line is built, populations will shift to access points.

In the West, the proposed north-south lines follow the existing population concentrations: the West Coast and the front ranges of the Rockies. The east-west lines running out of LA are problematic in terms of populations shifting there: lack of water is going to be a severe constraint. Historically, east-west routes across the West have been more for the purpose of connecting the West Coast to the eastern half of the country than anything else.

I'm always amused by maps that draw high-speed rail heading west out of Denver. No one in their right mind is going to try building through the Rockies along that route. Getting I-70 west from Denver added to the interstate system took US Army insistence and every political favor the State of Colorado could call in. It was the last piece of the original interstate system finished, and at by far the highest cost per mile. A practical northern route is going to go farther north and cross the Continental Divide over the South Pass in Wyoming.

If high speed is 220 mph, then it won't get built. That speed requires a new roadbed built to high-speed rail specifications with no grade-crossing roadways.

Besides, high-speed rail is roughly equivalent to air travel over longer distances in terms of energy used per passenger mile when you add in all the embedded energy costs and full costs of railway and terminal operations.

That speed requires a new roadbed built to high-speed rail specifications with no grade-crossing roadways.

High speed will require elevated structure with high speed elevated over low speed (mostly freight but w/local transit) in any event, at least in my opinion. It would seem to me that the biggest difference would have to be the type of energy used. For instance, in most long distance (trans-desert, for example) solar and wind would be fairly abundent. Sufficiently so that the use of solar panels, which would add the benefit of shading the rails) might give way to additional power input into the diversified grid in the new energy paradigm.

The real problem from an energy perspective is having sufficient resources to get the thing built in the first place.

The next serious problem would be service and maintenance, plus of course protection against terrorist attacks.


It is so symptomatic of our delusions that we will waste our very limited resources on high speed rail as opposed to simply building out standard rail. What an accomplishment and huge benefit it would be if only we could recover some of the rail system we had in the 1950's, only electrified. But, no, we believe our time is so precious thanks to delusions of productivity, that we must go fast!

In reality, as our economy tanks huge portions of the population will have nothing BUT time to spend. We cannot afford to conserve TIME, we need to conserve ENERGY.

Same symptom in the UK. We need the same answers you do. Ironically (?) gradual electrification was preferred UK government policy until after the financial crash. One guesses these 'schemes' are trying to talk-up the economy? Goodness knows what the 'business plan' could be. And this is supposed to be a private 'commercial' initiative in the USA?

I wonder also about our current (UK government) attempt to get EDF (state-controlled French utility) to build some nuclear power stations here, other consortai having withdrawn from the bidding. EDF are holding out for government guaranteed returns over the next 40 years!

Two difficulties, Twilight, in returning to the 1950's. First, we have lost most of the lines. What is left is pretty much devoted to heavy freight traffic; scheduling passenger rail between those trains involves putting the passengers on side lines as freight move unrestricted. And, there is a good reason, since stopping freight for people involves both excess wear in braking and excess fuel in regaining lost speed.

That is why I believe that people and light freight could move above the heavy trains on existing traction. In places, it may be necessary to detour from the same line in order to have more gradual curves for the mag-lev (or whatever h.s. system is adopted). Both freight and elevated lines would be using electric power.

Even if we decided that we didn't need to go quite so fast, some varient of this would be required to allow freight and passenger lines to co-exist.

One other thing - back in the day, accidents frequently involved freight/passenger line mix-ups. Some of these would be avoided due to use of modern computer systems, and yet should such occur the lighter rolling stock would suffer the greater damage.

The only lines on which speed is important, even given our delusions, are long distance passenger and light freight. And whilst Europe considers 100 miles a long distance, we consider this a commute. Taking trains off diesel, moving passengers onto trains from autos, and substituting fast rail for air would all help... and all cry out for the need for a new energy infrastructure to supply electric power to our transportation grid.


I understand the infrastructure we lost, which is why I said reclaiming what we had would be challenge aplenty. But trying to go fast only adds enormously to the cost - not a linear function I am sure. There is no need to go faster than trains did in their heyday, ever, no matter what the distance. Our time is not that valuable, and will only be worth less as we go.

In effect, it was only the amplification effect of fossil fossil fuels that made it seem like our time was worth so much. Without that, then a couple of hours or a couple of days makes little difference.

I agree that high speed should not be important, but passenger trains do need to move faster than freight trains and stay on schedule. During the golden age of rail travel, the railways also had a lot of high priority freight that either went on cars included with a passenger train or on a higher speed freight train. Today the high priority stuff goes by truck or plane and the railways are largely just moving freight that doesn't need to get to its destination quickly. However there is one current example of a high speed freight service -- the Railex refrigerated trains that move fresh produce across the country in 5 days. As truck/plane transport gets more expensive I'm sure we'll see more high speed freight trains deployed to capture that market. Well, if the railways are going to accommodate high speed freight trains then they may as well get some additional revenue by running passenger trains on their tracks too!

To use a local example, passenger service in the Montreal-Ottawa-Toronto corridor has been been improved by the construction of additional track in areas prone to congestion. Passenger trains generally don't have dedicated track, but instances where a passenger train gets stuck waiting for a freight train to clear the track have been greatly reduced. Service frequency has also been increased -- the current schedule shows seven trains a day on weekdays from Ottawa to Toronto. This isn't high speed rail -- the fastest train (with minimal stops) does the trip in 4 hours but clearly the more frequent service and fewer delays are attracting more business.

A view from China:
The high-speed trains here leave every 30-45 minutes.
The regular trains leave every 1-3 hours.

The high-speed trains cost 2.5 times more, and are 3 times faster from point-to-point.

And the subway system runs trains every 3-6 minutes.
Station stops are around 50 seconds, there are two drivers in the front cab, and speeds max out at 65 km/h.

Have people move more or less once to where they can do/get/offer most things locally and by foot/human-power. Negligible wait times, speeds, and energy and infrastructure investments. ;)

Separation is more important than speed. OTOH, unless the speed comes with a huge cost offset, then "as fast as is practical" is not a bad thing. Even in the good old days, speed was an important element.

You are correct though, that speed for its own sake is probably demeaning to the human psyche.

There is also the consideration that much of our travel today is not really necessary or imortant. Visits to one's family are high on most people's lists. Business travel can be largely avoided through teleconferencing. It is ego more than business need that drives much of the long distance travel taking place today. That and high level perks for the upper mamagement...

I still think that we need to ramp up as quickly as possible. Otherwise we may see our travel even more limited that what we are discussing.


I vividly remember 1950s trips involving a Union Pacific Dome car
Funny, later flying over that same route left no such memories. The Earth seems so unimportant at 30 thousand feet.

James Howard Kunstler has long argued for the build-out of conventional passenger rail service rather than attempting the high capital cost of high speed rail. The America 2050 website has some interesting concepts, and the optimum solution may lie within what the America 2050 site calls its TransAmerica Network, essential an expansion of Amtrak-style service along conventional rail routes where the higher speed (up to 110 mph) service build-out isn't practical.

As air flights become too expensive for the average family, a tightly integrated bus-rail network will become more appealing, especially if gas-rationing or some similar restriction limits long distance driving. Such a system will require some type of service at the end of the bus or rail, such as a Zip Car or other rental option. Public transit alone just cannot support the intercity market.

Intercity rail works best where a number of cities are linked together. We tend to look at intercity travel in terms of the airline model: large city to large city, but smaller communities actually seem to generate more trips per capita on services like Amtrak. The "sweet spot" distance of 150-600 miles is correct, but that doesn't need to be the length of the train schedule itself. It is the number of unique city interchanges on the train route that is critical. The more unique city to city combinations without a transfer, the more traffic is generated. Don't forget that many of our American cities originated as service stops on rail routes, and the spacing between them is not accidental.

There is a lot of lessons to be relearned in reading railroad histories and skimming the old Official Guides of the Railways and Steamships. We did a lot of traveling in the USA and Canada long before limited-access highways or airlines were available. As several others have mentioned, we may have to settle for slower speeds in order to afford travel at all.

I guess I was kind of thinking the renewables, when they can scale up, would allow at least a reasonable amount of energy to be provided on an ongoing basis. I'm assuming they will be able to produces some fairly large fraction of the current electricity we are generating, and that electric would become the primary energy mode into the future.

If those assumptions are correct, we should see a gradual transition to an all-electric paradigm. So electrified rail, be it passenger or freight, would be what would get built out. From what Alan is saying that looks to be the idea in France, at any rate. Again, my assumption is renewable electric would be scaled to handle industrial manufacturing too. So the infrastructure for the rail systems would be generated in this way too - rails, ties, catenary, wire, body, the whole nine yards - manufactured in electrically driven plants near to rail lines.

The rail-centric model worked well for a century in the U.S. Once the price of fossils go high enough I think we'll manually tear up suburbia for materials, or reconfigure it to be rail-oriented. It worked well in Los Angeles back in the day. And Chicago. A quick Google Earth scan shows about 80% of the Chicago, North Shore, and Milwaukee right-of-way to be intact. It's mostly a bike path now. There are even a couple of surviving stations (Kenosha and Dempster St). There's even a fair amount of the track still extant, under the pavement. The rail is still plainly visible in the parking lot next to the Kenosha Station.

The North Shore Electroliners reached speeds of 90 mph. More than fast enough for now. If we want high speed you do need elevation, but again it seems to me all based on renewables being able to deliver on their promise. The Germans certainly seem to think they can. Quite a few folks here seem to think so too. At some point, with sufficient energy, one ought to be able to synthesize a moderate amount of hydrocarbon fuel for the really critical applications (er, ah, industrial food comes to mind).

Set all this up in a blended electric grid paradigm - decentralized for small installations (homes, apartments, small businesses) and centralized for larger buildings and industry, and I think it could work.

The total energy per capita in the U.S. I think, is on a declining trend. If the energy use goes down, and the renewables go up, we should reach some equilibrium point.


RE; 'Renewables Delivering on their promise' .. part of the key to that will be not making inaccurate assumptions or presumptions about what those promises are or should be.

Part of the plan by Ed Tennyson and I is 90 mph EMU in the Washington DC area.


At the end is an interesting bit of history :-)

Overall, Ed (one of the original DC Metro planners, 1962-63) think we can almost triple passenger-miles while reducing the operating subsidy below current levels.

Best Hopes,


A more general problem with intercity train, either high speed or the 90 mph type, is that it can't compete with intercity buses. Intercity buses, especially the fast-growing curbside buses, are cheaper than train, have much more frequent schedules, and serve many more departure-destination pairs. The curbside buses allow passengers to locate the departure points, make reservations, pay for tickets, etc., all from smartphones. They have no terminal costs or costs of personnel to sell tickets.

The Motor Coach Metamorphosis
2012 Year-in-Review of Intercity Bus Service in the United States

January 6, 2013
Joseph P. Schwieterman1, Brian Antolin2, Paige Largent3, and Marisa Schulz4
1Director, Chaddick Institute and Professor, School of Public Service
2Research Associate, LeBow College of Business, Drexel University, Philadelphia
3Research Associate, Chaddick Institute 4Assistant Director, Chaddick Institute

Executive Summary
1. Intercity bus service grew by 7.5% between the end of 2011 and 2012—the highest rate of growth in four years. Conventional bus lines, after declining modestly between 2010 and 2011, expanded by 1.4%, in part due to Greyhound and Peter Pan’s new specialty services.
2. Service by discount city-to-city operators (discount operators) that do not use traditional terminals in many cities, such as BoltBus and Megabus, surged by 30.6%. For the first time, this sector accounts for more than 1,000 daily scheduled operations. BoltBus’ expansion in the Pacific Northwest and Megabus’ expansion in California, Nevada, and Texas have greatly expanded the sector’s visibility on the national travel scene.
3. Conventional and discount operators appear to be benefitting from the federal crackdown of “Chinatown” bus operators, several dozen of which were shut down on May 31, 2012 for noncompliance with certain safety regulations.
4. Discount operators are developing new technologies to inform customers about service issues, such as delays and cancellations. Such innovations have also helped operators find arrival and departure locations that create less neighborhood interference at hub cities than in the past. The debate over the locations of bus stops has been particularly vigorous in Dallas, New York, and Pittsburgh.
5. The intercity bus remains America’s fastest growing form of intercity travel by a comfortable margin. The sector’s 7.5% growth outpaces the 3.0% expansion of rail service (in seat-miles) and the less than one percent growth being reported by both airlines and agencies tracking automobile travel.

Well Greyhound really messed up some bus service when it bought out Jefferson. No more service to Canada via Winnipeg, Greyhound just kicked it to the curb. I had to buy a car after 11 years without. Any new expansions or improvements between Texas and Minnesota in bus service, please post.

Greyhound has gone so far as to dump people off of the bus at a layover in Des Moines, Iowa in sub-zero (F) weather for hours but not allow into terminal. Standard operating procedure for some buses into Fargo ND also, bus into garage, passengers left outside.

Not to mention the Border Patrol coming onto buses and saying in english, who here isn't American. (Hattiesburg MS). Moi with maple leaf socks, IAM Canadian hat and a Canadian t-shirt was passed over. I was all set to engage them in Espanol, and possibly end with "No habla espanol? O pobrecito, mi corazon sangre." But no, they just walked up to one individual and pulled him off.

Buses worse in 90's than 80's, even worse in 2000's and still getting worse in my experience.

Greyhound may be getting worse. But that's not what Merrill's talking about. He's talking about Megabus and Bolt. They're the ones with no terminals. They offer fares as low as $1, with free wi-fi and other perks. They're attracting an entirely different clientele than the traditional Greyhound bus.

As for the border crossing...that's just as obnoxious on a train, or even in a car. That's not the buses' fault.

Hattiesburg, MS isn't on the border. Appears BP just boarded the bus on demand. They could do that to Bolt or Megabus as well. We live in an ever tightening police state.

They can also do it on a train.

And we all know what rights we give up when we fly.

Hattiesburg MS in 2007 was one flattened city at the time I was traveling and had only so far rebuilt the casinos. The US was not sending obnoxious crude armed carcasian racists at the time onto AmTrak. Real turnoff to bus travel that is. But ya know, the direct flights from Canada to Hattiesburg MS area petered out, the casino junkets to there just didn't take off. Had to do something with the people trained at the airport with nothing to do.

And NO - it is not as obnoxious crossing the borders in a car. US citizen, I notice a much more polite entrance into Canada most times. Trust me, there is a large difference in reception how you enter into the US from Canada.

I have seen them do racist things to people of colour and their spouses and children repeatedly when traveling by bus at the Emerson ND border crossing and read in the Winnipeg Free Press when they put a active service US Army Col. MD - Iraq war veteran surgeon in plastic hand cuffs. They did this in front of his agoraphobic mother who was feeling quite trapped in the little glass room. His only crime was being an African-American.

It was always much less intensive flying into the US than taking the bus. And the last 5 times in a vehicle I "own", well, smooth as silk.

With the new "laws" giving carte blanche to those armed brown shirt Homeland whatever stopping trains, buses, and autos anywhere within 160 km of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Gulf of Mexico and the Canadian and Mexican borders, expect more harrasment and more effort being put especially into stopping buses.

No, it will be a real turn off to riding the bus in those areas.

I have studied TOD (Transit Orientated Development) and what type of rail creates it.

Metro (subway or elevated) seems to have the strongest pull, followed by streetcar, Light Rail and commuter rail in that order.

Commuter rail TOD pull is weak. The Long Island Railroad carries about 1 million people every work day, yet few stations have any TOD around then.

MARC offers 120 mph service from Baltimore to Washington DC for $7 with frequent service (including Express), yet there is only one condo/apartment building around the main Baltimore train station and none at other stops.

OTOH, Metro has transformative impacts around their stations.

Even in Japan and the EU, with HSR, few take trips by rail over 800 km (500 miles). The "Sweet spot" is trips under 500 km (300 miles).

PS: I am digesting the recent announcements for Paris. By 2030, 90% of Parisians will live within 2 km of a train station. Cost 26.5 + 7 + 2 billion euros. THAT will have an impact !


Just a note: CNN and CNN/Money (links above) seem to be down for now. It ain't Leanans fault ;-/

I think it's just you. They are working fine for me.

Been reading this article:

Cyprus bailout threatens to backfire

As part of the plan to rescue Cyprus' outsized banking sector and head off national default, the EU said deposits of more than €100,000 would be subject to a one-off levy of 9.9%, starting Tuesday. Smaller depositors would be subject to a levy of 6.75%.

It was the first time that the EU has insisted on such terms for bank depositors as part of a bailout. The EU's bailouts of other nations, such as Greece, have been accompanied by strict budget restrictions and led to losses for bond holders and shareholders.

This has caused a huge run on the banks. Not sure why the EU insisted on this. The article says something about concern over money-laundering, but I'm not sure how this tax is supposed to address that.

The article calls the proposal "An unprecedented tax on bank deposits...", which it isn't. Taxes on wealth have been around for a long time and property taxes are the best example. When I was younger, the State of Georgia used to levy a so-called "intangible tax" on financial assets and I recall that also included money in a bank account. Florida also once levied an intangible tax, but it was repealed in 2007. It may be a "new" idea in the EU, but that's only because people have short memories...

E. Swanson

Black Dog, I am sorry you feel that way but my opinion varies. If there is a tax in place on Bank deposits and I put my money in the bank anyway "my bad" however, in this case the money has been placed in the bank and then the government says in effect well we need 6 per cent of your savings so we will help ourselves. That is robbery. Maybe you will be fine with the idea but I worry that that is the first step and next governments will decide that retirement accounts have a lot of money so we will just take 40 per cent of that to pay for our next whatever. Stealing is too tempting to be allowed even or especially by governments.

OK, you put your money in bank which gives you 11% interest rate, in other countries of the Euro zone you get 1%, then the bank is in trouble and you complain that you have to pay 7% in order that I give money to save 93% of your savings? You are a clown. :-)

Hint: The alternative would have been that the banks on Cyprus run out of business and you may have faced a 100% loss. What do you choose?

What happened to the 100,000 Euro deposit insurance? If banks in Cyprus were reckless why were the deposits in those banks insured? Why were the banks not reigned in before there was a crisis?

In this case the bond holders and stock holders should take the loss and the ECB should bail out the depositors up to the 100,000 Euro limit.

Thanks, I guess that explains it. (11%? Holy guacamole. That about ten times what you'd get in the U.S.)

It doesn't explain why unelected IMF, ECB and Eu officials are willing to risk bank runs and falling markets in other EU countries over a measly 10 billion euros when other countries have been 'bailed out' at levels much higher. It's been suggested that the banksters responsible were also taking advantage of the high returns available in Cyprus (would have been stupid not to), until recently.

It would be interesting to know if the recent Flight To Safety began before this 'levy' plan was revealed.

After Cyprus, eurozone risks transmission failure and running out of road

Under pressure from several members of the eurozone – Germany in particular, if reports are accurate – the new Nicosia government agreed that deposits above 100,000 euros would be taxed 9.9 percent and those under 100,000 at a rate of 6.75 percent.

This is an unprecedented decision for a eurozone country. It is also one whose potential consequences reach much further than an island in the eastern Mediterranean. It threatens to cause the transmission system between the economic and financial sectors on one side and the political and social on the other to seize up. Without this, the euro cannot be propelled forward. It cannot function....

...The implications for people’s trust in their government and financial system are obvious. It would be remiss to think that this wariness will be contained just to Cyprus. While many will be watching next week for signs of financial contagion from the Cypriot decision in other parts of the eurozone, with Spaniards or Italians possibly withdrawing savings from their banks, there is a more insidious infection that could spread.

Cypriots will be given equity in their banks in return for the tax but what value will this have when they no longer have faith in the banking system? Cypriots will be told that the deposit tax will stave off further measures but they only have to look to Greece or Portugal to see that promises of no more taxes or cuts have little value. They will be told that there was no alternative but then they will hear about pressure from other single currency members and concerns about the upcoming German elections.

The EU PTB must either be desperate, stupid, or corrupt to squander what little trust is left in EU markets and risk contagion at this point. I think it goes much deeper than elections in Germany... but maybe it's just me.

Are more well off EU countries laying the groundwork for a disolution of the Euro?

Under pressure from several members of the eurozone – Germany in particular, if reports are accurate – the new Nicosia government agreed that deposits above 100,000 euros would be taxed 9.9 percent and those under 100,000 at a rate of 6.75 percent.

Although it remains pretty in-transparent of who demands what and who pressures whom how, it does seem that Germany and the Eurozone mostly demands a total amount of contribution from a country, not so much specifics of how to achieve that. Those are mostly up to the individual countries as long as they are plausible.

E.g. in the current situation, both the EZB and German government and IMF claim they demanded a contribution of 5.8 billion from the Cypriot financial industry, it was then the Cypriot government who decided to tax all accounts, as limiting it to accounts over 100.000Eur would have asked, in their opinion, too much from the rich. If that is true, then it is the Cypriot government to blame for the breach of the bank guarantees, not the EU (although they could have possibly prevented it). Hence, they also have no objection if that part of the deal get augmented by protecting 100% of the first e.g. 25000 Euro, as long as the total amount of contributions stay the same.

Likewise, I would be highly surprised if the EU or German government would object if Greece decided to take more money from e.g. wealthy ship owners and therefore cut social security less as long as the total amount stays convincingly the same. So again, the social imbalance of austerity measures is at least partially imposed by local politicians, not the EU.

Leanan, our MSM (I live in Belgium, EU), say something like: "The other bailouts were mainly financed by German taxpayers. But since a lot of money on the Cypriotic banks originates from Russian Nouveau Riches, German taxpayers are not willing to spend money to support them."

Eventually now my friends do understand why I don't have money on a bank; just enough for daily life.

To be clear the 11% is for non residents only, residents get a mere 7%. That is for a 5yr deposit over 150k

Most 30-183 day rates are in the 3-4% range. It's safe to say the floating rate is even lower.


For comparison of other EZ deposit rates
So it's close to the same rates as Italy, Portugal and Romania, significantly less then Ukraine and believe it or not RUssia.

Otherwise the money for the bailout would come from the 'thin air' just like any other loan, so it's not as if the rest of the EZ will see their tax rates go up, just to keep the Cyprus banks afloat.

Yes, but to assume that you get much more interest than others without higher risk is a little bit strange for me.

BTW Strictly speaking it was/is not about the insolvency of one bank but of the Cypriotic government. The Austrian TV (ORF) brought an interesting article on this issue on their site:


According to the ORF Anastasiades (Cyprus' president) fought hard to limit the losses of the rich investors to 10%, i.e. he sold his poorer citizen. The model of the ECB (Jörg Asmussen) was to guarantee the 100.000 EUR and let only richer investors (Russians, Brits) pay.

The 100.000 EUR guarantee is only for bank insolvencies, not for a national insolvencies, therefore, it was and still is an gift, nothing mandatory.

According the ORF Cyprus with only 1 million citizen has 30 billion EUR in accounts of people with 100.000 EUR or less and 38 billion EUR of richer investors (Russians, Brits). The 6 billion would have meant around 15% losses for the rich investors.

how about, the bank goes bankrupt, the bank executives, management, and pals, go to prison, the remains of the bank audited and as much of where the money went that can be found, it is used to satisfy the bankruptcy according to already established contracts which indicate precedence of creditors, and the next time everyone, including depositors, is more careful with what he does and how much of a free ride he expects?

And if the depositors through the bank or the bank has paid for deposit insurance, this time around, make good on that promise, and perhaps the scrutiny or the premiums on such insurance goes up next time to reflect the risk? perhaps with more diligence the risk won't be 'party til the money is gone and get bailed out' but 'responsibly manage what is in your custody or risk being sued or going to prison' ?
you know, like in the old days?

(and how about the only involvement of the government in ANY of this is the operation of uncorrupt courts as a civilized venue for these matters of contract law to be settled?)

that's what i'd choose.

Except, my friend, that there would perforce be government involved in the "go to prison" part! And, rightly so!

I recognize a true Libertarian view here.

The danger is not recognizing that there are laws necessary where you demand enforcement; denying government power to create those laws is problematic. Also, while granting civil remedies in court is an excellent goal, in fact you would see the laws bent to the will of the Wealthy so that access to those theoretically uncorrupt courts would be limited to those who have resources.

The sad fact is that Libertarianism, whilst a wonderful theory, struggles against the evil influence of wealth on those lucky enough to have such. And don't give me that crap about hard work, savings, etc. The owners would never really allow anyone else to enter their holy orders.


I don't understand how anyone with any decency can justify an outright confiscation of nearly 10% of depositors money. The depositors did not use any leverage and did not create the financial crisis. Why are they being punished? This move is not only illegal but also abysmally stupid because it has shattered confidence in the banks. Now everyone who is not dim witted understands that the 100 Euro bill in your pocket is worth 10% more than 100 Euros in a bank account. People will now hide their wealth which is not good for the economy at all.

Taxing 6%-10% of deposits is clearly a bad solution. But then the situation in Cyprus, the EU (and other countries like the US) seems pretty dire and unsustainable. All "solutions" to this crisis are necessarily going to be terrible. The only question is who is going to loose how much money and which is the least terrible solution?

So what are the alternatives? The Dept in many countries are totally unsustainable, so something has to give.

1) Inflation: One way is to inflate dept away. With record low interest on savings in many countries and a non negligable inflation. E.g. the UK has an inflation of nearly 3% while savings interests are more like 1%. So in 4 - 5 years you have lost more than the 6% of wealth that they are now taxing. In addition, inflation doesn't only hit savings, but all income. So this hits low income people much more which everyone claims they are so concerned about than taking a small part of savings.

2) Burden all of the dept on the tax payer. At a bailout of 17 billion euros, that is the equivalent of about 17.000 Eur per Cypriot. So unless the "small saver" has more than 200.000 Eur of savings they loose more this way, and those who have that in savings can likely afford to pay some to save their country. Furthermore, given how austerity has so far handled, most of the savings have come from social security. My guess is that taking that money from the poor is going to be much more painful than taking it from those with savings.

3) Letting the country go bankrupt: That is pretty uncontrollable and will again likely hit the low to middle class much more than loosing 6% of savings.

4) Have the European tax payer pay for the losses: Well, that might be nice for Cypruss and Greece, but the rest of Europe (and the US and other countries who are participating through the IMF) don't directly fancy that solution and have to come up with that money (see solution 2).

5) Let the banks go bankrupt. Although this imho really should be part of the solution, it isn't going to solve the problems alone. Particularly if as Rockman said, most "investments" into a bank come from savings rather than "traditional" investments. In that case letting the banks go bankrupt isn't enough and savers would again likely loose at least the amount they are going to loose.

6) Stick your head into the sand and hope to borrow more money indefinitely: Well, that is kind of the solution governments have tried the last decade or two. However, unless you find ever more savers who are willing to lend you money to finance this ponzi schema, this won't work and is exactly the reason we are in this mess now.

So given the alternatives, loosing only 6 - 10% of saving might really be one of the least terrible solution and shares the pain relatively fairly. On top one has to remember, that the 6 billion envisioned in this depositor tax is only about a third of total money necessary. So 2/3s is still coming from other solutions.

On top, if all of the people get an immediate overt hit (rather the long drawn out stealthy hit in inflation), perhaps it will teach voters that in a democracy they are responsible for the actions of government and start voting for long term responsible politicians, and taking the short term easy route of increasing dept and no reforms is going to hurt them rather directly!

Everyone needs to realize that given the current situation and the failure to solve the problems over the last couple of decades everyone is going to have to take large losses in some form or another and nothing is totally safe. No stocks, no back deposits, no gold no nothing. If you start from that premises many solutions look a lot less dire and acceptable.

" All "solutions" to this crisis are necessarily going to be terrible." In a nutshell.

Steve from VA left a pretty spot-on comment over at TAE:

There is to be no improvement in Cyprus as the problems are not simply money or credit. After this bailout will come others ... until bailouts become impossible and the banks unravel.

Bank runs occur for different reasons. The biggest problem in the euro-banks isn't tactics, but the ongoing bankruptcy of the system in its entirety and the lack of a real lender of last resort. The reason for this latter condition is the absence of good collateral and the (implied) requirement for central banks to make unsecured loans (in excess of collateral).

The managers simply don't know what to do. This is because the problem is a shortage of capital rather than un-balanced ledgers or irregular credit flows. We moderns have burned up our capital and there is nothing particularly useful to show for the burning. What remains is some 'currency' deposited in bank accounts.

The idea that inflation simply takes money from people is not correct. Monetary inflation should not be confused with supply shortages that produce higher prices, as TOD has devoted itself to with respect to oil. Monetary inflation raises the price of everything, including, in fact especially including, labor. (1) Inflation does have costs, not always equally bourn, so that when a nation inflates its currency the value of that currency is reduced with respect to those of other nations so its citizens pay more for imported goods and services. For a nation like Cyprus this would be a pretty large percentage of costs since they import much of what they import. On the other hand this is a fairly smooth and fair way to reduce imports and increase exports and hence balance a nation's trade. Cyprus' problem is that it can't inflate its currency because it is under the Euro which is acting sort of like a gold standard strangling its economy.

It appears that modern economies require about 3% inflation to operate smoothly and inflation below that promotes inequality with the financial crises that go with excessive inequality. From 1873 until about 1896 the US had one "panic" after another as deflation drove debtors under. The accident of gold finds in South Africa, Australia, and Alaska got us out from under the "cross of gold" that was strangling us.

(1) One can make the argument that if wages are not rising there is no inflation.

EXplain to those of us living on our savings what, exactly, cost increases are if not inflation.

They are the consequence of natural resource scarcity. But since labor isn't scarce anymore the cost of it does not rise commensurately.

This is why I am not expecting hyperinflation. Without rising wages, there's a limit to how much prices can rise. And wages aren't rising.

"Without rising wages, there's a limit to how much prices can rise. And wages aren't rising."

I had this discussion with my dad last week while talking about housing. There should be no rebound happening in housing right now because income is not rebounding - it's just another bubble essentially. The DrHousingBubble blog has done a few posts showing the entry of investment capital into the housing market. With CD's and savings accounts paying zilch, capital is chasing anything that moves (like the stock markets).

With the potential for minimum wage to be raised it'll be interesting to see how that balances if it happens. Whether it will go into de-leveraging and paying off debt or if it'll go into the fuel tank. Regardless, the US is getting dangerously imbalanced...as bad as the Tea Party is we haven't started voting in actual neo-nazis yet, but with all of the gun-nutters running around in a tizzy it seems like it won't take much more before something breaks.

I think housing is, in part, shifting back to being less of an investment that is bought and sold every 5 years to a more traditional status, a more permanent home where folks plan to stay. Many of my ancestors lived in the same place for decades, often their whole adult lives. "Home" has a different inherent value than "house" or "property". I know many fellow baby boomers that are looking for the place where they plan to stay (until they can't), perhaps a place worthy of being passed on to their kids. People are willing to pay a premium for such a spot, compared to bidders who plan to sell in a few years. I expect this is why areas such as Portland and Asheville didn't see such drastic declines in prices and were early to recover. Parts of Colorado also held up well. People with money are hunkering down more. I, for one, am totally unconcerned with resale value. Most everything I have is in this place, so it would take a lot of money to get us to even consider selling.

Low interest rates are also having an effect. Take the above 'stay put' meme and toss in a 30 year fixed rate at 3.25% for perhaps the rest of the buyer's life, people are willing to spend more up front.

I have a friend that moved to Portland - he said it was basically like someone took Asheville and multiplied it by a few times. They both have similar cultures and oddly enough vie for "Beer City USA" every year. Asheville has a lot of second home/retirement and cash activity that kept it pretty inflated through the crash (to my detriment - if prices had reached pre-boom levels I could actually afford something) which makes it a bit unique compared to most places.

"Low interest rates are also having an effect. Take the above 'stay put' meme and toss in a 30 year fixed rate at 3.25% for perhaps the rest of the buyer's life, people are willing to spend more up front."

That's the source of the problem - the easy money. But it only works once, not for very long, and leaves no good way out. The boom it creates drives the price of houses up, then once prices are up, even the easy money can't drive it further because housing prices must be supported by income. Its just a trick that allows a set level of income to leverage itself higher.

For example if someone is paying $200,000 over the course of a loan, at rate A% they'll have $100,000 to put towards the house and 100,000 in interest. At rate B% they'll have $150,000 towards the house and $50,000 in interest. The person, going from rate A to rate B now has an extra $50,000 to try to out-bid someone else in getting a house originally worth $100,000...and during the boom, this is exactly what happened. So now the house is "$150,000" up from "$100,000" a rise in 50%. This basically out of thin air instantly creates $50,000 which goes into the economy. That money is free to stimulate the economy and did - but it did so in a violent way, as money does when suddenly poured in and it's a One-and-Done proposition. Just as money can be created out of thin air by a decrease in interest, it can be destroyed by rising rate...but this doesn't happen until the point of sale (or "Mark to Market"), so it has a chance of slowly working its way out of the system. This is taking the form of short sales and foreclosures - but the banks are pacing these out in what's come to be known as "Shadow Inventory." Homes that are either in foreclosure and not being marketed, or homes that are delinquent in payments and not being foreclosed upon. There are still plenty out there. There are many who are still "underwater" as well...I saw a blurb recently...


The negative equity picture varied widely by state. California had about 1.9 million households underwater, or about 29% of all borrowers. Nevada had the biggest percentage of underwater homes, at 59%, followed by Florida, 43%; Arizona, 40%; Georgia, 36%; and Michigan, 33%.

All it will take is the slightest rise in rates and those people will be working the rest of their lives just to get even on those houses to be able to sell.

But yes - on the other side, there was a fellow on CNBC just yesterday that said that IF you're going to stay in a house more than 7 years and get a 30 year fixed-rate mortgage, considering maintenance and closing costs and such, buying a house will be cheaper than renting. The break-even was less in some places than others...but if you have to/want to move all it takes is a shift in those rates and you're underwater big time - because mountains of available leverage will disappear instantly.

But I do have to agree with the comment below:

tstreet:"I have been constantly surprised and amazed at how long this thing has been strung out presumably because of the crack dealers at the FED. Although what you say seems true, I would not be[t] a nickel on it coming true any time soon."

All bets are off.

Many homes getting purchased now are from cash investors, the rest are majority government-backed low down-payment loans, and this is all after that absurd $8,000 giveaway that suckered a bunch of folks into the 2009-10 mini-rebound-bubble. They certainly have more rabbits in their hat than I would have guessed.

But a 30 year mortgage...that's a hell of a long commitment to a series of payments when in 2-10 years we'll likely be seeing huge contractions in the economy, or at the very least, large displacements in resources.

I have been constantly surprised and amazed at how long this thing has been strung out presumably because of the crack dealers at the FED. Although what you say seems true, I would not be a nickel on it coming true any time soon.

The time-honored solution of European sovereigns over-indebted to bankers and merchants has been to execute or exile the bankers and merchants.

There are no "good" solutions but they picked the worst possible solution. The right thing to do is to let the bond holders take the loss (they risked their capital) while protecting the first 100,000 Euro in deposits. Now confidence has been shattered and everyone knows deposit insurance means nothing.

Right, and by definition shattering the illusion is the worst of all possible errors - because illusion is all that is left.

suyog - I haven't seen the numbers to back it up but have heard stories that the Cyprus banks have gotten very little bond money and that most of the investments were made with the depositors' cash. IOW the depositors are the de facto bond owners. And just like bond holders they took the risk (whether they realized it or not) to make the above average returns they were getting. If that's anywhere close to being correct then it would seem reasonable that they share in any loses just as their shared in the gains. As we say it Texas: You make your bets and takes your chances...stop whining.

Of course, that whole story might be exaggerated to help out the real debt owners

Give me a break. People keep their money in the bank because they don't want to take a risk. They rely on deposit insurance to protect their money. If the bank management wants to make risky bets the regulators are supposed to prevent that. If the bank's liabilities exceed its assets the regulators are supposed to take over the bank, return the depositors money, fire the management and pay the bond holders and stock holders (in that order) if there is any equity left. Or they could find a bigger bank to take over the failed bank. Either way, depositor money (up to the insurance limit) is sacred and should be protected.

"As we say it Texas: You make your bets and takes your chances...stop whining."

I'm very sure that wouldn't be accepted as an explanation if the same thing happened in Texas!

If you’re getting 6X to 8X the interest on your account that other banks ar paying and you don’t think your money is at any risk then most Texans would say you’re a dang fool and deserve what you get. LOL. Like I said: Texans don’t have much patience with folks who make bad bets and then whine about losing the bet. You’re suppose to take it like a man…even if you’re a woman. Actually Texas women typically do tend to take it better than the men.

If the banks in your country (Texas) are all paying that same rate and you put your money in a bank outside your country that's paying 1/6th to 1/8th the rate, Texans would say it's YOU who are the dang fool. I wouldn't want to be the person who gets to tell a Texan he was a dang fool for putting his money in a Texas bank only to have 10% taken off the top!

penury - "...next governments will decide that retirement accounts have a lot of money so we will just take..." Actually since the last time I looked at the rules the US govt already does that ability. On some retirement accounts if you don't withdraw a minimum amount (which will be taxed as income) the feds will assess a penalty and take it out for you. At least they are nice enough to wait until you die before taking a big chunk of your savings from you via inheritance tax.

It's only a matter of time until Congress decides that the income in Roth IRAs should be taxable upon withdrawal.

"It's only a matter of time until Congress decides that the income in Roth IRAs should be taxable upon withdrawal."

Agreed. Especially since the traditional IRA already let you put in after-tax (non-deductable) contributions. Letting income go untaxed is so unlike the government.

I think the 401K will go down at the same time. I don't know if they will terminate them completely, (you have to roll it over into the IRA) or whether they just cut off new contributions which would be easier politically and let the program wither away. (Wall Street will shriek somewhat less this way than if they terminate the program instantly). There was a paper out a few months ago that said the 401k program did not significantly increase the rate of savings, and it's costing the government a lot in tax revenue. ($142 billion per year according to one source I found.)

The regular IRA may survive. It was intended for those who are not covered by a retirement plan at work, and the tax deduction phases out at middle-class income levels.

No need to upset people that way, just switch from an income to a consumption tax.

The federal and state governments tax wealth in bank accounts upon the owner's death. It's called the estate tax. Some states also charge an inheritance tax. Taxing property is nothing new.

Seizing your property and retrospectively creating a law to justify it is though.

Hmmmm... that sounds vaguely familiar. Something to do with the history of the 'New World'. Something about colonial law and policy....

Merrill, Rockman and all: If you own a home, or any other real estate, you pay a pretty stiff property tax.

If you rent, you pay someone else's property tax (built into the rent).

The only taxes that fairly represent ability to pay are income tax and VAT. VAT goes into the price of goods sold, so it is regressive to the extent it is levied on necessaries. Income taxes can be, and usually are, graduated, and nominally at least progressive. Wealthy folks soon get ahold of the basic tax laws and intall loopholes to avoid such.

Excise taxes and exit taxes try to tax the other guy, but rarely work out very well.

So long as we have governments, we will have taxes of some sort. The thing we who live in nominal democracies need to do is to better determine what we need, and enact taxes as fair as possible to pay for those things. Meanwhile, greed will continue unabated and unabashedly to do violence to the best of all intents.

Best wishes for fair taxes.


I think the current estate tax only applies to estates over $5 million.

That's the federal exemption -- state exemptions vary. It may be a progressive tax, but it is still a tax levied on savings and checking account balances.

Most states, including all I have lived in, have effectively no estate tax.

Federal tax allows all of your savings, investments,, etc., to go to your spouse untaxed. You each have a 5 Mil lifetime exclusion, plus a per donee exemption from gift taxes each year that increases by a COLA. Roughly $12K/yr (probably higher now).

If you cannot get enough of your riches to your kids, and support your wife on that, I do NOT feel sorry for you!

To me, better to tax me after I die than while I am alive. I would shift as much as possible to the Estate Tax sector.

Also, I would tax the bejesus out of investment transactions! Buy and hold! Also, I would end the concept of long term gains. Gains is gains.

Just a few thoughts as the Cypriots vote down their 'opportunity' to volunteer.

One more aside: I voted for Prop. 13! Would vote to end real estate taxes on residential property every time.


The talking head on Deutsche Welle last night used the term "Black Swan" when discussing the possible consequences of Cyprus.

PO talk will slowly creep into the lexicon because, increasingly, our common cliches, myths and justifications no longer speak to current contradictions and a future dangers. Watch the language, changes there forshadow changes in public consciousness.

One reason offered for this approach was that the Cyprus banks, unlike many other EU banks, have relatively little bonds out. They run their investments mainly off of the depositors' money. I suppose that's the logic: the depositors are the de facto bond owners and thus, like any other bond holder, have to pay the piper when the bill comes due. It sounds as though the Cyprus banks were offering much better rates han other EU banks. So again the logic: depositors were taking a chance by going with risker investments by the banks to capture a better return. IOW you make your bets and have to accept your share of the losses.

But it was offered that a lot of money, especially Russian/drug money, sits in those banks. It was postulated that this money might not run away from the Cyprus banks too fast: the new fee is just the cost of doing business now. And business is still doing OK.

Rockman, the reason why it was done matters not and a bank account is not an investment it's private property stored at a bank. Also bank deposits below 100k are covered by a deposit insurance, so there should be no risk attached to putting your money in the bank because it is guaranteed safe by the government. The money has been confiscated. It's not a tax, levy or anything else but theft.

The Rape Of Cyprus By The European Union & The IMF

Let's get some things straight and look what has happened directly in the face. There was no tax on the bank accounts in Cyprus. There still is no tax; the Cyprus Parliament has not passed it and will not vote on it until tomorrow so whatever action takes place it is retroactive. Next, this was not enacted by Cyprus. The people from Nicosia did not go to the Summit and ask to have the bank accounts in their country minimized to help pay the bills. Far from it; the nations of Europe, Germany, France, the Netherlands and the rest, demanded that this take place, a "fait accompli," the President of Cyprus said and Europe annexes Cyprus. Let's be quite clear; the European Union has confiscated the private property of the citizens in Cyprus without debate, legislation or Parliamentary agreement. Pay attention please. The European Union and the European Central Bank and the IMF have just advocated the confiscation of private property for their own indulgence.

The bond of trust has been broken everywhere. Private property is no longer safe from the technocrats and can be taken away at will, justified by retrospectively created laws. What's the point of saving the banks if everything is destroyed in the process?

Burgundy et al – Details matter and they are difficult to run down now. First, what are the banking regs in Cyprus? Are they anything like US regs? Is there govt deposit insurance? Few details yet but I get the sense that a Cyprus bank is run differently and those folks knew it. Second, if (and it’s a big IF) some depositors were getting 10%+ interest on the account while most other EU banks were paying 1% to 2% are you going to assume there’s no risk involved? If so then you would have been a prime Bernie Madoff investor. And, IF I understand correctly many of the Cyprus banks refused to cooperate with international money laundering investigations and was rather well known by the public. That should have been one more red flag the depositors should have considered.

Again lots of IF’s but I’ve see very few documented facts presented here. Lots of assumptions, including mine, but few details.

Even your reference is confusing. In almost the same breath it says the tax won’t be legislated by the Cyprus govt but by other EU countries and then says it hasn’t been enacted yet and won’t be until the Cyprus parliament votes for it. So which is it? Exactly how will those countries remove any of those deposits w/o the cooperation of the Cyprus govt?

"Is there govt deposit insurance?"

Yeah, Rock. That's what makes this such a trust buster:

Cyprus has about as many residents as the Bronx. All Cypriot banks combined are smaller than the 30th-largest U.S. bank. So why is the country's financial system front-page news today?

The answer, in large part, comes down to two words: Deposit insurance. Deposit insurance is one of those boring-sounding finance terms that's central to the way the world works today. Everybody is freaking out over Cyprus because the country just called into question the sanctity of deposit insurance.

Deposit insurance was invented because of a frightening fact: Even the most boring, safe, neighborhood bank is in a crazy, risky business. A bank takes money people put in checking and savings accounts — money those people are allowed to withdraw at any time — and lends it out to people who don't have to pay it back for 30 years....


Suggest you read the last two paragraphs at the link, then follow the rabit hole link to 'shadow banking system'; $52 trillon (with a T) outside regulated banking systems, but "capital ventures, securities markets, pension and mutual funds, all dependent and highly leveraged.

And, IF I understand correctly many of the Cyprus banks refused to cooperate with international money laundering investigations and was rather well known by the public. That should have been one more red flag the depositors should have considered.

The same could be applied to the big US banks too. Your own bank is probably up to it's eyeballs in money laundering, they all are because if they weren't they'd be out of business (eg. todays news: HSBC faces new money laundering claims in Argentina). The flows of black money in the global economy are huge and if IIRC are equivalent to being the third largest economy.

So scapegoating the victim for putting their money in their local high street bank in a government guaranteed deposit insured account because they should have know it was crooked really doesn't wash. As it also applies to everyone on the planet with a bank account. Do you deserve to lose 7% of your money simply because you put it in a bank for safekeeping? You must surely know your bank is probably up to no good and likely insolvent just like all the other banks.

Clearing my cache fixed it... strange.

As for the Cyprus debacle, perhaps the EU is testing the waters, using little old Cyprus. If things are as bad in Europe as folks like TAE are saying, they may be running out of options... or is Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine coming to pass?

Cyprus banks will stay closed until Thursday

18 March 2013 Last updated at 11:11 ET: The Cypriot central bank has announced that the country's banks will stay closed until later this week as fears mount of a bank run.

The country's banks were closed for a scheduled Bank Holiday on Monday, something that allowed Cyprus to try to implement a levy on savers' deposits.

That move triggered unease among depositors in Cyprus, where cash machines soon ran out of funds.

The rescue also unnerved investors, sending shares and the euro lower.

The EU and IMF want all bank customers to pay a levy in return for a bailout worth 10bn euros ($13bn; £8.6bn).

Spanish and Italian markets fell 2%, with bank shares the hardest hit.

Cyprus rescue breaks all the rules

Reform of how to mend broken banks, which has been negotiated globally and in Europe since the Crash of 2007-8, has been based on two central principles.

First, that the savings of ordinary people should be protected, up to a high threshold - or 100,000 euros in the European Union for example.

And that financial institutions which lend to banks by buying their bonds should incur losses when banks are bailed out: bondholders should, to use the jargon, be bailed in, as part of resolution plans....

...So what is seen by many as profoundly shocking about the terms of the rescue of Cyprus by the rest of the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund is that both of these principles have been broken.

Retail savers are being punished, by a levy of 6.75% on savings up to 100,000 euros.

And bondholders aren't being touched.

I'm not gonna get too wacked out of shape by this Cyprus thing. IMHO a few fools concocted a dumb trial balloon, which is just not gonna fly. There may be runs on other peripheral country banks as a result. However (I'm assuming this will get chucked out before they get their hands on the loot), once its been proven to be totally politically unworkable, the deposits are probably safer, -they will have to find some other turnips to squeeze blood from.

The Cyprus thing tells people in Eurozone countries which might be forced to accept a 'bailout' from the ECB, "take all your money out of the bank the day before each long weekend". (They always do this kind of thing on long weekends.) That's several times a year.

If those banks are forced to hold 100% reserves, they will be unwilling to lend. This Cyprus thing could have a very depressing effect on investment, and therefore on economic activity in general, and that will flow through to the other Eurozone countries and countries that want to export to them.

Not the end of the world, true. Just a ratcheting up of the perpetual low-grade depression we're already in.

All round, an awesome day's work.

Anybody in EU with an iota of sense will now pull most of their money out of the banking system.

If I was in EU and had significant amount of money in the bank, I will use it to pay off my debt and if there is anything left after that stuff it in the mattress or buy gold or some other hard asset with it. It is now clear that the oligarchs will do whatever it takes - including outright confiscation - to save the banksters.

After Cyprus, only fools will keep significant amount of money in the bank. They simply cannot be trusted with your money.

Anybody in EU with an iota of sense will now pull most of their money out of the banking system.

Would you advise the same for those of us in these united states?

I think in the short term the US will benefit from the EU crisis as scared capital flees to the perceived safe haven (LOL) in the US. But I don't see our financial system surviving past 2017. Governments desperate for revenue will get increasingly tyrannical. I think paying off your debts and using your savings to buy hard assets and gold is a good idea no matter where you live.

So in a follow the money scenario, who is the winner here?

This appears to be result of political miscalculation rather than deliberate planning.

The reasoning is that Merkel's coalition needs a small party called the FDP which is getting hammered by its voters for supporting bailouts (however reluctantly). It's in danger of falling below the 5% threshold for representation in the Bundestag at the coming elections.

Germany also wants Finland's support in Brussels, and the Finnish Minister of Finance has been vociferously demanding an end to bailouts.

So...the ECB said to the Cypriot president, "since you have no bond-holders, your large depositors are going to have to take a 'haircut'". Anastasiades wants to hold onto the Russian Oligarch banking business, and figured that anything over 10% would cause them to go elsewhere. So the small Cypriot savers had to share the pain.

Being a politician in something the equivalent of Hoboken, he didn't realise the effect that breaking the 100% deposit guarantee would have internationally.

The ECB didn't help matters by saying repeatedly, "this is not a precedent." Everyone interprets that as apophasis - affirming something by appearing to deny it.

So, to save a 9% political party and therefore a ruling coalition, we get a situation in which the general public's confidence in the worlds banking systems has taken a huge hit.

Let's see if I understand the situation in Cyprus from reading Rush to ATMs in Cyprus on EU bailout tax (CNN, March 16, 2013) and Cyprus shuts banks as bailout backfires (CNN Money, March 18, 2013).

The banks in Cyprus are decimated by losses on Greek debt.

In June 2012, the former president, Demetris Christofia, a communist, asks the EU for a bailout of the banks in Cyprus.

The EU responds with a plan that Christofia rejects causing negotiations to stall.

There is an election. The new president of Cyprus, Nicos Anastasiades, a conservative, agrees to the EU's terms and sends the proposal to parliament for ratification on Friday or Saturday (March 16, 2013).

On Saturday the people of Cyprus hear the news and began withdrawing funds from ATM's.

On Sunday, March 17, 2013, the government of Cyprus announces that the banks in Cyprus will not reopen until next Thursday, March 21, 2013, while parliament considers the bill, thus preventing depositors from withdrawing their funds creating a bank run.

The annual GDP of Cyprus is €18 billion making the bail out (proposed loan?) a sizable fraction of their GDP.

The debt of Cyprus is about 87% of GDP (€15.7 billion).

Unemployment in Cyprus was 12% in 2012 and is forecast to rise to over 14% in 2014.

The International Monetary Fund is expected to contribute to the deal, that is, getting a loan from and making a deal with the devil.

Cypriot banks have large volumes of international deposits. Russian businesses might have $19 billion in deposits.

The conditions of the EU proposal are:

1. The EU provides a loan of €10 billion to Cyprus?

2. A one time taking (levy) of 6.76% on bank deposits of less than or equal to €100,000 but to be paid to whom (government, banks, EU)?

3. A one time taking (levy) of 9.9% from bank deposits of more than €100,000, but to be paid to whom (government, banks, EU)?

4. Overhaul of the financial sector, but what are the details?

5. An increase in corporate taxes, but what percentage?

6. Cyprus allows an international anti-money laundering audit.

How much is the value of the loan the EU proposes to give to the government of Cyprus? Is it €10 billion, or does that value include the levies and taxes?

What interest rates do the deposits earn?

Are the deposits insured by government?

I think the government of Cyprus does not have enough assets to cover deposit insurance up to €100,000 if the deposits are insured and they seize insolvent banks.

Who benefits from this deal? People who have deposited more than the insurance limit, that is, businesses and the wealthy; bond holders, bankers who made bad loans keep their jobs, do not go to jail and keep their personal assets; and the government of Cyprus who receives a loan? Anyone else? Russia? Who are the big depositors?

Who pays? Depositors with amounts below the insurance limit, taxpayers and international criminals who deposited money into banks in Cyprus?

Who wins ?
People who have taken loans without any big upfront deposits i.e. people who don't have any skin in the game.

Who loses ?
Savers. Who thought that they didn't have a skin in the game.

IMO this has been going on for quite some time now, the Cyprus story is just the icing on top of the cake.

The Banking System in Cyprus:
Time to Rethink the Business Model?

Cyprus has a large banking system compared to its economy (total assets of 896% of Gross Domestic Product or GDP in 2010), relative to the average for the EU and the Eurozone (357% and 334% respectively in 2009). Even if one excludes the overseas operations of domestically-owned banks, the size of the banking system is still large and exceeds 7 times GDP. However, Cyprus is not unique in that respect: several other EU countries have similar or even larger banking systems (Figure 1). These systems grew significantly over the past decade (Figure 2) as a result of an accommodating global environment and policy measures by national authorities to promote them as international financial centers. It is only recently that financial crisis-induced deleveraging of internationally active banks and slowdown in cross-border capital flows have halted that trend.

Two factors distinguish Cyprus from some countries with large banking systems. First, domestically-owned credit institutions - in the form of both cooperatives and commercial banks - play an important role, accounting for 63% of total banking system assets in 2009. Second, even though the biggest domestically-owned banks in Cyprus are small in absolute terms, their large size as a proportion of GDP sets them apart from those of other countries (Figure 3). Very few other European countries have domestically owned banks that are so big compared to the economy. This feature is also reflected in high concentration levels, with the three biggest banks - Bank of Cyprus, Marfin Popular Bank, and Hellenic Bank - controlling 56% of domestic deposits and 48% of domestic loans as of March 2011. These banks sit at the centre of financial groups that provide a broad range of financial services. They have also significantly expanded their operations abroad (particularly Greece) in recent years7.

The significant expansion of the Cypriot banking system in general, and of the big domestically-owned banks in particular, has been part of the broader push to promote the island as an international business centre. The strategy has undoubtedly paid off, and the contribution of the financial services sector - both directly and indirectly - to employment and GDP in Cyprus have been substantial (Figure 4).

The other countries with high banking assets to GDP ratios are Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the UK. Luxembourg is off the charts!

I overheard the other day some guys talking about a compensation for this tax in form of shares in the gas company they are planning to start up. Dunno if it has any bearing.

Cyprus bailout deal looks set for collapse amid fear of run on banks

The widely criticized Cyprus bailout deal looked set to collapse despite a last-minute compromise attempt Tuesday, plunging one of the smallest European states closer to financial oblivion.

Lawmakers appeared likely to reject the unprecedented overnight tax on all bank accounts, CNBC reported, even after the government said smaller savers would be exempted.

Russia's opposition may also be a factor: How Russia Could Take Revenge Over Cyprus Deal

Germany might be telling the world not to blame it for Cyprus' bailout plan, but one analyst told CNBC that Russia could avenge the loss of billions of dollars it has invested and deposited on the island by cutting Germany's energy supply.

So, what exactly happens in "financial oblivion"?

This has reminded me of a fear I've had for a while. We store a significant amount of cash savings in one of the online-only banks because they have higher interest rates (or at least did before zirp). It's very convenient, but at the end of the day my money is nothing more than digits on a screen. Theoretically I can do some internet-transfers to my credit union, but if things really go ugly that money would just disappear without a trace. I know most banks really aren't much different, but with the online-only model, I don't even have a local branch I can go down to with my pitchfork to try and get my money out. I'd be reliant on just calling them on the phone and trying to get my money, and who says they'd even have to answer? It doesn't sit well with me at all.

I've wondered how the digitization of banking will change things.

It's true it makes it a lot easier for the government to track and control your money, and even confiscate it if they want to.

OTOH, it might mitigate the problems we've seen in other financial crises, and it seems like it would be in the government's interest to do this, if only to keep the pitchforks in barns.

In Argentina, much of the hardship was caused by the government trying to block money from being removed from the country. That was the reason for the withdrawal limits. The limits were so low it was hard for people to live off them.

But in the digital age, it would be fairly simple to allow transactions within the country, while blocking transfers out of the country. That way, people could spend all they wanted domestically, but not take their wealth out of the country.

It could also be a way to lessen the impact of bank runs. In the past, much of the panic was caused by the lack of physical cash. But if everyone is using credit or debit cards, they won't necessarily miss paper bills. It would be fairly easy for the government to prop up a bank with cash infusions if they're just bits and bytes.

Of course, the run on Northern Rock when it failed cause their web site to crash, so there are also problems with the digital era.

For an online bank there should be a physical bank subject to law somewhere in the world. You should determine yours.

For an example of what can happen with online money management, look at what happened to ePassporte when Visa froze their accounts in St. Kitts-Nevis-Anguilla National Bank. After ePassporte declared bankruptcy most customers got their money returned by wire transfer with high fees but some, the ones with high balances, did not.

To me, this Cyprus mess is an example of what the future holds when Peak Oil really starts to bite--when we start to run out of fuel to keep the hot air balloon afloat, so to speak.

Stuff will happen out of the blue, just like no one saw the Cyprus situation coming. It will be one thing after another as growth dies and as people start to panic. A few years back, a run on a bank was considered so old fashioned--from the Depression era. But people haven't changed and will still run on a bank if it looks like their money isn't safe anymore.

It is easy to grow slowly but the financial system we have isn't good at going back slowly--it usually goes backward in huge sudden drops, and I fear that that is when the chaos could happen.

Not sure when this is all going to happen. As long as we can maintain a plateau in world oil production, I think we can stumble along, especially if we are willing to let a little inflation take place.

The best of all possible worlds would be to decline in a nice orderly manner, but once world oil production actually starts a real decline, I fear that won't be possible as the future becomes pretty obvious, and as the government loses it's abilty to help those who really need help. Probably going to be a lot of finger pointing and mass expressions of anger.

Anyway, that is the doomer scenario I fear. Hope I am wrong.

It is easy to grow slowly but the financial system we have isn't good at going back slowly...

Not limited to financial matters. Hence, the Seneca cliff:

"It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid." Lucius Annæus Seneca, Letters to Lucilius, n. 91

Need to get better at all the coming de's, as in de-growth, de-populate, de-consume...

We're good at one of them; de-nial.

Elmo – “…just like no one saw the Cyprus situation coming.” Someone just noted the potential for the Cyprus situation to become a “Black Swan”. For those unfamiliar:

Specifically, Taleb asserts[7] in the New York Times: "What we call here a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme 'impact'. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable."

Outlier - How many times have we seen even the possibility of depositors’ assets being used in such a manner? Thus an inability to assign any reasonable statistical probability of such an event happening.

Extreme impact: While it may have a severe impact on those depositors I can think of an even much broader global impact: how will depositors in other banking systems respond? A cautious wait and see approach or a quick movement of capital from one system to the next? And if that occurs on a large sale how sever might the impact be globally? I don’t know…just speculation at this point. But the response to the Cyprus situation might develop into a much bigger global BS than the BS happening inside Cyprus.

Post event explanations: We’ve already seen plenty of that already: assets greatly exceeding Cyprus GDP; huge non-Cypriot depositors, high interest rates with high attached risk, money laundering accusations, etc.

If this does turn into a serious Black Swan I suspect it won't take long. The world is connected at the speed of light today.

As long as we can maintain a plateau in world oil production, I think we can stumble along

Just remember that said plateau must serve the needs of a quarter million additional people each and every day. And that net energy is relentlessly declining, year by year, month by month, well by well.

Yes, I agree with that, which is why I WAS expecting/hoping for a little inflation. I always thought that the best way to slowly go backwards was with inflation.

For instance, assuming we have a 1% decline in oil/energy per person (whether from decreasing oil production or increasing population, or both). Then by increasing the money supply by 1%, at least some liquidity could be maintained for orderly debt repayment, even as we slowly see a decline in real asset values. But what confuses me now is that even as the Fed. continues to increase the money supply, inflation stays low, even as GDP also declines (remember, essentially 0% growth in 4th quarter).

Right now, as it is, it seems that even with the money supply being increased, high oil prices are relentlessly grinding down the economy to the point where all the extra money isn't stimulating anything. Maybe deflation, not inflation, is the logical out come of Peak Oil, in which case we probably go backwards very quickly.

Just remember that said plateau must serve the needs of a quarter million additional people each and every day.

clifman, it isn't quite that bad. It is closer to 200,000 per day. Party on.

All I know is, this sets a terrible example. All over the world cash-strapped governments are saying to themselves, "We didn't know we could do this." Expect many more state-sponsored bank robberies.

If Cyprus really is in such deep trouble, how about selling it to the Chinese? Russia sold Alaska. Greece could sell Cyprus. And it would upset the Turks no end. Another plus.

Cyprus Now Set To Vote Against Bailout, Ruling Party To Abstain Guaranteeing Failure To Ratify "Bail-In"

It appears that Cyprus is now ready to escalate, following news now coming fast and furious, that the Parliament will go ahead and vote after all, but not in a good way as even the Cypriot ruling party, formerly the only party willing to vote Yes on the Bail-In, would abstain according to Dow Jones, which means there is no support at all in the Cypriot parliament for the deposit haircut proposal.

It looks like things are going to get interesting.



Now what?


Lawmakers in Cyprus have rejected government plans to impose an unprecedented tax on bank deposits, throwing into doubt a €10 billion euro bailout agreed with the European Union just three days ago.

Failure to secure emergency loans from the EU would leave Cyprus facing a banking collapse and default.

Maybe the Russians will buy Cyprus now ;-/

Saw a newsreport on NHK World less than an hour ago that the electrical power cooling the fuel rods from the three damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi plant had failed. But on visiting the NHK World website now, I see no mention of it. Anyone know anything about this?

Not Cool!!!

E. Swanson

Still on top on NHK's Japanese site:


It says it stopped around 7 pm, they are working on it but still don't know what broke, etc.

You need to search for 東京電力 :-)

There's a story about the power failure in today's NYT:
Blackout Halts Cooling System at Fukushima Plant

The story claims that there was "a faulty switchboard", which took out the power to the pumps feeding cooling water to all 4 pools. The failure also "briefly cut off electricity to the command center at the plant, though power was quickly restored". Looks like a rather poor design, given that a single point of failure caused such a large problem...

E. Swanson

This just in: good news:

Yoshihide Suga, the chief government spokesman, sought to allay concerns.

“In a sense, we have put in place measures that leave no room for worry,” Suga told reporters in a regular press briefing.

What could possibly go wrong?


Just on the chance there are some newbies around today. Otherwise most know the story as well as I do.

“It is already widely accepted that the availability of shale gas resources has fundamentally changed the outlook for natural gas as a source of energy. Prospects for unconventional shale and tight oil production are more uncertain though. Could its development foreshadow a long-term decline in oil prices, as happened during the mid- to late 1970s after the 1973 Middle East war triggered a surge in oil production?”

Point 1 – The shale gas has been known and available for many decades.

Point 2 - Horizontal drilling has been utilized to produced fractured shales for more the 20 years. Frac’ng has been well established for more than 40 years. The horizontally drilled and frac’d Austin Chalk in Texas was the hottest play on the planet back in the 90’s.

Point 3 – The decline in energy prices in the 80’s was due to global recession and not an increase in production brought on by the late 70’s price spikes. In fact, global oil production dropped significantly in the early 80’s.

Point 4 – The ME war caused a surge in oil prices but not surge in oil production. Even with 2.5X as many rigs drilling in the U.S as we have today our oil production decline rate only stalled for a couple of years before continuing its decline for the next 35+ years until the recent price driven boom in the oil shales.

Point 5 – The oily shales may provide “…a long term decline in oil prices…”. Obviously not possible since the development of the oily shales only began because of escalating oil prices. Just as happened when NG prices were heading towards $13/mcf and the industry responded with 1,600 rigs drilling for NG. And just as the industry responded by reducing that rig count 75% when NG prices fell. Obviously the availability of NG shale resources, at today’s prices, hasn’t changed the outlook for NG as an energy resource. In fact, current low prices have also slowed the development of conventional resources. Fortunately the NG associated with some of the oily shale plays has helped increase production as the earlier gas shale wells are depleting quickly. If the observations that the economic value of the remaining oil shale locations is diminishing not only does the boom require continued high oil prices but may begin to decline if prices don’t increase.

Such articles can really be dangerous IMHO. Not so much that it offers a continuation of increases in the U.S. oil production rate but that they offer the possibility that it “foreshadows a long-term decline in oil prices”. It’s already difficult to convince J6P that there’s a problem. Offering this false sense of possibility security will only delay acceptance of the reality of the future as most here see it.

Rockman wrote:

Point 3 – The decline in energy prices in the 80’s was due to global recession and not an increase in production brought on by the late 70’s price spikes. In fact, global oil production dropped significantly in the early 80’s.

As I recall, the price of crude fell sharply in 1986 after the Saudis opened the taps and flooded the market to punish the other OPEC nations who were cheating on their quotas. The price of oil dropped below $10 a barrel briefly. It's been said that the Saudis were also motivated by political considerations, that is, they also intended to hit the Soviets who were fighting Muslims in Afghanistan, in collusion with Ronny RayGun.

E. Swanson

Dog - Yep...global oil production had dropped to it's lowest near term level in 1982-83. It didn't return to the 1980 level until 2090. So even with those very low 1986 prices it still took the economies 4 years to rebound fully. A lot of folks have a difficult time appreciating the time lags. But that 4 year swing was actually pretty fast compared to other past events.

I would echo the point that none of these oil and gas sources are new - geologists have known about them for decades. And none of the technology is new either - I have worked for companies that started fracking wells in large numbers in the 1950's. Horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing are more or less routine things to do in oil fields with a low vertical oil columns and low permeability. These fields were not developed until now because they are marginally economic at low oil prices.

The thing that is different is high prices - $100/barrel is enough to bring oil out of the ground that would not otherwise be produced. So, don't look for long term price drops because of this new production. Prices will continue to stay high, and probably increase in future.

It is tough for the public to grasp the high prices angle when they are told on all sides that we have new tech working to unlock the shales.

E.g. the head of the USC Energy Insitute twenty-seven seconds into this bloomberg vid: http://www.bloomberg.com/video/inside-california-s-trillion-dollar-oil-b...

"for the first time people have the technology to go back and produce from the source.."

So who are USC anyhow? "The USC Energy Institute (USCEI) was launched in 2008 to create a university-based framework to support and expand opportunities in energy-related research, education, and public policy development."

Mass – “…for the first time people have the technology to go back and produce from the source”. Just in case you haven’t seen the post before: the oldest commercial NG play in the U.S. is the New Albany Shale…another reservoir that also serves as its own source rock. There were street lights in Lexington, KY, fueled by NAS gas over 100 years ago. I frac’d and produced my first self-sourced reservoir in 1978.

You can really develop a sense of hopelessness when you realize that such foolish statements are so readily latched on to by a public that needs to believe matters are getting better.

Geeze, Rockman. Now you will need to submit this same post every day to counter the regular daily bilge from the MSM. Do you think you're up to it?


Zap – I’m sure there are more than a few TODsters who are as tired of reading my repeats almost as much as I’m tired of writing them. But I still get some positive responses from names I don’t recall seeing before. That’s why I try to warn the regs to skim by some of my posts. If I weren’t so lazy I would build my own website and just refer folks to those Golden Words of Wisdom. OTOH I sit on my butt 23 hours with a monitor in front of me during most of those waking hours. And I can multi-task: like watching one of my Brit cop shows as I type this post.

Hey, you are just well-logging. Push a button once every 15 minutes and check in the graphs on the screen once in a while. You got lots of time :c)

Royal Institute Recognizes Passive House Founder

The Royal Institute of British Architects has recognized the “father of Passive House,” Wolfgang Feist, Ph.D., with one of twelve annual Honorary Fellowships awarded to non-architects for their contributions to the field.

Feist, who founded the Passivhaus Institut in Germany in 1996 and is its current director, says the award “shows that architecture is aware of the environmental challenges” it is facing, and notes that “high levels of energy efficiency and excellent architectural design go hand in hand.” The awards ceremony was held in London on February 6, 2013.

A well deserved honour.

The cheerleading is getting out of hand today on the MSM. NBC and CNBC are doing a four-part series on:

'It's real': Energy boom dawns in America

As a result, U.S. oil and gas production is growing so rapidly - and demand dropping so quickly - that in just five years the U.S. may no longer need to import oil from any source but Canada, according to Citigroup. And the International Energy Agency projects the U.S. could leapfrog Saudi Arabia and Russia to become the world’s biggest oil producer by 2020. IEA sees the U.S. becoming a net oil exporter by 2030.

Indeed impressive, and article closed to comments ...

Click "discussion" at the bottom. Typical responses (If Obama would just get out of the way)..

They are being deliberately deceptive here. Everything on this chart is in thousands of barrels per day. There was only a single scale need. Yet they graph consumption on the left hand scale and production on the right hand scale and make it look like that they are indeed narrowing the energy gap.

Of course they tell us they are doing this in print that is barely visible and most will not even bother to read. The point is, it is a lie, the energy gap is not really narrowing, not by that much anyway. We are nowhere near becoming a net petroleum exporter.

Energy Gap photo EnergyGap_zps1ae64c8f.jpg

Ron P.

Wow, as deceptive graphs go, that one deserves some kind of award.

I'm trying to insert a comment to point that out but the site won't accept my usual login. Someone with a Facebook account may have better luck.

Agreed - there is no purpose to that construction other than to deceive.

Yeah! That was a good one. Way to lie and still leave yourself an out. I bet over ninety percent of the audience gets fooled!

Edit: I said the graph is in thousands of barrels per day. I meant millions of barrels per day. Sorry.

Note also the scale on the left hand side, consumption, one inch represents about 12 million barrels per day, 7 mb/d to 19 mb/d. The scale on the right hand side, production, one inch represents 3 mb/d, 4 mb/d to 7 mb/d. So it appears that production is gaining on consumption 4 times as fast as it really is.


Consumption is about 19. Production is about 7. They show net imports to be about 7. Shouldn't net imports be higher? They even say that the gap is visually exaggerated.

They have sort of covered their ass but it is a form of disgusting mendacity nevertheless. They know the visual effect will trump the fine print. And what is the purpose of this exaggeration.

Also, the curves are visually misleading as production has increased less than consumption has decreased yet the curve would make you think otherwise.

Who profits from misleading the public in this way? It's gotta be about the money and the aversion to competition from alternative energy and lifestyles.

Consumption is about 19. Production is about 7. They show net imports to be about 7. Shouldn't net imports be higher?

No, the difference is because they are mixing apples and oranges. They are showing production and imports of Crude + Condensate. But the consumption they are showing is obviously All Liquids. They really screwed up here, if they had shown everything as Crude + Condensate, or everything as All liquids, either way the gap would have been narrower.

Ron P.

I guess the blue/green are in the left hand axis, that shows a deviation of 16 units. The right hand axis not only begins at4 vs. 7. It goes to 8 vs. 23. So that the "large" variation in red is actually 4 x its actual change relative to the left axis. Then, being superimposed, we have this wierd visual illusion of virtual equality of solid red and solid blue/green.

The classic smoke and mirrors; the illusion is all that is there. And, strangely in this case, it is so obvious that one wonders why it was done. Do the Petro Powers really believe that people are so stupid?

No... never mind. It is obvious that they do. I only wish someone would tell me why, in the name of Rocknam's Dog, it was published.



This graph is absolutely flabbergasting to me! I would like to use it in a class to illustrate lieing with stats/graphs. In scaling this image some of the text got a little bit patchy. I can certainly use it as-is, but do you have a link to the original? Thanks...

Yes, the the link was in Augjohnson's post that started the thread:

But the graph in that article is just as patchy. A better graph was published last month by CNBC:

And Jim Hansen wrote about this deception in one of his blogs last month:

Jim writes a great blog. Note: This is not the James Hansen of NASA and global warming fame.

Ron P.

Thanks Ron.

That CNBC version is actually worse in a way - they don't indicate which line goes with which Y-axis! Three different colored lines, and both Y-axes are labeled in black. Sheesh!

You're welcome Sgage.

To all those who are truly interested in the Bakken, if you get a chance you should pick up the March issue of National Geographic. The cover story is: America Strikes Oil The Promise and Risk of Fracking. The write up is a lot of fluff but they have a great display on pages 46 and 47. It is a drawn picture but it gives a great picture of the wells in most of the area of the Bakken.

There were a lot of traditional wells drilled early on in the Nesson Anticline. Most of these early wells were vertical wells that depended on oil that left the source rock and settled at the top of the anticline.

There are also a lot of "inactive, dry or abandoned wells". These are very hard to spot because they are yellow dots on white paper. Well they are hard for me to spot because I have defective color vision. But I think What this means there are a lot of wells being abandoned each month. I think this can throw us off in our calculations because North Dakota only reports "total active wells" each month. We then subtract last months number to find out how many new wells there were this month. But this number is seldom correct because they do not tell us how many wells were shut down.


And more visually accurate zero scaled EIA charts, from 1949 through 2011:


Regarding US production, in the context of global production, following is a data table showing crude only production (presumably less than 45 API gravity) for 12 OPEC countries, which Ron put together. Condensate, a byproduct of natural gas production, is not counted as crude in this data base. 

2005: 30.7 mbpd
2006: 30.5
2007: 30.1
2008: 31.1
2009: 28.6
2010: 29.2
2011: 29.8
2012: 31.1

These 12 countries account for at least 40% of global crude oil production, and they have not shown a material increase in crude production since 2005.   Unfortunately, as best that I can tell, there are only two crude production data sources--OPEC and Texas RRC.

Even if we use the EIA's crude + condensate (C+C) data base, global C+C production only increased by about 2% from 2005 to 2012, from 73.8 mbpd in 2005 to about 75.5 mbpd in 2012. 

In any case, it seems very likely that the billions of dollars spent by the global oil industry--and the thousands of wellbores--were only sufficient to maintain basically flat global crude oil production for seven years, despite a doubling in global crude oil prices.

Thanks westexas - that's how the data ought to be presented!

When you look at the charts at your link, "The Big Bounce" alluded to in Chart 1 of the second story in this DB "don't look quite so big". Not starting your scale from zero can really amplify small trends.

Alan from the islands

I think that the US is showing an "Undulating Decline" in production since 1970.

in just five years the U.S. may no longer need to import oil from any source but Canada,

That assumes that Canada will continue to export all its surplus oil to the US. Quite a bit of the Canadian reserves are now owned by Chinese state-owned oil companies, and one would assume that their ultimate goal is not to sell it the US, but to ship it to their own oil refineries in China. Otherwise, why would they have spent billions of dollars (in US currency!) to buy those resources?

Canadian governments and oil companies don't really care where the oil goes as long as they get the best price for it, and at the moment the US is far from paying the highest prices. The US government appears to have taken its eye off the ball in securing its oil supply and is assuming it doesn't need the oil any more. The next decade will probably establish the truth or falseness of that assumption.

The Chinese might be very happy to sell the oil to the US and repatriate the US$ profits to China while Canada gets stuck with an appreciating currency.

"Otherwise, why would they have spent billions of dollars (in US currency!) to buy those resources?"

I hear their currency has been floating a bit of late. To the extent that they aren't buying as many treasuries to offset the huge trade imbalance, could be they just have a growing stack of dollars searching around for an investment. And there's been no better investment in history than selling petroleum to the US, right?

Now, few years down the road, if the US can no longer pay the going rate...hmmmmm...wait...there's just no downside for them, is there?


a - The spin: “The ability to drill these long-reach horizontal wells into reservoirs we could never reach before was a big change for the industry,” said Foutch, head of Oklahoma-based Laredo Petroleum...The key year was 2003,” said Daniel Yergin referring to the first use of horizontal drilling combined with fracking. “That was when it was proof of concept. So for five years, it unfolded quietly with the independents. In 2008, that’s when the majors got interested”.

The reality: They began horizontally drilling the Bakken 26 years ago in 1987. The hottest play in the U.S. 20 years ago was the horizontally drilled and frac’d Austin Chalk in Texas. There were days where I could see from one spot the derricks of 20+ rigs drilling the AC. The proof of the ability to produce the shales was established long before 2003. I did my first big frac on a shale in 1978…over 35 years ago. That "first use of horizontal drilling combined with frac'ng" (whoever actually is making that claim) is not spin...it's an easily proven lie.

The spin: “Our logistical system needs to catch up with these new supplies,” said Yergin. “Five years ago, no one would have thought that North Dakota would be supplying oil to a refinery in Philadelphia.”

The reality: Here is where East Coast refineries find themselves in real difficulty. http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/17/column-campbell-idUSL1E8KH7T82...

“Once sufficient transport capacity is available and the price of Bakken crude oil plus transportation costs is below that of a Gulf Coast alternative like LLS, Gulf Coast users will be willing to bid up the wellhead price of Bakken… Given the logistical challenges that some coastal refiners face, particularly on the East Coast, some plants that may have been counting on cheap Bakken crude to provide a competitive edge, may now be returning to international crude markets.”

“Without being able to extract more value from a barrel of Bakken oil than a competitor with cheaper transport links, East Coast refiners face being priced out of the Bakken market….Moreover even if these refineries succeed in building new rail links that eliminate the need for barging, they may still be priced out of the market…When two refineries compete for the same barrel of oil, the plant that is able to extract the most value from the crude can afford to pay a higher price for the crude…Thus, if transportation costs to the East Coast were to come down to around the same price as it costs to move Bakken oil to the Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast refiners may still be able to pay more for Bakken crude. ..Since Gulf refiners can make more high value fuels from Bakken than the old East Coast plants they can afford to pay more for the raw materials.”

In case you didn’t know: the Keystone p/l line is being run through the Bakken play. With the ongoing removal of the Cushing bottleneck the KLP will be able to dump both Bakken and Canadian oil into the Gulf Coast p/l system. In a couple of years 800,000 bbl/day of Bakken/Canadian oil will have the cheapest transport cost system availble...a pipeline. And it will lead to Gulf Coast refineries.

Thank God that Canada is an American province.

It is only some Canadians that don't understand this.

hey, I'll be watching Continuum a bit later tonight. Canada isn't a province -its a state!

It's a defacto Protectorate ;-/

Why is the IEA so conservative? Hell, the way that graph is drawn as Darwinian highlights, looks like the US will be a net exporter next month!

This cheer-leading is becoming annoying to me. I had a brief discussion on the phone yesterday with a close associate of Jamaica's Minister of Science, Technology Energy and Mining. I was trying to get a feel for how committed the administration is to renwables in general and solar PV in particular, bearing in mind recent posts by TODer Substrate, illustrating the amount of fuel importation cost savings each Megawatt of wind energy or solar PV can result in for countries with no FF reserves or production.

It was obvious that, the overwhelming focus was on the individual minister's election promises, to bring down the price of electricity. There was no inkling of any awareness of the risks of fuel cost escalation or fuel scarcity that will accompany Peak Oil. I know that this minister received a DVD with some Peak Oil documentaries and links to Peak Oil related sites some time in 2008, after his party lost the general elections held in late 2007. athough he showed signs of taking in some of the material, it seems that this Peak Oil script is taking too long to unfold and this cheer-leading is casting doubt on the whole idea. As a result, interests that use non-renewable resources to provide a stable electricity supply, will continue to be able to exert undue influence on political decision makers. This applies as equally to the US, Germany and Japan as it does to Jamaica.

IMHO opinion, the entrenched electricity providers in my neck of the woods will eventually end up like those in many parts of India and their promise to provide a stable electricity supply will be unfulfilled, let alone their promises to reduce prices. In the meantime the administration does not see a role for solar PV to become a significant source of electricity because, it can't reduce the cost to those who can't afford to invest in PV. The problem for Jamaica is that the overall peak in electricity consumption is after dark so, even if solar PV could completely eliminate the lesser mid day peak, the utility would have to maintain large amounts of reserve capacity to accommodate the late evening peak. Of course they would prefer to run that reserve capacity more rather than less, even if it strains the island's ability to pay for the fuel!

We are slowly wedging ourselves between a rock and a very hard place!

Alan from the islands

One or two pumped storage plants could retire much of that "peaking" power. And since it runs on oil, excess solar at noon could be used to pump the water uphill.

Some capital $, but worth it !

Also, Jamaica surely has much more small hydro potential than you are using.


Almost every day we see signs that China sits atop a massive bubble. They have a real estate bubble, a pollution bubble, an energy consumption bubble and now we have word that their Growth/GDP bubble cannot be sustained. In quotes below all bold theirs.

China: 'Airpocalypse' Now

China at the point of 'model exhaustion'

China’s economic model, which has delivered a genuine economic miracle over the last 30 years by lifting more people out of poverty than ever before in human history, is increasingly tapped out. While the authorities have been talking about rebalancing the economy since at least 2006, China’s macroeconomic imbalances have become progressively more extreme. The economy now has an investment share of ~48% of GDP, which no other economy has been able to reach, let alone sustain. Unsurprisingly diminishing returns are increasingly apparent.

And the torrid pace of increased coal consumption shows little sign of abating. Despite 2012’s sluggish 7.8% GDP growth, coal imports rose by more than 105 million tons. Regionally, Indonesia and Australia have been the key beneficiaries, with their coal exports over the last five years rising by around USD 25bn and USD 40bn, respectively.

Ron P.

Thank you for posting that Ron

One question is, are the Chinese storing that coal or consuming it? My thought is that they are converting USD to things like coal, gold and whatever else they can get their hands on that they feel will need in the future. But that is just my opinion, It is what I get from that coal import graph you posted. If they are consuming it there should be a corresponding graph of electrical power production somewhere out there. No?

are the Chinese storing that coal or consuming it?

Within the timescales relevant to this discussion, the Chinese are consuming it. Coal does not hold value as an inventory, like a precious metal, but has to be consumed or it breaks down. Electric generation stats in China would bear this out, but are harder to come by.

Coal does not hold value as an inventory, like a precious metal, but has to be consumed or it breaks down

I'm not quite sure I understand this. Coal has been sitting in the ground for eons. Unless it catches fire (i.e., Centralia) or is unwisely stored in the open (where it can be lost to rain, wind, UV radiation, etc.), how would it "break down" in a timescale meaningful to humans?

Oxidation in open air would be my bet but here is a rather old US Navy article about storing coal under water:


The Navy seemed to think it is not worth the effort as there would be only a 1% loss per year. Profligate lot , eh?

I doubt very seriously that China is storing very much coal. Of course they have working reserves but it is likely that is all.

Swiss know-how helps fight Beijing smog

(Beijing) city authorities are promising clean air by 2030.

“That’s far too long!” says Zhou Rong, of Beijing Greenpeace. She points out that half the coal burned in the world every year is burned in China.


Global demand for coal is expected to grow to 8.9 billion tons by 2016 from 7.9 billion tons this year, with the bulk of new demand — about 700 million tons — coming from China, according to a Peabody Energy study. China is expected to add 240 gigawatts, the equivalent of adding about 160 new coal-fired plants to the 620 operating now, within four years. During that period, India will add an additional 70 gigawatts through more than 46 plants.

Global demand for coal will grow by 12.7 percent by 2016. And some people are actually expecting that, CO2 emissions will go down. Wow! Wake up and smell the coffee. There is no hope, none whatsoever, that greenhouse gasses will decline. This behemoth cannot possibly be turned around.

Well, let me hedge that statement a bit. Total world economic collapse could possibly cause a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Possibly... I don't know what affect burning the world's supply of forest for cooking and heating would have on greenhouse gas emissions. That is verses what we are doing right now.

Ron P.

Thanks Ron.
We are watching a very very big story.
China still has a smaller economy than EU, but increasing consumption of coal looks like 19thC England x10!
There was a peak back then - there must be one now.

GDP at 10% growth per annum doubles in 7 years. 7% growth gives us 10 years to see the result. Even you and I are going to see this pan out!

(My guess the drama will play in the next few years - about the same time I have been signed already up to TOD!)

Phil H

"I doubt very seriously that China is storing very much coal. Of course they have working reserves but it is likely that is all."

Ron, this graph (link) of Chinese electrical production seems to support your statement.


On this: "Total world economic collapse could possibly cause a decrease in greenhouse gas emissions. Possibly."

I had high hopes for fast collapse when Lehman bit the dust, but it would have had to be swift or we would be eating the last bit of grass cooked with the last bit of twig, which seems to be what we are setting ourselves up for ...The Long Whimper.

And due to lag effect the climate are now in balance with CO2 levels of around 1975. I can have grandchildren before we see the climate that is in balance with 2013 CO2 conc. And we keep upgrading emission rates...

Well its not a simple lag. Some of the change will happen quite quickly -say about a month (roughly the equilibration time of the atmosphere), near surface waters might take a year or two, deep ocean water several hundred years. Speaking of a lag is just a crude mental shortcut. We are seeing the effects of the recent CO2 concentration, we aren't seeing the additional effects of decades of the ocean catching up...

Yes, that is how it works. The warming of the air is almost instantaneous. But then the ocean waters need to catch up. While they heat up, they draw their heat from the atmosphere, wich cools down a bit. As the ocean surface water warms up, this effect is reduced and the temperature of the air draws closer to its real temp. This is the 40 year lag. Naturally we can't know exactly how long this lag is on average, and I can imagine places far inland has a shorter cycle time.

I'm curious what changed in early 2009 to cause this huge spike in coal imports. I undertstand China is trying to grow its economy, but there appears to be an order of magnitude swing in the trade $balance in just a couple years. Have coal prices also spiked to further steepin the negative slope of the graph?

The difference is likely due to China no longer being able to increase domestic production. Prior to 2009 all of the growth in consumption came from growth in domestic production, so isn't visible on this graph. In 2009, this growth could now longer keep up. As exports were previously presumably only a small fraction of production, a small absolute change can make a huge relative change which is what you are seeing on this graph.

That effect is also the basis of the Export Land Model. Small absolute changes in production or consumption make a large difference in your import / export ratio if you are close to balanced.

Why would you use USD to monitor coal imports? Wouldn't metric tons, or BTU or MJ be more apropraite?
China's CO2 emmisions per capita are still nowhere near some of the higher emmitters likes of USA.
I have been hearing about China's impending collapse into disaster for years now, it's getting a bit lame. Pleanty of nations have had bubbles and collapse, with little material long term impact on quality of life, the Japanese property and equity bubbles were far larger on most scales then anything in China currently, yet quality of life is still very high. I think a lot of the negativity surrounding China is rascism/anti communism/nationalism, not so much based on rational analysis. It appears the western economic model is not the only way to prosperity, big suprise to some, and others refuse to admit that it's possible.

Bradley Manning's Statement To Court Martial Leaked (AUDIO)


"The video depicted several individuals being engaged by an aerial weapons team. At first I did not consider the video very special, as I have viewed countless other war porn type videos depicting combat. However, the recording of audio comments by the aerial weapons team crew and the second engagement in the video of an unarmed bongo truck troubled me."" (TRANSCRIPT)



Kill Anything That Moves

Chris Hedges book review of 'Kill Anything That Moves' by Nick Turse


Book Release at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


Transport Beyond Oil by Island Press


And a link to the book.


I wrote the chapter on freight, but I cannot attend due to caring for my father.

Best Hopes for Those that can Make it,


Do you have a draft of your chapter on your website (or whereever) that TOD readers can access?

I signed a paper with Island Press not to do that for at least 1 year after publication.

I can respond to personal requests for a "review" copy of my chapter, one ta a time.

My Email is linked to my name (just click).

Best Hopes,


According to Al-Naimi above, there is so much shale-oil out there (In places like Poland where everyone is pulling out) that Saudi are going to chuck their oil supply cushion, its just not needed. Also he says its expensive. I guess the ror on those shale gas wells has them more excited.

10,000 could die in Northwest quake, chilling report says

The Cascadia Subduction Zone, just off the regional coastline, produced a mega-quake in the year 1700. Seismic experts say another monster quake and tsunami are overdue.

"This earthquake will hit us again," Kent Yu, an engineer and chairman of the commission, told lawmakers. "It's just a matter of how soon."

When it hits, the report says, there will be devastation and death from Northern California to British Columbia.

Many Oregon communities will be left without water, power, heat and telephone service. Gasoline supplies will be disrupted.

...The report says that geologically, Oregon and Japan are mirror images. Despite the devastation in Japan, that country was more prepared than Oregon because it had spent billions on technology to reduce the damage, the report says.

My kid lives down there. We talked about this last week; he says it's the last thing he's worried about. Hope he's right. Puget Sound's vulnerability to the subduction zone was first coming out when I was living out there and nobody seemed to pay it much attention then.

I live in Fremont about 2 miles from your son. As in any earthquake prone area, there are four potential major risk factors:

  1. tsunamis
  2. seiches
  3. landslides
  4. soil liquefaction

If you look at the USGS page on Pacific Northwest Geologic Mapping and Urban Hazards and look at any of the maps you'll see that he's actually in a pretty safe spot. No tsunamis. Lake Union is too small for a big seiche. No large, unstable slopes. No "unconsolidated young deposits".

Although it makes sense to take precautions (like bolting your house to its foundation) I don't think most of urban Seattle is unusually susceptible to natural hazards of the earthquake or lahar variety.

Plus we get a free pass on most other natural disasters like droughts, heat waves, ice storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, lightning, hail, mosquitoes, sun burn and conservatives ;-).

All in all, I think it's a pretty awesome place to be even with our prospects for a very infrequent big earthquake or volcanic eruption.


The full report is available at The Oregon Resilience Plan: Reducing Risk and Improving Recovery for the Next Cascadia Earthquake and Tsunami (big PDF).

I haven't had time to read it yet, but I will. Besides being interested in most things geo related, I am originally from that part of the world, and still have close family in the valley and on the coast.

Our schools drill for it several times a year and even the small village close to where I live has an evacuation route and that is 1/2 way up the east coast of Vancouver Island. I have three big bridges to pass to get home and that's what i worry about....getting home if I am in town. It is a long walk. I always have visions of the Anchorage quake and the recent footage of Kobe (what 10-12 years ago?) to give impetus for plans and supplies.

Regards Paulo

18 years ago. Time flies.

Mainland China's First Default Raises Specter Of China's Credit Bubble Collapse

For the first time, a mainland Chinese company has defaulted on its bonds. SunTech Power Holdings has been clinging on by its teeth but after failing to repay $541mm of notes due on March 15th - and following four consecutive quarters of losses through the first quarter of 2012 and since then having failed to report quarterly earnings - owed to Chinese domestic lenders, the firm is restructuring.

I wouldn't read too much into this default. There are quite a few solar panel companies in China, and for several years there were suggestions mergers were inevitable, but for some reason that hasn't panned out. If they won't merge then some are going to default.

Suntech was the worlds largest producer as recently as 2011! Their panels are all over the place (including on my roof). They ain't a second or third tier company. But they fell for a 3/4 billion dollar financial fraud.....

Well, when you add a story linked to in this post about the losses of Yingli, a manufacturer that sold 2.3 gigawatts in 2012, we see signs of a disturbing pattern. Six days or so before I read the Yingli story, in a post in the discussion following the infamous key post, "The Price of Solar Power", I wrote:

I suggest to you that PV module manufacturing is highly automated and the reason China has been able to take over the market is through heavy government subsidies on setting up manufacturing operations coupled with the sheer size of the Chinese operations.

I now suggest that Chinese firms may well be engaging in predatory pricing. Evergreen is one notable victim and there are probably a few others. What is wrong with having pv maufacturing facilities spread out across the world? What are the dangers in having it all concentrated in China? Why are the Chinese so willing to sustain losses?

It's fine for me to talk. Last week I took delivery of a shipment of Suntech 285 Watt panels that I got for 69 cents per Watt! Would I have bought them if they cost more? As it stands, I had sent funds to cover my order and noticed the new price on the supplier's web site just before I called to verify that they had received the funds. I just increased my order by about 29%. It's really nice to have these low prices but, I would prefer if some manufacturers were not selling below cost. It is unfair and it distorts the market.

Alan from the islands

By going bankrupt they can shed a lot of fixed costs resulting from setting up manufacturing.

They can then continue to produce at a selling price that covers their operating costs without concern for covering debt principal repayments, interest expense or return on investment.

"I now suggest that Chinese firms may well be engaging in predatory pricing. "

Ya think? Since the US ~35% tarrif on imported PV was announced, prices on Chinese panels have dropped maybe 30%, Suntech announced the closure of its AZ assembly plant, and is blaming that on the tarrif ( http://www.renewindians.com/2013/03/suntech-closes-arizona-factory-us.html ). Prices are still down at most suppliers; saw $.72 for top-of-the-line Sharp 250 watters (must buy 22), 15.2% efficient. Suntechs still available for $.59/watt (20 ft. container), JAP6-285s at $.60/watt for a pallet of 22. Surplus Suntech clearance at $.55/watt for single panels. Won't last long.

Kudos on taking delivery. Did you get any BOS stuff? Their Outback FM-60 charge controllers are a deal at $434.

Thanks for reminding me about the charge controllers! I will be needing a couple. I've also just taken delivery of a couple of grid interactive micro inverters that I will be testing over the next few weeks to see if I can get the 200+W out of them that they're supposed to be able to deliver.

Alan from the islands

"First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Gandhi

Although disputed he ever said it, the quote seems apt to what's happening. Although, based on what I've been reading on TOD (e.g.,"Narrowing the energy gap" that Ron posted above), I'd add,

"... then they fight you, then they lie, then you win."

Although it will be a Pyrrhic victory.

A – “Pyrrhic victory”…maybe. I’m not sure about the victory part. We may eventually prove to the majority that we were correct. But IMHO we only get to say I told you so. Just a debate victory. But even then I don’t expect a radical improvement in how most societies use hydrocarbons. Actually that’s not true: I expect us to behave even worse: more coal, more military adventures, less environmental stewardship. Does pyrrhic loss make sense?

But that’s just my crappy opinion of my fellow man. LOL

I recently posted

2012 Update on Norwegian Natural Gas Production, Reserves and Forecast towards 2020
Chances are that Norwegian nat gas production peaked in 2012 and the post and its charts (mainly figure 3) challenges IEA forecast towards 2035.

(Post in Norwegian, for those interested Google translate may help.)

- Rune

Energy Storage Solution for the UK: Large Scale Pumped-Storage Site

This pumped-storage site would have the capacity to store 1,800 GWh of energy,

Very ambitious.

From uptop.
UK should use shale gas to cut emissions, report says

Methane aka natural gas, seems to be one of the worst GHG known to man. Yet it's constantly reported as being green. It's par for the course for the MSM to get things wrong whenever possible so I shouldn't be as dissapointed as I am.

To me the cause seems to be that we can all see an oil spill, or a smokey chimney belching out pollution from coal, but leaky natural gas not so much. The dissapointed idealist in me realises that if the cost of fixing a leak is greater then the monetary losses incurred by the loss of natural gas, then leaks will not be fixed. The world is covered in natural gas lines, many of them aged. Lets get real about what is, and what isnt good for our environment. Admit we are going to stuff the planet to the greatest extent possible and prepare for that most likely outcome. And no I don't think increased urban density, no matter how good the transportation is a very wise response.

This may be old news, Smeagle, but it is nasty:

Japan achieves first gas extraction from offshore methane hydrate


I'm not sure if this will ever become economic, but it's just one of those moments when you realise that things like Kyoto protocol are just a lot of hot air. The only way to limit AGW is to permanently stop burning the stuff. Which will never happen, so we just kid ourselves into believing we are such great people because now we are using more gas then coal or something.

It is known that CO2 causes warming, it is known this causes sea level rise. I guess the advantage lies with those who chose to take a bit of action to prepare. There are economic theories like game theory and prisoners dilemma that explain why the best option is to look after yourself. There is no advantage to me, if I stop burning FF because I have to try to live on significantly less net energy. So the advantage goes to those who chose to burn as much as they need to improve their material wealth today, which in turn improves their ability to face the consequences of AGW, which makes AGW even worse etc. etc.

Society/The Economy does not posses the nescessary tools to take the limiting response to AGW. Or for that matter peak oil/resources etc.

Edit to add a link to "we were wrong about peak oil" George Monbiot on clathrates

Agree totally w/your 1st paragraph.

Must pick at this, however:

There is no advantage to me, if I stop burning FF because I have to try to live on significantly less net energy. So the advantage goes to those who chose to burn as much as they need to improve their material wealth today, which in turn improves their ability to face the consequences of AGW

I live on significantly less net energy by burning far less FF than typical American. Advantage to me is FAR less cost going forward. Passive solar - free. Solar thermal - rapid payback, then free. PV - higher upfront, but great insurance against rate increases, storm resilience (w/batts), independence. Toss in growing some of your own food and other 'preps', and I have to say the advantage goes to those who 'power down', not to those who 'burn as much as they need to improve their material wealth'. How does that improve their ability to face consequences? Dollars have no real value. Expense streams are liabilities.

Nate has it right - our problem is a longage of expectations. I keep trying to shorten mine. But you're right, society/the economy lacks the necessary tools (especially psychologically).

Mining clathrates is the height of insanity.

Fair point. I limit my use to what I need, for economic reasons. If I can save some money by not doing something I will, as a farmer I make these choices everday. I can't stop using FF though because then I have no income, so I burn the FF to provide an income which I use to paydown debt, and set up a self sufficient SHTFplan. So for myself I burn as much as I need, with need being the keyword.

I'm working on lowering the expectations of my family, and I think we are making a lot of progress. It's been a long time since we bought something new. Thats part of saving money too.

TBH I think the American average is far too extravagant and can come down a lot without any material impact on quality of life. Though maybe using a washing line, instead of a clothes drier is just asking too much.

This is a load of BS. There are only one thing that matter to AGW: What carbon atom stay in the ground, and what does not. How fast, when, how and why does not matter.

What is the real Bakken depletion rate? Does anyone know? Kurt Cobb says:

Behind the oil boom lurks oil well depletion

And, as it turns out, fracked oil wells are now the poster children for the problem of production decline. Average annual oil production decline rates for two of the most well-developed tight oil plays, Bakken in North Dakota and Eagle-Ford in Texas, are 38 percent and 42 percent, respectively. That means that drillers in those plays must replace 38 to 42 percent of their current production EACH YEAR before they can increase production. It’s a ferociously high decline rate, some 10 times the rate worldwide. And, this is the oil that the optimists tell us is going to raise global production!

He is saying that the Bakken has a decline rate of 38 percent. I have seen other estimates that puts the decline rate as high as 60 percent. I did some calculations and found the latter figure a lot closer to the truth.

For instance the Bakken, in January, declined by 4.6 percent. (North Dakota as a whole, declined by 4.2 percent.) 4.6 percent per month works out to be about 43 percent per year. But that decline was in spite of the fact that they put 113 new wells on line in January. And each new well produces, on average, about 400 barrels per day according to David Hughes.

Note: The entire North Dakota well count increased by only 71. This means that if the Bakken well count increased by 113 then a lot of North Dakota non Bakken wells had to be shut down.

So accounting for the additional oil from those 113 new wells I calculated that the total decline rate for all the previously existing wells was 7.1 percent in December. That would put the annual decline rate for all existing wells over one month old, at about 62 percent.

By my calculations, it takes 125 new wells per month or 1500 wells per year just to stay even. And if their production increases, assuming they get back to their annual average of 142 new wells per month, then the number of wells, just to stay even, will increase as their production increases.

Ron P.

I think year one (of a well) is roughly 60%, but the depletion rate does drop off somewhat after that. It might be that with the present depletion curve you could maintain a constant output with 38-42% drilling rate (because you have some production from older wells which are depleting a lot slower).

I hope you are right, and I also hope it becomes self evident soon. I'm bored with hearing all the cornocupian hooplabaloo.

By my calculations, it takes 125 new wells per month or 1500 wells per year just to stay even. And if their production increases, assuming they get back to their annual average of 142 new wells per month, then the number of wells, just to stay even, will increase as their production increases.

This is what so many people have so much trouble grasping.

When looking back at the exponential tight oil production increase over the last few years combined with huge claimed reserves, it's natural to conclude that this will continue into the indefinite future. The historical production increase is taken as strong proof that production will continue to increase in the future. In other words, the production will continue to increase BECAUSE it has done so in the past. This is why it's so hard to argue against cornucopians during periods of increasing production.

Although logical, The concept that the higher the production goes, the more difficult it becomes to maintain this production and the easier it is for production to drop, is a very difficult concept to grasp. Our life experiences has taught us (westerners anyways) that abundance is either already here or is just around the corner because that's all we'we ever had.

Link up top: Naimi Says $100 Crude Oil Is Reasonable Price

This article has an embedded video in which Fereidun Fesharaki, Chairman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, calls Venezuela's vast oil reserves "bogus". Fesharaki is an Iranian and once attended OPEC meetings as an adviser several Middle East national oil companies. Anyway I just thought it interesting that a former OPEC official referred to the reserves of at least one OPEC nation as "bogus".

It is also interesting that, according to this article, Saudi now says $100 a barrel oil is reasonable. They once said the same thing about $25 a barrel oil.

Ron P.

From the same article:

"So it is not a question of whether Saudi Arabia has the spare capacity, but whether we need to spend billions maintaining it all.

Billions to maintain spare capacity?? Here I thought it was just a matter opening up a few valves and an extra 3.5 million barrels/day of oil would come gushing out. To me this seems like a veiled admission that this spare capacity doesn't, and never did, exist. If it did exist, the Saudis would would surely be selling all they could at current prices. And even better if this caused the prices to drop -- it would kill off most of the American tight oil extractors.

Environmental group calls for investigation, possible charges against oilsands companies

By Marty Klinkenberg, Edmonton Journal March 6, 2013

The conservation group Ecojustice has submitted a report to Environment Minister Peter Kent that alleges bitumen upgraders used by Suncor and Syncrude Canada are depositing contaminants in the river that is home to more than half of Alberta’s fish species.

Citing a section of the Fisheries Act that says that no person “shall deposit or permit the deposit of a deleterious substance of any type in water frequented by fish,” the organization has requested that the government launch a formal investigation and provide its findings to Canada’s director of public prosecution.

Ecojustice has also requested that the results of the investigation, including all of the raw data that is collected, be made available to the public.

“The government has a legal obligation to ensure that the Athabasca River is being protected, and given that fact, they have an obligation to undertake our request seriously,” said Melissa Gorrie, a staff lawyer with Ecojustice.

Ecojustice's press release...

Ecojustice research reveals oilsands facilities pollute Athabasca River

“Ecojustice’s research paints an unsettling picture of what’s happening in the oilsands region,” MacDonald said. “The next step is clear. The federal government must immediately investigate the full scope and impact of oilsands pollution on the Athabasca River to ensure that the Fisheries Act is not being violated and that the health and wellbeing of Canadians are not being put at risk.”

Mulcair's Washington trip a 'betrayal of Canada,' Redford says
Alberta premier slams NDP leader's Keystone XL comments

NDP Leader Tom Mulcair was "irresponsible" and acted in a way that was a "fundamental betrayal" of Canada's economic interests by undercutting efforts to win U.S. approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, says Alberta Premier Alison Redford.

In an interview Monday on CBC News Network’s Power & Politics, Redford accused Mulcair of spreading misinformation when he criticized Canada’s environmental record and warned of massive job losses that could result from the contentious pipeline project.

Mulcair made the comments during a four-day trip to Washington and New York last week.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2013/03/18/pol-redford-slams-mulca...

Perhaps if the governments of Alberta and Canada were to act more responsibly, things would go just a little more smoothly.


The NDP may not be thrilled about oil sands development but they still buy into the idea that we can keep growing the economy. My view is that oil sands development represents the last big opportunity to grow Canada's economy. It's just a way to delay having to adapt to an economy with zero or negative growth. None of the political parties, including the Greens, are willing to acknowledge that the days of continuous growth are over.

On a more positive note, I had an interesting experience talking about energy with my Scout troop tonight. After demonstrating that they have a much higher standard of living than their grandparents did at their age I asked them why that was the case. The first answer I got "Universal Health Care" was way off the mark but the second single word answer "Oil" from our youngest Scout really nailed it! I expected they would have a good understanding of climate change as that is discussed in school but I was surprised at how many of them were aware that the era of cheap energy was coming to an end.

I am nearly old enough to be those kids grandfather, my father supported our family and we did not need a second or second and a half income to do that. It was like that for most of the friends I had at the time. Those scouts were more on the mark with health care than oil. Oil had no effect on the economy until Alberta's Leduc came in in 1947 and that only slightly. It was all the other resources and industry that gave Canada a high standard of living at that time, not oil. BTW I would like to hear how you define your present high standard of living. (never had to eat pink slime in my meat back then!)

Crowd shows up to object to Progress rate hike

Max Swicegood, representing CIBO, dismissed the concerns and said the key priority is keeping the lights on.

"Alternative energy has proven its inability to sustain the demands of the electrical grid on a day-in, day-out basis," Swicegood said. "The power company must have the tools to plan and produce the future electrical needs of this region... it is better to be in the light than in the dark."

Don't anyone tell the Germans their grid doesn't work - they'll be pissed!

NC Warn: Progress Energy rate hike high for residents, but no increase for some industrial users

Warren added, “It hardly seems right that the less you use, the more you pay. While residents look for ways to save money, conserve energy and reduce our carbon footprint, the percentage of rate increase grows as customers use less electricity, from 6.98% for 5000 kWh per month to 33.69% for 100 kWh per month.”

Well, you know, the German grid doesn't work...

At least in as much as they need better north-south interconnectors which they are arguing about building.

Switching off the nuclear plants (mostly in the south) didn't help and with most wind in the north-east and most solar in the south there's an issue in shipping the power.

This article covers (though I think it overstates the issues):


A lot of the criticism on renewables in Germany you see is in fact pointing out issues to do with the nuclear shutdown and grid issues, in my opinion - not issues with renewables as such. (German solar PV now at 32.7 GW installed!).

The UK is attempting to improve its grid system before renewables ramp up any further (building new interconnectors from Scotland south).

Higher electric rates make grid-tied photovoltaic systems more economic. Conservatives must be dragged along kicking and screaming into a new world. Most of them will have to die before things change.

A lot of the push-back on the rate increase is focused on the effect on the poor. There were some people that were protesting about "No rate increase for dirty energy" and I was thinking about writing in and telling them that they were barking up the wrong tree, because high prices will help push people into PV and conservation (though the rate structure punishes that). The only snag is that the state is now essentially run by "former" ::wink wink:: Duke Energy employees...so they're trying to gut the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards, etc, and I'd expect an attack on Net Metering soon.


Had a thought this morning that the fuel savings from additional mass transit might not have the potential some are expecting. Not that more mass transit wouldn’t be a plus in that regards but to what degree.

Since I start work at 6 AM I’m not out on the road when most folks are doing their thing. And obviously a lot of folks are doing their thing at rush hour commuting to work. But this morning I had an early meeting that had me out on the road at 9 am and was amazed to see how much traffic was rolling around Houston. I made note that the vast majority were single occupant cars/SUV’s and not commercial trucks/vans. And not bumper to bumper creeping along but a lot of cars moving along at a good clip.

I doubt many were out for a leisure drive. I suspect most were involved in commerce of some sorts: driving to meetings, sales calls, doctor appointments, grocery or merchandise shopping, etc. IOW not your normal commute to work class. Houston does have a big work commuter population: we love to live in the burgs even if it means spending 2 to 3 hours a day trapped in our cars. I can’t come up with the numbers but I would bet lunch the miles driven stat for those non-work commuters is high even compared to the work commuters. Shorter trips but a lot more of them. Instead of A to B to A more like A to B to C to D to E to A. And A may often be in the burgs.

So could these non-work commuters utilize mass transit to a significant degree? I doubt it even if Houston weren’t so embarrassingly short on mass transit. And Houston, with an economy still booming compared to other major cities, may not be typical of this perceived uneven distribution of drivers. In fact, the only practical mass transit we have are the commuter buses from the burgs that have their own high speed lanes on the highways. IOW not that great a potential to save fuel with many of the work commuters.

Again, any increase in mass transit would be beneficial but I wonder just how much it would reduce fuel consumption in Houston. I suspect not as much as some would hope. In other cities? I’ll let our far flung TODster report.

Useful observations, Rock.. but of course there are always some caveats with the premise of Transit that need to be kept in mind. One of them (and it may not apply to Houston, who knows?), is that the 'TOD' concept means that the structure of the city itself is also reformed by the existence of these travel options, and so it is then with the resulting variation of people's lifestyles and expectations that has to be part of the picture, and it's hard TO picture, when we see so many people who feel that this means they are being 'told' to sacrifice their familiar ways. Naturally, we all know how likely people are to vote against their comfort zones, and particularly in already tense and uncertain times.

I had an older woman call me at the store this morning, asking to assure her that we still carry 100w Incandescents, and that they aren't being outlawed. Lucky for her, we still have big and mighty 3ways that go right up to 200 or more watts.. (I think there's a 100-200-300) While lucky for me, we're getting a couple hundred of the new Cree LEDs in tomorrow, at the Efficiency Maine price specials.. but you didn't hear it from me!

"They can have my Edison Lightbulbs when they pry them from my smouldering, dead hands!"

jokuhl, I think a lot of stores in my area stocked up before the 100 Watt incandescent lightbulbs were phased out last year. I still see adds for the Edison 100 Watt lightbulbs in the store's weekly advertisements.

Best hopes for transitioning to more efficent lightbulbs without having to pry the Edison bulbs out of someone's hands.

Unsurprisingly, someone has also picked up the Twinkies Brand.. so all our Survival Shelters can still expect to be properly stocked!


By the way, my LED strips in the kitchen are still all going gangbusters, not bad for $14 per 5 meter stretch of the stuff! I like the name-brand LEDs, but have had more direct success with the DIY stuff.


Unsurprisingly indeed...the CEO's claim the union killed the company as they deploy their golden parachutes made from raided pension funds:


Gosh, Bob, your employer has Phillips 60 watt A19 softwhites on sale down here (big display); $2.97 for a 16 bulb value pack. Couldn't resist; picked up two packs to store in the root cellar. I still like them for the wood shed and our outdoor/underground pantry where they may get used 5 min/week. Instantly bright in cold weather, unlike CFLs (which reach full brightness about the time I get my wood cart filled), and I'm not going to spend $$ on an LED for the wood shed. Besides, the old Edison bulbs may be good for barter someday. Less than $.20/ea ain't bad.

That is a great price.. and you'll probably find some sentimental types who'll assure you get a healthy 1000% markup or more for the privilege, as well. Don't forget to be in the generator fuel business at the same time.. or at least sell them power from your panels, that's where they'll really be paying for them!

I just gave away through Craig's list a box of 8 500watt photofloods from my indie film days, and I still have a couple pretty 2,000 and even a 5,000 watt lamp from older Movie fixtures. Those'll be for the grandkids, I guess.

Rockman - commuting to/from work is not the predominant purpose of travel. From 2009 National Household Travel Survey Table 5:

Annual person miles traveled per household by trip purpose in 2009
33,004 - All purposes
6256 - To/from work
2078 - Work related business
4620 - Shopping
5134 - Othe family/personal errands
2049 - School/church
9989 - Social and recreational
2878 - Other

Good numbers Merrill...thanks. About a year ago I drove back from a concert in the burgs about 20 miles north of Houston. Driving down a major highway into town it was amazing to see all the cars on the road at 10 PM. A big chunk of entertainment/dining fuel use. I'm a card carrying member of the OFS (Old Fart Society) so I don't get out much after dark. I thought then that even if we had a great mass transit few of those folks in their cars would be taking the train/bus. But that’s Houston (and maybe L.A.): the city is very spread out so the “city center” has not a high population. In fact from a business stand point the vast majority of commerce doesn’t happen in the downtown area.

As far as restructuring the layout of the city that could never happen in a meaningful way IMHO. Maybe if it were so designed 40 or 50 years. But it wasn’t so it won’t be IMHO…not enough money or time. We’ve had bit of new condo construction in the city center but mostly for the younger workers. And that tiny bit of transition has taken at least 20 years. No…we are trapped by our highway planning system. We’ve spent $billions expanding the highway system to make moving the burgs even more attractive…for now.

Rockman - The walk-bus-train-bus-walk trip a) takes a long time, b) is uncomfortable in rain, heat, cold, etc and c) isn't convenient for bringing stuff along/back.

Besides the lack of convenience and functionality, you pay a high fare for public transit on a pay-as-you-go basis, while with a private vehicle you pay a high fixed cost for the vehicle, insurance, and most maintenance, and the incremental cost of driving is mainly the cost of gasoline. So, in lots of cases, it is cheaper to put gas in the car than to take the public transit.

If you don't own a car, then the choice of whether to use a private vehicle (rental car, Zipcar, cab, livery car, etc) or use the public transit is more favorable to public transit, depending on the relative costs, distance, destination, time of day, duration, and cargo for each specific trip.

However, I think that it is more likely that in the short run people will find ways to eliminate more of the vehicle miles for non-essential travel. Shopping may be less frequent, out of town sporting events may be foregone, fewer trips to visit the mother-in-law, fewer trips to hot yoga class, etc. Some activities may be less frequent, some may be closer to home, and some may be eliminated altogether.

If energy prices increase sharply, perhaps a third to half of all vehicle miles could be eliminated before people were unable to get to work at jobs essential to making the economy function (although a fair percentage of jobs would have been eliminated by the reduction in eating out, etc.).

I'm thinking along similar lines Merrill. In a future of energy scarcity what are all these people going to be doing? Even with mass transit, where are they going and what for? I think the kind of economy that cities have, where everyone is servicing each other, is going to be hit pretty hard in any kind of scarcity scenario.

GDP is distributed sort of similarly to travel. Goods in 2012 were $3.78 trillion, while services were $7.34 trillion. Of services, $1.97 were for housing and utilities, which is arguably "goods like", but is figured in GDP as an equivalent rent, rather than figuring out annualized costs of owned real estate. There is another $2.06 trillion in private investment, which includes new and remodeled residential housing, but also includes capitalized services, such as capitalized R&D.

Nevertheless, as the line item for Gasoline and other energy goods, at $0.44 trillion, goes up, quite a few other line items will go down by somewhat more. But there is enough "slack" or "waste", whichever way you prefer to characterize it, that a fairly smooth downward trajectory is possible. There would be high unemployment, much bitching, and wringing of hands among the pundit class, but people would manage. They would have it much better than in, say, Damascus.

Merrill/Smeagle – And that was my point. There is a great lack of incentive for drivers in Houston to conserve motor fuel. In addition to having a booming economy compared to other large cities we also have some of the lower gasoline prices in the country. Add that to the many $billions spend on expanding the highway system to handle traffic 30+ miles out into the burgs and almost nothing on mass transit we are locked in. Thus virtually no real incentive to VOLUNTARIALLY change. Which gets us back to the basic problem we have nationally: the dynamic isn’t going to change voluntarily IMHO. As you say higher prices will be the driving force for change. Unfortunately when those high prices kick in there won’t be time to induce significant change other than being forced to reduce consumption. And that will likely come along with an economic down turn, or even serve recession, which would make instituting a massive build out of mass transit even more difficult.

Same old problem: the best time to make changes in when you’re better able to afford it during good times. But when times are good there isn’t a strong incentive to make changes.

A truism is that urban rail saves more oil indirectly - by changes to the urban form - than directly by substitution. A few years ago Arlington County VA used 288 gallons/capita/yr. Fairfax County used 388 gallons/capita/yr and the rest of Virginia 645 gallons/capita/yr. DC 345 gallons/capita/yr. The difference is Metro.

TOD also has, overall, about 1/4th the carbon footprint of Suburbia.

Some essays for the Sierra Club




Any comments appreciated !

I am still looking for "more effective" wording,


Madrid has a population of 3.3 million and and a metro population of 6.5 million. Not so different from Houston in population.

Here are a selection of Madrid Metro maps. Imagine getting around with them (and some buses here & there).


Best Hopes,


So, given that energy use in general and FF use in particular is the driving force behind what looks like an imminent tipping point in the human experience on this planet:

Does anyone have any ideas about what we could do to precipitate an immediate and ongoing decline of, say, 5% per year in global energy consumption?

Why are we so resistant to cutting our use of something that is so transparently damaging to life on the planet?

Any bright ideas from this august gathering? Or is it "just lemmings all the way down"?

I hate to break it to you, but we are not in control.

Yes, that's the conclusion all right. Any ideas about what is really driving the bus?

7 billion people going about their lives, exploiting a temporary windfall of stored solar energy, to whatever extent they are able to access it.

Any thoughts as to why we do that?

Life exploits the flows of energy from higher to lower concentrations. Those flows are usually very limited and we evolved to be very good at exploiting them. When suddenly presented with unlimited energy we are unable to restrain, because using it is what life does. Our reasoning capability evolved because it made us better at exploiting energy flows, not because it enabled us to decide not to.

Or say it's human nature, or God's will, or destiny. How are a few people who read a site called TOD going to stop 7 billion people from using whatever energy they can? Especially when the people posting here have had more access to that energy than the majority of the population for their whole lives?

Excellent insight. Entropy, oddly enough, creates order. It's the driver behind all self-organization. And the "purpose" of the order seems to be to increase the rate of entropy. Rinse, lather and repeat.

No, we're not going to pull 7 billion people out of their fever-dreams. Nobody, not even TOD, has a responsibility to do that. But perhaps we have a responsibility to do something as useful as possible with what we know. Even if it's as simple as telling one other person,

"Don't just do something! Sit there!"

I believe we do have that responsibility, in whatever way we feel compelled to carry it out. Reading on TOD and other sites these last 7-1/2 years has increased my understanding and opened my eyes enormously, and I'm sure I'm not alone. And it still does. That's a pretty decent accomplishment, and reason enough for it to exist. Who knows what the effects of that might be, and if it might be of benefit to somebody down the road?

Third law of thermodynamics:
The entropy of a perfect crystal at absolute zero is exactly equal to zero.
At zero kelvin the system must be in a state with the minimum possible energy, and this statement of the third law holds true if the perfect crystal has only one minimum energy state. Entropy is related to the number of possible microstates, and with only one microstate available at zero kelvin, the entropy is exactly zero.

Because life is orders of magnitutde more disorderd then inanimate matter, you could argue that we are increasing entropy through population growth. You could if you forget about all the other life forms we have destroyed.

For me, the interesting one is the "Fourth Law", also known as MEPP or LMEP, which is really a generalization of the Second:


A system will select the path or assemblage of paths out of available paths that minimizes the potential or maximizes the entropy at the fastest rate given the constraints.

This seems to be where the magic happens when it comes to the production of order in the universe.

Yeah, I'm not sure it's universally accepted as the fourth law though. HT Odum's maximum power principle is along the same lines. It's more of an ecological principle then a law, but basically a species will use as much energy as it possibly can. So even if we could reduce our energy use today, there is no hope future generations will continue to do so.


No, it's not universally accepted. But it seems to have something behind it. The way I see it, Odum's MPP was primarily an observation of the ecological consequences of LMEP. IMHO Swenson's work provides the nomological underpinning for both Odum's MPP and anthropologist Marvin Harris's cultural observations that led to his principle of Infrastructural Determinism. In both men's work I think we're seeing the observational evidence of an underlying thermodynamic principle that drives both ecology and culture, from far below the level of biology, genetics or society.

For a mind-bending read on the topic try this: Autocatakinetics, Evolution, and the Law of Maximum Entropy Production: A Principled Foundation Towards the Study of Human Ecology (PDF) by Swenson.

Thanks I'll have a read.

I don't see it as a 4:th law, but as an interpretation of the 2:nd.

Yes, that's how I see it as well. But it contains some surprises that aren't obvious from a straight reading of the 2nd. The self-organizing aspect of systems that are far from equilibrium isn't something that most people associate with the 2nd Law, for example. Nor is the associated tidbit that order actually appears in the universe with a probability of 1.0, as opposed to the p=0 that most people intuit from an interpretation of the 2nd under near-equilibrium conditions.

“Popeye: [singing] I yam what I yam and I yam what I yam that I yam / And I got a lotta muscle and I only gots one eye / And I’ll never hurt nobodys and I’ll never tell a lie / Top to me bottom and me bottom to me top / That’s the way it is ’til the day that I drop, what am I? / I yam what I yam.”

It's an economic principle that drives the entire process, it has to do with discount rates among other things. I'll try and explain using the example of a poor family called A.

A have no assets or income. In other words no way to improve their situation. Climate change is already guaranteed and having an impact, so without a growing economy A has no possibility of improving their situation. In the real world a growing economy provides the opportunity for A to join the workforce or start a business. This provides A with the opportunity to purchase assets, and in some ways mitigate the most damaging effects of climate change, ie they will be able to afford food, or to relocate.

Since limiting climate change requires that we permanently stop burning FF, it effectively means A is dammned to be the worst affected. The hope is that in a growing economy we will all become rich enough to finance the changes required to mitigate the effects of climate change.

In my own life, I am running a business (BAU) and using the profits to secure against future uncertainty which means my business is growing. If growth were to stop, I would have to make do with what I have, whereas with BAU I have the chance to improve my situation.

Another part of the equation has to do with the percieved difference in value of something now, and something in the future. The further in the future something is, the greater the uncertainty, so the less value it has today. 'A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.'

This provides A with the opportunity to purchase assets, and in some ways mitigate the most damaging effects of climate change, ie they will be able to afford food, or to relocate.

Except for the fact that A in this case is much like a yeast cell that is floating in a vat of sweet juice. It ingests sugar, it grows, reproduces, excretes some waste, rinse and repeat. Life is good for a while. At some point the total number of yeast cells starts running out of the sugar they need for sustenance and the amount of waste they produce becomes too toxic and starts to make it impossible for any of the yeast to continue living. At this point there is no more hope for any of the yeast! It´s time to drink the wine...

To be clear the process is driven by physical, chemical and biological processes. All economies are wholly owned subsidiaries of the ecosystem.

In my own life, I am running a business (BAU) and using the profits to secure against future uncertainty which means my business is growing. If growth were to stop, I would have to make do with what I have, whereas with BAU I have the chance to improve my situation.

Until neither you or anyone else can any more! Therin lies the rub.

There´s a saying in Brazil: "If you run the beast will catch you. If you stay the beast will eat you!" Well, maybe it should say the beast will drink you...

'I don't have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.'

The point I was trying to make is that BAU is the economic choice because it delivers more favourable opportunities to more people then a sudden halt to the use of FF.

The point I was trying to make is that BAU is the economic choice because it delivers more favourable opportunities to more people then a sudden halt to the use of FF.

Yeah, but for how much longer? At some point it no longer matters if you can outrun me because there is nowhere that you or I or even the bear can run to.

How are those savings accounts doing in Cyprus? At any resolution that you might choose to examine it, BAU just doesn´t work anymore... and I´m not even talking about the damage that it is doing to the environment and our ecological support systems.

As for a sudden halt to the use of FF, I´m not exactly expecting that just yet but there are some dark clouds on the horizon, if perchance Westexas´Export land Model numbers are even close to being correct, I´d say that the 'U' in BAU is going to stand for 'UNUSUAL' in the very near future.

I guess we´ll have a chance to see.

I come at this a different way. Recent experience suggests that, short of a global recession, nothing reduces aggregate consumption.

Premise: Given biophysical reality, soon no other choice but to consume less. Ready or not.
Dismal as this sounds, makes behavioral transition easier. No longer need to persuade people to change. People will no longer need to judge veracity of arguments.

    1. Instead, biophysical reality will be directly perceivable, palpable and tangible.
    2. The reasons for downshifting will be blatantly obvious.
    3. Motive for change will come from interaction of reality & enlightened self-interest.

People will grieve, for a time, for a lost lifestyle. But then will get on with business of living.

So my questions would be, How to we pre-familiarize them for life-with-less?

That's an excellent question. One whose answer may not be appropriate for TOD.

Which brings up these questions for me:

WTF is TOD's purpose in life, given what most sane, intelligent people now understand about the planet, human impact, the inevitability of growth-driven disaster, the imminence of a sand-pile avalanche, and the role of energy in it all? What is TOD doing to, as you say, "pre-familiarize them for life-with-less"? Does TOD have a responsibility here? Or is it just a virtual home for the bean-counters of decline?

I dunno, but I think there is a certain hubris to the idea that because a small group of people can see the problem that we can therefore change it. I think that some things can be accomplished which can make very important differences as the accumulated results of using the stored energy play out. Some of those are in the area of public policy - big efforts like Alan is pursuing with rail - and some are smaller personal efforts to re-learn the tools required to live with less.

Some of these things could have real, important positive impacts on some individuals in the coming collapse, and maybe have a big impact as time moves on.

But in the end, we have dissipated a huge amount of energy into our environment, which must have effects which we can no longer do anything about because the energy is spent. And our exploded population will have to fall since we now lack the energy we burned. We can do useful things, but we cannot change what will happen in fundamental ways nor change the nature of humans.

I agree about the fact that we've designed the world's biggest, best one-way function, and no effort is going to change that fact. I wish Alan well with the railways, but until either the energy supply or society begins to fail, large-scale change is not in the cards as far as I can see. Cluing in individuals to what's really happening still has a lot of merit though.

"So my questions would be, How to we pre-familiarize them for life-with-less?"

We don't, that's a job for four horsemen and most particularly the black horseman, when first the white and red teach nothing.

We don't...

Well, maybe, we might.

We don't have a choice about the descent. Reality will soon have us consuming less. The horsemen might also see to it that there are fewer of us consuming. Soon enough we'll be familiar with what fewer of us living-with-less entails.

But I think that the focus is on the word "pre-."

It has to be done by patient example. Do your thing, tell others why you live the way you do, etc. But you can't really preach/teach this stuff. It has to be visceral. Just patiently and gently teach by example. Have the numbers to back up your rap, if pushed to it by the technocornucopian backlash. Which is most people. Don't get excited when they gang up on you at a family gathering or whatnot. Just smile and keep on keepin' on.

Bit on the preachy side? Ah well, I do not expect to make any converts, but thanks for taking the time to pass the word.

BTW the first two horses are Conquest and Slaughter, I would guess you know that.

Why are we so resistant..? - Momentum, and Peer Pressure, Family Pressure (?)

But to your last question, 'is it lemmings..?' ..I'd say no. It's both and many other things. As ever, the gloomy claim to have reality on their side, while the hopeful claim to have good, workable points behind them.

Gloomily Hopeful, with my work cut out for me..

Bright Ideas..
Learn and Prepare to live with less, particularly less financial obligations and energy needs.

It's useful work, it's learning, which is good for the mind, and it's buying you 'some' more margin for making it through, luck notwithstanding. (But remember the athlete who would say "My luck would always be better when I prepared and trained really hard.." whoever that was.

"... luck notwithstanding..." and "... prepared and trained really hard..."

“I'm a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” Thomas Jefferson

I think that it is fair to call us the bean counters of descent. Here you'll find the technically competent, the engineers, those who can cipher. Usually (with some exceptions) the strength is not in social change strategies, persuasive (as opposed to technically accurate) communication, or the like.

That said, many here are (re)learning to live on less. Their (re)discoveries will be vital although they might need to be repackaged for wider consumption. Maybe we need TOD-journalists, living-with-less storytellers.

Momentum, peer pressure, family pressure - yes, they're all there. Why? Where do they spring from? Why do we peers put this kind of pressure on each other? Why do we family members push each other so hard to grow and consume? Why do we feel that growth is good? Why has this momentum been building constantly - for, as far as I can tell, at least the last 10,000 years? That's the question that has me really engaged right now.

Is it bad genetics, bad morals, bad narratives? Or something else, something even deeper than our DNA? It's almost like we're in the grip of a universal force, like gravity, that's compelling us on.

Well, I think some of the normal drivers can be pointed to across that whole timespan, but I find the inclination to look at all of it as potentially flawed or wrong to be a bit oversimplifying, I have to say.

I know too many folks, both religious and non who use language that amounts to 'Sin and Damnation', and I find it a rotten way to envision our problems and the ways we might get out of them. I'm afraid those postulates about 'bad genetics' weigh the same to my ear as 'born sinners'..

We have tools available to us, we have examples of ways to improve, and we EVEN have really good examples of the unintended consequenses ('Green Revolution') of where those tools can be poorly applied and egregiously miss a factor that then makes things worse.

There are flaws in the 'Narrative', no doubt.. and this 'Economic Growth Uber Alles' is surely one, just as 'Feed the world' is also too simplistic. But I don't go from there and just decide to tar the whole species because of it, not that this was your conclusion necessarily, but you seemed to point to it a bit.

We're not 'in control', as Twilight said.. but then again, even TPTB aren't either, as this whole mess, plus things like Palestine and Fukushima are all slipping right through their fingers as much as all of ours.. And yet, we're not hapless, either, no matter what anyone says.. AND when they do start crying out from these (pardon me for saying it) Ivory Towers like TOD, saying that 'it's over' 'hate to rain on your parade, but..' .. I frankly find that to be a poor conceit, and one that offers nothing but a very high potential for becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The thing is.. it's not only 'they' who laugh at you for trying. It's WE, as well.

Keep trying. So will I.

PS; Ten years since Rachel Carson died. One person. Situation hasn't resolved, but we can see how the efforts of handfuls of people who become visible worldwide can have a pronounced role in such things.. but they won't, if someone convinces them 'it's all just a waste of time.. just forget it, you can't change anything anyway.'

..and as with such newsmakers.. you may never get proof that your part in it really became THE fundamental mover for it. I don't see that as an excuse to bow out though.

I think you are defending against something that is not there. I have not read in the comments you are replying to an attempt to rationalize doing nothing. One can try to understand what is driving events, recognize the general direction that things must go, but still believe in doing worthwhile things.

I believe unequivocally that we will collapse, that it will be at times awful for individuals, but still believe it is worthwhile trying to do things that will be helpful - even if there is no assurance of success nor expectation of knowing how I did.

J – As simplistic as it sounds it may be nothing more than “The heart wants what the heart wants”. The whys are numerous and easily challenged. But it doesn’t change the dynamics. Each decides what they are willing to do to get what they want and few have any problem justifying the effort regardless of how strong an argument is presented against their position.

Consider a well-known and easily understood dynamic: about half of all marriages end in divorce. And yet people still get married while that dynamic remains unchanged. Folks marry thinking the down side won’t hit them. They know the odds are against them but ignore them. So this is the same group that will act against AGW when many either don’t believe it or even if they do they think the odds of it negatively affecting them are much lower than getting divorced.

The heart wants what the hearts wants…even if it may hurt you in the end.

about half of all marriages end in divorce.

Which means just about as many actually succeed, so is it heads or tails >;-)

FM - So how much of your life savings are you willing to risk on a coin flip? That was my point about folks accepting higher risks to achieve better returns. BTW: did you hear about the cowboy philosopher who finally figured out marriage? Every 4 o5 five years he would look for a woman he couldn't stand and buy her a house. That was how his previous marriages worked out so he decided this was the way to go because it eliminated all the BS between marriage and divorce.

FM - So how much of your life saving are you willing to risk on a coin flip?

And what makes you think I have any life savings left after my first marriage, eh?

Anyways, Nassim Taleb in his book 'Black Swan' shows us that even the best financial advisors are doing no better than a coin toss... Not to mention that most people are throwing a pair of dice that are loaded against them.

Given that some fraction of those failed marriages represent couplings of people who had been previously married, there actually were more than half the population involved in successful marriages. The repeated failures likely represent the fact that some fraction of individuals just can't find the right match or are married for reasons which eventually lead to divorce.

Like the story about the nouveau rich guy who married a trophy wife, only to find that she later divorced him after his financial world fell apart. After she filed for divorce, she was said to have told him something like: "It was all about the money"...

E. Swanson

I am pretty sure it is genetics. Across time, it has paid almost every species to exploit the environment to the max, since there was essentially no limit to the environment. Exploiting your environment to the max meant more "stuff", which attracted more mates with whom to have more children. So people just are not comfortable with the idea of accumulating less, learning to live with less. Also, it probably has never paid to listen to end-of-the-world predictions either--those who did listen lost ground to those who didn't. Like fore most species, it has paid for humans to just keep on keeping on and taking what lumps that actually came along. We are all here because our ancestors just kept plugging away at exploiting the environment at hard as they could.

That is a blanket statement that is just not true. Many native peoples had a love and reverence of nature and saw a mind behind it and understood the basic principle of the web of life, that what you do to the web, you do to yourself.
This is an unconscious age, but it was not always so.

"When we Indians kill meat, we eat it all up. When we dig roots, we make little holes. When we build houses, we make little holes. When we burn grass for grasshoppers, we don't ruin things. We shake down acorns and pine nuts. We don't chop down the trees. We only use dead wood. But the white people plow up the ground, pull down the trees, kill everything. ... the White people pay no attention. ...How can the spirit of the earth like the White man? ... everywhere the White man has touched it, it is sore."

Wintu Woman, 19th Century.

I was just reading a paper/article by E. Richard Sorenson on what he calls "pre-conquest consciousness". The point he makes is that cultural attitudes begin with child-rearing techniques:

In the isolated hamlets in the southern forests, infants were kept in continuous bodily contact with mothers or the mothers’ friends—on laps when they were seated, on hips, under arms, against backs, or on shoulders when they were standing. Even during intensive food preparation, or when heavy loads were being moved, babies were not put down. They had priority.

There was always a place for them against the body of a ‘mother’ or close associate. Loads could be shed or lightened, but babies were simply not put down, not deprived of constant, ever-ready, interactive body contact—even when the group was on the move under difficult conditions. Babies responded to this blanket of ever-ready empathetic tactile stimulation by tactile responses of their own. Very quickly they began assembling a sophisticated tactile-speech to transmit desires, needs, and states of mind. They didn’t whine or cry to get attention; they touched. While babies everywhere are liminally aware, the constant empathetic tactile contact required to produce a sophisticated type of preverbal communication is rare—except among preconquest peoples.

Eliciting delight from babies was a desired social norm, and attentive tactile stimulation was the daily lot of infants. It included protracted body-to-body caressing, snuggling, oral sensuality, hugging, fondling, and kissing. The seductive aspect of the play was frequently collective as older children singly or in combination used their inventive wiles to delight a baby. In their hamlets crying might be heard in reaction to accidental pain, but I don’t recall a single case of disgruntled whining or demanding crying.

This form of nurturing results in a totally different type of awareness than we are used to - he calls it "liminal" awareness, while ours is "superliminal". He claims that it pretty much eliminates most forms of hyper-competitive, adversarial, acquisitive behavior we see in industrial cultures. It sounds like it would be worth a try.

I read your Wintu Woman quite a bit differently. She is contrasting her labor-intensive way of life to the capital-intensive European society, and saying that she prefers her way. Essentially making a virtue out of their necessity, and lamenting the plain fact that they were being overrun by European society within the space of a generation.

IMHO, if a Native American tribe had worked out a way to domesticate bison and put them to the plow (for instance), they would have taken over the continent and developed a society not too different from Western Europe. They did not forego such a choice due to their love and reverence for nature -- they simply could not domesticate bison.

I think you are just making stuff up.

I think he's right. North America had no domesticable draft animals - cattle, horses, etc. That meant they couldn't develop large-scale agriculture at the end of the last glacial period 11,000 years ago. The Europeans did. Game over for North American indigenes.

That's true, but it doesn't mean that her preference for her way is not real. I'd guess that many times in the past people have resisted new technology, but lost out militarily to those who adopted it.

Agreed. I wasn't commenting on her preferences, just on the biophysical situation.

I'd guess that many times in the past people have resisted new technology, but lost out militarily to those who adopted it.

You don't have to look into the past, head over to the forests of central India and you can see this in action. The aborigines have seen our TV and they don't like it, they'd like to stay in the forest.

I would consider the Chaco Canyon culture, at its height, a culture with large scale agriculture. They had canal systems and roads (even though they hadn't developed the use of wheels. I recommend the book "Anasazi America" for a good study of this culture. Then there were the mound Indians (can't remember their archeological name) around what is now St. Louis who I believe had a fairly well developed agriculture, and of course the Aztecs, Mayans, Inca....

There were very likely Native American groups who practiced ecological living, but there were also those who were less ecological. What about the buffalo kill cliffs? This certainly wasn't ecological. It was simply convenient, and the buffalo were too numerous to count. They also used fire to increase grazing lands for game they hunted. Another good book is "The Ecological Indian" by Shepard Krech. His thesis is that Native Americans made use of the natural resources in some ways similarly to the European invaders.

Would you be OK with, "They couldn't develop widespread, large-scale agriculture"

It was probably the combination of metal and draft animals (as previously noted) over several thousand years that gave Europe their advantage when it came to conquering the world. Not to take anything away from the NA indigenes - they were as smart and tough as anyone, anywhere, any time. But the deck was not stacked in their favour. if it had been, they would have either conquered Europe themselves, or at least fought off the invaders.

They could and did develop widespread agriculture. Think of the Aztec and the Maya. There's also increasing evidence that agriculture was far more widespread than we thought; the land has returned to the jungle again, so it's not obvious. (Terra preta, anyone?)

But agriculture probably was more limited in the New World. Diamond argues that one of the reasons Europe conquered the New World rather than the other way around is the geography of the continents. Eurasia has an east-west layout, which meant domesticated plants and animals could easily be transmitted across it.

In contrast, the Americas have a north-south layout. Maize cultivated to grow in one area sometimes would not grow even 50 miles further north.

Yes, they definitely did have intensive agriculture.

Diamond's argument is that technology lagged in the New World because of the lack of draft animals - not necessarily agriculture, but other things, like the wheel. They did invent the wheel, but it was only used as a toy. Which meant not only no wagons, but no water mills, no millstones, etc. As he put it, "technology limped forward on human power alone."

Even without draft animals many native Americans cultures practiced large scale agriculture in the centuries before European conquest. But diseases were the main factor. Smallpox and other European diseases had a 90%+ mortality rate. Native cultures couldn't organize effective resistance when their population was just annihilated like this.

But why were diseases such a big factor? Why did diseases not go other way? (In fact, at least one did: syphilis.) Why were the Europeans not as impacted by new germs?

It's because the superior technology of the Europeans allowed them to live in much denser populations. Having so many domesticated animals also exposed them to a wide range of transmissable diseases. That left them far better able to deal with novel pathogens.

No, I think it was an accident of differences in genetic diversity, caused by isolation. The Europeans had a much more diverse genetic history and had been exposed to a lot of mixing and many waves of disease since the population of the Americas was separated.

Read 1491.

Just looking at what's going on today...I think population density and exposure to animals and their pathogens play a much larger role than genetics. Influenza, SARS, hantavirus, AIDS, Ebola...all jumped from animal hosts to people. While this clearly happened often in the past, on both sides of the pond, it's population density that allows diseases to spread.

One curious note about genetics...one study found that the Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA in our genomes is particularly active in our immune systems. Perhaps meaning that the H. sapiens coming out of Africa found some benefit to the adaptations of those who had been there awhile.

Not really a response to your comment, I just thought it was cool.

I agree - the stuff they are discovering about Neanderthal and Denisovan DNA really is interesting. Although it always seemed obvious to me that humans living in close proximity for a few tens of thousands of years would interbreed, and that certain features needed for surviving in northern regions just happened to pop up almost overnight, nevermind that there were already people there....

I was referring to his implication that she her claims to prefer her lifestyle were due to some kind of sour grapes, that really she wished were able to live like the Europeans. I don't believe that's true, but who knows.

Not exactly sour grapes. She felt well adapted (had a love and reverence for nature as she encountered it) to the circumstances her tribe faced, and now a new group of people who were much more efficient at exploiting the environment were making her adaptations irrelevant, very quickly. Her words indicate the trauma of that experience.

My main point (following Diamond as many have discussed on this thread) is that, in considering historical encounters between 'civilized' and 'uncivilized' peoples there are two extreme positions. The first extreme is that the uncivilized peoples were primitive because of an inherent flaw in their intelligence, genetic makeup, etc., (i.e., racist explanations). The other extreme is that uncivilized peoples were as a whole more advanced, and had greater foresight and understanding than, say, their European conquerors.

I'm persuaded that humans are of similar intelligence and capabilities wherever they have arisen or migrated, and have adapted to a wide range of circumstances. This has implications for how humans may cope in a future energy- and climate-constrained world. (And if I told you I had a grasp of those implications, I would be making stuff up).

It was probably more a case of what is easiest, i.e. the path of least resistance. Letting the bison run free on the open plains, then killing some as needed was probably much easier than using them as draft animals to plow the fields to grow crops. In Europe there was only so much space, thus plowing fields to maximize food production was necessary.

As a side note, great posts on TOD today. Love it when there are philosophical discussions to go along with the usual tech type postings. Data is great, but stepping back to take a fresh look at why we do the things we do or what we could do, is also IMO very important to get a perspective on what direction to move in.

No, bison are simply not domesticable. Jared Diamond went into this at length in Guns, Germs, and Steel. Some animals can be domesticated, some can't. The Americas had no large animals suitable for domestication. There were dogs, and llamas, but both are too small to make good draft animals.

I think the issue was that such a large percentage of the native American population had been lost to disease. Had that not occurred history would have been very different. They may not have needed to domesticate bison.

I don't think that's it at all. There was a need for domesticated animals. Dogs were used to pull sledges (and sleds, up north). Llamas were used as pack animals, and could carry a small rider. Horses were rapidly adopted when they became available.

Bison simply can't be domesticated. Diamond lays out what's required. Domesticated animals must be able to adapt to captivity. (Some get so freaked out by confinement that they die.) They must be able to accept human masters. And they must be able to breed in captivity. There are animals that can be tamed, but if they don't breed in captivity, they will never be domesticated.

Cattle were domesticated before 7,000 BC, and used as oxen beginning about 4,000 BC. So it took at least 3,000 years of breeding aurochs for meat and milk before they were put to work as draft animals. Making implements that are usable by draft animals, other than simple sledges, is probably not so easy until you have bronze. In fact, I can't recall offhand of much use of draft animals by people that did not have metal. Agriculture with stones and pointy sticks is hard.

But they did have metal in the New World. Copper and bronze, mostly, but some artifacts made of iron from meteors have also been found.

I doubt the american indians (prior to observation of European settlers) were even aware of the possibility of using draft animals for tilling the soil.

"You know Little Sparrow, what we need is a good draft animal. But then we'd also need to smelt metal and mix different ores to get different properties, for the harness, various other parts and the plow."

There were dwindling populations of horses, mammoths and camels in the Americas for thousands of years after humans arrived here. Perhaps the Indians simply didn't realize the potential resource existed and lost the opportunity.

The concept of native Americans living in harmony with nature gets a lot of play, but that doesn't mean they put any effort into actively fostering the survival of any species or ecosystem simply for its own sake. I think credit for that concept belongs to white men such as Muir and Roosevelt.

One of the points Diamond tries to drive home in Collapse is that people are people. The romantic "noble savage" view is wrong, but so is the idea that they were primitive and stupid and we'd never do what they did. They're no better than we are - and no worse.

He suggests that in at least some cases, people may have hunted potentially useful domesticable animals to extinction. If not in the Americas, then in Australia.

I would think that these early cultures have shown considerable ingenuity.
From what I read, the domestication of the horse began with its use as a dairy animal. Think for a moment what that involves. First, you would have to turn to the mammary secretions of another unrelated species for food, rather than simply slaughtering it for its meat. That had to be a bizarre notion, especially since the original livestock owners would have almost certainly have been lactose intolerant. The milk would have needed to be fermented to be anything other than a laxative.
The immediate advantage would be food that could be harvested daily from a source available for years, possibly making use of terrain unsuitable for known crops. It was altogether brilliant, likely an act of desperation, and easily a development that might never have happened at all.
Development of draught animals from cattle and horses came much later, almost as an afterthought, using the gentled descendants resulting from centuries of culling the herd. It was like getting the notion to hitch a pig up to the dogsled.
The first Americans were smart enough to develop potatoes from a species of the lethal nightshade family and corn from a native species with practically no nutritional value. They had the potential draught animals on the new continent, but they the misfortune of losing contact with distant cousins who stumbled on to the benefits of an extremely unlikely resource called milk. Who knows what sort of world might have developed if they had arrived with that technology?
It makes me wonder what other unforeseen possibilities might disappear with the loss of species and habitats.



There are very few Indians now, they have become educated as white men and are in a great degree no more. It is very hard for the N. American culture to understand that there is anything other than what they are. A very insular people with little regard for other than their own self destructive cleverness.

What do you make of a culture that highly values some guy who flies kites in an electrical storm?

Edison invent the first commercially viable electric light in 1880 and now we are doing our best to turn it off. Means, maybe, it is time we got a bit of rest and shuteye and gave the world a rest?

Masstashaddhu, I would never ague with what that woman says, and in fact, it is exactly how I feel. However, taking acorns from the trees and killing buffalo is an exploitation of the environment, even if just on a modest scale. Any Indian who did not exploit the environment was an Indian who didn't eat and didn't feed his family. Also, I am sure the Plains Indians shot a lot more buffalo after they domesticated the horse, and probably shot even more after they learned how to shot a rifle. And the Indian wars against each other surely were about resources. So I am not convinced that there was no exploitation of resources by Indians, just not on the scale of waste and greed that was produced by European civilization. Ultimately, I can't help but think that even American Indians would eventually have over populated and over exploited this country, it just would have taken a lot longer. Besides, all non-human species will eat themselves out of house and home if given half a chance, and I just can't see humans in general being any different, although again--if we only could learn to appreaciate nature, rather than seeing it as something to kill or chop down or grind up. . . Really sad.

This is a little offtopic, but very interesting. There is some evidence I believe that bison population was actually much lower prior to European arrival in the America, kept in check by extensive hunting. However European diseases severely reduced the traditional hunting tribes, allowing the population to explode to numbers we see around the times of the early Republic.

I don't think this is genetic. The obsession with "stuff" is not innate. For much of our history, we were nomadic and could not keep more than we could carry. Sure, we apes like shiny new things, but we don't necessarily want to work to get them, or own them forever.

This was often a point of contention between Europeans and the natives they encountered. Europeans saw natives as lazy; the natives saw no point in working more than was necessary just to get "stuff."

We are a malignancy. I don’t say that because I’m overly misanthropic but I don't believe it's beyond speculation to consider a renegade species within the ecosystem equivalent to a renegade cell or renegade RNA within a metazoan. Unfortunately, we have had enough energy to create the specialization and tools to use massive amounts of energy to evolve a “technological life” that eats everything its evolved tools can access. We are embedded within it. It grows continuously and exponentially and while eating the ecosystem like a cancer, different isolated clonal lines compete with one another for dominance in their suicidal race to the end. We could declare a war on ourselves, on technological cancer, and mix up some Jim Jones Koolaid, but it really isn’t necessary, the next round of resource wars using biological, nuclear and chemical weapons will surely suffice in slowing the growth, especially if several dozen nuclear plants and associated cooling ponds are blown into the atmosphere. The CO2 and methane problem may make both ecosystem and associated technological tumors quite uncomfortable. Unfortunately, like a person subjected to chemo and radiation, the patient (ecosystem) may be severely weakened and die anyway.

All organisms have a cancerous potential, we're just the lucky ones that escaped nature's leash, for a while.

You mean stuff like installing PV at the global rate of a GW per day! And maybe looking at cutting waste at the same time. All doable, if only we could reprogram the species.....

Hi GG. I just dropped you a brief email at your linked address, and it bounced. Good to see you posting here.

Energy-Efficient Homes Less Likely to Default, Study Says

The risk of defaulting on a mortgage is 32% lower for homeowners who live in energy-efficient properties, according to a new study by the University of North Carolina - Center for Community Capital, and funded by the Institute for Market Transformation.
. . . .
Interestingly, the report also found that the more efficient the house, the lower the default risk. Each point decrease on the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) index of efficiency, was associated with a decrease in the risk of default by 4%, according to the research. (A HERS score is a tool used to measure a home’s relative energy efficiency.)

Good for the environment, good for your finances, good for the economy. What's not to like? Those crazy hippie energy-savers!

Well, duh... less money spent on energy -> more available to pay mortgage.

We needed a 'Study" for that?

Well, I guess MBAs need to quantify everything. Even the obvious.


Actually the results could have just as easily been the opposite. All things being equal between different mortgage holders, the initial higher costs of higher efficiency might have caused greater defaults, however my suspicion is the more affluent, the more likely they can afford to purchase more energy efficient homes, and the less likely they will default.

Hydro Quebec LED Rebate

Save $10 when you buy an ENERGY STAR® qualified LED bulb.

Offer valid between March 1, 2013, and April 30, 2013*.

* Maximum of five LED bulbs per customer. Certain conditions apply.

Funny thing about rebates. Our lighting supplier is owed over $400,000.00 in rebates and the agency in question doesn't want to pay up because the dollar value of the rebate exceeded the cost of this one specific lamp (and who's fault is that?). There's at least one other wholesaler I know of that's in the same boat. Limit of five per customer? Pfft ! Try tractor trailer loads.