Waiting for the lights to go out...

This article is a little much for my taste (e.g., "oil is running out," etc.) but it is provocative:
The greatest getting-and-spending spree in the history of the world is about to end. The 200-year boom that gave citizens of the industrial world levels of wealth, health and longevity beyond anything previously known to humanity is threatened on every side. Oil is running out; the climate is changing at a potentially catastrophic rate; wars over scarce resources are brewing; finally, most shocking of all, we don't seem to be having enough ideas about how to fix any of these things.
The evidence is mounting that our two sunny centuries of growth and wealth may end in a new Dark Age in which ignorance will replace knowledge, war will replace peace, sickness will replace health and famine will replace obesity. You don't think so? It's always happened in the past. What makes us so different? Nothing, I'm afraid.
Update [2005-10-16 10:53:50 by Prof. Goose]:Here's another decent summary piece as well.
Peak Oil reminds me of the Harry Truman comeback when encouraged to give the Republicans hell: "I never did give anybody hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."

We aren't going to run out of oil, but it may feel like it.

Seems like the Kunstler/Heinberg/Ruppert pessimism is becoming mainstream in Great Britain!  How long before it does so here in the States?  I should think that Simmons will be a major factor in the propagation of such pessimism here; in recent weeks, he has even been giving the die-hard economic optimists at places like the Wall Street Journal and Weekly Standard pause....
The first is the "low-hanging fruit" theory: early innovators plucked the easiest-to-reach ideas, so later ones have to struggle to crack the harder problems. Or it may be that the massive accumulation of knowledge means that innovators have to stay in education longer to learn enough to invent something new and, as a result, less of their active life is spent innovating. "I've noticed that Nobel-prize winners are getting older," he says. "That's a sure sign it's taking longer to innovate." The other alternative is to specialise -- but that would mean innovators would simply be tweaking the latest edition of Windows rather than inventing the light bulb. The effect of their innovations would be marginal, a process of making what we already have work slightly better. This may make us think we're progressing, but it will be an illusion.

That quip about "we have to specialize" is where I beg to differ with Mr. Bryan Appleyard of The Sunday Times Magazine.

The Renaissance Age was not one driven by men of specialized interests, but rather by those who had chosen to buck the system and become learned in many fields at once.

Mother Nature does not divide herself up into sub-specialities like "petroleoum geology" and "thermodynamics". These are fictions that we human beings have contrived as part of our devotion to the religion of Adam Smith.

Was it not Sir Isaac Newton who humbly said, "If I have seen farther, it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants"?

We need to teach our children to stand on the shoulders of intellectual giants rather than in the casting rooms of Hollywood Moguls.

Instead of dumbing down our school texts with politically correct appeasements to the "Intelligent Design" crowd, we need to go to war against their head-for-caveman mentalities.

It was in 1890 (I think) that the Commissioner of Patents for the US government told the President it was time to shut down the Patent Office because "everything that can be invented, has been invented".

It was wrong headed then.
It is wrong headed now.
There still is hope.
For those who have the courage to fight.

We have become weak in the face
of the lies laid on us by the corporate manipulators.

Now is the time to rise in arms.
Call them out for what they are.
Point the greed glow lamps at them and make them wilt in the dung heaps on which they stand.

You appear to have missed the point of the original author entirely. He brings up specialization as an alternative precisely because those who attempt to become the broad based founts of knowledge have to study so much longer now than their predecessors. The depth of every field of knowledge is deeper now than during the Renaissance, so the initial task of "climbing onto the shoulders of giants" takes correspondingly longer.

The best way to address that problem is find ways to drastically extend human lifespan and expand the ability of humans to organize and retrieve knowledge from our brains. However, it appears we have more pressing issues in front of us for the immediate moment.

Anyway, the key point is that before you can stand on the shoulders of giants you must first get onto those shoulders (acquire the existing knowledge base) and since it has grown deeper and deeper, it takes longer and longer to make that climb.

I don't think he missed it, he just did not think we took the right path to deal with the problem. And specialization turns to be the greatest problem of any structure over time. Because it develops rough and hard to change structures that are productive in the short term, but tend to break whenever something in their environment changes.

Now we seem to be in the trap of deminishing returns from the technology, but first we should realise that our ways are wrong so that we start looking for other ways. I've been educated within a system that did not favor specialisation, quite the opposite in fact. The results were very... mixed. First of all lower productivity - an open minded person is much more prone to reflection than happily following the commands in some hierarchical structure. Second there is a great frustration when you go out of school and start to deal with reality. Third - weak higher education. I think there were thousands and thousands of people that had the potential for their breaktroughs and their Nobel prizes -  versatality makes wonders with human minds. But they did not meet anybody on their way out of the school and most ended up as economists or programmers.

My view is that the major flaw of our system is that we are trying to let out entropy with it. Instead of trying to live with entropy, learn its rules and cope with them... we have lived in a meager second of the lifetime of this planet and we already received the self-esteem of unkrowned Gods. This will not and can not end well.

For a comprehensive analysis of diminishing returns to complexity I would recommend a fascinating archaelogical study called The Collapse of Complex Civilizations by Joseph A Tainter (Cambridge University Press, 1988). The entire work is very much worth reading in my opinion, but I would especially recommend the final section (pgs 209-216) on the contemporary situation.
Imagine a Giant Dung Ball rolling down a shallow hill ... towards a cliff.

Inside the Giant Dung Ball, all sorts of dung beetles (scarabs) are busy with their specialized niches.

The acountant beetles are busy counting dung beans.
... all is well in their specialized universe.

The financial markets beetles are busy projecting "expectations" for the next quarter.
... all is well in their specialized universe.

The politician beetles are busy collecting votes for the next election.
... all is well in their specialized universe.

The next-specialty beetles are busy doing their dung-centric speciality with eyes focused only on their niche. All is well in that niche too.

No "specialist" is responsible for steering the Giant Dung Ball as it "progresses" down that shallow hill ... towards the cliff!!!

Of course you understand the metaphor.
Planet Earth is the Giant Dung Ball.
"We" are the dung-brained beetles who are busy weaving our niche-centerd doom inside the Ball.

All is well inside each of our "specialized" niches.

Adam Smith was such a genius.

(An Image of "Atlas" as the only entity responsible for our teetering globe:
http://www.nso.lt/bible/atlas.jpg )

In classical Adam Smith economics, the dung beetles would have a specialist class of dung beetles to invest in new technologies found by the specialist class of dung beetles that invent new technologies to find new balls of dung.
Truth is better than fiction.

We have a specialist class of denial beetles:


Their job is to weave bales of dung into threads of golden words that will allay the fears of the other beetles.

Good job boys.

Keep up the efficient conversion of BS into more BS.

The supply of clueless cornucopians is the one thing that some days does seem to be effectively infinite. Don't they feel any need to research the issue at least a little bit before taking a position?
True Believers of the Adam Smith religion
NEVER question the DOGMA

The "markets" will provide.

Always have.
Why worry about science and such?
There is an infinite supply of techno-nerds (cheap Dilbert kinds) and solutions.

This was an interesting comment from that article:
"The cost of owning a Ford Taurus over its 150,000 mile lifetime is estimated to be $60,000 in purchase price, insurance, repairs and taxes. At $1.50 per gallon, the total cost rises to $71,000, of which only 15 percent is gas. At $3 per gallon, the total cost goes to $82,000, of which 27 percent is gas. "

If you use a discount rate on the dollar timeline - the bulk comes up front and the rest is spread out over 10 years - so at $1.50 per gallon static for next 10 years that works out to like 95c a gallon in todays dollars -meaning gas is even a SMALLER % of total vehicle cost than 15 (or 30)%.  What would be interesting is if peoples (and the markets) expectation for gas prices was a positively sloped curve $3 in 2005 $4 in 2006...$10 in 2010 etc - then the present value 'cost' of owning a vehicle would go way up - to an eventual point where it wouldnt make sense to make the purchase, or at the margin, would alter a purchase to a hybrid, Vespa or bicycle.  

As Ive said before, the faster we get oil into triple digits the more time it buys policymakers to come up with Plan B which gets us to Plan C (Sustainability)...

Good to note that the cost of fuel is still relatively small as a fraction of the total lifecycle cost.  The same is true of power plants (though closer to 50%, I believe).

You have to factor in that as the cost of oil goes up, so will the cost of constructing, transporting and maintaining the car.  The base cost of $25k may increase to $30k, the total cost from $60k to $70k.  As the total cost increases, fuel's portion of the total cost may not change too much.

On a related note, there must be macro-economic methods to estimate how prices will increase as the cost of oil goes up, but I haven't seen these.  I've read that the U.S. currently expends roughly 7% or 8% of GDP on energy, down from ~13% in the early 1980's.  What portion of that is oil?  What happens when the cost of a barrel of oil (or natural gas) doubles?  How about globally?  If anyone can steer me to useful info on such economic analysis, I'd appreciate it.

Maybe this is not the right place to pose this problem, but I'd like for us to start to be little more carefull about the parameters we use in our statements:

"...the U.S. currently expends roughly 7% or 8% of GDP on energy, down from ~13% in the early 1980's."

Each time I see "US" and "GDP" in one sentence I start to shiver. In 2004 over 80% of the USA GDP consisted of services. My lawyer charges $250 per hour. So he contributes to the US GDP per hour about the same value as 200 chinese workers contributed to the China GDP. Well there are price deflators, purchasing power parities, etc. but to my mind they also tend to hide some structural imbalances - ok you deflate some sort of services with deflator coefficient but what happens if one service is very well developed in USA and other is not in the other country?

I think that the real strength of an economy can be best measured by its industrial production. The industrial production was somehow in the 25-30%-s in the 80-s, now is in the 15%-s. So there is actually no real progress in energy spendings per real economic output. Maybe even more important parameter is export - because export are priced at international prices and is not that influenced by domestic statistical equilibristics. If US was a person trading with other persons, export would equal this person's income. What US economy has been doing for the recent years is to earn about 1000$ (billions) and spend around 1500$ (billions) per year. For the difference we print obligations or sell parts of our businesses at inflated prices.

I don't think it's true at all that 80% of the economy is "services" for any good definition of services. 2/3 of GDP is spent by consumers, and this is what they spend it on (CPI breakdown by Federal Bureau of Statistics). There is a 60% services number in there, but that's because they count "Housing" and "Transportation" under services, pretty bogus to me - my house and our cars are large physically present energy consuming beasts as far as I'm concerned. Things that are more truly services are a pretty small part of the total. Eg. all of medicine is 6% - and some of that should get accounted to the physical building stuff, not the service component, education is 6% - ditto, and after that it gets really tiny. True services are probably less than 15% of consumer spending. My guess is it's sort of similar on the producer side.
This article is confused on several points, but it's not really the author's fault. There is less "progress" for a variety of reasons, to my mind:

  1. Western concepts of "progress" are cultural concepts which I'm not sure have any real basis in objective reality. As I recall our current idea of progress is really very new and has been formed mostly as a result of the unscience of economics and the siren song of advertising.

  2. Our collective ability to assess social problems and respond with resources, especially in the US, has been severely damaged, if not outright destroyed, by the conservative backlash since the 70s. The ample evidence of the defunding and destruction of the sciences and education needs no comment, and I'm sure that has something to do with the problem. His comment about space science is particulary ignorant in this respect. We have a lot of engineers here who I'm sure will relate stories of failed projects due not to bad science or tools but to gross underfunding. The current rover missions to Mars and the Gallelio mission to Jupiter and the current Cassini mission to Saturn are runaway scientific successes. Thus, the author would have been better to note that robotic missions have good payoffs and are cheaper, while the manned programs flounder precisely because they do not. But, for a variety of reasons, we are unable to assess the difference and put the money where it does the most good.

  3. I'd also venture to guess that in science many of the issues holding people back are institutional and prejudicial. People with tenure don't want to be challenged by kids with new ideas; management at techno-scientific companies don't want to hear about making real changes.

  4. On that point, and contributing all others, is that society has become too complex and bogged down in its own excess to respond to stimulus. I will relate my current situation in working on a project for A Very Large Software Company You All Know. In essence, the project is a website--just a website where people can register for a particular program and recieve goodies. This project is months late and I believe overbudget into the millions. And it's just a website that could have been put together with open source tools, with a handful of people, for a tiny fraction of the many millions it will eventually cost.

The overriding point is that the problem with this company and this project is that the company and its principals have not so much as a huge technical investment, but an overwhelming emotional investment in not only a technical base but an organizational concept that simply does not work. I suppose this is similar to what Kunstler means when he expects American society to make disastrous choices in attempting to keep big box suburbia going.

This company, having built a suite of products from flawed technical foundations, is cemented into a disastrous future path of many dimensions. It cannot tell the truth everyone knows and admit its products are flawed not only because it will be sued by investors, but because its schema of itself will thereby be negated. Doing so would also force it to admit how it came up with some of the flawed products, which high courts have twice ruled are not legal. The company has constructed an entire mythos of its superiority and innovation which is prima facie false, but it cannot point to the elephant in the room because its mental model of itself would collapse. Thus, it ignores the lessons of The Mythical Man-Month and throws as many visa-holding "programmers" at problems as it can find.

I personally think this is the real essence of the Times article. For instance, we know what it takes to solve cancer. Namely, it is to eliminate a whole constellation of industrial pollutants, but to really address those would involve killing industries and rearranging others whose owners have paid good money for the right friends in the right places to ensure this does not happen. For solar or wind power, clearly some more efficient semblance of our current society could be contrived if wise decisions were made now, but they will not be for these reasons, plus faith in The Market which precludes any prescriptive action.

On the whole, it's interesting to see all the lessons of 70's management reform completely forgotten as groupthink runs amok.

While reading "Ayatollahs of the Apocalypse" at

I see the following quote down a bit in the article under the heading of
"The Virtues of Gas Guzzling:
Why I Don't Believe in "Peak Oil"

The quote is:

"And increasingly, I don't believe we're about to run out of oil. I hang my hat on the views of Dr.Thomas Gold (founding director of Cornell University Center for Radiophysics) as outlined in his 1999 book, The Deep Hot Biosphere.

Gold's view, supported by many well qualified people, is that oil doesn't come from dead dinosaurs and kindred organic matter. Gold argues strongly that oil is a "renewable, primordial soup continually manufactured by the Earth under ultrahot conditions and tremendous pressures. As this substance migrates toward the surface, it is attached by bacteria, making it appear to have an organic origin dating back to the dinosaurs."

I know a scant amount about these subjects and have never heard of Dr Thomas Gold. Have any of you better informed folks ever heard of him?

My term for this is "oil creationism."


Tommy Gold is a great guy.  He is a professional contrarian.  Science needs such people.  They are entertaining and every once in a blue moon they are right.  But Tommy is usually wrong.  In fact, Tommy was famously wrong about literally everything.  How can I say that?  He was for many year (perhaps still?) a proponent of "The steady state theory of the Universe".  That is, Tommy didn't believe in the Big Bang.  We should check with him.  I think he has abandoned the Steady State Universe at this point.  One can only hope.  But ask yourself.  After having literally gotten the entire universe wrong, why do you think that his goofy idea about oil, a subject he knows nothing about is any closer to the mark?
Unfortunately, the wiki people list Dr Gold as having died on June 22 of last year. They have an interesting little section on his oil ideas as well. Some of the people on this list likely have informed criticisms of the wiki piece's somewhat supportive comments on Gold's theories.


Read all about him here.  Use google for more.

search term: "Thomas Gold" abiotic


I personally put Gold right up there with the Intelligent Design folks.

The killing argument for me is that the pressure and heat is too great for oil to exist in the earth's core sixty miles down.  It would be methane.  How in the world does methane transmogrify into long hydrocarbon chains as it percolates up?

Voodoo, I guess.

The wikipedia has a good section on oil abiogenesis at:


There appears to be some evidence that oil - or at least some oil - is produced through the processes described in the theory. Even if the theory accumulates more empirical support, it seems we'd still have to wait an awfully long time for the manna to seep up from the underworld. And I doubt if even the economists see us quickly developing the technology to spot deep oil accumulations and drill tens of kilometres down to get at them. So that seems to leave us back at the fact that we're using far more oil than we're discovering. Yet this theory is making the rounds again, accompanied by claims we don't need to worry about finite supplies of oil. That just proves the man was right when he said humankind cannot bear very much reality.

Perhaps because of websites like this: http://www.prisonplanet.com/archives/peak_oil/index.htm with stories like "The Myth Of Peak Oil" we get people believing in things that haven't been proven..
Good find.
I wish it were true.

Because that would prove that some Intelligent Force is in charge.
It would show that we are not passengers on an aimless Titatnic planet heading for the end-of-oil shoals.

Regretably, there is no conspiracy.
No one is in the steering house of our boat.
We are heading for the cliff.
Some people claim a magical, mystical "Invisible Hand" is guiding our collective boat in the right direction.
I don't believe it.
I wish there was a conspiracy.

Since I haven't done a rant for a while, I thought -- why not now? I think Appleyard is entirely correct when he says
What he found was that the rate of innovation peaked in 1873 and has been declining ever since. In fact, our current rate of innovation -- which Huebner puts at seven important technological developments per billion people per year -- is about the same as it was in 1600. By 2024 it will have slumped to the same level as it was in the Dark Ages, the period between the end of the Roman empire and the start of the Middle Ages.
However, I strongly disagree about the reasons for lagging technological change. Having read TOD now for quite some time, I've seen many, many innovative technologies suggested here. One that stands out lately for me is biofuels from algae farms. There's not a dearth of ideas out there. What's the real problem?

In my view, the problem is what I will call technological inertia. (I see that this term exists in Innovation and Its Enemies: The Economic and Political Roots of Technological Inertia -- pdf warning -- but I haven't read it, so I won't comment yet). What I mean by this is that 200 years of fossil fuel use has created the illusion that this is the natural state of things -- Appleyard alludes to this but misunderstands his own point -- and so it's only necessary to do more of the same, ie. mine more coal, drill for more oil or natural gas, convert the tar sands or oil shales etc. There is no issue of "low hanging fruit" or specialization of knowledge. As the old engineering saying has it, when you've got a fossil fuels hammer, everything looks like a nail. That's the inertia I'm referring to. So, there is great resistance to new innovative technological solutions to our energy problems. That resistance is a social problem, not a technological problem. By the way, I do not mean to imply that we are not in deep shit as far as fossil fuels go. We are. But resistance to innovation makes the problem far, far worse.
Regarding algae - I read 2 articles, one was giving EROEI around 5 the other was little above 1, so I'm not sure what to think.

In theory once the price of the old technology becomes higher the new technology will start kicking in. So why is the resistance?

  1. Major capital costs and lack of infrastructure - this has always been overcome with government support, and is not unsolvable;
  2. Political/corporate resistance - Peak Oil poses a question regarding the perspectivness of the very system we live in. If it is addressed (before a major crisis is imminent) it can question the assumptions we've made building our way of life. In short - how do you build sustainable society with a capitalist/corporate structure??? It is simply impossible! It will be always much more profitable to trash and abuse the natural capital than to take what you're given at any moment. I think the vested interests (and this is at highest level) are to make this crisis as acute as possible. This will allow them to pose otherwise unsupportable measures to go on the way we did before (aca higher gas prices -> drill the damned ANWR! who needs it anyay...)
Dave-I agree this is a really important topic. We need new innovations, and we need existing innovations to diffuse more widely. Unfortunately, the timeframe for the diffusion of even simple, cheap, and successful innovations is frightening long.

A great read is Everett Rogers' book Diffusion of Innovation. One of his famous examples is the use of citrus fruit to prevent scurvy among British sailors. The first successful experiment was in 1601, confirmed by a second experiment in 1747, followed by a policy change to provide citrus fruit for all sailors in 1795: 184 years from successful trial to total adoption. In 1856, they extended the policy to merchant ships.

Speed of adoption is affected by many factors. Some are characteristics of the technology itself, chiefly: relative advantage over other options, compatibility with existing consumption patterns and systems, complexity, ability to try it out without buying into a total change upfront, and observability-can others see the advantages? Most proposed energy solutions don't look very attractive on these criteria.

There are also the social factors, related to how innovation-prone or innovation-resistant individuals or societies are, and how new the innovation is.

I am discouraged by the fact that most of our new energy technologies look much more difficult and expensive than the fossil fuels they replace. And that implies that the road to getting them online could be slow and difficult indeed. They are more like last resorts than attractive new alternatives.

Glad you responded, Rick. In my view, not being able to think "outside the box" is a problem of human social psychology, not economics or lack of good technology ideas. Innovation is not a natural human trait like bipedalism or xenophobia. Humankind is conservative and so is slow to respond to new ideas; our species does not change quickly as circumstances dictate and so does not act in a "rational" way as in your example to give sailors fruit so they won't get scurvy when that information becomes available. On a small scale, the newest ipod/cell phone/video player is not an innovation -- it is more of the same old crap. In a somewhat larger sense, there's nothing new about extracting coal bed methane as HO describes here or EOR techniques like CO2 injection or horizontal drilling. It's just a few new wrinkles in an old fossil fuels story. It's still "inside the box". Truly new thinking involves, as I mentioned, the willingness to try out ideas like making biofuels from algae or implement locally scaled economies using alternative energy sources (solar, etc.). Or any of the many other ideas mentioned here at TOD by Engineer Poet and others.

We agree about "speed of adoption" and that is a keystone in the arch of my pessimism. Another, of course, is that relentless burning of fossil fuels will change the Earth's climate so radically within this century that for all practical purposes, humankind will be thrown back to situation resembling that faced in the Early Neolithic (not to mention the Paleolithic). But that's another story.
To put my two cents of gloom into this broken piggy bank, I would consider the following: (1) Peak oil will be quite similar to global warming and environmental degradation , a kind of slow tide moving in. The effects of the first will be more apparent sooner; the second, perhaps more deadly, will not be fun. (2) The kind of turbo capitalism that rewards cheap labor, tax cuts, and no environmental or labor regulations is not the kind of system we need for either of the above. Furthermore, it is creating its own imbalances for which we will pay dearly in economic terms, and finally in environmental terms. Have you checked the smog content in China recently? Kyoto is a joke. The IMF and WTO, the largest world bodies that have a hand in trade, are paying no attention to peak oil or global warming or environmental degradation. Nor are they paying much attention to tax inequities or to labor regulations when it comes to trade. Within the next fifty years we will be facing the following: (1) An economic crisis --certainly within the next four years, if not sooner. (2) A peak oil problem --certainly within the next 10 or 20. (3) An environmental degradation and a global warming problem--certainly within the next 30 or 40. Each of these issues is related to the other. Each of them finally has to do with the way we do business. The first will hit hard; the second two will creep over us. Have a nice day.
Two non-oil points about the main article.  One is that I was annoyed with the throwaway paragraph on population growth, a typical example of alarmism by exclusion.  Exponential population growth is not going to be maintained, at least not according to the UN.  Instead, population is going to level off somewhere between 9 and 11 billion between 2050 and 2100+.  To my mind, a less daunting way to frame the question than "can we grow forever", which we obviously can't, is: at what level can ~10 billion people sustainably live?

The second is that the article several times pulls to the surface a major thread that I see in the background of a lot of peak oil debates, often driving the assumptions that are put forward, and that is how evil, selfish, and/or reactive human nature really is and to what extent it can change.  I think this often drives the course of debate - Kunstler for instance expects people to react and try to burrow away from the problem rather than respond, Savinar expects us to fight for every last drop of oil, Heinberg hopes we will cooperatively powerdown, etc.  Quite often I think these underlying assumptions about people, quite far from facts about petroleum geology and transportation/oil replacement technolgies, drive the scenarios that each person envisions.

Re: "at what level can ~10 billion people sustainably live?"

If the wealth is spread equally among them, that level will be very low indeed. Right now, about 2 to 3 billion people live in abject poverty and the planet has about 6.5 billion people living on it. Only a very small percentage (about %20, mostly in North America and Europe) live "comfortably" in the Western Style. The rest are in the middle somewhere. This is about the best we can hope for. Population issues are never a "red herring" that diverts us from what is important. What is misunderstood about the issue is that overpopulation in the developed countries like the US is a very serious problem indeed since these (we) are the people taking up all the world's resources. So, in America, 4.6% of the world's population uses about 24% of the daily oil supply in barrels per day.

Re: "underlying assumptions about people"

I will be straightforward here: In the energy sphere, humans need to change the way they do business, they are not doing so at present (it is "business as usual") and therefore everyone, out of desperation, has a viewpoint on that.
"this is the best we can hope for."

Well, see, I think there are still opportunities.  The developed world is slowing down or basically stopped pretty much across the board, but the developing world (bar africa) is growing like crazy.  Can we switch off a lot of transportation to hybrids, batteries, and perhaps in several decades renewable/nuclear/fusion generated hydrogen?  Can we switch off enough oil production for non-CO2 generating ends (plastic, drugs, fertilizer, etc) to biodiesel/thermal depolymerization etc.?  Can we somehow do this fast enough to keep global warming at the level of only a moderate catastrophe?

re: "business as usual."

Exactly... I was trying to figure out how to work this into my response, this is another thread that I'm starting to realize comes up over and over. Basically anyone who's spent much time around here is ahead of the curve in understanding that business as usual is not going to see us through the next century, and how you think things are going to pan out as a result depends on what you think the global response is going to be to this understanding.

I think it's also worth discussing exactly what business as usual entails... I think a lot of us have some gut instincts about what it is but I wonder if we could take that further somehow. Obviously it's an approach to the environment, it's the technology, but it's also a lot of squishy things like the collective expectation, the relationship of individuals with the world, even what people consider to be the meaning of life (no really).  

I've become convinced that the key to how the next century isn't so much the technology as the human element, which is going to have to change - and it has changed in the past; the assertion that it can't is perhaps what really annoyed me about this article.  But how do you get that to change?  How do you get through to people who work 9 hours a day, come home do some errands watch 4 hours of TV and then pass out?  I mean before total catastrophe, of course.

Excellent points, especially with regard to human nature.  It drives me absolutely bonkers that this aspect doesn't get far more attention than it does.  IMO, human nature, in the form of market psychology, is one of the multipliers on our future.

We all seek hard data for as many aspects of our energy future as possible, but the bottom line is that human reactions to events will play just as large a role as the quatifiable values, like how many barrel or cubic meters of something are still in the ground.

I agree that your point about the importance of human nature is absolutely fundamental. Large scale bear markets, one of which is rapidly approaching (or about to resume depending on your perpective), are accompanied by a corrosive psychological mix of fear and the desire to punish the winners of the previous era of excess. A manic era of irrational exuberance is followed by an equally irrational downward spiral of destructiveness, vindictiveness, xenophobia and fear.

Human herding behaviour guarantees that the toxic cocktail of emotions is contagious, in  just the same way as was the preceeding euphoria (remember the Autumn of 2000?). In a bear market, this leads to maladaptive responses to challenges such as resource shortages. To paraphrase Kipling, keeping one's head when all others around one are losing theirs is extremely difficut, but absolutely necessary.

Heinberg's Powerdown scenario relies on cooperation and rationality, both of which are likely to be in short supply in the coming years (if not decades). This is not to say that localized attempts at cooperation would not occur, but rather such initiatives would be born into a hostile environment that would make them much more difficult to sustain. Disasters tend to happen during bear markets precisely because the inappropriate collective human response bear markets engender towards challenges and adverse events tends to magnify the impact of those events rather than mitigate it.

Peak oil could, in theory, be addressed rationally with an international plan (based on rationing and end-use efficiency) for the transition to a post-oil economy. Instead, I would expect peak oil to break through into the mainstream media in the form of increasing hysteria, reflecting the developing emotional climate. The resulting destructive bandwagon is ultimately likely to wreak havoc out of all proportion to the underlying problem itself, which is saying a great deal as the problem is a very significant one. Fear and the impulsive collective actions following from it lead to a dangerous world, as trust takes a very long time to establish, but very little time to destroy.

Kunstler for instance expects people to react and try to burrow away from the problem rather than respond, Savinar expects us to fight for every last drop of oil, Heinberg hopes we will cooperatively powerdown, etc.
I notice that you don't mention any possibilities for breakthrough science like $1/watt photovoltaic.

There are a whole heap of technologies which could completely uproot the very concept of "peak energy".  Heck, there was a recent study which found a whopping 72 terawatts of wind potential on Earth (about 2150 quads/year of pure electricity; humanity currently uses only about 400 quads/year of raw inputs!).  There are a number of different PV possibilities, hydrogen from green algae, sunlight to hydrogen panels... the list goes on and on.  Even 5% conversion efficiency at a decent price will put a stop on energy contraction at some point (the outrageously productive Miscanthus strain is all of about 2% efficient).

We only need one of these to strike paydirt.  Just one.

Then there's efficiency.  Kunstler likes to talk about the end of suburbia, but he's dreaming.  I've got a post in the pipeline (all written, some graphics, needs me to add some supporting info and get myself a Flickr account to host the images) about the possibilities for plug-in hybrid motorcycles.  It looks to me like you could easily drive more than 100 miles non-stop in a 2-seater, using less than $1000 in lead-acid batteries, and then cruise at better than 100 MPG once the batteries ran down.  What price gasoline will it take to make commuting too expensive when those things hit the roads?

Did I mention that said cycle needs absolutely nothing new?

The only reason we're having trouble with energy in any form is that we've been stupid about how we use it.  We've been ignoring well-established technologies that would have made the current price spike into a non-event, and it would take relatively little beyond that to make things almost or entirely sustainable.  The only reason we're having trouble is because people are resisting this instead of embracing it.

My first comment here.

Lester B. Lave is the Harry B. and James H. Higgins professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business, director of CMU's Green Design Initiative and co-director of its Electricity Industry Center.

The reason I'm replying to this article now is because I independently pulled it up from here.

I see no sourcing for matter of fact comments that boggle.

  • Petroleum companies have been reluctant to invest billions of dollars in alternative energy facilities fearing that OPEC would slash prices.

  • Alternative fuels are one solution: There are large amounts of hydrocarbons in Canada's oil sands and Venezuela's heavy oil. Both cost less than $30 per barrel to produce.

  • The $70 barrel of oil has not caused a recession because our economy has become less sensitive to high oil prices and only a bit more sensitive to high natural gas and coal prices. Energy is about 7 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product, about half of the 1981 level

Taking the last first-$70 oil lasted one day before Gov't, BigOil, whoever forced the price down.  $70 oil lasted only until the Monday after Katrina.  And BigOil knew Katrina would hit by Friday noon before and prices fell $1 per bbl.  Manipulation.

Next, Both cost less than $30 per barrel to produce.  Does this include the price of the nuclear reactor Total plans to build next to it's tar sand pit?  Source Jerome a Paris Sep 22 Daily Kos, and here

Finally,  Petroleum companies have been reluctant ...BigOil hasn't been reluctant to manipulate markets, or shoot down any and all ides on global warming or fudging oil reserve stats or bringing in militaries to stifle domestic oppositions,  why would they be worried about OPEC (Iraq was a founding member BTW).

Summary- These think tank guys need to seriously begin to study Cascading Systems Failure and source the ideas they so casually float.