Saturday Open thread

Since there is lots to talk about
Since the average reader on this site is not so young anymore....and since the average reader probably also read a lot of science fiction in his youth....

The "Foundation" series from Isaac Asimov covered the stagnation and collapse of the Galactic Empire. It was written at a time when America was at it's pinnacle of technical innovation and the future of space beaconed brightly. I recently re-read it with new eyes from the other side of the peak. Highly recommended for a revisit to you all!


I used to be a big-time SF fan.  Now I'm more into science than science fiction.  I'm not sure why, but fiction has lost a lot of its appeal as I've grown up.  I used to love fiction.  Spent all my allowance on books when I was a kid.  Now I read mostly non-fiction.  

Asimov was never one of my favorites, but I love his short story, The Last Question.   You could say it's peak oil related.

And was it Fred Hoyle who said that if we didn't use our one-time gift of fossil fuels to get off this planet, we'd never get off?  I think he was right.  

Yep, it was Hoyle.  Cutting and pasting from my web site:

We have or soon will have exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites [necessary for maintaining a high-level civilization] so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.

-- Sir Fred Hoyle

Thanks.  It's an even more interesting quote than I'd remembered.  Anyone know when he said it?
This is not true. We have lower grade oil and ore than in the past, but our technology has increased as well. We can get off this planet if we wish and we will be able to get off this planet in the future.
NO!  Not if our Society slips to far down slope!

Given that Europe, China, Japan, Russia, USA are all big in the world as far as energy users and have also gotten many things into space of the last several decades that is saying a lot.  But if they were to fall into chaos, Or major famine, and death were to take over the populations, the rest of the world would not care to get to space, but to survive here on earth.

 Space travel for machines is one thing, but for humans it is a totally different thing.  Though the two are related to a high degree.  Getting a probe to Mars does not feed anyone's empty stomach.  

 The Rockets that get off the ground and up there, even Rutan's high flyer Winner of the X-prize, got there by chemical power not totally Fossil-Fuel power ( he was towed to a certain hieght by a conventional plane).

 But the use of the man-powered thought to get there was fueled by an OIL powered Society.  A CHEAP OIL Society, with lots of food to spare, and few worries amoung most of the Population.  Take all that away and you get survival not space travel.

It may be theoretically possible, but practically speaking...will people want to spend money on space exploration, when they can't pay their heating bill here on earth?  Politically, space has become a red-headed stepchild.  Bush became the butt of jokes when he announced his plan for a manned mission to Mars, and I seriously doubt it will ever happen.  The worse the energy situation gets here on the earth, the less people will support exploring space.  

And once we wind through a catabolic collapse, wherein all resources are converted to waste...any future civilization wil have a tough row to hoe to develop the technology to get off this planet.

Same here, I used to read a lot of science fiction and fantasy (dragons, heroes and that stuff)... but I haven't read any for several years now.  I'm reading about oil, energy, politics and economics!  I just feel like I haven't got time to read things that aren't telling me something that might be useful or interesting wrt the real world!
but I love his short story, The Last Question.   You could say it's peak oil related.

Interesting that the copyright date is 1956,
... the year Hubbert published his findings

Did Assimov read Hubbert? Hmmm...

More interestingly, how could Assimov have known that the Hubble constant is greater than unity? (That the universe is slowly petering out.) Was/is Assimov a time traveler?

I think you meant to say 'the universe is expanding'.
both are true ... perpetually expanding ... and perpetually petering out because density of matter and energy is decreasing
I think you are confusing The Hubble constant H with the density parameter omega.
The Hubble constant measures the expansion of the universe. It is positive now (somewhere between 50 and 90 km/s per megaparsec according to which measurement you trust) and may change with time depending on the density of the universe.

The density parameter omega = 1 - 8*pi*G*rho/(3*H²)
where G = Newton's gravitational constant
and rho is the mean density of the universe
and assuming Einstein's cosmological field constant is zero (still open to some doubt)

If omega is 1 then H stays constant and the universe expands constantly forever.
If omega is greater than 1 then H increases indefinitely and the expansion of the universe accelerates.
If omega is less than 1 then H will gradually fall to zero and then become negative and the expansion of the universe will slow down, stop and then the universe will start to contract towards the big crunch.

Hubble published his findings about the expanding universe in 1929. Asimov would certainly have known about this by the time he wrote The Last Question, he was after all a scientist of some standing as well as a writer. I don't know  whether he considered changes to Hubble's constant or not.

However the essence of The Last Question is the second law of thermodynamics and the eventual heat death of the universe . This was first discussed by Helmholtz in 1854, 11 years even before Clausius stated that the entropy of a closed system increased with time.  

Although Asimov certainly described a universe still expanding at the end, the heat death predicted by the second law of thermodynamics does not depend on whether omega is greater or less than unity.

What Asimov did not describe is that if omega is greater than 1, and in the absence of faster than light travel, the fraction of the universe that we can see and even theoretically interact with or visit, will shrink. Because space itself is expanding and not the stars moving through a space of constant size light from the most distant stars can never reach us. The intervening space grows at a faster rate than light traverses it. As the expansion accelerates more and more stars drop beyond the event horizon. The end will not only be very cold but very lonely.

An equally intriguing question is how much of this T S Eliot  knew of this when he wrote The Hollow Men in 1925,

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.


This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

This is the ultimate depletion
.. When we run out of Universe

I recall reading about it in Scientific American a few years back

Asimov was a scientist.  I can not remember his degrees off hand, but he has several dozen Scientific Papers under his belt as well as Other HARD science books published.  He could have very well known of them or read Hubbert's papers.  He was a very Polific Writer having written Almost everyday from his early teens.

He was a Scientist who wrote Sci-Fi and Fiction, and Non-fiction with equal Skill.

I believe his PhD was in chemistry.
That's what Wiki says.  I didn't realize he had died of AIDS, from a bad transfusion.

I think my favorite of his books was Only A Trillion.  I loved his short stories, too.  I still pull out The Asimov Guide to the Bible every now and then.

He had a great story about telling his granddad about this great author: "jewlz voyn", to which his granddad replied you mean "zhools fhairn"?

One of the best things about reading non-fiction instead of fiction is that if one is mainly getting library books, there seems to be about a 1% chance per book of coming across a page smeared with boogers someplace. Meanwhile there seems to be about a 1% chance per page of disgustingness in any work of fiction.

After making this observation I've decided that I have to save up the money for any fiction I want. /me shudders.

One of my earliest reading addictions was to the Foundation series. If you go all the way back to the beginning, he describes humanity breaking off into two camps - 1. the densely populated short life people who go on to the populate the whole galaxy and 2. the sparsely populated long life people who only occupies a few planets but retained very high technology. Which was more sustainable / enjoyable? It's hard to say...

I remember thinking at the time (age 12) that psychohistory was a real subject that I could study in college if I was smart enough...

...and in a way we engage in a lot of future predicting using economic data and human psychology/sociology. Who is our Harry Seldon?

Who is our Harry Seldon?

According to Foundation documents, Hari Potter Selden was a young Internet surfer who happened upon the The Oil Drum (TOD) and suddenly became enlightened. ;-)
not to be glib....but...we are..collectively
Except that the collective "Seldon" consciousness here at TOD does not appear to have (yet) arrived at the same conclusion as Hari Seldon did in the novel. :)

I keep wondering if someone with connections and resources is creating a refuge somewhere, a refuge intended to be built around sustainable practices and aimed at preserving our science and technology (at least in theory) against some future day. Of course, I would neither expect such to be openly discussed here or anywhere really.

Likewise, back in the early 1970s, Roberto Vacca wrote The Coming Dark Age (now available online for a fee but otherwise out of print), a book where he assessed our dependence on increasingly complex systems and the likelihood that these would become so complex that we could not see the critical interdependencies, thus leaving us exposed to a massive systemic failure. He also argued for creation of enclaves of knowledge. He was not speaking of peak oil specifically but simply of large systems generally and pointing out the geometric expansion in dependencies between subsystems, which would make such increasingly complex systems harder and harder to manage safely.

I really do hope that someone, somewhere, is working on a "plan B" in case we cannot pull our fat out of the fire, because frankly, I still don't have high hopes for where we are going (collectively) at the moment.

Like in "A Canticle For Leibowitz"?  ;-)

Seriously, I'm not sure "enclaves" of knowledge would really be much use.  One of the problems with complex societies is that they require so much specialization.  It becomes impossible for one person to understand everything.  A lot of the energy cost of complexity is in maintaining the social structure that coordinates among all the specialists.  

A lot of the energy cost of complexity is in maintaining the social structure that coordinates among all the specialists.

Are these nostalgic pangs for simpler times gone by?
I hope not.
I for one, do not want to live in a world where there are no medical "specialists" for managing our health problems, no computer "specailists" for keeping our internet alive, and no energy futurist "specialists" for warning us about the next coming pitfall in our way of doing things. Blessed be the specialists for they just might save the Earth.
No, most definitely not.  I love modern technology.  I'm sitting here typing on a computer on a weekend, aren't I?  I'm a specialist myself - an engineer.  I chose the field because I thought I'd be living a Star Trek future.

But I no longer believe that.  I don't think we'll be able to maintain our current level of complexity unless we find an energy source that is even better - more concentrated and more easily acquired - than oil.  And I don't think that is very likely.

No, I don't think civilization will collapse overnight.  But it will collapse.  That is, it will fall to a lower level of complexity.  Possibly to a much lower level of complexity - lower than the Native Americans had.  Though it may take decades or centuries.  

 I love modern technology.  ...  I'm a specialist myself - an engineer.  I chose the field because I thought I'd be living a Star Trek future.

We could have had that Star Trek / George Jetson future if only the accountants had not shown up and squeezed the creativity out of engineering, all for the sake of maximizing short term corporate profits.

They said they were doing it for our own good. And like Dilbert dodo's we believed them!!

I should have hooked the accountant at my last firm up to the 220 lines to see how the "numbers" ran through him. I'm sure I would have seen good numbers. Ahrrg.

One speciality I really despise are the bean counters. Especially Enron-style accountants. They really know how to talk a good game, all while cooking the books two ways to sundown.

We could be well on our way to building a carbon-free solar future if only the accountants weren't standing there, erasing the "costs" of CO2 emissions from the GAAP books.

Late 70's or Early 80's Saturday morning One season Run of a show called  " ARK II ".  The world is distoried by Pollution, and a Group of scientist have pooled together and sent out into the World the ARK to check on life.  Cute little camper like vehicle,  the Flying Jet pack the US Army was experimenting with during those early days of the 70's ( a 90 second burn and flight time was all it was good for ), great sci-fi saturday morning fare.

 Basically an enclave of "Plan B" folks checking on the rest of us poor saps, who were mostly living like the dark ages.

My contribution to psychohistory for 2005...

I made these very specific predictions in late December 2004 and have added my assessment of their accuracy in early December 2005 in brackets below each paragraph. Got a couple of fairly stunning long shots (Pope and Israel), but a couple of others failed totally (Bush, Japan). The economic predictions were an average mix, the US $ and economy proved stronger than I expected. I failed to predict two major hurricanes hitting near New Orleans.

2005, the "maybe but probably not" year

I think that 2005 will not see the inevitable coming storms unleashed, but if we are unlucky and / or some semi-random events trigger it then 2005 may be the year "the slide" clearly begins, 2006 or 2007 are more likely.

The two important underlying threats: peak oil and the great global (economic) depression will probably not hit in a big way during 2005. The depression is the more likely, I guess a probability of about 40%. Many events could trigger it: a too rapid decline in the $, rapid increases in US interest rates, one of the US asset or debt bubbles bursting, China or Japan selling their $ bonds, a terrorist or geopolitical event. My feeling is 12 to 18 months hence is more likely as the clear start of the depression.

The sooner the depression starts the later peak oil is likely to hit, and since this is the greater threat maybe we should hope for an early global depression - there is a slim chance that a few years' grace before peak oil really hits may be enough time for humans to devise a way out of the consequences. Hopefully some temporary interruption to supplies of oil will help us see sense, perhaps a revolution in Saudi Arabia which disrupts their supply for a year or two. Without the depression kicking in first or some other major temporary interruption to oil supplies I expect peak oil to be apparent and real by 2008 at latest.

So much for the maybes and important issues.

Iraq will go from bad to worse, well before yearend it will be obvious that a multi state solution or very loose confederation is inevitable. The US will either be humiliated by its inability to maintain adequate security and stability or will have to introduce the draft to provide the troops required (at least double, more likely treble current forces) to have some semblance of control. I do not expect the 'global community' to be stupid enough to help the US out with troops so the US can start conflicts elsewhere.

[30% Iraq got worse but not enough to trigger the drastic US actions I expected]

I feel that neither GW Bush nor Dick Cheney will be US president at 31st Dec 2005. It's not clear how this could happen, the death of both is a possibility but I don't think that occurs. More likely is some impeachment or similar process that affects them both. I think this starts in early May and ends in October.

[0% but I still feel it will happen before the normal end of Bush's term]

If a significant terrorist event on US mainland occurs I feel that will be in March, round about 22nd, but I think it will be averted. I also think that is when China will revalue its currency aganst the US $, I expect the trade weighted value of the $ to be worth over 10% less than currently by late April - that will be its lowest value for well over 30 years - it will be lower still by yearend.

[25% got the China revaluation, though I expected it in April, almost no one expected it before Sept at the very earliest so I was better than them; totally wrong on the US$]

Tony Blair (Labour) will barely win the UK election if held on 5th May - he will have an overall majority of less than 10 seats, if this happens I expect Blair to resign by September. The Liberal Democrats will do (relatively) best but still not have 100 seats, their increased vote will have the effect of giving the Tories some gains (the only ones they get, lol).  It is very possible - about 40% - that the election will not be held then due to world events, Blair would win more conclusively if the election were held in October 2005.
[25% Labour did worse than expected but not as badly as I thought]

The Pope dies, in April I think, next Pope is Italian but a black (skinned) Pope comes close to winning.

[80% spot on for J-P II but the replacement, Benedict, is German]

Something very odd happens in Israeli politics, this is the most significant mid-east event of the year (therefore I do not expect Saud to be overthrown), like the Likud party splitting and part joining with the Labour party. In May I think.

[80% though it happened near 6 months later than expected, it happened almost exactly as I felt but I didn't describe it well. This is the most significant happening in Israeli politics for 30 years so I am proud of this long shot]

A major environmental event happens in Japan in early June, probably a problem with a nuclear reactor, perhaps in part due to an earthquake.

[0% on this long shot]

Interesting, the shaping events seem to all happen in the northern spring quarter (March 21st - June 21st) then things seem to go on pause till the autumn quarter (starts 21st Sept). I interpret this as: wait until the spring events clarify before seeking to read further.

Independence Day in USA will be a time of sad reflection and soul searching - I don't think this is due to some dire event, more a questioning of what was taken for granted: self doubt, state doubt, religious doubt? I think it is partly GW Bush related - he is seen as a betrayer.

[0% but, again, I feel this will happen some US holiday in the next couple of years and will be obvious]

The price of oil will fluctuate a bit, with a low of just below $40 in January, a lesser peak of over $60 in April and a higher peak of maybe $75 around late October. US shares are at their maximum early in year, my guess Feb 12th, but the low for year will be more than 25% below that peak, that could happen in April or October onwards.

[60% the oil prices were pretty good, though both the April peak at $58.10 and September peak at $70.85 were a tad lower than I guessed and the second was near 2 months earlier than I expected. Stocks - as measured by DJIA - did peak on Feb 16th but made a very slightly higher peak on about March 12th, I don't think they will beat that in the next month though they are close. Totally wrong on the 25% dip which would have taken the DJIA down to near 8000.]

Assets should be moved out of US and $ denominated stocks and securities, if you are in US open a Canadian account and move surplus money there. Debts should be at the best fixed interest rates you can find, move them if not, US interest rates may double this year.

[0% US stocks have held up, $ has gained, real US interest rates are barely above where they were, but the time is coming...]

An odd year and probably seemingly inconclusive in the scheme of things. Could be the events of 2005 will give decisive shape to what follows soonafter.  It could be a very hot summer in several parts of northern hemisphere, mid June to mid July in UK (August wet again, lol) and Europe, August in USA and Canada.

[0% on weather]

[Overall I rate these predictions at 30%, should do better but shows promise.]

It's been said by smarter people than me that the most apropos science fiction novel for where we are now is Dune.  Even Herbert said all you had to do was replace spice with oil.
If you go all the way back to the beginning, he describes humanity breaking off into two camps - 1. the densely populated short life people who go on to the populate the whole galaxy and 2. the sparsely populated long life people who only occupies a few planets but retained very high technology. Which was more sustainable / enjoyable? It's hard to say...

He may have gotten this idea from Darwinian theory, much like H.G. Wells did in "The Time Machine". Evolutionary biologists have observed many examples in which species have gone down different paths. I like to think of it as the "marine invertebrate" path vs. the "terrestrial mammal" path. Either you have a very few offspring, live a long time, and take good care of them; or you spew larvae into the high tide in prodigious numbers and hope for the best.

Of course both strategies are seen to a lesser or greater extent in any group of animals. That is, some 'lower' creatures have long lives (e.g. sturgeon fish), while some mammals have relatively short lives (e.g. the mouse).

Indeed, it is hard to say which one is 'better'.

Just some suggestions of "classic" sci-fi novels that might prove to be related to our current situation.

Make Room, Make Room - Harry Harrison
Stand on Zanzibar - John Brunner
The Sheep Look Up - John Brunner
Earth Abides - George Stewart
Alas Babylon - Pat Frank
The Dispossessed - Ursula LeGuin
A Canticle for Liebowitz - Walter Miller Jr.
Dies the Fire - S.M. Stirling (okay, this one's not a classic - yet)

Anybody got others?


Yes: "The City and the Stars," by Arthur C. Clarke. Which also describes an Earth in the far future divided in two estranged countries, Diaspar (highly technologic but without much human depth) and Lys (very intuitive, right-brained). One civilization of advanced yogis, the other a grown-up version of the Jetsons.
Thanks, Sunlight, I'd forgotten about "The City and the Stars." Haven't read it in more than 25 years. Will have to go back and read it again.
Fred Pohl "The Space Merchants" is about the "consies" vs the capitalists.
"Dies The Fire" is silly entertainment. I still read it because it's fun, but it's silly. He wanted to write a book with twenty five year olds running things by hitting people with swords, so he had to get rid of electricity, then steam power, and finally compressed air power.
Otherwise your jock in shining armor gets wiped out by a ten year old girl with a flame thrower. Entertaining, but silly, and nothing to do with peak oil. They had huge amounts of wood power to go around after 99% of humanity died off in the famines caused by electricity not working and the subsequent technology collapse.
I'd have to agree with you about Stirling's book being silly. He appears to be a silly writer who takes himself way to seriously. However, swashbuckling aside, I thought some of his imaginings of post population collapse were interesting. We likely won't see the huge die off he portrays, but even if it is, say, 50% in developed countries, were going to have huge changes to confront (assuming I'm not one of that 50% who die off - if I am, well, you're all on your own ;-)).
Yeah, the Foundation series is really outstanding. I picked up a hardback compliation a couple of decades back and find myself re-reading it every other year or so.

If you liked Foundation, you might also like the works of Lloyd Biggle Jr, a favorite of the Science Fiction Book Club era. His books can be found in finer used book stores and have been re-released in print on demand format:

I highly recommend "Monument", "The World Menders", "The Still, Small Voice of Trumpets" and "Silence is Deadly". More often than I care to admit, I'll pluck one of these off my shelf and settle into a comfy chair with a couple of fingers of good scotch. It's a great way to spend a rainy Sunday afternoon.

During my high school years in the early '40's, I learned a lot more about everything from Science Fiction than I did any where else.  I particularly remember one story in which a guy finds a crystal about size of a sugar cube that had packed in it all the learning of all the ages, plus more (this way before silicon chips).  And another one in which a planet is inhabited by a bunch of really smart people who invent stuff so fast that they never get anything done, having thought of a better way before they are half thru anything.  And of course all of Asimov and his pals.

I gave it up after the Bomb, since every story was a catastrophe way too possible and depressing to read.  It really is astounding that we got thru the cold war,  ("when you gotta choose between luck and brains, pick luck every time").

But this time, I am feeling that we will just have to go with brains; we have drawn down our luck reservoir to a dry bottom.

wimbi, OT:  drop by my blog and send me an e-mail. I've got a question for you.
This morning, my stepson told us that a friend couldn't find wood pellets for sale, anywhere.  As we do most weekends, we went to buy a trunkful from our dealer.  The clerk said they had been beseiged with calls from people who bought stoves at Lowe's or other hardware stores that don't have pellets anymore, but assured us that they would have pellets for their customers.  

Then the dealer walked in and said that we'd better buy our pellets now because he wasn't sure how long he'd have any.  He looked a bit flustered, and said it was annoying.  He had told us a few weeks ago that he was expecting a big order of stoves this week, and that all of them were already sold.  So I'm wondering, what happens when all those new customers need pellets for their brand new stoves?

When we bought our stove, my wife asked him if there was any way we could make our own pellets.  He seemed genuinely surprised at the question then, but I'll bet he's catching on now.

So I have two more trips to move a skidful of pellets into my basement.  That should set us up for the winter.  I thought pellets might get scarce in a few years, but this is happening a lot sooner than I expected.

We have been experiencing similar issues with coal here in the Northeast.

Last year, our delivery (3 tons) came very late in the season. Our supplier told us his supplier was selling anthracite to China, at $20/ton over the asking price. When asked what the people who depended on coal for heat in the US were supposed to do, this gentleman (from PA) said, "Freeze."

This year, our supplier's truck broke down, and we never heard back from him. He never answered our calls. So we went to another supplier, who said his phone "was ringing off the hook." We had to haul our own coal in a trailer, for the same price ($230/ton) as it would have cost us to have the other guy deliver it. This second supplier said coal was getting scarce because of some new smelting process that takes anthracite instead of soft coal.

I'm glad "coal" has a bad rep., as it will keep people away. They confuse bituminous with anthracite, but the latter actually burns cleaner than heating oil.

We're going into a coal-stove refurbishing sideline here, we think. Not many people know about coal stoves, but something tells me they will very soon.

I started looking into pellets because I think it is a great system.  Burning scrap wood, and the advanced stoves are very nice, with auto ignition and controlled feed rates.  A friend has one, and I am impressed with it. But in the end I went with a wood stove, as I was worried about the pellet situation, it was much less expensive, and I have enough wooded land.  I truly like cutting and splitting wood, but it is hard work and time consuming.

These new sealed wood stoves with air intakes above the fire for secondary combustion work very well.  I'm quite pleased with it, it's nothing like my Dad's old air-tight stove from the 70's.  When it is burning as it was designed, there is very little smoke, adn the heat output is incredible.  I run the airhandler from my oil fired system to circulte the heat, and it heats my entire house with no problem.  

I'm also running a small potbelly coal stove in a separate porch area.  Now that I've learned how to work it, and what size coal to use, it works rather well.  A little dirty as far as ash handling goes, but it is a very old, small stove.  Coal is difficult to start, and I doubt it will become very popular again unless things get really bad.

As a follow up, I just calculated out what it is costing me to run that little coal stove.  I'm getting bags of pea sized anthracite for $7 a bag.  Now that I have the right sized coal, it burns for 4hrs before I need to shake it down and add coal.  Because starting it is such a pain, you really don't want to let it go out, so this weekend I've been keeping it going.  I've used a bag in about 2 days, so $3.50 a day.

I also have an electric heater out there, in case the stove goes out. At 1500W running continuously, and around $0.10 per kWhr, it would cost $3.60 a day.  It does not run flat out (I'll have to look at the duty cycle, but it does cycle even at 25Deg), so it should be less than that.  

The lesson is you must be careful in the assumptions.  It would appear that running the electric heater is cheaper.  Of course, the coal stove has more capacity, so when it is really cold I'll keep running it, but when I do run it I don't want to let it go out.  I would guess that the coal stove would be more economical if I were using it in a larger room where its higher output would be better used, and in fact during the day I open that room up to the rest of the house.  But it's probably going to be more of a backup and assist for really cold weather now.

The things I adore about our coal stove:

  • it's beautiful, an 1850s Cyrus Carpenter set range

  • it provides radiant heat

  • we cook on it (in fact, it's our only cooking range)

  • it heats all our hot water (via range boiler system)

  • it gives us independence: if the lights go out, the stove keeps humming

  • it has two ovens (our lives revolve around food and cooking)
You are a step ahead of me - I'm planning on a wood or coal cook stove with hot water heat for the room where that coal stove is now.  I'll be rebuilding the room this summer if I can, and once it is properly insulated I can open it up to the rest of the house for heat.  Then we wil have an alternate cook/heat/hot water source.  I think that will be a worthwhile investment.
When I was a kid, there was a coal fireplace in my bedroom. You start them with half a dozen knots. Make a knot by rolling 2-4 pages of newspaper into a tube and then knotting the tube. Put a couple of loose rumpled sheets of paper on the bottom, set the knots on top of that, and then a modest layer of small coal on top of that. Usually only takes one match once you get the knack. Open the damper all the way and light the loose paper in two or three different places.
We have a coal/wood stove that will use the basement flue to be vacated by the NG furnace.  We're in PA, too, and we haven't yet found a supplier for the good nut coal my wife's Dad used to get for their house, but we can get wood as a backup to pellets.  Reading that Albany article, we got off cheap this year.  I guess keeping warm is going to be more and more interesting.
Buyers burn as prices rise for scarce wood pellets

They are still manufacturing pellets.  They just can't ramp up fast enough to meet the current demand.  I suspect most people  are not using pellet stoves as their sole source of heat, so hopefully they won't freeze to death if they can't get pellets.

If those stoves can burn shelled corn (perhaps mixed with pellets) then there's a way the store could stretch the supply of wood (and have a lot more satisfied customers!).  Shelled corn is mighty cheap this year; if I'm not mis-reading the CBOT site it's about $1.90/bu (56 lb/bu).  You might be able to get it cheaper straight from a farmer.
Peak pellet!
Changing subject...

  1. Gas here in Seattle is $2.25; diesel is about $3. Yet as has been discussed here the loans from Europe are over and there is still shut in capacity from the Gulf. WTF?

  2. The stock market has closed at dizzying heights the past week. I can't see any rational reason why this should be so. Are we seeing the kind of last-ditch pump and dump that people like Michael Ruppert have claimed is coming? I am mostly out of the stock market but wondering if it is worth getting all the way out.

Comments, thoughts?
G7 Meeting - Keep Your Eye On The Ball
By Chuck Augustin

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven will meet in London on December today and tomorrow, ostensibly to say goodbye to Alan Greenspan. This meeting will actually finalize critical decisions that will dramatically impact the world economy and the price of gold. However those decisions will likely have little impact on the final outcome.

A year ago gold was sitting at about $453 and seemed headed to $500. The dollar was plummeting against all major currencies with the Euro/Dollar sitting about 134. The Dollar/Yen around $105. The reason for the dollar's weakness and gold's strength was the total imbalance of trade and current accounts deficits and the growing national debt. On Dec 7, 2004 during the Asian session, the Plunge Protection Team began gold's decent from $454 to this year's low of $411 on February 8, 2005. Gold has certainly rebounded despite the now futile attempts at manipulation and despite the dollar's continued artificial strengthening.

Finance ministers and central bankers from the Group of Seven will meet in London Friday and Saturday. G7 finance ministers and central bankers normally meet three times a year in February, April, and September or October. But this meeting will be an extra one that officials have said is to pay tribute to Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan who ends his tenure at the U S central bank at the end of January. It is obvious the agenda at the meeting relates far more to the crisis situation fast approaching and probably has little to do with Greenspan's retirement. Last year's decisions and economic plans obviously have not gone to plan, thanks primarily to the continued cost of the Iraq war and the crippling effects that Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had on US oil supply.

Crisis meetings appeared to take place in Asia during October and November when Greenspan and Snow rushed off to Asia, followed shortly by Bush's visit. The timing of these visits in relation to the hurricanes is not coincidental and certainly waived a "red flag" as to the gravity of the situation. On 29 August 2005, Katrina made landfall devastating New Orleans and key refineries. On 24 September 2005, Hurricane Rita wiped out Gulf oil production and more key refineries. On 3 October 2005 the Department of the Treasury announced the Snow visit to Asia for 10-13 October, then on October 17 it was announced that Bush would visit Asia 15-21 November 2005.

Obviously I do not know what was discussed or agreed to during the crisis Asian visits. There was the usual smoke and mirrors relating to a variety of issues. Certainly the revaluation of the Chinese Yuan was reportedly discussed. The public announcements following the Greenspan, Snow and Bush visits did not indicate any progress on Yuan devaluation. However the U.S. Treasury on Monday declined to name China a currency manipulator, despite the demands of many U.S. lawmakers, but served notice that it will keep pressuring Beijing to let its currency rise in value. It was interesting to me that South Korea announced withdrawal of their troops from Iraq immediately after Bush's visit. Look for the Yuan to appreciate shortly and Washington to cease their "strong dollar" propaganda, among other things.

The Plunge Protection Team has been able to keep the fantasy going until now. However the truth about our dire oil situation is beginning to surface. Following the first cold snap in the NE United States, crude oil inventories fell 4.2 million barrels, more than expected despite the huge amounts of oil that have been pumped into the US system since Katrina and Rita from European and US strategic oil reserves. Europe has ceased sending us their reserves and the US reserve supplies must be significantly depleted. We are still only at about 50% production capacity from the Gulf. Winter is still weeks away and oil is approaching $58 a barrel. Soon the price of oil will spike. It will be the temperatures, especially in the NE, that determines the price of oil. Our economic fate once again lies in the hands of Mother Nature, and she has not been kind to us lately. As a Christian, I believe in the power that controls Mother Nature.

The housing bubble is already popping despite the manipulated sales data. Heating bills and decreased home equity borrowing will soon cripple consumer spending and, with it, economic growth. A heroic effort will soon be made by the government Plunge Protection Team to try to prevent the stock market from collapsing - it will probably fail. The removal of the M3 data will help camouflage the manipulation, but gold's current strength indicates many foreign government central banks and big money are preparing for the impending world recession and possible depression.

The fate of the dollar and planned manipulation during such a crisis situation will be decided soon. With the end of the corporate tax breaks for repatriated profits at year's end, the dollar will lose much of the source for it's artificial strength. With the dramatic economic slowdown due to decreased consumer spending, the Federal Reserve will have to stop rate hikes and will probably quickly have to lower rates. This will send the dollar decent into overdrive. Foreign investment into US Treasuries will disappear. The dollar must fall further and faster. Inflation will become hyperinflation as the US is forced to monitize its massive debt.

I believe the rapid decline in the dollar is inevitable and will shortly follow the G7 meeting. The focus of manipulation will be on the stock market, for if it crashes or even declines, pension funds will collapse and a depression will be upon us. Gold is easily maintaining $500/ounce primarily due to cartel central banks being gold short and non-cartel banks increasing gold reserves. The sharp drop in the dollar will likely see gold spike dramatically. As the economy slows and the above scenario unfolds, I believe gold will break $1000 sooner than anyone could imagine.

Indeed, the retirement of Alan Greenspan will be the last thing on the minds of central banks Friday and Saturday. The world economy's roller coaster ride is about to head down, and cartel central banks have destroyed their golden seatbelts. The bankers must be scared to death and saying their prayers. My golden seatbelt is fastened, and my faith in God comforts my fears. However I will also continue to say my prayers. Are you ready for the trip down?

Perhaps Alan Greenspan does realise about peak oil. While in London he was awarded The Freedom of the City of London. One of the perks this gives you is the right to herd sheep over London Bridge.
The timing of this interim G7 meeting was very political, whatever PR spin they decided to give it. It was called at short notice, supposedly for Greenspan, but timed to take place in London not Russia, where the next scheduled meeting is to take place.
It must have been important not to have the Russians there (who will be hosting G8 in 2006), but an explanation has not been forth-coming or between the lines as far as I can tell.
Also, I have not been about to open the Oilcast web page for ages, is it only me?

If US stocks are going up slower than the dollar is going down, isn't that still a net down?  Which brings me to a topic I'd like to bring up.  I've read so many strong opinions here and elsewhere that we'll have inflation, or that we'll have deflation.  There was deflation in the Great Depression, but there was no resource limitation then.  Some say inflation means excess money supply, not simply higher prices.  But for an individual or a business, what's the difference?  And "excess" must mean relative to the resources that money can buy.  What if the money is constant but the resources (i.e. oil) diminish?  Finally, I am confused about the effect of the circular movement of money.  It's not just the sitting amount of money, it's how fast it's spent over and over again.  If we pay more for fuel, what happens to that money, is it spent again or is it somehow immobilized?  Where?  No matter how we cut it, it seems that we're destined to be resource-poorer.  I.e., the average person will have to make do with less.  Monetary policy may make it look like higher prices, or lower incomes, does it matter?  It matters to those who have cash on hand (inflation is bad for those who have savings), and it matters to those who are in debt (inflation is "good", but only if incomes increase, to cover at least part of the rate of inflation).  And can we tell the real rate of inflation?  Some say the gov is under-reporting it.  But can they do that in the long run?
Borrowing from James Turk:

Before you can argue if we will have inflation or deflation you have to define how you are going to measure it. If you measure it in $$ then we are going to have inflation - the printing presses are running full speed. If you measure it in the price of gold - then we are going to have deflation - it is going to take less and less gold to buy the same stuff.

Re: The curious Mr. Fatih Birol

Some of us have posted on the IEA's Cornucopian outlook but that view is strangely mixed. On the one hand, everything's OK, not to worry, blah, blah, blah. But enormous investment will be required to get that oil to market and as we all know, most of that oil is in the Islamic Middle East. Most blameworthy, naturally, will be the OPEC countries in that region should the insatiable future demand of the OECD countries, China and India not be met because they did not drill enough wells in places like "The Empty Quarter".

Curiously, this future blame does not seem to extend to Russia or the policies of Vladimir Putin, which are inhibiting oil production there. Russia is not an OECD country in case you were wondering. Stuart's post Who will save us from a 2005 peak? would seem to make clear that it has been primarily the resurrection of Russia's output in recent years that has allowed supply to barely meet world demand.

In any case, it is interesting to follow the statements of one Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA. For instance, IEA's Birol: Iraq Won't Top 3 Million B/D Oil Flow Until 2010.
"We've been very cautious on Iraq," he [Birol] said....

IEA's projections show Iraqi output, which averaged 2 million b/d in recent decades during political turmoil and wars, is expected to be 1.9 million b/d, because of continued attacks by insurgents.

IEA projects Iraqi crude output will grow to 3.2 million b/d in 2010 and rise further to 5.4 million b/d in 2020 and 7.9 million b/d in 2030.

Iraq's oil exports averaged 900,000 b/d in 2003 and 1.4 million b/d in 2004, IEA data show, and are expected to climb to 2.5 million b/d in 2010 and 6.9 million b/d in 2030....

In the month after the start of the Iraq war, April 2003, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney predicted that Iraq's oil output - then at just 160,000 b/d - down from near 2.5 million b/d in the months just before the war - would return to 2.5 million to 3 million b/d by year-end 2003.

But a continued, strong insurgency has tormented efforts to boost supplies, by repeatedly blowing up pipelines and cutting off needed electricity.
And now the reactionary Washington Times has just published a story Speculation surrounds oil peak and Fatih speaks again
"In terms of prices, I think the risk is ... it's going to explode," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York last week.

Mr. Birol thinks plenty of cheap oil remains to be discovered, but it lies mostly in politically volatile nations of the Middle East. He is hopeful that those countries will spend the billions of dollars needed to increase their supplies and satisfy the growing appetite for fuel.

"The bulk of the growth needs to come from very few ... countries in the future, namely Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait" and the United Arab Emirates -- the countries where the lion's share of the world's remaining oil reserves lie, he said.

Two of the top four producers -- Iraq and Iran -- are not expected to increase supplies any time soon.

The man himself. Also, in case you were wondering, Mr. Birol is from OECD member Turkey and teaches energy issues in Austria (where he went to school) and Germany.

So, he's got a story and by God he's sticking to it. There's plenty of oil but "in terms of prices, I think the risk is ... it's going to explode....". And when that happens, we'll know who is to blame.
Iraq is not one of the top 4 producers, it is the 14th.
Gone with the Wind
A wave of melancholy pervaded me as I read in Friday's open thread about catabolic collapse. Once the Roman Empire and now Uncle Sam ? Just impossible. Besides Big Mac and blue jeans, I can remember a few things coming from America in the last 150 years, as telephone, electricity, aviation, mass car production,TV, computers, internet; not to forget democracy, stability and globalization. I don't know much about antique Rome, but this is a lot too much to be gone with the wind.
Wind I said? Wait a moment! I just saw that beautiful picture of the wind turbine of 5MW and while thinking about it and searching a little , my state of mind changed drastically. From Vestas site, I understood the price tag of 1MW of installed wind power is about 1 milion $ ( about 1$ per installed watt, compared with 3...10$ for installed photovoltaic power). 1MW of installed wind power as primary energy is equivalent with about 2800 barrels of oil per year, if the wind blows 4000 hours/year. Multiply it by 500000 and with about 500 billion $ as one time investment you may replace the entire actual US oil production or North Sea oil production ! It seems a lot of money, but it's less than twice what US consummers pay every year for NG and it's less than last year's US trade deficit. Beside this, with 0.06$kwh for wind electricity,
it seems to be cheaper than electricity from NG at
14 $/MMBTU . I just happened to look at //
?s=NYMEX_NFG6&v=d6 and I saw the story not of Katerina, but of NG depletion in North America. Instead, some brave oil company may find tomorrow morning a new Ghawar giant oil field, but the chance for it is slim. It just did't happen on Earth in the last 40 years.
Times are changing. Investing in wind may be now more profitable than investing in oil exploration. By the way you may get energy independence, balance the external trade and laugh about Kioto protocol as irelevant.
Collapse or not, if US remains a sleeping beauty in energy domain, its top ranking in wealth may be gone with the wind.
Happy Peak Oil day!  
I've no doubt that wind will be a big part of catabolic collapse.  Wind may be renewable, but the resources that go into making wind turbines are not.  
The primary resources that go into wind power are dirt, dirt, dirt, and electricity.
Unless you think we are going to run out of clay, limestone, iron ore, and bauxite?
We will certainly run out of iron ore and bauxite eventually.  And electricity will become a lot scarcer.  

And as pointed out elsewhere in the thread, modern turbines are made out of high-tech composites, which are basically made of oil.  

We will certainly run out of iron ore and bauxite eventually.

Run out of IRON?

Time for more pictures.
A little snapshot of the planet you live on:

and here is the text that goes with it

These layers include (1) the dense inner core composed largely of solid Fe and subordinate Ni, with radius of about 1200 km, (2) the molten outer core  composed largely of liquid Fe, with subordinate sulfur, with a radius of about 2250 km, (3) the mantle, composed of relatively dense rocky materials, with radius of about 2800 km thick, and (4) the crust which comprises the thin relatively light outer skin of the earth, is divisible into two types: the oceanic crust (~7 km thick) and the continental crust (about 35 km thick). Whereas oceanic crust is composed of basaltic rock, the less dense continental crust is composed of a great variety of rock types having an overall average composition akin to granite.


And if not enough for you, there is also this:

Question for younger TOD readers: Do they teach science in school anymore? Like "Earth Science" and "Space Science" or is it all just "Intelligent Design & Fashion Trends"?

I meant we'd run out the same way we'll run out of oil.  Of course we won't really run out.  But we'll run out of the high-quality, easily accessible stuff, which is what Hoyle was saying.  
As a Vestas shareholder, I have had a terrible week and a half.  Vestas is going to lose money this year and their stock dropped 23% in one day.  The Spanish producer Gamesa has the same trouble.

The wind companies are having trouble functioing in the current hyperinflationary environment.  A time of catabolic collapse is not a good time to be building a new infrastructure.

E.O. Wilson was interviewed the other day on Boston's WBUR on the subject of evolution vs. Intelligent Design.  He was gentle, so you had to listen to the words because you weren't going to get any bombast.  But what [I gathered from what] he said was: the awful pain that we inevitably get from accepting evolution is that we realize we, and we alone, can take care of our future.  It can be very daunting to accept such a level of responsibility, but there it is.  Intelligent Design may be a way of repudiating evolution, as an unconscious defense against having to face the responsibility.  

I bet our founding fathers kept religion out of politics in part because they knew, given this huge new continent, that their acceptance of responsibility for the future would be crucial.  

We recently "hosted" (invited to our home for a few suppers)a devout Muslim graduate student in the area.  We spoke of population control, and he stated his belief that God will provide for all His children.  I wanted to ask about God having already provided famine and nuclear weapons as potential tools for population control.  But he was much too sincere and young for that.

I agree with Leanan's comments based on the article about catabolic collapse (one of my favorites).  Today I listened to a lecturer on population-level bioethics... he was a Public Health guy, and offered puzzles like "you have 50 pills and 100 patients.  Of these patients 50 need 2 pills each to survive, 50 need 1 each. Otherwise they are identical.  How do you allocate the pills?" and "Your town has $100,000 for colon cancer testing.  Test A costs $1 and will save 100 lives.  Test B cost $2 and requires you to select 50,000 at random to be tested, but it saves 110 lives.  Which test - A or B?"  Both issues are about limits on resources and about deciding who lives and who dies.  (My take on #1: ask the 100 patients to put themselves in the role of the decision maker and decide the best alternative.  My take on #2: Both tests entail randomness - certainly Test A leaves sick people undetected.  Therefore each is as utterly random as the other, so Test B is preferred.)  We concluded that "warm-heart" emotional choices based on "fairness" lead to the wrong choice in both cases.  To me, the theory of catabolic collapse says one must foresee where you'll end up and cut off the rest ASAP.  Like amputating the leg before it's too late...

Sorry about this sad and harsh post.  But I think we'll have to abandon our fantasies.  (Easy for me to say, I suspect, being retired with grown and OK children.)

I fail to see how making difficult life-and-death decisions in the face of severely limited resources has anything whatsoever to do with the so-called evolution vs intelligent design pseudo debate.

Evolution, regardless of what powers it, takes place over eons, whereas our survival through the anticipated oil crunch will take place over the span of a few decades (if that), hardly enough time for true natural selection to come into play. Of course, some might say that this is a case of survival of the fittest, but don't be so sure that you know who the fittest are. In terms of pure cave-man type survival, the most intelligent may not be the ones with the evolutionary 'right stuff' to make it through. The ghetto gang-banger may have more suitable survival skills than the corporate lawyer.

This is the problem I was talking about in a previous post: these concepts like 'evolution' or 'intelligent design' have become metaphors for  something else
having little or nothing to do with the original meaning of the two concepts.

OK..  I'm perhaps guilty of mixing two topics in one post.  First I suggested Intelligent Design (in other words, a God that cares for us) could be an unconscious excuse people make to escape the tough reality of E.O. Wilson's big point (that I tried to reproduce) -- namely, that evolution is the way we got here, and ACCEPTING evolution as the process that created us implies that we must take responsibility for what happens to this planet.  Period.  Because we are our only hope.  Which lots of people must find too uncomfortable to accept.  I find it sickening, but I accept it.

From there I wanted to mention the horrendous ethical questions - life-or-death questions where resources are truly limited.  Catabolic collapse comes in because it says we will have to recognize future loss and cut those losses pro-actively, rather than waste money foolishly trying to save the unsavable.  This must be even more difficult and grim than making ethical decisions where an emergency is immediate and present.  

Life-or-death questions where resources are truly limited

"truly limited" ????

THAT blue DOT is EARTH !!!!

(brought in closer to the sun for scaled comparison)

The Intelligent Designer (if SHE exists)
Left behind this huge FUSION Pile in the Sky
At present, we are using an infinitesmally small part of the energy daily emitted from this fusion pile. It is our lack of imagination rather than lack of energy that is our true problem.

Attention. Higher Mother calling to Whitehouse. Attention. You did not have to go off killing all those Iraqi's in order to get more energy. There were and still are, other options. Your Higher Father, the one I divorced long ago, has been giving you bad, unscientifickill advice. --signed, Mother Nature.

right click on the image and pick "View Image" to see the dot
Unfortunately, most of the sunlight that reaches earth is already doing work.  Often not very efficiently, granted, so there may be some improvement available there.  Perhaps we could genetically engineer more efficient chlorophyll or something.    

But science will not be the answer, unless we use it to get off this planet.  (And I fear it's too late for that.)  I think we are facing The End of Science.  And would be even without peak oil.

As Tainter points out, 90% of the scientists who have ever lived on earth are alive now, yet technological innovation is slowing.  Diminishing returns applies to scientific research as surely as it applies to oil fields.  The low-hanging fruit is picked first.  The general knowledge, which provided the greatest benefits, is already known. The specialist knowledge remaining to be discovered requires expensive education and equipment, for relatively little return.

Peak oil will make this worse.  The April ASPO newsletter had an interesting article called Life After Oil.  It postulated a future U.K. where the current 60 million population was reduced to two million.  Six million was the Malthusian limit of the country before oil, so two million would allow a decent standard of living.

But at that population, will they have enough scientists, engineers, and technicians to maintain a high level of technology in the face of diminishing returns?  I tend to doubt it.

This article in the July newsletter was very controversial, but this part of it was 100% correct:

In this time of energy abundance, and the complacency it engenders, the vast majority of the general public assumes that what the future holds is "more of the same". They argue, if pushed, that the expertise inherited by post-fossil-fuel scientists and engineers will allow a smooth transition into a new kind of energy-rich world in which renewable generators will produce as much energy as fossil fuels do now. Such a view is untenable because it ignores the fact that almost all materials essential to modern civilization will be orders of magnitude more costly, and scarce, when they have to be produced using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.

In 2150, for example, a wind turbine constructed of steel, concrete and plastic may not be able to generate, during its lifetime, as much renewable energy as would have been used up in creating it. Imagine mining, refining and smelting the metal ores, quarrying and transporting the rock, growing the biomass; fabricating the component parts, and erecting and maintaining the structure, using only the trickle of electricity produced by another similar turbine. Vast engineering projects such as constructing the first Airbus A380 airliner (Bowie 2005), using only renewable energy from start to finish, would be unthinkable (to say nothing of flying the plane without oil!).

Energy has been so cheap for so long, that most of us have no clue about just difficult it is to build infrastructure, energy-wise.  

So what is the answer?  Tainter says there are two possible solutions.  One is to gain control of new resources.  This is what Europe did when they colonized the world, and what we did when we switched from coal to oil.  Now, it would mean getting into space, and harvesting those methane seas or some such thing.  

And the other alternative is collapse.  Reducing population and societal and technological complexity, so as to reduce our energy needs.  I think this is the more likely outcome.

Peak oil will make this worse.  The April ASPO newsletter had an interesting article called Life After Oil.  It postulated a future U.K. where the current 60 million population was reduced to two million.  Six million was the Malthusian limit of the country before oil, so two million would allow a decent standard of living.

I don't buy those numbers, at least not the "Malthusian limit" of 6 million. Japan had 30 million inhabitants before fossil fuels, with large portion of the land inaccessible for agricultural use (although the climate is somewhat more convenient at least in the southern parts), and Japan's total land area is only 50 % larger than that of the UK.

Even Finland, where the climate is much less inviting than in the UK, has been said to be able to support a population of three million without fossil fuels (and has supported a population of about two million before any significant use of fossil fuels).

Standards of living will have to be lowered (and will be, by force where necessary), especially for the two highest income deciles.

Japan had a lower standard of living than even the peasants in Europe.  Traditionally, the Japanese ate no meat.  Fish, but no meat.  They also had a lower overall level of technology, which meant they could support more people...but also put them at military disadvantage when the two cultures collided.  

Standards of living will have to be lowered (and will be, by force where necessary), especially for the two highest income deciles.

Well, that is my point.  Population will have to be lowered, or standard of living will have to be lowered, or, most likely, both.  Complex technology is part of our high standard of living.  We are not going to replace petroleum with wind-generated electricity and continue on as usual.  A hundred years from now, if we are still building wind turbines, they will probably be only a few of them, and only for the use of the elite.  

We are not going to replace petroleum with wind-generated electricity and continue on as usual.
There's something like 72 TW of available wind power world-wide.  This is 2150 quads of pure electricity per year, compared to humanity's current 400-quad appetite of raw fuel.  Wind is already cheaper than petroleum, and the price is still falling.

Wind is intermittent, but it's not the only source of energy on earth.  You can use the sun to make electricity.  You can stockpile biomass (baled switchgrass, Miscanthus or crop stalks and straw) or biomass byproducts (charcoal, stabilized bio-oil) for when the wind and sun aren't available.  Biomass is cheap; the projected price for biomass-derived F-T diesel is about $3/gallon, less than 50¢/lb.  If I understand correctly, ethylene can be made from syngas as easily as diesel; polyethylene from biomass probably wouldn't cost much more than $1/lb, up from about 70¢/lb now.

A hundred years from now, if we are still building wind turbines, they will probably be only a few of them, and only for the use of the elite.

If technological society doesn't collapse by 2020, it's not going to.  Photolytic hydrogen and multiple-exciton photovoltaics will make energy fairly cheap, especially in the tropics. 
I disagree.  Catabolic collapse may take centuries.  I certainly don't think we'll forget all our technology by 2020.  Unless we have a Maya-like collapse, and the masses turn against those with technical knowledge.  Which I suppose is a possibility.  If they decide that technology is what put them in such dire straits, they could well turn against the technologists.  There is already a distinct anti-science and anti-intellectual bent in the U.S.
And the country or culture that values their engineers and scientists will then rule the earth since military power depends on technology.
... most of the sunlight that reaches earth is already doing work

I believe that most of the solar energy that hits is converted into wasted IR that radiates back out to space (blocking that escape route gives us global warming)

We get roughly 1kW per square meter that we mostly let fly off back into space

Read more at:

Or, look at the picture:

So, you're saying global warming in a good thing, because it keeps more energy on the earth?
So ... global warming is a good thing, because it keeps more energy on the earth?

If energy did not radiate away (boil off) from this planet and back out into space at the same rate it comes in, the "temperature" on our planet would keep rising and rising. The outward radiation is something known in physics as the black body effect. Obviously since our planet is not a cooker like Venus, solar energy is not being retained. It passes through.

Just because you have energy passing through, does not mean you are making good "use" of it.

Suppose it is winter and you have an oiler heater going full blast in the basement (with hot water circulation) but you keep all your windows open. Then you complain that it is cold in the house. Well energy is coming through, but you are just not making any good use of it. You're letting it simply blow right past you. That is pretty much what we humans do with most of the sunlight that reaches us. Think of the sun as the oil burner in our hypothetical basement. Think of our failure to use solar energy technologies as keeping the windows wide open. Lucky for us we have some chemically-stored, concentrated sun power held up temporarily in our fossil fuels and we are making use  of that.

Lucky for us we have some chemically-stored, concentrated sun power held up temporarily in our fossil fuels and we are making use  of that.

Exactly.  Emphasis in the "concentrated."  Solar power is a diffuse form of energy compared to what we are used to, whether we harvest it via solar panels, wind turbines, or biodiesel.  We are going to have to work a lot harder to get our energy without oil.  That is why I don't think we'll be able to support our current level of complexity without oil.  

90% of the scientists who have ever lived on earth are alive now, yet technological innovation is slowing.  
I think you'll find that the cause for this is legal, not technological.  Monopolists have been using the patent and legal systems to limit competition from more nimble, innovative competitors.  Those limits are much easier to remove than innate physical or human ones.
Diminishing returns applies to scientific research as surely as it applies to oil fields.  The low-hanging fruit is picked first.  The general knowledge, which provided the greatest benefits, is already known.
I think you're not giving enough credit to emergent properties.  The internal combustion engine made heavier-than-air flight more than just a curiosity, though this was hard to foresee; vaccines eliminated smallpox and may eliminate polio; semiconductors enabled the Web, though computer networks were just science fiction when Shockley did his work.  Each advance raises the floor for everything else, and enables a bunch of nascent possibilities.

You'd be better advised to look toward ultimate physical limits than current technology.  Some of those limits are close at hand (try storing more energy in a volume than with a gallon of petroleum!), but we're quite comfortable with them.

The April ASPO newsletter had an interesting article called Life After Oil.  It postulated a future U.K. where the current 60 million population was reduced to two million.

I debunked that back in April.  The author postulated an energy consumption some ten times current US levels, and a rather inefficient energy gathering scheme to boot.  Even if you stopped the technological clock today, you could do far better.
In 2150, for example, a wind turbine constructed of steel, concrete and plastic may not be able to generate, during its lifetime, as much renewable energy as would have been used up in creating it. Imagine mining, refining and smelting the metal ores, quarrying and transporting the rock, growing the biomass; fabricating the component parts, and erecting and maintaining the structure, using only the trickle of electricity produced by another similar turbine.

It's much more than a trickle.  Take the rotor blades for a 10-megawatt machine.  If they weigh 35 tons each and are half resin by weight, that is 52.5 tons of resin for the entire machine.  If this is produced from biomass at 1/3 efficiency, the total input required is 157.5 tons of biomass; at 16.1 GJ/ton (a figure I think I found here), the input would be 2.54 TJ for the resin.  That's less than three days of full-power operation.
Energy has been so cheap for so long, that most of us have no clue about just difficult it is to build infrastructure, energy-wise.

That's true, but just because you don't know a way to do it off the top of your head doesn't mean it's impossible.  There might be someone who knows how to do it with a figurative snap of the fingers.
I like your optimism.  

The next issue we need to tackle is the political and social realities that still plague the world.  This is were my idealism and realism clash.  

Maybe we need more proofs of concept.  Convincing people that it's possible to do something is half the battle; it's hard to maintain that something's impossible when someone is out there doing it.
Sorry, I don't buy it.  If it really is just the evil monopolists keeping good ideas down, we'd expect to see these new ideas exploding in Third World nations where intellectual property law is routinely flauted.  They pirate DVDs and software like there's no tomorrow, don't they?  

No, technology really is slowing down.  The number of patents is falling, even as the number of scientists and engineers is increasing.  Why is this?  Wouldn't the monopolists of which you speak want to patent everything, if only to keep it from going to market?  

Tainter and those who have declared "the end of science" are correct.  There are limits to what we can do with mere knowledge.  We have been facing diminishing returns on technology for a long time.  If we had infinite energy, it might be different - but we don't.  

Vaccines and sanitation were easy and cheap, and had huge benefits.  But now, despite spending more on medical care and research than ever before, we are struggling to keep our average lifespan from falling, due to new challenges like AIDS.  

You watch TV shows from the early '60s like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, and they all predicted we would be traveling space and colonizing other worlds by the 1990s.  It didn't happen.  Why not?  Ten years after the Wright Brothers' first flight, someone was running a commercial airline.  Here we are, 35 years after man first walked on the moon, and there are no commercial moonflights.  What went wrong?

The answer is diminishing returns.  Even with cheap and abundant oil, there are limits to science and technology.  They are going to smack us in the teeth when the cheap energy is gone.

If it really is just the evil monopolists keeping good ideas down, we'd expect to see these new ideas exploding in Third World nations where intellectual property law is routinely flauted.

You're assuming there's nothing else (like corruption) to keep things from growing in the Third World.  That is, of course, hilariously wrong.
No, technology really is slowing down.  The number of patents is falling, even as the number of scientists and engineers is increasing.

Izzat so?  Unfortunately the USPTO doesn't make their count of patents granted available as a PDF online (wonder why that is?), but here is a list of the first patent numbers granted by year for the last 169 years.

Difference from 1950-51: 44363
Difference from 1960-61: 47238
Difference from 1970-71: 64439
Difference from 1980-81: 61890
Difference from 1990-91: 90592
Difference from 2000-01: 158014
Difference from 2004-05: 165015

Unless there are a LOT of unused patent numbers in those lists, the trend is very strongly upward.

Which isn't necessarily important.  The fewer new things there are to patent, the more fall into the public domain where they are free for everyone to mix, match, and recombine.  Only some of those will be patented or patentable, but all of them will be new.

Wouldn't the monopolists of which you speak want to patent everything, if only to keep it from going to market?

To patent it, they'd have to invent it first.  That isn't their strong point, if you hadn't noticed.
If we had infinite energy, it might be different - but we don't.

Nothing is infinite (even the sun has a finite amount of energy to produce from fusion of hydrogen to carbon) but the sun and even the wind are enormous compared to contemporary human efforts.  Their duration might as well be infinite compared to human history.  I'm not sure what point you wanted to make.  Infinite energy density?  Well, there's atom bombs....
we are struggling to keep our average lifespan from falling, due to new challenges like AIDS.

Maybe in Africa and SE Asia.  It's alcohol and TB in Russia.  But in the USA?  I don't see it.
Here we are, 35 years after man first walked on the moon, and there are no commercial moonflights.  What went wrong?

We let the government run it.
Even with cheap and abundant oil, there are limits to science and technology.

Okay, you tell me the physical limits.  You can start with that 72 TW of windpower, and what the 60% efficiency from multiple-exciton PV converters could get us from just our current rooftops.  Add in photolysis of water at roughly the efficiency of single-celled algae (you know we're going to engineer the necessary enzymes in the next few years).  What multiple of current human energy consumption will we be limited to?  Before we get off the planet and start spreading square miles of collector per person, I mean.
There is enourmous potential in biotechnology and nanotechnology but our tools are still too primitive to allow rapid innovation.  Perhaps they will advance rapidly in 10 years, or in 100 if we get a few generations of turmoil.
I think he was talking about the psychological aspects, not actually saying evolution would help us deal with peak oil.

But I must say...the "intelligent design" thing is one of the reasons I think it will be an incredible challenge to maintain our scientific and technological knowledge after TSHTF.  Yes, I know most Christians are not fundamentalists.  But in tough times, extremism tends to increase.  Already, the anti-science trend here in the U.S. is quite disturbing.  Information about abortion and condom use has been removed from the CDC Web site.  Funding for science has been slashed, except for military research.  The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has been  stocked with rightwing religious conservatives who don't believe in nuclear half-lives because they believe the earth is only 5,000 years old.

I'm not saying the extremist Christians will be burning evolutionists at the stake.  (Though I'm not ruling it out, either.)  But the days when solitary mad scientists could conduct meaningful research in their basements or attics are long gone.  Now you need public or corporate funding.  Money for particle accelerators, or scanning electron microscopes, or MRI machines.  Not the kind of thing you can build yourself in your spare time.  Will the public be willing to continue to fund and support scientific research and education?  I suspect not.          

You are certainly right on that one! The day of the amateur gentleman scientist doing important work on his own is long gone and has been replaced by government-funded academia.

Regarding fundamentalist Christians worming their way into things so that they can get their hands on the levers of power, I know for a fact that in our area there is a concerted effort to get the 'right' kind of people on school boards so that they can steer things in a more 'Christian' direction.

Plus, I am particularly disturbed by the fact that the only place a theoretical scientist can get a job these days is either with a defense contractor or an academic institution that is funded by the government. There is very little available in the private sector these days for the true research scientist (Big Pharma possible being one exception if you are a microbiologist or the like).

You may be joke about burning non-believers at the stake, but undr the right circumstances some of these people are not too far removed from doing just that. Being 'religious' in and of itself doesn't buy any points in my book, as some of the biggest, meanest bastards I have ever known  outwardly professed to be deeply religious.

It's going to be tough enough dealing with the future energy situation without a bunch of religious fanatics mucking up the whole situation.

The day of the amateur gentleman scientist doing important work on his own is long gone

How true.
Sadder still is the public perception of "technology".
I see it over and over again where lay people confuse "computer" technology with science in general.

It may still be possible for a lone wolf inventor in a garage to craft some good software innovation on his/her home computer (providing they have a good C compiler).

But HARDWARE types of innovations --the kind that our energy shortage problems require-- have much greater barriers to entry.

One needs a real laboratory.
With real scientific measurement equipment. (big bucks)

In short, one needs government support.
The present administration has faith-based belief in free for all markets. Very sad.

But HARDWARE types of innovations --the kind that our energy shortage problems require-- have much greater barriers to entry.

  • We can roughly double our return on the fuel we use with cogeneration.
  • Cogeneration can be done easily with 1920's technology.
  • We have modern technology like microcontrollers which can improve the performance of old iron with minimal expense and, in some cases, greatly reduced complexity.

The kind of innovations which take big labs are molecular biotech (though the sulfated charred-sugar biodiesel catalyst might have been done in a kitchen), semiconductor physics and the like.  We'll get advances from these fronts but there's plenty we can do without them.  Some others, like better electrodes for Li-ion batteries, are being strongly driven by the market.

It isn't just theoretical scientists.  Even experimental scientists.  I was trained as an experimental physicist.  All sorts of neat equipment and tools, but all that stuff was expensive, and you needed grant money to pay for it all.  The only problem was that I began to feel like what we were doing was a form of intellectual prostitution - we were entirely beholden to the funding agencies, and for us it was DOD.  I would go to work thinking to myself that it would probably be better for the world in general if the stuff we were working on didn't actually work for what we claimed it might (we were doing basic research, so a failure to deliver something "usable" wasn't fatal).

These days I work in the software field - working on a commercial product.  Unrelated to goverment contracts, unrelated to DOD.  Perhaps not quite as interesting, but at least it doesn't raise the ethical questions that the DOD work did.  In fact right now I am quite glad that I have nothing to do with the Federal government....

The ghetto gang-banger may have more suitable survival skills than the corporate lawyer.
Somehow I don't see the gang-bangers surviving long in an environment of uninhabitable cities and suburban neighborhoods protected by citizens with scoped hunting rifles.  It's not like they have useful skills to swap for sustenance.

 "The ghetto gang-banger may have more suitable survival skills than the corporate lawyer."

 The Street kids, the Poor countries, The folks who live off the land,  these will be winners in fight, but in the end they to will suffer because they killed all the doctors and the medicine run out, and infection rules again.

 If you are closer to the ground you have less far to fall. And most of the rest of us, don't have parachutes.

Happy flying.

E.O. Wilson is one of the wisest persons alive.

His book "Consilience" should be read by EVERYONE.

He has a chapter on economics that the folks here at this forum would find toothsome.

And stepback: thank you thank you thank you for that earth image!

on a different subject..i have been contemplating putting in a PV system, perhaps a small one, 2.5 kw, for some time. i would see it as a self-sustainability move, to power a low output well pump and a dc frig. our state has little in the way of financial support, unlike NJ or CA, but the local utility will buy back the power. that is really not an issue, since i don't see the pittance they pay per kw as ever amounting to much compared to the large investment i would have to make to install a system. i really wonder whether it is worth the time and money, since i think, rightly or wrongly, that electricity will be more reliable than any other power source. i know a number of TOD's have PV systems. what has been your experience, and could you comment on the possible self -suffiency aspects?? a system of this type would run~ $15-20k as a guess ($1k=160 watt panel)
I have a 2.9kW peak rated system installed in May 2004. It generates about 2400kWhrs of electricity a year here in cloudy England. I don't know what it is like where you are but the output for a non-tracking system could vary from about 60% more in Arizona to about the same in Maine. My system cost about GBP20,000 ($34,500) including the inverter and all the roof work on my old Victorian cottage. Of this the UK Government paid half.

The system is connected to the grid and I get paid for the electricity I generate in a bizarre way. I get 5 pence (8.5 cents) a kWhr hour whether I use it or it is exported to the grid. Power from the grid costs 15.1p (26.7c) for the first 730 daytime kWhr, 8.3p (14.7c)/kWhr for the rest of my daytime use and 3.4p (6.0c) for night time power (midnight to 6am).

I probably save with present electricity costs about GBP250 ($442) per year. This represents about a 4.4% return on my investment. These are probably better conditions than are available in most places in America but pretty miserly compared to those my friends in Germany can obtain.

My conditions also more favourable for photovoltaic power than many in that I have no other practical source of centrally distributed power than electricity. If I were displacing natural gas the returns would be smaller

If you subtract the interest I could have got from my investment had I not bought the system it is clear I am not going to make a profit in my lifetime if prices remain near the present levels.  

If however peak oil is very imminent and electricity prices are about to soar the economics could be very different.

If you have sufficient use for all the energy immediately as it is generated and this use does not mind the intermittency such as water pumping to a large reservoir then you can do without an inverter or batteries. This will help the economics but you will still have to have an AC supply.

If you do not have such a use you have to have a battery storage system or you have to connect to the grid or you have to accept a large loss in potential energy generation.

Presently available batteries have a very limited charge cycle life. The cost of replacing batteries is presently about the same as the cost of all the electricity  stored in them over their lifetime. Both prices may change drastically  with the effects of peak oil.

If you connect to the grid to enable you to sell the excess power to the grid then without a battery back up the system will not work when the grid is down.

nick, thanks for the informative reply. as we both have noted the dollar (pound) value of feeding back to the grid isn't monetarily worthwhile. it becomes a question of grid reliability. this is "unknowable" as donald rumsfield famously said.if i knew i shouldn't count on the grid i would act immediately. also,peak oil is not peak coal or peak hydro which are two favorite forms of production here in the northern rockies.we are blasted with sun in the summer but i can't imagine that solar production is much above zero in november to the end of february,where the two choices are cloudy and dark. so not a reliable source here. so, that's my quandry.
My approach is to deal with uncertainty through flexibility and a measure of redundancy. I have 3kW of PV panels in my field and a battery bank in my basement with enough storage capacity to run the essentials for 4 days. The batteries are designed to be used daily and to last for 20 years. I can charge the batteries with the solar panels, or with a generator, or with the mains, depending on what's available. The inverter is programmed to charge the batteries from the mains only at night and only if they need to be topped up.

I could net-meter in order to get the largest economic benefit from the panels, but I'd have to install an expensive net-metering system and entangle myself in red tape.

The essentials (well pump, sump pump, fridge, freezer, circulating pumps for solar thermal and outdoor wood furnace, security system etc) run off the batteries all the time. The next most important things (another freezer, geothermal system, furnace fan, efficient washing machine etc) are connected to a generator panel. They run off the mains normally, but during an outage I could run them with either a gas generator or a diesel generator run off my tractor, depending on what fuel is available and at what price.

I recognise that none of this represents a permanent solution, and that not everyone is in a position to do this sort of thing. But, if no one did it just because everyone can't, then the common resources would be that much more stretched post-peak than they need have been. I firmly believe that those who can should try to achieve a degree of self-sufficiency. They may then be in a position to benefit a number of other people besides just themselves if things get difficult. Personally, I'm planning to turn my farm into a small community.


Quite an impressive array of systems you have going there!

It would be great if we all had that kind of redundancy.

My efforts have been a bit more modest: trees down around the house for more sun, a large vegetable garden, large seedling starter system, gasoline generator wired into critical components of the house (refrigerator, lights, heat, well pump) and most recently (and decidedly low-tech), storm doors. Most helpful of all has been turning down the thermostat. A recent propane bill for $388 made that an easy decision!

Next up: wood furnace. Wishful thinking (at least for now): hydroponic greenhouse, solar stirling engine, water-driven electric generator and windmill. Might have the greenhouse next year. CropKing sells an entire "hobby" system for $10,000.

Thanks for all the info about the solar panels. I priced a solar PV system here with a battery bank at $17,000. That will have to wait!

One of my faviorit publications on RE is Home Power Magazine  It is a wonderful resource on many aspects of renewable energey with lots of articles and info for DIY folks. They have a good deal of info avalable on the web, and you can purchase back issues on CD rom.
you can also get a digital subscriptioin in PDF format for $15 U.S. dollars.
I enjoy reading Countryside and Small Stock Journal - The Magazine of Modern Homesteading. It costs $18 per year and is full of ideas for ways of doing things with few outside inputs. The intended audience is people who simply enjoy living that way (ie you won't find any articles about peak oil or survivalism). It's positive and helpful.
Redundancy is important as you don't know quite what you'll be facing, what resources will be available when, and how long you may have to cope on your own. Having more than one way of doing the essentials expands the range of circumstances you can cope with.

Something to consider when you're choosing a battery bank -not all batteries are created equal and there are therefore substantial price differences. What kind you should buy depends on what you're planning to use them for. If you intend to net-meter and use batteries only as back up occasionally if the grid is down, then you can get away with much cheaper batteries. If you want to use them all the time like I do then you need better ones. The ones designed to cycle every day for 20 years cost more than the ones designed to last for 15. I was assuming I wouldn't be able to replace them (for reasons of cost or availability or both), so I went with the most-long lasting ones I could afford up front.

You also need to decide what length of outage you'd want to cover yourself for, and therefore how many batteries to get. You can't add new batteries to an old battery bank later (you have a window of about a year) if you realize you should have put in more, so think it through well to start with. I'm told 4 days of back up is typical for an off-grid system.

What batteries are these Stoneleigh? Some lead acid batteries are quoted at 20 years but this is only on float operations. Typical lead acid batteries intended for solar applications sold in Europe such as Sonnenschein VRLA series are down to 50% of storage capacity after about 850 charge/ discharge cycles at 80% discharge per cycle. This is about 2 years 4 months on a daily basis. Taking the drop off in capacity after about 400 cycles, the cumulative energy stored until you have to consider buying new batteries is equivalent to about 540 times full rated energy.

I don't know what the price of such batteries is in America but here in the UK a 0.96kWhr (12V x 80Ahr) VRLA series battery is GBP 257 ($445) including tax. Its lifetime storage capacity is about 518kWhr. This works out at GBP 0.50 /kWhr (86c/kWhr) Even if the batteries are half the price and last twice as long, the battery replacement costs are much more that the cost of grid electricity in most places.

I was surprised to learn from a recent post here that cheap off peak electricity is rare in America. For most of the winter I can get the heat the house using the heat pump mostly at night. It was thick brick walls internally and externally and so has massive thermal inertia. Although the price I get paid  for generating electricity is fairly low, I can still buy electricity at night at less than 70% of the price I sell it at during the day.

If you can get these sort of prices it is much better to use the grid as a sort of giant battery than use real ones.

In the UK where there is almost no domestic air conditioning and heating is always needed in the winter the grid effectively stores summer generated electricity for winter use. This use of the grid as a battery can only work when the number of people using it is small so the energy flow causes little disturbance to the overall generation rate

Certainly in the UK there is a long way to go before this is a problem.  

I have 6 4V Surette 4ks-25ps connected in series. They provide 1350 amphrs of battery storage and cost me $6800.

Here's a description from the web: ( )

Rolls (Surette) Model: 4KS25PS in their Series 5000 Solar, manufactured specifically for solar and other renewable anergy applications, with dual-container construction - 10 year warranty, 36 month free replacement, up to 20 year life span, non-breakable, environmentally friendly, no acid leakage. These are 4 volt 2 cell lead-acid batteries connected in series for a 12, 24 or 48 volt system. For a solar or wind application this a far superior, much more
reliable, longer lasting battery than the gel cell or glass mat batteries. IOW this is the best, most cost effective, battery available on the US market for off the grid applications.
Contact: Information, pricing, brochure, dealer list, etc.:
Rolls Battery Engineering
Frenk Pelletier
Salem, Ma.

One very important consideration that goes into the design of such a system is whether or not to have a battery bank. Modern PV systems come in two basic flavors - grid-connected batteryless systems that feed any power they generate directly to loads in the house or back out to the grid and systems that use the PVs to charge a battery bank which in turn can drive loads in the house. Having batteries vs. not having batteries makes a big difference in the ultimate cost of the energy because batteries are expensive and will have to be replaced several times over the life of the system. For a system of the size you are contemplating electricity from a battery-less system will run about 25 cents per kWhr over the life of the system, while a system with a full battery bank will run about 40 cents per kWhr.

There are some advantages to having batteries that can offset the difference in cost. A battery-less system is useless when the grid goes down, so you might want to take the frequency of power outages in your area into consideration. A system with a battery bank also makes it possible to take advantage of time-of-use metering. This is what we do - our system is set up to not use any grid electricity at all during the daytime. Any electricity we need at night to run loads or recharge the batteries after a cloudy day comes in at an off-peak rate of about 4 cents per kWhr.

I would consider taking the potential for frequent power outages seriously when deciding whether or not to go for a battery bank. You may not have many outages now, but we haven't fallen off the natural gas cliff yet. Your neighbours haven't all gone out and bought electric heaters yet. There may be plenty of hydro normally, but what if there were a dry winter (so that there was a smaller than normal mountain snowpack) on top of shortages of fossil fuels?

Outages are extremely likely to be more common in the future than they are now, and to last for longer periods, especially if you live in a rural area. A battery bank allows you to cover the essentials, as well as to take advantage of time-of-day pricing. The price differentials are likely to increase substantially if people turn to electricity as other things become scarce.

The short term market answer to PO is to reduce waste.

Let's assume that the next car you buy is twice as efficient. A car lasts for some 15 years, every year 7% of the cars are replaced. So by this calculation, 3.5% of decline for the next 15 years can be absorbed without any significant consequences. I admit, this calculation is a bit rough, but I feel the ballpark figure is about right.

60% of the milage you make are done within 5 miles. That means it is feasable to do it by bike. Currently, people do not use bikes much in the US, but when gas is 6 $US per gallon, I can guarantee you that will change. Why? Because it has already happened in Europe 20 years ago.

So let's assume 30% of these trips are replaced by bike, over a period of time. That means another 18% saving. Over 15 years, that will be about 1.5% reduction per year.

How about public transport? I remember the (famous) remark by JH Kunstler: "The US has a railway system that would make the Bulgarians ashamed". Well, I think maybe it's a bit different. Building a railway system is very expensive and I don't think we'll be building anything like it anymore. But setting up a bus service is actually very easy. It requires almost no capital investment. If you look at a country like Japan, where there is excellent public transport, people reduce their milage by about 35%. Now ofcoarse, that is not completely applicable to other countries (the population density is extreme in Japan), so lets say 15%. That's about 1% per year over 15 years.

There is a famous example: The city of Hasselt in Belgium has installed free public transportation. The costs are about 100-200 US$ per family per year. It is done through taxing, so there is no 'opt-out'. The good part is that bus usage has increased 12 fold. Hasselt is a small town, and thus the consequenses are limited. But what if you do this in a larger city? Say in London?

If you add it all up, then a 6% saving per year, each year can be done without much trouble, with the same standard of living, assuming no growth in oil usage. (not really realistic, but ok, for arguments sake)

I think the issue with PO is not the declining availability of oil, but the economic consequences. In 15 years, the amount of cars we will buy is about 2/3th of what we produce now. So which one will have to go? Toyota, Ford or GM? GM has 300 billion US$ in debt and that will show up on the balance sheet.

Just my 2c's, ignore it if it makes you laugh;-)

Please consider Javons Paradox if you think reduction of waste or conservation will help.

I find Javons paradox very difficult.

I think Javons paradox applies only when you are in a situation where there are no hard resource constraints.

By conserving energy, and thus applying resources more efficient, you would think that the economy will grow, because you will do the same, but with fewer resources, i.e. cheaper. Thus you can do more with the same resources. So economic growth.

But if resources are limiting economic activity, then this is a 'hard wall'.

If you can do the same with fewer resources and if resources are declining, then where is the conflict? So where does that leave Javron?

I give you another (theoretical) example:

  • I can buy a Hummer
  • or I can buy a bike.

Because this is a change in the current situation, the one of them will have a positive effect on the PO consequences, and the other a negative effect. Must be, mathematically speaking. Which one will have the 'best' effect?




I'm certainly no expert in Javons Paradox, but I believe that it works on the global level, not at the individual level.

So, to use the Hummer vs bike example. Suppose that the resources that go into a bike are 1/100 of a Hummer (I know, but this is just a hypothetical). By buying the bike in an otherwise unchanged growth oriented economy, I make it possible for 99 more people to buy bikes as well. This sounds good, but since the resources will eventually run out anyway, all I've really done is allow for a greater population build up before the die off that comes with resource depletion.

At least, that's my take on it. Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.


Please excuse my obsession with accuracy, but I do believe all of you mean Jevon's Paradox. :)
I think population growth is a policy issue. Actually punishing people for reproducing (à la China) is one thing, but there is an efficient way to control population increase without such restrictive measures. There is a strong negative correlation between women's literacy numbers and birth rates, and lesser, but still significant, correlation between birth rates and the size of the fraction of women who receive high-level education.

I hear a lot of 'the society cannot afford to "over-educate" the general populace' these days, but I think this is wrong. In the long run, we can't afford not to.

There are a few other things that are puzzling me.

The OECD countries are the ones using the most oil and most of them have a birth rate below 2.05, the replacement level. 1.29 for Japan, 1.25 for Singapore, 1.5 for Italy and so on. Only the US is a bit above 2. Japan is even expected to shrink in population from next year on (the male population in Japan shrank in 2005 already. By only 8000 though on a male population of 63 million, but it is expected to shrink to 100 million by 2050, from 128 million now)

The predictions for the population growth go to 9 billion in 2050, the growth mainly occurring in developping countries. They don't use much oil. The strongest adjustments to our way of life will be in the OECD countries. And they are very well self sustaining nowaday, that's why we have these agricultural subsidies all over the place. We produce so much, we don't know what to do with the stuff, apart from practically giving it away and wrecking every developing economy on earth by doing so.

Further, a very large part of the food that is produced is corn. In the west, that is some 40%. Corn is mainly used for animal feed. A little bit for syrups etc, but that is only a percentage. Feeding corn to a chicken and then eating this meat at the local McChicken, is about 10 times less efficient than eating the stuff yourself, or planting wheat if you don't like corn. I strongly believe that the whole fast food industry exists only because we don't know what to do with the stuff. And those poor farmer multi billion dollar mega bussiness, you don't want to cut them off, do you?

Next one is that the critical ingedient for agricultural produce is fertilizer. Lots of it. Fertilizer is made from NG, not oil. Oil is used to drive tractors, but a truck crossing the US to deliver lighters & plastic toys from the harbor in SF to Chicago uses more than a farmer in a year. Or a plane in a single day trip between London and NY. Diesel for farmers is not going to be the issue. Transcontinental trucking will have come to a halt many decades before that will happen, let alone intercontinental flights. Did you know there is a plane leaving for NY from Amsterdam 7 times a day?

NG has peaked in N.A. And NG is predominantly used on the continent it is used on. However, it's quite simple to make fertilizer in Qatar (as Dow Chemicals is doing) and then ship the bulk tanker to the US. Very efficient on energy also, since there is an abundance of NG in the middle east. No home heating needed there, so what are they going to do with it anyway? Make lighters?

Home heating in the US will be an issue on the short term. Maybe already a little bit this winter, probably a bigger issue next winter but the winter after that, it will be clear to everybody. But not food. We will produce food as much as we want until well into the 22th century.

I think you're wrong about how much oil farming uses.  Diesel-rustling has been a problem for a year or two now.  They use petroleum not only for tractors and other equipment, but to run irrigation pumps, to dry their crops, and to ship them.  

The Growing Cost of Growing Wheat

The kind of corn we grow for livestock is very poor quality.  Not really fit for human consumption (though I suppose it would be better than nothing if you were starving).  And farmers generally can't just switch from corn to wheat if they feel like it.  Farmers grow the most valuable crops they can.  If they don't, they can't pay their mortgages, because the land is priced according to the crops expected from it.

Home heating issues?

Electric heat from nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar?  Electric cars?

One thing that concerns me is that peak oil may well mean the reversal of the trends that have led to lower birthrates in recent decades.

Certainly, the empowerment of women is one of those factors.  But will that be maintained after TSHTF?  The second major factor is urbanization (having 12 kids on the farm is free labor, having 12 kids in a tiny city apartment is a pain).  The third is higher survival rates among children.  Parents are willing to have fewer children if they can be sure they will survive.  Often, this means better health care - vaccines, sanitation, etc.  Sometimes it means political solutions (ending war, providing jobs or food aid).  

I fear those last two will unwind post-peak, and probably the first as well.

(Replying to a post up there...) Yesterday the Dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, one of three leaders of the Clinton administration's restructuring of welfare, spent and hour on this general subject, and concluded that education was VERY important based on what current trends seem to project.  In particular it is important to educate adults who are already in the work force, so they can improve their lot(s).  It's a good job for Community Colleges and maybe we'll develop an Internet-based education system...
If I could afford to buy a Hummer I would.  But I would buy the bike and use it.  The Hummer will be Lawn Art for the kids to play on.
People would rather drive gasoline automobiles than electric automobiles by about two to one because electric cars are only good for communting to work and shopping, and can't be used for vacations, but they prefer electric automobiles to bikes at about a thousand to one. And it's not like we are going to run out of electricity.
The electricity system is not as robust as you think. In many places it's creaking at the seams already at demand peaks, not to mention drowning in debt. What do you think it will be like when people who can't afford to heat their homes adequately with natural gas all plug in electric heaters instead, or turn on the oven and leave the door open? Power prices are subsidized in many places for political reasons, which should encourage people to switch to electricity en masse when other things get tight. I don't see how we avoid rotating blackouts in the future.

The only way to expand the use of electricity substantially would be to do it in the off-peak (ie add it to the baseload). Charging batteries for electric cars at night would be feasible for instance. Having a battery bank in the basement charge up at night would be a good idea for the same reason. During the day many things could be run off stored electricity. Converting to very efficient lighting and applicances would help as the capacity freed up would act as a temporary cushion. It's not a long term solution by any means, but it might buy us time.

What type of range does an electric car need to have so you can use it for vacations?  Lithium ion and Lithium polymer batteries can provide that range:

Here is an idea:

Offer the same car or truck model with different size packs.  If I only need X amount of range and I don't want to spend very much, I can get a car that "only" goes 50 miles per charge.  If you need a car that goes 1000 miles between recharges, then you can spend X amount on it to have that type of range.

Subaru and Mitsubishi are currently working on electric cars using these batteries.  Hybrids will soon be using these batteries.  Mass production of these batteries will bring the prices down.

These batteries are real and can be bought today:

The prices are high right now because they currently only do limited production runs because of demand.


Does this mean that after 2 years, maybe 3 at best (if I recharge every 1-2 days) I am going to need another pack of batteries?

You can either buy gasoline every week, or new batteries once every ~3 years.  Batteries don't last forever.
You pay for the electricity, which is also not going to stay cheap. If you buy a regular car you do not pay about half of the price of it for maintainance every 2-3 years... I don't see a way to sell this idea unless they provide a decent rebate for the old batteries.
We re-created a middle class from the ashes of the pre-WWII Great Depression using false premises. These consisted of cheap oil = light sweet crude (taken together = Big Oil). Entire industries were built out of nothing, as were cities (some that have no geographical right to exist, e.g. greater New Orleans).

I remain optimistic that using both techniques of our ancestors and newer technologies we can survive a transition to a low-energy, sustainable lifestyle. This requires mere willpower as the first step.

This will happen first by necessity in regions where "modern" (i.e. cheap oil-based) economic activity has run its course. I would gladly participate in such an initiative in any way I can.

Please post your info, ideas, links either here or to my inbox.

Thank you!

Well, the first part of that process used a lot of coal still.  

I believe the big problem is that to go a more sustainable lifestyle will require a drastic decrease in population.  I don't see how the present population can do anything sustainable.  If that happens within our lifetimes, then it will mean a die-off, which is the scenario some predict.  Of course, those on the list for not making it may have some cause to disagree, so social upheaval would also ensue.  If it happens more slowly, then perhaps it could be managed.  It would require a few generations minimum.

In order to try to stretch out the time available to decrease the population, we'll have to use some energy sources that may not be long-term sustainable and have environmental problems, like coal.  What is the alternative?  Plan to have a big die-off and hope you're one of the lucky?

I would love to see a smaller, slower, sustainable lifestyle, but I have a hard time envsioning a scenario where we could get to one without a lot of harm coming to a lot of people.  I'm not going to wish that on anyone, nor do I have confidence that I would be spared. We are not going to wake up in 20yrs and have it be the 1800's but with electricity, PV, and wind.

It should be quite obvious that population growth has aggrevated almost every one of our problems, not the least of which is the future availability of useable energy.

While estimating the human population in the past has an inherently high degree of uncertainty, I was quite surprised to learn that the best estimates place the global population as late as 1650 as only something on the order of  600 million people -- less than one tenth of what it is today.

Even at that early date, much of Europe was already overcrowded in terms of the availability of good agricultural land and forest resources. The strains were already starting to show, even though Europe had a population only a fraction of what it is today. Technology, and the utilization of concentrated forms of energy enabled the population to grow while at the same time vastly improving the standard of living.

If the world had a tough time getting by in a low-tech,  low-energy environment with only 10% of today's population, I wonder what things would be like if we were to return to that sort of an environement but with 10 time more people.  I don't think it can be done, and a massive die-off would be quite likely.

I wonder if some people are secretly hope that this bird flue will wipe out millions and thus cull the herd (of course, as long as it's 'them people' and not 'us people).

Yes.  Our current population growth rate is clearly unsustainable:

The tough thing is that governments often see a dropping population growth rate as a problem.  They need new citizens to pay taxes, or serve as cheap labor, or fight their wars.  Few countries are willing to do what China did, and enact a one-child only policy, or do what that island in Diamond's book does, and send away people every year in order to keep under a hard population cap.  

In the U.S., the easiest way to limit population growth would be to cut off immigration.  Without immigration, we would have achieved zero population already, or even be slightly negative.  (And, incidentally, would have zero economic growth, too - which explains why the politicians are against it, even thought the voters say they are for it.)    

I think we can have a soft landing, population-wise, but it would have to become our #1 national priority.  

I have to laugh when I hear some analysts say there is nothing to worry about because the population growth rate is dropping and will thus cause the population to stabilize in 2000-and-something at a level of 8 - 9 billion.  While the global head count might stabilize, there is going to be nothing at all 'stable' about a world with 50% more people than there already is now!

I also don't understand people (such as Pat Buchanan) worrying about the population declining in places like Europe. Large numbers of people have long since become a liability rather than an asset, their usefulness as cheap labor and sources of tax revenue nothwithstanding. While big business might feel some pain as country's population gradually declines, those are the breaks. I see nothing wrong with a business growing or shrinking as demand expands or contracts.

While restricting immigration would help the US in many ways, it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem on a global basis. In fact, immigration has served as a social relief valve for countries like Mexico, who would probably have massive social upheaval if they couldn't 'vent' some of their  least fortunate into the US. On the other hand, one could argue that shutting down this relief valve would force them to address their own problems rather than dumping them on the US.

I think at root of the problem is this embedded notion that we must have economic 'growth' to be economically healthy. This idea is fundamentally flawed on many levels, but our current economic system depends on maintaining this fiction.

I think the reason Buchanan is worried is that he fears losing what he sees as a demographic war.  He's afraid that if white Christians don't breed faster, they'll be outnumbered by dark-skinned Muslims.  It's his worst nightmare.  

Though oddly, he and his wife do not have any children themselves.    

On the other hand, one could argue that shutting down this relief valve would force them to address their own problems rather than dumping them on the US.

From what I understand the Subsidies paid to US farmers have made it impossible for farmers in mexico and around the world to make any profit.  Which is one of the interconnected factors leading to increased immigration in the U.S.

I would say our trade policies and domestic subbsidies are part of the problem...

If people would stop having kids, the natural death rate would dwindle the size of the population down rapidly.