John Tierney's brilliant energy plan

If you have access to Times select (through a library, your own subscription, whatever), you might be interested in reading John Tierney's NYT column on what he thinks it means to be addicted to oil. In a nutshell, he dismisses any possible future energy problems, because he just assumes that the next, latest, greatest thing will inevitably come along: "The problem with Americans is not that we're addicted to oil. As soon as oil becomes more trouble than it's worth, we will sensibly stop putting it in our cars."

Toward the end he goes on to say:

The United States spent decades propping up the shah of Iran only to see the country fall into the hands of our archenemies, but Iran is still exporting oil -- and it is a lot more reliable producer than Iraq, despite all the money and lives we've spent there. The best guarantee of future oil supplies is the sellers' greed, not our diplomatic and military efforts.

When something finally comes along that's cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary. Capitalists will be ready to sell it to eager American drivers. For now, the best strategy is to buy gasoline and stop worrying that it's sinful or dangerous.

I'm very frustrated by this, you know?
The guy really said this?  Sounds an awful lot like Nero's fiddle to me.
Statements like this wouldn't be so bad if the deal was made plain to the consumer - you are on your own, choose your energy plan wisely.

My frustration is that government takes the easy way out and prtends they are taking care of the future.  The Pres holds hand with Saudis.  The Pres talks about hydrogen cars.  No need to worry, right?

As I've said before (and elsewhere) we'd be better off with either a true free market plan OR a mananged energy plan.  The damange comes because we really have a free-ish market plan in the background, with just enough of a "planning" veneer to satisfy the consumer (for now).

At some point the consumer will wake up to the disconnect ($3/gal gas? 4?) but in the meantime the kabuki continues.

Strictly speaking, Mr. Tierney is correct--there will be alternative energy sources.  The problem is of course one of scale.   Once we are on the downslope of Peak Oil worldwide, which is where we are probably at today, alternative energy sources will only slow--and not reverse--the decline in the total conventional energy supply.  

In terms of BTU equivalent, we use--from oil, natural gas, coal and nuclear -- the energy equivalent of a billion barrels of oil every five days.   We use the energy equivalent of Prudhoe Bay every 60 days.  It will be very difficult for any alternative energy source or sources to make up more than a small fraction of this rapidly depleting conventional energy supply.

For example, in Canada, even with increasing production from tar sands, total oil production year over year is basically flat.  When you plug in the net energy calculations, total Canadian oil production is actually going backwards, on a net energy basis, year over year.  

Exactly. Theoretically he's right, but he doesn't give any context to how that transition will occur or if we will have a better or worse standard of living on the other side. IMHO the process will be very painful to many people except the super rich. And on the other side we will have significantly lower per capita energy usage.

However that doesn't mean that after the adjustment we will necessarily have a lower quality of all depends on what we do in the meantime.

To me the real question is exactly how you define quality of life.  If having a high quality of life is defined as owning lots of stuff, then yes, you could say that the quality of life would be lowered.  In some sense this is part of the reason that past attempts to get people to conserve energy have failed - you are implicitly asking people to make a sacrifice in their lives - to give up something that they value.  The problem is that they still watch the advertising, and still want the stuff, and they don't like the fact that they cannot have it.

There are of course some things that we really truly need to survive.  Food, water, shelter, clothing are the basics needed just to keep the body alive - things like companionship and friendship would be needed by most people.

When energy prices go up, and people will have to go without, they will still remember and miss the things that they used to own and the things they used to do, and they would resent the fact that this is no longer possible.  People would be inclined to reach for anything to keep things going so that they don't have to give up their material things.

My thinking is that there needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking so that quality of life is measured in entirely different ways.  If we can reach a point where many of the materialistic and consumeristic urges are gone from our lives, then giving up material things up is no longer a hardship.  In fact, it can be liberating in the sense that having stuff that you no longer want or need is a nuisance.

Such a change does run against human nature to a degree, but I believe that many of the wants and desires are planted in our minds by the media.  For that matter, I doubt that most people could make such a change overnight - it will take a while to unlearn consumerism.

A non-materialistic society would seem to be incompatible with a capitalistic society.  Right now with growth being an economic requirement, there is almost a need for people to buy more crap each and every year in order to keep the whole thing humming along.  I have seen other comments here where people suggest that a new economic paradigm is needed - the problem is that nobody really knows quite what it is going to look like.

"there needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking so that quality of life is measured in entirely different ways."

That is going to be long and slow.  I spend a lot of time on home theater forums (a very fun hobby which I will miss tremendously).  There are a bunch of very smart, very knowledgeable people on these forums.  However, almost uniformely, they spend an amazing amount of time talking about advancements in the future, how much prices will go down, what the equipment will be like in 5 or 10 years.  It is almost sad to think about what a shock the future is likely to be to these guys.

They could move closer to each other and cooperate with building a little larger theathers where they share the electronics cost and input a lot of their own building work to get good acustics.

They could then recover some of the cost by selling tickets...

It wont be home theater any more, but small scale theater.
And it would generate social capital for them.

It will be very difficult for any alternative energy source or sources to make up more than a small fraction of this rapidly depleting conventional energy supply.
Very difficult, but only in the short term.  Humanity currently uses about 400 quads/year of energy from all sources.  In contrast, there is an estimated 72 terawatts of wind power available world-wide.  72 terawatts comes to 2150 quads/year of pure electricity (equivalent to about 3x as much fuel, due to conversion losses).

The world is literally awash in usable energy, we just need to develop the technologies to use it effectively.

Everyone is frustrated - you aren't alone. But it was clear from the SOTU that this administration intends to continue with its aggressive and preemptive foreign policies. It is also apparent, from what has been well documented on this board, that the current administration will say absolutely anything to the American people, while quietly doing nothing or even the opposite of what it proposes. We are now on course to broaden the conflict in the Middle East via Iran. The cheering for Bush druing the SOTU made my skin crawl. Former presidents and scholars tell us what he has done with domestic spying is illegal, but we are powerless to stop him. The admission that we are addicited to oil is nothing short of a non-event, and it's definitely not news.

We are well along the path to the chaos of Peak OIl - it will make things fall apart. And looking at the current government, and the possible next government of this country only makes this more obvious to well read people. Things will slowly unravel, and it will get progressively worse. I'm already getting ready for next hurricane season - it's just around the corner, and the government hasn't repaired a single levee. There are blue tarps all over the Gulf Coast skylines still...

Wake up!! Only your local government is in your control, and only your local government can do anything anyway. The federal guys simply do not care other than for appearances sake.  Changes will come, but they will be forced by circumstances and prices. It's not going to be easy to go cold turkey - but that is what we are left with.

The handwriting is all over the media and the internet - read it and get yourselves and your families ready. It's just a matter of when and what manner things fall apart.

Re: "When something finally comes along that's cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary...."


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John Tierney is a columnist and
writer for The New York Times.
He recently won his second
Nobel Prize and is often
mistaken for Brad Pitt

Of course, Tierney is engaging in some humor but I see a lot a validity in that Brad Pitt comparison not so much because of good looks, no, I believe it's the similarity of intellect we must look at here....

Sort of reminds(looks like) me of Dan Quayle...anybody remember him?
I'm still not sure how to spell it:
P-O-E  T-A-Y   T-O-E.   Right?
Huh George, did I get it right, did I get it right?

All kidding aside, our country desparately needs leaders who can "intellectualize" at levels well above 3rd grade spelling bees.

Popularity contests are not the "smart" way to go.

Capitalists will be ready to sell it to eager American drivers.

Well, that is no doubt true.  

What he leaves out is that it's only the extremely wealthy American drivers who will able to afford to buy...

The new hybrid will be a bicycle with regenerative brakes.
starting to see a pattern here.
Matt over at LATOC just posted a link to this gem:

But far more important is the understanding that oil is not a natural resource.

In other words, the natural resource is not the "stuff" _ it's the mind of man who is capable of turning "stuff" into something incredibly useful and valuable.

whoowey, TPTB have set their intellectual dobermans onto us. run for cover before they tear you limb from limb!

I've heard that argument carried even farther (often by religious conservatives).  If the "real" natural resource is human ingenuity, then obviously, the more people you have, the better.  Therefore, we should discourage, perhaps even outlaw, birth control so as to increase our "resources" as much as possible.  
There is also that Murphy's law that states that the Earth total human intellect is a constant value. While the population keeps growing and growing...
Damn, everything and anything gets called 'Murphy's law' these days huh ?
That only proves Murphy right.
"Whatever" can go wrong, eventually will, even Murphy's Law.
I can't help but notice that the Nobel prizes in the sciences go overwhelmingly to people who practice the opposite of what those religious conservatives preach.  A nation with huge masses of poor, uneducated peasants and the social regimentation to keep the peace is ill-suited to the exercise of ingenuity.
There is another sense in which the John Tierney/Betsy Hart pieces are "religious". The Julian Simon cornucopians have faith in their precept that the human mind is above (i.e., not beholden to) physical constraints.

Just as most fervent religious believers would, when circumstances threaten their faith, they have to proclaim their faith ever more loudly.

Much of the economic & ecological history of the 20th century - especially the latter half - can be explained by fact that the world was on the steeply rising part of the global Hubbert curves for fossil fuels. Just as the tectonic theory explained many seemingly disparate phenomena, the Hubbert curve explains the Simon v. Ehrlich wager, the green revolution, population growth, etc.

Of course, human ingenuity is what enabled the growth of fossil fuels; but it remains to be seen whether and how this faith will persist on the Hubbert downslope. But the faithful have to believe & shout out that they believe it will triumph.

REQUEST to Prof GOOSE or SS or Yankee:

Now that we have worked up our froth over the John Tierney/Betsy Hart pieces and the other Julian Simon cornucopians, can we open a new thread for Tom Tom Friedman and his desire to be "energy independent"?

(I've always thought only the dead were "energy independent". But obviously Tom Tom has better ideas in his Moby Dick Cheney blow out editorial today in the --where else?-- New York Times --all the news that's fit for delay.)

Stop it. There are some people you can't afford to lose. Friedman's posture and intentions are correct. If his method is unpalatable, that can be worked on. This guy is the most widely respected (current)NYT columnist who gets major exposure.

Maureen and Paul wish they could be this guy. Tierney can barely write. Bill Safire should think about coming out of retirement.

Friedman supports a dollar tax on gasoline and has written on the subject. He has pull, maybe more so in a Democratic regime than a Republican one, but whatever. Better to get him on the winning team than to alienate him.

Sorry to bring science into this, but oil is obviously a natural resourse. Furthermore, this type of logic depends on one of two assumptions if one is to be convinced that oil scarcity will not be a problem. Either, human ingenuity will discover a better alternative (this approach wins because it circumvents the original topic of the argumend), or human ingenuity will discover better ways to use the oil so we have enough. The first assumption makes the whole argument moot, since you are not arguing with a logical person. The second assumption is just plain wrong. There is only so much energy in a barrel of oil, ethanol...etc. Even if one could harness the rest energy of the individual subatomic components there would be a finite value (though converting mass directly to energy probably would solve the problem).
Betsy (Minds&) Hart(s of America) continues by explaining:

[T]here is no reason, except for price, for me to cut back on any of this [oil consumption]. (I'm not even going to deal with the "greenhouse gas" argument here.) News flash: We have plenty of oil (and, of course, coal for electricity). Bigger news flash: We'll come up with more when we have to.

... the natural resource is not the "stuff" _ it's the mind of man who is capable of turning "stuff" into something incredibly useful and valuable. Julian Simon was a brilliant economist who made just this point in his book, "The Ultimate Resource" (paperback, 1983). He took on the 1970s doom-and-gloomers, who said we were running out of everything except people. Instead, Simon showed that when we looked at man's amazing mind as the "ultimate" resource, then we could understand that natural resources were essentially limitless. As long as that mind is free, it will come up with answers.

Now you have to ask yourselves:
(Clint Eastwood wants you to)

Why are "they" (the minions of the power elite) even bothering to pump out this black trash? (Poo pooing peak oil.)

The answer is because you TOD readers are having an effect.

You TOD readers are getting the message out. Are you feeling lucky now punks, huh, are you?

Exactly how you guys are getting the message out to the grazing, sleeping sheeple, I'm not sure; but you are. Pat yourselves on the back. Now get back to work.

You are making it onto "their" RADAR screen. Being a major part of SoTuS is being on the RADAR screen.

"They" are starting to get worried. "They" are shelling out bucks to Betsy Hart-o-mine and her ilk to write this Hakunah Mattada stuff and to disseminate it all over the newspapers.

Keep up the good works (as Max Weber would say).

That is a very interesting perspective. You are suggesting disinformation.

Although I am inclined to characterize Tierney's and Hart's work as denial, or even ignorance, calling it propaganda is certainly clever. It's a polite way of saying: "liar" isn't it?  

"They" get paid for doing their devil's work. More here
Will asks: It's a polite way of saying: "liar" isn't it?

Senator, you are asking me those hard hard questions.
Thankfully, I am not under oath.
So let me evasively answer you.

No. I'm not calling them "liars".
To be liars (in my book), they would have to have a rational, cognitive understanding that they are disseminating a clear untruth and that people are not interpreting their words as sarcasm.

They are paid political hacks.
They are twisters of the twisted word.
That does not make them "liars".

It's been a while since I looked up Tierney's bacground. IIRC, he was an eco major or a poli sci major or an English major.

One of the hard hard concepts for real-science majors to get, is that your fellow student in college partied hardy. He/she did not have to stay up all night memorizing the periodic table and figuring out how to convert atomic mass into grams per mole. (OK that's too easy --but then again I'm just teasing with the toads.) He or she drank copious amounts of ethanol and learned to worship "geniuses" like tunnel-vision Adam Smith or commodities cornicopians like Julian Simmons. He or she became convinced that Chicken Little will always be wrong. (He's always been wrong before! Sound logic is sound logic.)

There must have been a couple of Chicken Littles pecking away on Easter Island, but the lumber-and-statues mob guys probably whacked 'em. Bad for business you know. That's why you don't read about them Chicken-Littlers in the Easter Island history books.

OOO! OOO! To be a fly on the wall (or the gas pump) when the first piece of sky hits his head! No wait! A fly with a camera!
NYT will supress that story for 5 years until after the SHTF (another acronym).
Step Back

You are pretty sharp, not as good as this site's support staff, but good.

Still, I want to say "bite me".

OK. You said it.
Herewith another DUET (Deep Universal Eternal Truth) from an ancient Greek, you know those guys that stole most of our ideas before we even thought of them:

Against the stupidity of men, the gods themselves strive in vain.

What can anyone really add to that? The verdict is in. Guilty as charged: Brain dead in the first degree.

As soon as oil becomes more trouble than it's worth, we will sensibly stop putting it in our cars.
I guess so. Sure. No problem. But aren't there, oh, I don't know, some issues that might go along with that? Maybe it might make sense to plan ahead a little bit for that.

This guy is glib to the point of being harmful. "Just reassure the people so they keep buying hummers and SUVs."

Using his logic, I will stop putting it in my car, and stop driving anywhere.
planning ahead? Relax, we did. It's called just-in-time supply chain economics
(Warning cross-thread link: it takes you to another TOD thread)
Hey that kind of logic works for a lot of things, for example greenhouse gases:

How much CO2 can we stand? Well, as soon as it's just too hard to breathe, we'll stop doing it...

Or rising sea levels:

Well, as soon as Houston is underwater, we'll stop living there.

Nice to know we're in the brave new world of free-market economics, eh?

I strongly object to suggestions that everyone else in the world is stupid, and only Peak Oil true believers have the wisdom and insight to know what is coming. How about some humility? How about admitting that you might be wrong?

People generally are not stupid, and believers in Peak Oil have no monopoly on the truth. The facts which convince readers here so thoroughly about Peak Oil scenarios are known to many experts who believe differently. Everyone involved in energy and related businesses has an incentive to inform himself about the likely future availability of energy supplies, and few accept the kinds of scenarios which are conventional wisdom around here. Again, if the situation were really so clear-cut and the facts so obvious as most people here believe, there would not be so many people in these businesses, as well as academics and government researchers, who don't accept the Peak Oil concept.

The truth is that the future is uncertain, and there is room for reasoned, rational disagreement about what is likely to happen with energy (as with much else). Viewing people who disagree with you as stupid is just going to close your own mind and prevent you from evaluating all the evidence dispassionately and clearly. It's a counter-productive approach to evaluating and planning for the future.

I am sorry to have to disagree with you, but speaking as a sociologist, the overwhelming evidence is that people as part of collective behavior are extremely stupid.

See for example, the classic by McKay, "Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds."

Are you trying to tell me and others on TOD that people who were borrowing on margin (i.e. most people) to buy stocks in 1929 were not stupid? Do you believe the Confederates who thought they could defeat the Union in 1860 were not stupid? Do you think the people who enthusiastically followed Hitler were not stupid?

I rest my case.

Halfin isn't saying that stupid people don't exist. He is saying that intelligent people can look at the same evidence and come to different conclusions. I think his point is a very important one. It is easy to say everyone else is wrong, stupid, corrupt, etc. But this is self-delusion.

Nobody knows the future and many smart people have been wrong before. The Oil Drum is a great resource and I have learned a lot from it. But I don't believe any of you are able to see the future. I have studied these issues and think I have as good a perspective as anyone. However my ego isn't so big that I think I am better or smarter than they are.

I do not claim to be especially good or especially smart. What I am is rather well educated in economics, history, logic, and statistics. That does not make me smarter or better than anyone else. It may make me better able to interpret data than those who were not as fortunate (and it was luck) to get an excellent education.

Who do I believe?

I take engineers very seriously. I take petroleum geologists very seriously. To the best of my knowledge, they are all on the same page of the same hymn book.

I do not take people seriously who cannot think quantitatively. Sorry.

I do not take people seriously who cannot think quantitatively. Sorry.

Sailor-person, that's where your anchor is stuck.
You need to take those "others" seriously, ... deadly seriously.

They are the ones who control the world.

While you were studying math, science, whatever, ...
They were learning how to manipulate the sheeple masses.

Now think quantitatively on this one.
98% of the voting population does not have a science background --but they do like NASCAR, Super Bowl and American Idiot (err.. Idol).

Whose vote determines the course of our "civilization", yours or theirs?

Not related, but kinda demonstrates how brain washed people are by TV.

One of my coworkers typed an email to me "when my computer sits idol for 15 minutes. . ."

I shook my head and realized all is lost.

whazza wrong with that? I use my computer to watch Idol too.

(just kidding)

It's not odd. I know many people who worship their computers.
My observation, discounting entertainment use, is that 98% of people use computers purely as typewriters.  In the last 30 years we have effectively managed only to substitute the >Print Key< for white-out, correction tape and those funny looking, gray, disk shaped erasers with the little brushes attached and markedly increased paper consumption in the process.
Whose vote determines the course of our "civilization", yours or theirs?
Depends if they're trying to violate one of the laws of nature or not.  Voting to get something for nothing has been rather unsuccessful everywhere it's been tried.
There's a difference between looking at the evidence and coming to a different conclusion, and saying, "No need to look at the evidence, no need to worry," which is what Tierney seems to be saying.
I'm not defending Tierney. I'm defending Halfin in the post above, which makes an accurate and important point.
Excellent point!
Halfin writes ... People generally are not stupid.

and Jack replies... However my ego isn't so big that I think I am better or smarter than they are.

As a student of Lemming behavior, I respectfully suggest that "stupid" is not the correct way to frame the question.

Of course, the average person is not "stupid" --given that "stupid" refers to a level of nonartificial intelligence (NAI) below the statistical norm.

The real question is exactly how "smart" is each one of us Lemmings on an absolute scale? (Not on a relative one where we compare Lemming Head against Lemming Head.)

(BTW, I am no smarter than you, trust me on that one.)

As a species we are not very smart. We have a herd mentality. We stampede ourselves to death. We are delusional in believing that we engage in "rational" thought when most of the time it is the "heart" part of our hearts and minds that is in control.

(Did you ever even stop & ask yourself why "they" say that? --you know, the part about the hearts and minds of the masses-- probably not. Forgetta about it. Go back to sleep.)

Most of the people who poo poo the Peak Oil theory are paid to do it. They get money (moola, cash, dough re me) for pumping that horse manure into the MSM.

On the other hand, very few Peak Oilers get paid. (Maybe some do for selling their souls to the banner ads on the left --but it is a small price to pay for saving the world.) I for one, get Jack sh*t for participating in this and actually lose money by spending time on it. So it goes to show you how stupid I am. But I am convinced that something really bad is going to happen if we don't turn the massive herd of sheeple around and set them on a new course, away from the PO ledge, away from the Global Warming ledge.

On the other side, Daniel Yergin, John Tierney and other paid minions are telling the herd to "stay the course". There is no rational basis for their position. "They" don't know how much oil is left underground. "They" pretend that their ignorance is a strong point. And you nodding head followers start agreeing with them ---gee maybe they got a point.

Now is that "stupid" or "smart" or just herd mentality resonance?

John Tierney is paid by the New York Times. Or do you know something I don't?
John Tierney is paid by the New York Times.

You mean the nice people who didn't tell us about the ly'in and spy'in until after we voted for the ly'in and spy'in?

(I'm talking about the 1 year delay in breaking the news about the out-of-FISA NSA domestic spying program which Bush just admitted to and for which Gonzalez is on the hot seat for. New York Times admits they knew about it even before the 2004 Presidential election was held, but as champions of all the news that's fit to withhold --they withheld.)

And the New York Times is owned by whom...?
The Boston Red Sox!  That's why we get so many @#$% Red Sox stories, even in NY.
My apologies. I hadn't realized they are in on the plot too. I had left my decoder ring at school.
Then again, it would be so much more clever for us independent-thinking type lemming gods to run very fast towards the ledge, and when nobody's looking, exit stage left at the last scrubbling.  The more I think about this, the more it sounds like "Mission Impossible" for us lemming gods to try turning the pack from its appointment with destiny.  They don't want to hear it anyway.
ONE MILLION (yes 10^6) unique herd members have seen the message according to the GOOSE (look here)

As for the exit-stage-left strategy, it doesn't always work (look here). The exit door may have been misunderestimatingly locked.

My suspicion is that there is a back-of-the-charge part of the herd that actually wants to see the front of the pack go over the edge. Their thinking may be: with fewer of "them" around, there will be more for "me". A very humaniterian way of thinking about it all.

I think the most likely scenario is not "Peak Oil" but a "Bumpy Plateau", with nonconvential oil replacing convential oil depletion for at least a couple of decades.

A rough ride, with rising price trends, and few smooth curves.

I also expect oil to one day reach $47 (for a short time, say during a recession) and hope to buy stock in oil producers then.

Not the consensus view here, or elsewhere, but I have my logic and can debate details or trends.

I am also getting my investments out of the US and creating job possibilities in energy positive nations.

A nice financial crisis here at USA can drive oil down to 20 Euro/barrel or less (I'm not risking to quote price in USD).

I think people would be surprised if they knew how much they could do without. Or how much they could do with. Our dependancy on oil is mostly within our perceptions and because we don't know other ways to do things. But I'm sure we can learn back, we're tough animals.

Even though I happen to live in one of the worst suburban megapolices (Atlanta) I'm using no more in the range of 20 gallons/month. I'm pretty sure I can cut them to 10 if I need to, maybe even less.

First, I think that there is a strong risk of the US$ falling significantly (I also think €0.60 for the dollar is pretty close to the floor absent short term speculative excesses).

I am moving my investments into US based exporters, foreign companies (latest is hydropower utility in a nation with net energy balance; exports ~= imports) and one US railroad.

Before Katrina I was burning 6 gallons/month in my 1982 M-B 240D whilst living in one of the finest living examples (in the US) of "Old Urbanism", the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.  I could live without a car IF they restart the St. Charles streetcars and I do not have to occasionally evacuate.

As I took my cold bath yesterday, I understood just how much one can do without !

Unluckily (or not) these days the market took a post-Iranian breath of a relief and started unwinding. All prices from oil & gas to gold & silver started to fall. Hope this is temporary.
How much can the 5,000,000,000 poor people of this world cut their consumption of resources without dropping dead.  As both a christian and a believer in the laws of physics the fate of these people has a strong place in my heart. I agree that the greatest resource is the human brain and it can create a petroleum free global economy which gives everyone a comfortable, dry place to sleep, enough food and health care to be productive workers, clean water, and a transportation system that connect their handiwork with the rest of the world. The Sun gives us thousands of times more energy to do this and ways to do this are fast becoming known.
The bird flu is coming to make the sun's job easier.
I am not a Christian, but I respect and understand your position. With all seriousness, I recommend prayer, not so much because I believe that God will directly answer your prayers (Though my mind is open on that. How can one know?) but to focus your mind and heart and especially to stave off despair. I own a global survival kit purchased in 1957; it was made primarily for Alaskan and Canadian bush pilots. The survival manual concludes with several pages of prayers, one set for Protestant, another for Catholic, and another for Jewish believers. Some research has been done on survival of pilots after crashes in extreme situations, and the evidence is not conclusive but it is highly persuasive that prayer is a powerful element that enhances the probability of survival. If you despair you just sit in the frozen wreckage with your broken leg and freeze to death or die of thirst.

I do not think there is anything whatsoever that can be done to save societies such as Nigeria. What you may be able to do is to save a few individuals. Consider the fact that the Jews saved by Schindler--one man--and their descendants are now greater in number than the number of Jews living now living in Poland. Nobody could save the millions of Jewish Poles (and few people tried), but there are cases after case after case of heroic individuals who saved substantial numbers of individuals--often at considerable personal risk. As a Christian, can you do less? Is it fair to ask yourself to do more? And in all seriousness, think very hard: What would Jesus do?

Jesus was Jewish.
Jesus was a pacifist.
Jesus was nailed to a cross by a German (the northern legionary recruits were posted to south of the Med, and vice versa).
So Jesus would have obeyed orders and got on the train.
I am not a pacifist. If they want my gun they can pry it from my cold, dead, hands. I am not a Christian, either. I believe I have a social duty to resist tyranny. If Caesar wants what is Caesar's, he can come and get it.
I seem to recall that Jesus drove the money changers from the table. And didn't he do something in the doctoring line? And didn't he bring wine and food to the party? Seems to me that he was a pretty good story teller too, asked some questions throwing stones inappropriatley.

I have argued this point with my Christian friends, and I claim that one of the most notable things about Jesus was that he was extremely intelligent (as were Moses and Mahomet). They just say, "Oh you don't get it, He was God (or the son of God. or both . . . very confusing) and that is what makes Him Unique.

But then I come back with the argument Plato put in Socrates's mouth in EUTHYPRO, that we can know who is a fake bullshit priest and who speaks in accordance with the will of god (or the gods; Plato uses both terms.) independently of any claims to secret knowledge or assumptions about who has a private pipeline to God. It is one of the most interesting of all Platonic dialogues, and I've found that after a while even the most devout Christians "get it."

Over a quarter of century of teaching philosophy, I've been amazed by the numbers of Christian students I've had who firmly asserted that Socrates must have been a Christian, because his message was so in line with the Sermon on the Mount, etc. Then I point out that it would be hard for dear Socrates to have been a Christian in 400 B.C., and this rebuttal convinces some.

BTW there are a lot of false prophets out there--not just the ones who write for the N.Y. TIMES.


Your hope of $47/bbl seem pretty aggresive since
1_ we are now north of $65
2_ your most likely scenario will force massive(?) investments to be realize
3_ you seem to believe that the value of the dollar will decrease, which should move oil price higher.

Would you mind elaborate on your logic?

Also, you might be interested in this article:

In particular, this paragraph:

"OPEC wants the maximum price they can sustain to meet their budgetary needs and investment plans, and keep their economies growing, while making sure that demand in the rest of the world keeps growing," said Yasser Elguindi, a senior managing director at Global Medley Advisors, a consulting firm for hedge funds. "The Saudis have hinted they believe that price was now between $50 and $60 a barrel."


Highly speculative markets are very volatile.  Price swings may not be sustainable longer term, but they are there for a short time.

As an example, due to a mild winter and price elasticity of demand (for example Chinese 1995 oil imports were flat vs. 2004), oil inventory levels today are approaching records.  Enough that physical above ground storage is getting close to full, and the typically low demand spring is coming up.

What happens when oil storage is full ?

A Price break if Iran looks a bit more stable.

A short term swing down to $47 seems entirely possible to me (absent strong cutbacks by OPEC).  Not a sustainable long term price, but a good time to buy oil producers with decent reserves.

$47 is a guess, based upon my "feel" for the market.  In the low $40s someone in OPEC will want to goose prices back up.

Any "tips"?
Last post of a dead line, but I am focusing my portfolio on

  1. US based exporters
  2. Railroads
  3. Hydroelectric merchant power sellers  and utilities that are not regulated
  4. Oil & gas when/if oil drops to $47
  5. Closed end funds in foreign nations.  Buy stock at discount.
  6. Berkshire Hathaway (Warren Buffet)

More later (some stocks I want are thinly traded and I want to get mine first).

Hydroelectric is a stable, defensive value play on energy.  No depletion (wind turbines wear out in ~20 years).

Keep your faith in academics and government pundits and those illusive "businessmen" to yourself. You go ahead and follow them wherever they elect to take you - for goodness sake, the majority opinion must be correct, right?

I'm going to go on believeing that Hubbert was right about more than just Peak Oil - and it's really not hard to do as things continue to unfold in ways he imagined, and in some he didn't.  You keep your faith in the current system, squeaking and squealing and groaning with it's patches and latest upgrades. You count on "the market" to keep things on course. Just don't expand in my direction...

Me??  I'm tired of eating followers dust, tired of talking about it and sick of trying to persuade others. I'm going my own sustainable way, shaking the old ways off, embracing some really fun stuff and meeting lots more like-minded people than I ever imagined all around me.

The scenarios have all been beaten to a pulp, digested, talked about until it's painful to even read many times. The signs continue to appear from government with respect to what they intend, and people just suspend their disbelief a little longer each time. It's not just PO - its PO and everything else rolling down hill at us.

If the Katrina and Rita previews didn't change your mind at all, I surely can't and really don't want to. But I do hope a few of you are now truly awake and doing more than talking about our not-so-very-certain future.

Amen to most of the stuff you say.
However, the go it alone route? Think long and hard on that one. Who is going to perform the appendectomy when your grandchild's appendix bursts?

Milton Friedman (a Smith worshipper if there ever was one) proudly proclaimed that in our society, no one person can even produce a pencil with a rubber eraser on it. Guess what? He was right.

Do you know where to mine the graphite and how to shape it into a pencil lead? Do you know how to get the wood around the graphite rod or vise versa? Do you know how to crimp the sheet metal around the pencil tip and get the right kind of rubber for making a good eraser? And we haven't even gotten to the making of the electric pencil sharpner.

I know. Some of you out there are going to say a lump of coal (or a burnt stick end) was good enough for Abe Lincoln when he went to school. But where are going to get the "paper" from? Are you feeling happy about the go-it-alone route still? Evolution shaped us for survival as a herd. Hermits don't make it in real life.

I am very far from alone in moving to sustainable. As an example, there are now 6 homes where the residents have switched from ornamental trees and bushes to food bearing trees and bushes, along with container gardening. I was the first one, and have since worked with each of these families to get them going. We intend to trade veggies so we can focus on specific crops and yields this year. Two years ago, I was alone. We are about to approach City Hall to get them to let us grow crops on gas pipeline, ditches and other easements, specifically sugar cane.

I own a Prius now, along with my mini-fleet of VW's. I have been stopped by my neighbors rerpeatedly when driving my Yota, and as of last week, there are now 15 of them in my little city (500 homes). I have also had several people ask me where and what kind of classic Beetle they can buy for their kids. My full electric VW should be on the road this summer.

I am putting in a small fishpond/hydroponic setup - all solar powered. Yesterday a neighbor dropped by, and now he is interested as well - what else can you do with old hot tubs?

The list of projects is long, but there are people out there who are as concerned about things post Katrina/Rita as we are. Peak Oil may not be their primary driver, but the economics of gardening and feeding yourself are not small when the American paycheck is shrinking by nearly 10% a year through masked inflation. There are bankers out there who are absolutely terrified by what they see in their world. Everyone except the most devout of Neocons is concerned by what the Feds are both doing and not doing. Fear is rising everywhere about what our idiocy in DC is going to do next.

When you drive from Houston to New Orleans, and see the swaths of devastation still uncleared, still unrepaired, and then the never ending patchwork of roofs with their bright blue tarps covering huge hits you hard exactly how little we can expect from Washington in the event of ANY turmoil. It hits you that your insurance company is only your friend as long as you don't ask them for help.

It's just not as hard a sell anymore, as people are beginning to look around for their own answers to insecurity. The problem with most is that they don't have the knowledge base to start, and are unsure of themselves.

Every day I am less and less alone traveling this road, and the company I find along the way seems to share my fears and a lot of own my hopes.

All I can do is urge people to go out and share what they know and help others who want to be helped. Honestly, growing your own food, setting up solar panels, making ethanol - all of these things are relatively simple. But the knowledge that you are ready changes EVERYTHING about the way you view the future. Knowing you are ready no matter what (as ready as one can realistically be) really lets me sleep well.

So while I do pop in here and check out what is going back and forth, I have accepted that PO is close enough that lifestyle changes are required. I know just changing myself is both lonely and in the end futile in suburbia. So I am now recruiting and teaching and trying to change things as best I can.

I'm done talking about it - and done waiting and wringing my hands over it. I'm getting ready for it. Worst case is I'm right - best case is I'm wrong. In either case, I am saving a lot more money this year than I have ever been able to do before, feeling good about my path and meeting a lot of like minded people.

I would urge each of you, if you believe what we have all discussed to death here, to make your own changes. You can be incremental and work into them, or jump in with both feet. But whether PO is now or in 2015 doesn't matter when you are ready.

And this is still far and away the best PO site on the web....

Your deeds exceed far and above our mere words

You are to be greatly commended

Wait, when Tierney says "When something finally comes along that's cheaper and more reliable than oil, no national energy plan will be necessary"--you don't find that ignorant? (I won't use the word stupid).

There is nothing cheaper and more reliable than oil. That's the whole point of Peak Oil! That's why we're real worried about there being less and less of it available as we go forward. And that what will be available post-peak is going to be damned expensive. And when a resource as vital as oil gets precious and pricey, economic activity tends to go into the toilet. Demand elasticity? Better energy intensity? Solar panels? Corn ethanol? Tar sands? Give me a break! Peak oil will happen, is happening. The only thing people are arguing about is the timeframe. Yeah, I may be wrong--about the date. I waffle, I'll admit it. Sometimes I think it's this year, sometimes I think it's last year, sometimes I think it's 2008. Sometimes I think it's 2010. Hell, when I've had some wine and feeling happy for no reason, I think it's 2015!

This is the whole ball of wax we're talking about here.

There is nothing cheaper and more reliable than oil. That's the whole point of Peak Oil!
Coal and nuclear have been and continue to be cheaper and more reliable than oil.  (That's why they've mostly replaced oil for electric generation in the US.)  Wind is cheaper than oil, if not as steadily available.  Heck, solar PV is roughly on par with oil after all the losses in the average gasoline vehicle; it's been that way for about two years, and it's arguably MORE reliable than oil.  The big advantage of petroleum, easy portability and rapid transfer, is being eroded on one side by high prices and on the other by ultracapacitors and fast-charge batteries.

We're primed for a huge change for the greener.  Mark my words.

I'll try to find a moderate position on this one ... there are certainly signs that humans make valid decisions in general (we are not extinct), but there is some question about how good our decisions precisely are.  Economists, we remember, came up with first "rational agents" and then the curious phrase "bounded rationality."

I worry (as I've mentioned before) that we are not that well equiped for certain future (esp. far future) problems.

As evidence I'll cite one that gives me continuing trouble, which is credit card debt.  Rational economists tell us that it is good to have a line of credit.  It might even be good to carry plastic if we have the self-control to pay the card off each month.  But the rational economic position is to keep such reserve lines of credit for emergencies only.

So, why then does the nation have a striking $11,000+ as the average household revolving credit debt?

Were there that many emergencies, or was there widespread "bounded rationality" on the future consequence of current actions?

It's more complicated than your credit card example suggests:
42% of consumers said they pay off their credit-card balances in full every month, and another 33% said they always pay more than the minimum payment due, according to a survey  of 1,000 consumers by the American Bankers Association in mid-2005.
Apparently, there are plenty of economically rational people in the U.S.
OK.  Of course ... is that a real strong showing for the rational consumer?
Looking more, this (slightly dated) article shows a wide difference between mean and average debt:

I'd like to find a recent median ...

Interesting story -- thanks for passing it on. I don't know about the "mean" consumer; heck, I don't even know about myself. I've been obsessing about PO off and on for several years now, and I have no idea what the "rational" choice to make for the future is. I have done all the "negative" things I could think of -- got out of a car-dependant house, paid off all debt, cleared my own head to be able to take advantage of opportunities and avoid risks -- but I have no idea of what positive things to do, let alone when to do them. What should I do with my assets? What livelihood should I pursue? What retraining do I need? Should I uproot my family? If so, where should we go, and what would we do when we got there? I find myself drowning in anlysis paralysis, and it's getting worse....
I think that reading TOD sometimes gives quite an unneccessary sense of emergency to the PO problem.

As Stuart once modelled what past-PO will look like will most probably be a slow "squease" lasting for quite a lot of decades. Hell, there will be probably 5 years before we even notice we've peaked. Compare that to the 6 months that this site has been gathered popularity.

I don't worry that much for myself, for my [future] family and even for my [future] children. I/we will make it, one way or another. Yeah there could be hard times coming, but so what? It will not be the first time, and life was starting to get too boring anyway.

Considering that both Bush and Chirac are threatening Iran with nuclear weapons, I'd say there's plenty reason to worry.

Perhaps you're not too familiar with modern history, but we've been through the eye of the needle several times in the past 50 years. Just like in the casino, luck doesn't last forever.

And already we're seeing China being set up by the North-Atlantic intelligentsia as the next enemy, ready for full confrontation just a few years away.

I agree about excess emergency.  Moderation in all things.

FWIW, it is interesting to think about the nature of "predictions" and "disruptions."

For many things (housing market, economic growth, oil production, etc.) there are long trends.  In those cases a prediction which simply extends the past works pretty well.  It isn't that you have to know the internals of each system, you can just observe from the outside that "continuation" happens more often than not.  It is statistically correct.

We have a great human desire to know when the continuation will be broken, and when the game will change ... but calling a "break" is a problem much more difficult than simply observing a continuing trend.  It might even be beyond human ability (which is why we have a huge distribution of Peak Oil dates by smart and informed observers, why people have been calling a break in the "housing bubble" for ten years, etc.).

I'd say the prudent thing is to balance your bets, remembering that most often tomorrow really is like today.

There is a nice saying that nothing can go on forever, but some things can very well last longer than the rest of your life.

I hope that after the March scheduled hassle around Iran goes by peacefully we will be able to embrace the idea that (still) there is enough sanity in the world to avoid the hole it is headed to. And as a consequence - stop promoting ideas like population control etc.

On the other hand the sense of emergency gives us the incentitive to do what needs to be done now, not when it's too late. I don't want to sound too self-important but at least I see a distant correlation between the popularity of this site for example and what GWB said the other day (yet for example). A year ago phrases like "addicted to oil" were not even in his dictionary. I acknowledge that this is a lip service yet, but at some point "they" will not be able to avoid the pressure and finally will have to do something smarter than making wars.

So, keep up the good work TOD-ers :)

For me, I have not paniced.  Hell, I chose to come back and live in a disaster zone !

The advent of Peak Oil will likely be a "slow squeeze" with sudden breaks/crisis.

I have written my "Electrification of Transportation" paper and trying to push it.

I am slowly (NOT in a panic) reinvesting my portfolio. Diversified (put all of this years IRA into a Swiss closed end mutual fund for example).  US exporters, foreign utilites with renewable energy sources, railroads, etc.

Bought my last car, a pristine M-B 240D (manual transmission).  31 mpg city, 35 to 42 mpg highway (depending upon speed). Perfect car for waste vegetable oil but worth the hassle for 6 gallons/month.

Used the internet to get some work on Hydroelectric projects, and worked into that (a bit of self education along the way).  Established overseas contacts and future job opportunities (offered full time staff job in Iceland after Katrina, but I wanted to help the rebuilding here).

No obsession, or even excessive fear.  Is a Post-Peak Oil world worse than New Orleans last October ?

Is a Post-Peak Oil world worse than New Orleans last October ?

It's liable to last a bit longer than a hurricane.

My home is a wonderful apartment in the middle of downtown Denver, two blocks from the major light rail line.  I've never driven a car in my life and never intend to.  The money saved on a car essentially pays for the loft all by itself.  This is being written from a conference in Albuquerque, where I'd be living a pretty isolated life indeed.

There were major adjustments required in terms of retraining pedestrians and autos, but now the ride is quick, quiet, and safe.  Can't even tell you what a wonderful resource it is, or how rapidly ridership has grown.  Trains are stuffed beyond standing room only at peak hours.  The expansion plans are dramatic and within 10 years they'll allow for travel between all the major Front Range cities on rails.  It's nice to have a city with such a strong train heritage reborn in a modern, efficient way.

Light rail's a great way to travel.  Thank you for putting so much effort into resesarching and promoting it, from a very happy user.

permaculture, gardening etc.

If you are even slightly manually dextrous, then consider installation of "renewables".
e.g. solar water panel installers in England earn £1000 per installation, this installation takes 2 people 6 hours, and guess what, all of your clients are potential peak oilers:)

Carpentary and an understanding of 12v electric supplies is also very handy.
Even if the peak doesnt happen for another x number of years, none of these things are a waste of time and can be taken up in your spare time.


Become as self-sufficient as you can, is the best answer I can give you. Realize that there is only 24-36 hours worth of food in the average grocery store, and if transportations stops (restricted travel due to Bird Flu, blizzards, tropical storms, etc.) then there isn't anything to buy, much less eat. So build a larder and learn to rotate with it. Learn how to be ready for droughts.

Assets? Your life is the biggest asset you have. Money? Gold, silver and land are the only realistic options in the event of currency crashes. Where currency goes, so go the stocks. I might opt for some utilities long term...

Livelihood? This is the chance to do whatever it is you love to do. Because in the end, it cannot be about money and shouldn't. Figure out what you love to do and adapt your lifestyle to enable you to do it. Going to sustainable has one huge advantage - you cut through all the excess crap and get back to basics. And that changes your cash flow needs tremendously.

Uprooting? Not unless the really big gnarly one hits, and even then, there will not be anywhere truly safe. If that one thing you have always wanted to do involves uprooting, then go for it. If it doesn't, then make yourself frugal and ready and go for whatever it is you have always dreamed of doing. Life is short - get moving.

Paralysis? Opportunity with a rationale is more like it. If you are worried, then fix the problem that keeps you up at night. You will need to fix it one spoke at a time, but when you're done you will be ready to roll.

You asked - my answers are the best I could supply without knowing you....

And they are good answers. Thanks.
With all due respect Halfin, many people are stupid.  This is particularly true if they are ignorant about a subject.

They cash checks at grocery stores that charge 2% check cashing fees.  They buy stuff on credit at 20% interest.  They carry balances on cards and barely pay the interest.  They smoke a pack of cigarettes a day, every day and wonder why they have health problems.  They buy cars that get less than 20mpg and then complain when gas prices rise $0.50 per gallon.

I could go on. The point is many people don't think much about the consequences of their daily actions.  To be taken by surprise by events is one thing.  To be forwarned about a situation and ignore that advice is stupid.  One does not have to believe life will end when oil peaks to plan for peaking oil energy.  A little planning can go a long ways and some actions are neutral.  A Benefit if oil peaks, no negative if oil doesn't peak next year.

The issue of Peak Oil is very much like Global warming and Climate change.  Global warming was absolutely known and supported by a viable data set 20 years ago.  I know because I taught it at a major university as part of a plant science class at that time.  In the interim there has been a "battle for public opinion" on if global warming really exists.  And if it does should we care.  Well global warming can't be ignored anymore.  The debate has shifted from is it getting warmer to why it is getting warmer.  And the effects can't be ignored as easily either.

Peak oil is a fact.  Oil will become scarce in the future.  This is not debatable by any rational scientific thinking person, as discussed many times at this site.  What is debatable is the timing of the peak.  What TOD and the Hersch (sp?) report have shown is that peaking without a viable alternative energy supply is liable to be detrimental to your health.  As in your country and you personally could die as a result of the disruption to society.  To ignore this warning, in fact to say the opposite, may not be stupid.  But it sure is ignorant of the facts.

I agree with you that many people do not believe in peak oil yet.  But how many of those people have really researched the area?  How many have critically analyzed the data set?  How many have extrapolated current use to future use?  Linked current supply to future supply?  Understood the enormous consumption of energy on a daily basis?  Connected all these dots and thought about how much more oil is going to have to come on the market to just hold us even on per capita consumption?  After going through all these steps how many people feel that our energy scenario is just rosy as pie?  

Many of us here at TOD have done these things and we are a tad concerned about the future.  To have some journalist whip off a story that everything is fine, when he doesn't appear to have a grasp of the details is pretty stupid of him.  He appears to be a couple of years behind the learning curve of the average TOD poster with respect to peak oil.

On one hand I agree that we must keep our minds open.

On the other I disagree when you refuse us the right to refute people who obviously have closed their minds for good.

Me believes that all scenarious are possible, including the one painted by the person you are defending. My problem is with putting the correct weights on each one of them. Unfortunately with each day passing, and each stupidity I read I'm shifting some part of the percentages from the "don't worry be happy" to the "doom & gloom" part of the spectrum. Such readings don't help at all - they show only how vulnerable is human nature from wishful thinking and refusing to face problems.

with each day passing, and each stupidity I read I'm shifting some part of the percentages from the "don't worry be happy" to the "doom & gloom" part of the spectrum.

Don't put too many eggs in that "doom and gloom" basket. Keeping a balance is hard but necessary work.

This may sound crazy, but I'm a believer in the idea that whole societies can suffer from metal illness just like individual humans can suffer from mental illness.

So if you see a society experiencing wild mood swings between extreme elation and deep, dark depression, you need to worry about whether the whole group suffers from manic depression or bipolar disorder. Maybe the TOD community is going through something of that phase. We need to lighten up a bit.

If you want to make a list of countries and their mental illnesses: put the USA in the schizoid category with hints of paranoia and delusions of grandeur. On the one hand we Americans believe "they" are all out ot get us. On the other hand, we are so glorious we can conquer the world. And of course, when it comes to Peak Oil, Global Warming, etc., our never-failed-us-yet markets will provide. A little nuts, no?

Of course, other countries and cultural groups have their own demons to deal with.

IMO part of the problem is that USA is too successful, or at least it looks like that here at home. We did not experience (or successfully ignored) defeats and hence did not learn the humility needed for a long-term successful society. Who cares about what happened in Cuba, Korea or Vietnam, how many people can find them on the map, indeed?

If you have such inadequate vision for yourself, it is easy to develop grandomany and paranoia (both go usually hand in hand - if you are on top you are bound to be alone and fear everyone below you). But if anyone is to blame about that it is Europe - the "Old World", which first created and then supported this country in its path to what it looks like now. They have always been our smaller partner for plundering the third world resources and (as always) started to realize what they've created much too late. I'd say they are in much more dangerous denial than we are, but you have to also add a chronic impotence first to put an order in your own backyard, and second to understand the zero-sum game of history. What you take now you soon or later have to pay for later.

... plundering the third world resources

Interesting that you mention this now.
Local PBS station last night replayed Jared Diamond's: Chronicles of European Conquest: The story of the Guns, Germs and Steel

Last night's episode found the Europeans charging head first into the heart of Africa, just as they had done in the Americas, only this time to be met by germs superior to our own (malaria versus small pox) and by natives (Zulus) who don't just happily do the Pocohontas dance and let the Smith worshippers enter the cave free of charge (that is what "free" markets is about after all --you got and we take)

The whole point is that those who do not accept
peak oil are not rational, do not look at the
evidence and simply make pronouncements based on
blind faith. There is no evidence whatsoever
that oil supplies will be sufficinet to meet
denmand beyond 2010 at best and probaly not even
beyind 2007.

In that sense, most people are extremely stupid
because they believe the assurances of the
The evidence for human stupidity is too long to
even start cataloguing; what we are now
witnessing is media manipulated stupidity on a
scale never seen before.

I'll make you a deal, Halfin. I'll start taking the viewpoints of people like Tierney seriously if the smug bastards extend me the same courtesy. And it's not the oilmen and academics who question Peak Oil that bother me so much--those ones I'd be willing to engage since they probably do have a basis for their beliefs (even if I disagree). It's talking head journalists like Tierney who blather on about so many unrelated topics that they can't possibly be an expert of any of them.
It's funny. On the surface, peak oil seems to be all about hard physical facts, science, graphs and numbers. That's the image the peak oilers try to cultivate. We're the guys in white lab coats, with calculators. But in arguing with peak oil doomers, I've increasingly come to the conclusion that, at bottom, their argument is simply: people are stupid. Which is not really scientific at all. It's not about the rational reasons why peak oil must occur; it's about the irrational reasons why peak oil must occur.

I wish they would be more upfront about it. Savinar should skip all the false pandering to science, and just lead in with:

"Screw all the stupid graphs and data. People are inherently, pathetically stupid. That's  the main reason why peak oil is going to be a disaster."

On the surface, peak oil seems to be all about hard physical facts, science, graphs and numbers.

 That is a very valid position. Hubbert's curve is not about hard physical facts, science, etc. It is about the way people normally behave. Americans could have arbitrarily decided to stop domestic extraction and restart it anytime they wanted to. In that case the actual domestic US production curve would not look anything like what Hubbert predicted.

But that said, there is a certain momentum and law of large numbers to the way large groups of people behave. If you find highly-profitable low hanging fruit you keep picking. And if the picking gets a little harder, you incrementally re-define what constitutes "hard" and what constitutes good ROI. And then you keep picking. Soon you find yourself out in deep waters and up in freezing ANWR. But it still looks good cause everyone else is doing it. So you keep picking.

--- Sorry for my bad english----
"The best guarantee of future oil supplies is the sellers' greed, not our diplomatic and military efforts."
This is truly a gem. The sellers will sell the 'stuff' to the richer, and when the richer are two or three (read:China), who will be the winner? The one with the stronger 'military effort', I guess.
So you're back to square one.
Actually, I liked the way the column ended even better:
"When you hear politicians calling you an addict and warning that you'll be cut off, try my plan for energy independence. It's modeled on the Daily Affirmation of Stuart Smalley, that recovering addict and devotee of 12-step programs (whose creator on "Saturday Night Live," Al Franken, will probably be horrified).

After you fill up your tank, twist the rear-view mirror so you can gaze at yourself. Repeat these words: "I'm good enough, I'm rich enough, and doggone it, people in the Middle East like my money."

I actually laughed out loud; what else can you do but laugh? And this, a couple of days after Kristof did one on the 1000mpg car! I guess the NY Times is MIA on this one.

Thanks, Seadragon, I needed the laugh.

What annoys the hell out of me is the, "Well the truth must be somewhere in the middle; let us not be so sure we are correct."
Germs cause disease. OR The black magic of witches cause disease    Well, intelligent people back both positions.

The theory of evolution correctly interprets the facts of biological change   OR Species are fixed because the Bible says so    Well, intelligent people back both positions.

Germany invaded Poland in 1939.  OR The vicious Poles attacked poor innocent Germany in 1939 with no provocation.

Intelligent people disagree on this issue. (Goebbels was highly intelligent, Goering was brilliant, so was Speer, and so were some of the German generals who followed orders to invade Russia. I mean, after Charles XII of Sweden and Napoleon, how bright do you have to be not to invade Russia?).

For some reason I don't think that Tierney entertains the possibility that the thing that comes along that is cheaper and more reliable is a bicycle, or works what the implications of that would mean for society.
Well it certainly looks as though this thread could use a stupid test.

Question 1.  
When you look at the impact photos of the Pentagon from 9/11 do you see a Boeing 757 in the picture?  Yes/No


You have completed the stupid test.

Please submit your answer using the large red crayon.

All photos that disagree with my worldview are fake. How can people be so gloomy when it is well known by intelligent people that benevolent aliens from outer space, those who landed at Area 51, are even now solving all our problems. Be happy, don't worry.

Uhhhhh, . . . beam me up, Scotty.

Well, you've moved pretty far off topic now.  I'll qualify by saying that I do not believe most anything of what has been officially said about what happened on 9/11, and I used to think there was no way a 757 hit the Pentagon, but IMHO that's been debunked.  I wish I could find the link (I will look), but I read an analysis that convinced me it did.  Who was flying it and why, and what was on it, I have no idea, but there is plenty of evidence an airliner hit.  So be careful about tossing the stupid label around, as it has a bad habit of bouncing.  
"Never believe anything until it has been officially denied."
I hope you haven't payed for Times Select. It's not worth it - the only good columnists are Krugman and Herbert, and even they have a lot of bad days. Not worth reading any more.

I'd suggest a switch to the Huffington Post instead, if you're looking for good columnists :-)

The average soccer mom in her SUV....

...has absolutely no reason to believe that Peak Oil will occur this year, next year, 10 years from now.  She drives to the gas station they have gas.  They had gas last week, today , and they'll have it next week  The price is up, so what.  Until there are gas lines and rationing the NY Times and the soccer moms won't believe in Peak Oil. There's no sense in getting all worked up about people who don't care and don't believe.

The words 'stupid' and 'ignorant' have been tossed around quite a bit during the latter portion of this thread. I think some clarification is in order.

The general connotation of the word 'stupid' is that of a person who isn't intelligent, doesn't process information very well, and/or is foolish.

On the other hand, the connotation of the word 'ignorant' is that of a person who lacks knowledge or is uninformed.

There are many highly intelligent people who are ignorant, and there are some highly educated and  knowledgeable people who are, when you get right down to it, stupid. The latter group is much smaller than the former but far more dangerous.

An intelligent person who is ignorant can be cured relatively easily through education, but a knowledgeable stupid person is usually a hopeless case.

Many specimens of the latter occupy the highest levels of power.

Called up my friend who knows classical Greek and demanded another translation from the Greek of my quote:

"Against the stupidity of men, the gods themselves strive in vain."

After half an hour we came up with:

"Against the invincible ignorance and hubris of men and women even the gods strive in vain."

O.K. Now I'm not accusing anybody of "stupidity." And even though it is a stretch, we decided to include women, because we thought that is what the original author probably meant.

On a related point, I think it is not only a matter of self-deception and denial where people refuse to listen to well-reasoned dialogue that is well-supported by solid facts. A huge problem is that people CANNOT understand because they are innumerate. This does not mean they are stupid. What it means is that their education has been such that they cannot do critical thinking, cannot do even simple math, and they are easily persuaded by sophists because they have never been educated to spot fallacious reason.

I hereby retract any implications related to the word "stupidity" because it is too easily open to misinterpretation as a mere insult.

This is off-topic, but curiosity has gotten the better of me.  To which Greek are you referring?  I was under the impression that the quote comes from Schiller.
Folly, thou conquerest, and I must yield!
Against stupidity the very gods
Themselves contend in vain. Exalted reason,
Resplendent daughter of the head divine,
Wise foundress of the system of the world,
Guide of the stars, who art thou then if thou,
Bound to the tail of folly's uncurbed steed,
Must, vainly shrieking with the drunken crowd,
Eyes open, plunge down headlong in the abyss.
Accursed, who striveth after noble ends,
And with deliberate wisdom forms his plans!
To the fool-king belongs the world.

(Jungfrau von Orleans, Act III, Scene 6)

Perchance we should also have a graphic of the
Fool Lion King visiting the fallen soldier
As he lays dying on his rock ("My Raq" he sayeth)
And the King enobling the fall with his wise words,
"Cowards cut and run,
But we, oh glory, stay the course,
Over the ledge and into the abyss, tis our noble cause":
Good question! Schiller probably got the quote from a Latin source who quoted a Greek source who got it from another Greek source. The origin apparently is lost in the mists of antiquity, and I'd be interested into the connotations of the German word that translates into "stupidity" in most of the English translations.

Much (but not all) of what we attribute to Latin sources were actually cases of Romans translating or paraphrasing or commenting on Greek sources. I forget who said it first (Mark Twain?) but those old Greeks stole most of our ideas.

On a tangentially related topic, guess who introduced the term "Ceteris paribus" to economics? It was Alfred Marshall, who was (among other things) fluent in Latin, as were most of the educated nineteenth century economists. John Maynard Keynes majored in medieval Latin poetry in college and had only six weeks of formal education in economics in his whole life; perhaps that is why he was the greatest of the twentieth century economists. Now if you know Latin, you will immediately see that there is NO way to accurately translate "ceteris paribus" into English exactly and with the correct connotation because English grammar is so different from Latin grammar. Marshall NEVER qualified his statements with what you see in today's economics books, phrases, such as "Other things being equal," because that is not quite right. Close, but no cigar. Marshall was an extremely clear thinker, as were Adam Smith and Ricardo. One of the reasons they were clear thinkers is that they all had education in the classics, and a study of classical languages and literature limbers up the mind.

Today's economists (with a few exceptions) have rigor. Oh my, yes indeed do they ever have rigor--rigor mortis.

Sorry about the rant.  

Tierney is at least consistent. In his column of August 23, 2005, he reprised the bet between Julian Simon and Paul Erlich in the 1980s, this time with Matt Simmons. The bet is that oil would be at least $200/barrel on average in 2010, in 2005 dollars. Tierney of course is convinced that he'll win.

He ended his column offering the same:
"So I figure the long-term odds are with me. And while I'm at it, I'll extend Julian's challenge and consider bets from anyone else convinced that our way of life is 'unsustainable.' If you think the price of oil or some other natural resource is going to soar, show me the money."

If the payoff is not to be until 2010, then I demand payment in silver bullion coins, because the dollar may be worth zippo. Worse, if Tierney has been killed in urban rioting, how do I collect?

Not a good bet.

The arguments I have read on TOD are compelling; it's hard believe that PO won't cause unprecedented chaos.  Yet there are very few dissenting opinions that I have read.  Sure there are some arguments over details and that's very interesting but I just have to wonder what the other side thinks.  I don't mean governments and oil execs.  I mean ordinary intelligent citizens that happen to believe something else.  
For example, although I'm not saying I think the argument below is terribly compelling against PO, but surely there are people without vested interests that think they can de-bunk it.  Anybody have any leads?

I would feel much better if, after reading a real debate (ie. both sides) that I still believed what I do.  So far it's all been one-sided.  

Yet there are very few dissenting opinions that I have read.  Sure there are some arguments over details and that's very interesting but I just have to wonder what the other side thinks.  I don't mean governments and oil execs.  I mean ordinary intelligent citizens that happen to believe something else.

You said it yourself.
They "believe".

Believing is not thinking.
Believing is belonging to the herd.
There is comfort in being part of a large herd and bleating. Bah Bah Bah. I wish I could do it once more. Those were the happier times.

When I was part of the sheeple and didn't know shit, those were happier times. Certainly, I was more "successful" in life.
Hmm! I guess it depends on what you mean by a vested interest.  The theory of oil generation that the article touts has been proven wrong in numerous articles, since it was first propounded.  The idea that depletion of an oil reservoir is simply due to the walls of the well clogging up is equivalent to saying that, after drinking soda from a bottle for a while, you can replenish the soda by inserting  a new straw.  Under-reaming is considerably more difficult than the article makes out, and if the intent is to do more than just remove the skin of the bore (as the animation would suggest) would require considerably more force than most rigs can deliver to great depth (this is due to the weakness of the intervening drill string in part, one of the reasons that the Russians developed the down-hole turbo-drill).  And re-opening the pores of the well can be more effectively done either by a pressure-washing operation or by acidizing.
This is how it looks from outside the US.

For the past 50 years the American people have
been trained by corporations (through their
agents, the advertising industry)to be:

ignorant, greedy, lazy, self-centred,
complacent, overly-optimistic, sanctimonious
and dependent [on the corporations].

The training has been extremely sucessful and
whilst a small sector of the population resists
acquiring such habits, the bulk of the
population has accepted the training and now
knows no different.

Thus, the average American lives in the fantasy
world created by the advertising industry and
knows little, if anything beyond that world. If
the corporation says GE food is good for you,
it must be true. If the coproration says global
warming is not a problem, it must be true. If
the corporations say coal can be burnt cleanly,
it mus be true. If the corporation says the oil
supply will continue to climb for decades ahead,
it must be true. This belief system extends into
the religious domain: thus many Americans do
actually seem to believe they are God's chosen
people and therefore have the right mold the
world to their view of how it should be, or to
actually rule the world, as the British
attempted ot do 150 years ago.

Here in NZ the training in delusons was a
little late in getting started and really
only really got underway in the 1980s, so the
disconnect between fantasy and reality is not
quite as marked. Nevertheless, a substantial
portion of the population are locked into the
same kind of fantasies as Americans seem to be,
and absolutely refuse to even look at any
evidence that challenges the fantasy.

This is of course a deeply psychological
phenomenon associated with how the brain works:
a well-founded belief system allows the 'owner'
to make instant decisions and enhances

What we have now is a widespread belief system
that can only operate in the presence of cheap
oil. As has been pointed out dozens of time,
there are no cheap alternatives and cheap oil
will be gone forever fairly soon.

Thus, we must anticipate both an economic crash
and a psychological crash, once the oil supply
fails to meet demand {by 2008?), since for many
people their entire world will fall apart in a
matter of a few years, if not a few months.

In the meantime, denial of reality is displayed
ostentatiously by those who wish to build
palaces in the paths of hurricanes, golf
courses in the middle of deserts etc. not
because such things are the right thing to do,
but simply because they are still possible.

It is still possible for peak oil deniers to
present utter garbage as commentary, because
the oil supply has not yet failed. It is still
possible for global warming skeptics to deny
the evidence because we have not yet hit abrupt
cliamte change.

Of course, when we do hit oil decline or
abrupt cliamte change, those who led society in
completely the wrong direction will not be seen
for dust amd it will be the ordinary folk who
will suffer, just as happened in New Orleans.

It is important to spread the word
About how the media uses mental manipulation
To turn off the "questioning", neo-cortex part of the brain
And to activate the reptilian and limbic, "feeling" parts of the brain.

Writers at the NYTimes and elsewhere know exactly what they are doing.

This is not innocent ignorance.

They have honed their dark art over the years --how to use manipulative words to conquer even the most "intelligent" of folk and they are willing to sell their skills for the proverbial 30 pieces of silver.

Tierney, Friedman, Brooks; they all serve the same dark master.

(Geo-Green my ass. Friedman is a Flattened Planet Liberal arts Major with hardly an inkling of what science and economics are really about. I'm hoping the New Delhi Times comes on the news stands real soon to replace the NYT and their pompous fair and off-balanced editors. Then maybe, Friedman will get a taste of his own medicine. Maybe he can "retrain" and learn Hindi. Ah, what new world wonders will such freed-man economics bring us?)

Does it really matter what John Tierney writes? I mean, it's mildly amusing, the idea of looking in your mirror and affirming that you're good, rich, and the mid-east wants your money. But it doesn't mean much. And after all, isn't the attitude he is proposing fine for certain people? Rich people, say. A lot of what the NY Times writes about doesn't really apply to most people, and shouldn't be read as if it does. Just today (online), there is an article about the difficult choice faced by so many New Yorkers this weekend:

All over the city this past weekend, people were asking the same question: Do I stay here and go to fashion shows and their attendant fashion parties? Or do I fly to Detroit for some serious pro football action?

Right... I bet a lot of New Yorkers were wondering about that this weekend. I mean you want to fly off to see the super bowl in person, but it's hard to tear yourself away from the many fashion models who are clamoring for your company!

On another note, I enjoy reading TOD, but are these really the choices:

  - We find some way to keep going using ever increasing amounts of energy to maintain our hugely wasteful lifestyles; or

  - We're all gonna d-d-d-d-die!!!!! In a d-d-d-d-d-die off!!!!!

What about a middle option: we have economic hardship, maybe depression, and accept reduced/changed lifestyles... but keep on living. Is that really so preposterous?

"Maybe a depression" is a preposterous.  We will have the mother of all depressions, globally.
In all seriousness, a global depression that cuts the demand for oil in half is a possible scenario. It would not mean that everybody dies off. The "dieoff" in any scenario I've seen is not 100%, but let us consider the consequences of a 1930s style depression on a global scale now and with about seven billion people in the world. BTW, there are now more people below the poverty line and suffering undernutrition or malnutrition than ever before, though few journalists seem to notice this fact very often.
  1. Trade cut in half
  2. Begger-thy-Neighbor tariffs and quotas
  3. Mass unemployment, e.g. rising from 5% to 25% in the U.S.
  4. Falling farm prices because nobody can afford to buy food.
  5. Farmers dump milk in gutters, burn ripe corn in the fields because it does not pay to try to sell it at excessively low prices. All this happened on a large scale in the 1930s as some Americans died of starvation.
  6. North Korea invades South Korea to get food for its armies.
  7. The U.S. ends all foreign aid in an attempt to close budget deficit of three trillion dollars. As a result, ten million people in Egypt starve to death, and thus the clash of civilizations is on with bloody minded dictators using nuclear weapons to distract the attention of their rioting and starving citizens.
  8. But then Our Savior, the Market, comes to the rescue and establishes a new equilibrium with lower wages, lower prices, lower interest rates, lower energy inputs, and only somewhat lower population. Thus, in the long run, the Market will rule. BTW, that is exactly why John Maynard Keynes said: "In the long run we are all dead," because he could not and never did deny the (very) long run validity of classical economics.

Yes, this could happen. A global depression could get the demand for oil down and keep its price down in the $30 to $50 range (I'm talking 2006 constant dollars here) for years. Stranger things have happened.

But note that a global economic downturn of say, 25% in world real GDP in today would have far worse consequences than did the Great Depression for at least two main reasons:

  1. We now have three times the population the world did in the 1930s
  2. Globalism is real. The race to beggar-thy-neighbor and to export unemployment in the 1930s will look like patticake compared to the desperate hardball nations will turn to as the riots worsen and the body count increases.  

I'm interested in what you have to say about economic depressions and how they affect agriculture. I have been looking into investing in a commercial organic greenhouse growing system, with the expectation that as transportation costs rise, locally grown food will become more commonplace and economically viable compared to vegetables that need to be transported 1500 miles from farm to plate. Especially in colder climates, where there is a shorter growing season, and vegetables could be grown using artificial light powered by renewable energy (e.g. microhydro).

However, since agriculture is a business after all, and the price of one's produce will have to be affordable if one is to sell it and make a profit, I could end up investing in this only to ultimately have to sell produce at a loss if people can't afford it. Under those circumstances however, I think people would revert to bartering rather than starve, and a new equilibrium would take hold as people bartered their way about under albeit poorer circumstances.

(There's even been some talk up here recently of starting a "local currency" that could only be used only to buy locally produced food and products, as a means of supporting the "local is good" movement. No one is taking that too seriously (yet), but the bartering culture here is still quite strong, so it could be seen as an outgrowth of that point of view.)

If PO is real, and given what I've learned over the past couple of years I believe it is, then it just like any other event that we expect might occcur, such as growing old, getting sick, etc. should be planned for now to ease the inevitable. I am interested in taking action to adjust to a world with less readily available cheap energy, and I am already doing so. That is part of the reason why I live where I do, and part of the reason why I am engaging in agriculture and the Local is Good movement.

Yet, if human folly, despair over a reversal of material wealth, and outright hostility and criminality are to emerge in this new world, growing vegetables commercially could end up being as poor a choice for a business as selling airplane rides. I have no wish to be destitute 20 years from now.

You say that farmers were burning ripe crops in the field, and pouring milk into the gutter while people starved? Why? What could they have done otherwise in retrospect? How can we prevent this from happening again? Do you have any links to information about the fate of agricultural communities during the last depression?


In my opinion, the best way to prepare for the future is to study the past. The catastrophes that hit U.S. agriculture began in the late 1920s (even before the stock market crash) and continued until the prosperity generated by the Second World War raised prices more than a decade later. The sources are abundant, and I suggest you study with care local histories of the area you live in or plan to move to.

Farmers burned crops, slaughtered pigs and buried them, dumped tons of milk in the street, or left grain unharvested in the fields because there was no way to sell these to cover their marginal costs. People starved to death because they had no money. President Herbert Hoover, who had done magnificent work providing food relief in Europe following World War I at first stated that no Americans were starving. Then, under pressure from subordinates who knew better, he went out into the world and found {mostly rural) families where the whold family had starved to death. He was shocked and reversed course to try to get food aid to the isolate and needy. But the convention wisdom of the time--set by the mainsteam thinking of the economists of the 1920s--was that the big problem was the budget deficit, the biggest danger was inflation such as that Germany had had in 1923, and that the government had to cut spending. "Belt tightening" was to be the cure--this at a time when prices were falling, unemployment was soaring, and perhaps half of all farmers could not make their debt payments. Herbert Hoover is a tragic figure, an engineer befuddled by the economists of the day who were so sure they knew what had to be done and so positive that the market would save everything and positive with no doubt that mass unemployment was impossible, so long as wages and prices were allowed to fall.

Farmers took the worst punishment of all during the Great Depression. Millions lost their farms, as depicted dramatically in the book and film, "The Grapes of Wrath." Many killed themselves when they saw their families hungry, their farms going on the auction block. Rural children dropped out of school because they had no shoes to walk to school. (This was before school busses.) There was no way to get surplus food--and there were huge surpluses--to the starving people.

Naive city folk might say or think, "Oh but the farmer can always feed himself and his family, because he has the land." Only farmers without debt could keep their land. A good specific example of farmers who did all right is my neighbor to the south: His French ancestors came to my area before 1850 and got all of the best land; the road I live on is named after his family, and his farm is the largest of any for miles around. Being from solid French peasant stock they abhored debt and all worked very hard. Currently the sixth generation farmer is one of the richest men in the county (probably worth some tens of millions), but he is still a French peasant in his thinking and actions--works fourteen or fifteen hours a day when the farm needs it, drives a five year old Ford, knows every square foot of his farm, and of course like everybody else around here has a two-year supply of wood neatly stacked. Farmers such as these did survive the hard times because they had no mortgage payments or tractor payments or other types of payments on debt. Through World War II and even for some years after the war there were draft animals to pull plows on the Frenchman's farm, so if the tractor broke or ran out of fuel, the farm could still be worked. The fanatical conservatism of the prosperous peasant is enormously powerful and successful in getting through hard times, and in farming there will always be lean years and fat years.

There is a huge, huge literature on "going back to the land," and before you do so you should study it, especially the best sources, such as the books by Helen and Scott Nearing and also the classic "Five Acres and Independence" by Kains. Most important is to talk to people who know what they are talking about. When push comes to shove, the problem of suvival comes down to the problem of community.

I'm sorry to have gone on at such great length, but all I can say is study, then study some more, go to some old-folks homes and talk to ninety-year old farmers about how it was back in the thirties.

Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

You have done me and perhaps others here a great service. Thanks for your thorough and well-presented post.
Strongly suggest that you get to see this PBS show:
Step Back

Thanks for the reminder. I did see this show and found it to be very interesting. I took particular note that the fellow who seemed to do the best financially was the one who brought the period still with him to make hooch.

There is a winery in our area that specializes in fruit wines. Their blueberry wine is the closest to real red wine from grapes, because of the tannins. Apparently blueberries grow best in acidic soil. I just cut down a large area of red pines south of my house. Guess what's getting planted there this spring?


Magnus I hope that doesn't count as a narcotic in your book!

My grandfather went from being a sharecropper in 1929 to an independent farmer (120 acres free & clear and another 50 acres under mortgage, Model A truck, farmhouse) at teh start of WW II.

How ?

He grew tobacco.  Decent demand throughout the Great Depression.  He took a gamble in 1936 and put all of his cash into the largest crop he could raise (he already had a small farm by then).  1936 was the aborted recovery (FDR changed policies when the recovery started and he killed it).  The price of tobacco doubled and my grandfather paid off the mortgage and bought the truck.

The demand for tobacco often exceeds that for food.  A WW II prisoner told of how soem would trade food for the cigarettes in Red Cross packages.

It would be sad to survive by growing narcotics.
The former POW who told this story of trading food for cigarettes had been a prisoner of the Japanese from 1942 to 1945. Less than a third of American POWs captured by the Japanese in 1942 survived.

He prefaced his story with the title "Smoking Kills".  None of the prisoners that gave up food (they were being starved to death) for cigarettes survived.

My grandfather never smoked, chewed or used tobacco, but he died with 800 acres of Kentucky Bluegrass farmland free & clear.  He made a bit off of cattle (and sheep much earlier) but tobacco was the major money maker.  Some years over 100,000 lbs (45,000 kg) of very good quality burley tobacco.

Tobacco was seen as essential as food production during WW II (note that the Red Cross included them in POW packets).

The Surgeon Generals' warning about cigarettes came out toward's the end of his life and he was troubled by that.  He saw smoking as a vice pleasure like drinking or eating too much (which he did not do either).

That a number of narcotics are not counted more or less as vice pleasures and that nicotine isent counted as a narcotic is an accident of history. I do not like nicotine regardless of its formal classification but purely judged by its effects it is one of the most addictive substances known and it has harmful effects and perhaps one benificial, perhaps it helps a little against some kinds of dementia. I recommend smoking friends to quit or at least change to wet snuff, that delivers even more nicotine but is much less harmfull then the smoke.

At least he thought that he did a good thing. Not everyone thinking they are doing good things will in the end be right about it. Worse scenarios then his will probably play out among the apocalypticons and the no need to worry people regarding peak oil. Some people will both give bad advice and act on it, som of them will wield significant power.

The aborted recovery of 1936 was caused by the Supreme Court declaring the National Recovery Act unconstitutional.  We now have a Supreme Court that might do likewise to a truly effective national energy policy.
When I was 7 and he was 90, I met Scott Nearing. I think he taught me how to make a willow whistle. (It could have been someone else on the same day -- it was a long time ago.) He definitely did tell a pacifist story (or joke?) -- he claimed that he caught mosquitoes carefully without injuring them and asked them to refrain from biting him.
Thanks for your very valuable historical perspective Don. You have a much more detailed understanding of the period than I have and I am anxious to learn more. Please continue if you have the time, or perhaps you could suggest a reading list.
The oldest librarian at your local library is the place to begin. She knows much from personal experience, probably knows every literate person in the county and from real live human people you will learn much of value that is not written down in books. Indeed, the most useful knowledge usually is not going to be posted on the Internet, either.

The problem is not a lack of sources but a superabundance. A DUET (Deep Universal Eternal Truth) is that you should always go to original documents. Look for diaries, memoirs, autobiographies, newspaper articles. Much is available in microfilm. Read the obituaries. Starvation or suicide is seldom listed as a cause of death, but the old people know why farmer Olson blew his brains out when he could not buy hay to feed his cattle and could not get them to market, and in any case nobody was buying beef because everybody was trying to sell beef cattle, and it did not pay to transport and slaughter them because most people could not afford to buy any meat at all in some areas.

You can do a lot worse than to read or reread the "Little House on the Prairie," series by Laura Ingalls. To Laura, her father was a hero; he made a door and hinges with no nails; he could do anything. He had no nails because he could not afford to buy nails. In general, successful farmers are far more capable and resouceful than are urban folk. (Note, I do not claim they are smarter. Karl Marx thought that living in a rural area caused people to be idiots. Well, I disagree with Karl, though I'm a follower of Grouco Marx.) Any farmer can fix machinery; it would be way too expensive and inconvenient to send to a distant town to fix a tractor or other farm machine or tool. Any farmer lives and dies by the weather and understands its importance. All successful farmers know their land intimately, and I do mean every single square foot of it.

Also, in rural areas, everybody swaps services. My neighbor can't get his motorcycle started, so I go over and help him and give him some Sea Foam and books on fixing motorcycles. Then when I want to put a badminton court in my big back yard, he helps me with his lawn grading equipment. Neither of us ever thought of asking for or offering payment. Why would money change hands between neighbors? It is a whole different mindset from living in a city or suburb.

Don, your description above of unemployment leaving people with no money to buy food and farmers therefore unable to sell food for a price covering the cost of producing it is a description of one of the effects of a liquidity crunch, which is exactly what I'm expecting to happen this time. The effects extend far beyond food, as money is the lubricant for our economy. Economies can seize up without lubricant in a manner analogous to car engines.

You illustrate quite vividly (in your second post above) why debt is such a crucial factor in a 1930s-style deflationary depression. Those with debts lose what they have as they can no longer make the payments. It is the exact opposite of the prevailing psychology which expects inflation and therefore regards debt as being of little importance. Cash is king in a deflation while debts become a millstone round your neck, and around the neck of the economy as a whole.

Good point - and so off with TOD and back to work for the rest of the afternoon. Resolution 2006 - Pay back mortgage early.
OK, work's over ...

Stoneleigh, it may be of some consolation to you to know that Ben Bernanke, the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve, has had a lifelong interest in the causes of the Great Depression. This obsession may serve us all well in helping to prevent another one. Here's a speech he gave on the subject.

Thanks for the link George. I don't doubt for a moment that Bernanke is a very intelligent and well informed man. It could be that he will do a better job than anyone else would do in his place. If so, that will a significant achievement, but I don't expect history to thank him for it because it won't look like a success to most people. My point is that there are no easy answers to find, and history is unkind to anyone who has the misfortune to preside over a period of crisis. He'll be caught between a rock and a hard place no matter which way he turns, because the scale of the global credit bubble dwarfs the ability of one man at the head of one institution to deal with it.

If his strategy is for the US to inflate its way out of its existing debt, then I think it will fail because it will cause other actors to behave in ways which withdraw more liquidity from the economy than he is pumping in (ie deflation). Time will tell.

With the benefit of hindsight, there are some easy answers; not many, but some. One of the easy answers was figured out by the much vilified and usually misunderstood economist, Milton Friedman. Milton Friedman identified the key cause that turned the stock market crash of 1929 into the Great Depression that ran from the end of 1929 until World War II got the unemployment rate down below 10% near the end of 1940. According to Milton, the key factor was that the Federal Reserve System allowed the money supply to collapse by doing nothing to stop the cascading of bank failures. That was really, really, really dumb of the Fed, as we can now see, thanks to Milton's research and that of others.

Now the interesting question becomes, how could well-educated men of good will have been so horribly horribly and (with the benefit of hindsight) obviously wrong. The short answer is that their economic theory was wrong. The conventional wisdom of the time was something called the "real bill doctrine"--an idea we now know is almost entirely wrong, though under special circumstances it may work. What the Fed worried about and lost sleep over was inflation. That was what they all thought was the huge terrifying monster risk. They did not worry about mass unemployment, because according to the accepted classical economics of the time mass unemployment was IMPOSSIBLE, impossible both in theory and in fact, because with free markets wages would fall to their equilibrium point and thus restore full employment automatically and smoothly and with only the smallest of costs of adjustment.

We are all of us prisoners of our educations. We are limited by what we believe to be possible and what we believe to be impossible.

Contrary to popular belief, Friedman's thinking is entirely compatible with that of John Maynard Keynes. In a famous quote, Milton said: "We are all Keynesians now." In respect and tribute to his one-time competitor for top economist, Paul Samuelson (winner of the first Nobel Prize in Economics) said: "We are all monetarists now." Well, Milton is the guy who pretty much invented monetarism. BTW, Milton Friedman was the second winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics. While those who are ignorant of economics focus on the 3% of issues where conservatives such as Milton Friedman and liberal democrats such as Paul Samuelson, they agree on about 97% of issues because they are both extremely bright and both economists.

(BTW, I think they are both still alive, a remarkable fact I attribute to their both being avid tennis players.)

People who trash the ideas of economists thereby reveal their profound ignorance of what they actually have written as opposed to what ignorant journalists say they have written. Sometimes I wonder if Andrea Mitchell is the only journalist who understands economics; after all, she married Alan Greenspan (another avid tennis player, likely to go on with all his marbles for another ten or fifteen years, a truly remarkable man who started out wanting to play sax in a jazz band).  

I don't believe for a moment that bailing out a series of cascading bank failures would be possible. We would be talking about multiple LTCM and S&L equivalents simultaneously. There are always limits to what is possible. Easy answers are an illusion IMO.

As for the primary concern in the 1930s being inflation, that is exactly the position I see being taken this time as well. There is an almost overwhelming consensus that inflation is about to rear its ugly head. My opinion of consensus is that it is almost always wrong because it is based on the past, not the future. The greater the degree of consensus, the later it is in the trend and the closer we are to a discontinuity.

I don't think Bernanke is seriously worried about deflation at this point. I think he, like most others, still sees inflation as the real issue. His statement that the Fed could simply inflate out of any deflationary threat seems to have been intended to dismiss the possibility of deflation out of hand. I see him as trying to reassure the market (and deter speculators) by claiming that sort of control. I think he believes his own progaganda though, which worries me.

Actually, the Fed has the power to lend as much money as it feels like to banks (and, little known fact, also to just about anybody else). Recall that the fed can and does create money from nothing, formerly with the stroke of a pen and now with computers. There is no limit whatsoever to the amount of bank reserves the Fed can create in one afternoon.

Typically the Fed uses Open Market Operations to control the money supply, but were there a liquidity trap the Fed can easily escape from it by pumping money created out of thin air into banks (or even into General Motors, although the chances are perhaps 300 to 1 that they would never bail out GM through direct lending).

Cornucopians often have a religious faith in the (so-called) "free market."  People base much of their beliefs on what they see every day.  People project a kind of linear progression in life based on these observations.  Tomorrow will be like today and like yesterday before that.  "Reality" becomes what seems normative in our (very limited) experience.

I've spoken with 12, 13, and 14 year-old students in school about energy resource depletion, global warming, and "ecological economics.  I asked the students to imagine the future and talk about it.  What would be the same and what would be different.  At first, many of the students said that the future would be much like today.  The nice upper-class neighborhood in which the school was set in our city?  that will be the same -- same houses, cars, people driving on errands, going to the movies, and so forth.  The malls in our city?  There will be bigger and better malls with more and cooler stuff.  Fast food joints would continue to proliferate.

These perceptions are based on what these kids have experienced in life. Advertising provides another equally important dimension of "social engineering" as well.  Advertising skews the perceptual field by filling imaginations and minds with the sense that our culture of consumerism is truly Divine.  Our ticket to Paradise is money to buy bigger, better, more, and more varied things and experiences before we die.  The mental landscape we inhabit is highly engineered.

After reading Tainter, Diamond, Heinberg, Meadows/ Meadows & Randers, Bakan, and many others I've come to the conclusion that the "free market" is actually more likely to screen out essential information and analysis with relation to planning for the actual future.  By the time reality "trickles down" to the free market it will probably be too late to examine and understand those of our premises which are so obviously mistaken and which will cause much more than mere "market failure."

Given all of that, it is important to note that the "Free Market" is a construct which is particularly misleading.  The market is not set up to be free at all. Rather it is contrived to benefit those who already have wealth.  Abundant resources have disguised that reality somewhat, but as resources become more scarce we will see the velvet-gloved fist ever more clearly as the enforcer for the haves against the have-nots.

The glove will come off sooner rather than later.  The new, hybrid Lexus and the Olive Tree are likely to be incinerated on the battlefield of a flat earth.  The earth will be flat because all the mountaintops will have been chopped off in a search for more coal.

Tierney's glib fluff is the stuff of journalists who see only what they are paid to see through rose-colored glasses.  Greg Palast, who wrote "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy" has noted that investigative journalism in the USA is pretty much dead. I believe that he's also noted that journaists can be made to conform quite easily by stuffing their eyes, ears, and mouths with cash.

Reality is hardly defined by the NYT or by the disinfotainment that defines the perceptual landscape engineered for the prosumers of our Great Western Civilization.

The youngsters I spoke with in school?   When I asked if anyone knew what "resource war" means, one of the kids blurted out "Doh!!! Oil!!!" and everyone laughed.  When we talked about energy, pollution, global warming, and resource wars the students really opened up in a new way, but many seemed very frightened of the future then.  We talked about ways of reducing our need for oil, and went outside where I gave rides on my pedicab.  When talking about fast-food as energy-intensive, we agreed that there must be a better way to get food.  One of the kids blurted out "But I *like* McDonald's food!!!"  More laughter.  We have to help these kids imagine new ways of approaching life.  Permaculture and relocalisation and new ways of thinking about mobility are essential.

Journalistic fluff merely supports the perceptual field created only for the sake of embedding advertisements within it.  At its most effective -- like Tierney's article -- it is itself riddled with advertisements and is an example of the ultimate product: disinfotainment which massages the reader into a mood to buy more.

"And so it goes..."

beggar -

Very well put!  One of the best posts I've seen in a long time.  I too am quite frightened about what might be in store for the next generation. It doesn't look good at all. For many people it is going to be a rude awakening.

We are very close to the point where we are no longer citizens, but subjects.

  ditto. good post.
  as for being subjects rather than free yomen, I for one am already a serf of the bank, the IRS, the oil companies, etc. Have I left any of my noble masters unmentioned? A thousand humiliated apologies then.
Yup.  It's the kiddos I am most concerned about now.  I figure we will see some difficult times for 20-to-50 years or so.  I hope to do an elective class for students and parents at my son's school entitled something like:  "Futurology: Planning for Post Carbon Life."

Many of the kids are used to seeing my worktrike and pedicab around the neighborhood.  This is another way to help them see that we are not locked into cars for everything.

There is nothing to argue against in Tierney's article because he hasn't put forward an argument.

His opinion is that we don't need to plan .

This is an opinion we may choose to disagree with.

He is saying no need to worry - everything will turn out fine in the end.

I am not smart but I think we should plan.

I have found from experience that things often go better when I plan.

Tierney disagrees and doesn't think that anyone should plan
or change behaviour because mysterious benevolent forces will make everything o.k.

If he has children or grandchildren he is willing to leave their future to said benevolent forces whereas I am not.

I think I should take steps to try to minimise any future harm to them.

He mentions Iraq. Donald Rumsfield had a better education than me and is probably smarter than me. Donald told us everything would be o.k. in Iraq .
Donald did not have a plan. Everything is not o.k. in Iraq.

I worried about Iraq and disagreed with Donald - I don't think benevolent forces have been given that particular address.

  Peak Oil "ain't no thinkin' thang" as the country tune goes. No right brain, left brain. It goes a little deeper than that. Deffeyes made the comment in one of his books that in all his many years of observing learned people's reaction to PO, he knows of no one to ever change their mind through drawn out research and debate. People seem to form their take on it immediately without a lot of mental anguish. Think back to how long it took you to make up your mind.
  It's my opinion that peak oil is not really an economics thing; it's not a philosophical thing; it's not a political thing. It's a science thing. And like the theory of relativity and the second law of thermodynamics, most people will never understand it. You either grasp the physics of it or you never will. When oil is at $150/bbl, most people will still be talking about the oil "spike" and the economic, psychologic, political, and sociologic causes and solutions.

A very perceptive statement.  Not everyones brain is wired the same.  Very few are inherently wired to understand science.  Many psychological studies have come to this conclusion.  Training improves but does not instill scientific thinking.

Not everyone can be a scientist anymore than everyone can be a professional pianist, baseball player, artist or clothing designer.  Shoving scientific data sets down peoples throats will not make them understand the problem, unless they have the inate capacity already.  Another way to educate them is required.  Any thoughts on how to change a society?  Those that can do it become great leaders.  For good or evil purposes.

  very astute!
  some students are visual thinkers and "see" things "clearly",
  while others are auditory and "hear" what you're saying,
  yet others "feel" the emotional overtones of your kinesthetic position

Our greatest hope is our teachers

If only some of them came to grok peak oil and to pass that grokking onto their students

Obviously most of us are Strangers in a Strange Land and don't grok groking!

And most of us aren't well read either, which makes things even harder.

Well you grokked it.

Of course we are all mere cusps in the egg (--is that the way Vonnegut phrased it? i don't remember so well anymore)

In my opinion, the only hope is education. That is why I became a teacher. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle--all agreed that education is the key to creating a good society with intelligent and uncorrupted leaders. Our current educational system is broken and it cannot be fixed. Sorry. It is way too broken; just as the Titanic's pumps could not keep it afloat, our schools from the Middle School on destroy young minds en masse and fail to develop potentials in many (not all) cases.

Once again, in my personal opinion, the best ideas for educational reform come from Richard Paul and especially from the late Mortimer Adler, a most remarkable man. The hardest question and the most important question in the world is to figure out how to educate young people.

I can teach anybody to sail a boat, but my success at teaching logic was perhaps 2%. My success at teaching economics was maybe 2% or 3%. Also I have been a tennis coach, and only about 10% of people can learn to play tennis reasonably well because it takes enormous self-discipline, much practice, and everything you do "instinctively" is wrong. I have found that most math teachers have a success rate very very low. Sure the kids memorize the formulas, but they have no understanding of the foundations of mathematics. I'm not especially smart, and it took me about eleven attempts to learn calculus, in large part because my teachers were math geniuses but crappy teachers. Once I learned calculus, shucks, it is easy. Anybody can learn calculus. In Japan, every single high school graduate learns some calculus. In the U.S., the math and science programs are deplorable. No, that is not a strong enough word: It is a disaster area.

And it is not just innumeracy that is the problem. Most of our economists and businessmen cannot write their way out of a paper bag. Decades ago I was with another teaching assistant in charge of the Prose Improvement Program for students in Business Administration at University of California, Berkeley. University of California admitted only the top 12% of high school graduates, and of these, half had to take remedial English. I was teaching juniors and seniors who were taking intermediate microeconomics, and most of them could not write a coherent sentence, much less a paragraph. The best student I had was a Chinese American kid, just off the jet with about nine brothers and sisters. Even though his grammar and spelling reflected his limited knowledge of English, his essays were brilliant. I complimented him on his extraordinary achievement, and he laughed and said: "Oh, I am the big dummy in the family. All my brothers and sisters are scientists and engineers or doctors. But because I'm dumb they had me major in business."

Here is the point: This student had been educated according to the Confucian tradition that emphasizes clarity of thinking, elegance in writing, calligraphy, drawing, and ethics. Maybe he was not as smart as his brothers and sisters, but he did much better than almost any of the kids who came out of the best public schools in California. Economics is easy. Really smart people tend to go into physics or genetics or engineering or math or become poets or musicians.

Final thought for now: It is a cliche in all economics departments that econ students say that political science majors choose that field because they are not smart enough to learn economics. There is something to that. Oh, and where do most of our lawyers come from? Undergraduate majors in political science. And where do most of our politicians come from? Law school.

We need to go back to fundamentals.


I find it fascinating, the part about you being a teacher. Do any of your fellow teachers know about Peak Oil? Do you ever discuss it with them?

Is there a blog or forum where "teachers" discuss such topics, e.g., PO, GW, renewable energy?

IMHO, teachers are the only way that we can get the message across to the next generation that there is something fundamentally wrong with the way our current civilization is put together.

While many a folk claim to be self-made, I for one thank all the teachers that have crossed my path, especially the few extraordinarily passionate ones who made the subject come alive.

Teachers are the most under-valued members of our society (well, they and the trash collectors). It is sad how low America has sunk in terms of our public education systems.

Keep posting. The teacher's angle is very important.

Don Sailorman, I agree.

You know, I used to think I was well educated. But then I started hanging around with folks from places other than the U.S. Forget about calculus -- we don't even speak more than one language, which I find horribly embarrassing whenever I travel overseas. The problem is, once you get to be old enough to realize how ignorant you are, it's too late. Education works best with young minds.

As you say, "the only hope is education," but then you go on, "our current educational system is broken and cannot be fixed." So what hope have we? I would love to read a second post from you that goes beyond this critique and outlines something specific and actionable that folks who care could sign up for.

Of course, strictly speaking, this subject has an increasingly tenuous relationship with PO!

Trying to fix a broken centralized school system can easily make it more broken.

In Sweden manny are looking at Finlands schools since they have better results and better order in their schools, much as the Swedish ones were some 30 years ago before a lot of experiments were done including novel ideas for fixing it.

The downslide of the average school results seems to more or less have stopped now. 12 years ago we had a short lived non socialist government who instituted what in USA would be called a school check. Everybody who meet certain quality standards can start a school. Parents can choose any school they prefer but may have to run their own transportation. That varies from municipiality too municipiality, manny of them give older children  public bus passes with more or less unlimited travel.

The reform quickly got way to popular for the socialist to rollback.
2004-2005 we had 565 elementary "friskolor" schools with 6,9% of all pupils and 241 high schols with 11.9% of all pupils.
The highest percentage of any municipiality was 25.3% and 37.9%.

There is research that indicates thet the precense of "friskolor" forces the municipialitys schools to become better to compete. No pupils give closure, this happens regularly in larger towns. It seems to help teachers to get higher status and now not every school tries to do the same pedgogical experiments at the same time...

"Friskolor" do fairly often hire non certified and not properly educated teachers. One embarrasing piece of statistics about that was that no significant correlation were found between the pupils results and the average teachers exam.  But such a result were found for teachers who had been working in another profession outside the school system before becomming teachers. The teatcher unions blew several fuses and that government statistics group had to redo the work wich made it even more conclusive and then they happened to be disbanded. (No I do not like our current government. )

As a conscientious objector to the car kulture, I welcome the coming transformed reality in which Americans rarely drive. I personally don't think it's going to kill us. (I fondly remember biking through the streets of Shanghai in  the 1980's.)

Regarding die-off, how many did we lose in the great depression?

Oh, right. The record pace of population growth in the preceding 3 decades gave way to a more moderate growth, in large part because of reduced immigration. Well, that's according to some anti-immigration website I stumbled across. Anyway, I'm sure some people starved (as they still starve today), but it must have been relatively few.

And instead of focusing on the negative, I'm telling you guys, you're gonna love the biking! Especially without all the super obnoxious cars stinking everything up. Plus which, it helps with global warming.

Unless you're saying that even with Americans giving up 90% of their driving, the world is still going to Hades in a handbasket. Then I guess I better start larding my bunker.

What concerns me is that the U.S. population is now about three times the size it was during the Great Depression.  I suspect we are in overshoot, not just globally, but in the United States.  

Of course the oil isn't just going to disappear overnight.  We may have time to adjust.  OTOH, climate change may cause increasingly unstable weather that will make it harder.

And I wonder how much of a priority food will be.  If we have to choose between guns and butter, which will we pick?  Guns, judging from Bush's newest budget.

I'm very frustrated by this, you know?


There are going to be more guys like this. And a whole lot of different opinions.

Water under the bridge, ships passing in the night. Can't argue with geophysics, you know.

Several commnets:
1)intelligence- I have done several online IQ tests and come up around 140- so I should be pretty smart at least in the type of smartness measured by such tests- however I have noticed that everyone has a certain kind of smartness- one of my brothers is really good mechanically(MQ) and the other is exceptionally good socially(EQ). I fail on both of these other areas miserably. Intelligence is an abstract concept. Bush for example is very stupid in some ways about which we in such circles as at TOD all agree but has a good feel for social situations and getting power. Gore seemed intellectually smart but wooden and cold (EQ low/IQ high). We have to get the people with a high EQ looking at the reality of PO and turning the average guy on to it. However there is no money in this and the press and big business(advertising)  control the mood in the person with an average EQ and IQ.

  1. Die off and great depression- I think people will have fewer kids  or  none at all and older and sicker people will just die sooner (no more nursing homes with 90 year olds on a drip and endless drugs paid by medicaid) so the population will fall 1% or more per year without mass starvation(see Russia post communism) except where water shortages,etc. and extreme overpopulation are case(India?) and food must be massively imported. So with 1% (or more) less people per year most will be gone in 40-50 years until it stabilizes at a lower level (with previous birth/death ratios of preindustrial societies-lots of children and women dying in birth,etc and corrective naturally occuring famines, plagues,war, etc as in preindustrial times)

  2. the press- average IQ, high EQ knows where their bread is buttered and stays on the right side as long as necessary then feels when the wind changes and goes with it like any good politician(see Bush's SOTU).
<quote>except where water shortages,etc. and extreme overpopulation are case(India?) and food must be massively imported.</quote>

I doubt that India is such a place. In terms of population density, it is comparable to Western Europe. Until recently, India was highly self-sufficient in food, but it started importing food under pressure from the WTO. India gets a lot of its energy from biomass. I suspect that if peak oil causes a major economic crunch, third world countries like India will survive quite well. If political pressure forcing them to import subsidised food from Western countries collapses, they will go back to their old self-sufficient ways, and barely notice that petroleum has become scarce.

Further up, someone mentioned Nigeria as the location of disaster. A country like Nigeria could benefit from peak oil, if it remains politically stable. It's agricultural potential is grossly underexploited, due in part to the government's focus on oil, and on quasi white elephant projects such as the building of Abuja.

While we're here, I may as well mention Kenya, a quite populous third world country. If peak oil causes a big crunch in the West, a lot of land in Kenya that is currently used for cash crops would revert to food crop. Oil shortages wouldn't be much of an issue, because the average Kenyan uses tiny amounts, which they could replace with biomass or solar. In other words, they would scarcely suffer any adverse effects.

I think the least affected places, if there's a big crunch due to peak oil, will be poor third world countries like Tanzania. The most affected countries will be the gas guzzlers, and in between will be the countries that trade heavily with the gas guzzlers.

I suspect you're probably right, Peaked Hat. It may be like a gravitational thing. You know, people jumping out of second story windows usually live to tell about it, those jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge usually don't.
Let the Human cull begin!!!!
It already has. Look at the former Soviet Union or most African countries for specific examples.
Most African countries do not have a declining population. Even most of the ones hard hit by AIDS still have a growing population. Really, there's no cull going on there -- just business as usual. Fifty years ago, most of those dying of AIDS now would have died of other things. Life expectancy in the most severely AIDS-hit countries is similar now to what it was in 1960. If a cull is understood as a big decline in population, look to Europe. Italy and Germany, as well as most former Soviet bloc countries have negative population growth. Several other countries in Europe are expected to have negative population growth, as is Japan.
Just my point. There will be no culling(survival of the fittest). How many kids are born every year and how many old people die. Decrease births as in the depression by 50%-2/3 and increase death rate of old people by similar amount and then the population will simply decrease  naturally.

Maybe somebody here is good at demographic stats. If USA has 1% growth each year (+3000,000 then maybe 2000,000 die and 5000,000 are born) If only 1,000,000 are born due to hard times and 3,000,000 reltively  old people die annually due to lack of previously common but in the new PO situation extremely expensive medicines and caretaking then we have a minus of 2000,000 people. Almost 1%. This is not a die off of healthy adults and kids but a changing demographic due to decisions people make about having kids and natural processes which always happened in previous generations about death but have been delayed in our industrial civilization to an extreme(old brittle 90 year olds are the strongest growing section of our population I believe).

Nearly all of America's population growth is due to immigration, legal and illegal, and children born to those immigrants. Why do they come?  Maybe they are fleeing from the excellent school systems of Mexico, Haiti, Africa, India, The Phillipines, etc.
If the American school system is so bad, even though it could improve, then why are the majority of patents issued to Americans? Why are Americans the recipients of more Nobel prizes than any other country? If its due to our large population then India and China should be way ahead of us in those categories. Somebody did mention the Chinese tradition of emphasising education.
On the other hand maybe they come because they hate our freedom.
Having bad schools now do not ruin things now, it ruins them in 20-40 years.

I find it obvious that low litteracy and poor skills makes a population more exposed in times of change. A finely tuned and orderly working society can care for a lot of non procuctive or non flexible persons whose skill is to follow simple orders. If times turn bad you have to improvise, quickly learn new things and cooperate in new ways.(companies)  You have been extremely good at this in USA.

USA has been the pride of the western world, the icon for freedom. And you still are outstanding. But a lot of things I see in mass media and read on the net worries me. It seems like you slowly are loosing your freedoms and your ability to do great things in some kind of empire rot. I wish I understood it better, I have not even had time or money to visit USA, its irritating to only have second hand data and lousy mass media info.

It is not impossible to at the same time attract new people, have bad schools, and get lots of nobel prizes. There is a lot of inertia in these processes, if you have been outstanding and start to slide you still will be very good and then good for a long time. If you have the worlds best schools and millions of students it will still take a lot of time to build up good universities and fill the walls with usefull traditions and get these nobel prizes.

It seems like you are sure that you have the world freest and best country, a fair number of Swedes still think we have the worlds richest and best country. But that is not correct, we screwed up and started to slide.
Please take care of your schools and your freedoms.

Maybe someone should start a dialogue with Tierney featuring these rational arguments and see what he says, after all he has a wide platform from which to preach if he can be made to see reason.
Love him or hate him, Tierney is "provactive". You got to give him that.

The NYT is read by millions of people.
NYT editors cannot afford to engage in dialogue with so many people.

Last, I checked, each of the editors has an internet forum page where you can post comments. These forum pages are usually full of trolls dumping adhominen attacks on each other. It's a regular school yard jungle. Not very conducive to thoughtful discussions. That is what makes TOD great. People here are civilized.