Revisiting the Olduvai Theory

This is largely a guest post by Lads, although, given that I am somewhat less skilled than he in HTML it has been reformatted a little and shrunk a wee bit. I should also mention that I first posted it after watching the Oscars last night, and whether that befuddled me or what it was there, and then it was gone, so if it reappears as a somewhat duplicate be patient and I will delete one of the two.  Anyway, here is Lads post:

The Olduvai Gorge Theory was laid out by Richard Duncan in 1989, after seeing that world energy per capita (WEPC) has been declining since 1979. Although others had seen this, Duncan felt that they missed the point that if it kept falling, modern civilization would collapse.

Duncan defined the Electrical Civilization as the way-of-life enabled by widespread and abundant electricity, and set its limits as the period where WEPC is above 30% of its peak, i.e. the period beyond 1930.

The Olduvai Theory assumes that after peaking, WEPC will decline at a rate that mirrors its growth. This brings the Electrical Civilization to an end after 100 years. Duncan defined the idea without using a model, but his concept has been built into other models. Of these, the Meadows team's World3 is probably the most famous, giving the Electrical Civilization a lifetime between 100 and 105 years in all three reference simulations, 1969, 1989, and 1999.

And thus the Olduvai Theory evolved to:

Electrical Civilization can be described by a single pulse waveform of duration X, as measured by average energy-use per person per year. It has a life-expectancy of less than one-hundred (100) years.
At first Richard Duncan probably wasn't aware of Peak Oil, but by the nineties, working with Walter Youngquist, he began to include it, and refined the post-peak period into three phases:

   1. The Olduvai Slope - a period of slow decline;

   2. The Olduvai Slide - a period triggered by Peak Oil when decline would accelerate;

   3. The Olduvai Cliff - the collapse of Electrical Civilization with overwhelming decline of energy per capita.

The Olduvai Theory Pulse.

Electric Civilization endures for no more than 100 years, between 1930 and 2030.

You can get a better insight of the Olduvai Gorge Theory in these papers available at Jay Hanson's site:

The Olduvai Theory

The World Petroleum Life-Cycle

The Peak Of World Oil Production And The Road to The Olduvai Gorge

In the last of these Duncan included this graph:

Oil production per Capita.
A strong link between oil and population is clear from 1983 on.

When I first saw this graph, my chin fell so hard that I had to dig to find it, and I think I've still yet to fully understand what it means. It was like finding the missing link of Mankind (in this case Oil-Mankind). Since 1983 Oil Production per Capita has been flat. This has to mean one of two things:

    * Population Growth drives Oil Production, or;

    * Oil Production drives Population Growth.

I'm more inclined to the first assertion; though claims that, since the mid-eighties, production has been below capacity make sense, otherwise OPEC wouldn't have been able to control prices.

Re-assessing the Olduvai Theory

The last projection I have, by Duncan, is from 2000, with data to 1999. So I thought I'd see if we were already in the Olduvai Slide. I used BP's Statistical Review, Duncan's source, and the medium projections up to 2050 published by United Nations' World Population Prospects.

I got this:

World energy per capita 1965-2005.
After a local peak in 1979, energy/capita went again above 12 boe in 2004 and 2005. Source data: UN for population, BP for energy; 2005 calculated with IEA data.

So much for the Olduvai Slide. In 2004 and 2005 World Energy per Capita was above 1979, and rising. If we are on the road to Olduvai, we are moving backwards. So, what's wrong? Were did Duncan fail and what's going on?

BP's spreadsheet gives numbers for the different fuel types, so let's look at them.

Oil per capita 1965-2005.

Since the last Oil Shock things have been pretty calm, with a plateau since 1983. We can identify 3 periods in this graph, each separated by an Oil Shock:

   1. Exponential growth till 1973;
   2. Bumpy plateau from 1973 to 1979 (5,0 - 5.5 bbl/cap.);
   3. Mind-blowing smooth plateau from 1983 (4.3 - 4.5 bbl/cap.).

These periods explain the difficulty in correctly modeling oil production history. After an Oil Shock we reset our lives to a new level of Oil per Capita, which reshapes the curve and, in my view, completely validates depletion models based solely on post-1983 data.

In the last couple of years there's a slight rise above the plateau, which explains part of that new Olduvai Peak. As for the future of Oil, I guess we all have an idea of what it will be.

Gas per capita 1965-2005.
There has been a steady linear growth, doubling production per capita in 40 years. Gas isn't itself responsible for the rebound in energy/capita, but its growth has been steady.

But for all these sources one has to ask what'll happen after Peak Oil. I don't know, but even if Peak Oil doesn't affect Gas production Gas will peak before the middle of the XXI century.

Coal per capita 1965-2005.

Found it! Coal production was on a carrousel `til the nineties, when it started a sharp decline, then all of a sudden it sharply rebounded after 2000. This has most likely been due to the emerging economies of Asia. Good old Coal is always there for us. Remember Henry Grope's address at the ASPO-USA Denver conference? Well, what he said is happening already.

Gas started replacing Coal when the first declines occurred in the late sixties. This is important because Gas is more efficient than Coal, so we're using less primary energy and getting the more final energy. This is what probably baffled Duncan into predicting an early slide.

The future of Coal is uncertain, huge reserves are still there, but mining is hard. There's a unique characteristic about Coal, you can't send it through pipelines. Coal has to be transported in Oil-run vehicles. After Peak Oil its price will surely rise, and I doubt its production will continue to grow at this rate. Coal's dependence on Oil might also be responsible for the latest small surge in Oil/capita.
(Ed note:- coal can and is transported in pipelines).

Hydro-energy per capita 1965-2005.

After a strong growth up to the nineties, Hydro-power per capita is having trouble staying at a high level and follows a quadratic, rending down since 2000. Hydro-electric power generation is still growing worldwide, but it's losing its impact on our daily energy needs. From what I've learned this drop will continue. Dams are viewed mostly as strategic reserves, and lakes are kept full for use in emergencies. Moreover, countries face problems in building dams without damaging the environment. There's another increasingly important function for dams that limits their use, hydrologic management. We are fighting the northward spread of the Sahara, and Alqueva, the dam with the largest artificial lake in Europe, has a major role of keeping Guadiana flowing, otherwise it would dry-up during the Summer.

Nuclear power per capita 1965-2005.

This is a beautiful creaming curve, which though stable in the last decade, has a big question mark over the future. Since 1990 Nuclear power seems to be also driven by population growth, with a residual upward trend. Those aware of Peak Oil have learnt to. at least. respect Nuclear as one of our true answers to the challenges ahead. Lately the alarm has been sounded that we may soon face a Uranium shortage. Demand for Uranium is 40% above supply, and worse, it seems that the amount of Uranium mined every year is about half that consumed.

We are now reaching a time when a large number of reactors will be decommissioned due to aging, and replacements aren't on the way (at least in Europe). The future of Nuclear is uncertain, but further growth in Nuclear-power/capita is very unlikely, in fact the opposite is more likely.

World energy per capita by source 1965-2005. (Over this period Oil has been dominant).

Looking into the Future

This is the part when one risks his reputation, but what the heck.
In order to understand if the Olduvai Theory is still valid we'll have to look into the Future. Let's first just look at Oil and then to the total Energy per capita scenario.

To project future Oil Production we'll use the bounds given by the method developed by Khebab and Stuart, that resulted in these Extrapolations (Low, Medium and High). Using population projections to 2050 we get this:

Projected Oil per capita up to 2050.

Using the error bounds set by Stuart, it is clear that the plateau of Oil per capita is set to end, replaced by a sharp decline, which is pretty scary. Stuart has been showing us how Peak Oil is a slow squeeze; the same is true for Oil/Capita. But from these projections we see that this slow squeeze is over, we're bound for a serious decline in oil production per inhabitant of this planet. Just take a look at peak moments and values:

And to take an peek at the decline:

Five years from now a fall of 10 % is more than likely, in fifteen years 20 % less is to be expected, in 2050 all models are below 35% of 2005 oil/capita figures.

Remember the Hirsch Report? Twenty years from now the gap given by the medium logistic is 1.664 bbl/cap, which with a projected population of 7.9 billion gives a production deficit of 13 Gigabarrels (Gb) over the year.

There's another point to be stressed: in 2005 world oil production rose above 30 Gb/year, there's no reasonable logistic model that gives such a number. For instance Stuart's High Logistic has a peak of 28.9 Gb, with a generous URR of 2500 Gb. We're now on a local spike above the mathematical curve, one day we'll have to pay for this, diving below that curve. We might not see an Olduvai Cliff for Energy but one for Oil is almost guaranteed.

Projecting Future Energy per Capita

Here we have a problem; projecting future oil production is a well understood process, but not for other energy sources. Still I'd like to know how energy evolves into the future. Two models can be suggested:

    * The world is perfect: in spite of Peak Oil other energy sources continue to grow, maintaining the same values per capita;

    * The world is not so perfect: Peak Oil limits our ability to further increase production of other energy sources, but the levels of today can be maintained.

Since only Hydro-electric power is a renewable energy none of these scenarios is realistic. When formulating the Olduvai Theory, Duncan implicitly assumed that a decline in oil production would imply a decline in production from other energy sources. So I checked the relation between the two, plotting the stable period of 1983 to the present:

Oil vs Other Energy 1983-2004.

This turned out to be better than I thought. There's a clear link between oil and other energy sources. But don't think we've got it, this might just mean that the other sources are also population driven.

We've now got 3 models for future production from Non-Oil energy sources:

   1. Constant production per capita at 2004 values (increasing every year);
   2. Constant production over time at 2004 values (every year the same);
   3. Oil-driven production (decreasing every year).

To each of these I added the medium Oil/capita model we've seen before, obtaining this:

Projected Energy per capita up to 2050.

Three very different outcomes. In 2050 these models project a fall to 72.6 %, 53.9% or 21.5% of 2005 values. For the friendliest model to work, energy production from sources other than Oil will have to be 71.1 Gboe; that's a 42% increase over today's 50,5 Gboe. And we are talking mainly of finite resources.

The constant production scenario is more reasonable, but both Gas and Nuclear will most certainly start falling before 2050. It's assumed that Coal will replace these losses, given the difficulties in increasing output from Hydro-electric plants.

In the last and ugliest scenario, Olduvai unfolds in the next 40 years.

Reformulating the Olduvai Gorge Theory

I'll now allow myself the liberty and eccentricity of reformulating the Olduvai Theory. After all, without doing this, it wouldn't be fun.
The Olduvai Theory sets the Electrical Civilization to the time frame where Energy per Capita is above 30% of its all time peak. In 2005 that was 12.522 boe/capita and we know this:

    * We're at a plateau in Oil production, above any value predicted by any reasonable logistic model;

    * Population is still increasing steadily;

    * Peak Oil will highly likely arrive in the next 5 years (if it hasn't yet).

So we can assume that 2005 is very likely to be a peak year in Energy/Capita. Thirty percent of 12.522 is about 3.756, a value first crossed in 1950. In the Oil-driven world scenario this value is crossed again in 2044. I guess we can now reformulate the Olduvai Theory:

Electrical Civilization can be described by a single pulse waveform of duration X, as measured by average energy-use per person per year.

If it turns out that Oil drives the production of energy from other sources, the life-expectancy of Electrical Civilization is less than one-hundred years: i.e., X < 100.

In case Oil isn't the driving force behind production from other energy sources, the life-expectancy of Electrical Civilization is greater than or equal to one-hundred years: i.e., X >= 100. In such case X will be limited by a yet to be assessed upper bound, set by the decline of other-than-oil finite energy sources: i.e., X < U.

Homework: find a value for U.


The Olduvai Theory shows us something very simple, without renewable energy sources our modern way of life will end some time in the future. I'm an optimist and I believe we can drive away from the road to Olduvai. We can do it by controlling population or by using other forms of energy like Solar and Wind. Of course Oil will be hard to replace, but maybe cellulosic ethanol or something like it can help us in the long run.

Duncan introduced a very important concept, energy per capita, a measure of our Civilization. It's something that let us get a better understanding of the place Energy has in our life, and how can it affect our Future.

From the Olduvai Theory we learned that modeling resource depletion is also modeling population, and that there is a strong link between the two.


I'd like to thank TOD editors for letting me share these thoughts with this fantastic community.

How manny millions of humans or percent of the world population has to have an industrial/electrical civilization to keep our civilization going in a historical sense?

My back of the envelope definition of continous function as a civilization is little knowledge and culture lost, new knowledge and culture found even if the pace is slower and essential services continued like medicine production, universities, GPS and Internet.

My point is that "western" industrial/electrical civilization has never included the whole human population even if it has affected 99+ percent of all living humans. It do not need to include the whole human population to propagate itself as a culture to future generations.

Further is industrial/electrical civilization such an overwhelmingly powerfull toolbox that I find it likely that it will continue to affect 90+ % of the world population as long as a small percentage keeps it running. At the lowest and poorest continuing level it will be those electgrically civilized people who provide with the magical communication gadgets, medicines and weapons that every self respecting and respected local leader have...

I have myself for some sentimental reason continued industrial/electrical culture as the no 1 priority. What is the meaning with human existance if we do not do anything remarkable? If no one do anything remarkable?

Can 6500 milion people live without Electrical Civilization?
Anything remarkable?

I think loving people acting like humans, singing songs, and telling stories around the campfire will be much more "remarkable" than this plastic and electricity "society."

That is basic human behaviour, we can do more then only repeating what previous generations did.
Magnus, I think I agree with you, although I would add a footnote about WN and Pentti Linkola.
Googling Pentti Linkola gives:
"A supporter for harsh reduction of Earths population and a fanatical opponent of industrialized society."

You mean as an enemy? I would rather be fanatical about preserving industrialized society and propagating a culture rich in sub cultures that at least tolerates and cross pollinates each other. All the fachistical visions I have read about sound extremely boring, what is fun with a life where you are surrounded by xerox copies of yourself? Do master race people lack imagination?

In the sense you are asking it is probably 1/4 to 1/3.

The problem as I see it is that maybe 90% of the population is fed with modern agriculture. The real question is if modern agriculture is sustainable. For this question I think the problems will come from soil erosion, insufficient fresh water , loss of biodiversity etc.; energy shortages will make situation a little bit worse but will not be crucial IMO.

There are plenty of people just in Sweden to maintain civilization at 1950 levels of civilization or better. I suggest adding in Denmark for its pastries, ham, and cherry liqueur, plus Norway is a good source for herring and fighting men. Oh yes, keep Finland in the group, because it is good at fighting Russians in the winter.

Iceland is valuable as a source of beautiful women and salmon--other fish too.

Might be a good idea to invest in some coast guard boats and navies--oh, and especially, mine fields.

HEADING OUT...excellent job.  You took Duncan's theory a step further.  Expanded..if you will.  It doesn't matter if one moves the graph here or there.  Exponential equations all end up the same way they started.  That is, there is always in inverse to any equation to make it fit to that = sign.  You can't fool mother nature or physics. But, jeeesh, you give some typical Joe-Bag-of-Donuts a chance to comment about his two cents...and ya think ya got another Einstein.  Not.

It is very interesting how individuals cling to algae,  wind energy, sea wave motion, cow dung, aboitic methane or whatever fad is popular to help keep their delusional idea that this lifestyle can and will continue.  Well, it all ends when the phat oil lady sinks.

I wonder do these folks ever think about the infrastructure and resources all these wonderful technologies will devour?  Just look at the interstate-highway system.  Maybe if we had one tenth of the roads....maybe...and I mean maybe...could we keep them functioning for 50 years.  Does anyone realize the resources used up just for that purpose...of course not.  We sit on our computers punching neat logarithms on the screen (saying from Kunstler), having no clue of the real world.

It might be more advantageous to get a few books on gardening, orcharding, or one on Living on less, than wind energy or algae for dummys.

Heading out...I just wanted to say....great job.  

Exactly.  I suspect most people have no clue how much energy goes into building and maintaining our infrastructure.  Even if a handful of wealthy people can afford electric cars, what are they going to drive them on?  Will people who can't afford cars be willing to pay taxes for highways so Bill Gates can keep driving his hydrogen limo?  

We are going to be hard-pressed to maintain our current infrastructure, let alone build all new, as would be required for hydrogen, coal gasification, nuclear, etc.

Will the highways last longer when noone is driving on them?  Ha-Ha.
As I drive past endless tracts of suburbia all roofed with asphalt shingles, I wonder about that little detail as a weak link among many weak links in our chain of infrastructure.  Once a roof starts leaking, it is a quick trip to decay of the building.  When 100 million roofs made to last 15 years all start to break down and leak just at a time when the building trades have run out of gas and material to repair them, those miles and miles of homes are all going to start to implode in slow-mo.  
-Matt, former residential carpenter turned high school teacher, DC burbs
Hi SRSrocco, thanks for your coments.

Comparing highways with renewable energy is not the smartest thing to do. Renewables can and will help just because they are renewable.

As for highways you're prabably right, my post shows how hard the gap will be to fill. Even with a steady increase in production from other energy sources the comsumption rates of today aren't likelly to prevail for long.

I'm not saying that you're wrong, the math is on your side, I just hope for a better future.

Lads...let me clear this up...if you will...all these so called renewable technologies will need plenty of R-A-W  M-A-T-E-R-I-A-L.  And of course lots of energy to mine..ship..manufacture and produce.  Of course there will limited and local use of these technologies for sure.  But for wide spread use to PLUG and PLAY our current got better odds playing the LOTTO.

Renewables and reparing and replacing current infrasture will be in competition for ever depleting resources at ever increasing costs.  I am an optomist...but being pragmatic today might save more skins.

What Magnus said; the world is not homogeneous, and if the likes of Zimbabwe collapse and their oil consumption falls close to zero, it will have little effect on the rest of the world.

More to the point, global energy/capita matters very little.  The places where population is growing rapidly are not the places where technological society is maintained.  (Some people are bound to notice this and suggest "removing" populations which give rise to nuisances like terrorist movements...)

The major issue, though, is that there are some huge energy supplies which are barely tapped at the present and don't show up on the big curves, but which are growing exponentially at a much greater rate than population.  US wind production was up over 30% last year, dwarfing even the most fecund country's population growth.  Solar is increasing at a somewhat slower pace.  Even if we can't accelerate those trends, all we have to do is hang on until they catch up to our needs.  Sure, these things are small now; so was per-capita transistor production in 1965.  Moore's Law showed how useless that frozen snapshot was as a hint of the future.

The world's 72 TW of wind potential could supply 8 kW/capita to a population of 9 billion; it's clear that this alone is sufficient to stay well above 30% of the peak so long as population does not continue to increase.

Wind turbines and PV (and algae) will produce as long as the sun shines, so we're good for at least the next billion years.  I'd like to see a comparison of solar and wind energy production per capita as a reality check.

Ah, the technological fantasy continues. As everyone is aware, I'm sure, if we replace oil with coal, the fantastic coal reserves become merely tiny coal reserves. The 500 year coal seam becomes a thirty year coal seam with the added bonus of further destroying our environment. Everyone wants the big energy blowout, the big ancient sunshine reserve to continue so they can keep their ridiculous environment destroying lifestyle.

Hey, everyone!!! Don't worry about the planet. 'Cause we don't need no stinking planet. Moore's law will SAVE us!!!

Question. How much energy do all the millions of servers and computers use now compared to twenty years ago?

Adhering to the simple tenets of physics is the hardest thing for technophiles. They want to be able to clap and clap and see Tinkerbell get all better.

The tech magic is going kids. Don't hang your hat on it.

Huh?  Who's talking about coal?  EP was addressing the build-out of renewables, which is indeed happening at a very brisk pace right now.

"Adhering to the simple tenets of physics is the hardest thing for technophiles. They want to be able to clap and clap and see Tinkerbell get all better."

And the flexibility and ingenuity of the human race is the hardest thing for the Apocalypticons to accept.  They're so tied to their (often implicit) assumptions about critical details remaining constant that they want to clap and clap as they moralize over Tinkerbell dying an agonizing death.

Sorry, but it seems to me that all that vaunted human flexibility and ingenuity are what have gotten us into the ready and able to be fucked position we so eagerly assumed.  
Exactly right. The issue is can exponential growth (energy, population) be sustained? And the answer is an emphatic
No, not now, not ever.

Anybody pretending otherwise is living in a fantasy world.

Of course endless exponential growth is out of the question, and only a moron would suggest otherwise.  (whichy is why I'm assuming no one made that claim in this discussion--we're all way too smart to do something like that.)  I have no bloody idea why people bring that up as if it proves something.  It's like someone in a discussion about how to make the most efficient jet airplane suddenly commenting that gravity works and has to be taken into account.  Of course it does.

The odds are extremely high that the population of the human race will be limited in one of two ways: We explicitly do it, or we're forcibly constrained by resources.  The first is vastly preferable, but it will be hell to try to make happen.

As a moron, I guess I should step up to the plate here and state that humans are not limited to earth. The next phase of our development will involve harvesting energy flows and resources from space -- thereby continuing the process of endless exponential growth. :o)
For that to happen in the near future you'd had to start decades ago.
What's the rush? Oh yeah... I forgot. "Olduvai" Duncan says we're currently experiencing a worldwide epidemic of contagious rolling blackouts which will be permanent next year.

Future: The Olduvai theory predicts that "e" will decline even faster from 2000 to the so-named 'cliff event' (the 'slide'). A previous study put the 'cliff event' in year 2012 (Duncan, 2001). However, it no appears that 2012 was too optimistic. The following study indicates that the 'cliff event' will occur about 5 years earlier than 2012 due an epidemic of 'rolling blackouts' that have already begun in the US. This 'electrical epidemic' spreads nationwide, then worldwide, and by ca. 2007 most of the blackouts are permanent.Source

Talk about living in a fantasy world...

JD, you are correct.  Duncan got it wrong this year...maybe next year.  But many past PEAK OIL theories were based on knowledge of the time.  We can take M. King Hubbert's theory of Peak Oil as an example.  He was correct that America would Peak in 1970, but got World Oil Peak wrong.  But wrong by a few years.  And thats not bad for the information he had years ago.

Duncan is making assumptions based on a certain amount of knowledge.  Just because he may be off a few years or a decade...what's the difference if one has children and grandchildren.  Do you think Duncan is totally wrong...or do you have a problem with his exact time scale?

I think people need to start thinking about what one is going to do with their family(s) in the future.  We can debate exacts all day long.  But when things start getting really rough....a large percentage of people will be stuck with few options.  At least now...their is time to get ones house (or small farm) in order.


Duncan is totally wrong, and will continue to be so. The destiny of humankind is to grow exponentially into space.
JD, one can believe in the tooth fairy if they like.  But it remains true...I met Don Arabian...brains behind the Apollo program (retired now).  He was head of the MER mission evaluation room in Houston.  He was credited in being one of the four men responsible in putting man on the moon.  

He said...if we cannot learn how to live self-sustaining on this earth..we can never graduate to space.  We cannot go to space like we colonized and destroyed the rest of the planet.  Does not work that way.  We can't go to space because we have not learned how to live here correctly.  Of course...people are allowed in this country to believe in their delusions...

If we don't industrialize space, we're all dead -- it's just a matter of time. A rock from space will strike the earth and kill every human being on it, just like the rock that killed the dinosaurs. So you can skip the pompous lecture about sustainabiliy and caring for our children and grand-children and great-great grandchildren. It may seem to you that everybody playing Green Acres is sustainable, but it's actually not. The dinosaurs were very "sustainable" and organic and in-tune with mother earth, and that's why they're all DEAD.
Where can we go to colonize, though?  The moons of Jupiter?  Unless Bronson Alpha and Beta show up, you're talking about light-years of travel just to explore the possibilities.
It turns out that Phobos and Deimos are easier to get to then the Moon, in terms of delta vee. Also, we know that they are rubble piles from their rotation data, so we can burrow into them for radiation shielding and put in rotating habitats. That's going to take a while to scale up for humanity, though, so we better take a look at what we can do here on earth.
Hate to break it to you, but the 2nd law of thermodynamics dictates, that yes, someday all the humans will be dead.
But we seem to have done some good cataloging of very large near-earth-objects that could produce global destruction, and we appear to have some time.
Perhaps we can find a way to colonize space someday, but I very much agree with the previous posters that it is not possible soon due to energy constraints of the near future, nor would it be desirable for us to spread out into space as an unsustainable, all-consuming force. That is evil.
Let's be good and human and relearn our values and live sustainably, and maybe we'll someday deserve to save ourselves from the space rock.
But the heat death of the universe will still get us. So it goes.
The dinosaurs were very "sustainable" and organic and in-tune with mother earth, and that's why they're all DEAD.

Unsustainable use of resources shields against catastrophic meteors? the quality of thinking in this forum never ceases to amaze.

Apocalypse; or sustainable, advanced-culture future?

Who can say?

Perhaps either is possible.

Regardless, I think the only rational thing to do now is to assume that the latter is possible and act on that basis. The alternative is... ?

The alternative is to prepare for a lower-tech future.  
I would prefer an apropriate-tech future, extremely high tech when needed and keep it simple when simple is enough.
We may not have that choice, at least not for long.  I would take into account the fact that our children and children's children will likely be living a less-educated, lower-tech lifestyle than we are.  
That's an understatement. Since we're headed back to the stone age in 20 years, it's probably best to teach your kids the basics, like how to walk around naked, kill things with rocks and poop outside the cave.
No, we're supposed to be back at the 1930s in 20 years.  
You're in deep denial Leanan. Professor Kenneth Deffeyes of Princeton University says we will be back in the stone age in 20 years.

Look at Richard Duncan PhD's graph. That's a naked guy with a bow and arrow, not a fedora and a Studebaker.

Deffeyes worries that we'll battle for the last of the oil with nuclear weapons instead of dollars.  If that happens, Stone Age in 20 years is all too likely.

But we're talking about Duncan here, not Deffeyes.  The guy with the bow and arrow is at 3000 AD, not 2026.

You sure about that? Richard Duncan PhD says there's going to be a worldwide, permanent power blackout in 2007. I know it's scary, but you need to face the REALITIES of peak oil.
I wouldn't be surprised if the grid went down.  It's older, creakier, and more vulnerable than people realize.  I hoped they would finally get serious about fixing it after the Blackout of 2003, but nope.  In a week, the previously outraged politicians and customers completely forgot about it.  

But no electricity is far from the Stone Age.  

Stone Age is such a bizzare thing for people to be calling it.
I would like to push the term "Human Age" for when the electricity is gone.
I think it is difficult for us to know exactly what the "original" stone age was like to live in. It is also possible that some people who can't understand cooperation will live almost that pitifully soon too.
However, my tribe will be enjoying our humanity in a blossoming of art, love, music, dance, peace, and plenty as soon as this dehumanizing oil is on the down slope.
keep it simple when simple is enough

Nothing is simple.

After that everything is complicated.
Even boiling an egg is complicated because you are cross-polymerizing complex organic compounds --and you are converting fossil fuels into GreenHouse Gases (GHGs); --and you are probably depleting finite oil, gas or coal.

Simplicity lives in the simple mind. Do we want to keep it that way?

No, it didn't, which is the whole point.  We blindly responded to economic forces, as in absurdly and unrealistically cheap energy, and we didn't think about how we built our world--we just did it.  But now the mainstream consumers and voters of the industrialized nations are just beginning to think about the world in a new (to them) way, and that's where directed action comes into the picture, whether it's individuals conserving energy and other resources or group decisions expressed through public policy.

And yes, I'm painfully aware of what a freak show US policy has become in this area.  It won't stay that way; pendulums swing in both directions and ours is looking more and more like it's reached the extent of its swing to the right.  

Honestly, if I were as pessimistic as some of the people I see commenting online about energy (not a comment about you, Reed), I'd put a bullet in my head.  But I'm relatively optimistic and growing slightly more optimistic as I continue to study energy (and I've been at it, in one form or another, since the 1973 embargo).

As I've said many times online, peak oil and peak natural gas will be extremely difficult challenges.  They will cause considerable human suffering and even deaths, and they will wipe out some entire industries and decimate others, leading to huge economic dislocations.  But a crash of civilization?  The Olduvai scenario?  Not a chance.  

The Olduvai scenario?  Not a chance.
I'm not so optimistic that I won't give it a chance, but it depends on the PTB working hard to frustrate the economic and political forces pushing us toward non-fossil energy supplies.  Even if they don't succeed, they could cause a lot of pain as they slow the competition for their bread-and-butter fuel businesses.

It could go the other way.  Exxon-Mobil is getting a lot of very bad press already, which is encouraging.

The cheap fuel will run down. The energy slaves will be repaced by others.  Is silcon etched electronics embedded in fossil fueled civilization, or able to be salvaged, like the illuminated manuscripts, or the copies of Aristotle that were preserved by the Islamic civilization?  Laptop run by bicycle generator 500 years hence.  Very optomistic.
Re. a bullet to the head. It's becoming a more and more attractive alternative to enduring living on this planet as apparently envisioned and promoted by so many here, devoid of all life other than what is required to serve and continue to expand the wretched excess of industrial civilization. The amount and diversity of life needed for human survival (as if that's all that matters) is much larger than seemingly realized. We are in the midst of a massive species die-off. We are a species.
I found what might be a way to feed 115 people on a hectare, detailed this comment here.  I shouldn't have to mention just how much biodiversity you'd be able to retain with such a radical reduction in the footprint of agriculture.  (I found a lot of neat stuff with a search for "tilapia tanks".)

If there's some fly in that ointment, perhaps you can point it out.  Maybe you can come up with an even better idea, and test it in your back yard.

Don't you need a cheap energy source to build a new infrastructure to replace the old one and satisfy the needs of a growing population at the same time?
Wind farms return their invested energy in 3 to 5 months.  If energy is that expensive, wind turbines are going to be among the most attractive investments on earth.  It looks more likely that prices at even today's level will build up the industry very quickly and put the brakes on electricity price increases.  I wish it was faster, but you can't have everything.
Wind farms return their invested energy in 3 to 5 months.

Reference please.

You want the  FAQ?  You can't handle the FAQ! ;-)
Very interesting stuff. Thanks Poet.
growing exponentially at a much greater rate than population.  US wind production was up over 30% last year, dwarfing even the most fecund country's population growth.  Solar is increasing at a somewhat slower pace.  

Exactly.  The argument of Olduvai is about Electrical Civilization.   PV and Wind are based on still not renewable items like copper, iron, silicon.   But copper, iron and the silicon are not consumed like fossil fuels or uranium, so the materials that interupt a magnetic field to produce current or  use a photon to move an electron CAN have energy re-imputted into it and reused.

The biggest stumbling block will be the lack of electrical infrastucture to move the electrons from havest point to the end users.   Sprawled cities lime Minneapolis could use PV on the land and be able to cover in large part residental users, but cities like New York would need large imports of renewable power to keep it operational.  

'Room temprature' superconductors, made of a lower cost than copper would make a 72TW/9 billion grand statement possible.   But with copper and other items 'restricted' and the losses in transmition of electrical power over that copper....72TW/9 billion is an unrealistic pipe dream.

There will still be haves and have nots.  

algae) will produce as long as the sun shines,

Algae is a non starter, unless the water and food sources are close to where you are growing the algae.   Most places with algae food (sewage) and water already have the land needed for algae growing systems already occupied.  Open land for a place for algae to capture photons requiers moving the food to the algae...a non-trivial energy investment.   Dumping herbicide in the sewage waste stream would upset most algae growing efforts.  (people for the ethical treatment of algae strike again in their round-up terror strike)

At least with wind/PV you can export the product via a wire, and the raw material for processing doesn't have a 'cost'.

You don't need room-temp superconductors to make this possible; Buckytube wires (made of doped carbon) would do the job, and you can pull the raw material right out of the air.  They're a ways off, but the tech looks like it will get us there; bulk Buckytubes are too useful to ignore.
Algae is a non starter....
There is research going into direct algal production of hydrogen (no nutrient replacement required, put water in and get H2 and O2 out), and Greenshift is touting an archaebacterial system which captures CO2 from any convenient off-stream and converts it to carbohydrate; from carbohydrate you can go to either ethanol (recycling the CO2 from fermentation) or reform to hydrogen (and recycle all the carbon).  The advantage of single-celled algae is their extremely high productivity compared to higher plants.
"bulk buckytubes are too useful to ignore"

Let's get that carbon stream out of the atmosphere, into the buckysphere.

Engineer Poet you forgot to end your post with a token ;-) smiley face to signify that you are obviously kidding and realize nobody could actually believe the nonsense that is contained within the post.  


Oh, I'm absolutely serious.  I mean every word, and I've done my homework to show how the whole thing could be done (see my blog).

If you can show me how I'm wrong, I'll be happy to change my tune.  But that would mean using numbers.

If you're dreaming of an apocalypse and can't take the Left Behind books seriously, perhaps another website like would be more to your taste than TOD.

Duncan posted an update for his Olduvai theory recently:

Haven't had a chance to read it yet.  It's a PDF I keep forgetting to print out to read.

I wonder if per capita energy use and per capita real income are correlated. It sort of makes sense. LS's analysis yesterday showed that $$$ did not equal happiness after a certain point, but how does energy per capita relate to $$$ per capita? What are some good models of per capita economic growth without increasing per capita energy use?
At least for the US, variations in GDP/capita are correlated to variations in oil consumption/capita:

src: Graphoilogy

Thanks Khebab. The pattern is unmistakable.
Interesting that the GDP line is consistently above the blue oil line after the oil shocks. Does that mark some economic resilience / efficiency gains?
"Does that mark some economic resilience / efficiency gains?"

I am sure that is just the effects of switching from oil to natural gas, which reduces oil consumption without GDP, and mostly, the outsourcing of manufacturing.  The GDP indicates the value of the product, without accounting for the energy cost (which is switched to another country).

Right on Khebab. The correlation should be higher if compared with what Ayres calls exergy.
I think the US has obvious room for improvement in energy intensity (energy per gdp) and more specifically oil intensity (oil conspumption per gdp).  A graph of the latter is here:

That's a bit of a different sort of graph than Khebab, and shows how different countries have trended (mostly downward in developed countries and upward in developing countries over the last 20 years.)

(Olduvai ...  I don't know, that's nested too many projections deep for me.)

The economy output (GDP or PPP) per unit of oil consumed (so called oil intensity) is declining and has been used by some as a proof that the economy is somehow is dematerializing. However, the energy consumed per capita has been constant or rising for almost the last 30 years. The lower oil intensity is more indicative of the growth of the service sector at the expense of the manufacturing sector. See also work of the economist Robert Ayres.
In "A Thousand Barrels" Japan is cited as (if I'm remembering correctly) achieving a big reduction in oil intensity.  Have they managed a reduction on a per capita basis?

(I did the rough search and found no "japan" in the Ayres paper.)

It's a good question, I know that Robert Ayres is a specialist  on the Japanese economy.
Question: is the outsourcing of energy intensive industry to less regulatory and wage intensive regions having an effect on usage/per capita in first world countries?

If so, let's look at all manufacturing and industry from a 'gestalt' rather than randomly applying political borders to establish energy usage per capita in Japan or the US.  

At first thought, yes. Look at China and India, the former produces 80% of all goods sold by WalMart.

Like the work of Ayres suggests the service sector allows you to grow the economy at the expense of less exergy.

According to this link (,

Energy/GDP elasticity in Japan was

1965-73   1.2
1973-80   0.13
1980-90   0.49
1990-95   1.86
1995-01    --  (It should be '0.0')

Please note that GDP increased in 1979-1982 although Energy consumption decreased. During the deflatinary period in the 90's, GDP increased at a low rate without an increase in energy consumption. I think that a bad performance of elasticity ratio in 1990-95 was the result of excess of the bubble economy in the 80's.

A major point of "A Thousand Barrels" is the fact that Japan, UK, and several others have basically de-coupled oil-use from GDP growth.

If you want to understand "Peak" you better understand Tertzakian.

I'll only be happy when as many people here have read the masked-man-from-Alberta's book as have read "Twilight." If "Twilight" was too technical for you, try "Thousand."

The only difference is that Tertzakian is clearly younger and smarter. Think Schumacher vs. Andretti. It's not that wisdom doesn't count. It's just that these days, you have to be fast, agressive, and smart as a whip.

It is about a break point. I always talk about framing. This is re-framing. A peak, a plateau, a break. I like Tertzakian's frame the best. So far. It will be reframed. That's ok.

That sounds interesting, so I logged into my local library and looked it up. They don't have it yet, in fact they just requested it... today! (Maybe some TOD reader just requested it based on Hugo's recommendation?)

Anyway, I put a hold on it. The online catalog idea does have some advantages over how it was done in the old days.

Whenever I want to read a new book, I just go to Barnes & Nobles, get a copy, go to one of their easy chairs (unless I feel like a cup of tea from Starbucks) read through the book, and then take my notes on 3" X 5" cards, same way I did fifty years ago, and using exactly the same kind of pen (Parker jotter) that I did back in 1955.

Also, B & N is a great place to meet hot young literate women. Poetry section is good.

Alternatively, you could take notes on your laptop.

The log-on-and-reserve thing has made my library "too efficient" a market.  You can tell the good books because they have 30-40 holds.  So I either wait a year, or buy a copy in the meantime.

I've gotten very good condition used books from, but haven't done that in a few years.

That's interesting, but only oil, not total energy. Coal seems to be making quite a comeback.
I meant to use the words "short term" in there and am surprised, looking back, to see them missing ;-)

Olduvai I don't know .. room for short term improvement.

Please read the paper presented by prof. Ayres in Lisbon:

Implications of Higher Oil Prices for Future Economic Growth is the actual location. The above link is to his biographical note.
With the onset of the industrial revolution in the 18th century Britain, sustained economic growth became part of the normal experience of certain populations.  The prospect of economic decline or sustained economic decline is observable in various periods, locales, ie breakup of Soviet Union or Roman Empire.  In the industrial revolution science worked in harmony with capitalism over a long period of time, leading to the "higher standard of living" we now view with increasing trepidation.  Can the decline be managed?  Are technological islands possible in a general debacle if that is the outcome?  It seems like the scientifically derived results of civilization: population, high energy war, carbon loaded atmosphere, die-off of other species, agriculture dependent upon energy, etc.,lead to an inharmonious denouement for industrial civilization.
Kudos! Fantastic Analysis!  Now I challenge all the TOD data freaks to somehow chart ERoVI [Violence Invested] > ERoEI.

Because of Overshoot, there are an infinite number of detritovore inflection points whereby violence is more efficient at securing energy [in all its forms] than honest daily biosolar labor.  Obviously, a cursory examination of the news shows this happening worldwide already: Iraqi war to brutal conflict across Africa.  The continuing elite wealth consolidation in the first world countries is just another example of stocking up on power to eventually be unleased as a hammer blow across our Homeland in a myriad of methods.

Decreasing net energy inevitably compresses the long term delusions of our Energy Fiesta into desperate short-term needs.  Consider the stress and gas-station line fighting of the '70s energy crunch as a mild example of what lies ahead unless huge Powerdown programs are started immediately.  In short, the potential harvest from using the exosomatic reach of a detritus bullet is magnitudes greater than the harvest from a biosolar wielded garden hoe.

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Once again, Bob nails it. Lou, while terribly angry, is not on top of his game. Overshoot is overshoot no matter how optimistic you may be. If we do not have the cheap energy to maintain a pumped up lifestyle then something has to give. Either we have fewer people living the vida loca or we have more and more and more people living a less and less and less avaricious lifestyle.

Sure I'd like to be one of the techno optimists, but reality has to be acknowledged by us adults at some point. I like my tech stuff. But it will not be around in another fifty years or even less. The basic question is not how can we keep our cool stuff. The basic question is how can we come to accept that that cool stuff is killing the planet and we would be just as happy without it -- perhaps (in my opinion almost certainly) happier without it.

Sure there will be vast dislocations, inflection points, and all manner of opportunity to kill each other over the scraps of technological man, but then, when the dust settles, we will have an opportunity to get back in tune with the planet that evolved us.

For those of you want to find the tech fix, please remember that tech is what got us here in the first place. The definition of insanity is repeatedly doing something that does not work. Let's hope we are not a world of loonies.

I like this chart better:

At least post-industrial man gets a microphone.

FUNNY....although the chart you reference is the one NOT to show to any friends you are trying to get interested in taking the oil depletion issue seriously, it is a graphic representation of the "stone age by 2025" type remarks now being thrown around by makes people outside the "circle" roll in the floor laughing.:-O hahaha...

This is now the problem.  The "movement" has now taken on such strident tones of complete defeatism and catastrophic nihilism it is moving further and further from the mainstream.  They could be right of course, and we all could collapse back to life as hunter gatherers circ. 3000BC, and all because we ran short of liquid fuel, but it's too great a jump for even the most wild imaginations to cope with....and given the new strain "inevitablility", i.e., nothing can be done, it won't matter anyway, it's a forgone conclusion.
I notice  the little drawing shows the guy with a bow....see, we did salvage technology after all! :-O  heee, heee, heee

Actually, I think we're the same distance from the mainstream that we always have been.  Things have gotten more doomerish lately, but I think that's because the mainstream has also gotten more doomerish.  A lot of the mainstream types who were arguing "peak oil won't happen for 40 years" no longer believe that.  Prices are high and we still haven't done anything, which has led some who thought the invisible hand of the free market would save us to doubt.  The cornucopian cemetery is starting to fill up.
Loss of technology is not a new phenomenon.  Note the TV shows that attempt to demonstrate how the pyramids were constructed.  Silicon chips take a certain critical mass: of energy?, creativity?, expansive civilization?, military demand to bootstrap?  Maintaining may seem trivial.  But if we have offshored all our fabs and find ourselves in "mortal" combat with Asiatic nations, where will we be?  We are at the level of etching a few atoms, but if we fall down many levels, where are the bootstraps?
"Prices are high and we still haven't done anything..."

Prices aren't even close to high.  When US gasoline tops $4/gallon (or even $5) and stays there permanently, then I'd say prices are high.

And as for us not doing anything yet, tell that to the people within Ford and GM who are trying to sell pickup trucks and SUV's.  They're taking it in the teeth now, and it will only get worse.

There's a very significant time lag in response to energy prices.  First, there's infrastructure changes that have to take place for some types of conservation, and those are capital expenditures that don't happen overnight.  Second, there's a market psychology component--people have to believe that the current prices aren't just a short-term blip before they'll commit to a long-term and possibly expensive change.  But even with these built-in buffers, the change is already happening with cars in the US.

We haven't turned on a dime, by any means, but the signs are there that the market is responding.

Yeah, but I think people were expecting more.  A "Manhattan project" to develop a new energy source, that kind of thing.
The only "Manhattan projects" these days (US) cut taxes.
actualy if you look at the graphic it is only saying that we will have the electical level equal to about 1930 by about 2025. we don't reach the stone age again till about 975 years later.
I like that chart. At the "G" point, you can put a picture of a suicide gunman in a former workplace to represent the extreme civil unrest caused by hyper-unemployment. A suicide bomber would also work. With severe layoffs, permablackouts, etc. unrest is all but sure. And a "disgruntled postal worker" represents individual rage at the machine perfectly.  Those people without access to guns but who can make bombs, are elegible to become suicide bombers in their rage.

Also with global warming, a jungle planet will eventually form, resulting in us returning to the trees - from whence we came in the first place. (as shown by the bipedal ape lookalike) Way to the right, you could show an ape lookalike again. (my whimsical "automotive ape theory")

At the top, you could show that definitive symbol of the present time: 9/11. Lending itself to conspiracy theories, 9/11 served as an excuse to invade Iraq to try to get the last largely untapped patches of conventional oil. Underlying all the geopolitical insanity is the stealthy, insidious effects of the oil peak. Unless you know about it, current events make little to no sense.

As a software engineer I can see the silver lining on this graph:

The computer industry won't need to worry about Y3K!  ;-)

that depends if there is not a novell netware sealed behind a anceint wall of drywall at that time :P
You bet it!

But that's because we fixed that bug already, not exactly because there won't be computers in Y3K.

Maybe we can work on a patch to the Electrical Civilization, and put here at TOD to free download.

Patch your life now! Or Olduvai will make it fault (core dumped).

the next one up is the 2038 problem as far as I know.

I wonder if they'll wheel me out to work on those old UNIX systems ...

Y10K would be the problem as there is an exta digit. Mind you the UNIX clock will roll around on January 19, 2038 and the IBM clock will roll 16 November 21041.
I would be very curious to see country-by-country per capita energy consumption.  My guess would be that the US is still on a slight upslope -- at the rest of the world's expense, of course.

Hard to say - it could be sloping down.  Not because we are doing anything good, but because we have outsourced the industrial base to 3rd world countries.
Yes, it's an upslope:

src: GraphOilogy

I'll track your GraphOilogy blog from now on. Did I just miss this or have you been doing this for some time now? By the way, you quoted
The predicted Russian production profile is the most controversial of the four plots that we analyzed. However, Russian Minister of Industry and Energy Viktor Khristenko, in an interview with Russian Profile [5], had the following statement, "One important point is that the longer we delay making this decision (encouraging frontier exploration in Russia with tax breaks), the harder it will be to feel the effectiveness of the measures taken: the structure of the country's reserves will continue to get worse and Russia could end up facing a real collapse in oil production."
I want to say since there has been some debate on Russian reserves and future production that I entirely endorse Khristenko's view here. Note that the possible collapse comes from "above the ground" factors--constraints on investment--not actually estimated URR.
Did I just miss this or have you been doing this for some time now?

No, it's quite new, since end of January. I'm planning one or two posts a week for now, I'm also trying to convince some good friends here in Quebec to help me.

Note that the possible collapse comes from "above the ground" factors--constraints on investment--not actually estimated URR.

You're probably right, for example the January drop in production was weather related. 2006 will be an important year to determine if Russia has reached a plateau.
According to eia

US energy consumption peaked in 78-79 at 360 million btu/person, and was 340 in 2004.  It has basically been in the same range since oil peaked in the early 70s.

50% increase from 1950 to 1970.

2% increase from 1970 to 1990

1.6% increase from 1990 to 2004



I think the official statistics from the Energy Information Administration are a little more accurate.  The peak was 1979, and the numbers are pretty much the same as the were in the 70's.  There was a slight dip in the early 80's.  You could argue we were being more efficient, but it was just more people out of work.

1970    334
1971    335
1972    347
1973    358
1974    347
1975    334
1976    349
1977    355
1978    360
1979    360
1980    346
1981    333
1982    316
1983    313
1984    325
1985    321
1986    320
1987    327
1988    339
1989    344
1990    340
1991    335
1992    335
1993    337
1994    339
1995    343
1996    350
1997    348
1998    345
1999    347
2000    352
2001    338
2002    340
2003    338
2004P    340

Powerdown will not be an optional process.  The dimorphism of the income distribution will certainly continue up to a certain point.  Less energy will require more energy from humans, though mechanization will have to decline a substantial amount before this sinks in to the denizens of the more developed countries.  The loss of manufacturing in North America carries a heavy short to medium term risk regardless of the posturing of our current political leaders for world imperial leadership.
I'm impressed by the poster's efforts but I got stuck on this assertion:

Since 1983 Oil Production per Capita has been flat. This has to mean one of two things:

    * Population Growth drives Oil Production, or;

    * Oil Production drives Population Growth.

My interpretation of the chart is much simpler: the 1983-1999 period is flat because increases in population offset increases in production.

Otherwise, of course population growth influences oil production; more demand has led to more exploration and production.

Likewise, higher oil production has supported population growth in multiple ways, i.e. by increasing agricultural yield, leading to better nutrition and higher survival rates.

I really don't get your point. Can you explain it better?

The main reason for me to believe that Population is driving Oil Production is that fact that since the mid-80's we've been below capacity.

If the correlation between the two variables is so good, what else is efluencing Production Growth?  

Not much of a battle, so far. I'll back you because you are correct, and it is easy. Call me if you need some help, although you obviously don't need it. I'm getting bored. But at some point, people, we may need to start smacking these people around. So get ready. Because although I like to think how things will work out - WTSHTF, TSTHF.

This is Duncan's peer-reviewed paper going to print in The Social Contract.


LOL. Who were the "peers"?

"The Social Contract" is published by John H. Tanton, a well-known racist and anti-immigration activist who has said that unless U.S. borders are sealed, America will be overrun by people "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs."

The Southern Poverty Law Center on "The Social Contract":

The Social Contract Press
Petoskey, Mich.

With a strong focus on immigration, The Social Contract Press (TSCP) sells books from its on-line bookstore and publishes a quarterly journal, The Social Contract. TCSP says it favors lowering immigration levels merely "to reduce the rate of American's population growth, protect jobs, preserve the environment, and foster assimilation."

But it publishes a number of racist works, including a reprint of the "gripping" 1973 book, The Camp of the Saints (see Fear and Fantasy), a French racist fantasy novel about the obliteration of Western civilization by dark-skinned hordes from India. The novel, like the race war fantasy The Turner Diaries, has become a key screed for American white supremacists.

The Social Contract is edited by Wayne Lutton, who recently the joined the editorial advisory board of the newspaper of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC).

At a 1997 CCC conference, Lutton said Third Worlders "have declared racial demographic war against us. ... Why are their populations exploding? Because ... our people have exported medical technology and we feed them.

"Had we left them alone, many of them would be going extinct today."

The Social Contract has published articles by James Lubinskas of the racist American Renaissance magazine; Brent Nelson, who like Lutton is on the advisory board for the CCC's periodical, and Sam Francis, current editor of the CCC tabloid.

John H. Tanton, publisher of The Social Contract Press and founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was instrumental in a 1996 effort to add an anti-immigration plank to the Sierra Club platform, a move that nearly split the environmental group permanently.

To editor Lutton, America essentially is a white man's country. "We are the real Americans," he declared in 1997, "not the Hmong, not Latinos, not the Siberian-Americans. ... As far as the future, the handwriting is on the screen. The Camp of the Saints is coming our way."

Anytime somebody talks realpolitik there is always going to be some sort of smear campaign against them from people that can't handle simple truths.  Look at this sad country on the brink of collapse and the lead story is banning abortion.  Fools!! You're a racist, fear monger, anti-American, feminist, doom and gloomer you name it.  The same charges are leveled against Dr. Virginia Abernethy.

Don't be so easily seduced by the rhetoric...


Virginia Abernethy is a self-admitted white separatist, and a holocaust denier.

Also, you still haven't said who the "peers" were.

I think Tom Metzger headed up the board...


Here is a picture of Virginia.  She looks like a real meanie...


Of course I don't know who the peers were but I have sent an email to Duncan and I will let you know if he replies...

I am relieved beyond words that we've finally dragged racism into these discussions.  Finally, we can talk about someone who's liked less than economists.

(Jus' kiddin'.)

Yah, you really are kiddin'. Does somebody here dislike racists? I must have missed it.
Whoa! slow it down. Nobody likes racists. If they do, they need no support. Remember which side you are on. OK, good. Now what are you trying to say, exactly? Good? I'm glad you remembered. Let me know anytime you are having trouble remembering. I'll help you out. Hugo does this 24/7. Stick with oil. Oil will set you free.
No need to get to those terms guys.

Peak Oil takes no sides in politics. It'll come no matter what politics you defend.

Thanks, lads. That's an unequivocal condemnation of racism if I ever heard one.

Here's a nifty little photo:

That's Virginia Abernethy on the far left, and Wayne Lutton Ph.D. (Duncan's editor and "peer reviewer" at The Social Contract) second from right. Note the confederate flag prominently displayed in the foreground.

Is there some reason why the dramatically increased energy efficiency of industrialized countries is not an obvious explanation for the decreased energy use per capita? I'm not sure if anybody is aware of this, but just about every home appliance today is at least twice as efficient as it was in the 70's. More aluminum is recycled today than in the 70's. Etc. So I see no reason for pessimism. Furthermore, I think that if you looked at the per capita energy use including wood, solar (through photosynthesis), and coal, you would find that energy use even in the 1850's was quite high by modern standards. Of course they did not use electricity, but that's not because they didn't have enough energy -- it's only because they didn't know how to use it.

In a sense, this Olduvai argument is a little like saying that if the average personal car uses less and less gasoline per year, then we can extrapolate and say that eventually cars will not exist because they will all use zero gasoline and hence will not function. Clearly this is absurd. You can't fit a gaussian to every single freakin thing out there.

If this were a discussion on dailykos, I would give your comment a 4 (the highest rating available), and then post a reply in which I enthusiastically agreed and use 3 or 4 pieces of profanity.  Since we're on TOD, I'll be more reserved.

I don't know how anyone can read the Olduvai stuff without making precisely the argument you did--how in the world do you go from saying "X is true" (the peak in worldwide per capita energy consumption) to "therefore it means that Y must be true" (we're headed for a crash), with no serious consideration given to increases in efficiency or other possible explanations?

This reminds me of the analysis that pops up from time to time about silver.  It shows in excruciating detail all the places we get silver--mines in various countries.  It also shows where we use silver--photography, electronics, jewelry, dental work, etc.  The conclusion is obvious: We're using silver faster than we're mining it and above-ground stores will soon be depleted, so You Should Invest In Silver Right Now!  The problem is that the analysis always, somehow, forgets to include recycling, which turns the conclusion on its head.  I've seen this thing in one form or another numerous times since the early 1980's, and I'm sure it's much older than that.

Silver is up a tidy 37% over last year. The amount of silver used in most electronics is so small that it makes recycling it impractical. It's efficiency in conducting electricity and also being a key component in solar panels would make me think you would have a higher opinion of silver Lou.
Silver is only a 10% more efficient conductor of electricity than copper and it is far more expensive. The use of silver in photography has dropped enormously due yo digital cameras
You can't recycle Oil.

You can't recycle Gas.

You can't recycle Coal.

As for efficiency remember the Jevons Paradox.

As for profanity, you may use it at will it just makes my point stronger.

That's just it, our per capita energy usage has not gone down.  It is the same as it was 30 years ago.  Our cars are more efficient, so we drive more or buy a more powerful car.  Our homes are more efficient, so we buy bigger houses and more electronic toys.

As far as per capita usage, the info I have seen shows that we use about 20 times as much per capita as we did in 1850.  I would call that a substantial increase.

At least in America, there has been no sign that we want to reduce our per capita energy usage.  The $64,000 question is, what happens when we are forced to reduce our per capita usage?

"We shall define as a "social steady state" any society in which the quantity [of energy expended] per capita ... shows no appreciable change as a function of time. ... On the other hand a society wherein ... the average quantity of energy expended per capita undergoes appreciable change as a function of time is said to exhibit "social change." ... Upon this basis we can measure quantitatively the physical status of any given social system. ... The energy per capita[equals the] the total amount [of energy] expended divided by the population."

"Other factors remaining constant, "culture evolves as the amount of energy harnessed per capita per year is increased, or as the efficiency of the instrumental means of putting the energy to work is increased"
~White's law {More Racist Drivel?? ;-}

I believe his theory rest upon the premise laid down above.  If you can successfully disprove the premise, then you can disprove the Olduvai Theory.  When our ability to increase the efficiency of energy use per capita [e] thorough "technology" is exhausted and [e] is forced to permanently decline so shall "cultural evolution" go into decline.  In a culture as complex as our modern civilization which has already crossed the point of diminishing returns to increasing complexity, combined with the despicable state of the human condition, all but guarantees a catastrophic social collapse.

"To circumvent costliness in problem solving it is often suggested that we use resources more intelligently and efficiently. Timothy Allen and Thomas Hoekstra, for example, have suggested that in managing ecosystems for sustainability, managers should identify what is missing from natural regulatory process and provide only that. The ecosystem will do the rest. Let the ecosystem (i.e., solar energy) subsidize the management effort rather than the other way around (Allen and Hoekstra 1992). It is an intelligent suggestion. At the same time, to implement it would require much knowledge that we do not now possess. That means we need research that is complex and costly, and requires fossil-fuel subsidies. Lowering the costs of complexity in one sphere causes them to rise in another.
Agricultural pest control illustrates this dilemma. As the spraying of pesticides exacted higher costs and yielded fewer benefits, integrated pest management was developed. This system relies on biological knowledge to reduce the need for chemicals, and employs monitoring of pest populations, use of biological controls, judicious application of chemicals, and careful selection of crop types and planting dates (Norgaard 1994). It is an approach that requires both esoteric research by scientists and careful monitoring by farmers. Integrated pest management violates the principle of complexity aversion, which may partly explain why it is not more widely used.
Such issues help to clarify what constitutes a sustainable society. The fact that problem-solving systems seem to evolve to greater complexity, higher costs, and diminishing returns has significant implications for sustainability. In time, systems that develop in this way are either cut off from further finances, fail to solve problems, collapse, or come to require large energy subsidies. This has been the pattern historically in such cases as the Roman Empire, the Lowland Classic Maya, Chacoan Society of the American Southwest, warfare in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, and some aspects of contemporary problem solving (that is, in every case that I have investigated in detail) (Tainter 1988, 1992, 1994b, 1995a). These historical patterns suggest that one of the characteristics of a sustainable society will be that it has a sustainable system of problem solving-one with increasing or stable returns, or diminishing returns that can be financed with energy subsidies of assured supply, cost, and quality.

Energy has always been the basis of cultural complexity and it always will be. If our efforts to understand and resolve such matters as global change involve increasing political, technological, economic, and scientific complexity, as it seems they will, then the availability of energy per capita will be a constraining factor. To increase complexity on the basis of static or declining energy supplies would require lowering the standard of living throughout the world. In the absence of a clear crisis very few people would support this. To maintain political support for our current and future investments in complexity thus requires an increase in the effective per capita supply of energy-either by increasing the physical availability of energy, or by technical, political, or economic innovations that lower the energy cost of our standard of living. Of course, to discover such innovations requires energy, which underscores the constraints in the energy-complexity relation.
One often-discussed path is cultural and economic simplicity and lower energy costs. This could come about through the "crash" that many fear-a genuine collapse over a period of one or two generations, with much violence, starvation, and loss of population. The alternative is the "soft landing" that many people hope for-a voluntary change to solar energy and green fuels, energy-conserving technologies, and less overall consumption. This is a utopian alternative that, as suggested above, will come about only if severe, prolonged hardship in industrial nations makes it attractive, and if economic growth and consumerism can be removed from the realm of ideology."
~ Joseph A. Tainter,

If we truly entered the phase of peak oil where are we going to find the fossil-fuel subsidies to increase our complexity to solve the problem of declining [e]?

Instead of "rational thought" our genes will bypass our cortex, which they have been doing with such success all along, and our species will fall prey to our "Shining Excalibur".  The realpolitik solutions that are required to solve this essentially unsolvable problem will be abandoned for our species' religious furor.  Our Excalibur, our mystical beliefs, will trump science and "rational thought" and ensure our species destroys itself in a mighty clash of civilizations...


"Human beings never think for themselves; they find it too uncomfortable. For the most part, members of our species simply repeat what they are told--and become upset if they are exposed to any different view. The characteristic human trait is not awareness but conformity, and the characteristic result is religious warfare. Other animals fight for territory or food; but, uniquely in the animal kingdom, human beings fight for their 'beliefs.' The reason is that beliefs guide behavior, which has evolutionary importance among human beings. But at a time when our behavior may well lead us to extinction, I see no reason to assume we have any awareness at all. We are stubborn, self-destructive conformists. Any other view of our species is just a self-congratulatory delusion."
~Michael Crichton, "The Lost World"

Is there some reason why the dramatically increased energy efficiency of industrialized countries is not an obvious explanation for the decreased energy use per capita?

The graph shows an increase not a decrease.

Furthermore, I think that if you looked at the per capita energy use including wood, solar (through photosynthesis), and coal, you would find that energy use even in the 1850's was quite high by modern standards.

An Olympic athlete can produce 350 Wh during 8 hours at most in the same day. Compare that with your energy bills. Oh yes heavy horses, do the math and then talk again with me.

In a sense, this Olduvai argument is a little like saying that if the average personal car uses less and less gasoline per year, then we can extrapolate and say that eventually cars will not exist because they will all use zero gasoline and hence will not function. Clearly this is absurd.

Yes it is absurd. It just means you don't understand what the Olduvai Theory is.

You can't fit a gaussian to every single freakin thing out there.

I've used no Gaussian, just the Logistics extrapolated by Stuart and Khebab.

I would advise you to explore the Jevons Paradox, it may answer some of your questions.

If losing electricity via the Olduvai Theory is not bad enough please consider doing charts and graphs of the breakdown of modern sewage infrastructure and its consequent effects upon societal decline.  Here is a recent link about Zimbabwe's problems:


Perhaps an 'Outhouse Theory' needs development.  I find it amazing that Zimbabwe does not go to a Humanure System--perhaps just more Denial?

Bob Shaw in Phx,AZ  Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Population Growth drives Oil Production, or;
Oil Production drives Population Growth.

I think there is no one driving force here but three: population growth, economic growth and the everlasting migration to the city, a driving force that the complete peakoil community has been neglecting far too often. While all three are intertwined they are not the same.

Look at Hungary's energy consumption to see on how these things work together. Hungary has a very low birthrate, it has a turbulent recent history of transformation from communism and has recently been admitted to the EU. As everywhere in Eastern-Europe the population of the country actually declines.

Well done, lads.

A few remarks:
# "Coal has to be transported in Oil-run vehicles"
Disagree with this one. How about coal-run vehicles (by rail)?
# "Those aware of Peak Oil have learnt to. at least. respect Nuclear as one of our true answers to the challenges ahead" Glad you note the future of nuclear is uncertain. You mention this with a shortage in uranium in mind. However IMO, more important, nuclear (like wind and solar) is utterly depending on an underlying fossil fuel-based infrastructure.
# As soon as there is anyone who can convince me that nuclear energy is not depending on a fossil fuel based infrastructure I will change my mind. Until then, I'm opposing it.
# you can line me up with the more pessimistic crowd here at TOD; you've shown just a little later date for TEOTWAWKI then Duncan has. Gives me more time to get my children educated and prepared. Please note that being a geographer I'm very much convinced there will be human civilisation for as long as I can imagine and I'm planning for my kids to be part of that. I think the die-off is inevitable (sooner or later) but extincion of the human race is unlikely (at least not until the sun burns down). Humans have proved to be very adaptive to sudden changes in circumstances and to any event I can think of there will always be survivors.
# I do not mean to be disrespectfull to the people here who come up with technological solutions: Energy is not the same as Technology. To give an example Engineer Poet, on Mon Mar 06 at 2:41 PM EST, states "The world's 72 TW of wind potential could supply 8 kW/capita to a population of 9 billion; it's clear that this alone is sufficient to stay well above 30% of the peak so long as population does not continue to increase. Wind turbines and PV (and algae) will produce as long as the sun shines, so we're good for at least the next billion years" . Sure, but this, again, assumes the underlying fossilfuel based infrastructure is there. I do belief nuclear, wind and solar can provide for a few usefull basics. Then again, someone please convince me you can mine & process the raw materials for solar panels, windpower generators and nuclear power plants without fossil fuels (not to mention maintaining and replacing these, as well as maintaining the grid itself). I am sure the engineers are well aware of the versatility of oil vs. the versatility of electricity.
# Too long this post maybe but, if not for abrupt climate change, than for PO&G you can pretty much kiss electrical/industrial civilisation goodbye

# As soon as there is anyone who can convince me that nuclear energy is not depending on a fossil fuel based infrastructure I will change my mind. Until then, I'm opposing it.

If you oppose everything that depends on an infrastructure that depends on or uses fossil fuels you will oppose everything exept farming with pices of braches as tools.

How much longer do the fossil fuels last when complemented with another technology or more efficient use?
How expensive can the fossil fuels get while the other technology is economical?
Do you need so little and can accept such a high price that biofuels are enough?

My guess is that electricity is so valuble that any fossil input in a nuclear energy infrastructure can be provided with biofuels.

Thanks for your feedback Magnus.

I only oppose nuclear because I'm a bit worried these may going to rot away one day and ruin the world for my grand-grand-children. (also constructing a nuclear power plant costs 5 to 10 billion US $ at this moment, and takes at least 5 years. Costs will probably exceed the present estimates during construction. Especially for the energy-hunger USA it will be very hard to get nukepower on scale with present deficits)

I highly favor any other alternative.

On the other hand, if we try to harvest the mentioned windpower potential for the entire planet we also have to do some big-time looting.

I do imagine agriculture civilisation to flourish(opposed to hunter/gatherer). However there is renewable fuel called wood on which such a civilisation can thrive. This can provide for a whole lot more then just farming with pices of braches. You Swedes know all about wood and will probably do well. As far as I know Sweden is also the only country in the world were forests are expanding.

"How much longer do the fossil fuels last when complemented with another technology or more efficient use?"
Magnus please, this implies FF and technology is the same. You know it is not. As a matter of fact, there is only technology because there is energy.
Anyway, I don't have the answer.

Your guess may be right

That's a key point that gets missed, Magnus, and thanks for reminding us of it. We can have an "electrical civilization" without petroleum just by using biofuels for the essential industries that need that sort of fuel to do their work such as mining uranium, for example. If we eliminate petroleum based transportation and substitute with electrical (rail and even electric cars) then the amount of liquid fuels needed to keep that civilization going are vastly reduced. So that is doable, even if that civilization looks very different from the one we have today.

Of greater concern to me is the relentless pressure of population growth on everything, from ecosystems to social systems. If we can't control population, then somewhere we will cross a boundary and trigger dieoff. Oil, water, food, ecosystems... we have to scale back as a species.

It is also possible to combine CO from biomass with H2 from electrolyzed water.
In regard to transporting coal without oil:
1. Steam/coal-fired locomotives hauled coal for seventy years; they could do so again.
2. Railroads could be electrified with coal or nuclear-powered generators.
3. Electricity could be generated at or near coal mines and then transported long distances, as the Russians do.
4. Nuclear (or sail) powered ships can transport coal. Sail powered colliers used to be a major industry and could become so again; I believe some were working off Britain as late as the 1930s but were done in by the Great Depression.
5. Diesels can run efficiently either on coal slurry or high-quality fuel made from coal.

Thus, I see no serious reason to be concerned about using oil to utilize coal.


Who is going to make the investment to build steam powered ships?  Where are the fossil inputs going to come from to build all theses new steam engines?

The railroad system in the US is in horrible condition.  Who is going to rebuild the entire system, and of course, electrify it?  Who will put up the investment?  

How many sail boats do you think it would take to transport the quantity of coal needed?  Who is going to invest in building sail ships in that quantity?  Where are the fossil inputs going to come from?

A major theme of the Olduvai Theory is that the most of the coal/wood driven infrastructure and tools that we used to rely on are gone.  It would take tremendous amounts of energy inputs to rebuild that infrastructure.  Who is that going to be done in a civilization in decline and where are the energy inputs going to come from?


Minnesota has cheap coal-fired electricity. BTW, the total evil emissions from every single coal-fired plant in this state are less than the emissions from one single plant to the north of us in Canada (or at least that was true up until a few years ago, when the Canadians belatedly cleaned up their act). The coal comes by rail. We have an excellent, well-maintained and extensive rail system in the midwest; it carries huge quantities of freight (including coal and grain), and breakdowns are rare because of good maintenance.

The switchover from diesel from oil to diesel from coal is no big deal. During World War II the Germans did it in a matter of months. The Democratic governor of Montana wants to turn the eastern part of his state (which already stinks due to sulpher and other crud from refineries, e.g. around Livingston) and he is talking to some big money.

Money talks, Baloney Sausage walks.

Hi Paulus.

This post tells us two things:

  1. The Olduvai Slope will come;

  2. It might not be as bad as we may think.

Your comments on Coal are right, it has more potencial than what I wrote.

There's something we can never give away, and that's hope. Even if the things like those Poet say seem optimistic we cannot just dismiss them.

Imagine this: hundreds of ofshore wind turbines not directly integrated in the electrical grid, but used in producing methanol from CO2. You could then use that methanol to keep the Wind and Nuclear industries running. Just a dream, but better than nothing.

"Then again, someone please convince me you can mine & process the raw materials for solar panels, windpower generators and nuclear power plants without fossil fuels (not to mention maintaining and replacing these, as well as maintaining the grid itself)."

Yes, this is the main point for the Olduvai theory. The fossile fuels will be practically nonavailable in 200 - 300 years. There will be a lot left in the ground, but it will be too energy-consuming and difficult to get them out, at least from the EROEI viewpoint. Remember, all the easy oil, coal and gas (and uranium) is already used up. But so will be all the easy non-renewable raw materals, like iron or copper ore. Existing raw-materials can be recycled, but not infinitely. Maintaining the infrastructure for renewals-based energy production will more and more difficult. In the end, after 500 - 1000 - 2000 years it will not be possible. Then we will not have even metals at our disposition. Only some iron meteorites, if we are lucky.

At that point the world is effectively back in Stone Age. And we will never again be able to make it to the "civilization". Stone technology will probably provide sustainable life for  a rather small population. There is no way to avoid this outcome, but it will take a quite a long time to get there - so it is not our worry now. The only possibility might be fusion power. But we cannot wait too long for it - if it takes too long, it will no more be possible to build fusion reactors and the game is definitively over.


Easy. Replication time for windmills is less than a year. So we use half the energy from windmills to make more windmills and since we double windmills every year (and we aren't about to run out of iron, aluminum, limestone, and clay) we will handily outgrow population growth, which is about 5% a year or less anywhere in the third world and is actually negative in the first and second worlds.
We have to be careful not to draw too much conclusions from an apparent strong correlation (for instance the one between Oil and the other energy sources). Below a little reminder:

Correlation and Causation

We must be very careful in interpreting correlation coefficients. Just because two variables are highly correlated does not mean that one causes the other. In statistical terms, we say that correlation does not imply causation. There are many good examples of correlation which are nonsensical when interpreted in terms of causation.

    * Ice cream sales and the number of shark attacks on swimmers are correlated.
    * Skirt lengths and stock prices are highly correlated (as stock prices go up, skirt lengths get shorter).
    * The number of cavities in elementary school children and vocabulary size have a strong positive correlation.

Three relationships which can be taken (or mistaken) for causation are:

   1. Causation: Changes in X cause changes in Y. For example, football weekends cause heavier traffic, more food sales, etc.
   2. Common response: Both X and Y respond to changes in some unobserved variable. All three of our examples are examples of common response.
          * Ice cream sales and shark attacks both increase during summer.
          * Skirt lengths and stock prices are both controlled by the general attitude of the country, liberal or conservative.
          * The number of cavities and children's vocabulary are both related to a child's age.
   3. Confounding: The effect of X on Y is hopelessly mixed up with the effects of other explanatory variables on y. For example, if we are studying the effects of Tylenol on reducing pain, and we give a group of pain-sufferers Tylenol and record how much their pain is reduced, we are confounding the effect of giving them Tylenol with giving them any pill. Many people report a reduction in pain by simply being given a sugar pill with no medication in it at all, this is called the placebo effect. To establish causation, a designed experiment must be run.

src: Statistics Class Notes
As I said in the post that apparent correlation might just mean that Population also drives the growth of other energy sources.

I just hadn't anything else easy to use.

Thanks anyway for your help in looking at this Khebab. Any values for U?

After seeing the news headline "S.D. Governor Signs Abortion Ban Into Law" today - and thinking about how exponential population growth is the #1 problem we have, I just don't see how we have even a small chance to avoid a serious dieoff.  Insane, brain-numbing religous cults will always be around to throw wrench after wrench into the machine.  30% of humans are just  barely above the level of Chimpanzees - I mean these people don't want contraceptive education, but want as many babies as possible - how the hell are we going to halt, let alone REVERSE, population growth, without a dieoff?
Let's just make it cool to be sterilized.  As Doug Stanhope says, next time you hear that someone has chosen not to further destroy this planet by procreating - show them your gratitude.
I can't help but agree. The No. 1 biggest problem is religious groups who want to gain power by sheer numbers even if it means numbers of people who look anorexic from famine. If you think that the cornucopians are loopy, the religious nuts have them beat. Ever heard of "the power of prayer"? You have a famine, the clerics just order their minions to pray.

What we need is for people to have FEWER children, not more. Subsiidise Abortion? How about free contraception to boot? Yet religious nuts (including Bush, Pope Ratzinger, ayatullahs, etc.) insist on multiplying until Malthus rears his ugly head. Maybe it's religion that should be banned, or at least discouraged by taxing churches like any other business. Maybe regulate churches to death like bars.

As each day goes by, I'm sooooo much gladder I never had any kids - for their sake! To make matters worse, religiousness is on the rise even as the world starts the involuntary powerdown. WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?

Imagine it is 1906 roughly 20 after the first ICE car was built. A small number of expensive cars were built between 1886 and 1906 so it is safe to assume a simlar number will be built between 1906 and 1926. That did not happen because Hank Ford figured out how to built cheap cars (Model T) and the 20 years after 1906 changed life drastically.  We maybe on a Model T threshold in regards to PV production using printable techniques. If we just covered all the roofs in America with these cheap PVs it would generate an average of 2,000,000,000,000 watts. Drop off in per capita electricity? I think not.
As much as I like the PV idea, a problem is liable to crop up. A shortage of rare metals used to dope battery packs. Lead is an obvious example, of course, but lithium or nickel could be constraints. A "sodium-ion" battery would sure help, providing the sodium doesn't need rare metal dopants. Is anyone working on a sodium-ion battery?

A possible "solution" is people learn to use power only when the sun makes it. Interconnection helps, but the Earth rotates. Oops. The plus side: Nobody says we couldn't adjust. The minus side: Nobody says we shouldn't have to adjust.

I'm of course assuming that a way is found to make PV panels en masse, a hazardous assumption.

Hi Tom.

Have you read the Hirsch Report? If not please do.

In the near term the problem Peak Oil will impose is the scarcity of liquid fuels, not electricity. My post shows you that we are on the edge of a Oil Olduvai Cliff, and there's not much PV can do about it.

I believe (hope?) that Renewables and Condoms can keep us above that 30% treshold.

It would be interesting to see the energy per capita profiles for individual countries. For instance, the other day someone was quoting numbers for Sweden that equated to a figure like 44 boe/c/yr.
I can´t see the dire Doom & Gloom scenarios occurring.  

The reason I feel optimistic is that the American Public, led by a responsible government, can and will change its ways.  

We can begin by instituting a national conservation program.  
I wonder how many millions of barrels per day could be shaven from our current consumption if our leaders mandated that we use energy more prudently.  I have read that the Europeans are using 50% less energy per person then their American counterparts.  I think this gives us a range of savings between 5 and 10 million barrels per day.  

Plus there is coal to liquids, nuclear & renewables.  

The fear mongerer´s have no faith at all in American society to change its wasteful ways.  I disagree.  Eventually leadership will emerge, its a matter of time, and the public will respond, be it on the national, state or local level.

You may be entirely correct. The quality of our leadership (governmental, corporate, educational, . . . even religious) will largely determine the outcome of events over the next twenty years in the U.S.

Have you read Toynbee? Challenge and response . . . . Our society faces a great challenge and may rise magnificently (though belatedly) to it. After all, the U.S. did this in World War II when the Axis leaders firmly believed Americans were soft, stupid, lazy, corrupt, cowardly and internally weakened by race mixing and jazz.

To date I see no evidence of our leaders rising to the challenge. Very much, it is like the Captain of the Titanic who receives a radio message that there is ice in the area and casually ignores it to go on drinking with his first-class guests. Hours later he went down with his ship, and I do wish it were possible to know his final thoughts.

Best case scenario: Something nasty happens (e.g. nationwide powerdown for a week or so), and public opinion turns on a dime, as it did at Pearl Harbor and as it did to a lesser extent after 11 Sept 01.

Worst case scenario: The spin doctors keep the mainstream media in deep denial until it is too late. Titanic strikes ice berg at full steam, and most of the black gang (coal shovellers and third-class passengers (Irish immigrants) die, while most of the First Class passengers get seats in the life boats. When dieoffs come, the poor die off disproportionately, as is now happening in Africa.

In my opinion, best and worst case scenarios are about equally likely, say about one chance in four of either happening. More likely is something in between, where some countries and regions do reasonably well and others lose eighty percent or more of their populations.

I would like to end on a cheerful note, but it is a fact of life that the closer you get to the ice berg going full steam ahead, the less likely it that you will be able to slow down or turn away to avoid disaster. My guess is that the next eighteen months will be critical--only a WAG.

Is this really the titanic?  Anecdotally speaking, if people need to take a bus, or train to work, is this a catastrophic downgrade of the individuals life style? Should a teenage son or daughter who need´s to share the car with mom and dad cry that US life is going in the wrong direction, becoming depressed and apathetic? Family units using less heat, air conditioning-assuming good health, is not an unmitigated disaster. Raising cafe standards doesnt put a dent in our endless growth myth, does it?

Awareness of oil depletion will enter the mainstream because most of us fill up our tanks, air condition & heat our homes, buy food for our families.  Some of us travel abroad.(brazil-$1.30 per liter of gas, almost $5 per gallon) The wasteful use of oil will end, it´s a matter of when.  

That´s why I can´t put a percentage or an odds play on what type of leadership will emerge.  I am not old enough to have lived through World War II, however I can intuit that this period was a powerful display of what American´s, Germans, you name the society, are capable of ádapting to with the proper focus and end goals.  I cannot easily discard this, pretend that the character of America, Britain, Brazil, etc, has sunken to a level of slothful, inflexible and hallucinatory behavior.  That´s propaganda.  This in a nutshell is why I am not panicing about our future.

I think you are correct. It is not time to panic, and in any case, panic is counterproductive and will merely make things worse.

The fearmongers are out there selling fear, no doubt about it, and I strongly recommend Michael Chrichton's STATE OF FEAR.

However, having said all that, I have lived a long time and plant to go on as long as zest for living remains. One thing that has impressed me is the role of irrationality, for example, in financial markets.

I do think the Titanic analogy is apt. I am sincerely puzzled by the behavior of the captain of the Titanic, expecially because I know real-wold sea captains and also people who cruise small sailboats around the world. Any experienced seaman, when he gets a report of ice sighted reduces speed immediately, alerts the lookouts, and typically you check your radars etc. to make sure they are working correctly, maybe check the pumps, radios, etc. Why the captain of the Titanic behaved as he did, is, to the best of my knowledge, an insoluable problem.

Why our leaders focus more on manipulating public opinion and winning elections than they do on dealing with urgent and fundamental problems--alas, I understand that all too well.

Perhaps the Captain of the Titanic was unduly complacent because the ship was supposedly unsinkable. I can think of many current parallels to this mindset.
Doubtless he (along with all the conventional wisdom) believed the Titanic was unsinkable. But
1. Why did he go for a speed record on the maiden voyage and thereby do major, huge and expensive damage to brand new engines? To me this is insane and irresponsible and unexplainable by any information of which I am aware.
2. Give poor visibility and warnings of ice, why did he not order "Half-speed ahead!"? His failure to reduce speed violates every tenet of seamanship going back 500 or more years, and IMHO is criminal irresponsibility--plus is utterly inexplicable. Even had the Titanic been unsinkable, it would have sustained horrendous and extremely expensive damage from striking a berg. Note that the captain of the nearby SS California stopped engines and floated because of the ice hazard. That was prudent, but not absolutely necessary, because one can make a case for at least maintaining steerege way when in an ice field.

Few things scare me. Fog at sea is one of them. Floating ice is another.

"typically you check your radars etc"

My understanding is that the captain of the Titanic told his radioman to check the radar.  While his radioman was trying to invent radar, they hit the berg.

It seems to me a lot of folks figure "someone should do something" about our impending "energy crisis". They cannot understand why the mainstream public doesn't get it.

Well economics will do something about energy sources although there is no looming (widespread anyway) crisis to be had.

There are plenty of alternatives to fossil fuels.They are not currently the fuel source of choice only because they are not the cheapest.Lately a lot of developments are happening in response to higher prices.. Hybrid cars, cellulosic ethanol breakthroughs, improved solar, advances in energy efficiency and research into methane hydrates(To name only a few).Some of these technologies are competitive now with oil and gas prices of late.And with mass production they become much cheaper(This has been proven time and again)

In short, anything that is TECHNICALLY feasible also has the potential to become economically feasible with the right price signals and technology.This is how fossil fuels will be eventually replaced and alternatives will take over.

Doomsdayers will say that is looking at the world with rose colored glasses and things can't be developed fast enough to replace oil and gas.I believe otherwise.I do not believe oil and gas production will fall off of a cliff, rather, high prices will lead to conservation, competition, efficiency, and create massive opportunities for countries like the United States to manufacture their own energy, slash their trade defecit and bolster the economy.I personally believe that after oil peaks (Quite a few years from now or next week) there will be a relatively long plateau.(Decades) This plateau will create the price signals and therefore the real incentives for alternative energy sources to be developed in earnest.

Could oil and gas shortages create short term economic pain.Absolutely.But if you want to see people conserve energy, high prices will do it.If you want efficiency, ingenuity and the awesome power of free enterprise to kick in and provide alternatives for a profit, higher energy prices are needed.And they will come, for a while anyway.