Sunday Open Thread

Because you were busy on Saturday...
How much oil could be saved by MUCH more Urban Rail in the US ?

Following are some comments by an 80+ year old mass transit expert with a QUITE impressive resume.  (One of many claims to fame, he predicted DC Metro ridership when completed to within 3% before the first line opened).

I think Alan is too modest about his five to nine percent gain in oil conservation in major cities by using electrified transit.
   In 1989 Kenworthy & Newman  published their study of motor fuel consumption in major American cities.  It found that cities like New York,  Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco  Toronto and Chicago used an average of 420 gallons per capita per year.  Cities like Detroit. Los
Angeles, Denver Houston, Phoenix and Dallas used average of 550 gallons.  The electrified transit  cities were saving 130 gallos per capita, 23 percent. TOD had some impact so ther 23 % would not come immediately but something much better than five to nine  percent should be attainable with help from the price of gasoline. (Please realaize than in 1989 Denver, Dallas and Los Angeles did not yet have electrified transit and Washington had not completed its MetroRail system, now three percent beyond planned scope.
         kenworth & Newman's study can be found in the American Planning Association JOURNAL of 1989.
    With 50 million people living in major cities that could readily adopt electric transit, the savings would be more than 6.5 billion gallons per year.worth $ 15 billion a year.
    I am older than Alan S. Drake. I was in college when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. It did not take two years to get twice as many people on transit then half electrified, 25 blliion trips per year.
   Railtoads took 90 % of the freight ton-miles but not of the tons, Rail freight moves for three cents per ton-mile but higher valued truck freight might raise railroad  average cost to 4 cents  How- ever, trucks cost 12  cents  so the savings are huge.  The convenience lost is well
worth the savings, if the politcians would just fscilitate an intelligent approach instead of seeking campaign contributions from oil and auto companies,  Railroads do not pay politicians enough to get their attention.  More voter attention is necessary and the January Harris Poll supports it,
    One major problem is the lack of frugal knowledgeable consultants ,
                    E d    T e n n y s o n

Just like many other oil alternatives, rail just isn't cost effective yet.  But also like other alternatives, people will be very happy when the price goes up, if their area has the infrastructure in place.
Tells you something when Russia is electrifying their rail system even though they have huge amounts of oil and natty gas; prices are ready to shoot up for a very long time.
OK, I'm confused.
Just like many other oil alternatives, rail just isn't cost effective yet.
What on earth are you using as a base for this statement? Every study I have read indicates rail to be the most efficient means of transportation in terms of fuel and infrastructure. Are you referring only to the build-out of infrastructure costs? How does one rail line and the necessary rolling stock and power infrastructure compare against 4,000 miles of multi-lane streets and highways, hundreds of gas stations, interchanges, street lighting, signal lighting, signage, traffic control, and accident management?

In the U.S., freight rail carries 27.8% of the ton-miles at 220,000 barrels/day while trucks carry 32.1% of the freight miles with 2.07 million barrels/day [all 2002 data.] Light commercial trucks consume another 300,000 barrels/day. This makes railroads more than eight times more fuel-efficient, as well as more labor-efficient than trucking.

From :Fuel-Efficiency of Travel in the 20th Century

By 1960, the efficiency of power generation had increased by 85% over 1930 and the energy-efficiency of electric rail transit was over twice that of the auto. [Transportation Energy Data Book]. After 1960 there was almost no improvement in electricity generation efficiency. The new rail transit and light rail in the last quarter of the 20th century must be compared with an auto of increasing fuel efficiency. So today, electric rail transit is only perhaps about 25% more energy efficient than the auto-SUV in urban use.

Also see:Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey

So, you obviously have some information that I'm missing. I'm willing to review it.

> After 1960 there was almost no improvement in electricity generation efficiency.


There has been a revolution in natural gas generation with the advent on combined cycle generation replacing steam.  Old NG power plants has heat rates of ~10,000 BTUs per kWh.  Best modern NG use low 6,000 BTUs per kWh.

Retrofitting existing coal plants with modern controls typically improve efficiemcy by 2% to 2.5%.  General Electric is working on combined cycle coal plants.

Wind turbines have made significant progress every generation of new turbines.  Dramatic since 1980.

Hydro has picked up 1.5% to 2% efficiency with computer modeling of turbines, better generators, etc.

Transformers have improved significantly since 1960.  Large transformers are probably close to 2% more efficient.

See my analysis in a post just below this that shows a 11.9 to 1 ratio in favor of LRVs vs. cars & SUVs.

I stopped at electricity BTUs (we got plenty of those from a wide variety of sources) vs. oil BTUs (short and getting shorter supply).

To get apples to apples, figure natural gas being burned at 6,150 BTUs per kWh, 6% transmission & transforming losses vs. natural gas to liquids energy losses and transportation of liquid fuel created costs. (I think I saw data on that here soem time ago).

I think we're talking about energy generating efficiency of electric rail transit power.
I have followed your posts for sometime. How much of the electricity will come from coal? Wouldn't light rail make the most sense where it would be powered by non-coal electricity?
Quite frankly, the efficiency gain from using light (or Rapid or streetcars or commuter) rail) is SO great that it does not matter.

If one figures that SUVs & cars commuting use 100 times as much energy (all oil with a little ethanol) to move the same people that a new Urban Rail line does, then where that 1% comes from does not matter much.  Saving the 99% is MUCH more important IMO.

calgary Light Rail (Oil Capital of Canada BTW) is run off of 100% wind power.

It would be "nice", but hardly essential, if more transit agencies did that.

San Francisco Muni runs off of the Hetch Hetchy hydropower plant in Yosemite National Park.  (All city functions, City Hall, library, streetcars & trolley buses, streetlights, use this hydropower.  Any left over is sold VERY cheaply to an irrigation district and not commercially).

Wait a second--did you say 100 times?  Source please; I don't believe that kind of number from anyone, not even my wife, without an authoritative citation that includes hard and independently verifiable numbers.

I'm NOT saying the 100 nunmber is wrong, just that it's high enough and this is an important enough issue that we need to be sure about our facts before we go around quoting them to people who don't read TOD.

I have some numbers at home (currently in Phoenix helping my father after knee operation) but let me try and recreate.

3.23 kWh per vehicle km (same for two differnt LRVs)

Load factor is highly variable (some agencies use fewer cars off peak, some use same trainsets all day to save on labor coupling & decoupling and they want to provide seats for all off peak.  If energy costs increase vs. labor more agencies will couple & decouple).

A realistic SWAG is average 35 pax/vehicle.  So .092 kWh per pax km.  3,413 BTUs per kWh, so 315 BTUs per pax km.

US fleet mileage (real world, not EPA #s) is, at best, 19 mpg in urban settings. (Probably lower).  A very common assumption is 1.1 people/vehicle.

So 20.9 pax miles/gallon of gasoline or 33.44 pax km/gallon.

Gasoline has ~125,000 BTU/gallon.  So US cars/SUVs have 3,738 oil BTUs per pax km.

Only an 11.9 ratio in BTUs electricity vs. BTUs oil.

I have seen lower figures for electricity per pax mile for other systems (total electricity & total pax miles), but Calgary "popped up" on Google.

Adjustments for energy of electricity to wire vs. marginal energy of oil to pump.

Perhaps a common denominator might be coal to liquids and coal to electricity.

I am a bit taken aback and sorry that I used my memory of a higher ratio.  1:10 energy efficiency savings is closer than 1:100.

Sorry. OOPS !

I am glad that you called me on that !

And further adjustments for changes in Urban form due to Light rail vs. greater sprawl due to auto commuting.

Alan, 10:1 is still very worthwhile.  It is one program that the US government could and should legitimately be involved in - we could begin now!  Combined with an increase in CAFÉ mileage standards and a move toward more efficient cars, it would truly make a real difference.  It's frustrating to watch as the clock ticks on.....
Good work, even if away from the numbers at home, Alan!

It would be interesting to see if your info at home alters your above calculations either way.

If the above calculations are good approximations of real-world results, they are a very strong argument for rail and for transit-oriented development in cities.

Is there a way to widely circulate such info to the public and to elected officials?

I am thinking of the big peak oil poster put out by the Post Carbon Institute.  Imagine a big poster illustrating various transportation options and energy consumption.  One could include biking and walking and some way of representing the savings to be gained by developing walkable-bikable communities along rail corridors.

I think that the Rail Revolution could be our most effective strategy. Combine that with significant agricultural and manufacturing relocalisation, and we could really reduce energy usage in a big way.

Have you ever written to Matt Simmons about this? He seems to be quite keen on rails.  I wonder if he and some other folks would help to fund a coherent, well-reasoned campaign to get the Rail Revolution started off fast.  We needed it thirty years ago!

Thanks !

I am an engineer looking for viable solutions.  I know that rail is much more energy efficient than rubber tires (coefficient of friction) and real world diesel consumption for US rail vs. US intercity trucks show a 8:1 advantage per ton-mile (see my paper).  I also know that elelctric motors are MUCH more efficient than internal combustion engines.

In addition, electric rail can "recycle" (with losses) the energy commonly lost in braking (Hybrids also do this).

I have looked at alternative fuels driving the same "modal types" (single occupancy vehicle commuting long distances on rubber tires).

Any transistion will not happen all at once.  Only a small % of oil demand will be affected each year.  

If that small % saves no energy, but transfer it from oil to "other", we are going to have a problem creating that "other" quickly enough.  LOTS of pitfalls along the way !

If "other" involves new technology, the chances of TSHTF go up dramatically.

If that small % in transistion each year, just uses less oil (hybrids, small diesels, etc.) then we are in a race against depletion with lots of chances to "miscalculate".

My suggested path can be done in addition to hybrids, ethanol and all the rest. A "Second Front" for survival.

My approach does several things.  

It totally removes oil from transportation (other than a few drops for lubrication & vehicle fabrication (which typical last 30 years)).  

It reduces energy demand by "an order of magnitude" directly

It changes the urban form in a way that saves energy indirectly.  Mail and UPS deliveries, police patrols, plumbers and all else take less energy in high density neighborhoods that are encouraged near Urban Rail stations.

The "other" energy it uses (in small enough quantities so as to create no problems) is the most flexable known energy source, electricity.  Wind, coal, hydro, nuke, geothermal, solar, natural gas, landfill gas and even oil can, and do, produce electricity.

And, when compared to other paths, I think that it costs less overall.

Which has a lower total cost*, another 100,000 barrels/day of tar sands (with associated natural gas use) OR building Miami's 103 miles of "Subway in the Sky" ASAP ?

(This is an offical map of future plans)

I suspect that we will need to do both, but does it not make sense to do the most overall cost effective solution first ?

An interesting question !

* Does one include auto accident deaths & disabilities with the tar sand option ?  Pollution ?  Global Warming ? Natural Gas depletion ?  Alternative bus service ?  ???

BTW: I eMailed Matt Simmons some months ago with my link, without response.  I am using this forum to hone my arguments & thoughts in order to create a better document.

Alan, a suggestion.  Put a  qualifier note behind that statement about electric motors being much more efficient than combustion engines, since  critics will immediately point out that electric motors alone are just converting one form of fully available energy (electricity) to another- mechanical power, while combustion engines are saddled with the carnot limit and cannot convert all of the fuel chemical energy to mechanical power.  So to be accurate you have to include the primary energy source - coal, wind, etc, along with the electric motor in efficiency calculations.

The real comparison is which one uses less fossil fuel- and electric drives win.

Our local rail adovocates tout a 50 to 1 saving re road maintenance to rail maintenance. Whatever it is it should be part of the costs considerations.Please post your findings Alan. Kunstler says road repair will be one of our big breakdowns postpeak.
We replaced the raisl on the St. Charles streetcar line 1989-1992.  For most of the length, the first rail replacement since the late 1920s.  I was told that much of it was still "OK" but a bit worn and they has 80% fed funding back then.

The ties (just before Katrina) were to be replaced with recycyled plastic ties (think plastic bottles crushed & melted) with an "indefinite" lifespan.

The Swiss are expected 200 trains/day (I think 100 each way) on the new Gotthard tunnel (57 km long), at 120 kph to 250 kph.  The rail infrastructure is being built to last 100 years (it will be a bitch to replace when the time comes if this route is as essential as I think it will be in 2120).

I support public mass transportation system. However, I think that the efficiency of mass transportation system depends on population density very largely.

In 1989 Kenworthy & Newman published their study of motor fuel consumption in major American cities.  It found that cities like New York, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto and Chicago used an average of 420 gallons per capita per year.  Cities like Detroit. Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, Phoenix and Dallas used average of 550 gallons.

I check out the population density of these cities then I got these numbers.

Population, Land Area, and Density for the 20 Largest Cities: 1990

Rank  City  Population  Land area    Density
             (thousand) (sq. mile)  (population per sq.mile)

1  New York, NY        7,323   309    23,700
2  Los Angeles, CA     3,485   469     7,400
3  Chicago, IL         2,784   227    12,300
4  Houston, TX         1,631   540     3,000
5  Philadelphia, PA    1,586   135    11,700
6  San Diego, CA       1,111   324     3,400
7  Detroit, MI         1,028   139     7,400
8  Dallas, TX          1,007   342     2,900
9  Phoenix, AZ           983   420     2,300
10 San Antonio, TX       936   333     2,800
11 San Jose, CA          782   171     4,600
12 Baltimore, MD         736    81     9,100
13 Indianapolis, IN      731   362     2,000
14 San Francisco, CA     724    47    15,500
15 Jacksonville, FL      635   759       800
16 Columbus, OH          633   191     3,300
17 Milwaukee, WI         628    96     6,500
18 Memphis, TN           610   256     2,400
19 Washington, DC        607    61     9,900
20 Boston, MA            574    48    11,900

All the cities with high energy efficiency such as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Boston have more than 10000 people per sq. mile. On the contrary, all the cities with low energy efficiency such as Los Angeles, Houston, Detroit, Dallas, and Phoenix have less than 10000 people per sq. mile.

Even without any mass transportation system, probably New York-type cities would still get better energy efficiency than Houston-type cities because people in the former type cities live closely together and close to jobs, schools, and shops while people in the latter type cities live sparsely and have to travel long distances to do things. I suspect that even if there are the same kinds of mass transportation system in Houston-type cities as in New York-type cities, the energy efficiency would be still much less in Houston-type cities than New York-type cities. When I use a bus late Sunday night in Washington DC, I am often the only passenger in a bus. In this case energy efficiency is less in this particular bus than in a personal motor vehicle. Ridership of mass transportation system depends on both frequency of services and population density.

I would think that one of important factors to increase population density in New York and San Francisco is their geological situations. New York was built on Manhattan Island while San Francisco was built in a peninsula surrounded by the sea. Residents in those cities are forced to live closely in limited lands. Any major ancient cites were built close to either the sea or the river, which provided the cities with ship-based transportations. New York-type cities are more similar to those ancient cities than Houston-type cities. I would say that Houston-type cities are very American in a way that they are built on a premise of cheap oil. Most of European and Asian cities are built a long time ago in the era without cheap oil. Therefore it is easier for London and Tokyo to become energy-efficient than Houston-type cities. I think that mass relocation of population would be required for Houston-type cities to survive post peak world.

Density is largely a result of a widespread and effective mass transit system.  I will note, as one example, that since Miami decied to go ahead with a major expansion of their 1980s era "
Subway in the Sky", that devlopment has clustered around Metro stations.  20 months ago, I counted 2/3 of the building cranes were within 3 blocks of a Miami Metro station.

Another example is the tallest building in New Orleans, the 51 story One Shell Square, built between the tracks of and designed to interact with the St. Charles Streetcar Line.

Dallas is building density next to DART stations, etc, etc.

I*F Houston had passed the bond issue for a starter 18 miles of Rapid Rail (subway type) in 1982 (year ?), the density of Houston today would be significantly higher, and their gasoline use significantly lower.  (I assume that the Urban Rail would have grown with the city, but faster due to demand).  Much of Houston would have densities comparable to Brooklyn, Queens & Staten Island.

In summary, there is a strong interaction between density amd mass transit; they are not independent variables.

I have never thought that density and mass transportation are independent variables. I agree with you in this sense. I checked out the population density (people per squire mile) of big cities in USA over the course of years.

In 1920

  1. New York       18796
  2. Chicago          14013
  3. Philadelphia   14248
  4. Detroit            12748
  5. Cleveland        14128
  6. St. Louis          12670
  7. Boston             17197
  8. Baltimore           9289
  9. Pittsburgh         14745
  10. Los Angeles       1577

In 1960

  1. New York          24697
  2. Chicago              15836
  3. Los Angeles          5451
  4. Philadelphia        15743
  5. Detroit                 11964
  6. Baltimore             11886
  7. Houston                  2860
  8. Cleveland              10789
  9. Washington DC      12442
  10. St. Louis                12296

In 1980

  1. New York          23455
  2. Chicago              13174
  3. Los Angeles          6384
  4. Philadelphia        12413
  5. Houston                  2867
  6. Detroit                   8874
  7. Dallas                    2715
  8. San Diego              2736
  9. Phoenix                  2437
  10. Baltimore             9798

There should have been some amounts of rail way systems in 1920. However, mass transportation systems in those days are not as widespread as now even in cities like New York. Car transportation should have been very limited in 1920. Even in this situation, major cities in North East had very high population density in 1920. I suspect that people lived closely because they had to walk to their jobs, schools, and shopping in those days. Cities which established before 1920 were formed based on a premise that residents had to walk (with some train rides) to their destinations. Most of cities in North East and San Francisco, which was a gate to Orient, belong to this category. I would say that these cities are formed in a traditional manner found in cities in Asia and Europe. On the contrary, population density in cities which established after 1920 such as Houston, Los Angeles, Dallas, and so on have never reached to the level of density found in the cities established before 1920. I think that this happened because Houston-type cities were formed based on car transportation. Unfortunately cities which have grown rapidly in the last forty years are all based on car transportation. All these cities have very low population density and are built in the middle of flat land without much connection with the river or the sea.

It is true that if they had built mass transportation system in Houston in 1980, population density could have increased a little bit more. But the population density in Houston was virtually the same between 1960 and 1990. People have already bought houses and lived sparsely. Now the problem is where mass transportation system should be constructed and how to make it economical. Then the second problem is how fast people who were left out from mass transportation systems can relocate to places close to train stations. In reality the administrations should have encouraged people to use mass transportation systems even after 1920. But they didn't. The measures taken even at 1980 might have done some good to establish energy-efficient city structures. But most of people didn't listen to Mr. Carter. Probably the construction of mass transportation will help Houston-type cities to be energy-efficient to some extent even from now. However, as I said, mass relocation of people will be required along with construction of mass transportation. Since we haven't done anything about it until now, the problem is that we need to do it very fast. This means a lof of pains to residents. Even then probably it would be difficult to sustain the current number of population in Houston-type cities because natural terrain of those cities is not energy-efficient from the beginning.

Sorry. Before I read what you have written, could you just explain what you posted as far as numbers? Boston appears at number 7 in 1920, but then disappears. Number 7 at what? The density numbers themselves don't go in order. What am I looking at? What is this measuring?
Those numbers are the population density (people per squire mile) of big cities in USA. The ranking is based on the population of each city.
gotcha. Thanks.
There is no doubt that, as my mother taught me, "It is better to do it right the first time".

And pre-WW II (I would use that as the dividing line more than  1920, although the urban form had begun to adapt to the auto by then) development is more walkable and higher density.

You quite rightly bring up the issue of W"hat do we do now" with some excellent data and thoughts.

For several decades (after being on the losing end of that rail bond vote in Houston ~1982) I have felt that all one needed to do was build a rail system and growing cities would naturally start developing around them.  I still believe this to be true but now wonder if that is enough.

(A relevant aside.  The first TOD (the other one, Transit Orientated Development) close to Portland's Light Rail stops were 2 and occasionally 3 stories.  Newer developments are 3 to 5 stories tall.  The attractiveness of their growing system is making ever higher density).

The transit agency has the power to decide this in their design.  They can buy many acres around each station, pave it and attract Park & Ride (as Dallas has done around many stations) and/or sell the land for high density TOD around the stations and relie upon bus transfers for those that do not walk up.

The US transit planning model is that "everyone" will walk 1/4 mile to a transit stop, "No one" will walk a 1/2 mile and a diminishing % will walk between a 1/4 & 1/2 mile as one gets further out. (EU is everyone will wlak 500 m and no one beyond).  I think students & military will walk further and elderly will walk less.

If one looks at Miami's plans, as a concrete example of retrofitting a mixed urban form (elements of post WW II sprawl, older elements as well)

(Colored is open or under actiev development today, brown is future plans)

Once built (in 2030 under current plans) almost all (~90%) of the built up area is within 3 miles of an Urban Rail stop (their elevated "subway"), a decent % is within 1 mile but relatively little is within 1/4 mile.

Small shuttle buses (and bicycles) could get people to the stations.  Today, medium & high rise towers (office & condo/apt) are rising near the existing stations.  I suspect that the "luxury" of living a few yards from a station will attract upper middle and higher incomes and lower incomes will be a few blocks away (this is St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans) in still relatively high density housing.

Lower density, further away from a station will attract (IMHO) retirees, telecommuters, those whose jobs require driving anyway (plumbers) and those that crave the "American  Dream" of large yards and are willing to take the bus or bicycle to a rail station or can afford to drive.

Denver, with their active plans for 117 miles of Urban Rail, plan to have high density "pearls" strung along the rail lines with lower density infill of today.

With their sprawl, they will not have the ratio of rail to land that Miami will.  Much (most ?) of the built up area will be more than 2 or 3 miles from a rail station.  There the basic strategy is to provide a large number of stations "all over" and attract people to them.  Some existing sprawl may end up being boarded up and/or slums.

Every city is different.  I look around Phoenix and despair (despite their rail plans already semi-funded and first line under construction).  Perhaps PHX will collapse into a smaller area built around their new rail system.  Most of the existing housing stock will be "tear down" candidates 50 or 60 years after having been built anyway.  Water sources may not sustain 4.5 million people. etc.

Denver and Miami are two US cities that have funded long range plans to "do something" and are actively building it (slowed by the feds decision to go from 80% fed funding to 50% fed funding).  Their solutions differ in important ways, but soemthing can be learned from each and other cities that want to build comphrensive rail systems (St. Louis, Portland, Salt lake City).



I'm writing a post for my blog about human evolution inspired by my desire to find what the evolutionary advantage of "night-owlism" would be. Apparently being a night-owl is some type of "disorder" these days. Seriously, they've got blogs and self-help groups for it!

My theory is that most of these things we call "disorders" probably had some role back in the past

Being a night owl myself, I think the role is obvious: back before we had mastered fire the only way to keep one going was to find a naturally created one. Once this naturally created fire was brought into the campsite, somebody in the tribe was going to have to tend to it while everybody else slept. Hence the nightowl gene became an advantage.

Once we mastered the fire, the night owl of the tribe would still be needed to keep the fire from getting out of control while the rest of the tribe slept around it.

Anyhoozle, I've been doing google searches (lat at night, naturally) for others things we modern Westerners consider "disorders" such as

"evolutionary role of depression"
"evolutionary role of racism"
"evolutioanry role of mania"

and so on . . ., including "evolutionary role of homosexuality." Fortunately, I'm as straight as a waterbuffalo and completely secure in that so I'm comfortable doing such a search. "Not that there's anything wrong with it . . ." as they say.

The first link that comes up is from the British Medical Journal, which I presume (correct me if I'm wrong) is a mainstream and reputable publication.

On the evolutionary role of homosexuality:

"The survival value of homosexuality for the human species is to be found in its effect on population growth. Anyone who is worried about environmental degradation caused by the growth of the human population should promote homosexuality. Indeed, it would be desirable if most people became homosexual and only a small, selected proportion of humans of every recognisable subgroup attended to the modest reproductive needs of the species.

Some of you may remember a story that made the rounds a while back on the military's research into the "Gay Bomb." Yes, there really was a proposal that $7.5 million be invested into such a thing:

"Oh my good lord, that's it, that's it!", I thought to myself. Rather than Bob Shaw's "Earthmarines" being deployed to protect bio-solar habitats or some ungodly plauge like the Bird Flu to cull the peasents, the mil-gov is going to unleash the Fab-Five upon us!

I'm off to enjoy my baseball games while I still can.




Things that make you go hmmmmm: Bin Laden did look awful well-groomed and considerably better dressed in his latest video.


"evolutionary role of Night-owlism"
"evolutionary role of depression"
"evolutionary role of racism"
"evolutioanry role of mania"

Darwin would call these "pre adaptations."  These are traits that may not be beneficial in today's environment, but alter that environment, and all of a sudden they become advantageous.

My guess at possible post Peak Oil "pre adaptations"; aptitude for woodworking, blacksmithing, gardening, and hand-to-hand combat.

I'm hoping rascism will not be a good pre adaptation to future environments, but nature does not judge this, only morals and religions.

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."  Darwin

I would hope "altruism" would be the best pre adaptation.
My guess at possible post Peak Oil "pre adaptations"; aptitude for woodworking, blacksmithing, gardening, and hand-to-hand combat.

Laughs,  Guess I need to work on my  Blacksmithing too.  I have all the others.  I can sword, staff, knive, and hand to hand fight just fine.  Just ask my neighbors.

"Johnny why not go to knife throwing training,  Your Dad thinks if you get good at it, you go hunting with him and his bow and get more meat for us.  You know how its been a long winter,  Almost out of firewood thats dry. And we need the little bit of live game for the spring.  I just wish Your dad had more than that single book from the building.   I just hate it when he meets the burners of Oil and that big Idol they carry around.  The call it the oil drum."      (( not to say anthing bad about TOD just something funny but serious to think about))

Possible story line in here somewhere.  Laughs do I have time to write it and get it put in hands. Nope, No time left.  Just a slow fall till someone Starts to see the ground and then they scream.

Matt, Im a friend of Jays and huge beleiver in the theory that evolutionary algorithms shaped our current behavior - I agree with much of what you wrote, except the first premise.

What advantage would the 'night-owler' who tended the fire, have over the people sleeping? Clearly, it wasnt a fitness advantage, because he lost sleep. So it must have been (if your theory is true) a sexual advantage. Perhaps wanderers in the night ended up getting pregnant incrementally more than the general population and that behavioral trait adapted?

In the war of attrition, then, women would  have evolved a 'I better go pottie before I go to sleep' algorithm...

I think the truth of it is closer to our novlety seeking algorithm (dopamine, expected vs unexpected reward etc) and the night owl is more than likely  a byproduct of that

People in "primitive" societies often have way way more (like ten or twenty times as much) sex than do people in modern societies. This fact shocked Christian missionaries no end; many still have not gotten over it.

A fairly common pattern of behavior in many hunting and gathering societies (where women typically have at least as much sexual freedom as do women in modern societies) is morning delight while woman has rendevous with guy while she is out gathering tubers and veggies, "siesta" after lunch for horizontal activities, sex after story-telling when the kids go to sleep; getting up in the middle of the night for "star gazing," as it were:-)

Note that with no television, no computers, no movies or cell phones or listening to CDs, people have to do something for fun. Singing, dancing, story telling, and sex are all cultural universals.

In regard to keeping the fire going all night, I suspect that very early on people learned to use some variation of a layer of damp clay on top of the fire to slow but not extinguish combustion.

Once again, let me recommend the classic by Bronislaw Malinowski, "The Sexual Lives of Savages in North-Western Melanesia," for some hints as to how much modern society has cost us in terms of inferior quality and greatly diminished quantity of sex.


If what you say is true, I can't wait for civilization to collapse.

Bring on the anarchy baby.



You do not have to wait!

Become the leader of an apocalyptic religious cult. The rules are simple:

  1. You as Leader "hold in custody" all wealth of the cult members. BTW, you do not call it a "cult" but instead an "environmentally sustainable commune" or something like that.
  2. You get "right of the first night" (and all the other nights you desire) with all of the females.

This simple formula has worked hundreds of times--no reason it could not work for you.

While you are recuperationg from your other activities, dictate your thoughts on an ecologically sound morality to your, um, . . . adoring secretaries, and this will become the new Holy Writ.

And why not???

Note that you can crib from your already extensive writings for the new Book.

What are you waiting for? (It is an ill wind that blows no good. And, carpe diem!)

Good luck.


You underestimate me old man. I've already thought of this and have the appropriate papers filed.



Glad to hear that! Up in the hills around Mendocino you may be able to find used ashrams, communes, "intentional communities" and such like for sale, cheap.

Let your hair grow.

Become a "Prophet of Salvation/Survival/Life transformation" rather than merely a prophet of Doom.

And crib ideas from everybody before you state your Ultimate Synthesis. Um, well let's make that everybody except Jim Jones and David Koresh;-)

There are a few problems with this that I'm working on dealing with in my "manifesto" while the paperwork makes its way through the appropriate bureacracies.

For instance, many of the women attracted to the "sustainable eco-commune" type thing tend not to shave their legs or pits.  I have a way around this I think will fly: that is, I'll say that humans evolved towards hairlessness (or less hairyness) once we developed the abilty to have clothing. At that point, the consequences of the increased body hair (more lice and bugs) were no longer worth the advantages (the warmth).

Then I segway into how this is "ecologically correct." As long as I say it with a straight face, I don't think the exact details will matter too much. Just make sure to throw in some mumbo jumbo about humans and nature that nobody can make sense of. If anybody questions me too hard I'll just say that when one is on their "spiritual journey of universal ecological sustainabiliy" (TM), it is part of the learning process for the students to decipher the meanings of the lessons the teacher has dispensed.

Of course, I haven't figured out a rebuttal if/when folks point out that this should apply to men also. But like I said, I have some time to figure this out while the paperwork gets it's tees dotted and "i"s crossed.



LMAO !! :-)

I think this post is a day late !

Let your hair grow.

Uh-oh. And I was getting so enthusiastic about your plan...
I just want to mention that in my apocalyptic religious cult, there will still be activities like major league baseball and ESPN piped in to the compound.

Some might protest at allowing or even encouraging such competitive and clearly capitalistic endeavors into our community. To which I will point to Cuba as so many people in the "eco-community" wing of our movement are fond of doing. In Cuba, baseball is king!

And thus, it too shall be king in my cult.

BTW, had Fidel Castro, a once minor league baseball player, had a bit more zip on his fastball maybe he'd be commissioner of baseball instead of dictator of Cuba these days.



Better links:

Cuban baseball team as "national heroes"

Pittsbugh Pirates scouting report on 21 year old Fidel Castro:

"Seems two corpulent scouts, hired by the parent club, went to Havana to watch the diminutive lefty break nasty curves and dip sinkers in and around the aggressive Latin competition, but were somewhat lukewarm about his speed. 'The kid Castro has some command of breaking pitches (stop),' the report told the front office the next morning via Western Union. 'Has nothing on the fast ball (stop) Double AA talent at best (stop).'"


Of course, that's what they said about Jamie Moyer and he's still pitching in the Bigs as age 43 or something.



I'll take the commune down the road. It'll be led by fat bald guys who dig the hairy burlap hippie chicks :)
Last Sasquatch,

Some speculation:

I think it could bve matter of "organism" versus "gene." The night-owl (the organism) could be doing him genes (the rest of his extended klan) a great service by tending to the fire and watching out for predators at the same time.

There are lots of things that are bad for the ogranism but good for the genes.  A mother sacrificing herself for here children is a good example.



This is "kinship" behaviour and explains what we may see as "altruistic" behavior in social animals.  It explains why some females never produce offspring in a bee hive, yet by helping the group even to the point of sacrificing herself in defense of the hive, will pass along some of her genes to the next generation.  All bees are related to the queen of the hive and thus share a genetic relationship.

It is why you may not have children yourself, but you then put time/effort in helping your nieces and nephews.  You may still pass along part of your genome if they succeed.

As a night-owl myself, I would like to thing the females of the tribe would reward the night-owl upon awakening.

"After all, if there wasn't somebody to watch the fire and lookout for predatory animals and rival humans, we would all die!"

At least that's what I would have been telling people back in the old days.



Last Sasquatch wrote:

"Matt, Im a friend of Jays and huge beleiver in the theory that evolutionary algorithms."

Tribal affliation(s) noted.




The idea that homosexuality is a genetic trait whose purpose is to control population growth (for the good of the species) is plain silly.

Genetic traits do not evolve due benefit the species. They evolve due to their various effects that together lead those genes to show up in the next (and subsequent) generations. A gene whose main effect is to prevent its owner from procreating will get eliminated by evolution. This is the well-accepted "selfish gene" idea; see the book by Richard Dawkins. (Haven't you already read it??)

I've read an interesting book by Robin Baker called Sperm Wars which gives an evolutionary pyschology explanation for lots of behaviors -- masturbation, female orgasm, homosexuality, and more.

In a nutshell he argues that bisexuality is partly a genetic trait and it is associated with people who are more sexually adept and also who become sexually active earlier. In a population with few bisexuals, bisexuality can tend to be a "winning" trait (meaning higher rate of reproduction), but in a population with many bisexuals, it turns negative. So populations tend to stabilize with a certain moderate percentage of bisexuals.

And pure homosexuality (according to Baker) is just one of those things where you got a double dose of the bisexual gene and it doesn't actually help in the genetic sweepstakes -- in fact it hurts -- but the underlying genes still persist since they produce the bisexual tendencies that are favorable in many circumstances. (Like the way the gene for sickle cell anemia persists since if you just get one copy you avoid the disease and get protection from malaria.)

Anyway sorry if this is offending anyone, but consider checking out the book if it sounds interesting. (Get it from your libary since we all have to save money for the coming depression due to PO.)

Robin Baker is a biologist who published his theories in peer-reviewed journals and wrote the book for a more general audience. It takes the form of a sequence of fictional chapters that are basically pornography, followed in each case by a discussion of what was "really" happening from an evolutionary psychology perspective.

"evolutionary role of racism"....and so on . . ., including "evolutionary role of homosexuality."

My current boyfriend is 21 yo skinhead whom I found a year ago in a university Nazi-club in Moscow. He constantly harangues about jews, negros, chechens, tajiks. (His ideas are too boring IMO, but he himself is like White God)
I often find that Nazis are fags.
Maybe there is a link between homosexuality and racism?

"....the military's research into the "Gay Bomb."

Perhaps that is not so bad idea, least from my perspective :)

You know, that makes sense when viewed as a gene-survival mechanism. For the 'hetero', it's a survival advantage to be attracted to that exotic female from somewhre else (to avoid inbreeding); but it would only mean gene-survival for a homosexual to advance the cause of blood relatives.

Of course, if I consider all life on earth to be my immediate clan ...  

well, of course!  The Nazis were loaded with fags before Hitler decided it was in his best interest to get rid of them early on.  The SA, predecessor to the SS, was headed by Ernst Roeme <sp?>, a very "out and about" homosexual.  I mean, geez, this was 1930!  The guy had balls of steel!  Too bad Hitler had him shot in 1934.

Oh, and btw, I can use the term "fag" since I'm one myself :D

Laughs,  people throw out the disorders just like some folks throw out trash, that I then pick through, getting the good out of the trash.   My second x-wife has several disoders: disk degenerative disorder, A genetic factor for Blood clotting ( I don't know the disorder term though).  Those I can see as a good use of the terms of a disorder.

I am a night owl or day owl being up whenever I want to.  If that is a disorder, I sure do not want it cured.  Iposted in the Daylight savings thread about my lack of need of a watch.  Only needed for interelations with folks that care what time it is.

With the damage the blood clots I had,  did to the bodies ability to shunt blood back to the heart, and a massive swelling that goes away with rest. Just another disorder.

                 YES, I AM A DOOMER!

Yes, I am a Doomer, but desperately trying to get people to prove me wrong by their aggregate actions.  I am like Matt Savinar-- haven't yet seen sufficient proof to become more optimistic in my outlook-- yet would be highly appreciative, and greatly relieved to see massive planetary efforts at Powerdown and ecosystem reform.  In short, still waiting to see if humans are smarter than yeast. Time will tell.

I think most people, even on forums like TOD, are not yet considering the full implications and ramifications of Peak Everything and Overshoot: it is so very much more than just Peakoil!  When global warming, mass extinctions, mass migrations, topsoil depletion, water shortages, pollution, continuing population growth, growing militarism, and all resource depletions are taken into full consideration-- there is HELL to pay.

I believe that for humanity to even have a chance at a peaceful Powerdown: the current nine gallons/day American energy avg. should be rapidly heading to the Bangladeshi avg. of two cups of detritus/day within the first three years of the postPeak downslope, but the sooner the better.  We can use all the natural daily biosolar energy we want [PV, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc] but we should be relentlessly trying to save ancient sunshine and our ecosystem for the Seventh Generation Ahead.  Will we ever learn?

Yes, I strongly agree with you on population control: TRUE ROOT CAUSE--more time and worldwide taxdollars should be spent on this ESSENTIAL cultural change than anything else, but this is probably the least discussed governmental topic on the planet. AFAIK, only China has made an attempt of proactively limiting its numbers by questionable legislative fiat, instead of widespread education on the primary reasons to create a non-violent voluntary cultural change.

Consider my now numerous TOD postings on the need for the creation of biosolar habitats distinctly isolated from detritovore habitats, and protected by what I call the Earthmarines.  TODers ignore widespread discussion because they are myopicly focusing on energy to the exclusion of the ecosystem.  Hello Folks--the health of the ecosystem is far more important than maintaining the Energy Fiesta, even if we make great strides at Powerdown!  I believe that both these forces must be tied together if we hope to have any reasonable peaceful mitigation in the days ahead.

Most of us can live without exuburant energy, but very few can live if we have eaten the last raspberry, goat, poodle, salmon, pigeon, rodent, and cockroach, etc on the planet.  Recall the recent MSNBC posting on SST warming and coral reef bleaching-- sounds like a oceanic species Dieoff to me.  More proof of suboptimal planning as we daily squeeze through the Dieoff bottleneck.  Are we going to wait until there are no more fish, crabs, and clams in the stores, or are we going to get ahead of the game?  C'mon People--times awasting.

So far, the bravest people on the planet, IMO, are the indigenous tribespeople throwing wooden spears at the more 'advanced tribes' in a futile effort at keeping them from raping their habitat of its resources.  They truly understand the necessity of LARGE habitats to allow adequate space for other species.  WE did too, at an earlier time, by setting aside land for national parks and forests.  But now, because of increased headcounts, pollution, exurban growth, and increasing mechanized forays into these lands for visits and resource grabs-- the total 'freespace' for other species is declining.

Powerdown alone with our presently massive headcount is like setting up a huge patchwork of scattered one acre national parks--insufficient space and resources for the vast interlocking 'web of life' to strongly rebound and support harvestable biosolar human living--it requires a contiguous geographic area and drainage basin of sufficient size for sustainability and defensibility from being overrun.  Ideally, it should include significant elevation variability so the myriad of species can shift according to the rising GH temperature, yet still retain optimal cross-specie interaction.  As mentioned before, the biosolar secession of the NE & NW parts of the US, and Alaska too, would be a great initial breakthrough: "A small Powerdown step for Mankind, a giant leap for the Ecosystem".  Never forget that the other species have to squeeze through the bottleneck with us too.

The Earthmarines will be dedicated to protecting the biosolars from being overrun AND protecting the other species in the habitat-- think Govt. treehuggers.  Please contrast this idea to the sad African system where the corrupt officials, police, and militias are the worst offenders and polluters against struggling biosolar tribespeople and natural habitats.

Economic collapse due to decreasing net energy and global warming has already setoff human migrations--consider the massive influx and rising concerns over illegal immigration in this country.  Google Zimbabwe, Haiti, Tanzania, and other third world countries suffering a brain-drain.  Unfortunately for the poor people, most of them cannot migrate very far: no cars & no wealth means mostly dying in place and being abused by the worst societal elements.  The sad first world response is indicative of the atrocious sentiment, "We see the rising floodwaters, secretly hoping the others drown".

Consider all the past [before fossil fuels!]civilizational collapses: ameliorative social change was way too slow to effectively and peaceably mitigate ecosystem 'web of life' changes induced by destructive societal practices.  What is now simultaneously presented to us is a horrific COMBO of planetary ecosystem and a non-biosolar 'artificial & temporary detritus construct' collapse.  Do you detect a sufficient and ever-growing differential rate of positive societal change happening NOW to feel fully confident that we can peaceably evade the DOUBLE_WHAMMY?  May I suggest you study this link on eco-islandization:

or this one called "DEAD. WRONG.":

Does anyone still dispute that Pres. Carter's Sweater Speech misled the masses?  Does anyone EVER READ reports on increasingly healthy habitats and massive political change against infinite growth?  How much proactivity vs resistivity do you detect worldwide?  Who would draw the larger media coverage: (Brad & Angelina) vs. (Simmons, Kunstler, Campbell, both Bartletts, & Savinar)?  Who should be the media megastars?

Will a child accept a stuffed teddy or panda bear if no real live ones exist on the planet?  Think of the park rangers and wildlife scientists killed by poachers, who then go on to harvest the bushmeat.  More humans are born everyday than the sum total of our fellow primates-- is this a positive trend for the other species?  How many detect that the 200 year history of economic 'scientific' planning has brought Peace on Earth and full bellies for all?  Twenty generations of the 'Tragedy of the Commons' seems more likely, and the next twenty generations, due to our borrowing against the future, will only get 'Tragedy'.

I am doing my best to alert the unwashed masses: alerting friends and family, hundreds of emails and postings, handing out website cards to strangers, but eventually I will not be able to spend this time and money on this endeavor-- Law of Diminishing Returns goes for messengers too.  The Easter Island ecologists probably found it painfully difficult to argue with the last lumberjack because he was holding the axe.

Mitigation must be done early [see Hirsh SAIC report].  Effective mitigation is not only early, but has a plan for BOTH SIDES of the Thermo-Gene Collision.

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

TODers ignore widespread discussion because they are myopicly focusing on energy to the exclusion of the ecosystem.  Hello Folks--the health of the ecosystem is far more important than maintaining the Energy Fiesta, even if we make great strides at Powerdown!  I believe that both these forces must be tied together if we hope to have any reasonable peaceful mitigation in the days ahead.

Well, I like to believe that I have a beginning of a grasp of the scale of complexity involved in sustainable development, including population management (which is, as you say, paramount) and ecosystem conservation -- not to mention fossil fuel depletion. I would say I know enough to understand that these problems are too vast for a single person to really do much productive think-work about them all. I also confess myself to be more inclined to the problems of providing sustainable energy, not because I don't care about the other problems you mention, but because I find energy related problems more interesting. Others will focus on other problems (and still others will live in ignorance, happily driving their Hummers for a few more years).

Just as people in other areas of society break large problems into smaller ones, and divide them between themselves, that's what we have to do as well. There is simply no way to develop a "theory of everything" by looking at everything at the same time.

Besides, while I do like to keep an eye on what's happening in other areas of sustainable development, I find that focusing on one area of challenges keeps me from getting too depressed about the state of the Earth and the human population. Trying to do too much at the same time keeps me (and many with me) from getting real work done.

Besides, The Oil Drum is about "disussions about energy and our future", so why are you surprised to find that the discourse is energy heavy?

Hello DanP,

Thxs for responding.

I encourage you to do your best, in the manner you feel contributes the most to society, as must we all.  I am just trying to encourage much more radical thinking of potential solutions that can possibly widen the window for all lifeforms. A detailed political + economic + energetic +  genetic breakthrough is required for the task ahead.

There is sound scientific thinking on the Gene side of the Thermo-Gene Collision.  Entropy is relentless, imagination is infinite--I fervently hope we can meet the challenge.

Sorry, wanna post more-- but gotta get some shuteye.

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

Well, I am still waiting for the massive nuclear exchange between the Soviets and the West to cause nuclear winter.

Wait - that won't happen? How can that be - entire social systems geared for instant mass destruction and it didn't happen? The truth was that the Soviets were going to kill everything before they would let their system collapse on the ash heap of history, wasn't it? That is what I was taught - weren't you?

I mean look at all the previous investment in worldwide systems of EW stations, subs in all the world's oceans, fleets of bombers circling 24 hours a day. Two military-industrial complexes with a tight focus on the bottom line - killing them as the only way to keeping them from killing us.

This is one reason to be careful about predicting about what societies will do to each other. Of course, please predict what your own society will do to your heart's content - until you are down to single letters, it seems, in the last letter standing scenario.

And remember, part of that mad MAD world was the utter conviction that it was essential to let the opponent know that it would happen, no ifs, ands, or buts.

This too is a point about America and peak oil which would be worth discussion - did the Cold War thoroughly wrench a society without much historical background into a truly unusual shape, stirred together with last century's advances in mass media, proganda, and marketing as an essential tool for capitalism to succeed? (France as an interesting contrast - you just can't convince your average French citizen that corporations being allowed to hire and fire is in the best interests of French citizens, regardless of the prevailing government and media consensus - notice a slight difference between the U.S. and French society here?)

Open threads, away! (And if you're an American, did you think 'bombs'? If yes, isn't that something to ponder?)

Aren't you so impressive?  An American who realized the errors of his cultural ways, and decided to leave his country to join a more refined and dignified society, which now gives him the complete moral authority to preach to the Americans remaining in the states the error of our ways; the power to point out the considerable failures of our country and the atrocious attitudes and habits of our people.  You have scaled the wall and can now pontificate to us poor, pathetic souls. Thou art so great, and your name is revered in the minds of men.

Seriously, every time I read something you post, it annoys the hell out of me.  You have the egotistical, self-praising tone of Europeans, with the added annoyance of having actually lived here and knowing better.  Where you constantly fail is thinking of Americans as a homogonized, idiotic group of man-lemmings, when in fact, it represents a full spectrum of thought and intelligence.  When you single-handidly dismiss all Americans as this, you work to completely delegitimize every American.  Like to cite Simmons when talking abot PO to your European friends?  Too bad, he's an American, and therefor a mindless, SUV-driving, brute knave.  

So, here's the thing.  Unless you want to specifically reference the stereotypical mindless, SUV-driving, brute knaves, that we all know DO exist in American culture, everytime you mention American culture, stop talking.  Because unless you do that, from this point forward, you're completely marginalized in my mind.

Anti-Americanism, especially in a context of Peak Oil, focuses all blame towards the US in order to absolve another country from any blame; it focuses energy on how absolutely horrible we are, wasting energy that could be used for solutions.  What?  You think Peak Oil would have never came around if only the more worldly and culturally refined Europeans were running the show the past 50 years?

You're being too defensive. Expat's contributions are useful, and a much-needed counterpoint to the American solipsism of this forum. Obviously, it's in nobody's interest to see America go down the toilet, but at the same time, Americans do need to be prodded to get them out of their depressed navel-gazing.

Although this will probably just irritate you some more, consider the Japanese. They are  consumed with curiousity about the outside world. They are extremely open to outside influences and learn from everybody. A constant staple of Japanese TV is reporters going to every country in the world, talking to the people there, and seeing how they actually live. I never even knew what a generally mellow, interesting place Africa was until I saw it on Japanese TV. I grew up in the U.S. and never saw anything positive about Africa on American TV, ever.

So the point is: open your mind and don't be so defensive. It's not the end of the world if the U.S. has to learn from other nations. Look at Alan's excellent proposals for electrified rail. Japan already has a superbly executed national system of electric rail, and if the Americans would tone down their pride a little bit, they could learn volumes just by coming over and asking them about it.

My point is not that, on the whole, American culture couldn't stand becoming a bit more worldly.  I like your term "American solipsism," because it does reflect the PREVALENT attitude in America, I just object to it being used in a blanket sense. My point is that what people like expat do is to reinforce negative stereotypes of Americans, especially when he makes unqualified statements.  These usually take the form of "Americans are something," instead of "Most Americans" or qualifying it in someway.  Comments like that deliberately undermine us Americans who do try to think outwardly, for the single benefit of elevating the individuals status.  It's even worse when an expatriated American does it, because it lends undue credibility to his claims.

I would love to see some more worldly-ness in our culture, but as an individual who recently took part in a four hour wine-induced dinner conversation with a group of four friends tracing the Louisianian Creole culture from Canada, the Caribbean, and American Natives, back across the Atlantic to the French and Spanish cultures, influenced by Gauls, Romans, and African Muslims, and then relating it to the Napoleonic Code and how it interacts with the US legal tradition, I, and I probably am being defensive here, refuse to admit that this country is nothing besides for culturally-cloistered, mentally-immature, peanut-choking mini-Bush's, especially because attitudes like that undermine the real effort that some of us do put forward.  And I will, for damned sure, push against attitudes like that, if only so I can counterbalance people like expat.  

...a four hour wine-induced dinner conversation with a group of four friends tracing the Louisianian Creole culture from Canada, the Caribbean, and American Natives, back across the Atlantic to the French and Spanish cultures, influenced by Gauls, Romans, and African Muslims, and then relating it to the Napoleonic Code and how it interacts with the US legal tradition,

Sounds like home ! :-))

The "roots' and sources of our food are even more complex !

Like our Oil CEO, I am now going to get quite offensive.

You know, there were a lot of really good Germans from 1933-45. They were individuals, they had worldly tastes, and they tried, really tried their very best not to go along with the flow, they secretly opposed evil inside, with all their hearts.

Even more interestingly, it seemed something like 80% of Germany belonged to this group after WWII. So many good Germans - what a surprise to the entire world, which somehow just never seemed to notice them.

Good Americans are a dime a dozen in my eyes, since all Americans, except a few exceptions, are really wonderful people if you get to know them personally, according to them.

I just look at the bulldozered watersheds, the ever larger growing size and number of cars (more cars than drivers? WTF?), the ever larger and filled with junk houses and storage space (you rent space to hold ever more stuff in?), and the excuses, the endless excuses to defend the indefensible, and in the end, I just don't care about selling brand America to foreigners - if only because there aren't any foreigners outside of America, they are just the rest of the world.

And to be honest, a large number of people I talk to and work with have spent weeks, months, or even years in America, several own houses there. Some were military, some were students, some worked for IBM, some just travelled to see what America was like.

The older former IBM employee who was planning to move to Florida ca 2003 cancelled his plans when the U.S. started demanding fingerprints for travellers - he didn't need to feel like a criminal when visiting America. The returned friend had her fingerprints and picture taken, both entering and leaving the U.S. There is nothing I need to tell her about what brand America means which isn't expressed in that. And though I don't want to make any personal comments,  you did know that everyone visiting the land of the scared and home of the debtor is now subjected to this, right?

Trust me, there is little I can say or imagine saying to Germans which can even come close to the reality of the America you live in. They visit, look around ('they sell a 5XL t-shirt - my friend and I could sleep in it like a tent' is a translated quote), and then go home again.

Remember, I was shocked at what she told me about her 3 weeks in the good ol' USA. I am the one with an out of date and romatic view of where I come from, it seems, not her.

I can't laugh about this, like she can, so I am left being unpleasant in the eyes of most other Americans (nothing new there - before, when living there, most people said if I found everything so bad, why not leave?). And honestly, for the decent people who are living within the borders of the U.S., there is no real way for me to write about them, the same way I just can't write about the truly small number of Germans who opposed the evil in their society then - German society went insane, and that is the truth. Pointing out the exceptions is generally futile. It happened regardless.

And though I shouldn't have to write this - no, I am not comparing America or Americans to Nazi Germany or Germans 1933-45, I am merely trying to illustrate what I mean as concretely as possible with examples (like bulldozering watersheds to have ever more people live in an area where the area for collecting clean water has just been removed, as this is precondition for their moving into their new house with their lawns needing watering) - not comparisons. In other words, I am trying to make a point about why I think like I do - obviously, you don't have to accept it or find it correct.

- German society went insane, and that is the truth. Pointing out the exceptions is generally futile. It happened regardless.

Let me suggest to you --as whacky as this may sound-- that there was no tipping point when Germany suddenly went "insane". Let me suggest that ALL societies are psychologically disfunctional in that disfunctional thought processes are constantly circulating through those societies. It is merely the level of disfunctionality and the extremism of the messages and their pervasiveness that separates the over-the-cliff "insane" societies from those that are merely heading towards the cliff.

So if you have a society where the in-power-elite are saying, don't worry, some "Invisble Hand" will arise and save the day for us; well you have to judge from afar how insane that is.

And if you have another society that says (or said), if only we kill off a certain powerless group within our midst and that will save the day for us; well history has already judged how insane that is.

And if you have yet another society that says, if only we kill off a certain powerless group outside our midst (i.e. Iraqi's) and that will save the day for us; well history will soon complete its judgment on how insane that is/was. Hopefully, history will pass judgment in November 2006- but maybe not. One never knows which way the fickle herd is heading as it stampedes towards it destiny.

Point is, we all live in insane societies. Some are more insane than others at the moment.

Interesting points in both comments. I don't quite agree with several (I do believe in free will, regardless, to give the flavor), but worth mulling.

To clear one point - Germany is not my homeland, it is where I live, and it is a place which I expect to remain industrial through peak oil. I actually think industrial society is worthwhile, just not the blind sort of 'Raubkapitalismus' (robber baron doesn't quite cut it - try 'stealing capitalism' to get the flavor of a system which steals everything for the benefit of a few - things like the family life of workers, clean air and water, the future in terms of wasteful use of resources, etc.) which America is devoted to.

The idea of escape from other people is an illusion which many, many Americans seem to believe in. Simply living somewhere that doesn't believe this is refreshing.

But WWII is still quite, quite evident here - it will be at least a generation more before it fades. Europeans in general have much longer time perspectives than Americans. I used to think this was an American advantage - these days, it seems much more doubtful, as so many debates from only 25 years ago are being reopened, instead of remembered.

I also don't quite believe in tipping points, but I do believe in power and its use - this is why it is so important for those currently in power to ensure the end of the Constitution - that document was explicitly created to stop what it I believe is going on in the U.S. now. (After the system in installed and tested, I am quite sure everyone will be having their fingerprints checked and picture taken at a number of mandatory locations, whether the DMV, the bank, or simply when using any form of public transportation.)

I am not quite sure about all societies being insane, only the degree of insanity being different. The question of whether there is something inherent in German society is still unanswered in my mind, after 15 years.

On the other hand, what is going in the U.S. seems a straight line extrapolation of what so many people seemed to oppose, roughly 1968-1975. This again leads to the idea that there is no tipping point, just degrees of insanity.

I live in a country and society that exterminated 6 million human beings, killed maybe 10 million more in war, was utterly destroyed, and quite honestly, they are ashamed of the truth of their past, and to a certain extent, trying to do better. Whether as atonement or simply good PR is for you to decide. When you see a Mercedes, I bet you don't think slave labor.

I grew up in a time when America killed somewhere over a million people in a fairly senseless jungle war based mainly on lies, and where it seemed that a certain turn towards improving itself were stirring - I went to the last school desegregated in Fairfax County, for example, and do remember all that silly environmentalism and conservation nonsense preached by that loser wimp Carter.

Sadly, there is no way for me to let you know how much I know better which you would not consider condescending or superior. Generally, that is my fault, not yours.

But as for lemmings - tell me about all the public transportation projects from the 80s, the increasing efficiency of American industry and households through the 90s, the great leaps in energy efficient cars - do I need to go on?

Nothing, and I mean nothing (measured in numbers, quantities, amounts) shows even a hint of anything but a society completely out of control, with absolutely no self-restraint.

Want today's fun anecdote? A friend at work returned from 3 weeks in America, and she mentioned that there seem to be a number of very obese people riding in those powered scooters. I was amazed.

We all know that walking is one way to deal with obesity, right? And that not walking is one way to become or stay obese, right? Can anyone actually live like that? (She was in SF, LA, Las Vegas - making a circut.)

After peak oil hits, I thing the answer is no, actually.

This is unimaginable to me. Have you seriously thought about fleeing? I now have much more insight to some of the die-off crowd, though I refuse to believe humanity, which aren't lemmings, is that completely out of touch with reality.

My entire adult life, I have watched America turn its back on the things I learned as a child and teenager, and I admit, both the bitterness and Schadenfreude are not attractive. Imagine what non-Americans think when they look at today's America if you want something to really chew on.

Using a name from a Card novel (a good one, true - at least if I remember correctly about the name/planet) is pretty good - do you read his weblog? I am quite sure his reaction to my writing would be the same as yours, if not worse.

The scooters are replacements for wheelchairs.  People use them because they can't walk. (Often because years of obesity have ruined their feet, knees, or hips.)  Of course, once they can't walk, the obesity problem gets even worse.

My local grocery store has free scooters with carts attached, for customers who can't walk.

The way she said it was actually fairly insightful - she started by first noting that the powered scooters you see really old people using here occasionally, so as to make sure I understood what she was talking about, are used by fat people in the U.S.

She found in it really comical, and sort of sickening, since really fat people are not considered a normal sight in Germany. For example, I still occasionally remind my children not to stare, point, or comment about someone weighing 300 lbs - since so many other children do it, I don't feel the need for mine to add to the chorus. Call it what you will, but it is not socially acceptable to become morbidly obese here - and obesity does have a very direct cause and effect chain.

Not to get into arguments, but obesity is essentially a lifestyle choice, while aging is inevitable. (And sure, there are other cases - my mother died from ALS, so I am familar with them.)

And to provide scooters in a grocery store for people who can't move well because of the fact that a number of them couldn't stop eating/start moving while it ruined thier bodies is the sort of image which could really explain so much of the 'reality based' American die-off perspective. It could also explain why many adherents of that perspective are believers in the inevitable collapse of a system which turns to increasing complexity to solve its problems - though let us be honest, most societies would take another approach to so many people becoming obese they could no longer physically move well.

Around here, a number of older people are now weeding and planting their gardens, like they have done their whole lives.

A sad thought occurs to me - maybe America is the world leader in producing scooters which can carry 300 lb human beings. Just a part of that dynamic American economy which the world hasn't noticed yet.

Wonder what the world would think if it did?

Not all of the still-here Americans think that all Europeans are condescending, Hitler-saluting idiots. There is a Gaussian distribution of people and thoughts here just as there are all across Europe, Asia and Africa.

As the offspring of 2 people who managed to be missed by the WW2 genocide attributed to your new homeland I am fascinated by what made a once proud civilization like Germany behave that way.

I am convinced that the same exact thing can happen here in America. We are no different. We are all lemmings. We are born into one culture or another with little in the way of "free will". We are all subject to the brain washing and manipulation of our family's religion, our country's culture and our leaders' propaganda. There is no magical Yankee immunity to the effect. Herr Karl Rove knows it as well, if not better than did Herr Goebelle. Perhaps the German people for the moment are more immune to being manipulated by the mind-benders because they still study history and feel some form of mass guilt for what happened.

The new generations both in America and Germany probably regard WW2 as being not much different than the American Civil war or the Napoleanic wars. It all happened a long time ago, in a past century, in a far away galaxy and no modern human critter would behave this way again, not in this modern day and age, humph.

Why we are so different from our lemming ancestors! We have 5 digits on each hand and we employ "rational" thinking in all our endeavors, including how we deal with the inevitable decline of oil production.

Until we deal with the plausibly deniable idea that we are ALL irrational herd animals, not much different than lemmings; we really cannot tackle the bigger problems of why our civilizations continue to burn fossil fuels, continue to increase CO2 content in the atmosphere, and continue to procreate like there is no limit to the "growth" of all living creatures on this planet. Whether you are a "European" lemming or an "American" lemming or a "Chinese" lemming, it really makes little difference; because you are still a herd-following animal. When the next stampede comes, you will follow your crowd in a mindless mob rampage. It's who we are.

We continue to burrow our way blindly towards the oil-lit light at the end of the tunnel. We all want to believe it isn't Hubbert's locomotive. But it is. :-)


I'm a doomer too as some of my posts show.  In fact, I was a doomer before the word was coined because I knew of the impact the Depression had on my family and I swore it would never happen to me. So, I've been at this for a long, long, long time.

One of the reasons for my pessimism is that people are totally disconnected from the resources they need to survive.  I live on 57 acres in the mountains.  This sounds like a lot of land but there are limitations that non-rural people simply don't understand.

For example, our heat comes from trees I fell on our land.  I have lots of tress but I don't just go out and whack them.  I have to consider the future long-term access to them, whether a few more years of growth will give a significantly higher yield, etc.  If I followed today's thinking, I'd fell the closest ones regardless of size without considering these things.

I know how long it takes to produce tree and vine crops.  Again, non-rural people fail to realize that it takes years before food can come to the table.  I also know how much land, water and effort it takes to grow grain and vegetable crops.  I estimate that my land will support no more than 8 adults - if we are really lucky.

Continuing, most non-rural people do not know the skills or trades necessary to survive.  I know that some do but they are an insignificant minority.

If people don't understand these survival basics, they will never come to grips with what needs to be done to acheive a sustainable society. But, this understanding has no chance of occuring until there is a sea change in their philosophy of life.

I've never been interested in Jay's genes theories because what is, is.  Perhaps, the gene pool will shift towards people like us once collapse occurs - and I do anticipate a population collapse.  It may not be a "dieoff", that is, going back to the stone age, however, there are going to be far fewer bodies around.

Perhaps the best option is to establish "lifeboat" communities/groups and forget about the rest of the population. (I know the usual response, "The starving masses will come and kill them all and use their resources.")

I wouldn't worry so much about the starving masses as I would a well-armed (and hungry) ex NavySeal or two.

Or, more to the point, somebody with wealth who has hired them.




I live 100+ miles north of you.  The reality is that the incoming army will meet the outgoing starving people from the boondocks.  While they have sufficient water to grow dope, they have no where near enough water to grow food.

As an aside, during the Depression, I was told, all the deer in my area were wiped out in 6 months.  And that was when the population was probably 1/10th of what it is now.

Finally, don't forget the "relocalizers" like Jason Bradford in Willits who believe anything within 90-100 miles is local and fair game. Hint. Hint. :)

I answered a similar post (forgive my ususal typos) over here:

Go, Bob.

I've been occasionally reading TOD off and on.  I was scared about oil depletion before discovering this site, and the discussions here have not made me feel any more comfortable.

I am doing my best to alert the unwashed masses: alerting friends and family, hundreds of emails and postings, handing out website cards to strangers, but eventually I will not be able to spend this time and money on this endeavor-- Law of Diminishing Returns goes for messengers too.  The Easter Island ecologists probably found it painfully difficult to argue with the last lumberjack because he was holding the axe.

Bob, I am currently reading "The collapse of complex societies" by Joseph Tainter.  IMHO, the ideas in this book should be a required topic in every 9th grade classroom.   Unfortunately, some of the ideas are a little difficult for many folks to keep straight, because they involve systems reasoning, as well as the concept of rate.  Very few people know how to think with rates of change.

My reason for posting is to mention that the ideas that Tainter used to explain the rise and collapse of civilizations seemed never to be applied by the elites who were actually making decisions in those collapsing civilizations.  Leaders seem to have very short views forward in time.  Or at least, we seem willing only to act on our ideas when we see benefits over very short periods.

What we need to do at this point (or what we needed to do 50 years ago) is to think about "what happens next?" and then start acting appropriately to make sure that we are headed in a direction where we would like to end up.  But it doesn't seem like civilizations do this.  Instead they just blunder along as best they can until Tainter's diminishing marginal returns finally do them in.  Thinking prophylactically is definitely not popular in Western culture, but I'm afraid that it may be a general characteristic of human societies.

There currently seem to be two barriers to people acting in sustainable ways:

  1. If the people are trained not to ask questions and seek answers (as we mostly are in the US) then you don't have much hope of convincing everyone to try living in a sustainable way.  "Why change when we are so comfortable right now?  What problems?  I don't see any yet."

  2. Even if the majority of the members of the population devote time to pondering their relationships with the natural world, I think that groups still behave differently from individuals.  The problems we are now facing are largely under the control of groups.  I think that groups have a lot of trouble acting in the best interests of the far term, particularly when the near term is a time of stress.

All this boils down to the conclusion that we're stuck with what we're going to get, because of the shortcomings of our culture.  I don't like it.

Until just recently, I was thinking that the Post-Carbon Outposts  were doing the "most forward-thinking things" of any of us.  Some groups in the US are already working on developing communities that can subsist without fossil fuel inputs.  It's important that groups revive ancient, renewable ways of living, because that may be all we'll have when the fossil fuels are gone.   But I think they might be leaving something out. I now believe that the really important issue is that of changing our culture, as you mentioned.  Our current policy of living for today and ignoring the distant future has got to go.

I can't figure out what the world might be like in 100 years (except it's likely that a lot of people will have starved to death in the intervening century).  But the people in the future will need something like a religion or "common shared knowledge" about the behavior of groups to keep them from trying to repeat the mistakes of the 1900s and the beginning of this century.  And it would be really nice if our global civilization didn't decay into endless violent little feudal systems.

I'm starting to think that people in the future would be best served if all people and groups now started work on making commitments to non-violent action, and to avoidance of non-sustainable activities.  

Is there a way to get there from here?  Maybe it's time to study buddhism.


Re: "Leaders seem to have very short views forward in time. Or at least, we seem willing only to act on our ideas when we see benefits over very short periods."

As for leaders (the elites), they are benefiting now from their position. Why should they anticipate and plan for a collapse? As for benefits over short [time] periods, this seems to be the norm for Homo sapiens. But those who can escape this myopia may benefit in the post-Peak world. Or maybe not.

Likely scenarios for the next two or three decades include Hellish heat and draught, floods and megastorms, famine and pestilence, poverty and violent resource wars which will undoubetdly include the use of WMDs which will irradiate our biosphere even further.

As I look at ancient texts and myths, I think that the great flood stories and many other symbolic stories are ways we verbally express what is left of memories of traumatic changes our species has witnessed.

Perhaps new stories will emerge from this next "End Time."

The planet writhes with the pain of giving birth to the new. We witness this trauma and we try to express that experience as best we can.  How will anyone of the next few generations of our species survive?  We have no idea.  We do what we can, and we express what it is like to be mortal and finite in a universe which we feebly comprehend.

Absolute vulnerability is the essence of human existence.  The only question we face is what we will choose to do with the time between now and when we die.

There is no way to get from here to the Promised Land.  If we choose not to try someone might get there but I doubt it.  If we choose to try then someone might get there but I doubt it.

I choose to try to live some sort of Promised Land into being even though it is an absurdly futile effort.  We are ephemeral clowns by nature.  That is not a bad thing.  Embracing this reality will give us greater peace than pretending to rule the Universe or even our small Earth.

If the opportunity to discuss peak oil and the future on TOD isn't pleasant, than what is?  Aren't we a lucky bunch of Ephemerae?

I'm sure this idea is hardly original, but oh well.

I'd bet that in the vast majority of PO-aware people there is the lingering, "blue pill", "Ignorance is bliss" meme that periodically scratches at the consciousness (or in some, occupies the mind day and night.)  There's been entire books written on the subject by people much smarter than myself, but my solution has been to try to implant this thought upon my mind:

The desire to unlearn the unpleasent is not destructive.  In fact, it represents rationality, having been stretched to its most complex form, straining underneath its own weight.  The choice, when it comes to fruition, is between accepting the unbearable, knowing of one's limited efficacy, or, knowing of one's limited efficacy, casting off the burden.  This is a problem where rationality doesn't apply, and that's the source of strain.

That's probably giving fanciful wrapping to low-hanging fruit, but it has a calming effect, at least on this Ephemeron. =D

For most of my life, I've thought that the Serenity Prayer was used glibly and without passion or conviction -- like most religious or spiritual traditions seem to me to be.  but lately it comes back to me in various forms,

I need to change the things I can, leave the things I cannot change to >God, Goddess, Higher Power, the Universe, Evolution, Creation, Redemption, and so forth<

...and perhaps most critically, continually have the wisdom to discern the difference between what I can change and what I can't.

As I grow older, by the way, I see that this is a dynamic balance.  I see ways to effect positive change that I could not see once, and see limitations where I once thought I had more ability to effect change.  The discernment process is continual for me.

Ephemeral cosmic clowns

I just want to say that I echo your praise for The Collapse of Complex Societies.  It is, IMO, a better book than Jared Diamond's Collapse, if not quite as accessible.  Indeed, Richard Heinberg argues that the major flaw of Diamond's book is its failure to acknowledge Tainter's work more than it does.  

Some links for those who want to know more about Tainter's ideas:

My synopsis/review of "The Collapse of Complex Societies

The Mechanics of Collapse (blog)

Complexity, Problem-Solving, and Sustainable Societies (paper by Tainter)

Amazon page for "The Collapse of Complex Societies"

Problem Solving: Complexity, History, Sustainability (PDF.  Another paper by Tainter.  Interesting because it discusses a society that saved itself by reducing complexity.)

Leanan /anyone your thoughts on Godesky's idea on peer polity  that due to globalism we will essentially collapse as a global unit and this will cause the collapse(s) to be delayed, then greater in magnitude.
That is one of Tainter's arguments.  It's the fifth element of his theory:

Collapse occurs, and can only occur, in a power vacuum.

Even when a society is past the point of diminishing returns - when economically, they'd be better off not investing in more complexity - there is a situation where they cannot collapse. That is when there is a group of societies, of similar complexity, in competition with each other. No one can collapse, because if they do, they'll be taken over by a neighbor. Collapse, when it comes, will be a group affair. No one can collapse unless they all collapse at once. (Which is what happened to the Maya.)

That is the reason Europe did not collapse long ago, and that is the reason the next collapse will be a global one. A "powerdown" is impossible in the current political climate.

It's also why I have my doubts about whether countries such as France, Sweden, or Japan will avoid collapse, even though they seem better positioned for peak oil than, say, the U.S.

We need a post on these ideas including Greer and whoever else. Thanks.

The reason people ignore the genetic aspects is because it is necessary to do so to increase their inclusive fitness if they are using peak oil to do so.

Each of us who:

  1. operates a peak oil website/blog
  2. posts on peak oil website/blogs
  3. has peak oil related stuff to sell (DVDS, books, solar panels, seeds, etc.)
  4. hosts meetings in our neighborhoods about peak oil

. . . is gaining social or financial capital (or both) from these activities. I'm obviously a key example of this.

The best way to maximize one's social/financial capital is to believe in a message that is palatable to the most people.

I believe society is f--ked but that there are still things we as individuals, families, and in some cases small communities can do to "find the least hot part of hell" as I like to say.

Am I really likely to study, let alone  believe in, a vision of the future in which there is nothing we can do, not even as families or individuals, to better our position? Probably not because then I would lose what is currently my most efficient means by which to gain fitness, that being my website and related activities.

On the other hand, let's say somebody wants to take this to the masses as an avenue in which to gain fitness. The only way he/she can do that effectively is if they believe in a vision of the future palatable to the masses. To do this, and be good at it, they must delete, dismiss, or ignore at least one-half of the "thermo-gene" collission, the "gene" part. As somebody said on the net, it's not the energy issue that scares them, it's what people are going to do when the energy pie starts shrinking for the first time in human history that is scary.

I also have another a theory: we are not suppossed to understand the "gene" part of the "thermo-gene" collission. When I finally understood it, I got an unbelevably sick and disoriented feeling. This is months after having come to understand the energy half so it's not like I was still some pollyanna. That feeling me was a signal from the subconsious that "hey, bigboy you just went too far." Like a Christian preacher who happened to barge into a room where Jesus and the Devil were cutting some backroom deal, there are some things you just aren't suppossed to see or understand.

(Note to Christians: purely hypothetical, purely hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only was this example.)

Understanding the "gene" part automatically lowers your fitness level because it gives you self-knowledge. It becomes extremely difficult to bullshit people once you can spot your own bullshit.

Since humans are inherently political animals, being able to bullshit people is a key survival trait. Having that ability reduced is clearly not advantageous to one's survival.

It's why the only people who really lay it all out tend to be near-death. At that point, it don't matter. See James Lovelock for instance. Lovelock is 88. I'm almost 28 so even if what he says is true, I'm sure as hell not going to buy into it because doing so would prevent me from being able to sincerely tell people there are things you and I can do to ride this out.

If what lovelock says is true, I'm goint to move to a coastal town, enjoy the ocean air, and just wait for a tsunami to hit




A more concise way of making my point would be this:

The human brain is designed to maximize fitness, not seek the truth.

Understanding the genetic conundrum we face is good for seeking the truth but bad for one's fitness. Hence it is barely discussed and rarely ever accepted.



Hello Matt and other TODers,

Thxs for all the replies, sorry cannot reply to most [too busy at the moment].

Brief background:  Newsjunkie my whole life--trying to ascertain the Grand Plan with no luck.  When I first was exposed to a Newsweek article by Jane Bryant Quinn on gas-guzzlers, found within a couple of minutes.  Upon encountering the very first graph, suddenly it all made sense: had to rush to the toilet to throwup.

Countless hours of study and reading have only confirmed what my subconscious already knew.  Maybe, because I have no offspring, and few friends: I am genetically designed to seek the truth, and minimize inclusive fitness.  Such is my life.

I find it easy to tell kids face-to-face that they will probably have to kill me, and my generation, if they want to survive in the future.  Obviously, the most truthful, yet blatant mental bitch-slap imaginable-- worst way possible to maximize my fitness, but the best way to help increase their survival chances and future fitness.

My gift to them so they forget stupid videogames, start exercising more, and study Peakoil and everything else. If more of these youngsters join you in seeking the least hot spot in hell, then maybe my large biosolar habitat idea has a chance for optimizing the bottleneck squeeze.  My gift to helping the survivalists survive.

I accept my poor future odds.  No chance against a future Earthmarine sniper like USMC Carlos Hathcock:

and the kids & guns have only got better:
In 1967, Hathcock set a record for the longest combat kill with an Browning M2 .50 BMG machine gun mounting a telescopic sight. The distance was 2,250 meters (1.47 miles). The record stood until 2002. It was broken during Operation Anaconda when a Canadian three-man sniper team lead by Master Corporal Arron Perry from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) set the new record with a shot of 2,430 meters from a McMillan Long-Range Sniper Weapon on a Taliban fighter.
and an old man will have no chance against a young mob.

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

You've touched on something here, Matt. I've been a truth-seeker for some 15 years now in various subjects -- peak oil, climate change, paleoanthropology, I could go on. My fitness level has concomitantly decreased over that time. My psychotherapy in that period didn't boost my fitness level, believe me.

And now in some sense as you said in the first post above, though I'm not to my knowledge dying sometime soon, I'm close to "death". Losses piled up, I'm about to move (losing my best friend and my house for the equity) and see little in the way of a future.

I watched the NCAAs Final Four games and a Nuggets game today--I like basketball. They showed the same commercials during both. And what a hellish, hideous experience that was. Selling SUVs, cars, trucks and beer. And assuming a level of intelligence that is so low that at this point I can't even conceive of it. I live in Boulder, Colorado. When I leave the house, the reality I see is so repugnant to me that I wished I hadn't left. It's just SUVs, cars, trucks, laptops and cell phones out there. I can't stand it, I really can't. Now, all I can see out there is barrels of oil consumed, right before my very eyes. It's a wasteland.

So, you can easily see that my fitness level is in the toilet. I can talk peak oil but not bizdev. Hell, I don't even have a cell phone. Who would I call and who would call me? Which is why, I suppose, I'm a contributor at TOD and not rich.

Dave: You have to lighten up. According to most posters on this site, that ugly view out your window will be gone very shortly (at least the SUVs,cars and trucks will).If the USA sucks to you, try Costa Rica. The cost of living is very low and the place is gorgeous. It will be a good hideout post-Peak.
Yes, losing everything I have is certainly lightening me up. As I believe Matt said in an e-mail to me, chill, dude! But, of course, the point of my post was not my pain. That was merely my personal story illustrating the consequences of conscious truth seeking as opposed to seeking maximum fitness, an unconscious process which is natural to our species.

Thanks for the Costa Rica tip.


Perhaps you need to couple your "truth-seeking" with some "financial pragmatism." I'm sure there is some way you could couple both, at least to some degree. The posts you write here at TOD are as good as anything I've seen from writers/publisher who make a living from their writing. There's no reason you can't do the same.

It's quite easy to start a blog or website these days. Even somebody as out to lunch as John Denver has one of his own. Perhaps you could start one of your own and sell a few relevant items on the side. I'd certainly link to your blog whenever you write a new post and I'm sure folks here at TOD would too. Assumming one new post per week, the linking from LATOC and TOD alone would get you enough traffic (2,500-5,000 per week my guess) that you could start to generate a small but not insignificant amount of revenue. Then maybe you come up with a few good ideas and build on that.

That's basically what my business model is. Thrice weekly updates for free, a quarterly newsletter for pay, and a few relevant books/dvds sold per day.

Anyways, whatever you do, I hope things start looking up for you. Don't give up on your dreams. If I can dream of starting my own apocalyptic relgious cult certainly you can dream of generating some income from your writings!



Financial pragmatism. Don't have it but I'm starting to look for it. I have done some websites in the past, mostly having to do with search technology. Never got off the ground.

Thanks for replying. I agreed with your original point. By the way, John Denver is dead.

best, Dave

By the way, John Denver is dead.

No, he's  talking about a poster on many of the peak oil forums who goes by the 'name' of John Denver.

And yea, there is a lunch being eaten FAR away from the rest of us.

Oh, and I forgot to add that I'm having the post-Peak Oil experience live and in person even as I type this. I'm moving back to Pittsburgh near my aging parents. I'll rent and try to find something close by where I can walk (or use public transit) to where my parents live or wherever I might work or recreate

That's what the consequences of the peak and decline are all about, BrianT, losses and re-beginnings. And there will be casualties.

Regarding basketball: I'm a baseball fan and I subscribe to the feeds on

That way, I can brag and be self-rightous that I don't own a television but I still get my baseball. Muhahahahahah!

You (everybody) does need something to distract yourself from the horrible stuff in the world. I have the onlie MLB feed going most of the day here as I complete my tasks. Seems to help a ton.



I read the NBA boards and look at the sports section of the local newspapers. No peak oil in there at all. Just Carmelo Anthony.
I own a TV, But only pipe VHS, MP3, CD, and DVD Midia through it.  My cats did a number on the speaker wires, The speakers My dad built about 20 years ago.  He salavged All but 3 speakers for the 4 dual speaker boxes.

I read a lot of plant, how to, Sci-fi, and Do a Ton Of my own writing.  I do play an online Graphical MUD game Called Runescape.  Trisha found it, played for free for a while and I gave her an Unlimited Members account for her birthday. About 5 months later I Got a free account and played Free, until she left, Last May, For $5.00 bucks a month that is not bad.  I help in my neighborhod, and Spend a lot of time with Ascension Lutheran here in Huntsville.

There will be horrible things going on in the world.  I can't control them,  I do understand why there are here, but that is my faith.   Things happen, it is how you handle then that is some of how people react to you.


Got a song for you Dave, by that great Canadian ex-pat hoser, Rick Moranis ("like how's it goin, eh?").

Give a listen to
"I Ain't Goin' Nowhere"

It's becoming my mantra as the world out there becomes less appealing.

Dave,  I will be in Sterling Colorado in under 8 weeks.  There I will be rebuilding a house, Whose damage level I have no clue of as yet.  There is a shed that has had pawer to it in the past. That I will be living out of while I get a better idea of the damage and the systematic way to fix it and get it paid for, without any help from anyone but the owner.  

I am a Christian.  Some of you out there are too, while others are not, but either way you have to be positive in your daily living.  There are ten's of thousands of self help books , manuals, tv shows, talk shows and articles out there.  I have read or seen very very few.  Why am I positive,  Because I have been negative too.

  We go through phase shifts even as Christians, we can't help it, it has been deeply marked in us.

 But we don't have to stay negative.  

Matt said:

A more concise way of making my point would be this:
The human brain is designed to maximize fitness, not seek the truth.

Understanding the genetic conundrum we face is good for seeking the truth but bad for one's fitness. Hence it is barely discussed and rarely ever accepted.

 Dan says,

 Actually if you were to theologicaly think about it you correct, we can't see the truth very well.  Though as a Christain you will gather that I think the Truth is Christ.  But that knowledge does not limit me in also saying that the way we are currently going is going to be painful to a lot folks that do not understand the reason for their "Christianity".   I could go into a Bible lession. Though that is not my intent.  I wanted to point out that on some things I do not follow "mainstream" labeling of GOD's instructions.  

I also know some of my "ideas" are radical for Some of You.

If you ask 10,000,000 men over 15 years old,  How they plan on surviving on a big survival (( Show ))Called Planet Earth 2015.  With What we could throw at them, peak Oil, climate change, Ocean life die off,  Water wars,  Good books to read, etc etc.  I think you will get 10,000,000 opinions.  And only a few real practical solutions,

Natural gas, a world crisis in the making.

"If we don't have LNG in a big way, our marketable source of fuel is going to
be, like, burning furniture, which is only joking partly," said Bob Ineson, Cambridge Energy Research Associates' director for North American natural gas. "Without LNG, you are going to have gas shortages, sooner rather than later, and the price situation after hurricanes would grow to be far worse than it is."

Meanwhile, don't hold your breath for that flood of cheap gas from the
Mideast...they may try to keep a lot of it to fuel their own growth:
`Gas demand among Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman, is growing at an annual rate of about 7%, at least twice as fast as in Europe, according Wood MacKenzie's Lothian. `

Meanwhile, Europe is paying more, witness Romania:

"We must do something to protect customers who will not be able afford these prices,"
said Achim Saul, the deputy general manager of the Romanian gas distributor
Distrigaz Nord. He advised that the prices are expected to triple and the acquisition costs will increase significantly.

The United States has enjoyed a reprieve, at least for now, due to an
unbelievably mild winter, and gas in storage stands at some 44% above the normal level for this time of year.
Industrial demand has also been somewhat diminished by outsourcing or closing down of many "gas intensive" firms. Even with that, the price is still at a pre-Katrina/Rita high.

Even with the reprieve, concern about the price and supply of natural gas is
mounting in the United States. At a recent conference in Alabama, it reduced itself to a fight between states as to who should bear the burden of natural gas drilling/and or LNG terminals.
Alabama was pointed in their insistance that Florida should be carrying more of the burden, pointing out that Texas, Louisiana and Alabama had to tolerate the blight of natural gas production on their shores, even as Florida lobbied Washington for a permanent moratoria on Florida drilling. The perfect statement came from Gov. Bob Riley of Alabama, who in a fit of wishful thinking, captured the spirit of denial in America
concerning the natural gas issue:
"I'm tired of people telling me they can mitigate the problem," he said. "I'd
rather not have the problem."
So say us all, but that won't make the problem go away.

Michael Zenker, managing director for global gas at Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a prominent energy research firm, told seminar participants Monday that the country is in the middle of a natural gas supply crisis. Just how bad do we need LNG and imported gas? His quote:
"Could we get by without LNG? No." Zenker said. "There is no plan B."
What he was not noted as saying is that LNG is not a cure all. Even if the
volumes of imported gas projected by most estimates could be arranged exactly on schedule, the NPC (National Petroleum Council) report on natural gas still foresees a shortfall, and this is if
EVERYTHING runs exactly on schedule. Right now, America' LNG schedule is
decidedly NOT running on schedule, as states and localities are putting up stiff fights in an effort to, as Gov. Riley said, "...not have the problem."

This is the one area that American consumer action is most needed. While we have time, we must insulate houses, move to as much solar hot water as possible, and build new buildings with ground coupled geo-thermal heat pumps, and reduce electric waste with the best and most efficient appliances. TIME IS SHORT. When even the optimists at CERA are warning of potential gas shortages, we know we are on the edge.
One more note: This is the same CERA that predicted in 2000 that we would be flooded with cheap gas by now, and then had to admit they were wrong, we were in trouble...and are now predicting a glut of liquid fuel in the next few years. PLEASE BE VERY CAREFUL.

This is the second of April so I guess I can post this without any risks. I realize it's something we covered yesterday in some detail and it's a pretty depressing and alarming subject, but it's also very important IMHO.

The U.K. conservative Sunday newspaper "The Express" has a leading article today entitled, "Secret Iran Strike Talks."

According to the Express a top level meeting is being held tomorrow at the Ministry of Defence in London. Several high-ranking generals and officials will address the consequences for Britain in the event of an attack on Iran.

The paper goes on to state that there is a belief in some areas of Whitehall that an attack on Iran is almost inevitable, if it chooses not to back down in realation to it's nuclear programme.

The Express then goes on to explain is some detail who would be envolved and how such an attack might be launched. They discount any kind of military invasion on the ground, at the present time, but think a massive attack on Iran's nuclear power facilities is the most likely scenario. Israel may or may not take part. It's thought that Britain will not take part in any attack on Iraq, prefering to give logistical and intelligence support. However, the army is concerned about the possible repercusions fro British troops in Afghanistan and Southern Iraq. The U.K. has about 8,500 men in Iraq and is deploying around 4,000 in Helmand provins in southern Afghanistan.

The Express has traditionally had very good contacts in the intelligence community and the top of the British Army. These sort of articles appear with increasing regularity in the British press. It almost becomes a kind of sport. Trying to identify which general is the main source for the different articles.

The leaking of this meeeting could be a "warning" to Iran designed to put pressure on them to back down and comply with Western demands. It could also be "soft mutiny" by sections of the officer class who are known to be opposed to the U.K. army getting sucked deeper and deeper into what are perceived as American wars. Large sections of the army are known to be extremely critical of U.S. strategy and tactics in Iraq and further afield. They appear to want to warn the politicians and start a public debate about the wisdom and dangers of attacking Iran, now, before it's too late. Personally, I believe Tony Blair is hanging on to power in order to do the United States one last favour before he resigns.

This was the lead story in the UK's Daily Telegraph, a much more reliable news source than the Daily Express.

Government in secret talks about strike against Iran

Sorry, I should have said 'Sunday Telegraph' - same ownership as the Daily Telegraph.
Yeah, thanks, I should have said Sunday Telegraph.
What also concerns me, and is something I find rather shocking and disturbing, is the apparent deliberate mis-translation of President Ahmadinejad of Iran's recent speech relating to Israel. Considering that we may be heading to war with Iran, let's assume, just for the sake of argument, that the propaganda war has already begun. Now is the time to be sceptical and cautious about everything we hear relating to Iran, especially after we were all led up the garden path over Iraq, not just once, but over and over again. Iraq was the liars war.

My reaction was revulsion when I heard that he'd called for "Irael to be wipped off the map." I thought, now war can't be too far away. What a stupid thing to say. What a propaganda gift to Iran's enemies. The guy must be nuts to use that kind of language in the current climate. What a fool he must be. It sounded almost unbelievably stupid.

Then I started to wonder if he'd really said what he was quoted as saying. Was he really "crazy" or just clumsy and grossly undiplomatc? What did he mean when he used those words? My teenage daughter has sympathy for the political/social theory of "anarchy." I remember once when we were discussing anarchy that she said in an ideal world she'd like to destroy all the flags, rub out all the national borders and wipe all the damn countries off the map! We should all live in harmony in an anarchic utopia without a coercive power structure or class of leaders. There should be liberty and justice for all, and no social classes. Now taken out of the context of a theoretical discussion about forms of government or ideas about the ideal society, my daughter's desire to see all countries wipped of the map, could get her into trouble and be interpreted in a really negaive way.

Did Iran's president really mean to say "I think we should attack Israel, bomb it,and destroy the country with our military." Why didn't he just come right out and say it, if that is what he meant? Why beat around the bush? That such an attack would mean the virtual total destrucion of Iran is perhaps beside the point. One could also add that Ahmadinejad doesn't control the Iranian army or airforce. He's not the absolute dictator of Iran. There is a lot of opposition to him and his social/economic policies. Iran is a complicated country. Maybe none of this really matters if we've decided to attack Iran anyway.

Then I heard a Swidish journalist who mentioned that Ahmadinejad had possibly been misquoted. That he hadn't actually said "I think Israel should be wipped off the map." I was intrigued. Could this be right? What did the guy really say then? It was more difficult to find out than I thought it would be. Almost every news media in the West reported that he called for Israel to be wipped of the map, that was taken to mean, attacked and destroyed, and then the link was made to nuclear weapons.

As far as I can find out Ahmadinejad was quoting Khomeni, the founder of the Islamic republic, and Ahmadinejad refered to their great spiritual leader and agreed with him that the Israeli "occupation regime must vanish/disappear. Vanish/disappear isn't the same word as wipeout. It would seem to be a very politically charged translation, from Persian into English. It seems harsh in the extreme to translate his words so tendentiously, for what seems like crude propaganda purposes, to whip up hysteria and perhaps help to justify a coming war.

Translating from one language to another can be difficult, often one has to weigh the differences between words on a scale and make a choice, often one chooses the closest equivalent word of phrase, and often they don't quite fit. So one has to look at the context the language was used in and try to fit the two languages together as best one can. It doesn't always work. Often it's hard enough really understanding a person who speaks one's own language. Words are strange things. When writes speech down on paper, it get's even more complicated. Translating ideas, into words and then putting them down on paper is difficult, and not everyone masters these different processes. After all we're trying to almost do the impossible, turn thoughts into words.

One is entitled to think what one likes about Iran, and support an attack if one sees that the way forward. But manipulating public opinion and deliberately using propaganda to justify a war is something else entirely.

If lies are being told, and even words are being twisted out of all recognition, surely we should be really sceptical about everything else we hear about Iran, especially the story that they are about to develop nuclear weapons, and that we have no choice but to attack them before time runs out. Maybe the whole thing is another pack of lies from the very same people who led us all up the garden path about Iraq?

Sadly, one must be skeptical about EVERYTHING that is published or broadcast.  The lying is pervasive and continuous.  In time one learns to see the signs, and to look mostly at the actions and behavior.  Sometimes you can find a few individuals who seem to be publishing facts, and learn that they are trustworthy - this is precious now.  It is even tough using consensus these days, as often what passes for reporting all stems back to the same initial propaganda, then spreads like wildfire - and there has been so much consolidation of media ownership, it's difficult to keep track of who owns what.

As an example, in the run up to the Iraq war, the Bush administration jumped on anything and everything that supported their cause, no matter how flimsy or absurd, including things that had already been discredited.  There were always the claims that they had real, solid evidence, but it never showed up.  People that have real information do not behave this way - it was a clear indication that they had nothing.  And since this was the US government, who would have had access to the best information possible, it meant that there actually was nothing (or they would have had it).    

But hey, it is GOOD to be skeptical - we should not blindly trust what we are told, as that way leaves us vulnerable to manipulation and coercion.  It is our responsibility to think for ourselves and form our own opinions, not to parrot the party line.

See my post in saturdays thread
An interesting comment attributed to Katsuaki Watanabi (President of Toyota Motor Company)who expects "substantially reduced availability of fossil fuels by 2030" : "I have instructed our engineers to work towards that eventuality. We need to be looking at all types of alternative fuels and power sources"
Sorry there is no link, I am reading from the UK Sunday Times Business section p5.
There are some other interesting comments
However, Toyota has faced criticism that the Prius's economy in actual driving conditions does not meet the manufacturer's claims, and that in high- speed driving it is actually inferior to modern diesels.


[toyota] claims the difficulty results from different ways of measuring fuel consumption. Toyota is likely to restate the Prius's figures in America, bringing them down from 60 miles a gallon to `the high 40s'.

Maybe that's why half of Europe runs on diesel?

Good news however on another point:

The company [...] is examining a `plug-in' hybrid that would recharge from the mains and use even less petrol.

That's the car I want to buy. I was a bit puzzled that some auto tuner was converting the prius when toyota could easily do it themselves.

Boy, do mean that Europeans actually take things like efficiency seriously?

  Who would have thought that a continent that more or less peaked everything generations ago would actually care about such things? Especially after more or less giving up the idea that invading other lands is the best way to deal with that fact - well, not counting the French or the British, but then, old imperialists lose their dreams last, it seems.

   Actually, the diesel part of the equation is more likely based on a couple of other considerations -

  1. Diesels can run on more liquids (plant oil for example) than a gasoline motor can (I keep repeating that a 1/3 of Germany's diesel is non-mineral oil based - this likely includes a lot of used grease/fats to liquid fuel conversion, for example)
  2. Europe doesn't have long haul trucking like the U.S., so that portion of refined crude oil which is diesel/heating oil needs to be burned up somehow anyways - and at least in Germany, heating oil has been on the way out (mainly for environmental reasons - it used to be that German home owners buying heating oil was a major influence on global heating oil supplies) for 15 years. So it could be that cars are the new home furnace, so to speak - sort of like modern 'oil' fueled ships are essentially the way to get rid of refinery sludge which would be considered toxic waste anywhere on land.
  3. Diesel motors are more efficient, they just didn't have a performance curve which would appeal to a normal car driver - the last 10-15 years have made a huge difference. And since French and German carmakers have a huge technical advantage, why not refine it in the home market first? Just like the Japanese and electronics - the Japanes generally keep the best for their own market - they aren't a 3rd World economy so dependent on exporting that they can't enjoy the benefits of their industry first.
  4. Why would anyone believe anything a carmaker says? Motorcycles are the only way to change your average middle aged man into a potent god of the road - and they have fuel efficiency and fun mixed together into a population reducing package, which means they must be PO approved. And you can buy either high tech gear, or go Mad Max - even doomers and optimists can agree to disagree while twisting their wrists and letting their inner Jevon out.
Europe DOES have long haul trucking, BIG TIME !

That is their one PO weakness IMHO.  Railroad freight in the US carries a substantially higher % of ton-miles on railroads than does the EU.

The Chunnel was supposed to create a modal shift. since only rail (including roll on/roll off trucks) would be going under the English Channel.  Didn't happen.

One of the Swiss claims is that they will force a modal shift from trucks to rail by HEAVILY taxing trucks going through Switzerland and using that money to build two new flat straight paths (with new tunnels, 57 km, 34.5 km, 20 km & 15 km long) for railroads.  Freight will move up to 160 kph (100 mph) on rail.

I think that the taxes are so stiff that few will truck through Switzerland.  The question is will they rail through Switzerland or truck around the Swiss through Austria & France.

So I will "wait & see" if the Swiss claims of forcing a modal shift onto the Italians & Germans comes to pass.

The Swiss, in their PR, go so far to claim that if they start railing freight thtrough Switzerland, they (the Swiss, germans & Italians) will use the same mode for other shipments.  There is some logic to this (especially in a post Peak Oil world).  Once the infrastructure is set up to load rail at a warehouse, it is easy to expand that.

More likely is truck "roll on/roll off" rail interchanges near the Swiss borders.

Well, sort of long haul trucking. It is certainly true that a lot of Spanish vegetables are sent by truck, for example. And the 50-100 kilometer or more long rolling lines of trucks (plus normal truck traffic) from and to the ports in Belgium and the Netherlands are impressive if depressing.

The real difference I meant tends to be both the distance (shorter) and the efficiency (so to speak) of the trucks - generally smaller engines, instead of metal enclosed trailers the standard here is heavy nylon, etc. I would assume, without knowing where to check, that the fuel use of European trucks is considerably less than American long haul trucks. And the efficiency of those trucks has been increasing, if not as rapidly as the diesel fueled cars.

Further, I believe the American rail/road statistics tend to be a bit skewed due to the container traffic from/to Asia/Europe which is efficiently shipped by rail from and to West/East Coast ports. (American freight rail is considerably more efficient than European - some of the low hanging fruit still to be plucked here in transport involves increasing freight rail efficiency to American standards.) My guess is that American use of trucking is greater than European internally, when the huge amount of transshipped freight is subtracted.

The other difference I meant was that the rail lines and the canals are still there - when just in time and rolling warehouse space become uneconomic, and the percent of freight which is frivolous is subtracted, I think Europe will be able to fall back on existing infrastructure with no major problems (leaving aside the death of the trucking industry, of course). In the meantime, they had to do something with the diesel - which is also why diesel had a tax break, now much reduced, which influenced a lot of people when buying a car.

As for Switzerland - they restricted thru truck traffic to 28 tons (not the standard 40), which they can do, since they aren't a member of the EU (Austria also tried to restrict traffic through the Alps, but tended to get slapped down). Of course, all the countries/companies which have to ship through there hated that. Since the Swiss don't live on an island, the planned rail solutions are part of meeting domestic opposition to trashing Switzerland so other people can make money while respecting the fact that those other people are also a part of the balance, and customers of Swiss products. To give a feeling for this, check out the night time flight paths over Germany/Switzerland, and the controversy that has caused. The Swiss were thrilled when flights landing at Zurich flew over Germany, and very unhappy with their local politicians when the Swiss flights actually started flying over Swiss homes at night. European NIMBY is really fun to watch, but at least everyone is honest about it. Knowing that everyone involved has nothing but their own interests at heart makes for much more honest bargaining at least.

But in terms of the Swiss making sure their own land will remain in good condition, while getting a cut of the thru traffic, of course they will do it. Who is crazy enough to ruin themselves in the pursuit of short term profits, ploughing farm land under for houses, and creating a society based on driving? The Swiss aren't. And in terms of shipping through Switzerland - basic geography determines that, especially in the sense that even alternative passes/tunnels are more or less at capacity. There just isn't that many alternatives. And the Swiss have been fairly successful at forcing shippers to use rail. I live along one of the Rhine rail north/south routes (and the office where I work is along the other), and the number of intermodal trains has definitely increased over the last 10 years, primarily because the Swiss have forced this. The infrastructure is in place, and expanding it will not be difficult. Especially if fuel prices rise.

And don't forget, the Swiss get to see global warming with their own eyes - they aren't skeptics at all.

Europeans always think of their interests, but they tend to have a wider view of what that means than Americans, at least when dealing with German speaking cultures. People who love forests have a different time scale, for example. You can not imagine the scorn of the German business people I know for America's short term mentality, though they certainly appreciate the advantage it gives them - notice the difference between who imports and who exports, for example. And notice who is planning to remain an industrial exporter in 20 years, in a world with a different energy mix. The Swiss are equally determined, I might add, though my experience of Switzerland is fairly limited, generally seen through a reflection of the German press, and a few contacts with customers of ours.

There are significant issues with plug-in hybrids. Most importantly, the battery tech is not ready yet. Yes, one can build a 9 kwh lithium battery system, but the demands would lead to a limited, possibly hazardous battery life. An interesting discussion can be found here:

I want one once the challenges are overcome, but they aren't ready yet.

The real-world MPG numbers for various US cars are here:

Note that the very best US diesels approach the Prius (47.4 mpg), but do not exceed it, let alone to the degree those European reports suggest they should.  Why not?

I think there are two factors, one is simply that different cars are offered in the European market, but I think the second is that we have (so far) made very different choices with regard to safety and emissions.

When an independant company tried to bring in a Smart (70 mpg, in Europe, on diesel) they ended up with the gas model, detuned to 40 mpg.

Also FWIW, I think this is a very cool 100 mpg car:

Feel free to petition the US (and California) government to let me buy one ;-)

By the way, it is probably an apples to oranges comparison to look at diesels and gasoline engines on a "gallon" basis.  Diesel fuel starts with more energy, and so has to go further miles than a gasoline car to have equal energy efficiency.

Given that diesel fuel packs more punch that gas, does that mean you can make less of it from a gallon of crude?  How does that work?

God Leanan, how do you do that!  It's like you're plugged into the matrix or channeling Athena.  What search engine do you use?
LOL!  I used Google News, and searched on the name of the exec he quoted.  

The only slightly tricky thing is that he mispelled it.  I figured that, though, because I'm somewhat familiar with Japanese names.  Watanabi is weird, while Watanabe is an extremely common name.    (Even if you don't know that, Google suggests the more common spelling, so you'd probably find the article anyway.)

Hey, c'mon. Stop giving those secrets away! It's a good thing kjm is someone we can trust.
Regarding some comments I posted on Saturday about energy-exporting countries and powerplays.  Here's a related article:

And this is just too hilarious.  Make your own Chevy Tahoe commercial:

True price of UK's nuclear legacy: £160bn

On Thursday, the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, the body set up to clean up the UK's nuclear sites, increased its estimate of how much it would need by £14bn to £70bn.

However, this giant figure is only around half of what will be required. It excludes decommissioning British Energy's seven nuclear power stations, the first of which is due to close in 2011, dealing with the Ministry of Defence's nuclear sites and the long-term storage of the waste. Adding those all in would bring the total cost to around £160bn.

The Royal Bank of Scotland thinks there may be gasoline shortages in the U.S. this summer.

US faces possible petrol shortages this summer, says UK bank

Motorists in the US face a difficult time this summer as tight refining capacity as well as new regulations and mandates could disrupt the flow of petrol, according to a UK bank.

"If supply fails to meet demand in America, the repercussions will be felt in Europe and Asia as well, given that petrol is a globally traded commodity," the Royal Bank of Scotland warned in its latest monthly Oil and Gas Index.

...The run-up in petrol prices, it said, has been even more dramatic than the increase in crude prices following recent draws in petrol inventories.

"Although commercial inventories remain ample by historical standards, strong expected demand growth has investors worried that supply glitches may lead to temporary shortages and price spikes," the report warned.

Typical peak-oil denialist propaganda newspeak blather about "tight refining capacity".  The US imports crude oil, not gasoline.  Prices have gone up at the pumps in proportion to the increase in crude oil prices (subtracting the tax share).  Crude oil price cannot increase if there is not enough refining capacity, since lack of such capacity would result in the build up of crude oil stocks.  OPEC and others have not been cutting oil extraction in the last three years.

There is no way such basic understanding of economics escapes the various analysts, consultancy firms and banks.  So the lockstep pronouncements about "tight refining capacity" in the media and by these other sources shows a coordinated misinformation campaign.  Perhaps it is time to stop giving them the benefit of the doubt and coddling oneself with warm and fuzzy feelings of "free media" and "truth from respectable sources".  Things must be nasty if this sort of coverup is in high gear.

While I am not a "peak-oil denialist", there is a lot of truth to the tight refining capacity argument. I don't know of a refinery in our system that is not running at maximum capacity. We could get more oil at the moment, we just can't process it. In the 80's and early 90's, refinery utilization was around 75%. Today, that number hovers around 90%, which is about as good as it can get due to equipment reliability issues.

The current rise of oil prices is a bit puzzling to me. In the short-term, I had expected a pull back because crude inventories have been building. Gasoline inventories, on the other hand, have been falling. Long-term, no doubt oil and gasoline prices will both go through the roof.  

Thanks to yours and the other reply I think I see what the problem is.  Light sweet crude has peaked and is in noticeable decline, which translates to an effective crippling of the refining capacity most of which is geared towards the low sulfur and low viscosity grade oil.  The heavier grades that the Saudis are now selling as well as the typical Russian grade still find a market, but it appears not in the US since it has to regear its refineries.  

But I still think it is misinformation to just harp about refining capacity as if there is a infinite amount of heavy crude out there and all that's needed is to build up the refining capacity.   The heavy grades are leftover scraps (aside from the converted bitumen from tar sands, can anyone point to a heavy crude Ghawar?).   The main problem is peak oil.

The heavier and more sulfurous grades are at least somewhat more abundant. Whether production of heavy crudes can be ramped up faster than production of light crude falls is one of the key factors in assessing whether the peak is now or sometime in the futue.

OTOH there is a massive amount of ultra heavy crude in Orinoco Heavy Oil Belt of Venezuela. Roughly the same amount original oil in place as in the Athabascan tar sands. Production will have many of the same problems as the Canadian tar sands, but less severe [in general it must be heated to flow, however it will probably be much easier to produce in situ and it will require less upgrading before it can sent to a more conventional refinery.] At that, production will probably be slow and capital & energy intensive.

If Venezuela was perceived as being as politically stable, most of the cornucopian buzz would probably be about the Orinoco ultra heavy oil belt not the Athabasca tar sands.

With refineries made to refine light sweet crude but now with heavy sour crude being used, refining capacity drops off some. The problem is sort of like converting a gasoline engine to diesel. If it could be done, it'll end up sub-optimal. So, "tight refining capacity" as an issue is valid.

However, with oil having peaked will still cause the price of crude to escalate anyways, even as refineries are going all-out. The good question is WHY more refineries are not built. The oil companies know about the oil peak - and building excess refining capacity wastes money. The refining capacity was decided on to just be a match to peak production!  So, they built just enough refineries so that once the peak goes down, the match occurs. The "smoking gun" will be as oil companies start shutting down refineries one by one to avoid paying workers and keep the capacity a match with the oilwell output.

Kinda sorta. The U.S. imports both crude and products, but you are correct as to imports being mostly crude.

As to how refining capacity short falls can impact crude I believe that there are at least two plausible lines of reasoning.

The first is that the headline price for crude oil is light sweet crude. There may be a developing over supply in storage of heavier more sour crudes that many refineries are not designed to handle efficiently. Thus the inability to process heavy crude efficiently leads to a higher price for the light sweet stuff which is what gets quoted on the NYMEX. This theory is frequently batted around on TOD.

Secondly, given that products can be imported, there are arbitrage opportunities when crude and products get too far out of wack in the futures. When the close in futures get too far out of wack with the more distant futures another arbitrage opportunity presents itself. Note that these are not risk free bets, but big money flows back and forth doing these sorts of deals constantly.

Do I believe that refining capacity is the primary factor driving sixty dollar plus crude prices -- "no" but it probably is one factor.

While I am bullish on natural gas prices in the medium and long terms, the short-term surplus is huge. The U.S. Energy Department reported that stockpiles are 32% higher than a year ago.

I think there are a lot of bullish forces for natural gas in the medium and long-term.  I go into them in detail on my blog, so I won't take up too much space here.  My question for the open thread:  Where do you see natural gas prices going this summer, and why?

I thought that the following column might be of interest to you.  Note that the author of the column, Ed Wallace,  misspelled Hubbert's name, and as best that I can tell (the syntax is a little tortured), he seems to be saying that Hubbert didn't have any credential as a petroleum geologist (?).  Mr. Wallace appears to primarily make a living from selling auto advertising.

Conspiracy may be too strong a word, but I think that three broad groups are working together to combat the Peak Oil story:   (1) the housing/auto industries and related companies; (2)  the Main Stream Media (MSM) and related industries and (3)  some major oil companies, major oil exporters and the cornucopian analysts.

A Theory Like Y2K, But For Cars...
...and, like Y2K, a proven fallacy
By Ed Wallace
Special to the (Fort Worth, Texas) Star-Telegram


I'm not a petroleum geologist. Nor, as did M. King Hubert, for whom the theory of Peak Oil was named, do I hold any academic credentials in that field. And, assuredly, one day Peak Oil will come. It's just that so much of Hubert's theory has already been disproven that it's embarrassing how often the media continues to reference as true Hubert's prediction that American oil production would decline in the early `70s.

(Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four's Good Day and hosts the talk show Wheels Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00 on 570 KLIF. E-mail:

My theories regarding the three Anti-Peak Oil groups (follow the money):

(1) the housing/auto industries and related companies;

This is pretty much self evident.  I suspect that the vast majority of recent economic growth in the US has consisted of the sale and servicing of large houses and large cars.  As we all know, this model is dependent on cheap energy, and the last thing that the housing/auto industries want Americans to know is that the days of cheap energy are rapidly coming to an end.

(2)  the Main Stream Media (MSM) and related industries;

The MSM media makes a significant amount of their revenue (the majority?) from selling advertising directly and indirectly related to the housing/auto industries.  This is why, when they do confront the issue, that they tend to talk in terms of greater energy efficiency and alternative fuels, i.e., the current system is okay--we just need more efficient Urban Assault Vehicles driving to and from more efficient $500,000 mortgages using alternative fuels.   Someone on TOD quoted Upton Sinclair, "It's hard to get a man to understand something when his income depends on him not understanding it."

(3)  some major oil companies, major oil exporters and the cornucopian analysts.

This is a little more subtle. I think that some majors (ExxonMobil) are afraid of punitive taxation if they admit that we don't have trillions of barrels of remaining oil reserves, i.e., they need all the money that they can get to put more reserves into production.  As someone in the industry, I actually have some sympathy for this line or argument, but I think that ExxonMobil and the cornucopian energy analysts like Yergin are doing a lot of long term damage to the industry--if  there are trillions of barrels of remaining reserves, higher  oil prices must be a conspiracy.  I think that major exporters like Saudi Arabia are motivated by fear.  They are a militarily weak country surrounded by more militarily powerful importers worldwide.


In any case, that's my take on the issue of why these three groups are, in effect, working together to keep the truth about the finite nature of energy reserves from reaching the American public.  In effect, these three groups are manning the walls of a triangular shaped fortress, trying to keep the truth out and away from the American people on the inside.  

IMO, the only force that has the potential to break down the walls of ignorance is the blogosphere.  

No, nothing will break that triangle fortress but reality. That is my pessimistic opinion - all the discussion in the U.S. is a generation late, and several trillion dollars short at this point.

And that reality is not likely to be the kind and gentle one that the Hollywood script writer would insert after market research indicates the audience didn't like how the movie ends.

the three Anti-Peak Oil groups:
(1) the housing/auto industries
(2)  the Main Stream Media (MSM)
(3)  some major oil companies, major oil exporters
[4] and the cornucopian analysts.

This is an interesting first cut analysis at the forces in our civilization, which because of their short-term self-interests, must oppose the Peak Oil "theory" and try to frame it as being yet another Y2K Chicken Little plot. (And yes I know about you COBOL coders out there who saved the world from Y2K and get no appreciation for the last minute catch --but that's not the topic here.)

It would be interesting to follow the life span journey of an American Child/Adult to see how many Happy Days-Ahead industries are really involved in denying die-off and End-of-Growth as we knew it:

  1. Schools, Colleges need to sell families on the idea that their children must get a high priced "education" in order to be "competitive" in the Friedman Flat World of tomorrow. Yesterday was SAT day and already I ran into one young man who thinks his whole future is destroyed because he may have messed up on some SAT question and will no longer be able to get into that Ivy League school that starts his climb up the ladder of corporate "success".

  2. Toy Companies, Computer comapnies need to sell families on the idea that their children must get a high priced learnign toy and computer in order to be "competitive" in the Friedman Flat World of Tomorrow Land. Without the right tools that prepare your child for the guarnteed world of tomorrow, your child will be one of the "Left Behinds".

  1. Military Industrial complex needs constant fresh meat to renew its apettite for the few, the proud, the expendable

  2. Organized religion needs a constant flow of new believers to pay for the next building fund --why build a new church / synagouge in suburbia if the cars can't bring you to the house of worship?

  3. Financial Institutions that make loans and pay out interest must be able to project forward to infinity and beyond that "expectations" of ROI will be met

  4. Medical industry --built on plastic IV tubes and other sterile disposables-- it cannot afford to contemplate the end of "progress" as we knew it

  5. Clothing, shoe industry built on importing cheap manufacture from over there cannot afford to contemplate the end of "globalization" as we knew it

  6. on and on ...
I don't agree that the end of the era of "cheap oil" means the end of technological progress. I don't agree that less oil usage per capita necessarily means a lower standard of living. A lot of oil is used right now because it is cheap. In the future it will be a lot more expensive so not as much will be wasted. In the 60s and 70s cheap entertainment for the family was the "Sunday drive". This was not a sign of a higher standard of living-it was done simply because gas was basically free.2005 looks like the year of Peak Oil but it is a stretch to call it the peak of technological advance or standard of living.      
I take it you haven't seen this piece or others like it?

"Waiting for the Lights to Go Out",,2099-1813695_1,00.html


Jonathan Huebner is an amiable, very polite and very correct physicist who works at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California. He took the job in 1985, when he was 26. An older scientist told him how lucky he was. In the course of his career, he could expect to see huge scientific and technological advances. But by 1990, Huebner had begun to suspect the old man was wrong. "The number of advances wasn't increasing exponentially, I hadn't seen as many as I had expected -- not in any particular area, just generally."

Puzzled, he undertook some research of his own. He began to study the rate of significant innovations as catalogued in a standard work entitled The History of Science and Technology. After some elaborate mathematics, he came to a conclusion that raised serious questions about our continued ability to sustain progress. What he found was that the rate of innovation peaked in 1873 and has been declining ever since. In fact, our current rate of innovation -- which Huebner puts at seven important technological developments per billion people per year -- is about the same as it was in 1600. By 2024 it will have slumped to the same level as it was in the Dark Ages, the period between the end of the Roman empire and the start of the Middle Ages.

The calculations are based on innovations per person, so if we could keep growing the human population we could, in theory, keep up the absolute rate of innovation. But in practice, to do that, we'd have to swamp the world with billions more people almost at once. That being neither possible nor desirable, it seems we'll just have to accept that progress, at least on the scientific and technological front, is slowing very rapidly indeed.

Thanks for that link.  I hadn't seen that article.

Here's one that makes a similar argument, from US News and World Report:

The Slowing Pace of Progress

Long, but really interesting.

This guy claims that the rate of progress peaked in 1873. Oil usage was pretty minor in 1873. I thought your argument was that there is a definite correlation between the availability and use of oil and technological progress.  
No.  The argument is that "the lowest fruit is picked first."  Just as the biggest oil fields with the most easily produced oil are discovered and drilled first, the easiest and most beneficial scientific discoveries are made first.  

For example, Mendel made a great contribution to genetics just by planting peas in his garden.  Today, you would need a high-tech lab with a lot of fancy equipment and people with pricy advanced degrees to make a new discovery in genetics...and it probably wouldn't have nearly impact Mendel's work did.

Scientists, like oil companies, are using high-tech methods in hopes of making new discoveries, but still aren't matching the great finds of the past.

Leanan, you know I like you, so please don't bite my head off. But I have to take exception with your example/analogy.

Mendel made a great contribution to genetics just by planting peas in his garden.  Today, you would need a high-tech lab with a lot of fancy equipment and people with pricey advanced degrees to make a new discovery in genetics...and it probably wouldn't have nearly the impact Mendel's work did.

I believe you are comparing apples to oranges. Mendel wasn't an illiterate, he wasn't simply a farmer who stumbled across this discovery. His garden was his lab. What he was doing and the way he did it was "high-tech" for the time.

Today, any 17-year-old, with or without a scholarship has potential access to the labs and fancy equipment you talk about. These high-tech gardens.

The "idea" is the key. I never ever worry about the implementation, the backing, the equipment, the lab, or even the money. I always feel that once I have the right idea, I'm good to go.

Anything I have to offer, anything I want to share, anything I have "discovered" is separated between me and the world by the distance between my index finger and my left mouse button.

I don't know if Mendel had that same optimism.

You just got me interested in Mendel, thank you.

Mendel never had the Internet. Imagine the hours he could have saved with Microsoft Office?

I did not say Mendel was illiterate.  I am saying his discovery was "low-hanging fruit."  It made a huge difference in our understanding of the world, and it didn't cost a lot of money.

That is not true of today's "gardens."  Someone has to pay for the lab and the fancy equipment.  Moreover, someone has to pay for educating those who build the lab and fancy equipment.  Mendel would need Office today, because gone are the days when people working in isolation could make significant discoveries.

The "idea" may be the key, but there are a lot fewer good ideas out there waiting to be discovered.  There is such a thing as The End of Science.

No, you didn't say Mendel was illiterate. Am I not allowed the slightest bit of hyperbole? I sense we agree on a bunch of things. C'mon, admit it. You have adopted the term - "low hanging fruit." What are the origins of that. Will somebody page Safire? If we play our cards right, we can own that.
I swiped "low-hanging fruit" from Tainter.  "The low-hanging fruit is plucked first" is the essence of his "declining marginal returns" idea.
Y'know, it's time I read this Tainter guy. Actually, I have a copy of Collapse. Which should I read first? I will only take your suggestion which should go first.
Diamond's book is more accessible.  It's written for a popular audience, while Tainter is definitely an academic conehead.  His book is still in print because it's widely used as a college anthropology textbook. (And priced accordingly, alas.)

If that's not an issue, I'd read Tainter first.  HIs book is much more theoretical than Diamond's.  It's sort of a general theory of collapse, while Diamond's concentrates on collapse due to ecological causes.

I do think there is a correlation between energy availabilty and technological progress. Obviously, the correlation is not going to be exact.

Furthermore, there is going to be some lag time between when something gets invented or discovered and when large segments of the population have access to it. Electricity being a good example off the top of my head.

But any way you cut it, technological progress IS slowing down if you look at the verfiable facts.  Generally people just look at their ipod, new laptop, or the movie playing on their cell phone and think, "look at all this progress!!!"

In reality, the life of the average American is not all that different in 2006 than in 1970 despite all of this so called progress. In 1970, an attorney or accountant would:

  1. Wake up, drink coffee
  2. Turn on televison to see news
  3. Drive to work
  4. Take elevator to office
  5. Answer phone messages, go to meetings, do paperwork, research in law library etc.
  6. Call spouse on rotary phone
  7. Drive home
  8. Watch television
  9. Go to sleep

Today things are pretty much the same, albeit with email, cell phones, high definition televisions, and perhaps a moderatley more enerergy efficient car whose increased efficienty is now offset by:

  1.  increased commute to work
  2.  both spouses commuting to work
  3.  larger homes with higher heating and cooling needs

The enery sources the 1970 attorney and spouse consumed throughout the day were primarily:

  1. Oil to get to work
  2. Natural gas, coal, or nuclear at work
  3. Oil to get home
  4. Natural gas, coal, or nuclear back at home

99% of folks here in the states are living pretty much the same way they did 35 years ago.  So all this amazing progress for what? So we could watch Brokeback Mountain on our cell-phones and take our work home with us courtesy of our laptops?



You forgot about the 1%. For the 1% the trip from the 1970s to 2006 has been one beautiful ride. Since US society appears to be structured around satisfying the desires of the 1%, progress has been made toward this goal in the last 30 years.
I made the trip from 1970 to now. The biggest difference is that in 1970, the world wasn't so damn crowded!

Colorado was full of wild and beautiful places. The highways were quiet. People were free.

"The greatest getting-and-spending spree in the history of the world is about to end. The 200-year boom that gave citizens of the industrial world levels of wealth, health and longevity beyond anything previously known to humanity is threatened on every side. Oil is running out; the climate is changing at a potentially catastrophic rate; wars over scarce resources are brewing; finally, most shocking of all, we don't seem to be having enough ideas about how to fix any of these things."

This is the kind of paragraph that would cause most folks to dismiss the whole "Peak Oil" theory out of hand.

"The first big problem is our insane addiction to oil. It powers everything we do and determines how we live. But, on the most optimistic projections, there are only 30 to 40 years of oil left. One pessimistic projection, from Sweden's Uppsala University, is that world reserves are massively overstated and the oil will start to run out in 10 years."

What a turn of phrase that is!  "Start to run out...."  Heck ya' we'll start to run out!  We "started " to run out the first barrel we ever burned!  After years of distancing Peak Oil from the phrase "running out", here we are, back at it again...looking like we are saying the world is running out of oil...

"rate of innovation peaked in 1873..."  (!!!!!)  I would have to see some proof of that one, I cannot even try to count post 1873 with pre 1873 the inventions since 1873 being so many and so widely varied....that strikes me as a bizarre comment...could it have been a misprint, and intended 1973?

" it seems we'll just have to accept that progress, at least on the scientific and technological front, is slowing very rapidly indeed."  (!!!!) (????)
Well, if we have seen the greatest technical age in world history since 1873 (and we have) and we have marched from walking behind a mule in dung to riding air conditioned tractors (we have) and have gone from the Wright Flyer to the 767, Airbus and Concorde and then on to the moon (we have), and seen the advancement of photo sensitive cells, lasers, software, x-ray and infrared observation since 1873 (we have)....if this age since 1873 is a period of development that is "slowing very rapidly"  (????), bring it on!

But alas, the article does not stay to topic, and begins to veer around, looking for deadly threats under every bush...and of course, they succeed, because there are plenty of deadly threats....hey, life's a bitch, and then you why try anything?

If I wanted to do advertisement to destroy the credibility of those who are serious about what is a very serious issue  (the potential peaking and shortage of liquid fuel for transportation) I would simply use the article above, and make anyone concerned with this issue sound like an apocolyptic mental case.

This is why perhaps it is best to stay a bit more on topic:  The crisis is NOT energy per se (the universe is awash in volumes of energy that dwarf the scale of the consumption of all humankind), is NOT cultural collapse per se (that happens in history with or without liquid fuel) NOT the "death of science" or "death of progress" (again, that happens with or without liquid has happened on large scale centuries before the fossil fuel age....IS NOT a moral case about consumption (over consumption has been a vice of man since the dawn of history, and one can, if one chooses to, take a path of Asceticism, which moves quickly to Nihilism, and then death (often by suicidal denial of basic needs)...that is an individual choice, but has NOTHING to do with the purely technical issue of POTENTIAL SHORTAGE OF LIQUID FUELS PRINCIPLY FOR TRANSPORTATION!

You see, this is why I think innovation may be slowing down, if it is at all...we are too easily distracted.

The issue is:  Essentially a liquid fuels problem, essentially for transportation:  At what cost can it be gotten and in what volume, and at what cost to humanity and the planet's ability to provide a safe and sustainable habitat?

Ah, you think I am dismissing the gravity of the "peak oil" or "peak liquid fuel" problem?  I am not.  Just try to solve THAT ONE PROBLEM, and one sees that it is a serious issue indeed, wtihout going into the field of epistemology.

ThatsitImout: Great post. Thanks for bringing some clarity. Actually I don't understand some of the philosophical/physiological posts on this site (I don't know what thermo-genetics is and I'm not that eager to find out).
West Texas,

Sorry to post this to the board, but have you recieved any of my emails? I've sent several and if you just didn't want to respond or didn't have the time, no hard feelings. The reason I ask is sometimes (actually, quite a bit) peoples' email programs seem to shunt my emails sent from website address into their spam box.




Obligatory joke about "maybe that's cause you're emails are spam" or something along those lines I'm sure is coming.

I have never understand why Big Oil (my employer, by the way) argues against Peak Oil. It would seem to me that it is in our best interest to make an argument in favor of Peak Oil. This would tend to prop up prices, and we would make more money. Conservation would ensue as a result of higher prices, and we would all be better off. But the public would stay in a constant rage because Big Oil is making a lot of money while forcing people to make major lifestyle adjustments.

I don't know if they are concerned about a massive push into altneratives, but it's not like we can't start moving into altneratives if that's what looks economic. Most major oil companies at at least dabbling in alternatives.

The oil companies want the public to think the current high price of oil and gasoline is temporary. They want the public to think their high profits are temporary. They want the public to think that the discovery of mega-reserves is just around the corner. Basically, the public does not want any discomfort and is willing to listen to any story (no matter how illogical) that allows them to continue their current consumption habits. Having said this, selling the current story is going to get harder each year.
Once upon a time CEOs had as their goal to produce goods a little better than the next guy thereby maximizing the income of his business.
Today CEOs see their main job is selling shares of stock at a little higher price than the next guy. Selling goods is just something you do to help the sale of shares.
I think you were going down the right path when you said "But the public would stay in a constant rage because Big Oil is making a lot of money while forcing people to make major lifestyle adjustments."

We've already seen some public resentment over the oil companies making record profits while the consumer feels the pain everytime they fill up. To a Capitalist, those things go hand-in-hand.  But to the citizen who equates Capitalism with prosperity, freedom, and democracy, they seem to be a contradiction.  They ask themselves, "If ExxonMobile is doing so well, and I'm part of this system, why am I not sharing in these good times?"  They don't always understand their role in the system.  :  )

But I digess.  As I said, we have alrady seen some resentment.    How do you think people will react if those profits double again, at the same time as Senior Citizens have to turn off their heat.  How will people react when those profits quadruple as gas stations start running dry.  

People will be pissed.  Peak Oil means the end of oil as a commodity and the beginning of oil as a National Security Resource that is controlled by the government.  It will be priced by the gov't, rationed by the gov't, and you can be sure ExxonMobile wants to defer that scenario as long as possible.

Peak Oil means the end of oil as a commodity and the beginning of oil as a National Security Resource that is controlled by the government.  It will be priced by the gov't, rationed by the gov't, and you can be sure ExxonMobile wants to defer that scenario as long as possible.

I have been thinking of writing a blog essay on this. What happens to Big Oil after Peak Oil? I have given this quite a bit of thought, and my thoughts have been along the lines of what you mentioned. I think the government will act in a big way when prices start to go through the roof, and ExxonMobil's $37 billion profit has doubled or tripled.

I think eventually this will happen, however, the oil industry in the US has bought a lot of support in the Congress, Senate (and White House).
"What happens to Big Oil after Peak Oil?"

What happens to Little Oil? The oil price collapse of the late 1990s had a devastating impact on stripper wells in the U.S. I saw estimates of more than a million barrel per day lost. Some of this oil came back on line after prices recovered, but a lot of wells that would be economic now [and more so in the future] and with clearly positive EROEI in continuing operations were plugged. No body is going to redrill most of these with success defined as initial production rates of three to five barrels of oil a day. Its gone.

A lot of what is currently profitable for Little Oil not viable for majors after the increased overhead is factored in. If government takes over management of the U.S. [or the Canadian] oil industry the threshold for a viable well will probably be much higher than for the majors.

"Peak Oil means the end of oil as a commodity and the beginning of oil as a National Security Resource"

Great point.  The other reason: many of the contracts that Big Oil has with Small Countries That Have Oil specify that when the company has achieved a certain return on investment a lot of the remaining oil reserves revert back to the host countries.  Since oil stocks sell in large part based on reserves, and since these contract changes need to be reported to the S.E.C., they hurt the price of the stock of Big Oil.  The longer it takes Big Oil to get their return on investment (since return is tied to time) the longer they can keep exploiting the oil without having their reserves massively impacted.

Oh, and by the way, the stock options of the Big Oil top executives are primarily how they get compensated these days.   So they are paying attention to anything that could depress the stock price.
I've long wondered this myself. Some speculation:

1. They simply don't believe it.

From what I understand, being totally outside the industry mind you, is there exists within the industry a culture of "we're one drill bit away from a big discovery."  My guess is lots of the folks in the upper echelons have been through personal experieces where it looked like all was lost until some giant discovery was made or some new drilling technique was invented or something else came along and saved their buts. Thus, within their collective subconscious, there exists a tendency towards optimism.

  1. They're afraid that if the meme was generally acknowledged, nations would start nationalilzing their oil resources.

  2. They're afraid the SEC or some other entity might get involved saying, "what the f--k is going on here?" That could lead to job loss, share price loss, or even jail time.

  3. They're afraid they might lost their jobs in favor of somebody who is more optimistic.

  4. Finally the favorite for us conspiracy buffs:

Good ol' "Shotgun Dick" told them to keep their mouths shut in some backroom meeting where the room was filled with smoke, lots of ominous music was playing, Shotgun Dick's face was in the shadows, and a hint of Darth Vader voice was chimed in for good measure.

Maybe Oil CEO can chime in here?



I am completely peak-oil aware. I believe Hubbert was right. I  just don't know that you can jump to the conclusion that peak oil on a worldwide basis will play out the way many here believe it will.

I don't think technology will save us. I do think government mandated efficiency, a lower speed limit, and a significant revenue-neutral gas-tax are a start to the solution. I think there is a ton of low-hanging fruit still to be picked.

I tend to agree with the opinions of Halfin, LouGrinzo, oilrig medic, Robert Rapier, and, yes, even JD. I think that Peter Tertzakian has best recent take on the situation as far as authors go.

I think we spend too much time here on politics and too little on oil.

Those on the far right are as wacky as those on the far left.

I do not see a conspiracy to cover up peak-oil by Dick Cheney and the Saudis.

Just look at the numbers, they will tell you everything you need to know - and beware of misleading graph design.

Can I go watch TV, now?

Oh, yeah, that Bush energy commission. The Dems tried to sue using the FOIA to declassify the proceedings. The Bush regime HAS to know about the oil peak, being oilmen. It's obvious they are hiding something and peak oil is a real good candidate. Why are they hiding it?

Now, the Iraq War debacle is obviously oil-related. That things went way off-course is beside the point. Jay Hanson predicted it with his "Fossilgate" essay. Were the Cheney gang discussing the war as the peak-oil option? After all, Iraq is the last largely untapped oilfield left on Earth. The original Iraq war sequestered that last patch for future reference. Now, with the peak right on top of us, it became time to un-sequester that patch of oil.

An Open Letter to Ed Wallace (posted at


Following is a copy of a message that I posted on The Oil Drum blog:

If you are not familiar with it, the Oil Drum is one of the five websites that Richard Rainwater cited in a recent Fortune article as ones that he visits on a regular basis.  This is the same Richard Rainwater who turned the Bass Family's $50 million into $5 billion, by being able to accurately predict future trends.  Mr. Rainwater describes Peak Oil as "The first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind."

I choose to believe that you are not lying to your listeners and readers about Peak Oil  in an attempt to extract more money from them for you and your advertisers, and I choose to believe that you believe what you are saying and writing.  However, someone recent quoted Upton Sinclair in regard to this subject, "It's hard to get a man to understand something when his income depends on him not understanding it."

If you would like to debate this subject in an open forum, it's free and easy to register at if you are so inclined.

In any case, could you clarify what you were trying to say about Dr. Hubbert's (note spelling) credentials?


Jeffrey J. Brown

Copy of Oil Drum Post:

I thought that the following column might be of interest to you.  Note that the author of the column, Ed Wallace,  misspelled Hubbert's name, and as best that I can tell (the syntax is a little tortured), he seems to be saying that Hubbert didn't have any credential as a petroleum geologist (?).  Mr. Wallace appears to primarily make a living from selling auto advertising.
Conspiracy may be too strong a word, but I think that three broad groups are working together to combat the Peak Oil story:   (1) the housing/auto industries and related companies; (2)  the Main Stream Media (MSM) and related industries and (3)  some major oil companies, major oil exporters and the cornucopian analysts.

A Theory Like Y2K, But For Cars...
...and, like Y2K, a proven fallacy
By Ed Wallace
Special to the (Fort Worth, Texas) Star-Telegram


I'm not a petroleum geologist. Nor, as did M. King Hubert, for whom the theory of Peak Oil was named, do I hold any academic credentials in that field. And, assuredly, one day Peak Oil will come. It's just that so much of Hubert's theory has already been disproven that it's embarrassing how often the media continues to reference as true Hubert's prediction that American oil production would decline in the early `70s.

(Ed Wallace is a recipient of the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the Anderson School of Business at UCLA. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four's Good Day and hosts the talk show Wheels Saturdays from 8:00 to 1:00 on 570 KLIF. E-mail:

Copy of previous e-mail to you from me:


You have correctly pointed out that Mr. Pickens has suggested increasing the gas tax--as a way to reduce oil consumption.  

Insofar as I know, you have not mentioned that he also suggested offsetting the gas tax increase with tax cuts elsewhere.  

You might want to review Richard Rainwater's comments in a Fortune interview last year.   As you, know Mr. Rainwater has a certain reputation for accurately predicting future trends.  According to the Dallas Morning News blog, this Fortune article is the reason that President Bush used the "addicted to oil" phrase in his State of the Union speech.

You say we don't have to worry about Peak Oil for about 50 years.  Boone Pickens and Richard Rainwater--in effect--say that you are crazy.  Do you think that you are doing an adequate job of giving your listeners and readers the full story?

Jeffrey Brown

Following is a link to the article and an excerpt:

Published on 13 Dec 2005 by Fortune. Archived on 14 Dec 2005.

The Rainwater Prophecy
by Oliver Ryan


His instincts tell him that another enormous moneymaking opportunity (Peak Oil) is about to present itself, what he calls a "slow pitch down the middle." But, at 61, wealthier and happier than ever before, Rainwater finds himself reacting differently this time. He's focused more on staying rich than on getting richer. But there's something else too: a sort of billionaire-style civic duty he feels to get a conversation started. Why couldn't energy prices skyrocket, with grave repercussions, not just economic but political? As industry analysts debate whether the world's oil production is destined to decline, the prospect makes him itchy.

"This is a nonrecurring event," he says. "The 100-year flood in Houston real estate was one, the ability to buy oil and gas really cheap was another, and now there's the opportunity to do something based on a shortage of natural resources. Can you make money? Well, yeah. One way is to just stay long domestic oil. But there may be something more important than making money. This is the first scenario I've seen where I question the survivability of mankind. I don't want the world to wake up one day and say, 'How come some doofus billionaire in Texas made all this money by being aware of this, and why didn't someone tell us?'"

Iran still insisting on Persian Gulf oil bourse

And they still want euros, not dollars:

He also reiterated that the new oil bourse could also replace the dollar-based oil exchange with euro.

Iran argues that while 60 per cent of the global oil and 25 per cent natural gas need was covered by the Persian Gulf states, oil dealin in either New York or London would have no meaning.

Iran also wants to avoid the dollar-based oil exchange for not being target of economic problems of the United States and calls on a fair distribution of global economic interests.

The Iranian exchange was delayed, not cancelled. In my opinion,both China and Russia have a lot of influence with Iran and in China's case, a dramatic fall in the US dollar would be inconvenient right now. They would like to phase in the exchange without upsetting the global economy. It's funny- in the USA the Iranian exchange is perceived to be a tactic to attack the US when it is really just an attempt to divide up the global pie differently.    
Even though being and old fart, I believe an additional $2 tax on a gallon of gas is very necessary. Our current consumption of 140 billion gallons of gas would generate 280 billion dollars of Taxes. The 7.65% payroll tax paid by employees would be removed on the first $ 50,000 of earned income. The 7.65% paid by employers would remain and the self-employed would only pay 7.65% on the first $50,000.
After $50K of earned income there would be an incremental increase in pay-roll taxes up to the current  7.65%. The 7.65% would extend out to the current max cap on earned income and could be extended as is currently being done to insure sufficient funds to meet our currently projected requirements. Each working person would then receive an additional $765 for each $10K of earned income to compensate for the tax on 382 gallons of gas or about 8000 miles of avg. mileage or 40k miles for $50K or more. There certainly would be an incentive to save on gas and have more to spend on Whoppers.  Of course old farts like me with no earned income and who do most of the voting would object, as would the very rich, and all the self serving congress-folks beholding to their lobbyists.
Then we should also incrementally increase the tax on over the road and through the air commercial diesel consumption, to provide additional incentives for rail traffic. That won't happen until we are short of diesel.
How much do you suppose both would reduce our current 21 mbd consumption?
From U.S. News and World Report:

States Take the Lead on Global Warming

Call it the Greenhouse in the Statehouse effect. While climate change may sow no fear in the White House, plenty of worried governors, legislators, and other local officials are rejecting Washington's cue.

The result is an increasingly energy-schizoid land. From the state level, the United States is actually something of a global leader, passing laws sharp enough to take a bite out of climate change. "Sometimes the government leads the people, and sometimes the people lead the government. In this case, the states are way ahead of Washington," says Mickey Glantz of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo.

Perhaps this is the model to follow for peak oil as well. Forget the feds.  There's no help there.  Push for change at the state level.  Legislate around Washington.  

I believe I heard on NPR this morning that these state initiatives depend on receiving waivers from the appropriate federal agencies, like the EPA for example. These waivers have not been forthcoming.  
One call from the White House and the waivers will appear.

Bush & all are QUITE concerned about the November 06 elections.  Anything to sooth voters and keep R control of House & Senate (no D investigations for example) is VITALLY important.  Less pain at pump > more R votes.

Another reason to vote D this time.

As I spent the last 2 days preparing a presentation to a college class on P.O., I stumbled across this much needed bit of dark humor.

Seems that Chevrolet has a web page where you can design your own TV commercial for their SUV's, starting with various templates with your own words added. They intend to award a "prize" for the best one submitted.

Check out this one before the Chevy webmaster finds it and takes it off. No, I didn't do it, but wish that I had:

That was pretty good. Don't think it will win, though. :)
First time posting feels a bit easier in a lighthearted mode... Here's my contribution:
That was hilarious with that peak oil advert on GM's own site. Thanks for posting that link.
I'm not sure who posted the original reference to this GM site, I think it was Leanan.

I'm not sure who is making these videos.

I'm not sure why GM isn't yanking them.

I'm not sure why they all have the same video clips.

I'm not sure why they all have the same sound clip.

What I do know is this:

That sound clip is burnt into my brain. I cannot get it out. When I think, I think of oil. When I think all I can hear is dunt-dunt, dunt-dunt,... and I see a Chevy Tahoe...

Whoever is doing this - You are keeping alot of people laughing.

You get the Oil CEO - Oil Drum First Annual Genius of The Year Award. Keep Up The Good Work.

Ethanol and $100 oil:  We're already there!

I suspect that most TOD folks keep an eye on the oil price, but that very few pay much attention to ethanol prices.  The current market quote on ethanol is $2.56/gallon ($107/barrel), which on an energy equivalent basis is somewhere north of $150/barrel.  It wouldn't surprise me if by summer the energy equivalent price for ethanol is north of $200/barrel, as the supply will not expand much before then and demand as a replacement for MTBE in gasoline will only expand.

This brings up a number of points that are probably worth discussion:

Idiot, fill'er up with E85

The current wholesale price for E85 (which is pretty close to retail, since E85 in general isn't taxed) is about $2.45/gallon.  Those of you tempted by the GM commercials to fill up with E85, please don't.  Your gas mileage will be reduced by about 30% relative to regular gas, i.e., by filling up with E85 you are effectively paying $3.50/gallon for your fuel.  Additionally, since E85 is not mandated you are driving up the fuel costs for everyone else (not necessarily bad - but that's another issue).

Ethanol is a good business

While companies such as ADM do not break out numbers for ethanol profits, some of the smaller ethanol producers in the Midwest actually file their operating results with the SEC.  Examining several of these, the current finances for a 50 million gallon/year ethanol facility roughly go as:

    18.5 million bushels of corn @ 2.30/bushel        $42.5 million
    Utilities(electricity, water, natural gas)        $12 million
    Other cost of supply                    $10 million
    Selling, general and administrative:            $3.5 million

    Dried distillers grain (corn after ethanol extracted)    $12 million
    50 million gallons ethanol @ $2.50/gallon        $125 million

Net annual profit before taxes, depreciation, interest (EBITD)    $69 million

The cost of building a 50 million gallon ethanol facility is about $50 million dollars, i.e., the payback for these facilities at current prices is less that one year.  For reference, ADM produces 1070 million gallons/year, so their EBITD solely from ethanol will be about $1.5 billion this year (assuming ethanol holds at about $2.50), not bad for a $22 billion company that has a boatload of other revenue sources.   

The coming ethanol/corn crisis

Currently, there is about 4.3 billion gallons/year capacity for corn ethanol in the US, expanding to at least 6.7 billion gallons/year by 2007 (estimate as of January1 plus additional capacity announced since then).  Given this, along with the profit margins outlined above, it seems feasible that this number will grow to 10 billion gallons/year by 2010 (recall that the US uses about 150 billion gallons of gasoline/year, so this is only 6% of the US gasoline market).  

The thing that totally befuddles is that there has been no discussion about whether any of this is desirable, let alone sustainable.  Most of the discussion from various senators in farm states is at the depth of "it's good for the farmer, so go for it!"  Current ethanol capacity uses about 16% of the "average" US corn crop, rising to 25% by 2007, and perhaps 40% by 2010.  The "average" annual corn crop roughly goes to the following uses:
            Average US corn crop            10 billion bushels
            Animal feed                6 billion bushels
            Human feed                2 billion bushels
            Ethanol                1.5 billion bushels
            Exports                1.5 billion bushels

As ethanol use goes to 25% of the US corn crop and beyond, it will start seriously crowding out other uses.  Even if no corn is exported, the implied demand for corn will exceed the average crop at some point in the 2008-2010 period.  This will be marked by a sharp rise in the price of corn -witness the price of sugar, which  has doubled over past year as demand for sugar-derived ethanol has outrun the supply of sugar.  Corn at $5.00 a bushel (about a doubling from the current price) would put ethanol in the $3.00/gallon level ($2.50 price to break even plus the $0.50 government subsidy for mixing ethanol into gasoline).  As ethanol use expands, we will face the ugly possibility that ethanol will set a floor price for gasoline!

Of course, an economist would argue that more corn would be planted to meet this demand.  However, the system is running close to capacity with regard to nitrogen fertilizer (anhydrous ammonia production), so I question how much more acreage can be devoted to corn over the next few years.  Additionally, there has been no discussion about weather-driven fluctuations in corn production.  Although the past decade has seen quite stable corn crops, the crop in 1995 was 7.2 billion bushels, while in 1993 it was 6.2 billion bushels, due to unusually wet summers in both cases.  

Let me construct the following nightmare scenario:  Bumper US corn crops until 2010 lead to ethanol facility construction demanding 5 billion bushels per year.  Ethanol is mandated to be 10% of all gasoline by volume in the US by 2012 by a "green" congress seeking to help US automakers.  The summer of 2010 is like that of 1993, unusually wet in the Midwest, restricting the corn crop to 7 billion bushels.  This causes a severe spike in ethanol prices  (dragging gasoline along with it) along with food prices (corn is no longer viable as an animal food due to cost).  Then what?

This brings up an issue that no one seems to discuss as we make the transition to biofuels - energy is a "commodity," but its supply varies by only a small amount on an annual basis.  If we start using agricultural products as fuels, variations in supply of 30% annually are entirely possible.  Is that really any way to run a fuel system?  

RR: Kyle's post says currently Ethanol is a big money-maker. You say it is a scam. Are you saying that all the ethanol producers' profits are coming from guv subsidies (the taxpayer)?
Actually, I am not disagreeing with Kyle. We seem to share the same view. It is a scam. But it is good business. But that good business has only been enabled by mandates and subsidies from the government. If those were pulled, grain ethanol could not survive because of its marginal energy balance. It is heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
My comments concerning this 4-5 months ago on TOD,
however no one then seemed to be interested

Here is a web site for the Minnesota dept. of agriculture. The info posted on this web site is not only misleading or even BS, it comes close to being an out right lie. There is little possibility, they do not understand the deception of their post. Does any one agree with the validity of the web site data.
This is a USDA report on ethanol EROEI (1995)
Minnesota Dept of Agriculture data

Fuel     *Energy yield      Net Energy (loss) or gain
Gasoline      0.805          (19.5 percent)
Diesel          0.843          (15.7 percent)
Ethanol          1.34           34 percent
Biodiesel     3.20           220 percent

What I have a problem with is that ethanol and biodiesel are not presented in the same context as Gas & diesel. If I use all their numbers, I come up with the following results.
To produce 805 btu's of gas requires 1000 btu's of energy in, so you use 195 Btu's to produce 805 btu's of gas for an ERoEI of 4.13 or a net loss of 19.5 % of 1000 btu's. 413% gain
To produce 843 btu's of diesel requires 1000 btu's of energy in, so you use 157 Btu's to produce 843 btu's of diesel for an ERoEI of 5.37 or a net loss of 15.7% of 1000 btu's. =537% gain
To produce 1340 btu's of ethanol requires 1000 btu's of energy in, so you use 1000 Btu's to produce 1340 btu's of ethanol for an ERoEI of 1.34 or a net loss of 74% of 1340 btu's. = 34% gain
To produce 3200 btu's of biodiesel requires 1000 btu's of energy in, so you use 1000 Btu's to produce 3200 btu's of biodiesel for an ERoEI of 3.20 or a net loss of 31% of 3200 btu's. =220% gain

Yes Pimentel has been discredited by the Ethanol Lobby, but not by science.
The US gasoline consumption is 9.5 million barrels / day, 9.5 * 365 * 42 = about 145 billion gallons annually. The US annual corn crop harvest is 10 billion bushels. 10 * 2.5 = 25 billion gallons of ethanol. Ethanol yield is about 2.5 gallons per bushel. 25 / 145 = about 17% If we used the entire annual corn crop to produce ethanol, 10% could be used for gasohol while the other 7% would be consumed by increased demand before the new ethanol plants came on line.

In addition to corn I have been looking at some numbers on soybeans and potatoes.
The US harvests about 2.5 billion bushels of soybeans annually, and about 23 million tons of potatoes. Potatoes yield about 25-30 gallons of ethanol/ton or 688 million gallons of ethanol about .5% of our gas consumption.
There has been much talk about bio-diesel from soybeans. The only numbers I can find are that soybeans yield about 9.5 to 10 pounds of oil/bushel. How much bio-diesel will 10 pounds of soybean oil yield?? 1.5 Gallons max, that would make 3.75 billion gallons of bio-diesel. Our annual distillate consumption is 4.5*365*42=69 billion gallons. Soybean bio-diesel would only supply 5.4% of our distillate needs. 3.75/69
I hope this can put in perspective our alternate liquid fuels problem. There is no way the USA can ever supply even 10% our liquid fuel with ethanol & biodiesel.

Then there is another problem with bio-diesel. Currently an average to excellent soybean yield is about 50 bushels/acre. At $6.00 a bushel that is a $300 annual/acre crop, However at best it will yield about 75 gallons of oil and 60 gallons of bio-diesel. That means with zero capitol and processing expense, the bio-diesel has a crop cost alone of $5.00 per gallon.
I understand that Minnesota has enacted a 2% bio-diesel law that requires nearly all diesel fuel to be blended with 2% bio-diesel. Now I don't know how much nearly is, but here is a web-site to explain it further.
Here is a web-site of oil yield for oil-bearing crops.

What I have a problem with is that ethanol and biodiesel are not presented in the same context as Gas & diesel.

That is exactly correct. They calculate EROI for ethanol for an entire life-cycle, but they only evaluate gasoline from a barrel of oil ready to be refined. They ignore the step where it takes about 1 BOE to get 10 barrels of oil out of the ground. On an apples to apples basis, the EROI of gasoline is about 5/1, versus 1.3/1 for ethanol. That explains why ethanol needs the subsidies.

Someone who left a post at my blog pointed out an interesting statistic. He wrote:

Garry Dikkers: Last month the USDOT released the fuel consumed/miles driven for each of the 50 states in 2004. Just for kicks I compared Minnesota (which has mandated ethanol) to Wisconsin (which does not.) The two states are near twins with similar weather, topography, and about the same mix of urban/rural population.

In 2004, the average fuel economy for the entire State of Minnesota using E10 is 20.62 mpg. The average in Wisconsin is 23.30 mpg.

By adding 10% ethanol to their fuel, Minnesota drivers ended up burning 13% more fuel than their Wisconsin neighbors.

You can see more of his calculations at the end of this posting:


Another problem I have with ethanol is the inverse of 1.34 is .746. That means for every 1000 btu's of ethanol requires 3000 btu's of fossil fuel. So you pay for 3 barrels of energy to produce 1 barrel of energy. When I was in 3rd grade I was taught that 3 times 66.66 is 200, Thats dollars. Of course the barrels of energy in only need be 70% full to produce a barrel of ethanol but still a 140 bucks for a barrel of ethanol is pretty steep compared to crude. Oh yea I forgot the spot price of gas is about 82dpb.
I actually did a similar calculation and presented it to the state legislature last year when they were debating a 10% ethanol mandate. Here is the calculation that I just pulled from one of my essays:

At present there is a federal subsidy on ethanol that amounts to $0.51/gallon. Let's consider what we are getting for the subsidy. A gallon of gasoline contains 125,000 BTUs (same HHV basis as ethanol). In the Shapouri paper, the net gain reported in producing a gallon of ethanol was 21,000 BTUs. This means that we have to produce 125,000/21,000, or 5.95 gallons of ethanol before we have generated the energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline. Given a federal subsidy of $0.51 a gallon, we have spent 5.95*$0.51, or $3.03 subsidizing replacement of 1 gallon of gasoline!

This amounts to $24.29 of federal subsidy for every million BTUs (MMBTU) of energy created. Contrast this with a natural gas price of $7.00 per MMBTU. That doesn't even factor in various state subsidies which push the overall subsidy up to over $4.00 per gallon of gasoline displaced. So, taxpayers pay this, but then they still have to buy the ethanol. Any way you slice it, this looks like a bad deal to me.

After I went through the calculation, I asked the legislators if they were aware that there was a $4 subsidy behind every gallon of gasoline displaced, on top of the cost of the ethanol. I saw some shocked looks in the room.


A sobering analysis of ethanol (groan).  When combined with the issues of soil depeletion, I've pretty much written off ethanol as any kind of realistic solution.  However, I think that ethanol is one of the things that most people really think is going to replace oil, if they think about it at all.  It sounds so appealing - brings back fuzzy memories of the Little Golden Book image of farming, etc.  And compare that to the mental image of ME oil!  

It's going to be a hell of a hard thing to break though that and convince people that it's not the answer.

I used to think ethanol was the answer myself. That is why I chose to work on it in graduate school. But I started to become more pessimistic after I understood the economics and the energy balance a little better. After I dug pretty deeply, I was really shocked at what I found. The emperor really has no clothes in this case.

The sad thing is that I was gullible enought to think you could trust someone like the USDA not to publish results that lean more toward "false" than just "misleading". But their papers are a perfect example of the pseudoscience that permeates the ethanol advocates have embraced.


By the way, I did the calculation a little different from you, but came up with about the same answer. This myth seems to have been initiated by Wang at Argonne, who coauthored the USDA reports. Last week I sent him an e-mail, in which I stated the following:

I am very puzzled by your 3rd slide, and need some clarification. You show that it takes 0.74 MMBTU to make 1 MMBTU of ethanol, but 1.23 MMBTU to make 1 MMBTU of gasoline. That simply can't be correct, on multiple grounds, if you are considering the entire process in both cases.

First, it is well-known that the EROI of getting crude oil out of the ground is about 10 to 1. A barrel of oil contains about 6 MMBTU, so it will take 0.6 MMBTU to get that barrel out of the ground. Processing that barrel also takes about 10% of the energy contained within the oil, or another 0.6 MMBTU. I think this is what you show in your GREET model, and is also consistent with my knowledge of refineries. Almost all of the BTU value in a barrel of oil gets converted into useful products. The BTU inputs for transportation of the oil and gasoline are very small compared to those for extraction and refining of the oil. The bottom line is that we have inputs of about 1.2 MMBTU to get products out worth 6 MMBTU. Or, to put it on a 1 MMBTU basis, we input 0.2 MMBTU to produce 1 MMBTU of fossil fuels, NOT 1.23 MMBTU as your slide indicates.

I am planning on blogging this pretty soon, but I was waiting to see if Wang replies. I will also take your calcuations into account.



Thanks for your contributions.  Keep up the blogging.  I'm writing articles for local papers and appreciate the resource for ethanol-specific issues.

What do you know about the logistics of ethanol distribution?  Aside from the financial and energy subsidies that mask the true costs, and aside from the sheer magnitude of acreage required, recent reports (in MSM no less) are revealing constraints in the system.  Constraints, both known and unknown, will soon have their day in the sun.  "Everything would be just peachy if it weren't for ....[insert reason du jour]."  For want of a nail, and all that.

I spent a few years as a pipeline engineer (ran smart pigs, designed/maintained cathodic protection, etc.) for one of the majors and have a pretty good grip on the issues of running a water-miscible fluid through steel pipes.  But what does the actual ethanol distribution system look like?  What are the choke points?

The cost of complexity is much higher than most people understand.


Ethanol can't be mixed at the refinery, because it can't be sent through the pipelines. So, infrastructure is being added to blend it at the terminals. This is obviously more expensive, and will contribute to higher gas prices. Ethanol must be transported to the terminals via trucks and tank cars, and they are scrambling to find enough to get the ethanol to the terminals. Rail is a big bottleneck. I expect that we will start to see shortages, and then maybe some EPA waivers to alleviate them.
The criteria? Voting at least twice in favor of DeLay's pet initiative that would indemnify the manufacturers of gasoline additive called MTBE, a likely human carcinogen that has polluted groundwater supplies across the country; accepting at least $20,000 money from DeLay's PAC, which is funded in part by MTBE interests; accepting money from oil and gas interests; and, perhaps most significantly, voting to change House ethics rules to shield DeLay from a congressional investigation.

According to the Conservation Voters report, Kennedy accepted some $29,500 from DeLay's PAC though August '05 and about $13,000 in MTBE-related donations through August '04. And, as noted above, he has voted to protect MTBE manufacturers--a matter over which the wrangling still persists.

Such actions might be easier to swallow if MTBE were not an issue in his home state. But it is. In Kennedy's district alone, at least four water systems have tested positive for the presence of MTBE. In the rest of the state, which Kennedy hopes to represent, a total of 27 water systems have tested positive for MTBE.

Having just read the Wikipedia article on Ethanol the authors would say you didn't factor in the savings on air pollution and war. Also millions of cars can use a percentage of ethanol in their tanks right now. I don't think that's true of any alternative fuel that can be scaled up quickly.  It's hard to  predict how the industry will evolve. Subsidies may dry up as the government deficit bites. People could decide to eat less meat in order to keep farmland producing fuel, for example the distillers grains could be made into burgers directly and not via cows.  Since ethanol sorta works while other ideas are pie in the sky I would be inclined to let it sort itself out.  
I tend not to buy the savings on air pollution - the latest "fad" in these ethanol plants is to use coal for the heat source to distill the ethanol - not exactly air pollution friendly.  

I didn't talk about energy issues at all, but one of these 50 million gallon/year plants uses enough natural gas to heat 15,000 homes.  What about the human costs of driving up the cost to heat homes for people at the poverty level?  

Regarding war, remember that we aren't at war over oil, we are at war to bring democracy to the middle east (wink).  As long as the US still uses imported oil, it will need to project power in the middle east.  Ethanol (at least in its current form) will never be a way out of this - the oil will be gone exactly one day before the US military leaves the area.

The bottom line - once we start arguing the relative merits of intangible things, the discussion fades into mere opinion.  If the government were out of the ethanol business entirely (no mandated usage, no subsidies for ethanol, no subsidies for corn), there would be no ethanol being produced for fuel in this country - it simply isn't cost competetive with oil even at current oil prices.  Since the government is in the business, what I would like to see would be a plan that recognizes that the free market, smelling the profits that the government has put in place, will develop the wrong kind of ethanol in the cheapest possible manner, and that there will be long-term ramifications for that behavior in lost opportunity costs.    How about the government mandate co-generation (greenhouse gas neutral), along with strong incentives for conversion to biomass (which I'm not convinced will work all that well, but am open minded)?  There seems to be no vision about where this all will lead, just blundering around throwing money at the special interests with the largest hats in the ring.


Having just read the Wikipedia article on Ethanol the authors would say you didn't factor in the savings on air pollution and war.

According to this, the pollution issue is overrated, and possibly flat out false:

The California Air Resource Board (CARB) researched this issue at length and found that ethanol-blended gasoline does not help California meet the goals of the Clean Air Act as it relates to reducing ozone formation, particularly during the summertime, and, in fact, ethanol actually increases the emission of pollutants that cause ozone during the summer months.

As far as war goes, more ethanol would not have kept us out of war, since at best ethanol could satisfy a fraction of our energy needs. We would still need mideast oil.

I would like to say I'm very impressed with the quality of the discussions going on here. It's encouraging to see productive discourse on such a complex topic. Typically discussions on the net tend to degenerate into testosterone driven flame pits.

Are Humans Smarter than Yeast? The answer is obviously no. The Bush administration plan to conserve energy is all the evidence you need.  The Bush administration's criminal invasion of Iraq is full disclosure of the plan to deal with Peak Oil. It is a complete lesson in the harsh realities of human behavior. Those with wealth and power will steal resources from the poor and weak. Unfortunately there aren't enough resources to steal. I suppose we could start using genocidal weapons to increase the resource yield of the conquered territories. It takes a solid background in science to totally understand Peak Oil and its consequences. The vast majority are no smarter than yeast at understanding the big picture consequences of Peak Oil. Any humane response to Peak Oil will require enlightened leadership which Carter attempted to do. I'm not optimistic.  I'm not just a doomer.  I think the doom will be sudden and catastrophic.  At some point after peak some event will precipitate a complete breakdown of the supply chains that keep the economy rolling.  There won't be time to develop the complex alternatives to fossil energy till after the collapse. After the collapse the survivors will totally understand the concept of sustainability.  The US is currently maintaining huge financial and energy deficits. The current American way of life could be the peak of unsustainability.

Corn-to-ethanol quite literally constitutes burning food. If there is a huge surplus of corn, maybe that's not such a terrible thing to do.

But, as we get more and more dependent upon corn-to-ethanol as a major component of our liquid fuel mix, what happens when there is a bad crop year, due to to draught or whatever?  

And what will be the impact on food prices, as corn-to-ethanol drives up the cost of corn used for animal feed and direct human consumption?  Another example of 'external costs'.

No, in my view, corn-to-ethanol has LOSER written all over it. It will of course be heavily touted by congress persons from the major farm states, and the federal government will roll it out as an example of how they're already ahead of the energy problem. But numbers have a way of stubbornly not going away, and corn-to-ethanol is still a LOSER, no matter how much lipstick you put on it.  

Great posts by all of you on this topic.You all agree that ethanol (from corn) is profitable because of government mandates and subsidies. However, this does not mean that food (sugar,corn,soybeans,palm oil) to fuel will not be a huge industry in the future. As Kunstler says, there is a psychology of previous investment which determines that the liquid fuel economy be held together at any cost. Lots of activities are subsidized by the government (e.g. the Iraq adventure) yet have a healthy future.It looks like ethanol is another one.  
BrianT -

The US Iraq adventure has a healthy future?

I just meant that in my opinion the US is staying there for the long run (until the last barrel is pumped out) regardless of the cost(subsidy by the taxpayer). I don't believe that George's replacement will pull the troops out. I might be wrong.  
BrianT -

Well, yes... we may have a future in Iraq but is sure as hell doesn't look all that healthy.

hi all I've been reading this site for some time now and think it's the best on the net. much thanks to the creators. anyway I'll just chime in here with this. has anybody thought about getting filthy rich off those fools who go to the gym and walk on tread mills?  why do they plug those things into ac milloins to be made  

just a thought

Better to sell those folks a bicycle.  They can save gas by not driving to the gym.  Save money by not having a membership.  And save more gas by using their bicycle (or their feets) to run local errands.
I have mentioned the same thing to some friends. We could in theory generate some of our own power for lighting and such if exercise bikes and trendmills were connected to some kind of energy conversion/storage device. Of course it wouldn't take long for us to find out just how much we take energy for granted.

Imagine that you could only drive your electric car after you charged it up by walking on your treadmill. You would certainly stay in good shape.


I've heard of some parents doing this.  Forcing their kids to create the power to watch TV by peddling a bike.  So their kids won't be couch potatoes.


You understand, not doubt, that given the inefficiencies in energy conversion, and the increased mass of your electric car ... that you would have to walk much, much, further than you would later drive.  Walk 100 miles on the treadmill in order to drive 3 in a 1000 lb car?
I live in a small town in n. cal. anyway, my wife just got back from the gym were she ran on a tread mill. distance from our house to gym, about 1.3 miles she drove to the gym. now she just left our house to get some wine from our local co-op. distance from our house to the co-op about .75 miles. the wine comes from argentina,  my wife ain't stupid but come on this whole country does this daily.  there's my rant, now let's start makin big bucks on the solutions to these rediculous problems. It,s the only way they'll get solved
There's obviously a safety issue.  I got semi-panhandled once on my 4 mile walk past the gym to the bookstore.  A bike makes you a little less accessible for such things, but obviously a woman has greater concerns than an (adult) male.

Your post did prompt me to look this pedal generator up again:

The problem as I see it is that at 100w or so, it takes ten hours to grind out a kilowatt-hour, or 10 or 15 cents worth of electricity.  On the other hand, ten hours (perhaps not all together) can easily grind out 120 miles on a bike, displacing much more gasoline, in dollars and cents.

the smartest people on the net come to this site.  can we figure how to plug our bikes into our cars. if we get the greedy involved any thing is possible
Just a quick note that I walked to the bookstore today and picked up a copy of American Theocracy by Kevin Philips.

I've only just started reading, but Mr. Philips is more dire in his predictions than I expected.  The case put forward in the first few pages is that American dominace was fueled by oil, and will most likely decline without it.  He says quite directly that the American people are not being told the geologic realities of oil depletion, nor the strategic fallout of that decline.

FWIW, I suspect most folks here would find the book interesting.

I listened to part of a review of it on the radio, yes, I want a copy, it sounds like a good one.
I'd be interested in your response to my post yesterday regarding Phillips. I haven't read the book, so I value your opinions as much as his. I haven't even picked up the book.
Shorter George F. Will:  Global warming is nothing compared to the hot wind whistling between my ears.

It's self-satisfied lapdogs like George who are condemning my children's future for the sake of bigger short-term profits for Exxon.  Hey, I'm all for makin' money.  A lot of it, in fact.  But ignoring global warming will cause more death and destruction than those cretins in al-Qaeda could ever hope to accomplish.

I read his piece earlier in the day, and it reminded me of wind, but it wasn't whistling between his ears.

I honestly don't know what his true motives are.  I suspect it is just pure punditry - arguing that those pesky environmentalists are wrong because he wants to be right.

many years ago a friend had a pipe dream. rebuild the nations highways so they create electricity. just think about how an old sewing machine works, you know the ones w/ the foot pedal. well after the thc wore off I thought he was still on to something. so after years of thinking about it I've concluded that all that potental energy is still there and is waiting in shock absorbers. there's alot of energy in a pot hole. millions to be made
This seems like a very silly idea, but someone did actually build something similar.  A prototype.  It was a plate in the road that depressed as each car passed, generating hydraulic pressure, and in turn electricity.

Silly of course because it only "steals" energy off each passing car, and the car must re-accelerate (burn gas) to compensate.

After a brief on-line discussion we decided that the only sensible place for such a thing would be at the bottom of a ramp or something, where everyone was coasting or braking.  Then you'd only be stealing from the hybrids (who might have used that braking to charge their own batteries.)

yes entropy is the devil w/ this idea but I think the shock absorber thing???? I don't know just a thought
A few years ago some guy in Texas proposed putting little wind generators along the state's highways and using the wind from passing semi trucks to generate electricity.

I thought it was kind of cool ...

I saw my first $4/gal gas price sign for this year, it was for the top grade, but the next two grades were $2.90 and $2.80.

A Professor Pianka in Utah, a fellow I'd prefer to call Saint Pianka, is being excoriated in the Drudge Report for telling the truth. Nutty Creationist loons are jumping all over the guy, for saying: Mother Earth would be better off without 90% of humans on it. Well, Duh!

Matt, I love you like a brother but if you continue to endorse an idiotic means of transportation by using the word "Segway" to mean "segue" I'm gonna slappa you face. The use of their name brand to substitute for a normal English word was exactly what the makers of that $6k roller skate had in mind, don't fall for it.

Sometimes the censorship in the US isn't even subtle, I was listening to NPR last night and the BBC's new show was playing, and they started talking about controversial Middle-East stuff. Suddenly the program switched to a re-run of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" in which the subject was whether Judge Scalia used a dirty gesture or not. Click. Like that. Real news is often very hard to get in the US, I often find better, and much quicker, coverage of US events on say, the UK's Guardian newspaper site, or some Aussie site, than in any US site.

Just some things, blah blah meh.

Sometimes the censorship in the US isn't even subtle, I was listening to NPR last night and the BBC's new show was playing, and they started talking about controversial Middle-East stuff. Suddenly the program switched to a re-run of "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" in which the subject was whether Judge Scalia used a dirty gesture or not. Click. Like that.

I hear everything else you are saying, but I don't buy this. More likely there is some other explanation. This almost never happens. What city/station was this?

NPR on 88.5 in the San Francisco Bay Area.
I mean, it's NPR, they're not exactly known for either censorship or right-wing views, but just the opposite, so I don't know what it could be except that the station had a technical problem. During 90% of my talk/news listening time I'm tuned into NPR/BBC. Why? Because I'm looking for the coverage of stories just like the one you mention. And they always deliver.

And when "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" comes on, click, I'm gone. Better have a good Black Sabbath CD in. "Car Talk" with those two knuckleheads from Harvard is the only decent "entertainment" NPR can provide as far as I'm concerned.

NPR has been the best radio in the US for a long, long time. Stern was the only alternative "truth," and he was only on four hours a day and is now "disappeared."

national petroleum radio
national pentagon radio
IMHO all major news sourses are oil whiped, that's were the money is
Even the BBC is finding it hard to report the
truth these days. Last night there was a 'debate'
about whether Iran posed the greatest threat at
the moment. Not a mention of Peak Oil nor of the
the fact that Iran is seeking to secure its long
term future via the nuclear option. Nor any
mention that of the fact that the US is desperate
to maintain control of oil flow from the Middle
East. No mention that the Iran 'problem' dates
back to the early 1950s. Just superficial
analysis, based on the rantings of whoever shouts
loudest most of the time.

Of course the hawks in the debate cited the
economic 'development' of places like Dubai as
evidence of how western influence had improved
everybody's life, rather than recognising that
all the development is Dubai etc. is totally
unsustainable and adding massively [per capita]
to the global warming problem.

As long as golf courses, and artifical ski resorts
on the fringes of deserts are seen as desirabe,
there really is no hope. As long as helicopters
and gold plated air conditioners are seen as
necessary adjuncts to modern life, we
really are f***ed.

At least The Independent has got the balls to
tell it how it is on the environmental and
energy fronts. Shame about the promotion of
cars and airline holiday packages, but The
Indepenmdent is try to be responsible some
of the time, unlike most meadia sources,
which are irresponsible all of the time.

I particularly liked the report on the MPs who
have finally recognised that the entire
economic system needs to be radically changed
(fairlu immediately) if we are to have any
hope of a future for our grandchildren.  

However, the chance of the economic system
changing prior to an economic catastrophe
induced by peak oil and global warming does
seem to be close to zero at this point of

iran issue

In 1980, the US and Britain engineered Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran in an attempt to crush its new revolutionary Islamic government. That war inflicted nearly one million casualties on Iran. President Ahmadinejad led volunteers in the war.

Saddam should face trial for his many crimes, but in a proper legal venue, under full western and international law. The trial should be moved at once to the UN tribunal at the Hague. A fair trial will establish an important international legal precedent.

Dead dictators tell no tales. If allowed to fully testify, Saddam would reveal the whole sordid story of America's long, intimate collaboration with his regime, and how the U.S. and British governments of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher encouraged, armed and financed Iraq to invade Iran.

"However, the chance of the economic system
changing prior to an economic catastrophe
induced by peak oil and global warming does
seem to be close to zero at this point of

I agree, Kevin. Isn't it amazing? We're not going to do a damn thing until there's a major collapse.

It's Bob Shaw and his yeast thing ...