Peak Oil Forum - a final comment

Until now I have tried to give you the fairly honest reporting of what the folks said at the Peak Oil Forum, without indulging too much in editorial comment. Since this is going up on a Friday, when our readership drops off, maybe I won't get drummed off the page until Monday, but I thought I would conclude my review of the Peak Oil and the Environment Forum with a few comments from an opinionated observer. They should not be taken as detracting from a meeting I found enlightening, and full of information and contacts.

The one thing that surprised me as much as anything over the course of the meeting is that I don't recall anyone saying "slow down." I only starting noting this after a short while, but (and I apologize but I can't find the comment with the graph that was posted by someone about a week ago on this) here is the savings

The faster you drive, the more fuel you use. For example, driving at 65 miles per hour (mph), rather than 55 mph, increases fuel consumption by 20 percent. Driving at 75 mph, rather than 65 mph, increases fuel consumption by another 25 percent.
Hey, reinstate the speed limits, it works - well it works if you want to save gas, perhaps not (cynic here) if you want to get elected.
Roger Bezdek pointed out that the Hirsch Report is based on a 2% depletion, a number we have noted earlier that Saudi Arabia now admits to. The year has seen significant data that this is probably too low. The number that Chris Skrebowski uses seems to be 5% and Schlumberger have been reported as thinking it might go to 8%.

Bill McKibben, Pat Murphy and those others who said that investing in technology is a waste of time, got me irritated, and less inclined to listen to what they were saying. As Governor Schweitzer said "if you showed up at the meeting, you were part of the problem!" (Because you used energy to get there). We have to find new ways of doing things, and new technologies. The organizers had found folk that are making a difference and put them in the program, there are lots of other things that need to be done, and aren't, at least at the level that will be needed. But burying your head in the sand is river talk (to be polite) and . . well never mind.

I don't know enough about Methanol - the fuel source that Ken Deffeyes brought up at the end of his talk, and so will go and read up some more about it. Somebody also suggested that the smart thing to drop the cost of ethanol, which I have said in the past was in part due to the $0.15 per gal chemical used to denature it, would be to use gasoline as then denaturing agent instead. Good idea, I think.

I didn't think that we had enough discussion about coal, though given that it was not until we heard the talks that we knew that Roger Bezdek was looking to 5 100,000 bd CTL plants per year, among other things, to get us back in balance, and that there would be so much debate about sequestration. You know what, methane has been sitting in the ground for millennia and more (that's natural gas) if we replace it with carbon dioxide what logical argument can you have to say it will pose a threat? To a degree I have the same sort of argument for those who worry about burying nuclear waste. Uranium comes out of the ground, even relatively close to the surface in somewhat porous ground in Wyoming it is not a big issue. Putting it into the basalt (a much less permeable rock) and deeper is rationally safer. But I understand that this is another issue where facts are not really as good a topic to debate as opinions. Ah, well!

I thought that Michael Klare's talk on the potential for wars, was, if anything, understating the problem, particularly since he did not say anything, until the questions, about the East China Sea. As Dave has posted here in the past, this is a very volatile situation and I was surprised that it and other parts of the East got as little attention as they did. As Prof G noted on Wednesday, there are already problems in India and Pakistan, to name but two. I know, too little time, so big a topic . . .

And that brings me to James Hansen. Okay, so I'm prejudiced because he doesn't think our concerns about the Gulf Stream have any merit (despite the signs that the Gulf is getting hotter, and Europe having had some serious cold this winter). So, having just read "State of Fear" I noted that Michael Crichton had also actually given accessible historic data. I don't know where to find the historic data for Europe, but I did check up on one place in about the middle of the US. And I looked up the historic temperature record. Here is what I found:

If you are curious, you might want to go to the site and check out the historic temperature record for someplace you might be interested in. Now, I have previously posted on glaciers retreating in Alaska, (I've seen where they are and were), but I guess, since around 1930 it was apparently hotter than now, I'm not quite as convinced as I was.
And if that doesn't make me the pariah of the week, let me just make a comment on David Pimental's presentation. I wrote that I had a rapped knuckle, because as jdeely pointed out when I used something like Pimental's numbers I was corrected.

We don't use 20 million barrels of gasoline a day, we use 20 million barrels of OIL. We consume 9,105,000 barrels of gasoline per day... or 382.4 million gallons
So, Ethanol is already providing more than twice the percentage that you calculated... it doesn't look like that 5% will be much of a problem.
"But the renewable fuels mandate coupled with the phase-out of MTBE and state fuel requirements is expected to produce a need for about 395,000 barrels of ethanol a day, or 6.1 billion gallons in 2006, according to the Department of Energy If we really do produce this much ethanol this year then ethanol production will be about 4.2% of gasoline producion on a gallon for gallon basis. 5% is starting to sound really easy!
He has more comments under the post covering Pimental's paper. And I have to agree with the sentiment that if someone whips through a paper full of statistics, and you check one or two and find them wrong, it leaves a bit of a question as to the validity of the rest. For example he quoted a percentage of energy going in for irrigation, but if I remember from one of the talks, there is only a percentage of the country, and even of some states, where irrigation is needed.

I did learn, re biofuels, the reason we don't use the more productive rapeseed in the US, relative to Europe, apparently it is too warm here. And I wished I had had more time to listen to Joseph Tainter (or that he had more time to talk).

In regard to the comments on the Canadian tar sands, and the decision as to whether they come here - it seems to me that if the Chinese have a contract for delivery, and a Canadian firm has a contract for delivery, then how can that be sent South ? But then I'm not a lawyer. As to whether it is the greatest evil under the sun, no I don't think it is - it is a resource like any other, that is messy to get out and prepare, but that will, in the short term, help us out when we need the resource. Hopefully they can find technology that will reduce the environmental impact (or were we not supposed to try and find any such ?) And in that regard, I don't believe that EROI numbers are immutable, and technological advances may well, as someone said, make those currently being waved around with passion, something quite different in a year or two.

Well this already too long, but, in regard to:

"O.K., Heading Out, time to come clean and admit really have something of a crush on Megan Quinn, don't you...."
He so does. It's totally obvious. =)
She, apparently gave the best end speech that some had heard, and functioned very effectively in being MC, and since I did not hear the speech, and missed her movie twice now, I thought a little extra recognition would be fair.
Did anyone discuss the merits of rapid depletion and a quick, life-changing crash versus a slow, painful devolution in which anything with carbon in it will be burned up to try to keep the system going?

Thanks for your coverage, by the way. I wish I could have been there, too.

Heading Out, first, thanks again for keeping us up to date on a conference that many of us would have found interesting but due to pressing work obligations or travel issues, could not be there for....
Now, to the light good natured fun, let me tackle this one...since I was the one that started the string...
"O.K., Heading Out, time to come clean and admit really have something of a crush on Megan Quinn, don't you...."
(my little bit of ribbin' ya..., then a responder got in on it with me...
 He so does. It's totally obvious. =)

and your closing remarks...
 She, apparently gave the best end speech that some had heard, and functioned very effectively in being MC, and since I did not hear the speech, and missed her movie twice now, I thought a little extra recognition would be fair.

I keep hearing that, and I assume us TOD folks will be given a chance to read her speech, and where to find it....and I do hope you took my very innocent remark as good natured teasing you on the subject, your admiration of her is obvious, and in that, it is shared, I have read as many of her words as I can easily find, and she comes across as clever, well informed, logical in her thinking, but avoids the dark trap of "woes me, nothing can be done", all around a very interesting and pioneering woman of intellectual greatness...(by the way, remember the days on the school yard when us guys teased each other, "Billy likes Suzy!", and you later found they were just teasing from envy....because they would have  enjoyed being in your place getting to speak to her..., guys, we never grow up....:-)

On a much more philosophical note....(important text ahead..)
Your remark...
<Bill McKibben, Pat Murphy and those others who said that investing in technology is a waste of time, got me irritated, and less inclined to listen to what they were saying. As Governor Schweitzer said "if you showed up at the meeting, you were part of the problem!" (Because you used energy to get there). We have to find new ways of doing things, and new technologies.>

This is SO MUCH at the center of the philosophical issue of energy depletion....and resource depletion/environmental degradation, that I have argued it with fellow "depletion/degradation" aware friends and thinkers many times:

There seems to be two ways in which "Peak Oil" or "Resource Depletion" are viewed:
(a)  "Thank Heaven, the filthy, consumptive, greedy rich and fat society is doomed, the collapse is finally here!  The Industrial age with it's dirty dangerous factories, mass produced cars and plastics and household goods, and jet set speeds are not humane, and they are an affront to nature and real humane sustainability.
The oil and gas is running out.  Get rid of IT...the luxury, the modernity, the wealth, and back to a simpler age, more in tune with nature, and the first that should go is THE CAR, the hated car, it is that evil machine that has done this to us, but it IS OVER. There will be no technical fix, and there SHOULD BE NO TECHNICAL FIX.  Trying to save this culture is DOOMED, and we are free of the capitalist, consumerist, CAR culture at last!
The whole culture, built around THE CAR is corrupt, it is a foul and a bad system that IS FINISHED."
(this seems to be very common here on TOD)

(b) "We have a problem.  Resources used to maintain our current standard of living and current view of freedom, mobility and culture, and the environmental damage done by the current system are not sustainable, and we consume resources faster than they can be replaced, and damage environments faster than nature can repair them.
We must move now to try to maintain our culture by attempting to use our options, our resources and our imaginations to move our culture to a sustainable basis.  These will be very big changes, and major sacrifice will be needed, along with use of design, engineering and organizational skill to change our current system and modify it to reduce consumption, operate much cleaner, waste much less and reuse and recycle much more.  Used carefully, there are enough resources to retain our culture and our ideas of reasonable well being, mobility and security for the world's people, but only if we are very careful and very inventive in the path we take.  But we can rebalance our consumption, broaden our options, enhance real democracy and enhance our culture with a more civil community and artful lifestyle, and explore design, humane and people oriented science, and cultural organization not yet even dreamed of, IF we make the effort NOW. "

Notice the difference?

Option (a) does not see the situation as "Our culture has a problem" but instead sees it as "Our culture IS THE PROBLEM.
Peak Oil is just one of the greatest events to be seen as a tool to finish what is viewed as a corrupt and evil culture that should not be saved, and any attempt to do so simply extends a scourge (call it Industrialism, call it Western-ism, call it Capitalism, call it Modern Technical Society, it doesn't matter...) that must be removed.  It is the "modern consumer capitalist technical culture that has held mankind back from achieving "true culture", or "community values" or "spiritual values" or....nirvana?

Option (b) takes the view that Industrial Modernism and technology, for all it's faults (and it surely has many) is well worth saving.  It has lowered misery, enhanced choice, attempted to reach democratic values for as many as possible, and freed humans to enjoy quality, art, culture, communication and transportation, and provided a widely varied and interesting existence to the people it has touched.  It views technology as not only useful but as art form, and that the exploitation of resources was and in some way will always be a crucial and needed part of expanding mankind's achievement, meaning, and variety of life on Earth.
It is a culture that must change, yes, a culture that must improve it's abilities to be sustainable, and to much MUCH better husband it's resources if it wants to continue broadening mankind's choices, freedom and well being, but that it is a culture well worth saving, a culture that provides it's own unique brand of human community, art, quality, and yes, even embodies the spiritual quest to bring mankind closer to the Creator, as man joins in the creation process.  We have only now began to travel down the road to real, humane modernism.

I beg you to notice that neither of the above options mention "specific" technologies or techniques.  No mention of solar, wind, nuclear, coal to liquids, gas to liquids, corn to fuel, or for that matter, no mention of return to horses and subsistence farming.
Take notice that neither of the above options have any outside sources, as far as where to get the technology, what technology is mathematically proven, what options are tested by the government.

This is because neither of the above options are "scientific".  We are not talking about "means to an end" but about "meaning" itself.

We are not talking about what is "doable" but instead about what is "desirable".  

In fact, we are looking at two aesthetic choices.  Both recognize the serious, perhaps catastrophic, effects of resource depletion.  Both recognize the serious, perhaps catastrophic issues of environmental degradation.  Both acknowledge the need for IMMEDIATE AND GREAT CHANGE.  Both admit to the need for sacrifice, perhaps great sacrifice.  

So how do they differ?  In the goals.  One sees a culture not worth saving, in which resource depletion and environmental degradation become almost "tools" to speed the death of what is viewed as an evil and diseased culture.

The other sees a great, perhaps the greatest, culture facing a crisis.
It feels and sees the art of the motorcar, the aircraft, the lit cities as one of the triumphs of human history.  It sees television, radio, the personal computer as the triumph of ages of sacrifice, leading to better living for the masses.  But it realizes that the consumption of resources to build and maintain this culture have been very high, and may not be sustainable at this level.  But the goal should be to try to salvage the art of the technical culture by using the tools of the technical culture....research, inventive use of materials, art, design, combinations of management, financial, and technical skills to improve our sustainability, to maintain a culture of prosperity, choice, inventiveness, and yes, mobility.

It is the debate above that determines the action we take:  Emotions become Thoughts.  Thoughts become words.  Words become actions.  And actions, in mass, become culture.

I once heard a historian say of the Fall of Rome, that the biggest single factor among all the factors that caused the event may have been "the lack of collective  will to save Rome."

So it may be for the "Modern" technical culture.

Go back to our two options.  Option (a) says essentially, "Modern technical culture cannot be saved, and even if we could save it, we should not."

Option (b) says, "Modern technical culture can be saved, partially by using the very tools that created modern technical culture, and if it can be saved, IT MUST BE SAVED.

Which of these two choices we side with will be moral and aesthetic decisions, not technical or "scientific" ones.  It is the GOAL that will construct the game.

Now, I hope you see why I sign my work....

Heading Out, send the text above to Magen Quinn, I am always looking to score "brownie points"! ;-)

Roger Conner   known to you as ThatsItImout

Options (a) and (b) are both bogus.  Neither can keep up with an exponentially breeding  human population.  The voluntary population control movement of the 1960s failed.  (And think what a different world we would be living in now if people worldwide had answered the call of ZPG in 1968, and the population had stabilized at 3 million worldwide and 180 million US!)

So the real issue is how to control the human population:
Option (c) let nature take its course (famine, pestilence, nuclear war)
Option (d) forced sterilizations, genocides

Edit: 3 billion worldwide
Well said Micro. We're headed for a "nice" game of Last Man Standing and it ain't gonna be pretty.

And I wish I had the kind of money it takes to decamp for Kiwiland myself!

I agree, Micro,

Man, I've spent the last 30 years thinking that I really like industrial modernity -- well, at least modern medicine and cars and Interets and all that -- but that having 7 billion humans on the Earth fighting like cats and dogs over resources would just become a nightmare ... which it has.

I suppose the "optimistic" answer is to build thousands of Arcosantis where we can all live in little cells in the beehive, but this to me is not about what humanity and freedom and dignity are all about.

Since farmland devoted to fuel production globally will increase dramatically each year, I would assume that total acreage devoted to food production has peaked. Therefore I assume total food production globally has peaked or will peak very soon. I cannot foresee the global population increasing continually as total food supply decreases (I would think rather dramatically as the crops for fuel industry explodes).
Farmland, Food & Energy, and Jay Hanson

I'm certainly no expert on food production, but it is my understanding that while organic farming can be more profitable per acre than standard farming (less use of fossil fuels & chemicals), the yield per acre is lower.  Therefore, we will need more land, using organic farming, to provide the same amount of food that we do now.  This sets up the problem of land used for food versus fuel--both food producers and fuel producers will need more land.  Of course, a lot of small "Victory Gardens" will help quite a bit.

It seems to me that we are rapidly approaching a point where most people's primary focus will be on how to pay their food and energy bills.  I wonder if the energy riots we have seen on the Indian subcontinent are a sign of things to come worldwide.  

In an interview a couple of years ago, Jay Hanson (I checked the link, and it is no longer available), said that most people are getting too hung up on the technical aspects of post-Peak Oil.  He said the key problem is how do we control men when there is no economic growth?

I have wondered for some time about Jay's choice of his retreat, the Big Island of Hawaii.  I am beginning to wonder if he chose Hawaii because he thinks that the biggest threat we face results from food and energy riots, i.e., the Pacific Ocean is one heck of a big moat.   I wonder if the Big Island could technically be food self-sufficient?

He chose it because he loves it there.
I wonder if the Big Island could technically be food self-sufficient?

Not with its current population.  

One question that doen't seem to get addressed is the gross over consumption of food by the developed economies. Hence we assume that the amount of food demanded is the amount needed. It is well documented that the health of the UK population improved during the rationing in WW2. I am not suggesting anything as drastic but there is certainly room for redistribution and rationalisation in the current food chain. Shock horror - Big Macs Must Go ;-)
While the health of the UK population increased during the rationing period, that had more to do with a more equitable distribution of resources than with less food being consumed.  Pre-WWII many many of Britian's poor were unable to aquire reasonable amounts of healthy food.  Rationing was combined with the introduction of free school lunches for poor children, OJ rations for all young children, and milk and eggs for pregnant mothers.  I think that was what really impacted Britian's health.
I don't go out to eat often, but when I do I notice one thing.  At the Buffets, people waste a lot of food.

I cook as a hobby, and I grow food as a hobby, and I study food plants as a hobby.  It shocks me that even those that come from low food regions in a few years of the Plenty of the US, adopt the same food habits of the Rest of the Citizens, or more accurately the wasteful folks.

 We as Americans waste a lot of Food.  We have laws in some cities that state that once its cooked and not eaten by the customer, we have to throw it out.  We have "Grand Buffets" where the left over food could feed some families for WEEKS!!  It all goes to waste!

So yeah, as the end of our "Easy Eating" Lifestyle comes to and end we will see the end of the Buffets, or at least the end of them as we now know them to be.

Hey I am moving to a small town,, How many buffets are there, I bet not a single one.  Gee I wonder why??

It isn't just buffets. Fast food restaurants throw away enormous amounts of unsold food. They usually keep enough food sitting there to fill your order immediately (unless you order something unexpected) so they can call it fast food.  Whatever isn't bought in a fairly brief period, gets tossed.
I used to volunteer at a soup kitchen, and they received  boxes and boxes of donuts that weren't quite fresh enough to meet Dunkin's standards. I wonder how many donuts Dunkin and KK toss every day
I disagree.   Some numbers to consider (from

  •   500 acres produces  7 million pounds of guava
  • 2,700 acres produces 36 million pounds of papaya
  • less than 400 acres produces over 1 million pounds of taro, a traditional food of Pacific Islanders

This all sounds very productive to me. With over 60,000 acres of agricultural land being recently released from sugar cane production, farming just this land would require supporting about 3 people per acre to be self-sufficient on the Big Island.  Statements from John Jeavons indicate that biointensive farming would support over 10 people per acre sustainably.
One of they ke advantages of Hawaii is the temperate climate.  They only use about half of the energy per capita that is used in Texas.
Westexas wrote:
"I'm certainly no expert on food production, but it is my understanding that while organic farming can be more profitable per acre than standard farming (less use of fossil fuels & chemicals), the yield per acre is lower."

I'm no expert either.  I mentioned a few days ago that I had the pleasure of hosting Joel Salatin last weekend.  He is a truely organic beef and poultry farmer in Virginia, not simply "organic" as a marketing ploy as the word has largely become.  
He convincingly explained to me his methods that are low input and high yield.  He improves his land each year and keeps a larger number of animals on his land than any of his neighbors.  The quality of life for his charges is very good as well--all free range, grass fed and "grass finished"--no feed lot time before slaughter.  The chickens follow the cattle sequentially on the same pastures, providing a more complex nutrition to the pasture grasses.  In his philosophy, the health of the pasture is what comes first and the health of the animals follows from that naturally.
So there is some hope for greater efficiency in organic methods--though it is definitely more labor intensive.
-Matt DC

"Free range" and "Organic" red meat will not save you from colon cancer. In this study, the lowest risk group of subjects got 0-30 g of red meat per day.

Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer
Ann Chao, PhD; Michael J. Thun, MD, MS; Cari J. Connell, MPH; Marjorie L. McCullough, ScD; Eric J. Jacobs, PhD; W. Dana Flanders, MD, ScD; Carmen Rodriguez, MD, MPH; Rashmi Sinha, PhD; Eugenia E. Calle, PhD
JAMA. 2005;293:172-182.
full paper is free but requires registration.

The risks from very modest quantities of red meat can probably be lessened somewhat, but not completely, by a high fiber diet. From PMID 16452248: "In colonic exfoliated cells, the percentage staining positive for the NOC-specific DNA adduct, O(6)-carboxymethyl guanine (O(6)CMG) was significantly (P < 0.001) higher on the high red meat diet. In 13 volunteers, levels were intermediate on the high-fiber, high red meat diet."

It's probably not very healthy for the aquifer, either. Nitrates are usually at unaccpetable levels within several miles of animal farms.

It's not so great for other reasons as well. Land use is greater and irrigation needs are generally greater to much greater than for plant foods.

Locally grown organic legumes are a better bet.

Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(2):217-20.    
Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities.
Darmadi-Blackberry I, Wahlqvist ML, Kouris-Blazos A, Steen B, Lukito W, Horie Y, Horie K.

It's probably not that legumes are all that. But, they have no heme iron, they are generally anticarcinogenic when cooked, they have lots of dietary fiber, and they are completely devoid of oxidized cholesterol.

Here is the problem I see with a dramatic increase in agricultural lands.  Current methods that involve high yields of crops require several things:

First lots of water - essentially irrigation to protect against drought, where the water is pumped from underground aquifers.

Secondly fertilizer - generally made from natural gas.  Essentially because monocultures tend to strip the nutrients from the soil (called by some mining the soil), so there is this constant need to replenish these nutrients.

Finally pesticides - generally also petrochemicals of one sort or another.

Of these, we have already talked a lot about limitations involving both oil and natural gas, so let me focus on water instead:

The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is a shallow water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. One of the world's largest aquifers, it lies under about 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of the eight states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. It was named in 1899 by N.H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, Nebraska.

The regions overlying the Ogallala aquifer are some of the most productive regions for ranching livestock, and growing corn, wheat and soybeans in the United States (often called the "breadbasket of America"). The success of large-scale farming in areas which do not have adequate precipitation and do not always have perennial surface water for diversion, depends heavily on pumping groundwater for irrigation.

The aquifer was first tapped for irrigation in 1911. Large scale use for irrigation began in the 1930s and continued through the 1950s, due to the availability of electric power to rural farming communities and the development of cheap and efficient electric turbine pumps. Because the rate of extraction exceeds the rate of recharge, water level elevations are decreasing. At some places the water table was measured to drop more than five feet (1.5 m) per year at the time of maximum extraction. In extreme cases, the deepening of wells was required to reach the steadily falling water table; and it has even been drained (dewatered) in some places.

Water problems aren't just a problem for agriculture.  There was a comment here at TOD about a place in Oklahoma where oil drilling had been suspended - the local town no longer had sufficient quantities of water required to support the drilling.

Depletion of the Ogallala aquifer is one reason I'm sceptical that present ethanol policies are sustainable.  Parts of the aquifer in Oklahoma and Kansas are projected to be dewatered, as in dry, by 2020. A recent study of water supply for the Texas panhandle shows several counties without groundwater by 2050.  Water use allocation will be on a lot more people's minds long before that.  Ethanol costs will rise just due to the cost of water.

Thank you for bringing up the Peak Aquifer article.

The USA is surrounded on 3 sides by gazillions of gallons of water and yet we threaten to run dry. Needed is a Manhaten Project level desalinazation effort, not just for the sake of US citizens, but for citizens all around the world who are running short of fresh water. Its amazing that MSM has not picked up on any of the Chicken Little warning signs. It will be too late when the sky does fall.

Desalinization via reverse osmosis is very energy intensive. It costs 2-5x as much as aquifer withdrawal. The memberanes for ro are also very expensive. And what do you do with the waste product?
As much as I can be convinced that farmers will find ethanol crops to become a tempting investment to put on their fields, I also suspect that more of them will be mounting or at least leasing spots for wind-generators at the corners of those fields, and the numbers may well show where the best energy/cash returns will come from in the long-term.  I'm sure a mixed 'energy crop' will make an appealing hedge.  

You might see more electric vehicles getting used in agriculture, making a more direct use of that wind.. either that, or that farmers would commit a portion of their cropland for biofuel that would be grown to assist in their own energy needs.  If anybody can find a way to improve eroei, I'll bet a farmer can.. the original scientists.

Some combination of engines powered by crop waste and zinc-air batteries recharged by wind might make farmers independent of motor fuel.  What they'd need after that is some source of fixed nitrogen.  I took a look at making a small Haber-process reactor using medical oxygen-concentrator tech to produce nitrogen, electrolysis to make hydrogen, SCUBA compressor to get it to the necessary pressure, and off-the-shelf stuff for reaction vessels and whatnot.  It looks expensive.

There is an easier way to fix nitrogen in the soil.  Some plants do it for you.  Soybeans are a noted example.
There is an easier way to fix nitrogen in the soil.  Some plants do it for you.

Actually its the symbotic bacteria 'in the roots' that fix the nitrogen.

If you could convince the bacteria to do this via genetic re-engineering w/o effecting other plant 'features'....

In a way, Nitrogen is less of a problem than Phosphorus and Potasium (the 'P' and 'K' in the basic N-P-K fertilizer analysis.
The other side of the coin is that P and K can get washed out or removed with products, but they aren't easily liberated to the atmosphere as nitrogen is.
As ethnaol comes in to production the price of oil will come down....
Wana bet, I'll take a thousand of that. As oil go's up Ethanol follows. CBOT for May currently $3.10/Gal.

"I assume total food production globally has peaked or will peak very soon."

This is the most perceptive, and most alarming, observation I have read in some time. It condenses and encapsulates most of the biodiesel discussion we've been having, as well as many other threads.

Think about this: roughly half of the nitrogen in human biomass comes directly from the natural gas based fertilizers. As we hit peak gas, we probably hit peak food.

In addition, half of cropland use prior to the invention of the internal combustion engine went to feeding horses and oxen for primary power and transportation. The conversion of this cropland to direct human consumption helped feed the green revolution.

Now it looks like we'll be drifting back to having half our cropland go for transportation; but via biofuels and ethanol.

Thus, we should expect the decline after "peak food" to be quite steep. Very sobering.

Another downside is that 19th century cities had large crews sweeping up horse manure, to be transferred to farmers in surrounding farms, which produced food for the cities. There don't appear to be such manure production possibilities from vehicular transportation.


Jim - I happen to agree. Where did you get that stat about nitrogen in human biomass? That doesnt quite make sense - how long have they been using nat gas to make fertilizer? what about people that were born and grew up before this? their nitrogen came from existing soil? perhaps you mean the 'marginal nitrogen in human biomass' comes from NG....
I believe the nitrogen in your bodily proteins are replaced with some frequency, which is why you need a constant supply in your diet, and why you constantly excrete it in your urine.

The figure that sticks in my head is 40% of total nitrogen comes from Nat.  Gas; it was in some science mag some time back.


To make it available to plants, the nitrogen in commercial fertilizers is in the form of ammonia, for which the nitrogen is pulled from the air and the hydrogen usually comes from natural gas.  Fertilizers made from sewage sludge (I know of at least a couple) would be the most obvious exception.  
"PEAK FOOD" Please tell me I'm wrong!

I am trying to get some theoretical numbers behind this concept.

Let's say natural gas peaks in 2010, and declines 2% per year. Let's also assume a 1:1 ratio in food production losses (natural gas provides most of the feedstock for fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides).

That would mean an 18.3% loss by 2020.

Let us then factor in losses from the decline of irrigated fields, orchards and pasturelands, due to the skyrocketing cost of pumping water from declining aquifers. Let us assume 5% off the top.

Let us also assume a 5% off the top loss from the associated  effects of peak oil (marginal farmers are driven out of business by skyrocketing costs for transport, fuel for tractors, plastic hoses and drip irrigation lines, etc.)

Now we are running at about 72% (rounded up).

Let us then assume that 10% of the remaining croplands are converted to energy sources (vegetable oils for biodiesel, carbon crops for ethanol, wood for fuel, etc.).

In this model we are down to 62% of present food production by the year 2020.  

Please show me how this model is wrong.

-- jim burke

youre not 'wrong' per se, but several of those assumptions will have quite wide dispersions.

a)natural gas decline will be greater than 2% -it depletes faster than oil
b)there are other ways to generate fertilizer - compost, manure etc - not as good as NG, but can supplement
c) the main thing is that we could grow MORE food if everyone grew a bit of their own (20-30%) that way less fuel would be used to transport food and people could use their own gardens compost to replenish the soil. one acre of permaculture can grow food for alot of people - a different and better model than current large scale ag.

My brother is working for the German company Uhde, and they are building large urea plants everywhere where there is cheap natural gas. Currently, they are building the largest urea plant of the world in Saudi-Arabia.
So Lastsasquatch, what is your take on how far NG depletion will have progressed by 2020?

as for b) and c), my wife and I are setting up a permaculture orchard/garden which should sustain us once it's completed, but it is astounding how much work it requires, how much high energy inputs for fencing, irrigation lines, etc. Also, in our town of 6,500, I don't know of anyone else who is trying it.

I've been trying without success to get people to start gardening (most people don't have any idea how to grow veggies -- even WITH rototillers and NG based fertilizers).

So let's say we'll ADD 5% for people growing victory gardens (the same we've subtracted for reduced irrigation farming); how much additional do you think we should subtract for NG depletion?

As the people with the money have a surplus of food and are facing a shortage of liquid fuel, I would estimate that possibly the 10% of farmland for fuel production is low. Were it to go to 25% then we would be down to 47% available for food production by 2020. Also, many foods for the middle class and wealthy are transported from the third world.Kunstler and others have theorized that these foods will no longer be available with a liquid fuel shortage-which makes it likely the 25% figure might be low. The people with the money will need liquid fuel not only for their cars, but also to transport the food from the third world.The equilibrium point would be when the cost savings from increased fuel are offset by increased food costs (for the middle class and wealthy). Barring a major shift towards the left led by Chavez-like leaders, this seems to be the most likely scenario (in my opinion).    
One solution is to eat less meat.  A vast amount of what the USA grows goes to animals.


Ammonia is made from hydrogen and nitrogen. We can get hydrogen from gas, or oil, or coal, or tar sands. Coal in China is the second cheapest, after natural gas in gas surplus countries like Quatar.
We are usually adding hydrogen to hydrocarbons in order to lighten them up and make them more useful.  Natural gas is the hydrogen champion, once NG depletes, then hydrogen will be much harder to come by.
Getting hydrogen from coal really means replacing some of the hydrogen in water with carbon.  This takes energy and also gives you loads of carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide.
Roscoe Bartlett mentioned and recommended the lecture by Albert Bartlett (no relation as far as I know).  It is entitled "Arithmetic, Population, and Energy", and you can view it here:

I also highly recommend it.

The real problem is that humans have been growing at an exponential rate, but we live in a finite world.  As the years go by, we place more and more demands upon the earth for resources of one sort or another, and oil and energy are just one aspect of this.

Once you grasp the problem we have with exponential growth, it becomes clearer why band-aid solutions just aren't going to cut it.

Even our economic system is built around growth.  An economy that isn't growing isn't considered a healthy one.

The problem with our culture is that it is based upon consuming more and more as quickly as possible.  Larger cars, larger homes filled with more consumer junk, that are further and further from the office.  As long as resources appear to be inexhaustable, then it doesn't appear to be a big deal, but we seem to be close to hitting a wall here.

The car culture itself is very resource intensive.  Both in terms of things like steel and so forth from which the cars are made, and also in terms of the energy required to build the cars and then to run the cars.  With peak oil, we face some stark choices though - it seems clear that the less energy that we use, the easier it is to deal with the problem.

One of the speakers (cannot remember who, right now - could have been Tainter) talked about how societies that live in resource constrained environments are fundamentally different from ones that are in a resource-rich environment.  I really need those audio/video things to come up as there are a number of talks I would like to hear again...

It is also worthwhile to note that MOST of the humans on this planet have never owned a personal automobile.  It is the privey of a relative few, the world's wealthiest.  But most would like to own one, given the choice. If the planet is already strained to support the current, relatively small "car culture", how in hades can it realistically be expected to support a larger, growing one?
Thanks for pointing me towards that lecture - it's fantastic.  It explains beautifully some of the problems we face with the simplest of maths.
I heard Albert Bartlett speak at the Relocalizaton Conference in Boulder.  He was very impressive, just the sort of intelligent, rational speaker we need on this topic.  We have the technology and knowledge to limit human population growth but not the will.  The same problem I see with the above intelligent, rational discussion of our response to the current dilemma.  While I wish we would use our technology to make our societies both comfortable and sustainable, I just don't see how it will happen given the magnitude of the task of educating +6 billion people about the issue and how best to deal with it.  Too many people in the world still don't know how to READ much less understand the complex science needed to comprehend the problem and possible solutions.  :'(  Maybe we should be sending them science programs on TV instead of "Desperate Housewives" and its ilk.
My thanks to you as well Ericy for posting the link to the lecture.  It is easily the most persuasive and elucidating lecture I've ever seen.  Using simple mathematics, he provides a tour de force that throws into stark relief the stunning challenge our species has stumbled upon.  I had already come to the conclusion that human suffering will continue to increase (let us hope not exponentially) as long as population growth continues unabated - but this lecture weaves a brilliant mathematical and factual tapestry that is digestible for all truly educated people.  
Two seriously disturbing thoughts for you all: first, people reproduce exponentially even in the most miserable of situations - as by definition our drive to make progeny is the cornerstone of all successful organisms.    Thus, as far as suffering goes, we haven't seen nuthin' yet.  Second, though done as well as humanly possible, I have a sick feeling in my gut that 90% of people could watch the presentation and still not really grasp the obvious implications.  Critical thinking/science skills are quite poorly developed in the majority of people, or at least that's my experience as an US native.  If you try to derive your views only from logic, you are treated like a freak because you end up with very controversial opinions!
I find it interesting on a discussion board with so much discussion about "peak oil"  that people talk about human population growing at an "exponential rate". Population growth has peaked !! And it did this a long time ago. So how can it still be growing at an exponential rate??

The percentage growth rate peaked in the 60s and the absolute population increase per year peaked in 1989. see - Sometime in the middle of this century the population of the world will peak and then will begin to decline.

There is also much talk on this board about different oil fields that have peaked and begun to decline. Well... the population of many countries has also peaked and begun to decline. Russia "peaked" years ago and is losing about half a million people a year. There are are many other countries already losing population.. Hungary, Poland, Germany etc... The latest country to join this list is Japan which  declined in population for the first time last year.

Yes, population growth rate has peaked but global population is continuing to grow. The current global human population is about 6.5 billion and expected to continue growing for about another 50 years when it will probably reach between 9 and 10 billion - about 50% more than present (should current trends continue).

Per capita fossil energy and food production both peaked over 20 years ago. A lot of those 9 billion or so are going to be even more poor and hungry than many of the current population. Somehow I don't think we are going to get that far, I'll be surprised if global population ever gets past 7.5 billion.

Roger:  I encourage you and all of us avoid the trap of classifying people with a broad and complex continuum of attitudes and opinions into two extremely diametrically opposed camps. This is the kind of fallacy that makes both Rush Limbaugh and Al Franken counterproductive. Of course there are some folks that fit neatly into your option (a) or option (b), but not the majority.

PO believers like us have already distanced ourselves from the so-called "cornucopians". I contend that peakoilers and cornucopians together comprise a small minority of the population, and that the majority are unaware, in denial, and/or too damn busy to consider it. I am surrounded by such people. In a town of 40,000 I doubt that I could scrape together 10 people (other than students at a local college) that are aware or concerned enough to come to a meeting. That's what scares the sh*t out of me. And in light of that, and considering the gravity of the issue, we don't need to split ourselves up into factions.


I appreciate your "much more philosophical remark" very much.  These two camps are very real, even if they are not very rational, and I imagine the history of the world over the next couple of centuries will play out as a struggle between them.  The Cavaliers and the Puritans all over again.  Peak Oil is interesting because for the moment it is bringing the two camps together, as on this forum - but only because they both have foresight.  Once we are actually inside the energy crunch, and everybody has to take practical sides, the huge philosophical dichotomy will reappear.  (I guess there are many historical models for this.  In current Iran both the pro-western students and the anti-western mullahs were against the Shah, but once the Shah was gone... we saw how that worked out.)  I often wish the world could simply be divided.  I mean, I'm a puritan - but that doesn't make me intolerant.  It's a value-system, not a Revelation.  If the technological Faustians wanted to head off to the back side of the moon with infinite energy fusion reactors and continue their meaningless travesty of a spiritual life where I didn't have to see them - I don't care.  As long as they leave my well-loved fragile planet alone.  The problem is obviously that a planet doesn't divide well.  And on the side of the McKibbens and Thoreaus and maybe even some of the mullahs too, I have to say it is tiring forever to be required to "share", when your own goal is simply high-quality homeostasis, with those whose value system requires eternal growth in quantity.

I think there is a more basic question:  Does peak oil/resources awareness matter?  By this I mean, would a population which understands the ramifications of these issues make rational choices in an appropriate time-frame?

If we look at some simple examples, the answer is no -  50 to 60k people are killed on the highways due to inappropriate driving; people are fat because they eat inproperly; people smoke even though it is a proven way to have health problems.  This list could be extended ad infinitum.

Look at the posters on TOD.  How many are actually doing something (or have done it) to modify their lifestyles rather then just talking about what should be done?

We may debate philosophical issues but when push comes to shove, I believe that nothing of value will be done until collapse is starting regarddless of how well people are informed. I think it will all come down to the Nuke their ass - We want gas school of thought.

I'm in full agreement with Jay Hanson's and Matt Savinar's view of the future.

Personally, Tod, I've done a lot in the last few years. I'm now on a farm raising most of my own food, ride a motorbike whenever possible, hedged with gold and silver, solar-powered house. Local underground community network, etc.

But, of course, most people haven't done a thing. I guess they think government or corporations or the people on television will take care of us.

In 1990, the Washington Post had an interesting thought piece. It said that in the 21st Century politics in America would be a clash between the "Greens" and the "Technologists."

The Oil Drum is a perfect example of that conflict already happening.


Good for you!!  If you believe Jay Hanson's premis that it's all in the genes, we've got it made.

I suppose I should remention that I've been doing the boondocks trip for 30+years.  Besides PV and alternative hot water systems (solar and a heat exchanger in the wood heater), we have fruit and nut trees, grapes, veggies, etc. A friend and I are considering getting some Irish Dexter cattle later this year since they are farmstead-sized. The wood for our heat comes from our trees that I fell and buck-up.

Although I designed and built our house over 25 years ago, it is still vastly more energy efficient then any current code requires and it also gets about 30% of winter heat from insolation.

My daily* driver is an '84 Subaru that still gets over 30mpg. (think of all the joules saved by not buying a replacement).

* actually, I usually only go to town for the mail twice a week for a total of 60 miles.

Sounds cool, Todd, You've been thinking about this for many years.

In the '70s I was all fired up to build a solar adobe with a radiant floor, but in the end I build a Rastra Block with a radiant floor. I even bought John Denver's old hot-water panels to help heat the floor.

But I heat the house with a wind-power option. So I use off-peak electricity to heat the floor at night. 3 cents a kilowatt hour, very cheap!

You know in the late '70's I used to hang out in the Packer Grill at CU Boulder with people like Al Bartlett, Paul Danish and even Allen Ginsberg and talk about things like this.

I guess we were the early pioneer doomers ...

The Dexters sound cool. We've got a large herd of registered Angus ... so, beef's no problem.

"Look at the posters on TOD.  How many are actually doing something (or have done it) to modify their lifestyles rather then just talking about what should be done?"


Exactly. The only people who even have time/energy/money to go to conferences, relocaliztion meetings, read books, etc. are generally (almost exclusively) upper middle class or wealthy.

If we define an upper middle class income as anything above $75,000/year (just my own personal estimate) then the vast majority of those of us in the "peak oil movement" are by definition not sustainable or even close to it. Even if they don't buy consumer goods and don't drive, just the economic output required to generate the $75,000 in income is incredibly unsustainable.

I, for instance, make a good income from selling books/dvds. The amount of energy it takes to produce and distribute those is huge. I doubt it is counterbalanced by the fact I don't own a car and buy next to no consumer goods. The same basic analysis applies to most of the folks posting here, going to relocalization conferences/meetings, etc.

It always makes me laugh how wealthy white people trying to figure out how save their own asses can somehow consider themselves advocates of sustainability and community living/diversity while they live in homes worth half a million in areas where there is not a black or latino person in sight. "Turn off the soundtrack and watch the actions" the saying goes. Me? I'm an upper middle class white guy trying to figure out how to save his own ass. Case closed.

I'm certainly not lowering my income in hopes of being sustainable. How the hell am I suppossed to finance my own escape from suburbia in my plug-in hybrid out to my home on a nice plot of land with lots of fresh water and clean air if I don't make a lot of money? But then I'm not advocating anybody do anything other than whatever they percieve is in their own best interests. In many cases, if not most, that will include some type of power-up in terms of income in order to pay off debt, buy land, precious metals, tools, send the kids to gardening classes etc.


How am I suppossed to afford to send my kids to New College to learn how to Powerdown from Richard Heinberg himself if I don't first Powerup to get the money to pay the tuition at New College so they can learn to Powerdown?




First of all, you know we are mostly on the same page, because we've read ev psych and sociobiology and believe that individual selection trumps group selection. The part I think thats missing, is that strong reciprocal altruism algorithm is PART of inclusive fitness (bro's before hoe's). The people that make plans to exclusively save their own ass by bunkering down in a fortress will find it too difficult - there always was a community in the environment of ancestral adaptation which is why we put on conferences, chat on internet, and meet people - those things feel just as good as buying bullets and silver bullion coins.

The BYPRODUCT of people pursuing these social hierarchy algorithms is that numerous lifeboats will be built. If numerous lifeboats are built in close proximity, a web can spread outwards and become a sustainable society - not for everyone on the planet, but for a very large number.

Individual selection can not be boiled down to every man for himself. I prefer to consider it 'multi-level' selection. Even you, the self professed prince of doom, automatically do things for the betterment of the species, even if these things are consciously done just for yourself. Advice, a smile, a joke on the internet that generates cooperative oxytocin by the reader etc.

Remember that we have triune brains. The limbic and reptilian systems are usually painted as animalistic, yet my golden retriever likes nothing better than to put his head on my pillow and cuddle with me.  

There will be killing and resource constraints. There will also be sharing and cooperation. These actions will be concentrated in different areas on the planet. The BEST advice is to find a place more likely to have a bit more of the former.




Oh yes, I realize that. When I say "trying to save my own ass" I was being a bit hyperbolic.  If it's just me out in a cabin in the woods by myself with a stash of silver rounds and shotgun shells, well that's not going to be much fun now is it?

Hence, my running joke about starting an apocalyptic relgious cult. Obviously, I'm not really going to start a cult. But I would like to network with like minded people.

As far as reciprocal altruisum, one of the aspects of my site that I'm particularly proud of is the ability to flood lesser known blogs with traffic. Since I link to instead of reprinting people's original articles, I end up throwing folks lots of traffic, at least relatvively speaking.



I don't know about you. L. Ron Hubbard also used to joke about starting a religion :-)
If it's just me out in a cabin in the woods by myself with a stash of silver rounds and shotgun shells, well that's not going to be much fun now is it?

Depends on what you call fun.  

If it is dodging people with paper knifes while you have shotgun shells, not su much fun as one-sided.  If you are avoiding  .50 cal rounds from miles away, not fun.

If fun is somehow avoiding the mass of humanity preying on one another for some minor advantage on the way down.....that kind of fun most people would sign up for.

starting an apocalyptic relgious cult.

What, its not up and running?!?!?!?   Guess I'll go visit the compund....that has to be up and running by now.   Wonder if the late commers are fodder for the defence parameter?

Here's my theory, Eric and Matt, though it may be wrong ...

The Halliburton camps being built are for people who find themselves in debt, without a house and without any prospects. Okay, so that's currently a lot of America.

People who go into these "refugee" camps will work the land for a simple living -- the answer to how former suburbanites will become agricultural workers in  Kunstler's long emergency.

Potentially, those who are wealthy, or who own their own farmland and are not in debt, will not have to go to the camps.

Or "freedom farms," if you want to use the future Fox News moniker.

take a day off, come back and find 189 posts, stuck in the same old loops.

i've read the books too:  Descartes's error.  blank slate.  the man who mistook his wife for a hat.  cheating monkeys, citizen bees.  red queen.  and some that come at it from a slight angle:  the third culture.  the winner's curse.  guns, germs and steel.  the man who found time.  the innovators' dilemma.  the river that flows uphill.  probably more i don't remember.

all those circulate around the themes of neurobiology, evolution, brain structure, consciousness, economic and semi-economic decision making, and human nature.  i can see that you are choosing a slice of that data as your own.

if you really want to follow the evolution and neurobiology to its conclusion though, you have to do a little introspection.  are you a man-for-yourself because this specific problem justifies it?  or (more insidiously) are you working with a genetic bias toward abandoning the group, and is this merely the justification?

i expect that each generation, each cohort, includes for maximal survival a distribution of tendencies on the group-vs-individual line.  just because someone is "out there" that doesn't mean he is fact driven, or right.

Those Iranian students were not at all pro-western, most of them were Marxists.
The Peak oil movement has a strong apocalyptic/utopian, bring it on tendency.  There is a tendency to see the coming crisis as a cleansing of all evil and the dawning of a new age (what MUDLOGGER referred to yesterday as "Hobbiton."   We project a future free from pollution, corporate greed, foreign military entanglements, poverty and injustice, when the reality is that we will probably see more of those problems in years to come.

Apocalyptic writing explains present suffering as all part of a divine plan.  All that is wrong in the world will be swept away and those who suffer today will then be rewarded for right thinking.  We exist in an age of dueling apocalypses:  The rapture will save the faithful and the godless will have to choose sides for the Armageddon that follows (and boy will they be sorry - just read any of the "Left Behind" series.)  Those of us in the know will survive the coming collapse but, our unfaithful foes (hummer drivers, Walmart shoppers, far flung suburbanites) will get their just deserts, as will the corporate overlords.  

At a recent economic relocalization conference I was struck by the fact that some very well meaning folks were really looking forward to this idyllic future.  There was a discussion on how to address medical issues wherein everyone agreed having more herbalists rather than doctors should be a goal.  My son is an Insulin dependent diabetic.  Herbal medicine is not going to cut it.  Tearing out the grass and planting a garden sounds wonderful but when various pests and critters have eaten most of it and your family is hungry, this sylvan fantasy loses its charm.

Couldn't have said it better myself. It's as though some people think $10 per gallon gas is going to usher in some type of enviromentalist version of the rapture.

Regarding the discussion on medical issues: I've found myself in similar situations and couldn't help but think to myself, "I've never met so many people so full of shit in my life."



Alpha Male, P.O.D.,
My take on that is similar.  I fancy myself to be a very handy and capable type.  I'm a carpenter and one of those people who can "fix things."  Most people can't "fix things" these days.  But despite this reputation--relevant in the current paradigm only--I realize clearly that all of my diverse and handy "skills" will grow increasingly irrelevant in the looming future.  Most of my "skill set" will soon be an industrial age artifact.  My carreer as a high school teacher, all the "skills" that I am currently teaching to America's youth will soon prove anachronistic in the extreme.  
We are a nation who will shortly come to realize that we don't know how to do much of anything worthwhile--even those of us like me who are "handy."
Matt in DC

$10/bl gasoline will not be the end of the world.

Relative to personal incomes, that will not, I suspect, be higher than the price of gasoline in the 1930s.

And technologies exist to make 60mpg cars, and probably could exist to make 100 mpg cars ie 3, and 5 times current US MPG averages.

This is hardly unprecedented.  To buy the wood in my house, which was built in 1837, would be unimaginably expensive now.  You would essentialy have to knock down a house of similar age.  Because the Canadian and Russian pine in my house doesn't exist any more-- there aren't pine trees that old being harvested, they have all been cut down. You can't buy new 8" wide pine floorboards.

But you can still build a nice house, albeit with narrower floorboards!   In terms of the incomes of the time, it is certainly cheaper to build a house in 2006 United Kingdom than it was in 1837.

Price changes cause substitution in consumption.

The problem is the disruption that a move to $10/gal gas would cause.  Junking whole fleets of cars, cities becoming more compact and denser, ways of living and doing business that we haven't done with since the 1940s or 50s.

There could be inflation and high unemployment whilst that painful transition takes place.

that is the problem.  the speed and scale of the change to practically all of the capital stock in society.  that is the threat of peak oil.

$10/gal. gas may be cheap relative to the price of gas in 1930, but to a family that has little to no discretionary income at the end of the month, an extra 200-300$ in fuel costs each month means a cut somewhere of that amount be it in the kids clothes, variations in the dinner menu, or whatever.  But then add in the extra food costs caused by transportation expense increases, the overall extra costs as businesses can no longer absorb the added fuel costs and must pass them through to consumers, and maybe an upward movement of their adjustable mortgage, and you get some pretty ugly times for the average american (or british) family.  So, is $10/gal. gas cheap by 1930 standards?  Maybe not.  Is it cheap by the standards that matter today?  Absolutely.
But the point is people did have a higher standard of living now than they did in 1930.

Even given an increased price of gas, they still will have a higher standard of living than they did in the 1930s.  And of course some areas (like the internet, medical technology etc.) will be far more advanced, so the quality of life will be higher.

In the UK gasoline is $6/gallon.  The UK is hardly an impoverished country.  Quite the opposite: we have the worst traffic jams in Western Europe.

It's the dynamics of moving from one to the other which would be painful-- scrapping one set of physical capital and introducing another set.  The move to more fuel efficient cars, living closer to work, perhaps importing less from the far side of the planet (because it costs too much to ship).  Decaying inner cities might suddenly become much more attractive places to live, because of the transportation cost savings.  The cities of the North East, built in the 19th century before cars, and the 20th century before every family had 2 or more cars, might gain population against the likes of Phoenix or Las Vegas, which rely on cars.

$150/bl oil would hurt.  The world economy would likely go into a quite nasty recession.  Unemployment might be 10 or 15% again, as it was in the 70s.  But it would hardly be the end of the world, or of the economy.

From a Loss of Life Expectancy (LLE) perspective, about the worst thing you can be is poor, even worse than smoking 5 packs a day.  If our goal is for everyone to be poor and green, then we and our descendants are all dead alot sooner. Most people in the West just don't get how brutally short a typical human life is, averaged over just the last few hundred years of history. What we have now is certainly far from perfect, but at least we have much more time in which to contemplate its imperfections.  
ThatsItImOut, thanks for your very good essay vs what options are available.

You made the point directly on cue.  Before trying to figure out what would work best, we have to figure out what we define as desirable outcomes.

As I see it, the way the system and current culture is built, every aspect of life is worked toward ensuring growth.  It's ingrained in our culture, in our way of life, in every bits of what we do and think.

The real question in effect is not what kind of technology/knowledge is best for the comming years.  It is what we "as element of different nations" think might me the best to ensure good living.  

The present culture and way of life will probably go on until it cannot be anymore.  I dont think it will change significantly until somekind of major shift break the current paradigm.  All technological fixes will probably be tried until proven wrong, no matter what scientific community has say about them.  Most of people will engage in whatever they will think is the best to pursue current way of life. Current and proposed fixes to keep life as we know it will be tried until the very deep petroleum subsidizing energy is present in sufficient amount.

When the pressure from the demand will outgrow the supply enough to be noticed by all economical and political actors, the paradigm will be broken and at that time it will be at least broadly destabilizing.  

There is no way we can keep the current living arrangement without benefits from lots of concentrated energy.  Trying to view it as a supply problem is not the best way to find an answer.  The real problem is on the demand side.  To solve the problem on the demand side, nothing less than a broad cultural paradigm shift will do.  The current system as an whole will need to fall until we will really be able to adapt to something else.

Trying to live differently from our current culture is very hard right now.  Not because it cannot be done (with really hard work) but because the social psychology prevent us to do it effectively.  Also because we all have to live in the current culture, almost no one (or community) can live really outside the society.  Because of the Jevon's Paradox even trying to be more efficient will increase the whole system growth.  

I dont know how it will work out during the paradigm shift.  Will some die? probably. Will some survive? certainly. Where it will be better to survive? I cannot tell.

What I'm doing right now is the following :

  1. I dont write too much postings because I dont have that much time
  2. I keep on getting involved as I did since the last 8 years in my home town.
  3. I use objective and well researched material to show to all the local politician and leader I know to teach them about it.
  4. I tell them that one thing that is important is trying to asses and ensure food security for the region.  Getting trough the paradigm shift is what is the most important, we'll figure out what to do after, with what and who we have after.
  5. I also tell them that a broad local group needs to be formed in order to get more and more people to know about the problem and each can do individual actions to ensure the transition.
  6. The reason I want a network of people to adress the problem is because I'm not a deep environnementalist or anything near it.  So I tell them that I dont want to live alone with a few "hemp shirt" veggie survivors because all the parties are gone to be dull and I like to party one in a while :)
  7. Even if when talking abour it I stade the seriousness of the situation and the gravity of what could happen, I always use humour and positivness all trough the discussion.  I found that humour keeps the discussion level cherrier.
  8. I ask them personnaly what they, themselves, can do to help me organize a network of people to help go trough the transition.
  9. I try to bring what could be better after the paradigm shift.  We dont get many things done when you tell people that life as we know it will end.  Just tell them a major shift will happen and after that we will find something better to do and closeness will be back.  Even if it is not really what could happen, hope is always a better way to ensure good work toward a positive goal.

You would be surprised how fast I can convince people to work and lay a hand to help me broaden the network and do the needed stuff.  

The Oil Drum, Post Carbon Institure, The Community Solution and other organisations like theses are a good place for the leaders of the next paradigm to come and talk about ways to cope with this, ensuring we can asses the threats and real fuel problems, but all need to do local actions to get more and more people to get prepared.

Pascal Gagnon, -> Wolfric

Excellent and insightful summary.  I have come across a number of people who equate acknowledgement of peak oil (a geological inevitability) with membership in the dieoff advocates.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.
Enginner Poet,

As always, please be sure todistinguish between "advocacy" and "recgonition." Example of the difference between the two:

I recognize that Hitler invaded Poland in 1939. I would not advocate it.



Whereas you're a Chamberlainian who (implicitly) advocates letting it happen, I'm a Churchhillian who thinks that physical reality lets us head it off, so we ought to.
Only if human beings are cooperative, rather than antagonistic and hostile to one another, in dealing with the physical side of things.  

With this in mind, I ask:  Where in the world today can one see evidence of a spirit of cooperation on energy issues - outside of forums and circles who wring their hands over Peak Oil?  Among the American governing classes?  Among those of China, Russia, India, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Japan?  

I'm not sure we need coöperation all that much.  Everybody's interests lie in doing roughly the same thing, and if e.g. the USA moves to make every car a 150-MPG PHEV and free itself from oil dependency, all our major competitors will have to follow suit or be far more vulnerable to oil price shocks than we are.

If that failed, the US could always invade Iran or bomb the pipelines of Sudan as economic reprisals for their support of terrorism and genocide.  That would create the price shock, and the world would no longer have a choice of going along or not.

Engineer Poet,

Nice try buddy. You want to physcially fight or something? That's generally what happens when you start calling somebody of Jewish extraction a "Chamberlainian" while trying to paint yourself as some type of Churchillian hero.

Newsflash to Engineer Poet: you blog anonymously on an obscure (albeit high quality) internet forum. You can not, by any remote stretch of the imagination, be described as a "Churchillian." Time for you to move back into the "reality based community" my friend.



Since you've admitted that the "prophet of doom" thing is at least partly an act, perhaps you'd like to LARP it?  Say, a game of "assassin"?  I suggest the weapons be anything from paper knives to squirt guns with food coloring.

The difference between the Holocaust and the dieoff is that the dieoff hasn't happened yet.  Most of it is probably avoidable.  Since you're taking offense at the comparison with Neville Chamberlain, if you can cite where you've publicly put forth schemes to prevent the progression of this problem as far as a dieoff I will eat my words.  (Me, that's about all I write about.)

"if you can cite where you've publicly put forth schemes to prevent the progression of this problem as far as a dieoff"


"Since you've admitted that the "prophet of doom" thing is at least partly an act, perhaps you'd like to LARP it?"


I don't know what "LARP" means. Enlighten me will you Mr. Poet?

As far as the "alpha male prophet of doom" bit, it's sort of a tongue-in-cheek joke. Apparently you missed the subtle humor there. What else can I expect from somebody so out of touch with reality they describe themselves in the same breath as Winston Churchill even though their biggest contribution to human well being is postings to an anonymous blog that, for all intents and purposes, has as much influence in the real world as a piss ant.

Not that my writings are any more influential, but I'm not the one ascribing "Churchillian" qualities to myself.

As far as mitigating the downslope/dieoff, here ya go:



I don't know what "LARP" means. Enlighten me will you Mr. Poet?
I thought everyone who graduated from university after 1991 would know what a LARP is.
Apparently you missed the subtle humor there.
Maybe you stopped being funny.
What else can I expect from somebody so out of touch with reality they describe themselves in the same breath as Winston Churchill...
I propose we deal with the problem before it "deals with us".  So do you, but I don't think we should give up the medicine, agriculture, and other advances which allow Earth to support 6 billion people.  It appears that you do (and I'm not about to pay to see your particulars when I give mine away for free).
... even though their biggest contribution to human well being is postings to an anonymous blog that, for all intents and purposes, has as much influence in the real world as a piss ant.
Judging from my daily hit count, I'm reaching a couple hundred more people than I would without the blog; my open letter appears to have been read by a thousand or so.  I'm doing what I can.  Are you?
As far as mitigating the downslope/dieoff...
... it looks like you've got no program for maintenance of industrial agriculture, large cities or even electric power.  I found what looks like a way to make corn production self-sustaining in nitrogen and fuel, make over 400 GW of electricity from biomass, and other things.

If just one of these ideas gets picked up by somebody who can influence a policymaker... that's all I need.

Engineer Poet,

I am the modern-day, cyber-equivalent of a guy with a sandwich board on the street corner yelling "repent, for the end is nigh."

You are the modern-day, cyber-equivalent of a drunk guy in a bar blabbering to two or three other drunks guys about some great plan/idea you have to fix everything.

Nothing you or I say is going to make any significant difference to society. Ever. The difference between us? I haven't managed to convince myself that my cyber sandwich board makes me "Churchillian" even though I have 50 times the number of people paying attention to me out here on the street corner than you do over in your corner of the bar.

As far as modern medicine, agriculture, etc: I would love nothing more than for the wonders of modern life to continue on throughout my life.  I love modern medicine, I love the fact I can go down to Whole Foods right this moment and for the equivlent of 1 hours' work buy pretty much any meal I could imagine and eat in a nice climate controlled enviroment while making small talk with the female junior college students who work the counter.  I know, of course, that this ain't going to last forever no matter how many plans Engineer Poet posts on his blog about electricity from pig shit riding to our rescue.

Off to my street corner, it's Friday night and thar be sinners in them thar streets and em' needs savin'!



Hey, you two (Poet and Matt) don't be so hard on yourselves and each other.

Keep doing your thing in your different ways, it DOES make a difference - even if you feel it doesn't. That's an excellent 'open letter... ' you've recently penned, Poet, I'll be recommending it to folks. Matt, the MP3 of your interview with Jim Puplava of FSO is one of the first I suggest PO newbies listen to.

I must admit I get dispirited by the lack of interest and awareness exhibited by 95%+ of sheeple but it's worth keeping on infiltrating the PO meme into their background consciousness. Pretty soon things will happen that make the reality of PO obvious to most people, it may make a big difference if sufficient people have enough awareness to not be fooled by TPTB when that happens.

I don't think we should give up the medicine, agriculture, and other advances which allow Earth to support 6 billion people.

Matt has a history of brinning up the other parts of the world that are not the US of A.  This is one of the 1st times you've claimed to give a damn aobut what goes on outside of the boarders of the US of A.

Lets see if your cited links back up your claim that you give a dman about the rest of the humans on planet Earth?

I found what looks like a way to make corn production self-sustaining in nitrogen and fuel, make over 400 GW of electricity from biomass,

And this 'proof' of yours covers 6 billion people?

Because your '1.3 billion tons' link is USA centric and the other one mentions the US and lacks comments about other nations.

Either way, both need techology....and I've YET to seee you mention how technology is going to end up in the 3rd world.

Matt's got you figured out, and the difference between Matt calling you a drunkard telling the other drunks what's wrong and me saying to the readers of TOD that you are a blowhard is Matt has been pubically standing on the street telling passer by that the end of thier life as they know it is nigh and I'm just an anonymous voice on sone web site.

You just outed yourself as a troll; you haven't got the standing to ask for anything.
Newsflash to Engineer Poet: you blog anonymously on an obscure (albeit high quality) internet forum.

Much more amusing when Engineer Poet goes into one of his "I don't repond to anonymous people" rants.  Then goes and responds anyway....Wath out, soon he'll get mad at ya and start playing 'grammer cop'.

At least you are willing to change your position when you obtain more data Matt.   Mr. Poet just keeps digging.   At one time Mr. Poet was quoting the 'waste wood' and felt the lumber industry could simply take that waste wood to power society.  He poo-pooed the 'carbon in the soil' arguments.   Last week he was pimp'n Terra Petra.  Yet, he'll argue that his original idea of moving the 'wood waste for energy out of the forests' is a fine plan.   Go ahead, dig through his web site the egosphere and see.

As for restrictions in resources will yield die-off, It is already happening, so the stand of EP is out of touch (again) with reality.

what is larp
Live Action Role Playing.   If you opt to do that, go with water and dye and I'll happly get ya my 5 gallon pressurized water tank that sprays.  You can nail him with said 'land mine' and just keep sipping your whiskey.   For extra $$$ you could use a fine protein dye that won't wash out for days.


Actually, I started some work at my place on high carbon/Terra Preta soils last year.  So far, it looks really, really interesting and positive.  However, I won't have any "provable" results for a number of years.  Further, they wouldn't be useful for production agriculture although New Farm ( has some interesting results on "high carbon" soils at their test farm.

Why wouldn't they be useful for production agriculture?
Concepts like "our culture" or "modern industrial culture" are troublesome. As a rough way to point to some aspect of the world, they can be useful. But ideas like these have some ragged edges that can injure the unwary user.

A biological species is similar to a culture. A geographical continent, like Asia or Europe, is another idea like this. These things are so fuzzy, they have only very vague utility.

Modern industrial culture is very complex and diverse and constantly evolving.

Suppose somebody decided that cockroaches were evil and the world would be a much better place if cockroaches were eradicated. What could this possibly mean? I am no cockroach expert... well, I had this one apartment in Philadelphia when I was in graduate school... anyway, there must be many different types of cockroaches, species or subspecies or whatever. If you want to play the DNA game, well, somehow you'll need to build some kind of DNA filter that decides which animals live and which animals die.

Sorry, I get carried away like this.

Modern industrial culture is going to keep evolving & responding to constraints etc. We're not like to resolve the free will versus determinism paradox in the next few years, so trying to figure out to what extent is that evolution steerable, there's no coherent logical framework in which that question can be answered. But if you see yourself as a conscious decision-making actor on the world stage, from that perspective, you can at least steer yourself!

I liked the Jetsons versus Hobbiton &c. list of possible futures. Having some kind of map like that of the terrain is what makes effective steering possible.

Well, when I speak of Culture it is certainly modern industrial culture AND culture as a broad concept.  

Because Radio, TV, Internet, are available (thanks to electricity) we have huge deployment of culture trough a huge network af not so disimilar people and way of life.  Because of this is has modified our culture.  So the modern industrial culture is OUR culture.

Culture represent the way we live, we think and we appreciate the beauty and even the way we interact with each others. It is also the sum of what we know and what we think is useful at  any given moment.

For this modern industrial culture to exist, there is always need for growth.  When growth become unachievable the whole financial, monetary and banking structure will colapse.  After companies and banks will foreclose in droves, it wont matter anymore to work toward keeping that system, it will already be dead.  The system will be dead but the people will still be there.

What will stop growth?  It will probably be a combination of all current problems occuring concurrently :

  1. bust of the housing bubble
  2. US stagflation or hyperinflation
  3. US trade imbalance
  4. US deficit and foreign owned debt
  5. tightening of ressources supply
  6. peak oil
  7. US Automobile manufacturer bankruptcy
  8. War for ressources

Water depletion is not a true supply problem.  It is like many other a overpopulation problem.  Until we are not able to provide water or food where they cant get it localy, those people will be able to get food and water.  When the food will stop to come, the only thing left to do will be to move out or die. Current liquid fuel crisis is only one of the problems.

I know that many will not be happy about loosing that system and I beleive that everything will be done in order to keep it going.  When the efforts to keep it going will show to be vain, it will probably cease altogether.  

For myself, right now I still like to take my car and take a ride to go see my brother 70 miles from my place. I do watch TV when I have the time and I go to a movie once in a while, it is part of my culture.

Because only system wide paradigm shift can ensure the termination of the current culture, I cannot tell what will prevail after.  I dont advocate any perticular organisation.
What I know is that the only 2 things absolutely needed will be food and water.  Shelter are already there.  

I'm sure that righly bridged, we will be able to do what will be the best for living after the ongoing paradigm shift. We will do it because there wont be any choice left.

I suggest reading the Fondation books from Isaac Asimov, it deal with a huge super galactical power crumbling and a small unressourceful planet used as a way to keep the knowledge and pursue it's developpement.  I think Cuba was that kind of planet for the Soviet Union.

Will your local place be the savior of the knowledge?

"I do watch TV when I have the time and I go to a movie once in a while, it is part of my culture."

Just to be a little more explicit about how "culture" is a problematic concept... before about 1950 TV was not part of the culture in the USA. Since about 1960 TV has been an integral part of culture in the USA. So did the USA in 1960 have a different culture in 1960 than in 1950? Did the USA lose one culture and adopt a different one?

Why would a shift involving a new inability to watch TV anymore be any more a destruction of culture than was the shift to a new ability to watch TV?

"Will your local place be the savior of the knowledge?"

This is fascinating, really. We are constantly losing knowledge - we have already lost a lot of knowledge, e.g. little details about perhaps using oxen to plough a field.

This being "the information society", we sure do have lots of knowledge. A lot of it may be quite useless in the future. All these little secrets about funny airline ticket fare codes that allow one to upgrade to first class more easily - little details like that may well become useless in ten or twenty or fifty years. Maybe those little tricks of ploughing with oxen will be a lot more valuable.

The really interesting puzzle is, what knowledge do we have that will be most useful to our grandchildren and their grandchildren? If we can only keep alive some fraction of the knowledge we have, how do we choose where to place our bets?

I don't advocate some massive federal or U.N. program to make these kinds of decisions. But it isn't exactly an individual decision either. It will take some inter-generational institutions to keep knowledge alive down the centuries. Families might work well for some such knowledge. I suspect that various guilds will spring up as transportation and communication networks break down, i.e. as we get a lot more localized. Some small specialized artifacts could be made in just a few places and then shipped all around the world.

If we plant lots of seeds, maybe enough will take root that we don't lose so much knowledge that we really do knock ourselves back to the stone age. Of course the basics of topsoil and climate have to be there too.

Our way of life, our culture, our knowledge, these are living systems that constantly evolve, shedding old useless aspects and growing into new spaces. When they stop evolving, they will be dead. If we understand the need to respond to changing conditions, we'll have a much better chance to survive at any level of vitality and freedom.

Since ALL the money and power are behind option (b) that is the one we are going with (at the risk of stating the obvious).
Go back to our two options.  Option (a) says essentially, "Modern technical culture cannot be saved, and even if we could save it, we should not."

Option (b) says, "Modern technical culture can be saved, partially by using the very tools that created modern technical culture, and if it can be saved, IT MUST BE SAVED.

Which of these two choices we side with will be moral and aesthetic decisions, not technical or "scientific" ones.  It is the GOAL that will construct the game.

you had me part way through ... but i think the dots became unconnected at the end.  if "modern technical culture" is about selecting technical and scientific solutions to fit the times ... there isn't a conflict.

you can't say it is technical or scientific to stick with the inappropriate.

I see my "little" post did inspire some thought.  I hope that what we will be looking at will cause us to ask the very questions many posters asked:

(a) Exactly what we say when we say, for example "our way of life in nonnegotiable."  Exactly what defines "our way of life", and is every single element nonnegotiable (i.e., must being able to not only drive long distances whenever we chose be retained?  If so, must it be cheap to do to be a part of our "nonnegotiable" way of life?  What about air travel, international tourism, are these "nonnegotiable" ways of life for Americans (because these are rather recent additions to the American and world culture)  The list is endless.

(b) At what cost?  Some cultures in history have had no problem with being somewhat always at war.  This was simply a part of their culture and a part of the culture's need for survival.  In other cultures, constantly being at war is seen as a sign of failure, as primitive and barbaric, and not a workable plan in the nuclear age.

(c)  What about environmentalism?  Is it now a part of our "nonnegotiable" way of life?  It is possible to live in a rather dirty culture "environmentally" at least for awhile  (think of the coal age days of Pittsburgh, or the current "mountain top" removal methods of removing coal in Kentucky or West Virginia, where dirty water, and destruction of eco-structure are a part of their "culture" they simply adjust to.

With any culture there are sacrifices to be made in achieving and maintaining that particular view of culture.  The question is which ones can be made without giving up the central tenants of the culture itself.  Is mobility, for instance, so central to the "American idea" that any assault on mobility can be seen as an assault on the goals, the very reason of the culture itself?

Recall that the sacrifice does not have to be essential in the "technical" sense, but only has to be essential in the cultural sense.  In ancient cultures that sacrificed X number of virgins to a volcano for instance, there is no proof that this actually changed anything about volcanic activity.  But what it did do was provide a culturally accepted function that helped retain cultural unity.
The priest who could perform the essential rituals and justify the activity was in his day as important, intelligent, and "knowledgeable" as a modern manager, executive or government leader is viewed today.  A Priest in that ancient culture, even though he was practicing a "ludicrous" act by our definition would have been a success in his culture, part of an elite class of intelligentsia...and even if you could prove to him that human sacrifice was in one changing volcanic activity, he would have intuitively known that the cultural function was still needed, and would not have willingly abandoned what had provided all meaning in his personal and his culture's life.

Some will say of the modern mobile technical culture, hey, it cannot be sustained anyway, junk it.  It is doomed to failure.

I would say the same of the opposite:  If you ask a culture to "junk" almost everything it sees as valuable, the very core of it's belief system, the things it regards as success, as prosperity, as freedom and as valuable, you are doomed to failure.  

You can ask them to "change it to make it sustainable", can ask them to "toss off some of the nonessential waste to preserve the heart of the culture" can ask them to "rededicate their educational and technical education, to help us find a sustainable way forward"  (given that education is one of the culture's core tenants anyway) yes....but I don't feel you will be responded to if you ask them to surrender, to give up, to not make the effort to retain the culture that they know, love and feel has meaning in the deepest sense they can know the word meaning.

But, freedom being a core cultural tenant, you can try.  You can scream from internet (which you may say is soon doomed anyway) you can even get brief chances to scream your message from the airwaves of TV and radio, you can print and put together little groups that proclaim to a culture, "resistance is futile, you must surrender all you thought was valuable or meaningful, or die."

The response of course will be "bring it on then....if I am being asked to surrender all I have lived for, death is not nearly as frightening anyway."

One small example:  The automobile.  Is it central to the culture of America?  George Washington never owned one.  Abe Lincoln never owned one (despite having one named after him :-), and their Americans today who will never drive.  But I have seen war veterans lose their legs, and their first goals was to get a modified car or van they could drive without legs...I have seen high school girls who inspired themselves to get good grades and go to college for a chance at prosperity, with their first goal as sign of success "to buy a car"...I have known civil servants to work their entire life, for the chance at a buying a motor home at the end of their career to "get to see the country."

My mother did not get her driving license until two thirds of the way into her life, at over 40.  It was the proudest day of her life, she felt like a real person, not reliant on others to drive her around.  Even in her last years, when she probably knew she would never be healthy enough to drive again, she still went to the courthouse to make sure her drivers license was renewed.  She died with an up to date legal license.  How central is the "car" to American life now, even though it was not an original tenant of the American birth, the American dream.

Try to tell people that cannot have one, and that they can never have one again.  You will find out.   They make take slower ones, they might not care whether it is powered by a steam engine, gasoline or cow dung....they may even accept with rickety solar panels on the roof.....but, ( and this is my reading of a "cultural fact", not a "technical fact", they will fight to the end before they will give it up, and they will fight for alternatives and choices that can be made to save it, as surely as the human sacrifice priest would have fought to save that "ludicrous" ritual.

I worry very much that the "Peak Oil" groups are marginalizing their message this way.  People come to see what is being said, and when the only message they get is, "surrender, resistance, change, alternatives are all futile", they leave.   Would it not make more sense to look for the alternatives?  Heading Out, back at the start of this string said it....when people got on the podium and said "If your here, your part of the problem!", it caused people to stop listening to them.  Well, of course, if a person is alive, they are part of the problem.  They are consuming something.  A culture like a person, will be willing to negotiate about almost anything except their own existence.  On that:  Surrender is not an option.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItimout

i'm sure it is a common feeling to experience a mini culture shock when you leave a peak oil site like TOD and walk out your door into the real world.

if we aren't going to commit the sin of hubris, we have to consider that those folks out there might be as right as we are.  it's always a danger that one might fall into "big secret" thinking, and the lure of arcane knowledge.

if i were going to split the difference, i might think that people out there have skills for survival.  they not only 'can deal' with change, they are made for it.  the brain is a mechanism for thinking through forward-leaning survival problems.  imperfect perhaps, but good enough for umpty-ump thousand years.

i think culture has not changed on a wide scale because it does not have to.  the costs of energy are still low.  the gas to get you to work/lunch/mall is still trivial compared to the money made or spent in the rest of the activity.  on the other hand, our culture perceives enough of a problem to discuss it in the public space (60 minutes) and launch attempts at solutions (hybrids, ethanol, hydrogen).

we are seeing a cultural response.  we are part of a cultural response.

Hey, reinstate the speed limits, it works - well it works if you want to save gas, perhaps not (cynic here) if you want to get elected.

I wrote an essay on that recently, but was a bit surprised by the response:

I Can Drive 55

I got a fair bit of negative comments. People saying things like "my time is too valuable for that". It was a bit disappointing. But I believe that this would be a very quick way to save a lot of fuel.


I drive the speed limit on our country roads, and try to ignore the recent arrivals (in their huge trucks and suvs) who pack up behind me like a so many cabooses.

Your post makes me feel better -- I'm helping these people to save fuel! (and learn patience...)

Funny you should say that...

The shorter route to work is on the freeway, at 65 MPH, few stops but lots of traffic.

The longer route is expressways with more stops, but speed limit is 50 MPH. This is the option I take, even though I have the HOV lane exemption permits for the freeway*.

In my Prius, the lower speed more than makes up for the extra distance, and  gets me to work 5 minutes later, but far fresher and less frazzled than I was after fighting traffic on the freeway in the morning.

*Oddly enough, because of the way the law permitting high mileage hybrids was written, I can use the HOV lanes on the freeways, but the expressways are county roads, and the HOV lanes do not honor the hybrid permits. Fortunately, I learned this before I got a ticket.


On my bicycle I can reach a whopping 25 mph in Chicago.
Trying to reach 55 mph would be a task I can't imagine.
Since the price of gas has been on the rise I've seen more
people on bicycles, even bicycles with utility trailers.
Of course its nice to ride now, not like in Dec when I was
pretty much alone on the road with the metal cages and the snow.

Maybe we don't need alternative fuels, we need alternative mindsets.

Except for cross country driving, a bicycle blows the doors off the fastest Ferarri anyway.
I cycled passed an open top Ferarri this morning.
On my bicycle I can reach a whopping 25 mph in Chicago.
Trying to reach 55 mph would be a task I can't imagine.

With a 600 watt front hub I can get to 40 MPH whild exceeding 200 cadence.

55 would nned better than 54 tooth front gear and the max allowed by law 750 watt hub, not to mention racing tires and one of  them wind-shield bike frames.

Hello RR,

Lowering speed helps conserve fuel-- no doubt.  But if people will just buy a cheap, small motorcycle or scooter for the average commute--most can instantly triple, quadruple, or even quintuple their fuel savings. Keep your pickup or SUV for the infrequent times when the entire family needs to go somewhere, or you need to haul a heavy load, or the weather is bad.

But if all of America took up scootering bigtime [and bicycles for short trips]--I bet fuel prices would drop worldwide by a minimum of 20%.  Americans hate to carpool so much that they are maxing out their credit cards, and pawning heirlooms just to keep driving sheer tons down the road.  The model of 3,000-6,000 lbs to move one person is unsustainable, but I bet it is next to impossible to get everyone to pack four or more into a car/SUV for the typical daily commute.  Like your blog responder said: his time was too valuable.

Phoenix, and its suburbs and exurbs, is the maximum Aphalt Wonderland--we can never afford to postPeak provide modern, fast, A/C mass-transit within easy walking distance of every citizen.  But because it hardly ever rains here [Snow? what's that?], the Valley of the Sun should be the national leader in bicycle paths, mopeds, and small scooters.  These 'small rides' should be everywhere in Phx!

Honda and Suzuki both make a 600cc scooter--these are modern rocket rides--they will accelerate faster than 90% of the cars on the road from a standing stop, and easily go over 100mph, more than enough if you need to use the freeways for commuting, or need to carry a passenger regularly and still have fast acceleration.  It scales down from there to Aprilia's 500cc Scarabeo scooter to Yamaha's 400cc scooters, and all the scooter mfg's have 250cc and smaller engine sizes down to 50cc. But I think most people will enjoy the 250cc class on up for the sheer dopamine thrills, more amenities, more storage and comfort, larger tires and wheels, and even ABS brakes on some models.

I recommend scooters for beginners and expert riders alike because 'used' they are currently very cheap, but not for long as gas prices skyrocket. They also have auto-transmissions [no shifting required], lots of internal storage space, and the step-thru feature is alot easier than trying to swing your leg over a normal motorcycle.
For those who have balance problems:
Piaggio, the Italian scooter giant which gave the world the iconic Vespa, unveiled a revolutionary three-wheeled scooter which will make it almost impossible for its rider to fall off. The Piaggio MP3 has two wheels at the front to provide more stability for the rider, and does away with the need to kick it up on its stand when parking.
I have even seen some four-wheel sportquad/ATVs made AZ street legal--the big sportquads are fast!  Don't whine about rising gas prices: Let's make conserving gasoline fun.  Nothing like a pleasant breeze in your face as you get 80-125 miles per gallon, even much higher still with mopeds or motorized bicycles!

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

Those scooters are really great, especially in Italy. Everyone has one there. With all the hills and mountains, I would not like to bike there either. Same in the French countryside. Typically, in European cities with the narrow streets, you are much faster anyway. Our politcians keep annoying car drivers with all sorts of fees. Often, it's not even possible to find a parking. If it has to be a car, a Smart might do. For one person, it's perfect.
  I've started really holding my speed back, which partly gives me a chance to start deprogramming my own inherent road rage/impatience.. (I get tweaked anytime I'm too close to the Silver SUV's in particular, those and the over-meaty f-250's.. it's largely irrational, but most of the best problems are.)  and also it de-syncronizes my car with the 'pack', where everyone sort of gets their speed from one another, which ramps them all up to the rate of the faster cruisers.  I get to try to keep myself chill and let the group pass.  Hear the beat of my own drummer..

I think I'd be even better at this, if, like with Hybrids, my car had a readout that gave me my current efficiency rating, or fuel flow.  I know that people who have installed solar often have readouts in the kitchen or something, where they can check regularly on their consumption, just like checking the temperature outside, and will keep a constant awareness of their expenditure of energy.  Such users will start to look for ways to keep that number down, knowing that it connects directly to their energy bill. (Those who have both Solar AND Grid power..)  As energy costs increase, I can see us implementing features which will remove the 'invisibility' of our energy expending lifestyle.  As it stands, we've been more than happy to let our power-servants come in through the back-entrance, where we don't have to acknowledge such 'mean truths'..

I agree with the fuel monitor idea.  Does anyone here think that it would be worthwhile to advocate for legislation mandating these for new cars?  Also - would it be technically feasible to design a device that could be added to existing cars.  I realize Toyota probably has a patent, but the royalty payments would be sweet.  Its a drop in the bucket, but at least its going in the right direction.  It beats going in debt to give ourselves $100.
As a child I was told all my life that oil companies bought patents decades ago so that more efficient engines would not be available and we would constantly need more gas.  I've grown a bit and looked everywhere I know and I cant find any patents on engine technology owned by any oil company.  Anyone ever dig into this?  

Also I ran across another poop to ethanol argument over at forbes.  Scroll down to the part where the scientist admits "It takes a lot of energy to create ethanol."  So why are we wasting the energy?

This is complete insanity!

Regarding patents, I suspect it is an urban legend.

Anyone can search the patent database - it is all online at (I believe only newer patents are in the online database).

Finally, patents aren't forever.  They do expire after some period of time.  If they had patents that were decades old, they would have expired by now.

There is at least one such device, a nifty addon called the ScanGauge.  Unfortunately, it seems to be universally sold out, even on eBay, amazon, ThinkGeek, and Froggle, though they promise availability later in May.
I may have read this here before, but I think that requiring all new vehicles to have Prius-like displays of current fuel consumption would give drivers the positive fuel-saving feedback needed to moderate their speed voluntarily, or at least reduce their stress points - whether on country roads or driving behind a law-abiding hybrid driver on the LA car pool lanes.
Decreasing the speed will not conserve energy. People are going to drive a safe speed on the freeway, regardless of what the sign says. That's why a speed limit of 55 shouldn't be called a speed limit, it should be called a speed tax. All motorists go over it, and once every few years you get randomly selected for a speed tax.

It's also unsafe to go below the speed limit. When you're going 55 and traffic is going 75, 80 (90 is not uncommon on I-25 here in Colorado), you're putting everyone in danger because you're an obstacle on the roadway.

A better option for conserving fuel is to provide an alternative to driving -- like having high-speed rail state to state.

55 mph is only unsafe if it is relatively slow. Once that is the normal speed the reverse is true and to speed becomes more dangerous.
To enforce 55 is very simple - $500 fine first offence, 1 year ban second offence, car confiscated and crushed plus lifetime ban for third.  Sounds horrendously drastic, but I will be suprised if something like that is not enacted once peakoil begins to bite.    
A better option for conserving fuel is to provide an alternative to driving -- like having high-speed rail state to state.

There are a number of different options for conserving fuel. But few of them would have such an immediate impact as lowering the speed limit. Sure, some people are still going to drive over the speed limit. But the average speed will come down, conserving fuel.


I am extremely interested in what Joseph Tainter had to say (I am presently studying "the collapse of complex societies).

Are there going to be any sites carrying audio or transcripts of the participants?

I did learn, re biofuels, the reason we don't use the more productive rapeseed in the US, relative to Europe, apparently it is too warm here.

Oregon and Washington can grow Canola, but they haven't recieved any subsidies for it yet, so the farmers are waiting till diesel is in the $3.25 range. (Now?!?)
Doing the freemarket thing I guess.  Recently Washington State  has signed a bill to use a set percentage of biodiesel in all their fleet trucks and this has jump started Canola and Mustard seed in Washington State.  Not sure why Oregon, my State, can't get it's spit together.  Currently there are some farmers that are "trying it out", but this only equaled 5,000 acres last year. Not sure what the numbers are for Washington.  The deal with Canola and Mustard, as one can tell by it's name rapeseed, is it needs it's own area to grow, as it crosses with other plants nearby.  And if other crops become invested, the farmers can't sell the products to China, Korea and Japan, our main ag buyers.  The talk is to outlaw canola in the western part of the State and turn Eastern Oregon into the "Canola zone".
New Canola plants can produce 6,000 pounds of canola per acre, but you can only guess how GM'ed these "steroid" plants are to produce this much oil, non GM canola only produces 1,500 pounds per acre at the most.

So there will be some biofiels coming from the PNW shortly, but we still need to work the kinks out.

these rapeseeds on steoroids, how do they do on aspects of need for fertilizers, water and topsoil depletion. I'll guess productivity comes at a price but is it four times worse?
I'm intrested since there is a furious irrational debate here in Sweden regarding GM regualtions, and those other aspects gets no consideration. Also we have a lot of dieselcars around and rapeseed is very common crop.
They need lots of all the above.

Topsoil is not really a problem, if canola is used like it is now for crop rotation.  But as I said above, there must be a set schedule for farmers, so they can rotate wheat, but the rotations have to be planned out because of the canola crossing with nearby plants.

As with all energy sources there must be balance and common sense.
And as with every other energy sources it probably won't happen.

The fertiliser requirements for Canola...

High nitrogen requirement (natural gas required)
High Sulfur requirement... a use for a sour crude byproduct?

But if there are any Agronomy - Soil Science types here can they tell us the dangers of long term over application of sulfur?

The greatest dangers from over sulfate accumulation in soil are:

  1. Sulfate runoff into streams and rivers, resulting in pH change, acidation, and in marine ecosystem compromise (mass fish kills, etc).

  2. Sulfur tends to react with oxygen to form sulphur dioxide (S02), which will react with water to make sulfurous acid (a key component of acid rain), an active agent that will react with any carbonates to make CO2 and a sulfite. This might mobilise stuff like arsenic and heavy metals into the groundwater.
Sulfate is relatively soluble and you don't have to worry about it building up in soil. If it does, then you just stop applying it.
Iron is different. You sometimes have to apply soluble iron because fully oxidised iron is insoluble. Excess soluble iron either leaches or oxidises and the plants don't get it either way. But plants don't need much so it's not a problem.
Sulfur from Chinese coal burning power plants is reducing the need to add sulfur to US soil.
You know what, methane has been sitting in the ground for millennia and more (that's natural gas) if we replace it with carbon dioxide what logical argument can you have to say it will pose a threat? To a degree I have the same sort of argument for those who worry about burying nuclear waste. Uranium comes out of the ground, even relatively close to the surface in somewhat porous ground in Wyoming it is not a big issue. Putting it into the basalt (a much less permeable rock) and deeper is rationally safer.

You do realise that the uranium we use in nuclear power plants is not the same concentration that is found in the ground? You do realise that the nuclear waste they plan to bury has to remain undisturbed for twenty times as long as written human history?

God, I hope so. Otherwise, you are not the right person to be commenting a conference on energy.

Hey a few hundred thousand years is short in the scheme of things,  A plain old sour gas deposit is more dangerous and longer lasting than spent nuclear fuel.  Should we worry about all those undiscovered sour gas deposits leaking out and contaminating our air and water as well?    

Spent nuclear fuel is an emotional issue and rarely do people make a rational risk assessment.  


Short in geological time, pretty darn long in human (or for that matter, all biological) time.  Time enough for some pretty catastrophic effects on the biosphere in the event of a problem with the storage.  I'd say we have enough ecological problems to deal with right now without adding another extremely risky and unpredictable factor to the mix.  Not that the PTB's are going to listen to MY opinion.....
I'd say Nuclear is An Emotional Issue for the advocates as much as the opponents, and these mortal-humans are as likely to come to irrational conclusions as anybody.. Nuclear energy carries this fantasy promise (Still!) of being too cheap to meter.

 It's not cheap, it relies on a heavy investment in energy, both in capital and running costs, and an undetermined expense for decommissioning, waste-disposal and overall liability.. all in order to leave us with a point source of huge amounts of power.. a system design that's great for energy monopolists, but leaves the end user dependant still on a distant, complex powerplant, on a political and economic structure that will be anything but secure and comforting in the coming years of energy concerns, and on the availability of enough high-grade Uranium to fullfill the promise that the invested energy will pay back at all.

All this while, the sour gasses will be there with Nuclear or without it.  If the question is 'which one to worry about', is it advisable to 'just not worry' about adding new dangers to our existing ones?

Not only that, but it is also far from "CO2 free"

Uranium power is less CO2 intensive than coal by a factor of ten thousand. Some paid liars work for the coal companies and try to obscure this with all kinds of bullshit arguments. These then get picked up and repeated by people that don't know any better.
We have tremendously rich uranium mines these days that we simply didn't have back in the fifties. We have tremendously efficient isotope enrichment plants these days that we simply didn't have back in the fifties.
Nukes are the third least carbon intensive power plants going, after concentration solar, wind power, and geothermal, but ahead of hydro, natural gas, biofuels, and coal.
Surprised to see hydro as carbon intensive? Don't be. What do you think happened to all the plants when the water covered the land beneath the new reservoir?
  Unless you have some data to back up the '10,000 times less CO than Coal' argument, I'll take it you're simply supporting my suggestion that Nuclear Supporters can be as Emotionally Irrational in their exuberance for allegedly 'cheap power', and 'easy fixes' as those detractors who are simply afraid of sparking either accidents or wars that could poison large parts of the planet for eons.

Bob Fiske

This is important so I hope folks who really know something about it can put some simple basic facts out to help the non-experts come up to speed.

Why not just bury nuclear waste back where the original uranium ore came from?

Higher concentration of uranium in the waste doesn't seem like a good argument. Just mix the waste back into all that rock that got pulverized to extract the uranium!

I bet, though, that the original rocks do a much better job of holding onto that uranium than we would like be able to do with any decently inexpensive technology. The original rocks presumably held the uranium there for some geologically long time already, after all! Trying to engineer a similar type of rock to hold the waste... I suspect we're not smart enough to figure out how to do that, or to be able to determine how well we've succeeded with any given recipe. Plus, again, if the whole cycle is to have EROEI > 1, then our man-made rock needs to be easy enough to create.

Plus, the waste is not the same mix of material as the original fuel. That's why it's waste! There are fission products, but also isotopes formed by neutron capture, e.g. Plutonium. So these new materials are chemically and radioactively different than the original uranium. I.e. even if you could put the waste back in the rocks just the way the original uranium was, you wouldn't get the same effect.

I was always mystified by the way people talk about how toxic Plutonium is. McPhee's Curve of Binding Energy helped me understand how Plutonium turns out to be so bad - the oxide forms a fine powder, which can easily get deep into lung tissue. In low concentration, it then can get carried through the blood and take up long term residence in the bones, just waiting for that mysterious quantum signal to decay and shoot high energy particles around in your guts.

I double checked in a colleague's nuclear engineering textbook from college, & sure enough, the allowable concentration of plutonium dioxide dust is remarkably low!

My most recent aha! with nuclear waste: one of the most potent geological forces on the planet is biological, viz. homo sapiens. Plutonium is a lot easier to separate (chemically) than U 235. So if there is some rock buried that has plutonium in it, some nasty folks could decide to dig it up to get that plutonium.

There are other ways that the waste problem couples to the proliferation problem, but this one belongs on the list at least.

I studied physics in college 30 years ago but not especially nuclear physics. Plus since then my brain has rotted out with all this boolean algebra. So the above is not to be taken as some pretence at expertise, but just a shake of the bushes to try to flush some genuine expertise into the open.

On the other hand, why not just pump CO2 back where the CH4 came from, darned if I can think of why it shouldn't work!

I'm no physicist, but my understanding is that plutonium is not a naturally-occuring element on earth; that is, there is no ore that contains plutonium. Plutonium is a by-product of human nuclear activity.

We can't 'put plutonium back' where it came from, except by waiting for it to radioactively decay back to a stable element. Don't hold your breath waiting.

Cherenkov --
You are correct. I think the PO and GW discussions often lack an understanding of kinetics. Rate and concentration are huge issues. If we burned the earth's oil over 10,000 years rather than 100 we would not be discussing either topic.

I think the Doomers also lack an understanding of kinetics. If we slow down the rate / concentration of FF consumption, CO2 production and the birth rate (already happening)then the possibilities of a die-off are decreased.

We are also about to experience peak population. If we peak at 7.8 billion vs. 9 billion it will easier for humanity to squeeze through the current evolutionary bottleneck.

The die-offers, (I have great respect for Alpha Matt and the gang) must confront a huge moral issue. If you know that your speices is at risk of extinction and your choice is to do little to help anybody but yourself then I think a trip to the concentration camps in Poland might re-frame your viewpoint. Accepting the deaths of 100 of millions of people is morally bankrupted. Do everything except burn more coal. No one technology will save us but technology may ease our passage thruogh the resource and population bottleneck.

We should do everything possible to slow down the kinetics of PO, GW and population growth.


"The die-offers, (I have great respect for Alpha Matt and the gang) must confront a huge moral issue. If you know that your speices is at risk of extinction and your choice is to do little to help anybody but yourself then I think a trip to the concentration camps in Poland might re-frame your viewpoint. Accepting the deaths of 100 of millions of people is morally bankrupted."


Logicaly fallacy alert. Best explained with an example:

I accept that the Holocaust happened.  Acceptance and advocacy are not the same thing. And for the record I get DAMN SICK AND TIRED YES I AM YELLING AND I WILL SAY IT AGAIN DAMN SICK AND TIRED of people trying to equate those who recognize where we are heading with those who would advocate it. So quit it once and for all okay?

Have you read Catton and Malthus?  I don't mean "have you read summaries or critiques from people who never read it themselves?" I mean actually sat down and read them in all their grimness? Here's what I see the major and I mean MAJOR psychological problem most people face when they encounter this information:

Most of the efforts to slow things down end up having a major unintended consequence which is to make them worse in the end. Slowing something down does not equate solving it. "Yikes" when you think about it too much. What do you think would be more chaotic and violent, assumming a carrying capacity of perhaps 1.5 billion sans fossil fuel input: a population crash from 7.5 billion to 1.5 billion or from 15 billion to 1.5 billion? My guess is the higher the peak, the harsher the downfall will be. Not just for those in the third world but for those of us who sit in climate controlled comfort typing away on TOD.

Again let me be clear here: I'm not advocating anything at all one way or the other. For one thing any "kill off" by the elite probably (certainly?) includes yours truly. "Hasta la vista" as our governator would say.

If we marshalled our fossil fuel resources in a drastically more equitable fashion while ramping up our use of so called "green" technologies and food productioin methodologies I suspect we could probably supply a reasonably high standard of living for 9-to-15 billion people on this planet. Wow, sounds great at first till you realize that ultimatley the party will have to end no matter how equitable the distributiion of liquor and nuts has been. And with more people at the bar you're likely to have a lot more violence. The more violence you have as the liquor dries up the more destroyed the bar will end up which means it will have a permantely reduced capacity for any sort of party in the future.

This is EXACTLY why I told the folks at the Energy Solutioins Conference that you must confine your reading and thinking on these matters to perhaps 1 day a week if you want to keep your sanity.  These issues are inherently depressing when you look at them honestly because, in the end, there are no real answers.  

There is a passage in the Bible applicable here regardless of your religious persuasion or lack thereof:

ECC 1:18 "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."



"Wisdom is a curse when it brings no profit to the wise". (De Niro as the devil in disguise to Micky Rourke in ANGEL HEART-great movie.I guess the screenwriter stole it from the Bible.
RE: ECC 1:18 "For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow."

I know I am late, and it is possible that no one will see this, but I tell my kids that knowing more increases the potential for finding humor.   I think people can see more, and more ludicrous, connections between events and and ideas when they have more knowledge to work with.  I don't tell the kids about the sorrow part; they will get that on their own, but they have come to agree with me on the humor part.  

"We should do everything possible to slow down the kinetics of PO, GW and population growth."


If you really believe that truly and sincerely, then log off the net and go jump off a bridge. =)



. Accepting the deaths of 100 of millions of people is morally bankrupted.

What have YOU done to NOT 'accept' the death of the people from:
Iraqastqan invasion deaths
Bhopol contimation
traffic accidents
over eating
or even hunger "when the world have excessive food resoures"

How are oyu not morally bankrupt when you don't prevent any/al;l of the abouve PREVENTABLE reasons for death?

I see it as a mathematical and resource issue rather than a moral issue.

I do a good deal to reduce my fossil energy use and adverse environmental impact, grow nearly all my own vegetables, do volunteer work helping others to learn how to grow vegetables, try to educate and inform people about PO etc. So I guess I do more than most to avert what I see coming.

However, given the behavior human societies have manifested and will almost certainly continue to exhibit, I expect global population to drop to between 1 and 3 billion within the next 30 years. What is 'immoral' about having such awareness? I think it is moral to point out this consequence of current human behavior even though it means 'accepting' that several billions of humans will die prematurely as a result.

As to the means of killing those excess humans you probably think I'm morally bankrupt on that, too: I don't really care. We can chuck a few newks about (too many and it could get risky for our species and others), let people die from starvation and disease (which seems to be our current favourite method), have lots of very bloody proxy wars and some exciting civil wars too, have a particularly virulent pandemic - accidental or engineered, have a sudden power switch off (this one gets more of the developed countries' humans, lol). I don't really think any likely solution has much moral superiority.

We will have a die-off, limited resources and the juggernaut of human population make it inevitable. Perhaps a couple of the primary underlying causes are monotheism and capitalism, lol.

Good point.  As Paracelsus said, the poison is in the dose.
Speed limits suck....
Yeah, I know driving more slowly saves a lot of gas. But still, in Germany, there is no general speed limit on the autobahn, and yet, Germans only consume half the gas per capita compared to Americans.
Have you BEEN to Germany?? They have public transpo, cities and areas are walkable, car ownership and miles driven are far less than in the US.

No, they are not using less gas per capita because a few select roads/racetracks are w/o speed limits.

Uh....Siggi lives in Germany. o_O
Yes, I live in Berlin, Germany, don't own a car, go to work by bike. Berlin also has a great public transport network, consisting of subways, rail and busses, all day long, all night long.

When I visit my parents, who live on the other edge of Germany, I go by train, which is way faster than a car anyway.

So, you are right: Cities here are walkable and bikeable. We have special bike lanes, byking is much faster in the center. Having a car here is a waste of money. A lot of people own cars anyway, but they have to pay taxes for owning the car, taxes on the gas they use, taxes on the insurance, and parking fees. Parts of these taxes are used to subsidize public transport.

Sometimes, however, when I go to the countryside, I rent a car, and then I enjoy the fact that there is no speed limit. It's fun.


Uh, yes, no general enforced speed limit for autos on the Autobahns (depending on the state), but a suggested speed limit of 130 kph, no? And for trucks, it is an enforced limit of 80 kph no matter what.

Not to mention that about half the length of the Autobahns actually do have speed limits for autos too -- not suggested, but enforced -- in areas like city limits or where lots of traffic is coming together (interchanges).

Also not to mention that most of the autos on the roads here are compact and subcompact vehicles, with a much smaller percentage of full-size cars, pickup trucks, and SUVs.

And then, of course, there are the trains, the buses, and the bike paths.

Finally, last but not least Germany is one of the most crowded places in Europe, with a population a little under 1/3 the size of the US's sitting on a piece of land about 26 times smaller. Yet there's lots of farmland and beautiful countryside here, because most of the population live in cities and towns that are much denser than their US counterparts would be (the city I'm from in the US midwest has about 10 times the area of the city I live in now here in Germany for roughly the same population).

So yes, Germans consume less gas than Americans do, and yes, it's funs sometimes to drive 200 kph when you can, but you can't say that one thing has anything to do with the other (except that maybe some Germans would save even more gas if they didn't fly down the Autobahns doing 225 in the lefthand lanes in their BMWs M5s and Audi A4s.

All true. But we are getting rid of most of the fixed speed limits. On a lot of autobahns, there are already flexible speed limits, based on traffic density and weather conditions. In some places, the speed limit only applies during the night. Close to cities and interchanges the speed limit usually is 120 kph, within cities 80 - 100 kph.

If we had a general speed limit, there might be a lower gas consumption. Personally, I prefer higher gas taxes and congestion charges.

Building houses has been subsidized so far (Eigenheimzulage), this is phased out know. And, commuters get tax breaks, those will be reduced as well. In the 80ies, Germans were moving out of city centers in order to build a house in a suburb. This trend has already stopped. And, those suburbs are usually connected with trains.

People living on the countryside suffer most from the gas prices. They should start to use biofuels.

We still need to expand the public transport, build more bike paths, increase car costs. Doing so, we will continue to reduce our gas consumption.

The European car industry has promised to lower the average gas consumption per car. They will probably fail, in which case the European Union will force them.

We are not as ambitious as the Swedes, though. But, if the decline in oil production will be at 5%-10% per year, we can cope.


I wasn't aware that they were doing away with the enforced speed limits. I know around the Koeln/Bonn area they have flexible speed limits in place, but I've never seen a pattern in how they are applied. Here in Rheinland-Pfalz it seems like pretty much all of the Autobahns are capped at 130 kph, except for maybe parts of the A48/A1 heading to Trier and the A61 towards Frankfurt. My wife certainly has enough speeding tickets to show for it. ;-)

On your other points, I think a combination of lowering train fares might help a bit as well. Right now it is actually less expensive for me to travel to Frankfurt or Koeln with a car, even considering the already outrageous (by US standards) fuel prices. Of course, if I got a BahnCard it would help lower the ticket prices, but the I don't travel around the region enough to justify the up-front cost (and let's not talk about how incredibly much less expensive it is to fly to Berlin than to take a train).

FWIW, there's no doubt that the Germans are in a much better position to make an easier transition to a expensive energy future than the US is. They've already got much of the infrastructure built, and they are already accustomed to a way of life that lots of Americans are going to have to get used to.

You are right, train prices are quite high. Flights are so cheap, because they are tax free! That's ridiculous. Deutsche Bahn went to the EU court because of that, but they lost. Germany will not introduce such a tax, because airlines would then go to Amsterdam, Zürich, and so on. The EU should introduce that tax, but if only one country says "no", then there is no kerosine tax.

I have a BahnCard, four trips per year to my parents compensate for the costs.

Those flexible signs sometimes show the "no speed limit" sign, at least some of them do. Try the A9 Berlin-Munich, hmm, that's not really where you live. It might take ages to change all autobahns to flexible limits, they only do that when rebuilding, adding lanes, and on the very crowded parts. In general, most of the single-digit long autobahns will get them. Those also have long parts without speed limits. The A2 is pretty much free from Braunschweig - Berlin, the A9 from Berlin - Nürnberg, and again from Nürnberg to close to Munich.

I really like my lifestyle. It's very comfortable for me to go by bike a lot. Berlin is a pretty flat city. We have a lot of lakes around where you can swim. The city is very green, lots of parks, and most streets have trees. Vistors are usually impressed how green the city is. The short way to work saves a lot of time. And, taking my bike with a train, I am in the countryside in 30 minutes. Not to mention the cultural possibilities and the nightlife big cities offer. Living in a crowded city is not something everyone likes, but I definitely enjoy it.

Only the Alps are too far away.

More Americans should come to Europe, they'd see that you can live very comfortably with half the energy use. In Italy, which is not flat at all, they use a lot of light motorbikes. Italian railways are very cheap as well. Or have a look at Switzerland.

Which brings us back to the "Silver-Bullet Theory" in which someone always asks...but which ONE thing would work EVERYWHERE.

When looking for solutions, Americans seem to tend to want something homogenous (while simultaneously boasting their individuality, of course).  Motorcycles could see a lot more use in the south than the north, and more in the lowlands than the high country.  But hundreds of motorcycling commuters doing 75mph down the highway smells a lot like death to me.  Few people live close enough to work to bicycle, and the real problem with the bicycling ecotopia is if you hurt yourself.  Even a small foot or leg injury could lay you up and keep you from cycling.

As a (possible) aside, I wonder how many Europeans realize quite how vast the US is.  There was an exchange student here (western north carolina) from Germany.  He thought it would be a great idea to take a day trip to Washington DC.  He was quite suprised when informed that it was about 8 hours away.  One way.  16 hour round trip.  That'd be a hell of a day trip.

Something that's interesting to note (because it relates highly to the "societal" aspect of things) is that the Germans on the Autobahn are drivers and not Moolate drinking, cellphoning zombies.  They respect the rules of the road...get to the right hand lane when going slower, don't tailgate, pay attention to the mirrors, what's in front of them, etc.  This attention to the act of driving means that even though they've got people flying at 150 mph and others puttering at 60 mph and everything in between...the death rate is lower on the autobahn.  If you repealed the speed limits in the US with the current habits intact, half the US population would suffer a grisly death within the first year.
Nah, after a few hundred thousand died the rest would get the idea.

You misunderstood what it was that Hansen was saying.  He didn't say that there were no effects related to the Gulf stream, he was saying that he believes that overall warming of the climate will overshadow any cooling caused by a shutdown of the Gulf stream.

And Crichton isn't a scientist.  Global warming deniers frequently use his name to belittle global warming, but his book is a work of fiction, after all.

I take the question of runaway global warming rather seriously.  If we make a mistake, and in the long term both Greenland and Antarctica melt, the sea level rise is huge.  I don't remember the number - something like 50 meters.  Given this, I am quite uneasy with the talk of burning Montana's coal or oil sands in Alberta.  The sequestration that they are talking of is for the CO2 generated by the process, but that still creates a carbon-based liquid fuel which would release CO2 when burned in a vehicle.

And part of Hansen's point is that we may reach a point where we have pumped enough CO2 into the air that melting in both places is inevitable, and there won't be a thing we can do about it.

Hi there! Long time reader, first time commenter... I just had to sign up to address 2 specific points:

  1. Historic temperature data for a specific location tells you precisely nothing about climate. This is the first, and simplest error people make when taking about climate: the climate is not the weather. An ususually hot or cold spell in a small locality does not necessarily reflect the larger picture. If you're going to tackle climate issues, you need to avoid such really obvious mistakes - there are enough non-obvious mistakes to make as it is.

  2. Carbon sequestration / deep disposal of nuclear waste. The problem isn't so much with the fundamental concept - as noted, plenty of stuff stays securely buried for very long periods of time. The problem is with the engineering systems required to get the waste there in the first place. Any human-designed system is prone to all sorts of errors, accidents, mistakes and failures - for example, the Buncefield oil depot fire was caused by the failure of several safety systems which resulted in a tank overflow going on unnoticed for over 40 minutes. It seems to me there's a disturbing tendancy to assume that technology always works perfectly - it simly doesn't. The important question is what happens when it fails.

An extreme example related to technical solutions to deal with waste disposal would be suggestions that come up from time to time that we can dispose of nuclear waste by using rockets to launch the stuff into space, and ultimately into the sun.

If we could really get the stuff up into the sun, then we wouldn't need to worry about it, now would we?

The problem of course is that rockets fail from time to time, and when they do, it is usually in a catastrophic manner.

Rockets also require LARGE quantities of fuel??? Fossil fule I presume.

Rocket fuels. Not fossil fuels, but made with them.

Very good point about climate and weather.  It is easy to get the two confused.

More reaction to the Crichton question.  The NRDC has written up something responding to critics who use Crichton to try and deny global warming:

and for that matter Hansen himself has written up his own response to these questions:

Scientists - real people who do this for a living - are reaching a consensus that global warming is real.  If you look back a number of years, there were more legitimate doubts, but as time has gone on, there has been a convergence in the thought processes.

Here's a layman's perspective:
If your child had visible symptoms of an illness, and 90%+ of the world's pediatricians were telling you "your child is in grave danger!" and <10% of the pediatricians were telling you "Nah, he/she is just fine, it's a natural fluctuation, just ignore it", then which would you pay more attention to?  What would you do about your child?

For example, while there's nearly unanimous agreement that global warming is caused largely by human activity, the administration, in the name of "sound science," has stressed the arguments of a few dissenters, such as "Jurassic Park" author Michael Crichton.
Forget about the mountains of data showing high correlation between human activity and climate change. Don't bother with those world-class climate geeks at Realclimate and the consensus of the brightest scientific minds on earth. Because behind the curtain of door number two are industry toadies, George Bush the credible, and a science-fiction writer calling the data into question in between his clever cinematic escapades of medieval time travelers and raptors cavorting with photogenic teenagers.
Sheesh, who you gonna believe?

Crichton is not a science fiction writer. He is a technothriller writer. Different genre. SFWA (Science Fiction Writers of America) laughs at him but envies his advances.
Great Article, Ericy, thanks!

"So how did Crichton conclude that our prediction was in error 300%? Beats me.
Crichton writes fiction and seems to make up things as he goes along. He doesn't seem to have
the foggiest notion about the science that he writes about. Perhaps that is o.k. for a science
fiction writer4.
However, I recently heard that, in considering the global warming issue, a United States
Senator is treating words from Crichton as if they had scientific or practical validity. If so, wow
-- Houston, we have a problem!"  Hansen, from the above linked essay..

I heard Crichton was invited to testify before the Senate (invited by James Imhofe) on the subject of climate change.. since his book quoted 'real scientists, from real universities'.. just begs the line:

"I bring Scientists, YOU bring a rock star!"
     Dr! John Hammond, Jurassic Park

Orrin Hatch - R,Utah just spoke out on Earth Day this year to decry the notion once again..  4/20/06

"   Hatch said he had read Michael Crichton's State of Fear, a novel about climate change, and took note of the scientific citations at the end of the book. He could not recall specific articles or authors he had read that confirm concerns about global warming but said he thought there was a lot of "non-science" around the issue.
    "In fact, let's call it science fiction," he said."

Yes, let's.

Well see, here is my problem.  Dr Hansen is now taking (if I remember) ice core data from a single place to get historical temperature data to justify his argument, why can't I go pick somewhere and see whether it is getting warmer ?  You can't have it both ways, either it works for both of us or neither.

Now whether Dr Crichton is a scientist or not (I believe he has an MD which suggests some scientific training, I hope) if he tells me to go independently to a site and check for myself, and I do, and I post the record, then I don't see where his credentials come into it.  This was one of the problems I have with folk that say things like"if it isn't in a peer-reviewed journal it is junk." If I go get some data on the number of rigs in Saudi Arabia from the Baker Hughes count I tend to believe it, short strong evidence tot he contrary, because it is generally considered by the industry to be reliable, but it is not peer reviewed every week, I would suspect. Or if a newspaper tells me that putting fertilizer on my roses works, and I try it and find it's true, am I supposed to have ignored the advice  because that article was written by a housewife down the road?

And in regard to underground storage of waste, yes I know about the human propensity to have accidents, but there are more people killed on the roads every year, and I don't see a ban on driving as a result.  And I am aware of the differences in concentration etc.  between most natural uranium and the material that gets reburied. It doesn't change my point.

I believe you are mistaken about the significance attributed to individual data series, although I can't say for certain without knowing exactly which research you are refering to and doing a bit of digging. Dr Hansen may specialise in a particular sample region, but that data is then worked into large-scale climate reconstructions based on multiple proxies from multiple sources. Good climate reconstructions involve vast amounts of data from many, many different sources.

If Dr Hansen were basing his conlusions on a single set of ice core data, then yes, that would be completely ridiculous. In fact, it would be like trying to get a feel for worldwide oil production trends based on an incomplete set of daily production data from one single well, only worse. Given that Dr Hansen is a respected climateologist, and given that such an argument would get you laughed out of an undergraduate course on the subject, I suspect the most reasonable conclusion is that you have probably misintepreted his presentation.

As you say, whether Crichton is a scientist or not is not the issue. However, his work on this subject is so riddled with obvious schoolboy errors, and he has such an obvious axe to grind ("all the worlds climateologists are engaged in a massive consipracy" - oh really?) that I don't think he can be regarded as a credible source.

As for the risks of deep burial (sorry to continue mixing these two topics)... There are two factors to consider in risk management: probability and severity. Flying aircraft is much more tightly regulated than driving cars, not because the risks are so much greater, but because the potential consequences are so much more severe. I'm not sure that we're even able to make a rational assessment of the potential severity of a major nuclear waste disposal accident, but the prospect of getting even small amounts of certain radionucliotides into the food chain is not a pleasant one.

Dr Hansen is now taking (if I remember) ice core data from a single place to get historical temperature data to justify his argument, why can't I go pick somewhere and see whether it is getting warmer ?  You can't have it both ways, either it works for both of us or neither.

Not to quibble, but I'm assuming that Dr. Hansen's ice cores go back many thousands of years whereas your data starts in 1910.  It makes a difference.

If I go get some data on the number of rigs in Saudi Arabia from the Baker Hughes count I tend to believe it, short strong evidence tot he contrary, because it is generally considered by the industry to be reliable

But Crichton isn't "generally considered by the [experts] to be reliable".  Most climate scientists have serious problems with his position on climate change.  So I would look very skeptically at anything Crichton has to say on the topic (without completely discounting him as sometimes even the experts are wrong).

Or if a newspaper tells me that putting fertilizer on my roses works, and I try it and find it's true, am I supposed to have ignored the advice  because that article was written by a housewife down the road?
 Well, if she's wrong the only person who suffers is you if your rosebush dies or fails to thrive.  When it comes to issues that have major ramifications for the planet, I prefer to get my advice from credentialled, peer-reviewed professionals who have spent their careers studying the problem.  :)
What they look for in the ice core samples is entrapped CO2.Yes, there will be some local variatons in atmospheric CO2, but not at the same level as local variations in weather.And in a 400,000 year ice core it gets easy to filter out year to year noise. And they get as many ice cores as possible.  Unfortunatewly as glaciers disappear, less data is available. When data that is tens of thousands of years, or even hundreds of thousands of years old melts IMHO you can be pretty darn sure it's getting warmer.
While CO2 concentration is one of the things they collect, the proxy temperatures are based on Deuterium content.
The problem with CO2 sequestration is energy. First you have to concentrate the CO2 and put it in a pipeline,pump it through the pipeline and then boost its pressure high enough th go into the rock. All of thid can be accomplished with todays technology but all the compressors and pumps require an energy source. This has traditionally been natural gas for natural gas storage.
   The other problem is collection. Sequestration could work on power plant exhaust but how do we deal aith the particulate  in the smoke clogging up the pore space in the storage rock? I'm afraid that Parent is right, the real problem is population and the only solution is conservation. The population is projected to be 8 to 10 billion by 2050, all wanting to eat a middle class diet and drive a car. I was born in 1951 when the world population was about 2 billion, mostly wihout cars.
    Frugality is a traditional virtue, all you darn conservatives, don't you pay attention to conserve as a root word?
Here's one of my more chilling visions of a possible nuclear future:

The toughest problem seems to be weapons proliferation. The path we're headed down seem to be a kind of global totalitarian regime. The idea being that The Powers That Will Be can use all their cruise missiles, secret police, &c. to make sure that nobody tries any nuclear funny business OR ELSE.

The fundamental problem with the current path: power corrupts.

So let us envision our Powers, stepping out from their Watergate orgies or their barrel fish safaris, how are they going to keep money and power flowing into their pockets? Nuclear technology is the real Faustian deal. Suppose our Powers need to crack some heads to keep folks in line, but don't want to dirty their hands. So the Powers can hire some foreign Lackeys to take care of the necessary business. How will the Powers pay the Lackeys? Oooh, some unreprocessed nuclear waste could get diverted from the underground repository. Far more valuable than gold! Security is so tight all around the nuclear fuel flow that NO ONE WILL KNOW!

In general, it will be more profitable to run the nuclear fuel flow sloppily than carefully. It's only by keeping the process open to public scrutiny that the sloppiness can be corrected. But the danger of proliferation introduces secrecy, so the corrective mechanism gets broken. My corruption scenario is just the next step after sloppiness.

Maybe the "open to public scrutiny" path could be taken - that's what the non-proliferation treaty was trying to accomplish. Just what toxic mix of fear and greed is leading the U.S. executive branch to dismantle it... can we put Humpty Dumpty back together again?

Roger Bedzek was just plain wrong when he said "in regard to Alan's question on trains, he pointed out that the
tide is still flowing the other way, and we are still in the phase where goods are moving away from trains to trucks. The only things that use trains almost exclusively are coal users, and these have taken the system to the edge of saturation. Before we can reverse this, we first have to stop it growing, and the problems of the huge inertia that 50 years of this trend have acquired, make it unlikely to happen in the near future. He therefore doubted Alan's hope that we could reduce the wedge impact time from 25 years to 8, though in some places this might, locally, have some impact."

Train modal share is growing, trucking is shrinking.  Intermodal (trucks for local delivery, trains for long haul) has explosive growth in 2005 by all accounts. Many commodities and freight types are moving to rail in ever larger %. Electrifing major rail lines can be done in a decade.

I am working on a rebuttal to Mr. Bedzek.

I was also wondering what Heading Out (I got his business card but will not reveal his ID :-) thought of my handout and the overall approach ?

It seems to me that a lot of the rail traffic I see heading across the deserts of CA, NV and AZ is container traffic.  Alan, how does electrification with overhead wires work with container traffic?  Are not containers loaded and unloaded by cranes onto rail cars?  Don't overhead wires make that hazardous and/or impossible.

Also the occasional but far from rare crashes of freight trains ... wouldn't they cause havoc with electic overhead infrastructure.

Just thinking aloud ...

The US rail industry is almost unique in doublestacking containers (we run higher axle loads on heavier rail than anyone else.  Heavy enough to cold deform steel, although it "snaps back" 99%).

This does not work everywhere (old tunnels are a problem).

Most industry observers believe that ungainly looking pantographs can contact high mounted wires that clear double stacked containers.  However, higher wires require taller poles > more expense.  The US RRs may follow the EU & Japanese lead and stay with single stack containers.  An interesting economics study.

Containers are loaded in marshalling yards and loading docks, with small locos (could be battery operated) pushing them around.  No need for overhead wires at container loading points.

Freight train crashes cause problems in MANY dimensions, overhead wires would be the least of them.  Breakers would kill current very quickly.

The immediate repair may require that following trains coast through the damaged point, but I suspect restringing wire will be easier than repairing track.

There is a diesel-hybrid switching locomotive out there.  The batteries come in handy in adding weight (and hence traction) for the locomotive.

Google "green goat" for more details.

I don't know if you could carry enough energy in the form of batteries to run a locomotive 100% of the time.  Perhaps those zinc-air fuel cells that E-P likes could do the trick.

Batteries are important for getting past gaps in the power lines. Even though trains are efficient at moving, diesel is still cheaper. Hell, steam electric beats batteries, and locomotives are big enough that you really could build a coal powered electric locomotive.
But it's so cheap to make DME from coal, why bother shifting technologies?
When you look at global warming, you have to look at the temperature of the whole earth.  It is average temperature of the globe that is the relevant parameter.  Regional warming trends do not tell the story.  
Grin, I don't want to get too deeply into this (see the initial qualification in the original post) but what I was suggesting was that folk check things out for themselves. Go to the site, pick a place, and see what the temperature trends have been. I am not telling anyone where to look to get fake data - I just did this initially out of curiosity, myself - this is something you can do for yourself and make up your own mind. (And if someone knows where to get the European data in the same format I would be interested to see, and post about, that).

However, in my mischievous Friday self let me point out the temperatures at the point that I picked follows the same trend as Dr Hansen's graph from 1960. What my graph shows, that his does not plot, is the data from 1930 to 1960 where it got colder from a temperature that was, in 1930, hotter than this past year.  (And - grin, can't resist, didn't I hear it was snowing somewhere today?)

Stuart has been very good about accepting criticism about the way that he plotted some of his data in that it might be too localized in scale, and thus plotted over a longer time period to show longer term trends.  And I have commented that I am a disciple of Tufte in a couple of earlier posts. I don't have an axe to grind here, but I prefer drawing my conclusions from data, which is what we try to provide on this site.

The deal is this though.  According to Hansen, we have so far had about 1 degree C of warming.  You can look in your plot at the top of the page, and 1 degree C is really lost in the noise.  You really do need to average over the whole planet in order to reduce the noise to the point that you can see the overall trend.

For some reason I don't recall, warming trends at higher latitudes are supposed to be more pronounced.

They're more pronounced because there's less water vapor in the air near the poles, so other greenhouse gases have a larger relative effect.
Heading out, as much as I respect you as a commentator and expert in some areas, some of what you said (and what has come up in the discussion--so what I'm about to write doesn't completely apply to you) is just plain wrong.

Global warming is happening. Whether you believe it or not, my generation is going to be living in a very different world than the one you grew up in. This is not to say that there will be intergenerational conflict, I don't blame "you guys," but I've only had 19 years to emit CO2. Already (and here we are again, flip flopping on regional climate), people who have lived in an area for 30 years or so are noticing differences in climate. Global warming is what will ultimately cause the most serious ramifications; however it is hard to react to and even harder to understand GLOBAL warming.

Peak oil is just one of the first and perhaps most salient call to awaken us to the fact that we have breached the limits. Before we lived in an empty world (at least by some perspectives) that could absorb our waste ad infinitum. Even the DDT problem was really not that serious compared to what we're facing now.

Because we will face resource scarcity of some sort, any solution predicated on carbon sequestration also believes in a mass environmental consciousness shift. This is because when energy resources get scarce, without regulation or ethics or both, there will be a strong incentive to stop sequestering carbon unless it is used in EOR projects--and power plants tend not to be located next oil fields.

As previous posters have noted, water depletion, topsoil depletion and general biosphere contamination will all proceede apace or ahead of peak oil.

Granted, people come to peak oil with certain agendas (like Kunstler's anti-suberbia one), but that doesn't necessarily mean they arn't right. Perhaps we will be able to do a better job mitigating the shortfall--CTL and wind and maybe even biofuels--but we will only be making it worse for some future generation.

The belief that we can control the biosphere and manipulate the earth with technology for our benefit only goes so far. There are costs to any action, and in the case of biofuels it seems like you end up either mining the topsoil (a common problem for agriculture) or using truly dirty fuels (see my earlier thought on CO2 sequestration) to distil it.

I will not argue that alternatives WILL NOT contribute (though I think Tainter's argument of societal complexity could provide a strong argument for society not investing even if it were profitable), but the scalability issue continues to loom large. Technology will no doubt improve, and perhaps things will not be as dramatic as some claim they will, but we live on a finite earth and few are truly taking notice of that (including Dan Lashof of the NRDC of all people). In 50 years, and I'm increasingly thinking I WILL live that long, the planet will not be the same place it used to be. This will incidentally mean fewer people (maybe they'll even decrease in population due to birth control and female education--Daly pointed out that economic growth is somewhat untested and not possible in any event) and less intensive settlement patterns for all people. If we are able to give up the car culture--even if that only means 55 mph speed limits at first (I try to drive 55 when I do drive, but sometimes it doesn't happen, like coming back from the conference)--we will be well on our way to a saner and more realistic vision of the future.

Lastly, and this is actually my personal biggest peeve with the conference, we have really failed to consider the social and environmental justice implications of all the warming that is already in the pipeline and the ways in which social units (localities to nations) will deal with peak oil. The conference was almost exclusively white men. Of those, almost exclusively rich white men. That does not detract from what they had to say, but it does mean that some viewpoints were left out--views that belong to members of the majority of the earth's population. When we experience 2-5% depletion of SUV fuel our demand destruction means driving less. What about countries that experience 2-5-50% depletion of fertilizer and cooking fuel? Cuba came out OK, but look at North Korea, look at Iraq (not due to depletion directly, but...).

Everything is in everything, which is to say that we cannot examine any issue without being drawn into its complex interactions with the sum of the system. Peak oil, framed only as a liquid fuels shortfall, could potentially be overcome by conservation and a crash mitigation program, maybe we can even do that still with less than 10 years left (in all likelihood). When considered within the broader state of the world (I was actually disappointed by Lester Brown's dreams of a clean, green, "sustainably growing"(even if he didn't use that phrase) future), we are up a creek without a paddle (a creek that is potentially drying up in california due to increased droughts and flooding elsewhere) and many, if not all of us (myself included), can't really concieve of what things truly look like.

So the arguments for peak oil being the end of the world all by itself, while they may turn out to be true, seem less likely. What will really put our civilization (and indeed species) under tremendous stress is the perfect storm that has been brewing for the past 300 to 10,000 years (but has really been stirred up in the last 50).

But I'm not hiding under a rock, I promise. Instead I'm going to keep going to college, continue to question my understanding of peak oil, and enjoy myself. Like Kunstler in "What I Live For" (written before peak oil dawned upon him), I enjoy good food, long walks in the woods and a warm body to curl up next to. I also would really enjoy civilization not collapsing...

Two things:
I'm always impressed by people like William Catton and others who saw at least the rudimentary aspects of this coming years ago. Perhaps none of us will be right on the specifics (I bet that will be the case, as usual), but the general trend is certainly going to bear itself out.

Arguing that global warming doesn't exist or that it will be a non-issue casts just as much doubt on someone's credibility as the statistical errors of Pimentel (has someone sent him a note about that, what an egregious error). I would encourage any and all to read Ross Gelbspan or Elizabeth Kolbert on global warming (as well as many others).


You are 19 you say? You seem quite intelligent for a man of your youth. There may be a place in my apocalyptic relgious cult . . . . I mean "multicultural eco-commune" for you.



This was just posted at the Globe and Mail

The UN's atomic energy agency has found traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian site linked to the country's Defence Ministry, diplomats said Friday.

The finding added to concerns that Tehran was hiding activities that could be used to make nuclear arms.

The diplomats, who insisted on anonymity in exchange for revealing the confidential information, said the findings were preliminary and still had to be confirmed through other lab tests. But they said the density of enrichment appeared close to or beyond weapons grade - the level used to make nuclear warheads.


I'm not sure if Iran with "nukeular" weapons is good or bad.
I suppose it's all a matter of perspective. For those who
want to bully Iran it might suck. For those who just want
to purchase oil from Iran it probably wont matter much.

What will be the real consequences of an Iran with a stockpile
of some 10s of small (5-20k Ton) nasties?

Also on a completely different subject, has anyone heard
one way or another about the commercial viability of nuclear
mass breeder reactors? Do they work, or are they a fantasy
put forward by some in the nuclear power lobby?

As far as I know, breeder reactors have never really worked in the past. They have either been very unsafe, very uneconomic or very poor at producing nuclear fuel. Whether that will be true in the future is another matter.

One trouble which is not bought up at the moment is that the world consumes 66,000 tons of Uranium fuel each year, but mines only 30,000 tons. The other 36,000 tons comes from the degradation of nuclear weapon stockpiles of Russia and America (enforced peace treaties). This will cease by 2011/2012, so a stock tip then might be to be bullish on Uranium prices from 2010 onwards, unless peace breaks out big time and Russia and America degrade all their nuclear weapons.

That's why the price of uranium has skyrocketed over the last five years.
We can certainly find enough uranium to keep our present reactors running. Finding enough uranium to keep the new reactors the Chinese are building running is probable but not certain.
The US Army Corps of Engineers recently concluded that we have only 33-43 years of mineable natural uranium left on the planet, at the present rate of extraction.

Could it be Deja Vu all over again?

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.
"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

I find the timing of this latest "We found traces of WMD in Iran" story a little scary, based on somthing else I read this week...

According to military and intelligence sources, an air strike on Iran could be doable in June of this year, with military assets in key positions ready to go and a possible plan already on the table.
Speculation has been growing on a possible air strike against Iran. But with the failure of the Bush administration to present a convincing case to the UN Security Council and to secure political backing domestically, some experts say the march toward war with Iran is on pause barring an "immediate need."
Raw Story

Let's all hope that a 29% approval rating does not equal an "immediate need."

Here's a link with more information.  

More Uranium Reportedly Found in Iran

Still, they said, further analysis could show that the traces match others established to have come from abroad. The International Atomic Energy Agency determined earlier traces of weapons-grade uranium were imported on equipment from Pakistan that Iran bought on the black market during nearly two decades of clandestine activity discovered just over three years ago.

Not time to panic yet.

Joseph, sorry I posted on top of you.  My first post, I was fiddling with the link formatting while you were posting.
My own position on this is as follows:

  1. Iran has the right to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

  2. If Iran chooses to remove themselves from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there is no international legal basis for denying them nuclear weapons, thus they have the right to develop these weapons.

  3. Iran has NO right to use such weapons first against anyone else.

  4. If Iran uses these nuclear weapons against any other nation first such as Israel, Saudi Arabia (the Sunni-Shiite problem), or Pakistan, the US also has every right to respond in kind thus utterly and totally destroying Iran leaving nothing living in that country for the next thousand years.

And if I were president of the US that is the message I would tell Iran. Build what you want but if you use them against an American ally you will receive thousands of nuclear warheads in response and be "wiped off the map".

That's the best that can be done, I think, and still remain in a position of being right in the eyes of both international law and ethics. The world certainly would not want Iran to get away with using those weapons, because then they'd repeat it against another nation later plus other such states might do the same thing.

I remain convinced that the policies developed during the Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy administrations - that the US would not use nuclear weapons first but would respond with them if another country used them first, is the only policy that makes sense in a crazy world. Otherwise we start down the road of nuclear tit-for-tat and no one really knows where that sort of escalation would end.

I would assume that if you were President you would not be concerned with regime change in Iran with the goal of gaining more control over the country's oil and natural gas resources.
Re: Slowing Down
I tested this last weekend. I had a meeting to attend in Las Vegas, 300 miles from my home in Southern California. I drove my 1997 Saturn SC2 with tires about 2 psi above manufacturer's recommendation on cruise control at 55 mph. I filled it before I left; I added gas once (at 400 miles), and I refilled it at the same gas pump when I returned. The total of the intermediate fill and the final fill divided into the distance (605 miles) was over 42 mpg. (Only two digits, a third might be justified.)

I'd have expected 32mpg (based on considerable past experience) or so driving at 75 mph. That is a large effect, buut it seems to be a smaller effect than the ones commonly predicted. I would expect the effect to be linear in speed in a regime where wind resistance dominates.

"buut it seems to be a smaller effect than the ones commonly predicted."

That's 31%!!!  What have you seen predicted???

Like the Wikipedia article cited by fmuniz, newspapers claim a v^2. My experience was roughly linear in v (42 mpg vs 33 mpg is 27%; 75 mph vs 55 mph). The high speed number was not as carefully measured. But it certainly was not a quadratic effect. And, of couse, wind resistance is only part of the energy consumption. Engine efficiency changes with rpm (probably lower at 75 mph for this vehicle, since it's a small engine.)

Not sure about the Wikipedia claim of quadratic drag force. (My results are consistent with a linear drag force (proportional to speed), which is true for "slow" motion in a viscous fluid.)

Anyway, a 30% reduction in fuel used in highway (not local) travel is surely a big effect on our national gasoline consumption.

Wind drag is quadratic respect to speed. See
Oh, the irony...

Owens goes to well for farmers

Crop report: Ethanol boosts corn prices ULT

There's another story in the print edition titled "Future's on Fire for Ethanol" from Bloomberg News.  Couldn't find a link to it on the Web but here's a quote:

Khosla, who founded Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun Microsystems Inc., on Thursday estimated the current U.S. market for blending ethanol into gasoline at about $25 billion.  The market may eventually be more than 10 times that size, Khosla said.

I think I'll reconsider investing in Sun Microsystems.....

I hang out with Sun engineers. They used to tune their C compiler to work with their Sparc chips. Then some office politics got in the way and crapped things up, and the engineers sold their Sun stock several years ago before it went down.
When the engineers sell, it's time to get out.
Well then, I'll suggest again, consider reading Derrick Jensen's ENDGAME. If industrial civilization is dooming life on this planet, there's your ammunition.

From an e-mail I sent to my sister this morning.  She's always been very much an optimist, a "they'll take care of it" sort, but via my inputs, I think she's starting to grok things more clearly.  I thought this worth sharing:

"When you think about it, it makes sense that we are going to be experiencing peak oil, peak natural gas, peak water, peak metals, peak soil, peak temperature, peak extinction, and peak many other things at not exactly, but about the same time.  Geologically speaking, in the same instant - like a supernova.  In human terms, over a very short period of decades.  It's because our society is designed to do one thing - maximize profit by maximizing the consumption of everything possible.  Our economic theory tells us that when a resource runs short, its price will rise and something more available and/or less expensive will be substituted for it.  This does happen within the constraints of a finite world.  So, we substitute broadly - for example, as we began to deplete soil, and run out of more open land to plant, we substituted fossil fertilizer for natural soil fertility (the green revolution) and it worked - for awhile.  We've done similar things across the board, so that no one resource constrained our population or economic growth.  We've even sometimes given one thing up for another, only to come back to the original when the subsitute became even more scarce/expensive.  So through this process, we come to the end of everything at about the same time.  Starting now."

My recommended reading list includes Catton, Daniel Quinn, Jerry Mander, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Manning and Derrick Jensen.  Taken together they paint a mosaic of our culture and the ecological circumstance we've placed ourselves in.

I think your email to your sister is brilliant. I also admire your reading list.

My preceeding comment re. Jensen's, ENDGAME was misplaced by stupidly clicking the wrong button. It was meant to appear much earlier in the thread.

Commodity cycles happen countercyclical to stock market booms. The last commodity boom of the seventies was after the last stock market boom of the sixties. Who wants to invest in bricks and mortor when stocks are going up 15% per year?
My recommended reading list includes Catton, Daniel Quinn, Jerry Mander, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Manning and Derrick Jensen.

I don't konw about Catton, Mander, Glendinning, but the others do not bear up to scrutiny and ultimately disappoint to varying degrees.

I would suggest instead Jim Merkel. He really walks the walk.

I'll try my best here so bare with me.
I didn't think that we had enough discussion about coal, though given that it was not until we heard the talks that we knew that Roger Bezdek was looking to 5 100,000 bd CTL plants per year, among other things, to get us back in balance, and that there would be so much debate about sequestration. You know what, methane has been sitting in the ground for millennia and more (that's natural gas) if we replace it with carbon dioxide what logical argument can you have to say it will pose a threat?

Actually it's a very good idea to question it. methane and co2 are two different gases. lets take oxygen and hydrogen for example. oxygen can of course be easily stored in metal containers. while hydrogen being a much smaller molecule, one of the smallest will always leak from the said container.

To a degree I have the same sort of argument for those who worry about burying nuclear waste. Uranium comes out of the ground, even relatively close to the surface in somewhat porous ground in Wyoming it is not a big issue. Putting it into the basalt (a much less permeable rock) and deeper is rationally safer. But I understand that this is another issue where facts are not really as good a topic to debate as opinions. Ah, well!

again you make too much of a generalization. uranium from a nuclear reactor is not the same as the very minuscule trace amounts found out side large uranium ore deposits or the ore it's self. all of which are radioactive to a degree but only one out of the three is a non-issue because like the rest of the life on this planet we have adapted to survive with a normal level of background radiation. the uranium from reactors spent or not is much more radioactive then the ore it's made from or the background radiation.
what your trying to incorrectly imply here is the same thing as saying bauxite is just like aluminum, copper/iron ore is just like the the refined metals that come from them. this is of course putting aside the recent controversy that under pressure from the government the us geological study has fudged reports on yucca mountain so they don't have to say 'sorry we wasted billions of your tax dollars thinking this site will pan out but it did not'.

imho this seems to me to be a problem with allot of people that do understand the idea of peak oil, but don't seem to grasp how much of a hole we dug ourselves into. we have a complex system here that has(i hate to use the term but i will) evolved for the past 100 or so years. it touches just about every aspect of our life's from birth to death. yet people seem to think that if they substitute it here with this and then then there with that like a patchwork quilt everything will be alright with a tolerable amount of pain.
it won't be Armageddon with everyone dieing either, but you will be a lucky person to survive. also dedicating yourself to a single plan will extremely hamper your chances of surviving.

This is what i have learned in the past 2 to 3 years studying this.

CO2 leakage from sequestration in depleted oil or gas reservoirs really IS a non-issue. The physics is well-understood and I wish ToD posters (who are generally tolerably well informed) would stop worrying about it. (a) it won't leak out, and (b) it will never be seriously applied anyway.

Provided you don't overpressure the reservoir and activate a fault to surface, and provided you have a decent seal behind the well casings, easily verified with a cement bond log, the CO2 will stay there as long as the reservoir kept its original fluids in place i.e. order of millions of years. The relevant flow mechanism is pressure-driven Darcy flow, not concentration-driven diffusion. The helium molecule (atom) is tiny compared with methane and CO2, and the only commercial source of He is the trace quantity present in some gas reservoirs. That stuff diffuses like crazy - what kept it underground?

The reason CO2 sequestration won't work as a fix for global warming is the self-evident fact that no-one is ever going to do it on a scale large enough to make a difference. As someone pointed out upthread, most thermal power stations (especially coal-fired ones) sre remote from petroleum basins. And it is infeasible to retrofit CO2 capture to car engines (let alone marine engines or - imagine! aero engines).

the reservoir kept its original fluids in place i.e. order of millions of years<

And you know that the original volume NEVER changed to the present value?

Yes, in the same way that we "know" that Mount Everest never jumped ten feet into the air, even though nobody was there to watch it.

You might be surprised just how much we can find out about the geological history of a reservoir with the measurements we can make in wells and from seismic. Every reservoir filled up at some stage in its history, and they will all eventually breach, but the reason we know the fluid stays put between during the intervening aeons is because the mechanisms whereby it was trapped were governed by invariant physical laws (gravity, solid and fluid mechanics, equations of state), operating on forms of matter (rock, fluids) that are stable at the temperatures and pressures involved. And with gas injection we have the added advantage of knowing exactly how much we're putting in.

As I said, the reasons CO2 sequestration won't work (MAJORLY won't work) are technological, economic and logistical. The physics works just fine.


Rather sure of yourself.   It strikes me as the same level of confidence as designing Chynerbol or how burning hydrocarbons won't pose a CO2 problem.

Planet earth had organic matter all over it years ago, yet gas is only found in small areas thus indicating 'leakage' over time.  

hey will all eventually breach,

Exactly.   Instead of the present generation taking care for themselves and future generations, the "put the CO2 in the ground" advocates would much rather have the apperance of having done something, yet just leaving a mess for others to clean up in the future.

Are nuclear wastes safer where they are presently located
or wuold the be safer inside Yucca Mountain? I vote for
Yucca Mountain and I reside just a few miles from there.
This area will probably be uninhabited post peak and a
resolution should be in place prepeak.
Here here! Currently, waste is stored on site at the nuke stations, labs and mfg facilities. It requires a high degree of maintence (compared to Yucca) as well as a high degree of stability. Even if culture declines just a bit, it will become a problem in all likilihood. So its best to send it to Yucca, even if it leaks all over the place in 100-10000000 years--which it very well might. If I lived there, I might not feel that way, but apparently you do.