XTL: Promise and Peril

ED by PG: This article was originally posted May 19, 2006. Note that it has been resubmitted to reddit and digg this morning, so do help spread the word and give Robert some more readers if you are so inclined. Send the link to someone today.

I have stated on several occasions that I believe global warming is a greater immediate threat than Peak Oil. As long as the demand is there, energy companies will strive to supply fuel to the marketplace. To meet the demand, we will develop tar sands, even though doing so will consume enormous quantities of natural gas. We will turn natural gas and coal indirectly (and inefficiently) into ethanol. Finally, we will turn vast quantities of carbon sources into fuel via what I term "XTL" technologies. XTL technologies consist of a partial oxidation (POX) reaction followed by the Fischer-Tropsch (FT) reaction. When the POX feedstock is natural gas, this is referred to as a gas-to-liquids (GTL) process. If the feedstock is coal or biomass, this is referred to as CTL, or BTL respectively.

I won't go into a detailed explanation of the POX and FT reactions. What I will give is a quick, layman's overview. When a hydrocarbon material is burned (e.g. natural gas, coal, biomass, etc.), it can be completely oxidized (combusted) to carbon dioxide and water, or it can be partially oxidized to carbon monoxide and hydrogen. The latter POX reaction is accomplished by restricting the amount of oxygen during the combustion, and it is a potentially deadly reaction should it inadvertently occur inside your home. The resulting mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen is called synthesis gas (syngas) and can be used in the manufacture of an abundance of organic compounds.

The FT reaction is a bit more complex than the POX reaction. You can find in-depth information on the FT reaction here. In short, the FT reaction converts syngas generated via the POX reaction into a distribution of long-chain hydrocarbons. The yield of hydrocarbons in the diesel fuel range is very good, making this reaction an ideal way to extend the fossil fuel economy (albeit, as a diesel economy).

The Promise

At present, the economics for GTL are far more favorable than for CTL or BTL. There are enormous reserves of natural gas throughout the world. Worldwide reserves of natural gas are estimated to be 6,200 trillion cubic feet, of which 3,000 trillion cubic feet are estimated to be stranded. (Reserves are considered to be stranded if it is uneconomical or impractical to get them to market.) This is enough stranded natural gas to produce 300 billion barrels of fuel, according to Syntroleum.

GTL is not a pipe dream. The process is technically viable, having been demonstrated on numerous occasions. It is economically viable depending on the price spread between natural gas and oil. Despite the fact that the capital costs for GTL plants are approximately twice those of conventional oil refineries, a number of projects have been announced in Qatar. Plants are being built, and the fuel produced will help supply some of the shortfall that Peak Oil will generate.

The Peril

Of course there is a catch. GTL is not all that efficient. There are efficiency losses during both the POX and the FT processes. It would be far more efficient to run automobiles directly on the natural gas. Due to the fact that the gas is stranded, this is obviously not an option. But the efficiency losses are significant. According to the Syntroleum link, it takes 10,000 cubic feet of gas to make 1 barrel of fuel. 10,000 cubic feet of natural gas contain roughly 10 million BTUs, but a barrel of fuel contains only around 5.5-6 million BTUs. Forty percent of the BTUs are either lost as radiant heat, or turned to steam and consumed in the GTL plant. Unless carbon sequestration is in place (unlikely), all of those BTUs wind up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. On top of that, the BTUs from the barrel of fuel are going to wind up as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere after the fuel is combusted.

The reason I find this more frightening than Peak Oil is that I think this path is inevitable. We will make and use GTL fuel, as inefficient as the process may be. Carbon dioxide emissions are likely to accelerate in our quest to maintain affordable energy. As stranded gas supplies are consumed and GTL production peaks, there is CTL, with the same efficiency problems, waiting in the wings. I believe the fossil fuel economy will be with us for a long time to come.

I simply see no slowdown to the exponential rate at which we are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and it scares me. The outcome of this experiment is unpredictable. The Sahara Desert was once lush with vegetation and teemed with wildlife. Consider the impact if this is the fate of the Corn Belt of the Midwest. Yet I see no indication that we are going to veer from the path we have set. Something's eventually got to give.

good post. I think climate change will be upon us before peak oil, in fact it already is. But if i had kids, Id be much more worried about the impacts of peak oil than climate change on their lives. I think the peak liquid fuels date is the imprtant one. Then human nature takes its course. The people in power will not willingly agree to powerdown and will follow our evolutionary impulses   towards acquiring other resources. One has to understand thermodynamics AND sociobiology to see this. I am MUCH more worried about peak oil, and the social implications than I am about climate - climate will have immediate impacts but the real dooom and gloom stuff is 50-100 years off. We will be well down the fossil fuel usage chain by then.
"One has to understand thermodynamics AND sociobiology to see this."


You know what's really ironic? Jay's theories about sociobiology explain why almost everybody ignores his theories about sociobiology.

Acknowledging the sociobio conunudrum basically deep sixes any and all political agendas or, as Jay would call them, "normative programs." People come up with these normative programs in an attempt to increase their inclusive fitness. But in order to be able to sincerely convey their agenda they must ignore the sociobio aspects. I think this ignorance/self-deceoption often takes place where it is most effective: at the subconscious level.

The genetic-subconscious axis purposely prevents the person from consciously understanding the sociobio aspect of  our conundurm in order to allow the person to raise their fitness via promoting their normative agenda.

It's also why my focus is on "saving one's own ass" or (less hyperbolicly) "saving the ass of one's own tribe." That means the 15-to-30 or so people closest to you.



It's also why my focus is on "saving one's own ass" or (less hyperbolicly) "saving the ass of one's own tribe." That means the 15-to-30 or so people closest to you.

What are you saving them from, Matt? Do you honestly expect to see mass death in your neighborhood sometime soon?

I'm not sure he meant "saving one's own ass from death". I took "ass" to mean "as much quality of life as possible".
This a different Matt here, not the AMPOD.
I think Matt's "Mass death" is perhaps hinging on the possible fracturing of the food networks that we in the US have made ourselves so dependent on.  Losing one link in the chain will cripple big chunks of the works.  When the grid goes down in a city for even a day or two, tons of frozen food gets landfilled.  What if it tanks for a month?
Natural gas to residential users seems vulnerable.
Cross country trucking, same.
Fuel prices for agriculture...
I agree that none of these seems to be about to force a collapse altogether, but I envision typical Americans being unable to cope if they lose their access to frozen pizza and the juice to run thier microwaves and keep the diet coke cold.  
We had an extended blackout here in DC after a bad storm 3 years ago--not the big northeast blackout--and people were utterly helpless.  We modern Americans have essentially no skills to function if any one of our technological lifelines is cut.  
So, I wonder, how long before people panic if they can't: drive their car, cook their food, buy food, take a shower, heat their home.  Just one of these things breaking down will freak people out in a major way.  
Not "mass death" right away, but the beginning of a growth curve of panic driven crime committed by people who would never have called themselves criminals in the current paradigm.  Unprecedented anxiety that seems unresolvable will trigger a lot of bad behavior.
-Matt, DC

Were you in the area for the ice storm of '99? I spent three weeks without power, the 50% mark seemed to be about 1 week. Ice storms are usually noted for bringing neighbors one has never met together in a remarkable facsimile of community - mostly because some people have generators and some don't. There are quite a lot of nonspoilable dry and wet goods in one's home. Water could be tricky if it relies on electric pumps. I give the suburban neighorhood 8 weeks minimum (3-4 paychecks missed) cut off from the grid, the gas station, and the grocery store, before people begin to take note of who's a closet gun nut as much as they take note of who has a generator. The urban neighorhood... depends on location, but expect lines noone's seen since the fall of the USSR government store systems.

Well, that's the trouble with sociobiology, as with some marxian or freudian ideas. If you use them to explain critics' unconscious motivations, you've made them unfalsifiable.
Sometimes I wish TOD had a moderation system, so I could mod you up. You hit it on the nail.
I have to agree with Matt on this.  Ultimately, Peak Oil will be unsolvable due to the self-deceitful character of people's unconscious motivations.  This will allow them to falsely interpret their own selfishness, viciousness, and brutality in reacting to Peak Oil as noble and beneficent.  In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this unfortunate feature of the human race is known as "original sin."

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

Well, this illustrates where you guys are coming from.  It isn't really about oil, is it?  It's about "self-deceitful character of people's unconscious motivations."

If you believe that, then you have to believe a crash of civilization is the natural state (despite the rise of peaceful civilizations throughout the world and throughout history).  What could explain this bizzare and humane trend?  Ah, oil, a get out of jail free card.

If it were not for oil, we'd all be nasty brutish and dead.

That is essentially correct.  For the past two-hundred years, Western civilization has had a fundamental faith in Progress Ideology - of which capitalism and communism have been the two most politically important variants.  Both forms of Progress Ideology - as well as many others (such as the "back to nature" ideology advocated by Heinberg and many others in the Peak Oil camp) - still have many adherents.  But these are all in the end intellectually blind allegiances, and ones that involve unreasonable "leaps of faith" on the mistaken basis of the material advances that have taken place over the past two-hundred years.

But the fact is that these material advances were all due to plentiful energy, not due to the innate goodness of human beings.  The "desperately wicked" character of mankind's heart never changed while these material advances were taking place, but was merely concealed from view for a time.  We are now entering a time of history, however, where this basic human feature will be starkly revealed once again in all its raw ugliness, due to the impending epoch of energy scarcity.

interesting that you specify "western" civilization ... bypassing my observation that civilizations are more widespread (and varied) than that, and more common than a "propensity toward collapse" would imply.
But Western civilation is the dominant one, and I don't think this will change, owing to the vast military superiority of the US vis a vis any rival or group of rivals.

Even if this were not true, though, it wouldn't affect my fundamental argument:  Jeremiah's claim about the "desperate wickedness" of the hearts of human beings is just as true of Chinese, Indian, and Russian hearts as it is of American and Western European hearts.

If you think I am wrong, I challenge you to point out to me a discernible trend entailing self-sacrifice and cooperation in energy-related news of recent months - one that is sufficient to outweigh the manifest tendencies towards increasing antagonism and hostility in this sphere.

The disproof is easy.  More people hold the door open for the person behind them, than slam it in their face, let alone attempt to kill them with it.

We will (chances are) never see that person again, but we do a little 'tit for tat' or 'golden rule' or 'game theory' behavior that we think will, indirectly, benefit us in the future.

I realize that is only 'energy' in the most primitive, muscular sense, holding the door open, but it all flows from there. ;-)

But do you see the United States "holding the door" open for anyone when it comes to energy?  Or China?  Japan?  Russia, India, Iran, Venezuela?  Are any of these places "holding the door" open for other countries when it comes to energy?  [Actually, as it happens, the Venezuelans are....]

Are the Saudis and other profligately rich Middle East producers going to start giving away some of their oil for free to very poor countries who desperately need it?  Are the Russians going to "play nice" and stop their energy-related bullying of the Europeans?  Is the United States going to desist from hypocritically bullying the Russians for bullying the Europeans?  Are the US and Venezuela going to desist from calling each other the "New Hitlers?"  Are China and Japan going to start "playing nice" in the East China Sea anytime soon?  Are all of these countries, and others besides, going to desist from their self-serving wrangling about where to build new pipeline routes across Eurasia?  Are the rebels in Nigeria going to desist from their terrorism, and is the government of Nigeria going to "play nice" and give in to their legitimate demands?  And so on and so forth....

Where is anyone "holding the door" for anyone else here - other than as relatively minor matters in the grand scheme of things?  [And those who do "hold the door" for others, like Venezuela, are denounced for doing so on top of it all!!]

Yes, Venezuela is an example of a country using apparent altruism arguably in its own self interest.

I think we've ended up in a different place than we started.  Altruism and cooperation exist in societies.  In times of national emergency we have had national energy programs (up to including rationing) to deal with it.

If we are sticking to the core, and expectation of human response to peak oil, I'd say that is primarily a national "let's pull together" issue.  I expect a mix of competition and cooperation on the international scene, as we have seen throughout the last century.  Sometimes that competition is quite unpleasant, as history shows.

I don't expect nations to lie down like lions and lambs, but neither to I expect nations to fall apart uniformly around the world (there is always the unfortunate, isolated, case: Northern Ireland, Lebanon, ...).

I wouldn't like to see "human nature" confused with "societal nature".

Humans, and the societies that emerge when you have a bunch of humans in a group, are quite different beasts. Humans can be, and are, altruistic towards each other but it's not clear that the same is true of societies, nations, corporations etc.

"Madness is rare in individuals - but in nations, peoples and ages it is the norm." - Nietzsche

See Reinhold Niebuhr's Moral Man and Immoral Society

"It may be possible, thought it is never easy, to establish just relations between individuals within a group purely by moral and rational suasion and accomodation. In inter-group relations this is practically an impossibility. The relations between groups must therefore be predominantely political rather than ethical, that is, they will be determined by the proportion of power which each groups posesses at least as much as by any rational and moral appraisal of comparative needs and claims of each group."

Odograph, I'm not in any way taking issue with your general point, but the example you gave is culturally limited, and I thought you might like to realize that. For example, in Hong Kong, people never hold doors open for others, and they are quite glad to shut the doors of the evelator in your face as you charge towards it (I once managed to enter an elevator that had been shut thus once - they couldn't go anywhere, my foot was stuck in the outer door - and I then greeted everyone present therein with the loud appellation 'Sh*theads!'. Yeah, it was a cultural thing. That's the point.)

The irony is this: re lifts, you are on the receiving end more often than otherwise, so it would actually be rational to hold open the lift door for strangers. You lose one second, but on balance you gain up to five minutes, if everyone behaves otherwise. Of course, no one behaves otherwise, so everyone spends their lives quickly shutting the elevator doors in strangers' faces for the benefit of one or two seconds.

In Hong Kong, you are told this sort of behaviour results because people are 'busy'. In fact, it is simply a form of rudeness or indifference, cultivated because everyone is generally subject to the same sort of behaviour.

Again, nothing to do with your general point. But something to remember for any of you who are headed East. Hold the lift door open for a lady and you will be greeted with (a) very profuse thanks or (b) the sort of indifference reserved for the obviously insane.

Phil, I think you may be confusing the reaction of the American government/military/industrial complex with the people of the country. I don't know where you live, but here in the midwest we just had the biggest, baddest icestorm in our recorded history. In the small city I live in (about 300,000 counting the surrounding burbs) we had 75,000 people without power for 3-12 days. One of the local DJs stayed on the air 24 hrs. a day for several days fielding calls from people who needed help of various kinds and the numerous calls from people offering help. Yes, there were a few "gougers", but people who still had electric took in strangers who had no heat/electricity, people who had wood offered it free to people who had fireplaces but no wood (same with kerosene, ect.), local motels/hotels offered reduced rates and even free lodging to people who had no heat/electricity or who had live powerlines or trees downed on their homes/cars until shelters could be set up. People with food took food to people who'd gotten stranded in their homes without food, etc., etc.

Granted it wasn't peak oil and there will be many more frightened, unprepared people who, if not given aid by neighbors, etc., may become violent if peak oil hits as hard as some of us expect. But what happened around here was very heartening to this old cynic. (Yes, since I have gas heat, I even opened my small home to three other people who I fed and feted - LOL.) And I suspect similar stories could be told across the country during the ice storms that hit. Most areas of the country have some history of self-reliance/helping each other out.

As for the afore mentioned govt./military/industrial complex, I suspect Katrina or worse will be the pattern of response to peak oil. But I wouldn't count out the average American just yet - Jeremiah's adage to the contrary or not.


This whole thread dealing with whether people are naturally altruistic or not is missing one important factor. The people helping each other in the ice storm or hurricanes ( We lost power for 3 months after Iniki) or other maladies that afflict us from time to time all have one thing in common. They all fully expect that things will soon return to "normal". The power will come back on, the grocery store will get refilled. The military will provide temporary clean water and food until things get back to "normal".
When there is no reasonable likelihood that "normal" will return, oil prices will get higher and higher, food will get more expensive and less available, unemployment will rise, electricity will get more expensive and/or unavailable, and the expectation is that this situation will not improve, then we will see how basically altruistic human beings truly are.

Odograph, I think you're confusing the "human nature" of small groups of people, which are pretty altruistic and cooperative within their small tribes, precisely because people can be held accountable for their actions - there's not much anonymity to hide behind in small groups of people.  But once we move into the thousands or millions - people can get away with cheating/lying/stealing, and thus they do, at a much higher rate than in small tribes.  Anyone who denies the prominence of the selfish gene in human beings, or all life for that matter, is being hopelessly naive.  Self preservation is vital, and it HAD evolve to be foremost in all creatures, or they would never have surived the viciousness of natural selection.  I suppose people are just trying to be positive, but when you add up how many humans are murdered for whatever reason EVERY DAY across the globe, how can you not see the dark side of human nature?  As a vegan, I think of the Billions of animals tortured and deprived of even sunlight and space to turn around - they are sentient creatures that are tortured in insanely brutal conditions just so we can waste more resources and cause ourselves more self-inflicted disease via meat and dairy.  Sure, when you show most people the sad reality of factory farms, they will agree that it's terrible, but they will just shrug, or think about getting organic meat.  The point is, we humans are indeed pretty compassionate and cooperative little buggers - but the institutions that we create often turn out to be amoral, hideous, and disturbing.  You can call the average American or Brit Peace-loving, but that doesn't change the fact that human beings are being murdered in their name by their governments, does it?  The history of civilization is a history of the powerful siphoning the resources at the expense of the poor masses.  Even if an individual is a gentle soul, just by living the inevitable energy-intenstive lifestyle, we consume more than our fair share of resources and thus condemn others to much poverty and suffering.  Right now in Zimbabwe people have to lug huge bags of cash around just to buy a few vegetables, because inflation is so horrid.  I think it's important to realize the precariousness of the energy profligate, Good Times lifestyle.  

"If it were not for oil, we'd all be nasty brutish and dead."
Actually, there would be a hell of a lot less people, and thus a hell of a lot LESS suffering in the world.  On the other hand, there'd be a lot less joy, music, culture, and hilarious jokes!  This is something I was thinking of recently - the exponetial rise of humans is accompanied by a concomitant rise is suffering and joy.  What is terrifying with climate change, peak oil, etc. is that we are nowhere near peak human suffering on planet earth!!!!  

Read The Winner's Curse for observations in experimental economics.  This is not a presupposition, humans are found to be altruistic to strangers in tests.
So what do you think about the Milgram experiment?
Differnent aspects, different internal rules.  I trolled out Marvin Minskey once by dissing him in an old USENET newsgroup, and he showed up to defend himself ;-).  That was fun.  But while I think his AI was too cognitive, his idea of "society of mind" might be useful on some level.  Or we have the more modern neurobiological foundation by Chomsky, Pinker, etc. for evolved brain sub-structures.

The ying and yang of it might be that while cooperation is the default in some (hopefully many) situations, we have other less nice rules which come to the fore at other times.

The commonly seen distinction between moral standards within a country, and those without, are well known.  We see it right now as Americans do things to Iraqis that they would not do to Arizonans.

If humans were inherently/naturally altruistic, the holocaust and the transatlantic slave trade NEVER would have happened.

You can't get a species to deviate from its inherent nature to that far of a degree.

The only logical explanation is that humans are not inherently altruistic.



This isn't a binary issue. There's a whole spectrum of individual behaviour from bleeding heart social liberal treehuggers to sociopathic neo-conservative fascists. (I just threw those terms together for fun, pay them little mind.)

Humanity as a whole is neither altruistic or selfish. It is, at all times, both.

Because of this you can cherry pick selfish choices that have been made in the past and conclude that humanity is selfish. I could reciprocate. But since this isn't an either-or issue, we would both be pissing in the wind. And really, isn't there enough urine in the air already?

No, if humans were not inherently/naturally altruistic those things would be the norm.  Thank God they are not.
There seems to be good and bad in all humans.
Yin and yang.

Some allow the good side, the self-sacrificing, altruistic, generous, kind side to prevail. For those, that IS their inherent nature. These are few in number.

Some allow their baser instincts, predatory greed, lust, and anger, to dominate. For those, that IS their inherent nature.  These are many in number.

Some fall in the middle, with elements of both, as their natural instinct. The unpredictability of which side will dominate in a given circumstance is the great unknown.
This is the largest group of all.

The internal battle between ego and id, good and bad, angel and devil, whatever you choose to call it, has been philosophized and extrapolated on since ancient times.  

Presently, the it is second group that is in charge.

Good post. I'm not sure that most BCR supporters understand that one of the reasons they have been despised outside the USA since they took office is that they have been slotted into the second category.GWB's incompetence was never enough for him to earn loathing outside (and recently within) the USA- his detractors have always felt that he has a "bad heart".It is ironic as his born-again status has certainly been publicized enough. In contrast, even with his public womanizing, Clinton has always been universally regarded as a good person. Interesting.  
Altruistic behavior has always been a Darwinian challenge. But it can be assummed that any established evolutionary adaptation by definition has had to be of net benefit to the genes of the carrier.  The notions of inclusive fitness including kin alturism and reeiprocal altrusim go a long way to accounting for self sacrificial behavior at least in the short run.  Even for group selection to "work" (ie, be adaptive) means that one group must benefit in terms of genetic success RELATIVE to another.  SO, with respect to altrusim it becomes a question of who benefits.  Group selection actually suggests that my sacrifice for my in group may well come at the expense of an out-group.  If I throw myself on a grenade to save my "brothers-in-arms" they are more likely to survive to kill my enemies.

Seeing as you once publicly failed to recognize the name of E.O. Wilson on this very forum, I for one think you are disqualified from making sociobiology-based arguments.

If you took such arguments seriously, you would already see the truth of what is proclaimed by your opponents ('it isn't a binary issue'). Altruism and selfishness have a lot in common. And therein lies the problem.

Sociobiology is embarrassed by many people who espouse it.

No species is inherently altruistic. It's impossible for such species to evolve.

It is interesting, your preocupation with animals.  I was raised a sociopath (republican) but over the years have seen that animals often feel very strongly and loyally without subterfuge though sometime with neurosis (I am now a pussy liberal).  You can even see it in cockatiels that strive daily to communicate with their owners.  The case was brought home when a vet had us come in to give comfort to a cat that had gone through major surgery and for whom he felt that it needed familial support to give it a desire to survive.  After that, the cat was incredibly affectionate.  I am convinced that most people are only able to express emotions that a cat or dog might express (look at the neocons and think about dog loyalty), and many can express much less.  My son, who might also have sociopathic tendencies, assures me that in the hard times to come that vegetarians taste better, so guard yourself.  It was odd that he married a vegetarian, until my wife explained that he was only protecting his food source.  His wife has subsequently has started eating meat.
   Oh yeah.  I think peak oil will hit us first, probably this summer with the second or third cat 5 hurricane.  But global warming is not far behind... a sort of one-two punch, to insure that we live in interesting times.
Unless I'm mistaken Jay Hanson doesn't have theories...he has no competence in biology or neuroscience at all unless reading a few books nowadays counts as competence. All this crap about 'inclusive fitness' is unproven and as for genetic-subconscious axes I have no idea what you can be referring to and if you were really honest and thought about it...you might admit you don't really know either. This website and the concern of its educated readers and contributors(as opposed to those who have been let down by public education systems) are the best answer to those who have had their heads turned by the latest evolutionary psychology dogma coming out of academia.
There are some real sciences spanning the gaps between neuroscience, evolution, sociology, psychology.  Many of them have compound names, like "evolutionary psychology" or "evolutionary neurobiology."  I guess that's because they are late developing sciences and don't get a one-word name of their own. ;-)

People borrow from these sciences, but as often happens in the general press, and especially when an agenda is involved, they might borrow slices that suit them.

Inclusive fitness is real, but it's amusing that this page describes its principle achievement is in explaining altruism in animal populations:


I find that amusing because the peak oilers who borrow from these sciences expect anything but altruism from the population!

You are mistaken. If you took time to read Jays work, you would know that he readily admits he has no formal training in these fields, which is why he REFERENCES everything.

And inclusive fitness has been proven over and over. Hamiltons rule has been attempted to be falsified and it has not been. It stands as one of the core tenets of biology.

And I would not say that evolutionary psychology is the latest dogma coming out of academia. Its quite the minority.

Pick up Consilience by EO Wilson. I think in 30-40 years, he will be viewed by society as Einstein is today.

Jay just connected the dots. And he didnt read 'a few books'. He read hundreds. I am not a cultist or doomer. Im a hedge fund trader turned phd student. Jay is a friend of mine and while I dont agree with everything he says, he is one of the most thorough, wise people I have ever come across.

I know the principles of biological psychology strike some as crude and obtuse but they are slowly being 'proven' in real world experiments, increasingly on humans and primates using neuro-economic tests. The problem is that people believing in intelligent design, etc are growing at a much faster pace than these science based persons (and I dont mean genetically, I mean based on our cultural messages, e.g President Bush)

Here's what I see as the fundamental flaw in Wilson's book:

He makes essentially two points. The first is that science is a superior way of coming to know about the world and it will inexorably displace less effective approaches such as history, literature, religion, ethics, etc.

His second point is that science has shown that human beings are basically clever monkeys, that the kind of rational behavior supposed by history, literature, etc., that is just an illusion. It's just a superficial appearance generated by the true underlying dynamics of selfish genes.

I remember this sentence in the book where Wilson acknowledges that these two points are conflict - after all, science is a facet of human behavior! But he dismisses the conflict. Basically, he views science as an activity that transcends human nature.

I guess the idea is that science transcends human nature in a way that is similar to how real numbers transcend rational numbers. There are vastly more real numbers than there are rational numbers - that's the mind-boggling result proved by Cantor. Yet the real numbers can be constructed from the rationals - as the limits of various convergent infinite series of rationals. Similarly, I guess science transcends human nature because there is some approximately infinite process of winnowing out flawed hypotheses to yield the pure gold of scientific truth.

Will there ever come a time when our scientific knowledge is sufficiently tested that it can be relied upon to answer all questions that arise? How will we know when we have arrived at that point? Are there scientific theories today that are so well tested that they can be relied upon 100% and don't need any more testing?

Wilson's book is founded on absurdity. Science is founded on scepticism. When you stop testing your hypotheses, you have stopped being scientific. The very process of science is an utterly human affair, incorporating history and literature and ethics at the deepest levels of the scientific process. Science isn't about partitioning theories into the true and the false. Science uses theories as tools to explore the world. Some tools are more versatile or reliable than other tools, some tools maybe even render some other tools obsolete.

Settling on some pet theory and devoting oneself to building up reinforcing arguments to justify one's adherence to that theory - that's the intellectual equivalent of building and stockpiling a bomb shelter to enable one to survive the coming crises. They are both self-defeating strategies. It's like drowning oneself in a pool of formeldehyde to achieve immortality.

The world is a bewildering and frightening place. Somehow a responsive and curious approach seems to allow more room for joy than does locking oneself into a physical or intellectual fortress.


I more meant that he connected alot of dots in the 1970s about the splintering of various academic discplines and proposed a biological synthesis.

your comment is very similar to Matts above that we are limited in accessing truths in sociobiology because of sociobiologys precepts

"Jay . . .is one of the most thorough, wise people I have ever come across."


Not the least bit religious but as the Bible says, "he who brings wisdom brings sorrow."  

Given Jay's last few postings to his Q and A, I'd have to say this is pretty accurate. I tried to cheer him up by telling hime I would make sure he is taken care of if he visists me once I have my harem up and running. But I think he had logged off the list by that point.




Nope, just pulling stuff out of my ass. However, I do poke it quite a bit before flinging it at others.

I can post some pics if you would like.



Ha...I just read this. What a jerk.
An extremely eloquent post.
The surviving State, if it comes to be, will not be the result of 15 to 30 people trying to save their own asses.
Matt, the extent of ones tribal alligiance in practice might well, however, be induced to expand well beyond 15--30 persons as humans seem susceptible to manipulation through symbols and other means to identify with far more people than would have been availabel in the EEA (environment of evolutionary adaptation).  This may be simply due to a kind of "looseness" in evolved cognitive mechanisms for identifying kin, or induction of reciprocal altruism (Trivers).  Others who would argue for the idea of group or multi-level selection would potentially see it as a direct product of "higher levels" of selection.  For my part, I will admit to being persuaded by David Sloan Wilson, particularly in his analysis of a group selective element in the operation of religion.  

In any case, I would expect the perception of increasing threats to people's group indentification/memberships through either resource shortage, direct military threats, or both to give rise to increasing "group think" that is most likely to be manifest in a rise in religous fervor--see success of Bush and the general rise in public religious popularity/intensity/power after 9/11 and the ongoing religous overtones in the "War on Terror".  

But if i had kids, Id be much more worried about the impacts of peak oil than climate change on their lives. I think the peak liquid fuels date is the imprtant one.

That depends on one's perspective. I personally prefer living in hurricane country over tornado country, because I can plan a bit better for the hurricane. The tornado will strike unpredictably. That's why they always scared me more. I can envision transitioning to life as fossil fuels dwindle. Like preparing for a hurricane, I believe I can survive Peak Oil. But it's going to be a different story if I just happen to live in a part of the country that is the next Sahara Desert, or crops start to fail across the country because of unpredictable weather.

I guess the bottom line is that I know we have the means to sustain ourselves on carbon fuels for a long time to come with GTL and then CTL, along with tar sands and heavy oils. But the longer we go down that road, the more chance we take of absolutely wrecking entire ecosystems indefinitely. And we can't tell where those tornadoes are going to hit.


Another big question is whether the current fiat money system can survive long term rising energy prices.  Seems to me there's an implicit systemic assumption that production efficiencies will increase over time allowing prices to fall.  That is what pays the interest on borrowed money, after all.  Production efficiencies may get better in the future but I'm betting that increased energy and commodity prices will swamp them.

The economy tanked from mid-seventies to early eighties and it could be argued that rising energy cost was a main contributor.  The coming period will be even worse because the money going for that stranded NG won't be going to countries who will necessarily recycle it through the US economy like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar did back then.

The US government is now talking about renegotiating the GOM oil leases so they can capture some of the "windfall" profit taxes from the seven sisters (or what remains of them).  I have no love for the big oil companies but if we take away their current profits, how can they invest the billions necessary to finance XTL projects?  What investor wants to buy shares in such a company?  Governments are all looking at their energy resources with a buzzard's eye.

Our transition to oil from coal was accomplished (at least initially) without massive infrastructure investment.  Oil to XTL is an entirely different beast.

I agree with your prediction that CO2 sequestration won't ever happen.  Especially so if the NG feedstock is on the soil of a poor third world country.  Does anyone suppose the UN is going to enforce such a provision?

As you know, step changes in real systems tend to produce oscillations and turbulence.  I think that's what we have here.  Trying to predict the outcome is an exercise in futility past saying it will be disorderly and probably quite unpleasant from a human's point of view.

Fiat currency systems cannot survive a prolonged period of economic retraction (a shrinking economy), because it is predicated on and entirely reliant upon economic growth.
As energy costs rise to the point that they meaningfully discourage consumption, economies will stagnate and then start to contract (negative growth).  A long period of slow contraction, or a even a fairly short period of signifcant contraction, and the system will fail.

Fiat currency is predicated on the creation of debt and credit. Each monetary amount in circulation actually correlates to a debt. When debts are repaid, money is removed from circulation. Investments rely on positive returns to generate the interest needed to service those debts.
In a constantly shrinking economy, there is little or no incentive to invest (no growth expected), nor is there growth to allow the servicing of those debts.  Lending grinds to a halt. As existing debts are paid off, money is taken out of circulation.  Eventually, no money remains in circulation.
And this, my friends, represents an optimistic, steady state outcome, without currency crash, panics, runs, collapses, mass bankruptcies, or other critical-mass events.

Gotta love the worth less money.  Stagflation all over again?  It's extremely possible.  Keep your stationed tuned....

It is a fallacy to assume that economic growth requires increased energy usage. It highly possible to have energy use decline because of more efficient use of energy while growth continues.

I think that there are opportunities to use energy more efficiently. What I question is the commitment and competence of the powers that be to lead us toward a sustainable future.

Hurricanes destroy power, communications, road, and social networks over large areas and those networks take time to repair. Tornados do a more thorough job over small areas and repair or evacuation is easier. Just dig a basement and don't worry about it.

Isn't there considerable overlap between hurricane country and tornado country? Isn't nearly all of the US which lies within hurricane country also hit very often by tornados? The killer tornado which hit Florida last week followed the same path a one of the hurricanes a few years ago.

Probably the default case is that when the oil runs short we will switch to the next abundant fossil fuel supply which is coal. NG is probably just a short term blip.

The trick is achieving a non-default sustainable solution.

thelastquatch--very well put.I haven't been aware of  many guesses for peak of all liquids( ASPO's 2010?)- anyone got some info/thoughts there.
RR- I agree that the big big,long term picture is  global warming plus perhaps Gore's film & other nations addressing this issue will happen whereas focusing on peak oil I fear will perpetually be covered up until it too late, amidst war.. Thanks.

Super G -the last several days I lose the left side of posts .Kinda like as I write a comment , but even while  justreading /scrolling/manuvering the thread.                                                  

"...plus perhaps Gore's film & other nations addressing this issue..."

It seems that the competitive Enterprise Institute wwww.cei.org is gearing up to counter Al Gore's film on global warming with an ad blitz.  I read the bios of the staff and they are almost all ex-Republican Hill staff members.  I try to like Republicans but it seems to me in order to be a true Republican you must care more about yourself then other people or the world in which you live.  They sicken me.

I've had this happen too, in Firefox, but so far it's been fixable by refreshing.
The people in power will not willingly agree to powerdown and will follow our evolutionary impulses   towards acquiring other resources.

There's one thing we should agree on, because it is around us in the present.  That is that human societies are not excellent at preemptive action on environmental and resource problems.  We are good maybe (CFC bans, Kyoto) but not excellent.

The open question is how well, and agressively, we will respond as environmental and resource problems become more pressing.

What you've really made above is a prediction, based more on your model of human behavior, than on your model of climate change, peak oil, or etc.

... maybe because I carry some native optimism in my grab-bag of genetic biases, I'm not ready to close the door on late action, as direct evidence becomes visible.

And I can support that with recent evidence.  The possible extinction of polar bears seems to be mobilizing a previously silent segment of the population about GW.  And high gas prices have resulted in many PO responses (at least half are silly, but I'll take them for the percentage that make some sense).

Ture - this is my prediction of human behaviour BASED on my understanding of net energy, Hirsch report, and being told it takes 10 years to meaningfully make a CTL plant. Also, Gever et als analysis of Beyond Oil show that by 2040 the net energy of coal extraction will be negative. This could surely be updated but Im trying to look big picture here.
You say all-caps "BASED" but I don't think Hirsch said anything about human acceptance of powerdown.

I hope you can see that someone else might read Hirsch and come to a different conclusion.  What matters in this is the viewers' expectations of human nautre, not oil depletion.

I meant that Hirsch said there is a long lead time needed to mitigate the problem. If we could snap our fingers and change our car fleet in 6 months to run on wind power, Id be less worried about human nature.
Right, but his focus and his lead time were about preparing alternate sources to meet projected, and increasing, energy consumption.  I don't recall him doing any powerdown calculations, say on the energy necessary for X, Y, and Z lifestyles.

I agree that Hirsch's report implies that if peak is (loosely) now, we haven't done the preparation for a 'power up' society.

It's an open question how society will respond to a 'power flat' or 'power down' condition ... and this is where I say we are relying on our personal expectations of human nature, and not on anything in geology, Hubbert's curve, or the Hersch report.

After months of lurking you all have prompted me to write.

Since powerdown is an inevitable near term reality for those in the 'energy poor' industrialized world.
And since culturally many of those societies have done little to nothing to prepare for powerdown I don't see how you avoid economic downturn.

How sharp this will be is dependant on day to day conditions and how irrational a response is made.
Many of you have convincingly made the case that growth economies are not able to cope well with contraction.

Hence the debate about ones underlying assumtions regarding human nature as individuals and in groups. How will we react?

W/o planning, responses to powerdown may tend to be impromptu, haphazard and quite hurried. (one essence of the Hirsch implications, in my view) Job losses, supply disruptions and possibly conflict or the 'heavy hand' on some scale loom.

Will US society ,for instance, someday resemble Cuba. (Insert visions of a Hummer pulling a horse trailer outfitted with bus seats full of passengers) Or will some other arraingement of work farm based ethanol pseudo slavery result.

Impossibly instead of pondering these scenarios ,in Texas today, they are debating an 80mph speed limit. (which will ,defacto, mean droves of speeding 90mph single occupant P/U trucks)

It seems a first step would be for some national leadership in the (non energy rich) heavy consumer  countries to acknowlege that there will only be so much liquid transport fuel availiable. Then make a contingency rationing plan a matter of public discussion now.

This might go far to encouraging ridesharing and conservation. We cannot eliminate car culture or suburbia in industrialized countries overnight but it sure as heck can be a ton more efficient. Soon this will not be optional.

The problem with the 'market' signals is that obviously the weatlthy can consume to their hearts content while middle and lower incomes can hardly afford to get to work. Where I live public transport isn't even an option.

Sustainable suburban communes and 3rd world style bussing may be a ways off but maybe the next time we have a Katrina or a major refinery attack somebody other than Hugo Chavez will be telling us the supply system will no longer tolerate such disproportion as we now 'enjoy'.

Welcome, and nice first post.  I largely agree, but I'm enough of a cynic to think that we will try everything else first, and only failing that move to culture changes as big as rationing, etc.  But hey, maybe something (gas or carbon taxes?) will work before then.
thanks .. I'm getting so much from reading you all. Count me addicted to theoildrum!

Now listening for something about carbon tax or 'conservation offset' from politicos. Some smart rich guys are saying it (with prodding from here I understand).  Not popular yet but when stagflation really gets rolling maybe.

Some contend that it would slow consumption, tax the luxury market, and serve as a curb on excess oil profits.

Wouldn't hurt the US world image to be seen doing something about the waste either.

Keep in mind that the construction boom necessary to replace cheap oil is as good for workers as it is bad for consumers.
I had always assumed that the idea that a slow energy decline would be easier for society to navigate than a rapid crash, but
A mild example is that economic downturns are correlated with a rise in neo-nazi and similar activity in the US. (Snap privation as happened in the Irish potato famine or natural disasters occurs too fast to set up the memetic amplification leading to war.) follow thelastsasquatch evolutionary impulses link
perhaps the truth is more complicated.
Having now read the whole article...
I think it is very interesting, although some of the connections are weak and could have alternative explanations.

Over all he spells out one of the reasons I am most concerned about peak oil.

We are facing a situation in which our natural genetic response is to warmonger whilst at the same time our ability (as a society) to consciously overcome these tendencies is still very weak.

The debate on climate change is taking a more serious edge as the scientific community is solidifying their revised stand on the 'climate change' issue for official reporting: Science and Politics of the Climate as reported
I agree entirely; global warming and environmental destruction are the greatest challenges we face.

Even meeting the Kyoto protocol will fail...as meager as it is.  Populations continue to rise; economists are more concerned about fluctuations in currency or the stockmarket or interest rate conundrums.  All of these are gnats in the wind as global warming inexorably gains strength.  Global institutions seem helpless. There is no political will where it counts.

We simply have to change how we do business.


True, but here is the REAL problem:

We can think of each dollar you have in your ehecking/savings/retirement/investment account as a symbol for a certain amount of energy. The US economy, for instance, is about 10 trillion dollars.  It uses 100 quadrillion BTUs of energy. If somebody has a big enough calculator they can divide the 100 quadrillion by the 10 trillion and figure out how many BTUs each dollar is (on average) worth.

Of course, money = power.

Now comes the real problem: a true powerdown basically means we have to consciously lower are net-worth, which is a proxy for our personal power/influence in society.

How many men are going to say "sure, I'll give up 50%  (or more) of my social powerand influence in order to powerdown."?

Have of the members of perhaps the most Peak Oil/Climate Change aware community on the net voluntarily and purposely lowered their net-worth as part of their powerdown efforts?

If nobody or virtually nobody on this board is willing to do what it takes to truly powerdown, then how can we expect anybody else to do so?

I haven't lowered my net-worth or the amount of money I make and I don't plan to do so because money/power makes preparing for peak oil ALOT easier to do.  And it's why I don't push normative agendas. In order for them to work, people are going to have to voluntarily lower their net-worth. I'm not willing to do that and I'm not going to ask/tell people to do something I'm not willing to do myself.

So sure, we need to change how we do business, but that change is of the sort that virtually nobody, even those of us who are very aware of the problems is willing to do.



  I don't see the correlation between money/networth and BTU's.  If I spend 20k on cocaine my networth is less but I still use the same amount of BTU's every day.  If I spend 20k on solar panels for my roof my networth is 20k more and stands to improve as energy prices go up.  Why powerdown? Why not change....increase efficency and wean off fossil fuels. Have one child but raise him/her right. Grow a portion of your own food. I am willing to do all these things...they make sense economically and enviornmentally.  Throwing away your lifestyle to organic farm with a tribe of 20-30 people does not seem realistic. Thats why no one does it.


"If I spend 20k on cocaine my networth is less but I still use the same amount of BTU's every day."


Right, but the consumption of the cocaine creates a demand for the energy to produce, distribute, transport, protect, it.

If I spend 20k on solar panels for my roof my networth is 20k more and stands to improve as energy prices go up.

In the long run, the extra net-worth will give you or somebody else the ability to consume more energy.

Let's say the value of your home goes from $100,000 to $150,000.  You sell the home and now have $50,000 more to spend on energy. If you spend it you create a demand for whatever you spent it on, thereby raising demand for energy and resources.

If you put it in the bank, what does the bank do with? They loan out $6 for every $1 you have in the bank. Those loans go out to people to do things like buy cars, mcmansions, etc.

The only way to truly powerdown is to lower your net worth. Efficiency only serves to make the economy bigger. Powerdown = make the economy smaller. But who wants to make their own personal household economy less smaller/valuable

More efficient?  Absolutley. But less powerful/valuable? No way.



"In the long run, the extra net-worth will give you or somebody else the ability to consume more energy."

True but you are producing energy, and in a greater amount than the PV cell production cost.

"The only way to truly powerdown is to lower your net worth"

This is an arbitrary statement. The only way to lower my net worth is to destroy value, otherwise someone elses worth increases. So we would be trapped. However if everyone becomes efficeint and uses solar/wind/hydro this would involve a huge increase in the networth of everyone.

"If you put it in the bank, what does the bank do with? They loan out $6 for every $1 you have in the bank. Those loans go out to people to do things like buy cars, mcmansions, etc."

This is a criticism of american culture not thermodynamics or economics.  The US could have a booming economy based on solar/hydro/wind and public works projects.  You are the prophet of doom and not prophet wants to be wrong but the preparations you always talk about are worthless when 8-12 guys with guns come take your vegatables and wife.  I think you should be hoping for my version of the future and not yours.  Both are possible.

Of course I'm hoping for your version of the future. But I'm also hoping to be married to Cameron Diaz, Lucy Liu, and Vivica Fox all at the same time.

What do these two versions of the future have in common?



Oil Rig,

To be clear:

I'm not suggessting anybody move to an organic eco-farm. There is no way to know if that would be a good decision. If that turns out to be a  good decision, the materials and land for organic eco-farms will be bought up by the rich and powerful. They archetypal organic farmer type will be out on his ass.

Also, it doesn't seem we are in disagreement. All the things you recommend are things in your personal best interest. You don't seem to be advocating a normative (political) agenda or plan. I'm not saying don't do those things you mention. I'm saying any and all political agendas are doomed to fail.

The carbon trading scandal is a great example of why. We're wired to attempt to cheat when doing  so is perceived to have more benefits than consequences.



  I don't lie cheat or steal or tolerate those who do.  Is my wiring organically different than yours.  I would guess you are a pretty likeable guy in the real world and many of your stances here are the devils advocate. You are a lawyer right? If you have all these concerns about peak oil why not run for office locally and integrate your ethics into one of the major parties.  Americans are not divided into red and blue states. I imagine a great deal more purple is out there. This next hurricane season will be a selling point for GW and enviornmentalism.  The resulting gas prices will hopefully cause some demand destruction.  Ultimately Robert is right we will continue on with coal and gas until it is no longer possible.  Legislation and political leadership are needed at all levels to change public culture and policy to adapt to the coming crisis.
Oil Rig Medic Matt,

If you percieved the benefits to outweigh the consequences, yes you would lie, cheat, or steal. You probably have done so (quite often) but simply rationalized it as something else. How do I know this even though we've never met? Because you are a human being.

You mean to tell me you haven't EVER been just a wee bit dishonest, even if you were doing so with a benevolent intent? Come on buddy.

My stances are not the "devil's advocate" for me. What I post here and elsehwere on the net are my sincere thoughts/opinions. If they seem like the "devil's advocate" position that's simply because they are outside the bounds of your accetable internal mental discourse.

As far as running for office: no way, no how, not ever. I've written extensively that politicians are simply the paid bitches of whoever has the $$$ in the communnity locally. Nobody and I mean NOBODY gets elected, even locally, unless they're doing the bidding of whoever has the $$$ in the community.  Besides, as TOD readers know, I'm more interested in setting up an apocalypitc religious  cult . . . I mean "multicultural eco-commune" than being somebody's not-so-well-paid bitch in a suit.



"Nobody and I mean NOBODY gets elected, even locally, unless they're doing the bidding of whoever has the $$$ in the community."

So lie cheat and steal your way into office then act your conscious.

If the policies you fund in office don't serve the interest of whoever controls the $$$, you won't last long.



How much progress could one term make in the hands of a motivated legislator. If you are well spoken and charismatic with the media, maybe a lot. Our system is not broken but it does need work.
I cannot believe you've made such an observation. Your system is beyond broken, it is unusable.  If you truly feel that MS could make great progress in a single term, I challenge you to do so first, to prove it can be done.

Your system needs more than work, it needs replacement.  MS is correct when he points out that to be elected requires $$$.  Take a look at the fund raising that forms the backbone of any campaign.  Consider the the implied obligation to the largest donaters.

You cannot excise the power of the corporation from your system without a replacement of the system.  Corporations, meaning $$$, form the driving force in Global Politics, National Politics, Local Politics.  Need proof?  Can you spell DAVOS?

Go on, get elected, show us the impact you'll make with your one good term.  We all await the results and your subsequent re-election.

Matt thinks that:

       --  Those with the $$$ control everything.
       -- A "multicultural eco-commune" is a good idea.

The second point makes me think he is a good examplar of the first.


We've had this debate ad nauseam. You believe in white eco-fascism. I believe in apocalyptic relgious cults disguised as multicultural eco-communes.

Can we just agree to disagree on this one?



Nobody and I mean NOBODY gets elected, even locally, unless they're doing the bidding of whoever has the $$$ in the community

There are some good counter examples of this especially at the local rather than national level.

What % of all elected officials do they comprise? Less than 5%? 1%?

And furthermore, how long will they be in office?

Whatever the exact percentage is, it is too low to make any real impact.



"I don't lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do."

That, of course, is the West Point cadet honor code. I was a cadet for awhile, in the infamous Class of '77. Infamous because they all cheated. During their senior year 150 were expelled for cheating, but not before naming half their classmates in sworn, notarized affidavits. The way the honor system works, if you tolorate anyone else who tells any sort of lie, there is no moral difference between you and the a serial thief.

Naturally it breaks down. There was little difference between the scandal of '76, and the scandal of '51, or the Naval Academy scandal of '93, or the Air Force Academy scandal of '63, 84, etc. etc. etc.

I've come to the conclusion that we can attempt to be honest and trustworthy, but absolute anything is corrupting.

I've come to the conclusion that we can attempt to be honest and trustworthy, but absolute anything is corrupting.

Interesting example - I think what you are hitting upon is that, the more stringent the honesty, the higher the payoff and pressure for at least a few individuals to cheat.  Thus, they do.  Of course they do!  It's called adaptation, and all these posters who think we are somehow "above" other animals is odd, but perhaps they are coming from a religious perspective as well.  Many animals can be altruistic too.  I recall a wonderful story about a pet pig, whose obese owner had a heart attack (ironically, from eating bacon and eggs!) - well the pig freaked out and managed to persuade a neighbor driving by to come help.  He did this by putting himself in  front of the neighbor's truck.  But this doesn't mean pigs don't get violent when they are overpopulated.  That's the core problem, yet again: overpopulation.  It's a dog-eat-dog world, no?  Anyway, human optimism is truly amazing, as we can murder millions upon millions, and then have members of our species promoting how altruistic we are.  I get the point, humans often perform brilliant acts of heroism, but due to overpopulation we just cannot cope as well as when we could recognize everyone's face.  

Wow, that pig story is pretty cool. I've heard stories of dogs doing that type of thing.  Even one about a cat dailing 911 when the owner had a seizure.  But never a pig.

Makes me want to get a pet. Maybe once I own a home I will.



Matt - I believe it's in one of John Robbin's books, though I can't recall which one.  I'm glad I cut my risk of stroke by only eating veg, because I doubt our 5 cats could call 911, even if they worked together!  But seriously, I guess one interesting effect of huge populations is that million to one odds are happening everyday :)  BTW, I appreciate your use of humor very much.  You crack me up.  
Veganmaster's," brillant acts of heroism". I think this is the most we can hope for. I believe many of us re our genes would have predicted a nuclear exchange during the Cold War. We came close of course, but mutual virtual destruction -I believe I have read- saved us. Correct? Now we don't have this as a detererrent-I presume. Hence the recent Generals spilling the beans re Iranian plans( as Westexas has carefully spelled out) "brillant acts of heroism/acts of God or Ma nature "is unfortunately  all I fill hope for.
   Let me tell you the prelude to the story about the pig. One day a traveling oil and gas landman stopped to talk to the obese white farmer. Just to warm up the farmer the landman asked"How come that pig only has three legs?"
the farmer answered "Lemme tell you 'bout that pig. Thats the smartest, best pig in the world, and we make methane from his manure"
  The landman said "Oh? I'm sure thats a great pig, but why don't you tell me why he has only three legs?'
  The farmer replied with the story of how that noble pig had saved him by getting the neighbor when the farmer had his heart attack.
  The landman said "Enough about how great the hog is. Why does he only have three legs?"
  "Well, if you had a pig that good,you wouldn't want to eat him all at once,would you"
LOL, loved it :)

Do we have the cleverness to invest wisely as a society?

Or will we continue to be shortsighted?

How many men are going to say "sure, I'll give up 50%  (or more) of my social powerand influence in order to powerdown."?

If the powerdown is society-wide and everyone gives up an equal proportion of their "power and influence" no one ends up worse off. Of course, in the American culture that's just wishful thinking. Cultures with a strong tradition of prioritizing the tribe will face much less disruption in that regard. Still, even in the US there are two powerful mechanisms which will lower everyone's status more or less indiscriminately: economic meltdown and the subsequent reaction by the government.
If the powerdown is society-wide and everyone gives up an equal proportion of their "power and influence" no one ends up worse off. Of course, in the American culture that's just wishful thinking. Cultures with a strong tradition of prioritizing the tribe will face much less disruption in that regard


Let's say the US had experienced a massive culture shift in 1940 and decided to powerdown. What would have happened to the UK? Where and from whom would they haven't gotten the oil and weapons they used to repel Hitler's hoped-for invasion? What language would Stuart and the other British members of TOD be speaking these days, assumming their parents hadn't been worked to death in slave labor camps?

The point of this (addmittingly graphic) example is this tribes who powerdown put themselves at a disadvantage compared to the tribes that powerup.

The only way we were able to defeat Hitler, for instance, was through a massive powerup.  



Do you propose "powerdown" as:

1) The best way for our society to react to an external problem and maintain the ability to carry on life as we know it. Or
2)As an objective on its own - a utopian, post capitalist society which is preferable to how we live now.

My impression is that most people who use the term, see it as the second, but present it as the first.


I'm not proposing any agenda.

As far as the definition of "powerdown", my one-sentence understanding of the term is "a collective/societal level effort to progressively use less energy as time goes on."

Note that because of Jevon's paradox, increased energy efficiency is not the same as using less energy. If increased efficiency resulted in lower overall energy consumption, then our energy consumption would not be so much higher than it was in 1970. We are much, much more enegy efficient then we were 35 years ago.  As you no doubt know, we don't use less energy in 2006 then we did in 1970.



Thanks. I only asked you because you were the first to use the term after I wondered this. I should have asked more broadly what people mean by it.

I agree with your Jevon's paradox point. I hope we can powerdown gradually and keep this wonderful capitalist market system. I don't mind if people drive cars, live in the suburbs and consume. I just worry that we are running out of the resources to keep doing it. I sense that most powerdown proponents see powering down as a way to get rid of the modern lifestyle regardless of energy availability.

"I sense that most powerdown proponents see powering down as a way to get rid of the modern lifestyle regardless of energy availability."


I think what you're picking up on is that many of the PO "ealry adopters" adopted it because it seemed a good wagon on which to hitch to a pre-existing, often anti-market agenda.

That's not a judgement, just an observation. Everybody's got to find a way to increase their social fitness after all.



I agree.
Mr. Savinar's point about money demand=demand for BTUs can, and has been, solved for us in the past with market crashes where vast amounts of money disappear in an instant. Economic depression and expanding energy usage seem mutually exclusive.

I am keen on being as efficient and energy self sufficient as possible; and as rich as possible. I personally don't want to powerdown and live like some 16th or 4th century type.

Jevon's paradox is a theory of human behavior.  I can certainly see the logic in the theory, and that it would be one force (among many) in driving human markets ...

but I dislike it when a theory is used as a proof, "Note that because of Jevon's paradox [...]"

Point taken. Jevon's paradox is an attempt at explanation of a portion of the phenomena, not a root cause.
Jevons paradox COULD be avoided if people chose to consume less energy BECAUSE it was better for their lives (relative fitness), not as a means of sacrifice. In the former, everyone would see that people that drove bikes, walked, grew their own food were happier and healthier, then the extra 12 cubic feet of cement created in China due to Matts powering down might not occur.

This is in effect changing the paradigm and it is the best chance (for long term). The best chance for short term is if oil doesnt peak for 20 years, but then we have other problems.

Such a pickle. Even people who have read about this stuff for years are not genetically prepared to have systems analysis that forward looking in our brains. Friggin complexity...

It can also be avoided, without any human altruism, if conservation just proves to be an insufficient offset to declining production.

If people conserve, even as prices rise, people will continue to conserve.  There will be no 'bounce back.'

I think it is very likely that when we reach the conventional oil 'endgame' this is what will happen.

in that case, I guess you don't like any explanations involving gravity? Because gravity is still just a theory you know.

When you look at the real world, the theory of Jevon's Paradox applies as much to discussion of energy as the theory of gravity.

Look at the US as one example:

We are way more efficient than we were in 1970.
Yet we don't use less energy, rather we use way more.

Why is that? Because the point of a nation state is to acquire as much power (access/control of energy) as possible. Thus any advances in efficiency are just reinvested to make the whole system  bigger, more consumptive.

Look at the average secretary as another:

Because of the technological tools at his/her disposal, the average secretary can now accomplish in 10 hours what would have taken 40 hours to accomplish in 1956.

Do secretaries work any fewer hours per week today then they did in 1956 as a result of their technological advances available to them?

Of course they don't. Why not? Because the whole purpose of a business is to make as much money (access/control of energy) as possible. Thus any increases in efficiency are reinvested in the business to make it even bigger.



in that case, I guess you don't like any explanations involving gravity? Because gravity is still just a theory you know.

There is a lot written on the differences between hard science, and the social sciences.

I suppose at the simplest level it is a question of complexity.  A two-body problem is relatively easy to solve.  Interestingly, even "simple" physical systems can become VERY complex as interactions increase.  An example of that is given below.

The social sciences, with living breathing "bodies," each with their own internal motivations, are orders of magnitude beyond this.

For this reason, "gravity" and "Jevon" are a bit mismatched.

For your amusement though:

This multiplicative difficulty stemming from the need for greater and greater precision in the assumptions can be illustrated with the following simple exercise, the prediction of the dynamics of billiard ball on a table. I use the example as computed by themathematician Michael Berry[38] . If you know a set of basic parameters concerning the ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the board (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it would be rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second hit becomes more complicated, but possible; you need to be more careful about your knowledge of the initial states. The problem is that to correctly compute the ninth impact the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table needs to be taken into account (modestly, Berry computations use a weight of less than 100lbs). And to compute the 56th impact, every single elementary particle of the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe separated from us by ten billion light years needs to figure in the calculations, as it exerts an meaningful effect on the outcome. Now consider the additional burden of having to incorporate predictions about where these variables will be in the future. Forecasting the motion of a billiard ball on a pool table requires the knowledge of the dynamics of the entire universe, including each particle! We can easily predict large objects like planets (though not too far into the future) but it is the smaller entities that can be difficult to figure out -and there are so many more of them.


So we defeated Hitler by everyone getting more power and influence?  Matt I am not understanding your concept of powerdown.

Remember in Donnie Darko when donnie said you can't label everything as fear or love because you throw out the entire spectrum of human emotion.  You can't label everything as power up or powerdown.  Some things work 100% of the time. Planting nut trees provide food and future lumber or fuel while removing CO2 from the atmosphere.  At the same time 100 acres of walnut is worth more than 100 acres of hay.  Is that powering up or down?

If the political atmosphere is arranged so corporations and individuals want wind/solar/hydro and conservation for selfish reasons then it will be so. Tax incentives and high prices can make this happen.


"So we defeated Hitler by everyone getting more power and influence?"


Collectively, yes. The US was MUCH more powerful and influential as a result of our wartime economy 1942-to-1945. What powered that wartime economy? Lots and lots of energy. E.g., a powerup.

Not sure how to explain this, but I don't think you're understanding my points. That, of course, is my fault for not making them more clear. Planting nut trees is indeed a good thing in my opnion. As is investing in alternative energy. I'm not stating otherwise.

I'm stating that normative political agendas that require people to lower their social fitness (access to energy) are doomed to fail, no matter how feel good green they are marketed or presented.



Okay, I'll bite.  What about Gandhi and the British Empire?
What about Gandhi? Was he more or less socially influential as a result of his endeavors? Given the way he is deified by so many, it seems to me his social power (and therefore potential access to resources) was raised dramatically as a result of his work.

FWIW, s far as I'm concerned he was a major asshole. The Dalits (lower-caste) hate him with a passion. He was pro-apartheid. He was an passionate advocate of maintaining India's caste system which is as shining an example of apartheid as I can think of.  



Ah, I wasn't nearly as up on Gandhi's history as you seem to be, so your remarks, which brought up things I was unaware of, made me curious to find out more.  Of course, a quick google search is rarely all that helpful, but I did find the following, which shed some light for me about some of what you mention above.  It tells me that there were indeed bitter fights with Gandhi and great leaders of the Dalits, but also that the story is a rich one, and, I'm glad to learn, although not as I once knew it (a fairly simplistic one of a hero), also perhaps not quite as black and white as your remarks suggest:


I know that this is a digression from the main topic, but I was quite curious to learn more...

This has all been a digression of the main topic. Sorry Robert.
That's cool. I have been enjoying the discussion.


The point of this (addmittingly graphic) example is this tribes who powerdown put themselves at a disadvantage compared to the tribes that powerup.
True, and nations are much less altruistic than individuals. Still, post-peak invaders will choose their targets carefully and some tribes will always make unattractive "takeover targets". Those will be better off powering down. Prize items such as Iran, on the other hand, would be foolish not to power up.
I think the Russians helped a little bit.
Operation Bragration made Overlord look like a walk in the Park.

BTW. Operation Sealion was abandoned before American aid arrived in large quantities.

But thanks for the help all the same.

The Russians killed 9 in 10 Germans who died in battle during WWII. The nine largest land battles were Russian/German, the 10th was D-Day. I think you can say the Russians won the European war and the Americans won the Pacific war.
Germans feel they were defeated by Russia,not the USA.
Many nations have used their polical and social powers to make decisions that greatly benefit the masses, not just the rich and powerful. Is Denmark worse off for being the leader in wind energy? Or Germany weakened by being a leader in solar cell production? The French, oh so individualistic, worse off for deciding to go nuclear decades ago? How about Brazil and sugarcane based Ethanol? Or NY state because the powers to be decided to build hydropower and pump storage?
Nation-Tribes can powerdown and be in better shape.
Is the USA at a global disadvantage by clinging to oil-based might = national strength? The war is costly. We are running a huge deficit. Our dollar is weakening.
What's your model for going forward? I need to know before joining you cult.  
Now comes the real problem: a true powerdown basically means we have to consciously lower are net-worth, which is a proxy for our personal power/influence in society.

How many men are going to say "sure, I'll give up 50%  (or more) of my social powerand influence in order to powerdown."?

Spoken like a prophet ;-)

Question: People sometimes buy land and plant trees (for future fuel or lumber) as a long-term investment.

Is this dangerous?  Should it be cut in half?

Might there be other investments which require wealth, power, and influence, but help build a low power future?

You're missing the point all together. That's my fault, I need to communicate it in a more elegant fashion. Will have to let my subconscious mull it over for a few days though.



I agree with Matt's wealth/energy equation. . .

I think it goes beyond the simple 'net worth' being reduced.  It is not a matter of destroying wealth.  Instead, you need to take a step back and evaluate your cash/wealth flows.  Instead of trying to ramp up your income another 10% so you can spend another 10% on things (everything translates to energy) we should find ways to reduce our spending by 10% to reduce our income by 10% (thus reducing our energy foot print by 10%).  If the 10% is compounded every year through out a decline in available energy you have effective powerdown.

For each person you need to look beyond current possessions, and instead look your month to month and future spending.  Things like the cable bill, the cell phone, getting a smaller car next time, turn down/up the thermostat, eat out less, give some of those clothes you don't wear to charity and start wearing the others instead of buying new, don't buy the 4th TV, but if you do only get the 42" instead of the 50".  But the reduction is not for being able to save more (because the banks just give that to other people) but so you can reduce income.  The larger your cash flow, the larger your energy foot print (cash=energy).

Will this happen?  Probably not.  There are too many people trying to catch up with the Jones.  

"Gotta get 200 more square feet (that will be filled with more plasticrap from China), bigger garage (for the plasticrap that doesn't fit in the house) for the boat (that I use twice a year) that is loaded with fishing equipment, and a motorcycle (again, twice a year) and a bigger SUV (to pull the boat twice a year) up to the cabin we own/visit (twice a year) because I am sooo busy mowing my lawn I fertilize/spray 8 times a year and pour thousands of gallons of water on so it is lush and green (in the middle of a dessert) and sealing my driveway so it is jet black, and working to get that promotion so I can get another 200 square feet, bigger boat, riding mower, bigger cabin, greener lawn, chopper (motorcycle is so 90's) so I can be one step ahead of Mr/Mrs Jones. . .wait, did they just have their 5th child?  Honey!  Let's crank out another one!"

Until we learn to be satisifed with less everything, including wealth (can't keep earning the money and just not spending it) we will keep using more energy.  

Every now and then the stat about the number of vacation days between the US and Europe surfaces, and people say "how come we don't get that?"  We could have had that, but when it has been offered in the past the American worker declined more time off and chose to work more, so they could earn more.  

Where I work we used to have the option of buying a week of vacation (distributed across a years pay checks).  Less then 5% took advantage of the offer so they got rid of it.  People choose to work more for more money.  Until we start choosing to earn less wealth, so we spend less, our energy demand will not deminish.  


I think it goes beyond the simple 'net worth' being reduced.  It is not a matter of destroying wealth.  Instead, you need to take a step back and evaluate your cash/wealth flows.  Instead of trying to ramp up your income another 10% so you can spend another 10% on things (everything translates to energy) we should find ways to reduce our spending by 10% to reduce our income by 10% (thus reducing our energy foot print by 10%).  If the 10% is compounded every year through out a decline in available energy you have effective powerdown.

I can feel that a bit, but I think that's because it works as a generally rule, and not as the complete and accurate formula.  Just for the sake of argument, what if someone offers me a 10%, traipsing around the local mountains planting smog resistant trees?  Should I turn that down because of the '10% rule' above?

No, the real accounting is harder.  You have to look at your economic activities, and their 'footprint' (positive or negative).

"Gotta get 200 more square feet (that will be filled with more plasticrap from China), bigger garage (for the plasticrap that doesn't fit in the house) for the boat (that I use twice a year) that is loaded with fishing equipment, and a motorcycle (again, twice a year) and a bigger SUV (to pull the boat twice a year) [...]

I 'feel' that one too, but if you want to hear my crazy idea ... I think it is my genetic clock ticking.  You get to be pushing 50, and you start to think 'what is all this crap?'

Consumption and status gambits are a game for they young ... (and shrewd people will make their status gambits in an efficient and 'low footprint' way.  fit is the new rich, etc.)

pfft.  "someone offers me a 10% [raise]"

In 1942 the rich accepted a 90% income tax rate as a patriotic duty. After the war they thought a 50% income tax was reasonable due to the cold war threat. Now a few truly greedy people have propagandized enough of the voters into believeing that higher taxes on the rich is bad for the economy even though there is no evidence to support that conclusion.
There are now a handful of fossil fuel companies that argue any effort to address GW will hurt the economy. The scientific evidence is that addressing GW will create new industries that will employ several times as many people as the current fossil fuel industries do. But then corporations do not exist for the purpose of maximising employment. They exist to maximise the profits of investors. Specialisation has created tunnel vision among corporate leaders and the politicians they own.

Regarding corporations;

Paul Saffo:
"The sense here is that the weakening of traditional institutions means that the new global challenges can be overcome only if corporations throw their full effort into finding solutions."

I am wary, to say the least.

I have posted before my belief that we are engaged in a great greenhouse gas experimnt, and one that in a static system would lead to higher gobal temperatures. However, the key is "in a static environment." This is about as far as the hard facts lead me. Given a clear path, I would elect not to particpate in this experiment. Do you believe that the models are reflective of the way the world responds to greenhouse gas emmissions?

The follow up question is [ta dah]: What do you foresse short term [one to five years] and intermediate term [5 to 25 years] as a direct consequence og CO2 emmissions in an obviously dynamic system?

I was going to post the following picture in the article, but I haven't figured out how to do that yet:

Monthly Mean Carbon Dioxide

That is what scares me. That trend is alarming. It didn't deviate at all during the oil shocks of the 70's. So, static environment or not, carbon dioxide concentration is increasing with no end in site. What do I foresee? That's the problem. I can envision the effects of Peak Oil. I believe I have an idea as to how that's going to play out. I can't foresee the consequences of our global warming experiment. I worry about the heartland of the U.S. turning into a giant dustbowl. I worry about the unpredictability of how this is going to affect different areas.


Pretty linear trend (at least the NOA data). If this trend continues we'll be above 700 ppm by 2050, arround Peak Coal.

Considering that Coal will probably make us emit more CO2 than Oil, we can expect to be over 1000 ppm on Peak Coal.

Pretty scary, aint it? Now let me ask you this: do you know what was the concentration of atmospheric CO2 during the Jurassic, one of the most bio-prolific eras in this planet history?

Pretty scary, aint it? Now let me ask you this: do you know what was the concentration of atmospheric CO2 during the Jurassic, one of the most bio-prolific eras in this planet history?

I am well aware that the CO2 concentration was much higher when the dinosaurs were running around. That's exactly why I have argued that we won't see a Venus-like greenhouse effect. The planet has coped with CO2 concentrations much higher than today's. The point is that humans have not evolved to deal with such conditions, and the upheaval on ecosystems has the potential to be huge. I worry about drought and famine in specific areas, more than I worry that I am going to be too hot.


What conditions are you exactly talking about? What can higher concentrations of CO2 change in our environment?
What conditions are you exactly talking about? What can higher concentrations of CO2 change in our environment?

An average global temperature that is 5-10 degrees C warmer than today's. Humans existed in abundance before we discovered oil. We have never existed on an earth much warmer than what we have now. That's why I say it's a dangerous experiment. We don't know the outcome.


Ok Robert. Look here, can you find a link between the two variables? I surely cant.

I'm not saying that we should worry about the rise in CO2, I just fail to get evidence that Climate Change and CO2 are related.

Make that shouldn't worry.
Thanks for that graph. I was looking for a graph like that when I was putting this together. I would like to believe that we won't see a sharp rise in temperature with rising CO2 levels, and the scientist in me acknowledges that the weather patterns we have seen over the past few years may be just part of the normal cycle. However, we are engaging in an experiment that has not been conducted during human existance.

As far as the long term trends, lots of things affect global temperature over millions of years. Continents move around, ocean currents are disrupted, and the earth wobbles. It is the speed of the current change that we have to be concerned about. Within that 600 hundred million year time scale, there may be very clear short-term trends that are obscured by things taking place over a longer time frame.


Within that 600 hundred million year time scale, there may be very clear short-term trends that are obscured by things taking place over a longer time frame.

Well, I'm waiting for someone to show me that. As I said, I haven't find any evidence of such trends.

Some people will only be happy when they see these things in the rearview mirror.  That goes for peak oil or global warming.

Now, if you just won't live long enough to see things that way, does that let you off the hook?

Peak Oil is an observable geological fenomenon.

CO2 inducted Global Warming is not. It is a theory, and a very badly cientificly supported one. Please prove me wrong.

But mark that I'm not saying that Climate Change isn't happening or that the globe isn't warming since the 1970s.

Had world peak oil been observed, or only modeled?

How is modeling peak oil ok, but modeling climate bad?

Is it just because one is harder, and we shouldn't do hard things?

I didn't refer to world Peak Oil, but still we are observing the peak in conventional oil right now.

I never refered to modeling climate not being ok. You're trying to mystify this subject.

I'm still waiting for evidence on the link between CO2 and Global Warming.

What, where are we observing the peak in conventional oil?


That's all liquids.

I'm getting wary of your zig-zags. Whe're talking here about the link between CO2 and Global Warming, if you don't have anything new to share, leave it.

I said peak "oil" the first time.  I'm not the one zigging here.

Stop and think about it, really.  Peak oil is expected based on models, principally the Hubbert linearization.  It won't be sure until it is seen in the proverbial 'rear view mirror,' and even folks here have said they won't be sure until 10 years after.

But out there in the world, what is the position of doubters?  That they don't trust the Hubbert model, or current applications of it.  They want to see it with their own eyes.

This is exactly a parallel to the global warming debate, the global warming models, and people who demand absolute proof in that venue.

It was you who gave the link to an all liquids graph, not me.

Peak Oil is not expected based on models, but on the experience we have on seeing those models work countless times in the past.

We've seen in the past large regions experience a peak in discovery and then a peak in production. We've already seen a peak in world discovery.

Now for CO2, historical data doesn't show this kind of similarity, by the contrary these variables seem to have been independent in the past.

Anyway I don't think you're getting it and I'm wary of this. I'll leave you talking to yourself now. When you get evidence of CO2 driven Global Warming, please e-mail me.

I don't know why you see a contradiction.  I said "peak oil" and pointed to a liquids (oil) graph, yes.

And of course peak oil revolves around Hubbert's models.

Now the interesting bit is where you say "we have on seeing those models work countless times in the past."

That's a wonderful luxury, isn't it?  It be able to compare a model against the output?

Too bad we only have one earth, and when you get what the real cynics want, a comparision to the real thing, it will be too late.

That's what I'm talkin' about.  We have models.  We only have one earth.  Either you learn to trust the models, or you take what you get.  There are no other choices.

That's what I'm talkin' about.  We have models.  We only have one earth.  Either you learn to trust the models, or you take what you get.  There are no other choices.

That is exactly my position as well. We are playing a dangerous game here. The outcome is unknown. We can't afford to take the risk.



Generally I believe global warming is interpreted pretty much as the increase of the temperature the last century. CO2 comes into play because it increases too (see NOAA). So why could more CO2 lead to higher T?
Radiation hits the earth. It is reflected as long wavelength IR radiation away from earth. This can be absorbed by CO2 in the atmosphere, instead of escaping into space. The atmosphere is not yet saturated with regards to CO2 absorption, but can still increase absorption at say 2-3, 4, 15 um (micrometer) wavelength, if CO2 conc. increases. Thus temperature goes up.
For details see introduction in  example: Seinfeld and Pandis, Atmospheric chemistry and physics, book Wiley, 1998, or read a bit on www.realclimate.com. Maybe my explanation was too easy or too complicated - give a feedback. Ciao.

Those are the physical principals of heat entrapment. CO2 entraps heat, but its influence on warming the globe is of the fourth order of significance.

If you read the link to Jean Laherrère I furnished above, you'll see that there's no sound historical evidence that CO2 affects Global Temperature, like cosmic movements do.

You'll also see that today's global average temperature and concentration of atmospheric CO2 are the lowest in geological history.

OK, you get the basic physics ("entraps heat"), but then apparently you are preferring one model to others ("its influence on warming the globe is of the fourth order of significance").

Interesting, why is this model better than all the others?

How about taking a look at the IPCC 2001 report?  To be direct, how hard have you actually looked for evidence of such trends?


Dare I ask -- what is the predominant scientific explanation for the these transitions thru history?
There is no one answer. Chicken or egg?


I take weekend - have a nice one!

He did not look at all. He is a contrarian, a "there is no human contribution to global warming" pundit.
I've seen this graph before, the Milankovitch cycles.

Looking at it you see both variables varying almost simultaneously, CO2 laging a bit from Temperature. This graph is somewhat of a puzzle if you try to get what came first: a rise in temperature or in CO2. Still the Milancovitch cycles are the main force behind the rise in Temperatures.

Is there an explanation for the CO2 ups and downs in this graph, other than the Milankovitch cycles? If you know more about this please comment.

This graph is the main evidence given by IPCC for the CO2 driven Global Warming theory. I don't see how this graph proves it, it is just another thing to add to the controversy.

The periodicity of this is striking.  Perhaps it's some earth "wheezing" cycle from down at the bottom of the sea?  You mean there is no concensus from geologists and climatologists about this behaviour?  
You said there you were not aware of a correlation even over shorter geologic periods, so I provided the most well-known bit of evidence.  Now you say you're aware of it, but that it doesn't constitute a causation.  


and elsewhere discuss this issue.

And saying that this single graph is the the main evidence given by IPCC for the CO2-driven global warming theory is laughable.

That graph is astounding; I saw something like it at the Smithsonian years ago, but I had forgotten. Looking at it, I'm sorely tempted to conclude that regardless of large variations in all the variables, including continential drift, orbital cycles, and so on, the Earth merely flips back and forth between two states 10C apart - call them "icy" and "watery", with CO2 forcing playing no dynamic role whatsoever. From the graph, even 7000ppm is  climatically benign because all it does is to take us to the same warm state as 300ppm did in the carboniferous, and that's exactly the same state we were flipping to anyhow before we interfered. (The recent ice ages, of course, have oscillated much too rapidly to show up on the time scale of the graph - and maybe too rapidly to make it quite all the way to the full 10C?) Now how could that be? Is 300ppm simply already enough to close the relevant spectral bands, so that adding even twenty times more has essentially no effect? Is all the hype and fuss about something we can and should do something about, or is it really about someone's pre-existing Marxist hobby horse?
Don't read too much into that one chart.  If you take a look at the wikipedia paleoclimatology page, you'll see that temperature has not behaved nearly so smoothly as the graph Laherrere used would indicate.  Moreover, the uncertainty on estimated CO2 levels in the past is very large, though the point that CO2 vs. temperature has little correlation on very long time scales remains true.  

But 100k years is a long time on human scales, and luckily things like continental locations don't change over that time scale.  As with others I take little comfort that we may merely be entering atmsopheric conditions prevalent many millions of years ago, with a transition of just a few decades.

By the way, I endeavored to find the source for Laherrere's graph.  He cites "Gerhard, 2004" but doesn't provide a bibliography that I can find.  Googling suggests this is Lee Gerhard, but I can't figure out where it was published.

The KT mass extinction had a 5C temperature increase with 50% species die off. Scientists are having an argument about whether it was a meteor or CO2 (vulcanism from the Deccan Trapps) increase that killed off the dinosaurs I believe, but am willing to be corrected on this.

The Permian mass extinction had a 10C (vulcanism from the Siberian Trapps) increase with a 95% species die off (land, then marine then back to land again).

Yup.  This is what I was trying to say, with better data.

I think the casual observer takes heart from the long view that we (life on earth) have lived through it before.  And of course, some companies sell this view.

The rub (as we all know with respect to peak oil) is that something which looks like a mere blip from a thousand (or million) hear perspective, can be rough for the critters living at the time.

pffft.  hear/year.
The KT Extinction: Possibly an unfortunate series of events including Chixilub and the Deccan Traps. Possibly some temp increases as well. All leading to environmental stress.
(No single smoking gun)

Permian Mass Faunal Extinction: The creation of a massive supercontinent was important. Laurasia closed with Gondwanaland Closing the Tethys ocean. Imagine one single supercontinent with an ultra dry, very hot interior and humidity and moisture levels capable of sustaining life on only on the periphery. Red Desert sands, massive evaporite sequences. Think of Death Valley, but much worse and much greater in areal extent.

More recently, we are in an interglacial phase so you would expect upticks and down ticks in global temperature. There are other things as well, The Chandler Wobble, Milankovitch Cycles etc.

Do these phenomena of deep geological time give us an excuse to ignore Man made Global Warming? No. Purely on the precautionary principle, we should treat C02 emissions as serious and to be curbed.

check out this link on global non warming by the competitive enterprise institute
Humans exist in even more abundance after we discovered oil.
No question about that. But we did exist. Humanity has not existed when the global temperature was 5 degrees hotter than today. I can envision a world beyond Peak Oil. I can't wrap my mind around a world in which the average temperature is significantly warmer. It is the unknown aspect of this that concerns me. It is sort of like transplating entire ecosystems from one climate to another. Some species will thrive. Some won't be able to cope. The net effect is unknown. I don't like unknowns, because I can't plan for them.


  There are sherpas in the himalayas and aborigines in the deserts of australia. We have evolved for all enviornments.
Many of the species on earth have existed through several cycles, some will thrive some will die.  How much drought and famine exist already? Has anyone projected or attempted to accuratly describe what regions will benefit and which ones will lose?
There are sherpas in the himalayas and aborigines in the deserts of australia. We have evolved for all enviornments.

Right, and they have evolved for the present conditions. Raise the temperature of all of those locations by 5 degrees C and we are suddenly in an unknown region. Maybe we will be fine. Maybe this will cause a drought right where we need it the least.

Sure, drought and famine exist now. But what if conditions become better for growing crops in, say Iran, but much worse in Iowa. Those are the kinds of unknown variables we are playing with.


The Inuit Indians (Eskimos to laymen) are already having trouble adapting to changing environmental conditions in their native habitat.  
Interesting to think about Australian aborigines, isn't it?

They survived in a very thin environment and took that as far as they could.  The problem with our global trend in biodiversity is that it is taking us all to a thinner and thinner environment.  When you say "some will die," yest that happened before.  But in large scale extinction events it has taken millions and millions of years for biodiversity to rebound.

If you ask me, our oceans are very important and already much thinner and more perturbed from their natural state than they should be.  I think there is a possibility of a large scale extinction event - from the combined influence of overfishing, pollution, and climate change.

Got a couple million years for them to come back?

... or are you ready to live like an aborigine?

I think over fishing an unlikely way to send the ocean into mass death.
It heals much faster than land ecosystems. Anyway I'm off to my didgeridoo lesson....
I can think of two systems that have crashed with (so far) no recovery: japanese herring and atlantic cod.
Allow me to add both 'the chicken of the sea', the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna, and the Alaskan red king crab to your list of crashed marine species.
Surfing to confirm what I heard on TV last night:

"Catch and catch at age data for the Hokkaido-Sakhalin population are available since 1878.  The annual catch was over 400,000 t from the late 19th century to early in the 20th century, with a historical peak of 970,000 t in 1897 (Fig. 1).  However, the population has steadily declined thereafter with continual fluctuation, accompanied with the disappearance of spawning grounds from south to north in the west coast of Hokkaido. In 1955 the spawning ground completely disappeared from the coast of Hokkaido.


Tripple Post!  (I have no regard for convention.)

I think the average person does not know how F'd up our oceans really are.  A great, readable, story from a fisherman's perspective is:

The Doryman's Reflection

What about turning it into Carbonic Acid, like 600 million years ago. Sorry, just seen a Horizon program on the Snowball Earth of 600 million years ago.
Those theories are also gaining some ground.

But dont worry, even worse than that has probably happened:

We live on Earth Mark II....

The point is that humans have not evolved to deal with such conditions,

Come now.   Humans have made functioning tribes in jungles, ice packs and deserts.

The present population levels and egos are what will have a hard time with their homes flooded out on the coasts and the desert expanding into areas that used to grow food.

Humans existed in abundance before we discovered oil.

Ok, what would you describe what human population levels have done now that humans have been using oil?

Come now.   Humans have made functioning tribes in jungles, ice packs and deserts.

Sure they have. But now take a human who is adapted to the ice pack, and take that ice pack away. Take a human who has adapted to the jungle, and turn that jungle into a desert. That's the kind of experiments we are talking about here. Some will thrive. Some won't.

Ok, what would you describe what human population levels have done now that humans have been using oil?

Of course oil has allowed the population to greatly expand. I am not arguing against that. But, the point is that we know what a world looks like without oil. What a world looks like that's 5 degrees hotter is a complete unknown.


  Adaptations are biological...the DNA changes.  Humans are accustomed to many enviornments and have the autoregulation for all these different climates. Inuits can work in the tropics, and skiiny white guys can summit Everest without O2.  This is alcimatization not adaption.  What most of us don't have is the will and skill to survive.


But most people who have lived in an environment for a long time do have the adaptions that optimize them for that environment. But humans are very good at being able to change their environments so they can live under many different conditions.

Take the Inuit whose adaptations favor the ice packs, and remove those ice packs. Can he move somewhere else and adapt? If he has the means. Can the polar bears? Humans are only a small part of the equation. Turning ecosystems upside down is the biggest piece.


I was in Panama for jungle training with an Alaskan Native.  The guy was a horse. Polar bears are specific niche creatures. Our niche is that we have enough junk between our ears to know to make fur clothing or build a thatch roof (or an igloo) these skills are not common knowledge.  In a rapid change such as a plane crash in winter tundra you don't have time to learn the neccesary skills. But a change over many years we figure things out and benchmark the idea.  Polar bears have a limited diet and range.  
Humans are broad omnivores, we're resourceful, and persistent.

I do agree with you, change on this scale is bad for earth.
(Did buddha say all suffering is caused by change, or woody allen?) And we should limit CO2 production.
So realistically how? I planted 80 trees already this spring which might neutralize my CO2 but I am one of 6.5 billion.....

Polar bears are specific niche creatures.

That's probably the case with most creatures. Even deer, which live everywhere, have specific subspecies adapted to specific environments. Take an Indiana whitetail and transplant him to Texas, and he isn't going to fare all that well.

And we should limit CO2 production.
So realistically how? I planted 80 trees already this spring which might neutralize my CO2 but I am one of 6.5 billion.....

That's why I am so concerned. With all the special interests out there demanding to be protected, and with the government being as it is, I see no hope that we will address the issue. I thought Kyoto was a promising first step. It indicated willingness from many world governments to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, the largest CO2 emitter in the world opted out of that.

If we had a benevolent king, we might solve the problem. He could issue rules that would be unpopular, but since he is king he doesn't have to worry about getting reelected. The democratic system was not designed to fix problems that are going to cause short-term difficulties for the people who vote.


I don't think any of us expect the CO2 to have a direct effect on human health.  (Recalling my early reading on GW, I think that variation around the world, from stuffy office, to corn field, to forest, to desert far outstrips the recent average trend.  That's the reason they collect the 'best' numbers from the tops of mountains.  The variation is reduced.)

No, I think the big thing is that back when humans have made functioning tribes in jungles, ice packs and deserts, they had a huge reserve of biodiversity to draw from.  In specific localities where they 'crashed' that biodiversity (Easter Island), they suffered.

More ocean sadness:


In my opinion, climate change is just one more thing hammering at the earth's biodiversity.  And that is what will make the ol' earth less pleasant for future generations.

We see so much note of positive feedback systems which are difficult to model, with methane, with glaciers, with global insolation.

But we have gone through periods of high CO2. We did not become Venus. We have a temperate climate now, and there have to be reasons for that.

My question is - what are those reasons, which of them are systematic negative feedback, which are essentially random(supervolcano, meteorite), and which are periodic unrelated factors? How much conclusive research has been done in that area? I've read about how Snowball Earth ended, with a slow increase in geological CO2, followed by a rapid carbonation of the ocean as soon as it was uncovered, but what about Greenhouse Earth?

I don't know that I see 700ppm by 2050 from that trend - if so, Katy bar the door!  But for the perspective of geologic time have a gander at this:


It's in reverse view, present day at left, but it conveys the idea - we're now approaching 400 ppm, and over the last 400,000 years, CO2 has topped out briefly at or below 300 ppm during the interglacial periods, and been much lower than that most of the time  Gore has a similar chart in his slideshow - I gurped when I saw it.  (I don't know what a gurp is either, but I'd never seen data as startling as this.)  It's also in Hansen's latest report:


It's also worth looking at Swiss Re's Climate Change Futures report, and that's the staid old insurance industry talking.  Bottom line is we're in uncharted territory here, running an uncontrolled experiment on our life support system.

If we use coal and CTL for everything there's no oil left to do, and nothing unexpected happens in China, sure we'll get to 700 ppm by 2050.
I don't know if I believe in cataclysmic global warming - but I do believe that we are extremely wasteful in how we squander fossil fuels, combust it, and litter the skies and foul our land and water with toxic waste. We also waste biomass - shucking corn for the kernels - what do we do with the corn stover? What do the Brazilians do with their sugar cane bagasse? In L.A. we have reached Peak Landfill we are swimming in so much trash.

Good news. Biomass waste will be our energy crisis salvation because we can convert so much of it into electricity and ethanol through syngas fermentation. 100+ gallons of ethanol per ton. Zero toxic emissions. Look it up under "cellulosic ethanol" in Wikipedia or at my BioConversion Blog.

BTW, syngas fermentation works with blends including fossil fuel waste as well.

I don't know if I believe in cataclysmic global warming

To be clear, neither do I. We won't see a runaway, Venus-type greenhouse effect. What we will see is unpredictable changes across the landscape, and more violent and unusual weather.

But it's not really what we are seeing right now that's got me alarmed. It's the fact that I don't see an end to the increasing trend of CO2 emissions. GTL, CTL, tar sands, and heavy oils will allow us to continue this experiment for quite a bit longer.


The evidence that we might be in runaway global warming is getting harder to ignore.

The last 5 years has seen some extraordinary revelations about the speed at which the planet is heating up.

The consensus was perhaps 2 degrees by 2050.

The consensus is now closer to 5 degrees centigrade by 2050, on average (ie 12 degrees F).

A growing group of scientists are now beginning to worry about 10 degrees centigrade (22 degrees F).   And a 12 foot rise in sea levels.  For every scientist who doubts global warming, there are two or 3 who are beginning to wonder whether we are massively too conservative in our estimates.

That latter change would threaten civilisation.  It might make parts of the US uninhabitable, let alone the Third World.  Imagine 100 million Latin Americans trying to get into the US, not 10 million illegal ones living there.

The glacial record shows swings of that scale, in the space of 10 years, several times in the last 20 million years.

And there is the risk of catastrophic methane release as the permafrost melts, or of accelerated human activity to stay cool, accelerating that process.

Tim Flannery 'The Weather Makers' is a pretty good summary of the latest research (with the footnotes, but quite readable).

Also check out Elizabeth Kolbert's

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

She had a 3-part series in The New Yorker that she's now expanded into the book mentioned above.  

Realclimate.org highly recommends that one:


And she's a wonderful writer, so it's beautifully written as well as being very good with the science.

I will also be reading Flannery's book - am looking forward to that one too.

Thank you for her reference which I appreciate very much.

I loved Flannery's previous book (The Eternal Frontier: Natural History of North America) and this new book was the closest I have come to a book about global warming which is

  1. accessible in its scientific information
  2. realistic and sanguine about what is going on
  3. nonetheless makes the case for the gravity and urgency of the situation
  4. gives some ideas what we can do about it

The reality is tackling global CO2 emissions is within our current technology, or linear extrapolations of current technology and is economically feasible.  We are not even talking about returning to the standards of living of 1955, let alone 1900.

But we must start now, and we must put real resources into the change in ways of life and 'how we do things' (embedded capital in the economy like houses, power stations, cars etc).

Right now there is not the political will nor the public awareness.  We may be running out of time.

I can see there are no nursery owners here.  We use burn propane to add co2 into the greenhouse air as it gets better growth.  There was a seminar I took in a couple of years ago where they were spraying fields with methanol during high heat conditions as the extra carbon added considerable yeild to certain crops.  Don't remember the details but there are c3 and c4 plants the extra carbon from the metanol helped the plant only in high heat conditions.  High heat & high CO2 maybe I can quit putting plastic covers on my greenhouse and save that petro for my car.  I do agree that climate change will occur but I think this will only be detrimental to humans and some plants will love it.
I think German research is proving that plants may not love extra CO2. I haven't got any links, but there was a bit on the BBC news last autumn and I think that was the jist of the story. I believe the Germans covered a forest (pine?) area in polythene and pumped in extra CO2 and recorded the results. The plant life did not respond as expected (i.e. grow more) and did actually suffer in a few cases. Don't know if anyone has a link to that story.
This covers many variables

1 no wind
2 no nightly temperature variation
3 what is the reduced solar intensity from the covering.

A better experiment would be to control all values except one (CO2) and note the change. All that really proves is pine does not grow well in polyvinyl enclosures LOL.

There really have been approx. 15 years of these studies.  I cannot recall any that came out ahead, let alone so positive that we could be assured plantlife would (of its own accord) remediate CO2.

And besides, we have to keep returning to the obvious: every plant species in the world is already out there growing (someplace) and they have not, in all their millions of acres and millions of species, managed to eat up the CO2 we've released over the last centuries.

All the coal gas and oil used to be plants.  All the plants currently growing ARE eating up CO2. My argument was that the rate of pine tree growth can't be measured in an enclosure with accuracy. If plant life ceased CO2 would rise quicker.  The need is large trees to "sink" CO2 and other systems where CO2 is not re-released.  Peat sediment etc.

People joke about it but I think Iron fertilization of the oceans deserves more research.

Yeah, this is why people start thinging about iron and the oceans, because terrestrial plants (and current oceans) are not acting quickly enough.

Just like peak oil this is about rates and curves.  production and consumption.  If we could cease co2 production today how long would it take for terrestrial plants to eat it up?  I suppose someone could calculate that ... but what really matters is how the consumption curves of sinks relate to the future production curves (China's new coal-fired power plants, etc.)

Usually the way to isolate the CO2 effect is to have a control experiment in which they cover a similar forest without injecting CO2, and compare the results between the two of them. I don't know if they did it in that experiment, but any other approach would be quite a deviation from scientific practices.
I was reading these studies 10 or 15 years ago.  For a while I had high hope ... but I think the latest rounds have testing have showed that while CO2 helps some plants, it is not the limiting factor in most growth (water other nutrients weigh more).

Of course, the bottom line is that if plants were going to love and eat up all the CO2, then it wouldn't keep increasing in the atmoshpere.  It would have been 'et by now. ;-)

Yeah, I axtually sit next to the lab doing some of these tree studies http://pages.unibas.ch/botschoen/scc/index.shtml

It is heavily debated whether our friends the plants will grow more as CO2 increases. Often it seems in natural surroundings that other factors limits growth, and you dont see such a remarkable increased uptake as in the perfect lab setting. There is also a lobby saying "hey look at this Co2, it will go away as the plants grow so much more". Careful with what you read, please.

the point is: if oil becomes scarce, and no other energy fills the gap, bio stuff will be used more. population seem to go up in any case, also using wood etc. So it doesnt seem as if the plants on earth will reduce CO2. And as stated, if this is the case, CO2 would have stabilized already.

Maybe we can hope that when the fisheries collapse we will have giant algae blooms in the oceans consuming CO2 and then fall to the bottom of the sea :)    -ironic-

Planet of the Plants

By Glenn Scherer, Grist Magazine. Posted July 25, 2005.

In a world changed by global warming, crops may grow more abundantly, but be unable to nourish us.

Humanity is on the threshold of a century of extraordinary bounty, courtesy of global climate change. That's the opinion of Robert Balling, former scientific adviser to the Greening Earth Society, a lobbying arm of the power industry founded by the Western Fuels Association. In a world where atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar from the burning of fossil fuels, he says, "crops will grow faster, larger, more water-use efficient, and more resistant to stress." Quoting study after study, he invokes visions of massive melon yields, heftier potatoes, and "pumped-up pastureland." Bumper crops of wheat and rice, he says, will benefit the world's farmers and the hungry.

Balling's assertions are backed by solid science: Gaseous CO2 fertilization does cause remarkable growth spurts in many plants, and could create a greener planet with beefier tomatoes and faster-growing, bigger trees. But there's a catch: The insects, mammals, and impoverished people in developing countries who feed on this bounty may end up malnourished, or even starving.

A small but growing body of research is finding that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while increasing crop yield, decrease the nutritional value of plants. More than a hundred studies, for example, have found that when CO2 from fossil-fuel burning builds up in plant tissues, nitrogen (essential for making protein) declines. A smaller number of studies hint at another troubling impact: As atmospheric CO2 levels go up, trace elements in plants (such as zinc and iron, which are vital to animal and human life) go down, potentially malnourishing all those that subsist on the plants. This preliminary research has given scientists reason to worry about bigger unknowns: Virtually no studies have been done on the effects of elevated CO2 on other essential trace elements, such as selenium, an important antioxidant, or chromium, which is believed to regulate blood-sugar levels.

The less-nutritious plants of a CO2-enriched world will likely not be a problem for rich nations, where "super-sized" meals and vitamin supplements are a dietary mainstay. But things could be very different in the developing world, where millions already live on the edge of starvation, and where the micronutrient deficit, known as "hidden hunger," is already considered one of the world's leading health problems by the United Nations.

The problem of hidden hunger grew out of the 1960s "green revolution." That boom in agriculture relied on new varieties of high-yield crops and chemical fertilizers to staunch world hunger by upping caloric intake in the developing world. Unfortunately, those high-yield crops are typically low in micronutrients, and eating them has resulted in an epidemic of hidden hunger. At least a third of the world is already lacking in some chemical element, according to the U.N., and the problem is due in part to a steady diet of micronutrient-deficient green-revolution plants. Iron deficiency alone, which can cause cognitive impairment in children and increase the rate of stillbirths, affects some 4.5 billion people. Lack of iodine, another micronutrient, can result in brain damage and is a serious problem in 130 countries. According to the World Bank, hidden hunger is one of the most important causes of slowed economic development in the Third World.

Enter rising CO2 levels, which could exacerbate hidden hunger in this century. Current concentrations of atmospheric CO2 now exceed anything seen in the last 420,000 years -- and likely in the last 20 million years, according to the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And forecasts call for CO2 levels to rise dramatically, from today's 378 parts per million to 560 parts per million or more by as early as 2050. The micronutrient decline brought by these ballooning CO2 levels could collide dangerously with the developing world's nutrient-poor green-revolution crops and its exploding population. Scientists also worry about how plant nutrient deficiencies might destabilize the world's wild ecosystems in unexpected ways.

"This is one of those slow-motion effects that does not hit us like a hammer, so we don't notice it," says Irakli Loladze, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska. But, he says, failing to notice the hidden hunger fueled by changing CO2 levels does not lessen its potential impact: "The structure of the whole food web could change."

Diet for a Nitrogen-Deprived Planet

Early carbon-dioxide enrichment experiments were relatively simple: All kinds of wild and cultivated plants were exposed in field or lab to current, doubled, and tripled levels of CO2, and scientists watched what happened. In more than 2,700 studies, plant growth typically exploded. Doubled CO2 levels resulted in an average increase in agricultural yield of over 40 percent.

But after about 1993, some scientists began to question this approach. While the early studies looked at overall growth, they ignored the nutritional quality of the bigger, faster-growing plants, according to Loladze. When researchers began measuring the nutritive value of CO2-enriched plants and feeding the vegetation to insects and livestock, they started getting discomforting data.

Those data reveal a clear pattern for the macronutrient nitrogen, the only dietary chemical element that has been extensively studied to date. Peter Curtis, a professor of plant ecology at Ohio State University, gathered 159 papers addressing the nitrogen-depletion problem and found a "reduction of nitrogen in seeds in both wild and crop species," he says. Some species, like soybeans, showed no change, while barley and wheat showed a 20 percent reduction.

Though Curtis doesn't see this nitrogen shortage as a crisis for industrial agriculture, where chemical fertilizers can make up nutritional shortfalls, he wonders how protein declines might affect "wildlife that rely on plant seeds -- insects, seed-eating birds, or mammals, for example. For them, the nitrogen levels are really quite important."

CO2-induced nitrogen deficiency in plants has already been shown to affect herbivorous insects and the carnivores that eat them. To make up for the plunge in plant protein, some plant-eating insects must dramatically increase their intake of vegetation. But unable to keep up with the need to eat enough food, some bugs suffer increased malnutrition, starvation, predation, and mortality, writes evolutionary biologist David Seaborg in a recent issue of Earth Island Journal.

When Western Michigan University entomologist David Karowe fed cabbage white butterfly caterpillars leaves grown in an atmosphere with double the earth's current CO2 levels, the insects ate about 40 percent more plant matter than under current atmospheric conditions. But they still couldn't meet their dietary needs. Their growth rate slowed by about 10 percent and their adult size was smaller. Peter Stiling at the University of South Florida made similar findings for leaf miners, insects that eat out tiny caverns in leaves where they live. When they took up housekeeping in CO2-enriched leaves, the insects had to eat out 20 percent larger leaf homes. But the bugs were still twice as likely to die of starvation as insects living at today's CO2 levels.

As serious as these results seem, no one should jump to conclusions, says William Mattson, chief insect ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Rhinelander, Wis. He has spent the past five years monitoring 10 insect species and found they react differently to raised CO2 levels and lowered nitrogen levels, with some showing no change and others harmed, and no clear pattern yet in sight. He worries, though, that CO2 fertilization and nitrogen depletion could combine to alter insect balances in unexpected ways. For example, the leaf miners described above were also four times more likely to be killed by parasitic wasps -- bad news for the miners but good news for the wasps. In another study, aphids reproduced 10 to 15 percent faster in enriched CO2 atmospheres -- good for the aphids, but bad for the crops they infest.

Sorting out CO2 winners and losers ultimately depends on your point of view. To most people, "good insects" pollinate our crops, provide food for fish and birds, and regulate wild and domestic plant growth, and their decline would be problematic. However, farmers would likely herald a population crash in "bad bugs" -- that is, crop-eating pests. Unfortunately, no one can guess what CO2-altered natural and cultivated systems might look like.

The problem gets more complex with bigger animals. Clenton Owensby of Kansas State University has conducted one of the most extensive CO2 experiments involving mammals -- specifically, sheep. "We got around a 22 percent increase in yield of forage grasses over an eight-year period in an enriched CO2 environment," Owensby says -- but, "over that same time period, we also saw an 8 to 12 percent reduction in nitrogen concentration in the grasses, with a 5 to 10 percent reduction in ruminant animal productivity." That, he says, could translate into longer times spent raising sheep and cattle in the future, shaving already thin profit margins from financially strapped ranches. The problem, Owensby says, is that sheep and cattle cannot digest forage directly; they rely on microbes in their guts to break down cellulose. But reduced nitrogen decreases the microbial population, which slows the rate at which the forage can be digested, which in turn slows the rate at which forage can be eaten, and ultimately the rate at which the animals grow.

Owensby assumes it will be easy for industrialized nations to compensate. They can add nitrogen supplements to livestock diets, though that will still add some cost to meat production. But this would not be so easy in the developing world, where livestock productivity is often already marginal. And it would be nearly impossible with wild ruminants, such as browsing deer, elk, and gazelles, among which nitrogen deficiency remains unstudied.

Oddly, air pollution from fossil fuels may help offset the negative impacts of increased CO2 in plants. Auto exhaust and coal-burning emissions have increased nitrogen deposits in soils in the farm country of industrial nations by up to 50 times natural levels, according to Christian Korner of the Institute of Botany at the University of Basel, Switzerland. While this brings with it other serious problems such as acid rain, it could help ease or even solve nitrogen and protein deficiencies. But not without other repercussions, says Curtis: "The bottom line is that the combination of high CO2 and high nitrogen favors typical human-camp followers, mostly weedy species," such as Canadian thistle, spotted knapweed, leafy spurge, and kudzu, all of which seriously damage croplands and ecosystems and compete with native plants. "That could lead to an acceleration in the decline of biodiversity," he says.

Elementary, My Dear

What about the other 24 elements known to be vital to the human diet? Precious few studies have been conducted on these micronutrients, but the University of Nebraska's Loladze surveyed the entire available scientific literature. He found that an overwhelming number of the three-dozen-plus experiments conducted to date showed that CO2 enrichment caused a significant decline in one or more micronutrients, which include zinc and magnesium.

"It is obviously known that carbon dioxide boosts plant growth; it is after all a 'greenhouse' gas," says Loladze. "Even a high-school student in New Zealand growing plants with high amounts of CO2 was able to grow huge tomatoes. But when she investigated their quality, it turned out that the tomatoes had lower levels of micronutrients, and less nutrition in them."

Loladze, to his dismay, found just two studies on rice, the world's most important crop, and four on wheat, the second most important. One rice study found that four out of five elements decreased when grown in CO2-enriched air, with nitrogen dropping 14 percent, phosphorus 5 percent, iron 17 percent, and zinc 28 percent. Only calcium showed an increase, of 32 percent. The other rice study showed no significant change in micronutrient levels. In wheat, on average, every measured element except potassium declined in three studies. A just-published study by Chinese researchers led by Dong-Xiu Wu found that while high CO2 levels significantly increased grain yield, they severely decreased nutrient quality: nitrogen concentrations fell by 15 percent, phosphorus by 36 percent, potassium by 23 percent, and zinc by 32 percent.

Mattson points to still another problem with CO2. "Something else that may exacerbate micronutrient deficiency is that added CO2 tends to drive up [the production of] many plant non-nutrients" -- poisons that enhance plant defenses against their would-be consumers. "The sum total of lowered nitrogen, lowered essential micronutrients, and heightened [plant poisons such as] tannins and other phenolics could be the worst kind of soup," he says. What we're doing, he believes, is running an unregulated and probably irrevocable chemical experiment on earth's ecosystems.

Dude, Where's My Carbon?

Now that researchers have detected CO2-induced nutrient deficiencies, they are seeking to understand why they happen. And they think they have found some relatively simple underlying causes -- simple to scientists, that is, although perhaps not to those of us who glazed over in high-school biology.

We live in a carbon world, scientists explain: All life on earth, from oranges to orangutans, is carbon-based. Most of this carbon comes from our atmosphere, which is absorbed by plants, which pass it on to grazing animals, which in turn pass it on to their predators. Change the levels of atmospheric carbon, and all plants and animals along the chain may be affected.

Here's how: Plants create much of their biomass out of thin air, from a steady diet of CO2 sucked through small leaf openings called stomata. Then, via the miraculous sleight-of-hand known as photosynthesis, the plants combine CO2 and water in the presence of chlorophyll and sunlight to make carbohydrates, simple sugars, and complex starches, which provide energy for plant growth. Much of the remainder of what plants need -- nitrogen and trace elements -- doesn't come from the air, but is pulled up through the root system from the soil.

Scientists have isolated two mechanisms that potentially explain how elevated CO2 levels reduce plant nutrients. The first is a "biomass dilution" effect. As plants absorb more airborne carbon, they produce higher-than-normal levels of carbohydrates but are unable to boost their relative intake of soil nutrients. The result of this dilution effect is increased yields of carbohydrate-rich fruits, vegetables, and grains that contain lower levels of macro- and micronutrients. Put simply, a bite of bread in our current CO2 atmosphere ends up being more nutritious than one in the CO2-enriched atmosphere of the future.

A second problem: Plants exposed to increased CO2 levels start to narrow the stomata through which they inhale CO2 and exhale water vapor via transpiration. This benefits plants by making them more drought resistant, but it also means that fewer waterborne nutrients flow into the roots. According to Loladze, if carbon-dioxide levels are doubled, transpiration decreases by about 23 percent.

A particularly disturbing study suggests that the mechanisms of CO2 nutrient depletion may already be causing a decline in the quality of our food supply. Josep Penuelas of the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications in Barcelona, Spain, compared historical plant samples grown at preindustrial levels of atmospheric CO2 with modern equivalents. He found that today's plants had the lowest levels of calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, sodium, sulfur, and zinc than at any time in the last three centuries.

Research for Tomorrow

The obvious way to reduce the risk of declining food quality is to cut fossil-fuel emissions, thereby reducing atmospheric CO2 concentrations. But political resistance in the U.S. and the global failure to effectively curtail emissions means that CO2 levels will rise far higher in coming decades. Therefore, scientists say, we need to quickly embark on a crash program to research the biochemical impacts of CO2 and prepare for the potential nutritional harm.

"Nobody really knows how serious the changing chemical composition of plants caused by heightened CO2 will be," warns Mattson. "We are just scratching the surface here. ... It is a wide-open question about what impact this will have on the nutritional physiology or reproductive success of animals."

Loladze agrees that three dozen studies, or even 200, prove nothing conclusively. Curtis suggests a novel fast-track strategy for quickly expanding that database: He says that data may not need to come from new experiments, but may already exist "as archived seeds" and other stored vegetative matter left over from the 2,700 CO2 plant experiments already completed. Korner, however, calls for an aggressive new round of nutrient experiments conducted on a global scale.

Such massive research would require major funding, something the Bush administration seems unlikely to provide. Still, throw more money at the problem, agrees Mattson, and, "you'll get more people working, and you'll accrue the knowledge faster. Whether it can influence policy, that's difficult to say. We have an administration that has its mind set on what the policy should be. And it's always possible for them to say we just don't know enough yet to act. It's a [faulty] defense anyone can employ: to say, 'there is so much unknown; let's not do anything.'"

At some point, though, there will be a tipping point, which is what most worries scientists like Mattson. He looks at the vast array of harm caused by increased greenhouse-gas levels -- melting ice caps, extreme weather, the altering of wildlife habitat, and the biochemical impacts of rising CO2 levels -- and concludes, "You push something a little bit every year over the long term, and you see little or nothing changing. And all of a sudden ... one of those nonlinear changes occurs, where you push everything just far enough, and you're over a cliff."

Glenn Scherer is an author and freelance journalist and the former editor of Blue Ridge Press, a syndicated environmental commentary service in the Southeast.

The last phrase of your post is exactly correct - "some plants will love it". Some plants won't. The plants that love it we will call weeds. The plants that don't love it we will call much diminished or extinct. How many species in each category? Which species in the winner category and which in the loser category? Why would we run such an experiment?

Hmmm... sounds as though increased CO2 levels are going to be good for DEC production at least.

A comparisons with venus can be found on www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2006/04/lessons-from-venus

"The Earth may well succumb to a runaway greenhouse as the Sun continues to brighten over the next billion years or so, but the amount of CO2 we could add to the atmosphere by burning all available fossil fuel reserves would not move us significantly closer to the runaway greenhouse threshold. There are plenty of nightmares lurking in anthropogenic global warming, but the runaway greenhouse is not among them."

Before cutting into the biomass, consider the following.

Life on this planet has been on a continuous, slowly growing path. All living beeings have been in an uniquely fine-tuned equilibrium with respect to energy. Every living beeing consumes and synthesises energy. But animals consume more energy than they produce. Only plants are able to create more energy than they burn (hence the idea of EROEI). It follows easliy that the sustainability of the whole life-system depends on the plants on earth. The whole system has been in equilibrium until now, consumption by animals was compensated by the inputs from the phytosystem.

If you are going to use life or its products as an energy source, you should be careful to not engage on a catabolic path. If you take out an amount of biomass and burn it, you will lower the total energy amount available for the biosystem. Be aware that what we call "waste", is mostly a future input to the system.

Unfortunately, the whole biomass is already decreasing, with the total area of forests diminishing, vanishing phytoplancton etc ... . We should be really carefull to not make the catabolic path irreversible.

Before trying to use the biomass for energy, everybody should try to figure out how we can do so by increasing the total biomass by such an amount that we are net producing energy without depleting the planet.

I agree, on a couple of levels.

First, a good landfill is an effective carbon trap.

Second, it would be oh so easy for humans to fall into the trap of overharvesting fresh and wild biomass from our forests.

A little while back I was watching Huel Howser (US TV) visit a California state park, a former Chinese shrimping and fishing camp in San Francisco bay. The interesting thing, to someone with an eye to energy issues, was the difference between 100 year old photographs of the camp, and photos today. While the camp was bigger a century ago, there were also no trees (zero) on the hillsides behind the settlement. Now we see more trees, and a smaller camp.

The difference is, of course, that 100 years ago wood was a major energy source, and was used to boil and dry shrimp, until all the local wood was gone.

"Before trying to use the biomass for energy, everybody should try to figure out how we can do so by increasing the total biomass by such an amount that we are net producing energy without depleting the planet."

---Terra Preta---

millercs, I see from your absence of more posts that you've been away from TOD for a while, but at least some cellulosic ethanol plans have since been heavily discussed here on TOD and exposed for what they are, overly optimistic junk science.
The E85 from corn scheme, for example, which judging from your blog you appear to be in favor of?
To summarize, it is not a cure-all, but in some cases (cellulosic ethanol from recycled wastes or biodeisel from algae) it will be helpful.
It is mischievous old HO here again as the week draws to a close, just noting the comment
The outcome of this experiment is unpredictable. The Sahara Desert was once lush with vegetation and teemed with wildlife.
and then noting this from the New Scientist
New Scientist has learned that a separate analysis of satellite images completed this summer reveals that dunes are retreating right across the Sahel region on the southern edge of the Sahara desert. Vegetation is ousting sand across a swathe of land stretching from Mauritania on the shores of the Atlantic to Eritrea 6000 kilometres away on the Red Sea coast.

Nor is it just a short-term trend. Analysts say the gradual greening has been happening since the mid-1980s, though has gone largely unnoticed. Only now is the evidence being pieced together.

Just thought I would mention it.
Just thought I would mention it.

I had written something addressing this in an earlier draft, and then scrapped it. Some areas may benefit from global warming. As a hypothetical example, areas of Canada may find their growing season extended. The changes in the Sahara may be due to climate change. Maybe I can move there if things get bad here. :)


The problem is the soils in many of the parts of Canada that might become warmer are pretty lousy.  Thousands of years of pine forest cover does not produce good, nutritious soils (the alkalinity of the needles).

Also much of northern Canada is extremely water poor.  Without more rain, it just won't make good farming country.

So Canadian food production might rise 20,30% with a longer growing season, but the far larger food producing regions of the US, Mexico etc. will lose more.

These are broad conclusions with little evidence....aren't pine needles acidic? The majority of canada gets between 440-600 mm of precipitation, are you talking about that or regurgitating water needs of tar sands? The loss of fossil fuel to agriculture will affect production much more than a few degrees shift in temp.  
Sorry you are right about pine needles.

The water supply problem is generic.  I was stunned to learn how little precipitation much of the Canadian Arctic actually gets.

If you move the cultivation frontier 200 or 300 miles further north in Ontario and Quebec, you are simply into 1 billion year old Canadian Shield rock.  In British Columbia there are bits of the central plateau (around Prince George) that they tried to cultivate in the 30s but it didn't really play out-- good for cattle farming, but not much else.

In Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta there might be some better soil up there, AFAIK though it is mostly pine scrub forest.

The original settlers broke native prairie, which is pretty much all cultivated now, or cut down mixed deciduous forests where the underlying soil was quite rich, and enriched by glacial runoff (Southern Ontario).

There isn't really that much of Northern Canada, AFAIK, which could be cultivated, even if the frost line moves further north.

THis is a dumb question (some say there are no such things).

If it rains 5 times as much in my state than in usually does, does that mean somewhere else on the planet is getting less rain?

The total rain on the planet should be the same per year, correct (rain and snow converted to similar measures), since its a closed system.

So with global warming and all the wacky climate changes, whats really happening is a higher dipersion of events - instead of 10 droughts and 10 floods on the planet we have 50 floods and 50 droughts, but the overall precip is the same?


No because the rate of evaporation changes.

Most of the world's water is in oceans, lakes, rivers or ice caps.  Probably 80-90%.

Rainfall is dependent on how much of that evaporates, and where it dumps.  Change the evaporation rate by 1% and the world gets 5% more or 5% less rain. (example numbers not sure what the real numbers are).

In global warming, you could get more floods and storms, but also longer, worse dry spells.  This is what seems to be happening here in Britain.

The winters are getting warmer and the flooding worse (mostly) but conversely we are in the middle of a 2 year dry spell which is leading to plans for water rationing (around London).  In the London case, the reservoirs are full, but the groundwater (2/3rd of supply) are depleted.

Four years ago we had the worst floods on record.

Correct. The term "Global Warming" is actually something of a misnomer,  "Climate Change" would be a more correct moniker.  Expect more extremes of naturally occuring weather, ie. longer, drier droughts, more severe storms, heavier monsoons, colder blizzards.
Although the global average temperature will rise, and has indeed been rising quite steadily since the late 1970s.

(possibly in part the result of reductions in SO2 and particulate emissions, as a result of successful efforts to clean up the atmosphere in the West.  These emissions played an important, short term, role in blocking sunlight reaching the earth)

The big uncertainty is the Atlantic Conveyor, the process which causes the Gulf Stream.  If that were to shut off, then North Western Europe would be in the freezebox.  One part of the planet which might not experience global warming.

I wrote a substatial piece on this, and for some reason it failed to post.  So I will be brief:
Heading Out, you are a respected contributor to TOD, but I respectfully disagree with this post.

The New Scientist is a sensationalist publication, featuring useless inane articles like "testing time travel" "intelligent design" "what if newton and einstein were wrong" "manned missions to mars soon", and such poppycock.
This article was published in 2002, hardly "breaking news".

The Sahel receives 150-500 mm (6-20 in) of rainfall a year, primarily in the monsoon season, March through May. The rainfall is characterized by year to year and decadal variability.
The pictures in the article were taken in June, 2002 immediately following the monsoon season. Every year, there is much new growth due to the spring rains.

Other sources, including USGS, PBS, National Geographic, The Eden Foundation, NASA, and others all apparently disagree with article's conclusing that the Sahel has been clandestinely greening up for the past two decades.  More importantly, the people who live in this area of the world disagree.  

What's next, claims that trees have been growing in our front yards for years, only we have not noticed?

For all the talk about CO2 possibly increasing yields people seem to forget that that could all be undone because, for eg Rice Yields  may decrease at higher temperatures. (NB: there are contrary views on this conclusion)

wikipedia has a nice introduction on the factors involved.

These factors include the type of photosynthesis (C3 = ~95% of biomass or C4 = ~5%) which have diferent "efficiencies" under different hydrology and temperature regimes.

Effect of Temperature => can increase or decrease yield - within limits.

Effect on Nitrogen uptake and therefore "quality" of produce => if increased yields under increasd CO2 depend on increased nitrogen application then what of a system dependant on natural gas for ammonium production? What if nitrogen uptake is decreased?

Effect of CO2 on transpiration => increased CO2 means plants can/do close stomata lowering transpiration which as recently reported in Nature/Science can in turn lead to changes in hydrology at the catchment/continental scale.

An example of the possible effects of inreased CO2 concentrations on Australian Wheat can be found here and here

(please no AWB jokes)


I'm a bit confused about stranded reserves.  They are supposed to be uneconomical or impractical to bring to market, yet these are the very reserves Syntroleum wants to develop.

Just to be clear - the gas can't be developed profitably as natural gas, but it can be profitably used if it is converted to a liquid fuel at the well (using the GTL process).  Is that right?

Just to be clear - the gas can't be developed profitably as natural gas, but it can be profitably used if it is converted to a liquid fuel at the well (using the GTL process).  Is that right?

The economics depend on the spread between the natural gas contracts that can be secured for the stranded gas and the long-term price of oil. Right now, that economically favors GTL in certain areas. As the spread shrinks, economics favor NGL. Oil companies have to guess as to where the market will be, and historically we haven't done a great job of that.


Do you think that there is truth to the statement made recently by Matt Simmons that (paraphrasing here) "everyone believes there is stranded gas, but nobody has actually bothered to find any of it" -- calling into question just how much of it there actually is?
There are enormous quantities of proven reserves. However, some countries have overestimated the amount and quality of those reserves. I won't name names, because I am not sure if that is in the public domain.


You're just talking about natural gas here, right?
Let me get this right -- "stranded gas" means little pockets of gas generally found around and among "proved reserves", but not in size/character that can be exploited economically using current technology?  
Well, they aren't exactly "little" pockets. Let me see if I can dig up a map for you later showing the location and quantity of these reserves. A lot are in Qatar (where the current round of GTL plants are being built), and a lot are in Russia. I have a couple of references from the public domain that go through the economic considerations. I will dig those up this evening.

Smekhovo, yes, natural gas.


I had to go to the Wayback Machine to find the map I was looking for:

Stranded Gas Reserves

Each red dot represents 25 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.


Thanks for the map, RR. They seem to coincide pretty much with the location and quantity of marketable gas reserves.
Each one is 25 Tcf? Tcf? So this is why Syntroleum is trying to build a GTL barge to go after stranded gas!
I won't comment on Syntroleum due to a possible conflict of interest. But let's just say I am not investing any money with them.


Me either. I did have SYNM a while back, but the conference calls gave me the willies! I sold the small amount that I had as soon as I heard that they were going to develop some gas fields (west coast of Africa?) or something.

I think the dearth of dots on the NA continent speaks volumes...

Like all complex systems some currently low key factors may become prominent, but the timing may be out of sync.  Firstly CTL and tar sands will probably never fill the gap left by oil depletion.  Secondly the need for coal fired electricity and cement may decline when lack of transport fuel causes the material economy to shrink. Thirdly  new technologies such as biofuelled renewable charged plug-in hybrids could become dominant. Then there's nuke supported electrified rail and so on. Then we can get population right. I think around year 2020 will be a horror period. Whoever survives by 2050 should be a lot smarter  
"Whoever survives by 2050 should be a lot smarter[.]"

Yes. To put it slightly differently: Survival depends on people being smarter. Matt Nuenke's page has plenty of ideas on how that might come about.


Oh cool! A web site devoted to rescuing eugenics from the Nazis, and returning it to the far right, where it belongs!
The most important survival adapation of civilised humans is resistance to disease.  (See Jared Diamond: 'Guns, Germs and Steel')

Living in communities is a ticket to communicable disease, and our ancestors survived the Victorian slums of London and New York, the slave and migrant ships across the Atlantic, etc.  They did so because they had resistance to disease, not intelligence or any other characteristic (other than an avoidance of getting killed for anti social behaviour-- you could argue civilisation tends to weed out very violent people, by killing them off).

There are manifestations of this: Sickle Cell anemia, found in black Americans, conveys resistance to malaria.  Cystic Fibrosis, in its unexpressed form, (gene from one parent, not two), conveys resistance to cholera and is almost unique to Western Europeans.

All these synthetic fuel technologies mean a considerable reduction in the overall EROEI and mean using more of the other hydrocarbons than oil. But the main thing here is that we don't have abundant natural gas available any more. ASPO predicts natural gas peak sometime after 2010. The North American gas is already peaked and it is not clear if LGN imports can grow enough to even keep the supply stable.

And we don't have abundant coal either. In fact coal depletion is a real problem. EROEI is deteriorating in coal mining everywhere. There is a pleanty of coal in the ground, but most of it cannot never be used because of low EROEI - it cannot never produce net energy. Biomass is a very limited resource. Uranium is in short supply, too.

There has been a lot of discussion here about CTL and like. The consensus has always been that it is impossible to compensate depleting oil with synthetic fuels. It is the volume and EROEI, not the technology. Most of those who believe that alternatives can compensate fully the declining fossile fuels or even secure future economic growth, simply don't know the numbers - the scale and volume of the total energy use.

Yes, there will be a global Fossile Energy Peak in not so distant future. And yes, it will affect C02-emissions. And economy will be downsized. But no, there is no need to panic. It will not be a total crash. Some modern societies have experienced this. It will not be nice, but everybody can survive and go on living - not so comfortably, but you will get used to it.

Relax, it is not much you can do. Personally, be prepared to a severe economic downturn. Socially and politically, try to understand what is happening and prepare to prevent panicking. Aggressive wars are not the solution, but the greatest danger. It is reasonable to fear more a nuclear war than the Peak Oil.

ASPO predicts natural gas peak sometime after 2010.

Just to be clear, though, that is natural gas production and does not include the potential for a huge GTL scaleup of the stranded reserves.

Yes, there will be a global Fossile Energy Peak in not so distant future.

That's just the thing, though. I don't think that's the case. A lot of GTL capacity is being built in anticipation of demand. Tar sands are being developed. If Chavez weren't in power, we would be developing heavy oil at a faster rate. Those things will extend the fossil fuel economy to a point where the CO2 emissions worry me more than an imminent oil peak.


Those things will extend the fossil fuel economy to a point where the CO2 emissions worry me more than an imminent oil peak.

But your article gives no indication of the likely (including possible) level of production for XTL. If they cannot more than offset declines in oil, post peak, then, if peak is close, peak oil remains the most immediate threat. That's not to lessen the severity of climate change, just that I think people will feel the effects of peak oil, long before many feel the lasting effects of climate change.

A small history on GTL in New Zealand: we had a technically successful, commercially tenuous GTL venture until the mid-1990's. The basic rationale to start this was that our largest gas field, Maui, could not be commercially developed until there was a large enough industrial user to buy the natural gas. Hence, a GTL plant was built, which could produce either gasoline or methanol. The plant made both, and would produce whichever liquid had a better return based on current market price.

The outcomes: the gasoline venture was eventually closed down, because it required government subsidies to remain in operation. The methanol operation continued to be run by Methanex until NG supplies were restricted--because we ran out of gas. The Maui gas field is now in rapid and terminal decline. We used much of it in the GTL venture.

New Zealand won't do this again because we don't have the NG to support it. Right now, we're scrambling to find new sources of NG so industrial users don't get turned off in a year or two.

And, no, not a word was said about the environmental aspects of all this.

Not a word? Not entirely true.

I remember this GTL folly as one of Muldoon's "Think Big" projects of the 70s. I remember thinking at the time that they were a terrible waste of a precious resource. They were opposed on environmental/conservation grounds by the proto-Green Values Party, and on economic grounds by Labour.

As I understand it, Italy too had deployed a similar production path [Lurgi] that fueled upwards of 80,000 autos at its height in the 70s.

My comments on the SOTU and inclusion of the term 'alternative' in the speach, are drawn from a possible renaissance of this production path (and all the XTL paths for that matter) insofar as the Oil & Chem Majors are concerned.

The problem as I see it though, rests in the auto industry.

What's the point of establishing an alternative liquid fuels regime if the delivery platform remains a SuperCab F350?

This is a bit off-topic but the following article makes me strongly belief Tom Whipple has been reading westexas' writing someplace http://www.fcnp.com/611/peakoil.htm
I noticed a certain similarity too.  Of course we all--myself included--build on work done by others.

It would be far more efficient to run automobiles directly on the natural gas. Due to the fact that the gas is stranded, this is obviously not an option.

Appologise me for my ignorance, can you explain this a bit further? Why can't we use stranded gas in vehicles?

Because it is stranded....

Stranded gas is called stranded because it is not economical to pipe it to market or political borders make it impossible.  

Thank you, but I know that. My questions is: if it's not usefull for vehicles, why can we consider it for Fischer-Tropsch?
You can transport diesel more easily than refrigerating and compressing gas. Existing supertankers can carry it.  Diesel is safer to transport than pressurized gas.
Excerpts from a previous post:

Last year I asked the president of Exxon Production (one of the subsidiaries) about the economics (regarding return on investment) of LNG versus GTL.  He said that while they were funding a GTL project, he thought that the economics of LNG were superior to GTL.  

As I have outlined before, fossil fuels can be viewed as a continuum, from natural gas, to natural gas liquids, to condensate, to light sweet crude, to heavy sour crude, to bitumen, to coal.  This is a progression from gas, to liquid to solid.  This is also a progression from cleanest, natural gas, to dirtiest, coal.  The world wants Liquid Transportation Fuels (LTF's)---principally gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.  LTF's can be obtained for the least expenditure of capital and energy from condensate and light sweet crude.  It only makes sense that light sweet has been the first to peak.  The industry is upgrading refineries as fast as they can to handle more heavy sour crude.  

But increasingly, we are looking at the endpoints for LTF's--GTL and CTL.   As has been discussed, these are vastly expensive projects, in terms of both capital and energy expenditures.   There is another factor.  Increasingly, we are going to be looking at a bidding war of sorts between companies that want to use natural gas and coal for heating and electricity generation and companies that want to use them for LTF's.   It seems to me that this is somewhat analogous to the battle between food producers and biofuel producers, for a finite supply of land.

In any case, by moving to the endpoints of the fossil fuel continuum, we are only accelerating our rate of extraction of our finite fossil fuel supply.

Ok, that makes more sense. But that would imply the building of Fischer-Tropsch facilities on site. Is that realistic?

P.S.: Take a look at westexas comment.

Ok, that makes more sense. But that would imply the building of Fischer-Tropsch facilities on site. Is that realistic?

That is exactly what is taking place.


LOL - They are indeed.

And with the right catalyst, one could also create ethanol =]

Sadly as I noted above, however, the auto companies must rapidly change the delivery platform for the alt fuel - irrespective if the fuel in question is to be MTG/Ethanol/Butanol or what have you.

BPHEVs or maybe FlexPHEVs are my choice (for North America at least) but that's not likely to happen until a) we hit the wall or b) a national command project is implemented.

I'm no engineer, but the thing that makes gas stranded (geography/political boundaries) would not make building a plant EASY. Every situation is different.  Ultimatly someone with capital has to decide its a good idea and do it.....
Very interesting article in the current Harvard Magazine - full text available at harvard-magazine.com. Looks at C02 emissions for the rest of the century - fairly terrifying: 500 ppm by 2050, a C02 level last seen in the eocene when there were crocs swimming in the Artic. Authors see integrated gasification combined cycle coal plants (IGCC) as the most likely way to provide global energy needs they see growing at a compound 1.5%. If C02 is stripped at IGCC plants the amount of carbon to be sequestered by mid century would be in the several billions of tons per year, overwhelming land-based injection sites. What they propose is injecting C02 into the losely aggregated sediments in the oceans at depths greater than 3,000 meters where the temperature is so low and the pressure so high that the C02 would form an ice-like cap over a spreading liquid plume, diffusing slowly into the ocean over millions of years, "a rate that would not affect marine ecology." Sounds like a plan.
Some minor problems with the Harvard plan. Coal deposits and power plants tend to be mid continent and 3000m deep abysses tend to be mid ocean. That wouldn't leave a lot of net energy from the IGCC process after scrubbing, compression and shipment/piping. It'll never happen.
Boof -

I remain of the opinion that C02 sequestration via pumping it into deep parts of the ocean is a highly dubious proposition bordering on the crackpot.

First, it would only be feasible for power plants located near to the coast (try getting a pipeline right-of-way through a congested urbanized area such as northern New Jersey or the Philadelphia metro area.).

Second, pumping all that CO2 to a pressure capable of overcoming a head of 3,000 meters of sea water would consume a great deal of energy, exclusive of the energy expended in just getting it to the point of injection.

Third, how sure are we that after all this trouble the CO2 is going to permanently remain where we put it?  There is a certain solubility equilibrium relationship between C02 and sea water, plus the effects of deep sea currents that might gradually undo much of the sequestration.

And lastly, as this technique would largely be applicable only to large stationary power plants located near the coast, it's effect (even if it works the way it's supposed to) would be quite minor in relation to all of the CO2 put into the atmosphere from transportation, home heating, and natural source.  

Maybe I'm missing something here, but I can only conclude that this is a VERY bad idea.

Second, pumping all that CO2 to a pressure capable of overcoming a head of 3,000 meters of sea water would consume a great deal of energy, exclusive of the energy expended in just getting it to the point of injection.

Piece a cake. Liquid CO2 is about as heavy as water. Gravity will propel it down that pipe to 3,000 meters.

The hard part is compressing it until it liquefies in the first place.

It's so completely insane, I agree.

Why don't people see the take-away message?

We need lots of nuclear fission, now.

If somebody were to write a big check, we could start it tomorrow.

Re:  Survival of the Tribe

It may be a coincidence, but Boone Pickens started advocating a higher gasoline tax, offset by cuts to the Payroll Tax, after I wrote him a letter asking him to support an Energy Tax, offset by eliminating the Payroll Tax.  

I wrote a letter to Richard Rainwater asking him to publicly support the Energy Tax/Abolish the Payroll Tax idea.  I got a letter back from him wishing me luck with the endeavor, but he said that he is seeking less, and not more publicity.  It appears that the Fortune interview is going to be the extent of his public involvement with Peak Oil, but he did try to warn those who will listen.   He said (in Fortune) that the Peak Oil scenario is the first scenario that has caused him to question the survival of the human race.

Pickens and Rainwater are two of the smartest--and most prescient--American businessmen that I am aware of.   I think that their view of publicity may be primarily shaped by their ages.  Boone Pickens is 78.  Richard Rainwater is in his early sixties.  

In the Fortune interview, I was struck by the preparations that Rainwater--a multibillionaire--is making. He is basically expanding his ability to grow his own food.   This is the guy that took every dollar that the Bass brothers inherited and turned it into $100.   He appears to be going into survival mode.  

In a long interview (which seems to have vanished off the web) Jay Hanson said that the technical aspects of Peak Oil are not the key problem.  The key problem is how do we control men when there is no economic growth.  What happens when millions of people can't make their debt payments, especially what happens when millions of young people can't make their student loan payments, which by and large can't be discharged in bankruptcy court?

IMO, the best investment that a lot of us can make is a small organic farm.  You might consider getting a joint venture group together.  If nothing else, you could lease it out to an organic farmer.  Your return on investment will be lousy, but the key point is to start planning on trying to be--like Rainwater--something closer to a net food producer or a net energy producer.  In addition, it might give your unemployed college graduate sons and daughters something constructive to do.  As I said before, I predict that unemployed college graduates may, before too many more years have passed, be competing with illegal immigrants for farm jobs.

Fortune Interview:

From Fortune:

Back on the farm that night, he and Moore (Rainwater's wife) discuss future projects with their landscaper, Jenks Farmer, over a glass of wine. Farmer, who has a master's in horticulture and lives on the property, maintains Moore's extensive gardens, including vegetable beds that produce all year round. That morning Rainwater had been surfing the web, researching greenhouses in his quest to further ensure a steady flow of food through the winter. At his prodding, Moore has installed an emergency generator and 500-gallon storage tanks for diesel fuel and water. When Rainwater says that he's thinking about opening a for-profit survivability center, it's not entirely clear that he's joking.

Later in the night Rainwater returns to musing on how different his lot is from the residents of Lake City. And then, returning to the debate in his head, he gets a serious look on his face and says: "This is going to get a little religious. I ask why I was blessed with this insightfulness. Everyone who has achieved something, scientists, ballplayers, thinks they were given their talent for a reason. Why me? Was I given this insightfulness at this particular time? Or was I just given this insightfulness?" He pauses. "I just want people to look out. 'Cause it could be bad."

Great article and an interesting preview of those in power.
I have long been concerned with GW - I introduced it to other students in an environmental studies seminar in Berkeley in '82; most hadn't heard of it. (I went there on the GI Bill)

One of the "good" things about peak oil was that I thought it voided any need for the Kyoto treaty - the problem would solve itself.

Now everything I've been thinking for a number of years has been stood on its head. Prolonged oil production, massive GW.

Pretty depressing.

On a slightly different note, I am very impressed by Richard Rainwater's choices. Several years ago I talked my extended family into buying 80 acres of floodplain, and my wife and I built a paper adobe house, with a permaculture orchard/garden. I think the future belongs to "subsistence farming with style."

I guess the good news is that, other than long term GW, the economy night not collapse, cars will still run, and for those of us who won't live to see mid century, maybe things won't be so bad after all?

(I find it fascinating that RR's treatise shows serious Peak Oil being delayed for possibly decades; and yet most of the posts above go on as if the news hadn't penetrated...)

Re: "Peak Oil delayed for possibly decades"

Total Oil Production = Conventional + Nonconventional

IMO, I think that we are past the peak of conventional world oil production.   Nonconventional sources of oil--tar sands, GTL, CTL, etc.--are hugely expensive and it takes time to add capacity.   For example, total Canadian oil production fell slightly from 2003 to 2005.  

IMO, I think that nonconventional production will only slow, and not reverse (at least not for a long time) the decline in total oil production.

Thank you Westexas.

This is a question for both you and RObert Rapier: what do you think of the ASPO depletion model? Do you think this will slow down the decline posited there?


IT is true that complete burn out of all oil and gas will cause difficult but not catastrophic climate change.

Burnout of coal certainly will cause disaster.

The fundamental problem is that we as a nation cannot take any action which requires any sacrifice whatsoever, perceived or otherwise.  Our politicians refuse to do the obvious which is to massively increase conservation.  Instead, we are going to "solve" the oil problem with ethanol.  All these plans to decrease our oil consumption completely ignore the oil required to produce ethanol and also, of course, ignore, the physical impossibility of producing enough ethanol to maintain our  current transportation patterns.  The Democrats are marginally better than the Republicans.  But marginally better isn't near good enough.
There's one other issue at stake which is not climate-change related, and that's the parallel to Peak Oil: Peak Natural Gas.

As the U.S. has already hit PNG, and world PNG estimates for PNG run somewhere around 2025-2030, from what I've read, GTL is a stopgap and a fairly short-term one at that.

We will make and use GTL fuel, as inefficient as the process may be.

I doubt that you have to worry about major GTL on stranded gas or a lot of CTL plants.  They cost too much and take too long to build.  And once peak oil starts the investment costs will skyrocket.  If nobody is investing now when it's relatively cheap they won't later.  Plutocracies just do not work that way.

Re:postimgs by Robert Rapier and others circa 9 AM on effects of global warming.

There appears to be recent consensus that an average rise of 5 degrees C. would be distributed as, say, 3-4 at mid-latitudes and 6-7 in polar areas.

An event in late eocene time apparently resulted  in an ice-free arctic ocean with ferns and algae.  Fossils in mid-late eocene sediments in mid-south states suggest subtropical conditions.  It was thought that GHG levels were several times higher than now.

IMO the real question wuestion is whether humans can adapt culturally to these changes without risking extinction. I am mildly optimistic, but survivability will require a better quality of leadership.


Humans are massively adaptable.

A better question is Civilisation.  Of which Jared Diamond's 'Collapse' and the more scholarly book 'the collapse of complex civilizations' by Tinker? are both very illuminating.  When they cannot adjust to changed external circumstances, civilisations die.

Ditto (short) Ronald Wright 'A Short History of Progress' and Jane Jacobs 'The Coming Dark Age'.

All focus on the same key issues-- whether our civilisation can adapt to global environmental change and work to slow down its pace (it is inevitable, now, it is just the speed).

In Easter Island, a civilisation with 19 different species of native palm trees, rose to a height, built the idols, and collapsed-- 90% of the population died in war and cannibalism.

As Jared Diamond puts it so memorably, 'when the last treecutter was cutting down the last palm tree, what was he thinking?'

We are within 50 years, I would guess, of being the last treecutter.  In the case of the Amazon and the Indonesian jungle, it might be the last 25 years.

Just as the world's governance mechanisms in the 1930s could not prevent the rise of Hitler and Tojo, and the destruction they were to cause, so the world's governance mechanisms now are woefully inadequate to the task.  We cannot even agree there is a problem.

Jeremy Legget's 'The Carbon Wars' is pretty revealing about the tactics the world's carbon producing industries use to muddy the water and delay action.

Meanwhile I note Canada is pulling out of Kyoto.

Meanwhile I note Canada is pulling out of Kyoto.

I have been saying forever that they would have to if they were going to continue developing their tar sands fields. I didn't realize they had come out and announced it, though.


What you describe has been in my worst fears as well. it seems like we're destined to 'burn it all' or all of it that is economical to burn anyways, in a 'trajedy of the commons' -like way. at least I can say that's an entireley bleak oversimplification of a more detailed understanding that, while still and forever incomplete, is not entireley so bleak.
When you say "a greater immediate threat" I think you might have been better saying global warming effects might be noticed before the effects of peak oil.However both effects are already upon us currently. We may not have reached the oil peak yet but the fact that demand and supply are so tight with prices as high as they are now is surely an effect of peak oil. If you believe that we went to war in Iraq for oil security then that to is an effect of peak oil. The effects of peak oil start before the peak when the powers that be act in anticipation of it. I fear the effects of Peak oil offer a more immediate threat and they are combining with the early effects of global warming right now across the globe.
The poor suffer first!
Hopefully countries will cooperate rather than compete for resources otherwise we may finish each other off as a result of peak oil and leave the scraps for global warming!
There is no longer such a thing as stranded gas due to the enormous growth of LNG. Much easier to make LNG that GTL. I cannot think of anywhere in the entire world were there is any stranded gas as a result of the new world trade in LNG. There may be an odd tiny pocket of gas, too small for LNG but its likely also to be much too small for GTL as well!
A lot of companies are doing LNG and GTL. They serve different markets. GTL serves the middle distillates market, so as long as the reserves are there and distillate prices remain high, GTL will be developed as well.

What would make far more sense, though, would be to convert vehicles to natural gas service. The efficiency would be much better than losing almost half the BTUs during the liquid conversion process.


You are so consistent and reasonable and on-topic through this  long long thread.
I'm sure many have noticed this. I thought I would say it.
This is happening - from nowhere to 1 million CNG cars in Brazil in 5 years, same number in Pakistan. Germany now has 800 cng filling stations and 20 cars/vans that can run on CNG, only 40,000 cars today but set to rocket to 1 million - low CO2, low emissions. GTL is idiotic, like melting down gold to make lead. All vehicles should run on natural gas, save the oil for plastics and for uses like air travel.

The BioGas phenomemon in Sweden is certainly worth watching in this regard.

But let me ask you this...

Would BioGas work on a large scale in North America taking into consideration the number of autos, distances travelled and existing infrastructure versus that which is found in Sweden?

I have argued with colleagues that a liquid (whatever that may be) with a low PIR or Petroleum Input Ratio, will still be warranted.

It's starting to look even less rosy for those living on the coastal areas of the southern US.  

Allstate and others drop wind damage coverage for tens of thousands more.

"May 19, 2006, 1:06PM
Allstate's coastal customers among those who need a new way to insure against hurricanes."

WOW - 198 comments in one day (so far as I read it).  I'm growing generally more convinced that "something wicked this way comes" as time goes on, but I have to say - the level of the commentary on this site is damned impressive, and has to be a reason for at least some level of optimism in and of itself!  It's time to head home for the weekend, but I'm going to have to spend some time digesting some of this stuff later on.  

Somehow, someway, the things discussed here will be a benefit to at least some of those who follow it.

I'm already benefiting. I'm also working on some plans to help alleviate the downturn somewhat: the most promising one will have to wait until either July or December before I know if I can go ahead with it though. Fortunately between Stuarts decline analysis and Roberts view on XTL it appears that the decline may be quite smooth, if rather bad for the environment, so there is time yet.

Cheer up everybody! No matter what happens, life is what you make of it ...

'High heat & high CO2 maybe I can quit putting
plastic covers on my greenhouse'.
Well that just about sums up the delusional,
reductionist thinking that is taking us straight
off the cliff.

This is the old 'Plants grow better in
a greenhosue with more CO2, therefore global
warming will be good' argument that
completely ignores the fact that the
greenhouse is a controlled system that is
within the greater system of the planet and
the greenhouse is dependent on the stability
of the planetary system for its very

It completely ignores the fact that higher
atmospheric CO2 is accociated with ferocious
storms, droughts and floods that ultimately
will make greenhouses unfeasible, as the
repair bills escalate.


In the real world plant growth is likely to
decrease as heat, drought, inundation etc.
stress the plants. Indeed, I'm sure I have
read that rice yields are down due to higher
ambient temperatures in Asia.

Isn't it interesting that temperature maxima
in India are already approaching 50 degrees
Celsius, at which most plants shit down, rather
than growing prolifically. Central India appears
to be rapdily approaching environmental meltdown,
just as Arctic regions are.

The other flawed argument earlier was connected
with humans ability to live in deserts and
frozen wasts; that is only true because other
species have adapted to live there. Once drastic
climate change occurs, most sensitive species
will be wiped out. Indeed, there is already an
indication of this, as less productive plankton
species that are adapted to warm waters replace
those previously common in the North Sea etc.

We are heading into totally uncharted terrritory
and playing Russian Roulette with our progenies

I see much evidence of positive feedback
mechanisms triggering abrupt cliamte change
within decades and personally do not see much
hope for humanity (or large mammal species) beyond
about 2030, unless there is a drastic reduction
in carbon emissions, the chance of which appears
to be about zero under the current economic and
political system.

Not all XTL processes are the same!  The net gas-to-liquid conversion stoichiometry (i.e. after adding the syngas generation reaction with the F-T conversion) is:

CH4 (natural gas) + 1/2 O2 --> -(CH2)- (diesel) + H2O

For coal to liquids, the reaction is

2 C (coal) + H2O + 1/2 O2 --> -(CH2)- (diesel) + CO2

With coal to liquids (CTL), a significant amount of CO2 is  formed by the water-gas shift reaction.  This is needed to convert the hydrogen defficient coal syngas to H2-rich syngas for F-T reaction.

Ironically, the sugar-to-ethanol route to synfuels, so adored by the environmentalists, is no better than coal-to-liquids in terms of CO2 generation:

2 C6H6O6 (sugar) --> 2 C2H5-OH (ethanol) + 2 CO2

That is, one mole of CO2 per mole of synfuel, just like CTL!

So overall, GTL is the best.  Sure there is a Btu downgrade, but the EROEI is better than most alternatives. And the synfuel is A LOT cleaner (in terms of sulfur and aromatics) than what one would get from tar sands, oil shale, etc.  

So overall, GTL is the best.  Sure there is a Btu downgrade, but the EROEI is better than most alternatives.

I started to get into the different product distributions from using different starting materials, but I figured it would come up in the discussion.

So overall, GTL is the best.  Sure there is a Btu downgrade, but the EROEI is better than most alternatives. And the synfuel is A LOT cleaner (in terms of sulfur and aromatics) than what one would get from tar sands, oil shale, etc.  

Agree with that, which is why I think we will do it. But as gas supplies are consumed, CTL economics will start to look better. The point is that the fossil fuel economy will be extended longer than many people realize, meaning this CO2 experiment is going to continue for a while.


GTL is very very bad on a well to wheel CO2 basis. Easy to see why, all that procesing plant in the Qatar desert - no use for any waste heat, will be seen from the moon, shining like a beacon of man's profligacy.

Sooner or later, the cost of carbon will be such that it will not be possible to afford to take natural gas and make it into clean diesel, then ship it to the US and mix it with dirty diesel and then burn it. Its a really really bad idea, should be outlawed.

"I simply see no slowdown to the exponential rate at which we are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere"

But don't you think that these various methods that attempt to keep the liquid fuel supply growing are not likely to succeed, in that the quantities will not be able to keep pace with the demand growth? I think Roscoe Bartlett calculated that coal would only last 5 years (assuming it could be extracted quickly and completely enough) if it had to take over from other fossil fuels. I think net energy supply will decrease, year on year, no matter how desperate the measures to substitute for declining oil (then gas). And this will have a profound effect on societies long before we've managed to extract every last ounce of extractable fossil fuels. That effect could well serve to halt the exponential growth in carbon dioxide emissions. If so, then peak oil is still the number one problem.


Yes, XTL will have a hard time completely filling the gap. But, it will mitigate the decline. That will enable people to change behaviors as fuel supplies become more expensive. But the rate at which we dumped CO2 into the atmosphere didn't slow down a bit during the energy shocks of the 70's. I see CO2 continuing to climb, with the outcome of this experiment entirely unknown. The inability to predict the outcome is what really concerns me the most.


Also, as the standard of living will be declining there will be less political support for environmental concerns in general (including climate change).
That is why I'm not worried about global warming. I'm worried about the 'ice' age that follows (as experienced  by Europe). I can grow everything I need in hot weather (I'm mid-atlantic), but cold weather - that worries me. So this year was the first to work on cloches and hot-beds (lights as they call them in Europe), choosing cold-weather crops and practicing over-winter storage.
But my point is that emissions will slow down as fossil fuels decline and as society undergoes a fundamental change (not without hardships, of course) as the energy supply decreases. You're right that emissions will likely increase, to begin with, as attempts to increase energy supply use dirtier and dirtier feedstock. But I think a reduction is in sight.

The effects of climate change (which happens without our help, on geological timescales) are difficult to predict. I think the effects of fossil fuel depletion are more easily seen and are more imminent for most of the people able to join in this discussion.


Hi Robert,

Nice post. While GTL and CTL processes will exacerbate CO2 emissions (without sequestration), I believe coal-fired power plants pose a far greater threat both now and down the road. Although there has been relatively little news on this lately, there was a slew of articles a couple years ago vis-a-vis the Kyoto Protocol, for example New coal plants bury 'Kyoto' from the Christian Science Monitor.

By 2012, the plants in three key countries - China, India, and the United States - are expected to emit as much as an extra 2.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, according to a Monitor analysis of power-plant construction data. In contrast, Kyoto countries by that year are supposed to have cut their CO2 emissions by some 483 million tons.

But only going out to 2012 is just the tip of the iceberg. These plants are designed to supply power for decades and of course there is no sequestration of CO2 emission. Nor can we expect them to be retrofitted to capture and store the carbon. GTL and CTL will be relatively slow to ramp up while these plants (from non-Kyoto countries) are a clear and present danger now and in the foreseeable future.

best, Dave

Thank goodness our astute leaders are out there, relentlessly hunting down all weapons of global (mass) destruction!

For India, yeah. They want to sell nuclear power components to India despite India diverting past civilian nuclear components to their weapons program. Partly it's to spite Iranian natural gas pipelines, partly it's to reduce their carbon emissions, partly it's altruism.
Judith Lean, of the Naval Research Lab's Hulburt Center for Space Research, makes an important point about climate models and the sun-climate connection: "a major enigma is that general circulation climate models predict an immutable climate in response to decadal solar variability, whereas surface temperatures, cloud cover, drought, rainfall, tropical cyclones, and forest fires show a definite correlation with solar activity."
    The beginning of the Little Ice Age coincided with anomalously low solar activity, the number of sunspots being more than 40 times fewer than recently. Low solar activity corresponds to higher production of atmospheric 14C, which is stored in trees, peat etc and so can provide dating of solar activity. These data and deep sea sediment cores plus data on the Greenland Ice cap make it almost certain that the colder winter temperatures  in the 15th - 17th centuries may have been influenced by long-term solar variations.
     In other words, how much of Earth's recent surface warming is induced by solar rather than by anthropogenic forcings?

Even if we put the entire industrial might of the civilized world into ramping up CTL and GTL plants like there was no tomorrow, I really doubt that the operation of these plants would produce more CO2 on an ongoing basis compared to the amount of annual CO2 production we will lose due to peak oil. I don't have time to play with the numbers right now unfortunately.

"I don't have time to play with the numbers right now unfortunately.

That is what most of the world will be saying about Manbear-Pig ("global warming") soon enough.

It amazes me how mathematically precise all the peak oil analysis is and how lacking in mathematical details global warming analysis is. One of these days I am going to spend an evening doing some math on climate change to try and figure out whether or not Global warming is full of it or not. I am going to try and figure out, based on non-global-warming advocacy related energy statistics, the amount of CO2 going into the atmosphere. I will then do something like calculating the total volume of the atmosphere and the percentage change in CO2 content and what determines the warming potential of atmospheric gases, etc. I did this on the whole "Cuba peak oil miracle" propaganda in a previous post and was able to easily debunk it. Global warming will be a bit harder to figure out mathematically. I just want to see if the global warming math is totally ludicrous or not given all the low grade pro-global-warming propaganda out there.

Oh good, a game of Trivial Pursits!

The body has begun to starve and freeze... meanwhile the numbed-down brain counts farts and is "scared" about the possible future emissions of the decaying body.

Global Warming is a popular distraction with the media and with politicians. And it's a good source of income for bobble-headed ivory tower priests whose grant-chasing jobs are in grave jeopardy in the NEAR future.

Chemistry question: How do I compare the energy-to-carbon ratio of hydrocarbon molecules? Burning a molecule of CH4 releases a single carbon atom but burning a molecule of C8H18 releases 8 times as many. Does octane provide 8x the amount of energy (the ratio of its carbon count to that of methane) or does octane provide only 18/4 of the energy (ratio of hydrogen count)? If the 18/4 is the measure, than CH4 would be much lower carbon impact, and GTL--even after losing 40% in processing--would provide more energy for a given amount of carbon.

On the BTL front, it looks as though our buddy Mr. Khosla will be the first to launch a commerical BTL ethanol facility in Georgia.

See my post in today's Drumbeat for further details.

No doubt an earlier poster has said this, but to save the FT step perhaps bio-gunk could be burned more cheaply though perhaps not efficiently.

It appears several companies are now making portable plant for pyrolysis oil. Input is almost anything organic. The resulting oil contains water and acetals that need removing and/or FT synthesis that involves further energy loss and major capex.

I remember seeing outback water pumps that ran unattended for weeks with single cylinder Lister engines and heavy flywheels. They ran on everything from kerosene to sump oil (allegedly) and I think it was possible to adjust the compression ratio while hand cranking the flywheel. Inefficient but cheap. I understand micro-turbines have this multifuel capability.