The Forum is where you debate (or Peak Oil and the Environment Conference Day 1)

Returning home from one meeting, it was quickly time to move on to another, and so I spent Saturday lunch happily listening to 29 High School kids from overseas telling a Rotary District Meeting the answers to 3 questions; what they most missed from home; what they would most miss going home from the US; and what they said "back home" when somebody sneezed.

To remark on only the first (though I liked the Belgian third answer) it was remarkable the consistency with which, from Japan to Latvia, the answer to the first question was "public transport."

I was reminded of that tonight, at the first evening of the Peak Oil and the Environment meeting, when Alan got up in the question period to ask Roger Bezdek (second author of the Hirsch Report), who had just ably summarized the contents thereof, as to whether he could hold out much hope that the re-introduction of trains and trolleys might help reduce the wedge time for the vehicle efficiency sector in the future.

And I have to apologize, up front, that not having Stuart's talent for photos, not even our able session chair could make my offerings worth more than being given as a "virtual" photo essay, but I offer only the excuse that the second speaker, Bill McKibben offered us a virtual Powerpoint to accompany his talk. (In which regard, if the house is packed to the point of folks standing in the back, it helps, when there are no graphics, if you use the mike properly, since the poor staff wrestled between feedback and incomprehension to help us poor decrepit souls, at the back be able to hear. Fortunately tomorrow is being held in another hall. Plus, I suspect that there will be video records from the Forum readily available quite soon).

So how was the first evening? Well it has to be a struggle, when you have the full burden of the Hirsch Report to cover in 30 minutes, to be able to hit all the important bits. Roger did his commendable best, and covered the basic points in regard to where our salvation might come from, and, while steering as cautious a line as he could, why we are already a little late getting to the case, and how bad this might make the future.

Bill is already into that scenario, having spent some time living purely from the local harvest, which brought to him, and thence to us, the benefits of the local farmers' market economy and interaction. I must, however, confess to a small personal foible, and that is when, within the first two minutes of a talk, or paragraphs of a column, I hear or read about how absolutely filthy coal is, it sort of gives me a hint that I may not completely agree with what is going to follow. And I did not. Bill would be, I suspect, much further along the "we're all toast" path than I am comfortable with, and (if I heard right) he felt that all the money being spent on remedial technology would be better disbursed, with a higher rate of return, by mailing low powered fluorescent light bulbs to everyone in the US. He feels, therefore, that we need to re-align our social arrangements and considers the Cuban experience indicative of a potential path forward. (I deleted my editorial comment here). I noted that his talk followed very much along the line of "The Long Emergency" - with which, you may remember, I have some significant disagreements.

As I noted to Eric in a post on why these meetings are, to me so valuable, the best part of them can come in the discussion and questions. The first was to Roger, and since there were three roadworks between me and the airport today, the question is timely. It was that "given the arrival of peak oil, how does that impact the sums being spent on modern highways" (editorially shortened). Roger replied that very obviously, as gas costs continue to rise, so the plans for new construction may well need to be revisited. He noted, in passing, that the most rapidly growing part of the community is that which commutes more than 50 miles to work, and that is the one that will be the most vulnerable.

When asked if, in light of Bill's suggestion on giving everyone free light bulbs, we might be better off if we were given new cars by the government, Roger pointed out that they had looked at these costs, and it would take several trillion dollars, which he then put in context. (Ed. Note: not to mention that we don't have the manufacturing capacity).

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

Now you may note that I liked one but not the other speaker, well that's the good thing about these meetings, the breadth of input is across the whole spectrum of the problem, and so I do get to hear views that usually get distanced from my desk (as I am sure my words end up similarly elsewhere). Given, however, the number of speakers, I must again apologize, since I suspect that, with just the odd scribbled note, I will likely not do any of them justice. So, if you have the chance, come on down, or up, or whatever the local direction is). The first panel is just before lunch, but there are some powerful speakers kicking off from the 8:40 start.

Oh, and a slight editorial note on trains and public transport, the Actress is thinking of visiting the Advocate this summer, and going there by train. She asked her e-community for opinions and they were about half-and-half divided between loving it and hating it. I have always enjoyed train travel, and was struck, while in Sweden, to find that to travel from the rail station to Adakgruvan I had to ride a bus that also functioned as the mail delivery van, it seemed to make a lot of sense, and I have often wondered why more rural places did not work public transport that way - I wonder if they still do up where the Lap would graze their reindeer outside my dorm window. I therefore encouraged her to take the train, but I suspect that there were too many voices on the other side of the balance.

What speedy turnaround. I'm just getting back to my friend's house right now. Personally, I liked McKibbin's talk as much as the first, partially because of his emphasis on conservation and behavior as well as the fact that we are going to have to deal with problems, there are no easy fixes.

As far as coal goes, it will make global warming worse, no doubt; however, what other choices do we have? Conservation will take us some, if not a large part, of the way, but eventually we will need something else. Short of complete dieoff and collapse (not to be ruled out completely), energy will need to come from somewhere. I think it would be the epitome of naive green thinking to suggest that we can ride our solar/wind powered cars down the shimering emerald road. Perhaps they'll even be another episode of "global dimming" before global warming really comes back with a vengance?

In any event, I'd be interested to meet one of the esteemed editors of theoildrum if you are so inclined.

-David Huck (david dot huck at oberlin dott edu)
I'll be there bright and early

I am an engineer in the power industry.  I am also very involved with the construction of new power plants.  

It seems that the whole nation has been waiting to see what the lawmakers were going to do before they built new generating capacity.  This has resulted in a lot of pent-up demand for power as the utilities project the need for a lot of new power stations in a few years.  Add to that the rapidly growing cost of natural gas, aging older power plants, and ever more stringent environmental laws regarding existing plants, and we are looking at replacing most of our current power generating facilities ina the next decade.

The big questions have been:  "What new environmental laws is going to regulate CO2 emissions?", "Will the cost of natural gas stay high, or is this a temporary spike?", "Will the EPA finally pass some legislation to force older, dirtier power plants into decommissioning?"

Well, it seems we have our answer now.  In the last 6 months there has been a tremendous increase in the interest of utilities to build new coal fired power plants.  And once the herd of utility companies starts moving, it moves in a big way.  In many cases, these new coal fired power plants are meant to replace the brand new natural gas plants that were built just a few years ago when the price of gas was low.  

The scary part of all of this, is that there is no economical way to get rid of the greenhouse gases from this type of coal fired power plant.  And once they are built, the utilities will defend their existence by using the same old "sunk costs" argument that has kept the current older plants operating since the Clean Air Act of 1990 was passed.   It will be decades before these new power plants have been paid for bu generating revenue.  So, if anyone was holding their breath waiting for the government pass legislation regarding coal fired power plant greenhouse gas emissions in response to the gobal warming issue, then give it up.  Industry has moved forward in the absence of government action regarding global warming.  Peak Oil will only exacerbate the situation.


waiting to see what the lawmakers were going to do before they built new generating capacity.


Just out of curiosity,
Who are the top lawmakers in charge of deciding which way the industry heads? Is nuclear dead?

they say china is going to build 500 new coal plants ... and as much as i'd like greenhouse gas progress, i imagine that our plants are going to be small in comparison.

"a lot" of plants for us would be (i'm guessing) 50 or 75?

Don't forget India!
"In the last 6 months there has been a tremendous increase in the interest of utilities to build new coal fired power plants.  And once the herd of utility companies starts moving, it moves in a big way"

Speaking of that, just I thought the graph (Worldwide Gas Turbine Production) shown halfway down this article in Mechanical Engineering magazine did a very good job demonstrating what happens when an entire industry makes a shift to a certain type of power.    

The answer is to quit thinking that we evolved to be glued to the seat of an automobile. Why is it that technophiles have NO imagination?
Possibly you missed the opening of the article - American technophiles may believe in having their asses glued to a four wheeled cage, but people from the rest of the world don't share that attitude. Check into maglev systems for an example of imagination in practice - airline speeds using electricity would certainly seem to be an imaginative solution to using airplanes for domestic travel. (Better solutions are also imaginable, of course - including minimal need to travel anywhere quickly.)

To adapt lightly -
'Why is it that American anti-technophiles have NO imagination?'

America is a very special case, and it would be nice for more Americans to understand this from the outside, so to speak. As the author of the article does.

As a certain indicator of how Americans think they are special - poor British adults are healthier than rich Americans, using several quantitative measures, like heart disease and diabetes. And the British health care system is sort of the basket case of western Europe. America's 'average' health care is not envied by anyone with experience of European health systems. (That the peak of American medicine is pretty much the peak of world medicine is true - it is just that easily 250 million Americans will never, ever see America's peak health care in action, apart from trauma situations like car wrecks, heart attacks/strokes, and gunshot and other violence related injuries - perhaps not surprisingly, problems where the older white males running the country have a very direct interest, whether in the case of the first two for their own health, or in the case of the last, ensuring the military a test bed and school for training doctors, nurses, etc.)

every culture that has had the chance to adopt a "people's car" has done so.

and why not?  it satisfies the human urge to cover territory while at the same time satisfying the need to conserve body energy.

it's only bad once you notice the non-obvious side effects (pollution, global warming, resource depletion).

Well, to a certain extent that is true - when you can sit in an enclosed box, without dealing with -10 or 100+ temperatures or driving rain, a car looks pretty inviting. Add in the entertainment systems of the last generation or so, plus 'image' or 'status,' and sure, lots of people will drive.

But in the real world, in a place like NYC, a lot of people happily live without a car. And most of those happily living in NYC would not support tearing down the city to make it more car friendly. And this in America, to make the point.

What is so often overlooked in much of these discussions is how much of any industrial society, in total, is devoted to the manufacture, sale, and driving of cars - it seems the absolute best way invented to use up otherwise free time for the members of mass societies - especially when debt is added into the mix. (Notice the history of debt and selling to see some real interesting foundations of what we now consider 'normal.') An efficient transit system actually lets people enjoy free time in a city, for example, which is not only hard to profit from, but could lead to people actually thinking this is a good way to live - whereas sitting in traffic every single day is simply money (and time) flowing through the system, reaching the top as always, without disturbing it in any way. Notice the 'stupid' French not going along with the plans of the government to make firing easier - the French are actually obnoxious enough to feel that they actually deserve to live in a society which doesn't allow hire and fire, since the striking French ARE their society, and not the owners/bankers. Doesn't make the French smart, just troublesome for the French ruling classes. If only the French would go into debt, buy huge cars, and spend a couple of hours a day in traffic, the French elite could probably have a much easier time - it is dangerous to let people have too much freedom. Worse, to get used to the idea that the opinions of the majority actually should be important in the decision-making process. (Not that being in a majority is any guide to being right about something.)

But car use doesn't come in the form of the 'people's car' (certain historical examples notwithstanding - and even then, often it was the tank which came before the car),  instead it comes in the form of decades long investment by companies like GM, VW, or Toyota to ensure that a society which has never used cars, like China, become a huge market. And to do this, they become part of the 'free' media which we live surrounded by. Rarely have 'the people' demanded higher profits for car and oil companies - but they certainly can be seduced into thinking a car represents things they want, if history is any guide.

Didn't Renault make a "people's car" for the French?  The 2cv or 4cv maybe?

Ah well, my view comes from my reading of "Car Wars" by Jonathan Mantle.  I think it is a good history of the spread of the car ... any my takeaway was certainly that a "people's car" appeared in the major markets.  Ford here, Morris in England, Renault in France, VW ... a lot of places, and so on.

They did - as I remember reading about its history (when it was discontinued after some 40 or 50 years of production), it was intended primarily as a serviceable vehicle for farmers (bringing things to market, for example), other rural people,  and tradespeople - apparently, more like a Model T in all round usefulness than a VW Volkswagen, in the sense of being a vehicle to drive on the new autobahns. Certainly, a step up from a horse cart. There are a number of reasons why motor vehicles are omnipresent in our lives. The history of the Model T is quite interesting that way, actually - introducing such a piece of machinery led to all sorts of changes in rural life, most of which were definitely considered an improvement by all concerned parties. And if we had stuck to that sort of philosophy, of a useful, rugged, easily repaired piece of machinery, made by people paid a decent wage, which could be used to power equipment or transport people or things over a landscape of rutted dirt roads, we wouldn't have much to discuss today about peak oil.

My reference to tanks was in regards to various socialist countries, in general.

"Why is it that technophiles have NO imagination?"

i mumbled some time back some words about the natural (evolutionary) reason for laziness.  our technology reinforces that, but didn't create it.  people drive a block to buy a paper because they are lazy, not because they love their car so much.

i'd love to see a happy walking/cycling future, but i think it will have to built on ideas of health and vigor - to combat the laziness.

helol everybody,

does anybody have a paper/s or an overall presentation about the oil market, which covers the following issues.

-Definition Reserves

-How is oil being priced
 -different kinds of oil (WTI...BRENT..etc)
   - How is the spread between the oil types beeing      
     calculated...(WTI..BRENT..What about OPEC basket  price?...


You are new here as well. We have covered all these topics in great detail. Be my guest to search through the archives. Sooner or later kind TOD elves and fairies will visit in the night and give you relevant links - only if you leave them cookies(oatmeal-raisin) and hot-chocolate. You shall not be dissapointed.
Thanks to you for posting updates on the conference.  Having attended Saturday's Petrocollapse Conference in DC, I wish that I could break away from work to attend the Forum as well.  I'll rely on your posts in lieu of the real thing.

As for coal, I agree that CO2 is a problem, but agree that it will be necessary to keep basic functions going.  I'm interested in what SASOL is doing in South Africa.  I'm also interested in the idea of using CO2-chomping algae to absorb the byproduct from power plants.  The algae can then be harvested and pressed for oil, which in turn can be used to produce bio-diesel.  Sounds great, though I'm not a techno-salvation kind of guy.

Very informative, HO, thanks.

Here in my town we are gearing up for a major road appropriations vote. There has been a 0.5% sales tax surcharge locally for 20 years which was mostly spent on road repair. That will expire in a couple of years and the whole city is in an uproar. The council want to re-authorize the tax for another 30 years this time(!) but the greens insist that alternative energy measures have to get funding, and the measure won't go through without their support. At the same time the road districts are like little fiefdoms and the chiefs won't back down on what they need. So the "compromise" is to do both, meaning raise the tax to 0.75%, divert most of it to road maintenance, with a substantial amount to buses and bikeways, and possibly even a new rail project.

My problem is with the whole idea of setting up a 30 year transportation plan. Given the uncertainty ahead it seems insane to lock ourselves into a fixed disbursement schedule which is based on current circumstances. 10 or 20 years from now are we going to need to spend that much on road maintenance? Maybe cars will be so expensive that few people will drive and most will take the bus.

This really seems like the wrong time to create a 30 year long tax measure with fixed disbursement categories. We need policies that will give us maximum flexibility to deal with the challenges that are likely to be coming our way over that time frame. I understand that they need the tax money short term, but I'd rather see it set up on a five year or ten year basis at most. Then we can see where we are after that time. It may well be that spending plans laid down today will have to be substantially revised in the transportation world of just a few years from now.

Guess I need to start sending some letters to the editor of the local paper...

I think you are correct, though you'll likely meet with some resistance.  I live in Washington, DC where the city is split up into wards.  Within each ward there are ANCs - advisor neighborhood councils.  They deal with neighborhood issues, gathering opinion and sending it up to the city level.

Having just attended the Petrocollapse Conference this past Saturday, I sent an e-mail to my local ANC listserv and was met with responses saying that this was the wrong forum for environmental issues!  People won't hear what they don't want to hear.  That's not to say that we shouldn't keep at it -- it'll just take a while.

"poor British adults are healthier than rich Americans, using several quantitative measures, like heart disease and diabetes. And the British health care system is sort of the basket case of western Europe".

In UK levels of obesity, especially in the young are rising.  Poor diets of fatty junk food, sweetened drinks, sedentary lifestyle, etc., have been blamed.  Many of these people are likely to develop chronic, expensive to treat illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, etc., in future years.  Millions of people in this condition will put huge strain on a health service which is already crumbling.  

With peak oil will come economic slowdown, maybe recession or worse - and the state will not be able to afford (or more likley people will refuse to pay taxes to) treat them for free as now.  Maybe the "die-offs" foretold by some peak oil doomsayers - which I don't really see happening in the conventional way in developed countries - will be of these people, left to their own devices because the means to treat all of them to a good standard will not exist.

Well, this comment was directed to an American audience. The study is at - the link is a short overview.

I will agree that when I visited the Isle of Wight in 2001, I was shocked to see how the English were so much like the Americans. Scary, really.

It is also true that the UK is sort of the basket case of health in Western Europe too - this is the sort of thing which I have not read in any reporting about the study. Reporting which seems to have disappeared pretty quickly too, since in its way, it is like peak oil, which is also based on quantitative perspectives - a fairly rigorous approach was used in the study, comparing older adults in both health systems. This study controlled for the last excuse used to defend Americans' relatively poor health - that health care among minorities is so poor, it skews the results. (Yes, Americans defend their 'world's best health care system' by blatantly pointing out how it absolutely deprives anywhere between 10-30 percent of the population so much that it outweighs the positive benefits of the majority.)

Like so many articles of faith in America, when you actually look at the reality behind the beliefs, the results are, well, a surprise only if you haven't been paying any attention for the last generation or so. This quote from a newspaper article pretty much sums it up for me - 'Even experts familiar with the weaknesses in the U.S. health system seemed stunned by the study's conclusions.' Wait till you see what condition American experts will be in when peak oil hits.

Of course, some stunning number of Americans feel God will call them home before anything bad happens to them. Reality is the sort of thing America has become accustomed to ignoring when it is unpleasant. As seen in New Orleans, reality is something which cares nothing about we think about it.

In his way, Bush may be doing the world a favor by so rapidly dismantling the illusions America has been living off of for decades.

Perhaps this is still another reason why there are so many new funeral homes poping up in the south. Not only are we getting grayer, but poorer health will take more of us.
Australian link for Claude Mandil pushing energy conservation :)-
"The head of the International Energy Agency (IEA) says the price of oil could rise above $US100 a barrel from just over $US70 now.

The fossil fuel markets were in a "vicious cycle", the IEA executive director said. Higher prices and stretched capacity were encouraging "nationalistic" governments and groups with political gains from actions that threatened to further increase prices.

"This is alarming," said Mr Mandil, whose key agency oversees energy markets.

The best chance of easing pressure on the oil price, he said, was for the rapid adoption by government, industry and consumers of efficiency measures to slow the rise in demand for oil.

Meanwhile, Mr Mandil also told the newspaper he did not think Australia needed to develop nuclear power to meet its energy needs.

The availability of cheap coal would make energy from coal-fired power stations cheaper than nuclear power, even if a price mechanism was placed on emissions from burning coal. l

It seems that the 200,000 b/day of oil Chad is exporting is enough, in today's supply-constrained world, for it to boss the World Bank around. The WB has overturned plans to enmsure oil wealth is spent on Chad's people, rather thna more guns for dictator:
Re:  "The Long Emergency"

There is a quarter page ad for "The Long Emergency" on the Op-Ed Page of the NYT today.

Crickey...Kunstler in the MSM.  Now we know we are in deep doo-doo!!!
I know this is not an Open Thread, but I need to ask this question:

Are the state of affairs so tenuous, so thread-bare, that a letter to George Bush can affect the markets like this?

Oil falls below $70 on Iran letter to Bush 3_2006-05-08_12-19-02_SP318810

I'd say that moves of $5 or less are easily possible on mood and emotion alone.  You set up a market and people start to trade on their mood, their gut, their graphs, their models ...

(the letter sounds like good news)

I agree the letter does seem like good news.

Let's see how President Bush responds.  

Pick one:

1)  Replies with letter in kind, inviting Ahmadinejad to BBQ at the ranch.


2)  Shreds the letter up and eats it on national television.

My vote based on moves like the one below is #2.

Bush to nominate Air Force general to lead CIA

Or Bush replies in Spanish!
OK, well, Bush didn't chew it up on national TV, but Condi is licking her chops for a chance....

Iran letter blasts Bush, democracy

Iran's president declared in a letter to President Bush that democracy had failed worldwide and lamented "an ever-increasing global hatred" of the U.S. government.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice swiftly rejected the letter, saying it didn't resolve questions about Tehran's suspect nuclear program.

"This letter is not the place that one would find an opening to engage on the nuclear issue or anything of the sort," Rice told The Associated Press. "It isn't addressing the issues that we're dealing with in a concrete way."

And Ahmadinejad's words are not those of one willing to give up and roll over either.

Ahmadinejad may have to release the letter, so we can see what it really says.
What, you don't trust our governments interpretation skills?
maybe it's just me ...
the letter is out:

interesting, and disquieting.  it makes this look a little like a personal, religious, conflict between the two presidents.

OK, I would ask you where you got this link, but then you would probably have to poor me some cement shoes.
I mean "pour", not "poor".  Excuse my pour grammar.

That little letter made some people alot of money (first down and then back up):

Oil Rises Above $71 as U.S. Rejects Iranian President's Letter

(first-time poster)

Just a side note on foreign studends missing public transport: I was a Rotary exchange student in Wisconsin back in 1994 and at that time Rotary's rules strictly forbade us from driving any engine-propelled vehicles. It was an oft-emphasized rule put into place after a tragic accident a few years before that. I was staying on a farm about 3 miles from a small town so when I wanted to get anywhere I needed to ask for a ride or hop on a bike.

You can see how this could easily skew the results of a poll such as the one mentioned by Heading Out :-) Having said that, it is true 16- and 17-year-olds are below driving age in most countries and they would primarily use public transport back home (as I did).

The Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC) late night news just ran back to back stories on Peak Oil and GW. Some snippets..Australian production peaked in 2000 and has declined 29% since. Imports now a third of 700,000 bpd. Cut to Matt Simmons challenging Saudi claims of reserves and future production. Next item a UK Tyndall Centre climate researcher says air travel miles must not increase. Travel agents who urge clients to buy carbon offsets are kidding themselves, as are rock bands with private jets.

It's kinda spooky, as if TOD wrote the script but it took a while to get live performance.

The story is getting out.

Washington Post article on peak oil

Re: "we are still in the phase where goods are moving away from trains to trucks.... and the "we're all toast path"

The plain truth about being toast IMHO lies in the depressing fact that serious mitigation is not happening (should read, trucks to trains). And I'm not talking fluorescent light bulbs here, though that would help. And increased coal usage for power plants would be OK if we had put plans in for CO2 sequestration a decade ago when the IPCC said for the first time that climate change was here to stay. This represents a different kind of mitigation that's not happening.

I think in terms of a tipping point which is also known as the angle of repose. The idea is simple and is related somewhat to catastrophe theory. But here's the "angle of repose.

The angle of repose is sometimes used as a synonym for the tipping point. To understand the origin of the term, consider a person who leans back in a chair. If the person tips back beyond a certain angle, then the chair will tip over and the person will fall onto his or her back. That angle is the angle of repose, and it is analogized to apply to any process in which beyond a certain point, the rate at which the process (chemical, sociological, etc.) proceeds increases dramatically. Mathematically, the angle of repose may be seen as an inflection point.
The entire point of the Hirsch report is to define and promote mitigation measures that prevent shortfalls that may, in my view, create a tipping point. Given the long-lead times necessary for making the proper energy transitions (whatever they are!) and the fact that attempts to make these transitions are not occurring leads me and others to believe that there is a very good chance that "we are toast". To make this all worse, the further we lean back in the chair, the more energy it requires to right ourselves, energy which becomes more and more scarce.

So, I think that sounding the alarm Kunstler-style just may be what we need right now if we're going to have some chance of getting through all this without the abhorrent and unthinkable "die off". As for McKibben who is off living on the land in the New England woods, that's all very well and good for him but does me (and few other billion people) no good whatsoever. And Cuba? Please! Give me a break.


I think a more useful comparison is Dmitry Orlov's article, Post-Soviet Lessons fo a Post-American Century,

To me, it makes more sense to simply acknowledge that we're toast and plan from that perspective.

I fear I didn't make myself clear. I am concerned that we are toast but perhaps the verdict is not in. If we have any significant oil shock, yeah, we're going to probably go into a cascading collapse similar to what happened in Russia, not just in America but all over the world (there's that "fungible" word again).

I think HO and Stuart take the view that the decline will be more gradual (absent those oil shocks). But my point was that economic systems can reach a tipping (or inflection) point at which collapse is catastrophic and fast. I wish I knew more about the mathmatics behind this so I could try to come up with some modelling to demonstrate my point. Some combination of the devaluation of the dollar, a spike in oil prices due to decreased supply, geopolitical moves that shut out the US and Europe, etc. can lead to such a scenario. I would hope that some of the more mathematically inclined here would attempt an analysis along these lines.

By the way, I have printed out the article you recommended and now, of course, my inkjet printer is low on ink. Thanks a lot :)

The printing sounds like a tipping point to me - beware :)

But, seriously, I personally don't believe that a slow slide is any better then going off a cliff.  In fact, I think it's worse because there will be at least some people who will not be impacted and they, like Mike Lynch, will run around saying everything is fine, obfuscating the issues and delaying needed action.  

Further, there is an underlying assumption that there will be some sort of adptation as society devolves. My view is that society/the economy is far too complex to adapt to piecemeal change, that is, a slow slide.  I'm not even sure a dictatorship could pull off any kind of acceptable/meaningful transition that includes the majority of citizens.

Eventually you have to be brave and start jumping off the fence. But doing that has implications and will set you at odds with people you otherwise like and respect. Many here at TOD will simply dismiss you for making that assumption yet they have no solid basis for demonstrating that their own assumptions are any more valid, other than the old "it's always been this way so it always will" canard, which we all know fails precisely at those points when civilizations collapse.