Peak Oil and the Environment Part 3 - Day 1

Ah! Do we really need six pages of comment? Thank you at the back, we'll gladly cut it short. Suffice it to say I had the chance to split part of a bottle of wine with Ken Deffeyes (we talked a little about Abu Sa'fah the first indication of Saudi depletion, since the combined 800 kbd from it and Qatif were designated purely to match declines in existing fields at the time they came on stream.) There were a couple of short chats with Governor Schweitzer of Montana about 5-micron coal and a recognition, as the talks went on through the afternoon, that maybe the ground is changing.

But first an admission - they caught me out. Since Dr James Hansen had to be recognized as one of the Time 100 Folk of the Year, later this afternoon, they moved his talk up, and so sadly I missed the first bit. So this is where I put in another plug for the web site (URL corrected here and earlier), to get the Powerpoints. His message, as I caught it, was largely that we can only afford to raise the temperature of the planet one single degree Centigrade, and beyond that the historic record suggests catastrophe. One part of this is the melting of the polar ice caps, and, in this regard he showed the melt pictures and the latest measurements of the weight of Greenland (from one of the satellites). What is interesting in that, is that the last couple of years seemed to have created more of a trend out of the data. He commented (perhaps in response to Dr Crichton) that this may provided more reliable data than models.

Business as Usual (BAU) will give temperature rises of up to five degrees, the icecaps melt and water levels rise 25 m (80 ft) and that will displace around 500 million folk. Long Island becomes Short Island and the White House is under 24 ft of water. It won't happen tomorrow, but likely over the course of the next century. He suggested phasing out coal after 2020, or at least making sure that all plants no longer generate carbon dioxide, and he also assumes that we do not chase after oil shale and the tar sands. The methane levels in the air, which are apparently worse than carbon dioxide, are stabilizing, but if we go up more than another degree then we can assume we will also see the impact of more methane from the thawing tundra and from the evaporation of the methane hydrates.

He poured cold water on our concerns over the decline in the Gulf Stream flows, considering it as an inconsequential against the overall Global Warming, and suggested that Europe is just going to get as hot as the rest of us.

The migration of species, and the changing growth patterns of plants as the soil moisture contents change are likely to impact agricultural effectiveness, and what will be available.

He was questioned about the latest publicity on his ability to speak out about the issues, and felt that he was fortunate enough to already have a sufficient reputation so that he could surmount the restrictions, the jury is still out as to whether the message can be sustained with less well-known government scientists.

Lester Brown, author most recently of `Plan B 2.0: Rescuing a Planet Under Stress and a Civilization in Trouble", one of those books that, as he said, "once you put it down, you can't pick up again!" then came to the podium and pointed out, inter alia, that we may no longer be the masters of our own destiny, since the Chinese are now consuming more of most major commodities, other than oil, than we are. His critical 3 recommendations were:
power by renewables
diversified transport
re-use and recycle.

Which led into a note that the increased reliance on bio-fuels will bring food and fuel prices more into harmony. Sugar, for example, has gone from $0.07 to $0.17 a lb (though droughts may also have had an impact), what 10% ethanol might do to corn prices should concurrently consider that 20% of the world goes to bed hungry, so that increased food prices could lead to riots in Indonesia, Mexico and similar nations. He felt that with the tax incentives and royalties that we may, for wind energy, be moving from a NIMBY to a PIIMBY (put it in my back yard) mentality - particularly with the larger diameter new wind turbine designs. And in terms of leadership he pointed out that President Roosevelt banned private car manufacture during the second World War.

The next speaker was Dr William Catton who wrote "Overshoot" about the time that OPEC was formed. He talked about human behavior and the Predator:Prey relationships and how there has to be enough of the latter to sustain the former. He discussed the advances that increased human doubling rates, and using Kleiber's Law suggested that an individual man should now be the size of a 64 ton dinosaur. He had less hope for our future than Lester Brown held out.

In the discussion that followed Mr Kharecha replaced Dr Hansen and reinforced the notion that if we don't control coal (or if we allow oil shale and tar sand production) then we cannot keep temperatures below the 2-3 deg C rise that takes us over the tipping point to rapid highly nonlinear melting of the ice sheets with water rises of a meter in just a few decades. Polar bears will be extinct before 2100.

It was pointed out that effective leadership can work, in Iceland in the 14th Century they were overgrazing the land, the foundation soil was being destroyed, and so they evaluated the land carrying capacity, calculating the number of sheep the land could carry, and divided the number among the families and reversed the process. The wool industry is still flourishing as a result.

They noted (and this came up again later) that the transport fuels are worse for Global Warming since the products cannot be sequestered, while those from power plants can be.

But they also raised the problem of water, and the dropping of water tables around the world. Since this impacts agriculture, and lower tables require more power for irrigation, it is another facet of the problem. It takes 1000 tons of water per ton of grain. Grain trade was controlled by population density, now it is moving to being controlled by water issues. China has drawn down their stocks of grain and are now importing soybeans and import 60% of their need. The same thing can occur with grain. This would lead to China competing with the US for food from the US. Interesting dynamic. This creates an umbilical that we have never seen before. China's need is forced by the loss of irrigation water.

There was then a short talk by Robert Costanza which had me note that you need the commentary to explain the viewgraphs, but which was, in reality setting the meeting up for tomorrow. To decide how to solve the problems we have to decide where we want the world to go, and what sort of place it should be. Work on what we then need as tools and how to use them.

("If you don't know where you're going, you end up somewhere else", Yogi Berra).

That then led into the reception and then the talk by Governor Schweitzer. I have to say that hearing him in person gives an entirely different picture than you get through the media. Very well in control of his topic, he gave a brief overview of his plans for energy for Montana clearly related to the audience, and offered 20% for conservation, 20% for biofuels a fair bit for coal (if you don't like it, take off your clothes and climb back into the trees) and the recognition that this only gets us 40 years in which to find a better answer. Funny, a man who gave us a clear indication of what to do to move the country forward, I am tempted to say that Bill Richardson had better look out in 2008, but then that would be getting OT. He held up a piece of coal and had clean hands, also sources for biodiesel, and his slogan was "how low can you go," in terms of energy use. When he presented his ideas to the Dept of Energy when they visited his state, they listened to him until finished, looked over his shoulder and said "next."

He pointed out that if we can teach folk in Iran and Iraq to grow their own food, then we can use the land where we now grow that food for them as sites to grow biofuel crops.

It was definitely worth being here, though I think you had to know a little bit about your subject to get the most out of the talks. But having heard about the problem, it is the expert views on the answers, that comes tomorrow, that really provides the reason for my being here. (But I'm afraid I might not get to post until quite late in the evening, due to travel).

And for all the comments that I missed, or contributors and ideas, I plead only the fullness of the day, and a not totally perfect memory.

I am going to tackle Schweitzer's coal to liquids dream in an essay pretty soon. There is no doubt in my mind that we will do this sooner or later, but I think he is a bit too early for the economics to be favorable. GTL will play out first, and then CTL, followed by the melting of the polar ice caps, followed by BTL (biomass to liquids).

I had intended to go to the conference, but factors beyond my control prevented it. I wanted to throw my name in the ring as Schweitzer's energy secretary just in case he makes it that far. :)


Robert, if we don't get the carbon sequestration in place, this is an environmental disaster. I know you're right when you say that we'll have to do this sooner or later. The economics are becoming more viable all the time.

There is always this tension between meeting energy needs and mitigating climate change. This needs to worked out but right now, in my view, the proper policy is not there. My fear is that the economics will win out and the climate change factors will get put on the shelf.

if we don't get the carbon sequestration in place, this is an environmental disaster.

There is already carbon sequestration in place.  It is called oil and coal in the ground.    To react the carbon to liberate heat makes CO2, then take the CO2 and try and tuck it away at an energy cost doesn't make sense.

What happens with the common plan of pumping it into the earths crust when the crust moves?

There is already carbon sequestration in place.  It is called oil and coal in the ground.
Any kind of carbon in the ground will do, including charcoal in the soil (terra preta).
What happens with the common plan of pumping it into the earths crust when the crust moves?
The oil and gas in the ground don't seem to have been greatly disturbed by the last several tens of millions of years of seismic activity.
Any kind of carbon in the ground will do, including charcoal in the soil (terra preta).

At one time you were for processing all the word and were calculating that wood waste alone would proved enough power.   Nice to see that you have finally read up on carbon in the soil.

The oil and gas in the ground don't seem to have been greatly disturbed by the last several tens of millions of years of seismic activity.

Ha!   Look at the oil in shale and oil in sands.   All the lightweight 'valuable parts' have evaporated over time.

So to claim 'no long term effect' is, well, uninformed.

CO2 gas is CO2 gas.   Pumping it undergound doesn't change that it is a gas and will, over time, get into the atmosphere.   If CO2 is 'the disese vector' the cheapest cure is to not produce it in the 1st place.   Wind, hydro,solar, and nuclear fission fit that bill.   The long term waste issues and non-renewable nature of nuclear are very important issues that should not be ignored.

The concete made in wind, hydro and nuclear are a concern WRT CO2.  

Nice to see that you have finally read up on carbon in the soil.
I proposed holding charcoal as a carbon bank some time ago, but you apparently couldn't spare the attention.  Using excess charcoal as a soil amendment (perhaps with subsidies) is one way of guaranteeing sequestration and improving agricultural policy.
Ha!   Look at the oil in shale and oil in sands.   All the lightweight 'valuable parts' have evaporated over time.
Look at how old those deposits are:  Paleozoic.  They've had at least a quarter-billion years to leak, and how much of them have; half?  If you are talking about a phenomenon which could easily be fixed over a hundred thousand years by natural processes, putting stuff away with a half-life of even ten million is more than necessary.
CO2 gas is CO2 gas.   Pumping it undergound doesn't change that it is a gas and will, over time, get into the atmosphere.
Underground CO2 is not a gas, it is usually a fluid dissolved in water.  There are natural deposits of CO2 which have been drilled in places like Texas (to provide solvent for EOR).  That CO2 has been there for quite a while too.
to claim 'no long term effect' is, well, uninformed.
I love arguing with the ignorant, it's so easy to look smart.
I proposed holding charcoal as a carbon bank some time ago,

No, you were proposing taking what is normally left on the forest floor and using it as fuel, thus removing the elements from the local biosphere of the trees.

That CO2 has been there for quite a while too.

Really?   So you have data on how much CO2 was there to start and how much is there now?

I love arguing with the ignorant, it's so easy to look smart.

Go ahead, show us all how 'smart' you are.   Show the amout of CO2 to start with.

Then show the amount of oil to start with in tar sands and oil shale.

I'll be waiting.   Odds are you won't bother, because, well you have a history of non-delivery.

I really love it when stupid people show how poor their reading ability is, too.
you were proposing taking what is normally left on the forest floor and using it as fuel
You mean, like a forest fire "uses it" as fuel?  I've proposed a number of different things, quite a few of them having nothing to do with forests.
thus removing the elements from the local biosphere of the trees.
Wrong.  I've always supported replacement of the phosphorus and potash, either by returning them or substituting other fertilizer.
So you have data on how much CO2 was there to start and how much is there now?
You really show your poor reading ability here, because I never said that.
Go ahead, show us all how 'smart' you are.   Show the amout of CO2 to start with.
I never said I knew that, I only said that what's there is millions of years old.  That and the rate of production puts a ceiling on the rate of leakage.

I don't expect you to comprehend this either.

Robert, if we don't get the carbon sequestration in place, this is an environmental disaster.

Preaching to the choir, Dave. But I don't think environmental concerns will stop us. They haven't yet. :(


if we don't get the carbon sequestration in place, this is an environmental disaster.
I'm certain you're right, but I think we need to act on warming much faster than we can get much done on carbon emissions.  That's why I proposed braking before the environment crash.
Again, the theme seems to be, "How the hell do we keep the automobile paradigm going?" Not, "Jeez, this automobile paradigm is a stupid f*cking thing that is screwing us royal." Not, "How in the hell can we get this damned automobile albatross from around our necks?"


The stock answer gets shouted from the wings, "Because it will screw the economy."

Of course it will. The whole damned economy is based on the automobile.

Someone shouts from the cheap seats, "Go climb back up into the trees!"

What trees? Didn't we cut those down last week to fuel the Hummer with cellulosic alcohol for a ride down to the gym to get some exercise?

A few days before the 1929 stock market crash, an economist proclaimed that humanity had reached permanent growth. No more crashes.

Well, all those people who are telling us there will be no peak, at least for a long, long while, will be sucking hind teat when the SHTF.

For those who ask, "Well, what are you doing about it?"

I say, "I'm watching it all come down." We all die someday, but the last thing I'm going to do is die for some capitalist who says we should screw the environment with CTL in order to continue this moronic car cult. At some point the people will have to face their culture's mortality, and you can take it to the bank that the yayhoos will be sure that someone else dies before they do. My guess is they will off the rich first; after all, that is where the gasoline and food and money will be, cause the regular joes sure aint got it.

Up the revolution.


I globally hope for an average of about one car for each family but it usually do not need to be big and they should usually not have to use it every day. The unsustainable idea is that everyone should use their automobile for everything.

And to get rid of the car and the option of small scale personal transportation between random places of a few humans and some goods is about as dumb as having it as the only solution.

We need multiple transportation systems that complement each other and a sound mixture of dense and disperes housing. Then we can live with different lifestyle choices depending on what we enjoy, can afford and can handle in different stages of our lives. Again, having the same ideal and solution for everybody is lunacy.

Just-in-time carpooling. Networked carpool requests (integrated with GPS navigation) could recruit a driver who's going your way in real-time. A lot like hitchhiking, but accountable (with biometrics, if desired), and you can easily recruit drivers who are going very close to your destination.

Now it becomes possible to plan a convenient trip in two or even three rides. The first takes you from your origin to a well-traveled point somewhere near your destination. Then you catch another ride to get exactly where you want. If you had even a small fraction of the population participating (like, 1% or less in high traffic zones), you would wait just a minute or two for each ride, which is what makes the multi-ride trip convenient.

Also, with the network doing the negotiating, there are lots of opportunities for subsidies, taxes, and incentives for drivers. "<BEEP> You can make $2 by driving an estimated one-tenth mile out of your way and taking one male non-smoking verified passenger with an approval rating of 93%. Do you accept?"


When I was a kid (I'm 44 now) there were 300 bicycles locked up at the school I went to for K...Grade 6 on a nice day (the student population is 600 students) I went by there the other day and counted 6 bikes, 2 of which were adult sized, thus teachers or staff.

Why? Because of the new perception that we live in a world of sex offenders and serial killers, parents now drive their children to school

Check out the new releases section at your video store. A significant percentage of Hollywoods income is produced by stoking fears about "demons" of various sorts lurking around the edges of our culture.

The movie they would make about this idea would no doubt be called "Carpool". The plot line such as it is would involve a quite, unassuming guy living in a neighbourhood "just like yours" who passes himself off as a telephone installer, or computer programmer, or something, but who has hot wired the fingerprint scanner in his car to send false data and spends the day crusing the expressways of L.A. picking up single women, who wind up in mason jars under the floor of his basement crawl space.

Good post. What used to be luxuries of the rich (getting driven to school) have now become necessities in the consumption-driven economy. Drive the kids to school then enroll them in an expensive weight-watchers program.The society has bought into the idea that the worth of something is measured by its expense.
YOu are exactly right. In my small town, the kids used to bike or walk around in their spare time, and go for hikes in the mountains or desert.

As near as I can tell, those are lost arts. I never see kids bicycle or hike, and rarely walk. In fact, I rarely see them at all, except for hitching to grassy park downtown to hang out. I guess they spend their time in the net (much as I do, which is why I'm writing this; but I still hike and occasionally bike...)

Most urban North American children in this day and age who's parents would allow them to "go for a hike in the woods" would percive it as a pointless activity. Things "worth doing" are, by and large, activities that have been packaged and marketed to them as being "worth while" by television advertising / pop culture, and a walk in the woods has no "cool".

Hanging out with their peer group is sort of an exception to this, because even though it lacks a direct purchase component  children do have a hard wired developmental need for group acceptance and validation by peers, but you'll notice that importance is placed on donning the outward markers of "coolness" prior to them leaving for the mall/park/wherever What these are will vary depending on current and local fashion and the tribe or clique with which they identify as members i.e. "branded" clothing, hair, makeup, i-pod, goth garb, etc.

I sould add that many of the things that "the walk in the woods" now has to compete against are very powerful, and in some cases addictive.


Television viewing: This is how most children aquire their culture (mostly from the commercials, but somewhat from the actual program content), as do their parents. Children have a powerful need for cultural knowledge, also, if you watch someone watching T.V., without watching it yourself they are clearly drugged, or at least "held in thrall" which I count as the same thing

Video games: Addictive, but not in the way t.v. broadcast programming is. Broadcast programming is a clearly a depressant, video games are a stimulant with the drug being adrenallin and the brains other fight / flight hormones

Hi JM,

A shockingly good couple of posts IMHO.
you are right about the tv brainwashing. it applies to radio too.
i know because I've seen it.
we don't have a tv so when our 8-yr-old watches it for a while at someone's house, the impact is amazing. and after he listen's to commercial radio in my wife's car for a few hours he parrots the ads for days.

and your comment about being held in thrall is dead right too.
when our son was about 14 months old, we went to an acquaintance's place who had a daughter 4 months younger. when the twice-daily public tv program for mothers and under-2s came on, this lively little girl just sat there motionless with her eyes fixed on the screen for the whole 10 mins. she was in a trance. and then it ended and she became human again.

I'm going to make Dave happy and say that IMO if CTL isn't started immediately we'll never do it.  Investment costs for this kind of big-time industrial construction are lockstepped with the cost of energy, which means now oil and gas.  So is the cost of coal.  Once we get into an actual decline of the oil and gas supply it's too late; the guys with the capital for alternatives will have zero incentive to fund them.

Now I'll make Dave unhappy.  I hear of about a gazillion steam power plants being proposed.  Without sequestration I think we'll fry with or without CTL.

I like Hansen's comment about data over models. I think it was directed at the Real Climate guys, who know a lot about the models but seem way too confident warming will be no worse than their preferred ones suggest.
Hansen wouldn't be wasting his breath on a buffoon like Crichton.
Schweitzer seems like a clueless booster. Teaching Iraq and Iran to grow food, my ear.
From your description of Hanson and Brown's talks it sounds like our collective goose is totally cooked. Seriously, the only thing worse I've heard is James Lovelock saying the earth is going to be reduced to a "broken world run by brutal warlords" and that the human population is going to be reduced to "1,000 breeding pairs."  (Interesting terms for a couple)

At what point should people accept/come to the conclusion that on a macro scale things are just going to get worse,  political solutions will not be implemented, and then start focusing on saving their own ass and the ass of their families or just saying screw it and enjoy whatever time is left?

I've already accepted that we're hosed on a collective level, that's no secret. But I'm curious: those of you who still think "something can be done" on a societal or political scale, what evidence do you hold to that suggests your hope is realistic? Is it just that the alternative view of the future (the one held by yours truly and some others) is too depressing to accept?

Put another way, those of you shaking hands with people like Governor Schweitzer, paying money to go to the conferences, writing letters to your Congressman, etc: what provides you the motivation to do this when (from what I can tell) the bulk of the available evidence indicates we're totally hosed and way past the point where political solutions/responses are going to make much of a difference?

Naturally, you might return the favor and ask "well what keeps you going?" Answer: Machiavellian self-interest. I'd hang up the my "prophet of doom" sandwich board if it wasn't for the fact I gain a unmatched amount of social capital and a not-insignificant amount of financial capital from addressing these issues. (Sale from books, mentions in Congress, picture in Fortune, etc.) I hope my honesty in these matters doesn't piss people off too much.

Which is why I have mixed feelings about these conferences.  On the one hand I enjoyed the recent NYC conference because I got to meet folks who I only know from the boards (Yankee, Stephen, many others) had a lot of laughs and I picked up a $1,000 speaking fee for which I am greatly appreciative. At the same time I feel like saying to the audiences, "Do you really need me to fly out from California to tell you our society is heading into the toilet and there ain't all that much that can be done other than do your best to cover your own ass?"

On a side note, did anybody talk about getting emergency services off-the-grid? I want all the ambulances on biodiesel or homegrown ethanol ASAP. It is imperiative we keep the ambulances running. Maybe I should write to the California Bar about this matter. They got some $$$ and might see it in their interests to throw some weight behind such a policy intiative.



FWIW, one additon: I do my best to give folks some ideas about what can be done to cover their asses but in the end all bets are off since these issues are of a scope unprecedented in human history.



I'm 50 years old and at least my Mom's side of the family has this troublesome tendency to keel over dead from heart attacks in their 50's, so I figure personal survival is not really much of an issue for me.

The whole high tech outer space artificial intelligence modern industrial utopia folks - i.e. most of the engineers I work with - are too clueless to be in denial, I fear. And these folks tend to be quite smart on the I.Q. / SAT / GRE scale. The bus has gone over the railing. That sudden weightless feeling is definitely not a good sign.

My basic model is the collapse of the Roman Empire - as outlined in Sakaiya's Knowledge Value Revolution. No doubt we are headed for population collapse, political collapse, warload feudalism etc. But there are still some minor options to pick off the menu even at such an unsavory hostel.

I am always impressed by how the Renaissance of the 15th Century flowered from just a few scattered seeds. E.g. Ficino's translations of Plato. Very strange to think that for practically a thousand years, Europe did not know the works of Plato.

So I view the essential work of our time as seed storage. Seeds may be dormant but they are not dead. The most precious nuggets of human culture, somehow we need to find ways to package these up and protect them and keep them alive through the coming storms.

Not like the twentieth century... or you could start back from the 17th. Not like things have been so rosy all along, the devastations of wars and totalitarian police states etc. Yeah we could just look at places like Peru and Iraq and just try to learn from how people "survive" in those environments.

I wonder, for example, what little fragments of the tremendous Chinese civilization managed to survive Mao and the cultural revolution. How did people keep those little candles lit through the storm?

Two things keep popping into my mind, on why I think even self-interested, mass consumer driven, bitter people have a chance.

September 11th, and the NE blackout several years later.

  • No one rioted.
  • People started helping people.
  • People started to talk to their neighbors.
  • Society had found an, albeit, temporary purpose, and people were relieved in a way to have something else to focus on.
  • People, for a short period of time, took less for granted, spent more time with their friends and families.

Granted, these were "temporary" problems on a human scale.  And, pale in comparison with the darkest recesses of the mind when it comes to picturing a post peak world.  And, it didn't  turn into a time with limited food supply or jobs.

However, it did show this New Yorker that society is not just made up of a bunch of pricks that only care about themselves.  Most people want to work for the common good.  When the shit hits the fan, most people don't like to just sit and smell the shit - complaining about the smell and doing nothing.  They start wiping the walls, figure out who can start fixing the fan, and who's going to feed the people who are working to try to make things better.

I believe that there are natural born leaders out there.  You'll find out who they are when you start catching the first whiffs of shit.  They'll be the ones knee deep in it, helping others find a way to make a living and feed their families.

I even have hope for the fat-assed PSP-addicted kids, with no self esteem and pickled with prozac.  When they start having to "walk 4 miles to school, up hill both ways" and have to pick up a hoe and weed the garden, turn off the tube and bike to a friend's house to play a few mins of video games, I think that you'll start to see the number of depressed, distracted and forlorn kids reduced, and a new generation of kids that can make a difference.  

But that's just me.  I am not ready to pour out my 1/2 empty glass and call it a day, yet.

I think that you are right that the problem is not an inability of modern people to cope with change or disaster.

We do, unfortunately, have a societal and political inability to face change and looming crisis.  Almost all of the power and decision-making authority in modern western society is held by people and corporations with extremely short-term goals and reward-systems.  The people making decisions for us are punished for thinking ahead more than a couple of years.  If peak oil is not going to cause chaos before I retire, why should I do anything?

Humans have the ingenuity and the physical ability to come through this and bring much of the natural world with us.  I fear we do not have the organizational structures to guide us and channel our energy towards a workable solution.

Magnus suggested one car per family globally.  This goal is unworkable.  People don't need cars.  At all.  Sometimes we need to travel great distances and sometimes we must move freight but a private car can not solve these problems.  You should know that by now.  There are not enough materials to sustain this, there is not enough fuel and our global ecosystem can not bear the weight of all these vehicals.

Here's your soapbox, thanks.

Where do you put the limit between a private car, a communal car and a company car?

My answer is that it is impossible and that there forever will be plenty of errands where a car is the perfect solution.

Getting rid of private cars is not a sound goal, getting parallell systems in place, better efficiency and reducing the need of frequent car travel are good goals.


Your example of 9/11 proves my point but not for the reason you think. How did we react as a nation? By launching TWO WARS that:

A. "will not end in our lifetime" and

B. will be bankrupting this country and possibly leading to a nuclear exchange (in Iran.)

Even on the micro scale, they leave a lot to be desired. It's like me saying I'm optimistic/hopeful that Arabs and Jews around the world will all get along and citing my arab friend and I from law school as an example of why I'm



Matt: Since you asked- Yes, I am optimistic. The irony is that compared to everyone I know personally I am a peak oil nut yet compared to most of the posters like yourself I am Pollyanna. I read a post the other day where a guy was talking about human society going back to the world of the 1600s, about most accumulated knowledge vanishing. C'mon.Seriously. First of all, any predictions about life in 2035 are laughable.Go back to 1977 and see how useful the predictions were. What did EVERYBODY miss? The Internet, the growth of China, only a handful of people predicted oil depletion, global warming,the exploding gobalization, the decline of unions,the decline of the middle class, etc.etc. Secondarily, the economy does not have to be based around the auto. There is nothing inherently indicative of a higher standard living about getting in your 300 hp Dodge and driving around aimlessly. Thirdly, as an example, Germany is down 27% in oil consumption from 1973 and it is okay. It still has the highest wages in the world. Anyway, I see no reason to conclude the situation is dire. I might be wrong.    
Note how many of the things on your list are negative - global warming, oil depletion, globalization, decline of unions, middle class.  Collapse is beginning to happen already.  Can we accurately predict what things will look like in 2035 or whenever?  Not likely.  But it's pretty much got to be worse than now, not better.  Read Catton and Daniel Quinn and (someone below beat me to this) Derrick Jensen.  Our culture is designed to consume everything, and it is in the process of doing just that, including itself.
Actually, the people who run the USA would all agree that the last three are great improvements from the 70s. Also, to a certain extent Americans did not have these changes rammed down their throats-they voted for them either at the ballot box or with their dollars. Everybody wants to save a nickel at Walmart even if it means a store that pays higher wages goes under.But I am getting off track-my point was that in 1977, unions were strong, blue collar wages were high and there was a large middle class. No one had a crystal ball at the time. In fact, projections at the time were for real wages to keep increasing over the next 30 years as they had done from 48-77.  
Wow. By '77 I thought everybody knew that unions were toast. They'd been declining a long time. Certainly by Jan. 81 when Reagan's first act was to effortlessly, with no resistance whatever, destroy PATCO everyone knew it was over. And certainly from 1970 on everyone, everyone on the left knew that the temporary aberration of a large middle class was unable to defend itself. Global warming as I remember was pretty new in '77 but environmental degradation was well known and scary enough. Maybe '80 before the deep freeze of the late'70's was seen as transient and CO2  as the real problem.
What 'everybody' knows kind of depends on where you're standing.
My favorite prescient authors, looking back would have to be Debord, Lessing & Bookchin. Hard to cozy up to Murray anymore. Doris saw the horror so clearly she got a little nutty, Guy still reads so clear.   There were others.
Oldhippie: Always enjoy your posts. In the USA, median real wages peaked in 1979.Having said that, I might have gone overboard.I probably should have left unionization out (and global warming).        
... and Guy was so lucid, he offed himself...

If American workers had held on to their unions, where would they be today?

Consider Germany. Much flatter wealth structure.

I'm not sure why people convinced there will be a crash visualize it as a single meteor-out-of-the-sky event.  Won't it be more a slow cascade of successive emergencies, each one quite different, for which there is no single survival strategy?  Reaction piled on unpredictable reaction for many generations?  In fact, after being carefully controlled from above (in most places)  for many centuries, history at the individual level will break loose again.  Emergent history.  People call such events "biblical" but in fact the violent unpredictable never-ending saga related in the Old Testament is the kind of life most of the people, most of the time except in stable nation states, have lived.  Possibly this is not chaos, except from a corporate cultural angle, but return to normalcy?  

Lots of people pointing out the problems we are going to encounter.

Precious few people in leadership positions bringing solutions.

Those of us here know there are possible solutions like mass transit, conservation, virtual elimination of personal vehicles, and other drastic reductions in energy use.  But there are no business or political leaders with any clout leading us to these solutions.

That is what is missing and so depressing about the situation.  We all know we can do something constructive to mitigate peak oil.  The problem is we as a nation are choosing not to do anything.  The political leadership vacuum as much as anything is what makes the future look so bleak.  

If we were all working together to solve our energy problem I think people's mindset would be different.  This is because the energy problem and global warming problem are now linked.  Too many people understand you can't work on one without taking the other into account.  We have some tough technical challenges ahead of us.  But what we really lack today is effective leadership to show us that hard work in the right direction is worth doing.


I'm on Matt's side on this.  First of all, it isn't an energy or a technical problem.  It's a social/psychological problem.  Secondly, we, as a society, can't even agree that god won't send you to hell if you have an abortion or practice birth control.  I hate to sound racist but the population was headed toward a plateau of about 300M until the emigrees, legal and illegal, began to breed like there was no tomorrow. How are "we" going to come together to make the massive changes necessary when can't even agree that we have a population problem as a root cause?

Look at what is posted here and on other forums and blogs: The emphasis is to maintain the status quo via some sort of techincal miracle.  There are only a few voices whispering (or in Matt's case, shouting) that the "comsumer society" is DOA.

Lastly, it is pointless to even consider TPTB of any shape or form since they are the ones who have greased the skids all along.  

I've already accepted that we're hosed on a collective level, that's no secret. But I'm curious: those of you who still think "something can be done" on a societal or political scale, what evidence do you hold to that suggests your hope is realistic? Is it just that the alternative view of the future (the one held by yours truly and some others) is too depressing to accept?

pessimists still rely on a cacscade of bad events.  peak oil is not enough.  global warming is not enough.  you've got have those and another 50 years of bad decisions piled on top of them.

sure, prophets can issue warnings about what can or will go badly if we get the next 50 years wrong ... but if optimists count (good) chickens before they are hatched, pessimists count (bad) black swans before they are really found.

I'm scanning the news and I see lots and lots of really bad chickens that are not only hatched but growing rapidly:

  1. Climate collapse

  2. Oil depletion

  3. War on Terror

  4. Iran

  5. American Idol



items 3, 4, and 5, are on the scale of things we've suffered before.  it definitely sucks to be on the receiving end, but the vast majority of the earth's population hears about them later, and doesn't experience them directly.

oil depletion and climate change are very unique, likely affecting all of us on the planet, quite possibly in a directly observable way.

where i think we diverge is on expectation of future response.  we both see people and individuals ignoring the problem now, or wasting energy on misguided short-term solutions.  i think you take that as proof that we'll always be that way.  i just think that means our feet are not in the fire quite yet.  congressmen can dink around with ethanol plans because (1) it will make their buddies some money, and (2) they don't think it will come back and get them.

i think it will.  two years from now gas prices will be $3-5/gallon and people will want real answers.

lol, "people and institutions" works better
6. The final failure of western medicine (bird flu, vaccines, disease mongering or this very brief history of western medicine).

From my view on the news, this one hasn't hatched yet...

bird flu has the potential to be very, very, bad.  but it doesn't belong with the collapse arguments.  the 1918 flu pandemic is something else we've experienced (for all its pain and death) without collapse.

i really don't want a bird flu pandemic.  i have a feeling it might kill me personally, but i don't see it ending civilization.

Maybe not an immediate collapse argument, agreed. But I do suspect my point 6 is a slow moving and quite invisible "background killer".

Check out how enough vitamince C can cure infections, including (bird) flu. In addition, you can consider discussing "fear for flu" with your local homeophat (sorry, in Dutch, but you might pickup some keywords). Who anyway has quite common medicine against flu once you actually have it. Interesting records on homeopathic healing during the spanish flu too (apparantly the only really effective remedy those days).

Keep your health and let fear kill others.

Enough apocalyptics for me for now, thanks for the somewhat offtopic but interesting discussion. The sun is shining on another beautiful day, I'm going out ;)

While thinking what would make people accept some pritty shitty facts, my eye fell on the "I Ching" in my bookcase. When I opened it, it showed the page with this sign.

Some lines:

  • "shows one wishing to advance, and (at the same time) kept back"
  • "If he be firm and correct, there will be good fortune. He will receive this great blessing from his grandmother."
  • "However firm and correct he may be, the position is one of peril."
  • this sign shows "a prince who secures the tranquillity (of the people) presented on that account with numerous horses (by the king), and three times in a day received at interviews."

As a break from the facts, graphs & reports, I leave it for the fantasies of you all ;)
It's time to develop an interest in politics, race, IQ, and ecofascism. Desheeplicize yourself.
Thanks for your advise. Googling "ecofascism" would be something new and interesting to do.

I appreciate TOD very much for it's fact based and scientific approach. But when a thread in the comments goes into the "accepting" implications from PO (don't and sheeple or do and die) then everything is allowed.

Every now and then I feel and keep healthy studying the non-materialistic sides of life and our future. That's not to say I should share that on TOD ofcourse...

(did you read Dean Radins new book yet?)


We've had this dicussion before. You advocate people getting involved white ecofascism. I advocate people start multi-cultural apocalyptic religious cults.

Can we just agree to disagree on this one?



What does your multi-cultural apocalyptic religious cult have in it for me? Nubile women? ;)

Heh, which reminds me ... I was casually scanning your site the other day and saw mention of "silver rounds" ... just for a second, I thought "Wow there'll be werewolves?" Then, oh, yeah, like old pre-1960 quarters and such.

On a side note, did anybody talk about getting emergency services off-the-grid? I want all the ambulances on biodiesel or homegrown ethanol ASAP.

i wouldn't bother. if things go down hill most of them will either be out of a job or too swamped to do anything.
The way the tone of this thread is going, this may be an opportune time to point out that Derrick Jensen's new two volume work: ENDGAME. is now available. It's about crashing industrial civilization. Not only is it going to happen, but it needs to be helped along in the process -- to speed it up.

Derrick has a B.Sc. in Mineral Engineering Physics from the Colorado School of Mines
M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University

Toasters and technophiles alike should read his work

Hi Reed,

This is my first comment, though I'm a frequent lurker.  

I saw Jensen speak at the recent NYC Local Solutions conference and I found him to be the most objectionable speaker of all those I saw.  Calling for the violent overthrow of "civilization" is not, in my opinion, remotely helpful.  

I also found his rhetorical style to be juvenile, creepy and filled with false analogies.  Comparing our "resistance" to civilization (however that's defined) to the resistance of the Jews to the Nazis, he said, in a dark, whispering voice, "the Jews who resisted during  the Warsaw riots had a greater chance of surviving . . ."  His helpful suggestion for creating a sustainable community in New York?  Go down and "listen to the Hudson River.  It knows how to be sustainable."

After his talk, it was a great relief to hear Permaculture expert Geoff Lawton speak.  There was something calming about all the Permaculturalists who spoke; something ennobling in their refusal to dwell on the negative.  Lawton opened by saying he felt self-conscious, having never written any books, when so many other speakers had.  The obvious comparison is with Jensen, who has produced numerous treatises, the most recent of which is s two-volume tome titled Endgame, which must be a thousand pages in total.

Lawton had nothing to be embarrassed about, though; in the years when Jensen was writing books about the evils of civilization, Lawton was making the dessert bloom in Jordan and Iraq.  His visual tour of what he had accomplished--creating sustainable agriculture around the world--was nothing short of amazing.

I'm all for dire warnings, given the severity of our situation.  But it strikes me as both sentimental and naïve to believe that hastening the downfall of civilization will return us to a mythical, "tribal" culture.  

what 10% ethanol might do to corn prices should concurrently consider that 20% of the world goes to bed hungry

70% of agricultural land is used for growing meat or feedstock for meat. Reduce meat consumption and there is plenty of land for both food and biofuels.

People starve through lack of (economic) demand. We (the rich) fail to provide the poor with sufficient income for food. Just as in the Irish potato famine: there was no shortage of food, just the means to pay for it; the food was shipped to where the demand was (England).

That's exactly correct.  Meat-eating is a vicious circle of pain.  Animals suffer in the absurdly cruel factory farms, then those humans who gorged on their flesh die from artery disease/cancer/diabetes etc, and THEN to top it off animal products are so vastly inefficient that poor people starve just so more rainfoest can be burnt to the ground to make hamburgers for fat 1st worlders.  The environmental destruction of this circle is enormous.  For example, the book "How The West Was Lost" describes how cattle ranching turned much of the US into desert.  

So, one strange consequence of peak oil could actually be less suffering as the obese finally thin up, and plant food stops being wasted on the stupid torture of animals (bipedal and otherwise).

There's no such thing as a meat-eating environmentalist, and I say that goes for Peak Oilers too.  We are at Peak SUVS and Factory Farms, and in this small respect, I welcome the reduction of suffering.  There is an enormous amount of slack currently, in my opinion - efficiency measures haven't even gotten started.  But exponential population growth, dying ecosystems, and global warming are scary mofos indeed.  What a challenge!  Anyway, sorry for the rant, but Peak Meat-Eating is long overdue.


Personally, I eat almost no animal products. But I live in the USA with these amazing grocery stores all over the place with a mind-boggling variety of options. There are places in the world that really can't support any significant crop cultivation, but where grass does grow so a low density of animals can be supported. I drove around in New Mexico a bit - there is some very desolate country out there. I saw the occasional very scrawny head of cattle poking around in the gravel and rock and picking out the rare blade of grass. But they have grocery stores in New Mexico too so I don't think it makes much sense to be killing cattle to eat them there, either. But if folks in some really poor desert place can't find a way to survive other that pasturing goats or sheep etc., I am not going to cast the first stone.
What is a Peak Oiler? My favorite cut is the rib steak.
It's disgusting and hypocritical that so many (most?) of the more prominent peak oil and many environmental advocates are not only meat eaters, but also obese or well on their way to obesity with an apparent plethora of associated health problems including NIDDM and preconditions, hypertension, abnormal plasma lipid levels, poor antioxidant status, poor colon function, etc. etc. (Simmons, Savinar, Kunstler, Jenssen, Quinn, etc.). Jenssen cries for the animals while scarfing down on them. Yum!

For them, peak oil, or any other related resource-depletion topic, is largely a marketing opportunity, not a genuine concern.

So you think you're green? Don't make me laugh:,,1765565,00.html

Kunstler even drives an SUV now.

It's also disgusting how many environmental sites advocate eating grass fed animals. They still have a much higher enviromental impact than locally grown unrefined plant foods.

What's so difficult about taking a b12 tablet
once a week? There isn't any justification for a Westernized person to eat animals. Certainly not health. It's too bad that so many people who consider themselves to be enlightened are still choosing to live in an ethical coma.

It might be senseless to have hope for a greater change, but I still have hope.

Dude, I'm probably the ONLY person who does this for a living who DOES NOT own a car.

And where do you get off calling me obese? Have you ever even seen me? You want to start posting under your real name and maybe place a pic so we can see what you look like?



Shut up, man. It's Paris Hilton. I've been training her on social conscience. So she went a little too far. Give her a break. At least her spelling is improving.

Lee Raymond

P.S. Retirement is so boring.

And just to be clear, I DON'T consider myself "enlightened" but given the self-righteous tone of your post, it seems you certainly consider yourself as such.

Let me add that there is no reason you need to be on the internet guzzling fossil-fuel derived electricity on a piece of machinery made with all sorts of caustic, environmentally destructive chemicals. So if you really want to "be the change you want to see" log off the net will ya? You're the one living in an "ethical coma."

Until then, you're simply exercising your Machiavellian self-deception mental muscles if you've convinced yourself you're somehow more ethical or sustainable than the rest of us.



so where do you stop?  do you use electricity, you <insert southpark word>?

ok, that's a joke, but really we are dealing with a broad population response and national/global averages.  anybody who is on the right side of the average(s) is helping.  even if they don't get everything right.

i don't know, maybe a vegtarian in an suv helps in one way, while a meat eater on a bicycle helps in another.

probably the only person doing everything right is dead (and died while being eaten by a wild animal).

No, I'm not telling people to "stop this, don't do that." If I have message it's "do whatever you feel is best for you and yours."

What gets me riled up is people preaching like "calendar" when his behavior is just as unsustainable as everybody elses.



that "6:22 AM PST" was in reply to Calander too.  i noticed after i posted it that it was in similar spirit to your second reply above.

i encourage conservation and efficiency in a mild way, just because i think they can be happy, and there isn't a real way to skip them on the way to any practical solution.

we can't leap, at 12:01 AM to a new world at 12:02 AM populated by hydrogen cars an fusion energy.  everything will necessarily be an evolution, and slowing down (like conserving lifeboat rations) buys you time for whatever smart ideas you might think of later on.

so walk, bike, have fun.  your muscles will reward you with happy chemicals for your bloodstream.  (iirc, you lift.  that gives you the chemicals but does not apply the newtons in quite such productive vectors.)

He pointed out that if we can teach folk in Iran and Iraq to grow their own food, then we can use the land where we now grow that food for them as sites to grow biofuel crops.

Huh?  What does that mean?  Who taught them to grow food?

Last I checked, Iran and Iraq were part of the ancient Fertile Crescent.  That'd be one of two places where sedentary agriculture was refined well enough to support cities.  I don't know what this little quote mean HO, but it betrays a very strange view of the world.  After oil, Iran's largest export is fruit and nuts (read: dates and pistachios). I'm also a bit skeptical that Iran imports much in the way of American food products, nevermind donated shipments.  

The case of Iraq is more irrelevant.  Who cares whether you know how to grow your food or not when the land is glowing with depleted uranium, the Baathists diverted your water, your cattle are regularly stolen by thieves, the local warlord you pay protection money to is in cahoots with the Americans and owns the police and your sons were either killed, maimed or taken prisoner in the past three years.  Hell, you had to sell the tractor part money to buy the kalashnikov you protect your daughters and wife with anyways.  Not that it matters, you fuel prices are so high you couldn't even run it if it worked.

The amount of food we are talking about being sent to Iran is nil and Iraq, negligible.  Meat and our voracious appetite, domestically and abroad, is the cuplrit in making cropland for energy scarce.

If this man wasn't the governor of Montana, I'd say he's badly misinformed, but he is the governor of Montana and informed or not, you won't hear a peep of criticism about the cattle industry.

That'd be like a Texan president advocating conservation.  It just ain't likely to happen.

Actually before he was Governor at one time he was part of a US team that went to Saudi Arabia and made them self-sustaining in food.  So he is qualified to speak on the subject.
I call BS on what that trip achieved, as well as on the guy's promises.
Thanks for the recap.  I didn't know Hanson was going to be there.

Many consider global warming to be "off-topic" in the peak oil debate, but I strongly disagree.  They are entwined, for all the reasons given, and more.

Even Alan's beloved trains will be affected:

In the U.K.:

Rail line may be lost to the sea

The Government was last night urged to begin planning for a new rail line to the Westcountry - as it emerged the Met Office had warned that climate change could make parts of the existing main line "unsustainable".

Anthony Steen, Conservative MP for Totnes, said Cornwall and much of Devon could be cut off from the national rail network for months on end unless ministers acted now to plan for an alternative line bypassing the vulnerable Dawlish sea wall in Devon, where rail closures are already frequent.

Mr Steen said he had received a Met Office briefing suggesting rising sea levels and increasing storm frequency resulting from climate change would eventually make it impossible to keep the stretch of line open.

In the U.S.:

Global warming already visible

Portions of Interstate 95 might be underwater unless the state commits to raising them. And the same holds true for some of Metro-North's most low-lying tracks hugging the coastline and an untold number of buildings with historic preservation status.
I agree wholeheartedly that GW and PO should be considered together.  Only a holistic consideration of our ecological situation as detritivores (see Catton) provides a fully accurate view of our predicament.  The best piece on this that I've read is by Dale Allen Pfeiffer, in 3 parts:
I've been touting carbon-negative energy systems for exactly that reason.  Two birds, one stone.
Maybe it's just me, but I can't find the powerpoints on - can somebody powerfully point out where they are?  Thanks.
My understanding is that they will be up in a couple of days.
Peak Oil and The Enviroment should be Peak Oil, Global Warming and the Environment since they are all driving each other along now.
Sweltering heat across northern plains of India, combined with power cuts that shut off water pumps and fans causes 28 deaths
The power blackouts and water shortages have led to street protests across Uttar Pradesh. In Gorakhpur, in eastern Uttar Pradesh, angry residents set fire to two government jeeps to protest an eight-hour long power outage, police said.