DrumBeat: June 30, 2006

Update [2006-6-30 9:33:29 by Leanan]: House Votes To Open U.S. Waters To Drilling
Energy analysts and geologists have estimated that tapping the outer continental shelf would delay by five to 10 years for oil and 11 to 19 years for gas the day global reserves reach their apex and forever start to decline.

Kenneth S. Deffeyes, a retired Princeton University professor and former geologist for oil giant Shell, has said drilling in places such as the eastern Gulf would "only postpone the bigger problem."

The bill assures "a continued addiction to America's petroleum diet," complained Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W. Va., adding that the legislation benefits only "the merchants of profit and power."

Al Gore talks peak oil and global warming in Rolling Stone:

Do you believe, as some predict, that we are going to run out of oil within fifty years?

It's a sophisticated debate between the geologists on one side and the economists on the other. But the debate over oil reserves misses the point. We have more than enough oil, not to mention coal, to completely destroy the habitability of the planet. The real constraint on oil and coal is not supply, but global warming. There's a saying: "The Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones. And the Age of Fossil Fuels won't end because we run out of fossil fuels."

The fact that oil is beginning to get more expensive more quickly will contribute to the realization of how dysfunctional our current pattern is. Take the tar sands of western Canada. For every barrel of oil they extract there, they have to use enough natural gas to heat a family's home for four days. And they have to tear up four tons of landscape, all for one barrel of oil. It is truly nuts. But you know, junkies find veins in their toes. It seems reasonable, to them, because they've lost sight of the rest of their lives.

A lot of political stuff today...

From Al-Jazeera: Oil may fuel Sino-US conflict

From Newsweek: The Politics of Pipelines

Yes, the hoary Great Game is back, pitting Russia, the United States and Europe in a tug-of-war over energy.
Petro-hysteria grips a superpower:
High oil prices, political instability in oil-producing states, the rise of energy-hungry China, jihadist terrorism and the return of "resource nationalism" are factors constantly cited in Washington these days as evidence that national security is being undermined by unrestrained consumption of oil. Petroleum, once seen as the energy source that fueled the "American century", has more recently been interpreted by some legislators, policymakers and pundits as the Achilles' heel of global dominance.
Oil spill in La. leaves ships stranded

From Iraq: Oil exports boom as attacks on pipelines cease.

High fuel prices make fishing unviable option in Vietnam

China Increases Power Prices to Counter Coal Costs

Argentina Agrees to Pay Bolivia 47% More For Gas

Japan to Start Receiving Sakhalin Oil, Cut Middle East Reliance

Gas prices might fuel hunger:

The high cost of filling delivery trucks forces a major food bank to consider reducing its reach.
Study shows global warming may not lead to greater crop yields

MapMuse is offering maps of alternative fuel stations.

Update [2006-6-30 13:25:47 by Leanan]: From UPI: Analysis: How much oil do Saudis have? Mentions ASPO and Colin Campbell.

More oil flowing from Alberta to U.S.

CALGARY—Recent expansion of the pipeline network linking Alberta's rich oil sands to the U.S. is fuelling a big increase in cross-border exports of Canadian oil — and easing any lingering U.S. concerns that much of Alberta's oil will flow to China.

From the BBC: The petro-rouble?

Didn't they just turn this down only a month ago, to now do an about face or am I making this up?
Yes, they've been trying to get this through for a long time.  There was a sweetener in this version, though: billions of dollars going to states that have drilling rigs off their coasts.  Makes it hard to vote against.

We'll see if it gets through the Senate.

Reminds me a little bit of how my dad used to try to get levies past for the school distrcit where he worked.  First you run the levy and publicize it heavily.  If that doesn't pass, you run it and allow no publicity at all.  Maybe those who voted against won't know to go to the polls.  Try it in the spring, but if that doesn't work, put the levy on a November ballot.  If the weather is terrible, fewer elderly people (who tend to vote against school levies) will be able to make it to the polls.  If you keep running the levy over and over again in different ways and with slight variations, it may only pass on a fluke or with a stroke of good luck, but eventually it'll pass.
For entertainment purposes only...  

Merrill Lynch raises 2007 oil price forecast 38%

Merrill analysts, led by Francisco Blanch, raised their 2007 estimate for West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. benchmark for crude oil, to $65 a barrel.
Is this the average contract price paid or are we talking the spot market?  If it's the latter, I assume they want to make people feel real fuzzy inside.
wall street firms have collectively predicted lower oil prices for the past 6 years and been wrong each time. no one wants to be the outlier -if they are right they look like geniuses but if they are wrong their career is at stake. this year was the first in 7 where some major firms predicted higher prices. merril lynch not one of them
Fiscal crisis for Mexico as oil starts to dry up

Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer

Friday, June 30, 2006


Situated in the hot, swampy lowlands of southeast Mexico's Tabasco state, the Bellota complex was built in 1992 and remains one of the country's most modern petroleum facilities. But daily output from surrounding fields has fallen to only 35,000 barrels of oil, about one-quarter of the average during the 1990s, said Rodriguez, the oil-field boss.

The nation's largest producing area, the Cantarell offshore oil field in the Gulf of Mexico, is facing a similar decline, though on a much larger scale. Its current production of 2.1 million barrels per day -- which makes it the second-largest single oil field in the world, after the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia -- is expected to fall to anywhere between 1.4 million and 520,000 barrels per day by 2008, according to government estimates.

If the worst-case projections turn out to be correct, Mexico's oil exports to the United States could decline by as much as 1 million barrels a day from its current 1.5 million.


Re:  High fuel prices make fishing unviable option in Vietnam

IMO, this is where most of the current demand destruction is going on--in developing countries.  However, the developing countries are just offering us a glimpse of our future.

I predict that we are going to see the following cycle over and over again:  (1)  a reduction in exports; (2)  an auction as reduced exports are allocated to the highest bidders (and the low bidders are forced to reduce consumption); (3)  a period of stability,  and then the cycle starts all over again as lower exports trigger another round of bidding.

I think that we had the first cycle this spring, and I think that we are starting another cycle right now.

As I have endlessly pointed out, the recent rebound in total US petroleum imports (after being down every week of 2006, from 12/30/05, on a four week running average, until 5/26) does not mean that imports are up everywhere, e.g., Vietnam.

I think that we had the first cycle this spring, and I think that we are starting another cycle right now.

I think there was a cycle last summer when the oil price topped out in the mid 60's. I remember reading about some countries cutting imports and/or reducing electricity generation using oil. Nicaragua was mentioned IIRC.

And I would bet that when prices go up and supply is short that all of the "supply contracts" now being negotiated now will suddenly be up for re-negotiation just like the production contracts are being "re-negotiated."
Regarding demand destruction:

As I drive around the country Ive noticed several things that make me wonder about the existence and breakdown of demand destruction.

There seems to be incredible infrastructure being built, highways repaired, new pipelines being put in, etc. At the same time, the average american appears to be tightening his/her belt.  People are driving, but being extremely tight in their discretionary purchases (at least anecdotally). I see the more 'upscale' restaurant parking lots off the highways (Cracker Barrel, TGIFs, Chilis, etc) relatively empty while the cheaper fast food places are full (Burger King, McDonalds, etc).

Is it possible that industry is using more energy (because of inflation, and lower net energy available they have to spend more energy, and therefore dollars on just keeping up) and at the same time the non-industrial use is dropping due to higher prices?  We could be witnessing true demand destruction as theory predicts, but this drop in demand is being more than offset by higher energetic fixed costs of corporations and industry, making demand overall quite robust in the face of higher prices?

I will research some stats on the

What part of the country are you in?
There is no evidence of slowdown here in NE Atlanta. People in their big SUVs still barreling long on GA-400 at 80mph+, restaurants still packed every night with waiting, and they are still buying the 3500sq ft plus mcmansions.
I think there has been some demand destruction among the poorest americans.  I've started to see poor men in my town riding bikes in the morning.  These are clearly men biking to work based on their dress, not biking for exercise.  

Also I frequently hear from my public assistance patients that they are trying to plan all of their medical tests and doctor visits on the same day so they only have to come to town once a month.  These are the poorest of the poor.  But if the lowest 5% reduce their driving by 20%, the overall effect is a 1% reduction in the rate of growth.  

Among middle to upper income people, there hasn't been any demand destruction around here. Everyone in Ohio who can afford it is still taking their annual beach vacation to the Carolinas.

One possibility at least as far as roads go is the overall financial situation that various states found themselves in over the past few years. Following the 2001 recession, many states faced extremely tight budgets as revenues decreased (or at least growth slowed drastically) but mandatory spending programs (eg, education and Medicaid) continued to grow rapidly. Revenues began to recover after a couple years, and there was a backlog of deferred projects, which are now being addressed.

Colorado is a particularly acute case. The recession hit harder than it did in most states, and the TABOR restrictions kept revenues from rebounding when the economy began to pick up. Some TABOR relief was granted in last November's election, allowing the state to roll back some of the budget cuts that had affected road construction. There seems to be significantly more construction here, on bridges in particular, than in the past few years.


Your observations are very close to what I've seen as well.  Although I have to say my impression is that commercial and retail development is overwhelming any real infrastructure improvements in my part of NY.  The bridges and roads etc are overhauled at a snails pace but when it comes to throwing together yet another strip plaza, box store, or restaurant pad... well those go up in very short order.

I drive by these projects and each day shake my head more frequently - and I just keep thinking that it's all about being blissfully unaware.  I can't for the life of me figure out how all these restaurants and stores - very few of which sell anything very original- make it.  Who is shopping and dining at these places when there is such an overwhelming number of choices ?

I know that this isn't any kind of revelation for anyone at TOD but I continue to be ever more amazed at the complete disconnect with reality out there.  I just keep thinking as I see these projects start, progress, and be completed only to have others take their place - what a waste of energy - all of this has no future - we need to be expending this energy on something useful for the future and this is most definitely not it.

Ahhh...isn't consumerism great!

It's the circle of growth.

Rampant comsumerism -> Obscenely Massive Piles of Debt -> Irrational Monetary Growth (FED/M3) -> and back to rampant consumerism.

And the circle keeps on rolling.  Build more, eat more, spend more, burn more...wait...what do you mean there is no more!?

It's all about population!

To quote Catskill
"I just keep thinking as I see these projects start, progress, and be completed only to have others take their place - what a waste of energy - all of this has no future - we need to be expending this energy on something useful for the future and this is most definitely not it."

ummm, there's the rub isn't it?  People still have to live and plan their lives.  They need houses, food, jobs, and as long as they still have cars and trucks, highways and roads.  If building what the American people need to live their lives is "not it" as far as useful goes, then we have to replace it with something that is "it"?

What would that be?  Getting people to plan for a different future relies on an answer to that question.  Right now, if you put 5 very "energy depletion" aware people in a room, and tried to get them to agree on even a short set of forward otions, my bet is that you would leave the room with at least 5 wildly differing sets of recommendations.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Where I am in Central Kentucky is baffling beyond words.  In a state well known for decades of lack of development, all of a sudden, everybody is building.

In Hardin County, we used to be surprised to see a neighborhood being built that was ten or twelve houses at a time.  Now, the builders descend in with huge crews and equipment, and build FAST.  I have seen 3 or so sixty or seventy home developments in the last couple of years shoot up.  I figured, well, that about fills this market, more building that we have seen since the early Reagan years!  WRONG.  On my route to work, they are new tearing up three huge areas all within 3/4 of a mile of each other and about that distance from two of the current developments, preparing for three more (!!)

There has been a new Super Walmart built, followed immediately by restuarants, strip mall up the street, office parks, two new call center facilities.

It seems as though after decades of sloth, even slow old Kentucky has finally decided to join the building race, and can't get enough.  The size of trucks and cars only seems to get bigger, with driveways in some cases now having mulitple SUV's (!!!)  In a state with one of the lowest per capita incomes in the nation, I cannot even guess where all the money is coming from.

And frankly, what few people have heard of Peak Oil, oil depletion, or Gore's global warming simply dismiss it out of hand as another Y2K type hoax, and show zero interest.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

I cannot even guess where all the money is coming from

                    Printing presses?
last sasquatch... Notes from NW Oregon.
We notice a huge decline in the weekend warrior traffic in our neck of the woods.  Also the motorhomes are not out like they were on the freeways like they were a couple of years go.
Drive up coffee places still in bussiness so the wife says all is fine(so far)
Third World fisheries historically overfish (as do 1st & 2nd World fisheries).  They fish till the return is "marginal".

Just enough fish to pay expenses and make a bit.

Higher fuel prices will slow fishing significantly.  The fish population will rebound and fish "density" will increase.  Morfe fish caught/hour and probably more caught in toto.

A new, higher equilibrium will be established, until fuel prices go up again.

Oddly, I see this as a long term "good thing" but very tough short term.

I don't know.  It hasn't worked that way with the North Atlantic cod stock so far.  We may see situations where fish stock obey the laws of economics about as well as oil reserves do.
Imagine if New England and the Maritimes started sailing by wind power to reach the Grand Banks (and drove away the factory trawlers, using violence if need be). When things settled down those fishermen would find plenty of fish (and plenty more danger).
Which North Atlantic cod stocks ?

The Icelandic cod quotas are trending slightly upward.  The Icelanders claim, with some pride, that they have the best fisheries manageemnt in the world.  They fought and won two "Cod Wars" with the British Royal Navy for that right to manage their fisheries resource.

The Canadians (and to a lessor extent the Americans & Brits) badly overfished cod until it crashed.  A decade or longer total ban on fishing might bring back cod stocks, or the ocean ecosystems may have found a new balance without a place for cod.  Other species could fill that niche.

The overfishing of herring, which crashed and was the impetus of the Icelanders to fight for their national survival (if those utlangur fish our cod as badly as they did our herring, then we are doomed !).  Their fears of overfishing by the others seem to have been justified by recent history.

OTOH, what is happening in 3rd World countries is that they are fishing "what's left" in many cases for local consumption.  "What's left" has not crashed (recently, likely it did when diesel fishing boats first appeared), just the fishing pressure is declining.  Reduced fishing pressure should allow "what's left" to become larger and more numerous and future fishing to be more productive.

I saw an article recently which said that a herring crash in the antartcic oceans led to a jellyfish boom.  In that case the shift was to something less appetizing(*).  I also know, having sailed through Monterey Bay, that it is also home to shoal after shoal of jellyish.  I wonder if this is a simlar ecologial response to the crash of the sardine population.

... I worry that what's left (also after a few decades of bottom trawling) is going to be a pretty warped biosystem.

* - yes, I enjoy certain jellyfish species when they are on asian menus.

We know its flat overall, so if some are growing, some must be contracting. China is where the growth is - first four months of this year, oil imports up 17% and accelerating; april up 22%, quite reasonable with car sales up 25%. The problem with vietnam is that they still cling somewhat to communism and central planning, which china mostly dropped, clinging only to the dictatorship part.
These posts are driving me nuts. I have tries to challenge the Thai version of this story about six times, yet this same story line keeps getting posted.

Westexas and others posted a story repeatedly about Thai fishermen who couldn't fish because of high fuel prices. Reading carefully the main issue was the removal of a government subsidy for fuel.

I think most of us agree that removing subsidies that encourage excess consumption is a good idea. And none of us should be surprised that affected groups, particularly political elements such as fishing associations, will protest this removal of their benefits.

I live in Thailand and know that case well. The fishermen did protest for one day and got media attention. The government wisely stuck to their guns. The fishermen went back out.

Thailand never suffered a fish shortage and fish prices never rose.

I think this kneejerk reaction that sees any inability to access any energy anywhere is proof of peak oil shows bias overriding analysis.

Not a problem. It's not. There is nothing to be concerned about. Driving you nuts? C'mon. You are winning the argument. I never recall Eisenhower saying Montgomery was driving him nuts as Patton broke out. They've found your soft spots and are trying to push your buttons. If they had a better argument they would have used it by now, don't you think? They are basically Al Gore Democrats(as opposed to real Democrats, who are Clintonian) who adhere to the let's-usurp-the-best-ideas-Rove-came-up-with-and-try-to-use
that-as-our-strategy kind of strategy. One of their methods is the "broken record"/repeat some bullshit enough times and it becomes the truth in the minds of zombies method.

We know this works. The Republicans perfected it. Starting with Reagan.

Anyway, I have to live with these people. At least you are free from that. Keep clear-headed, it is our only hope as a species.

(For the record - it's driving me nuts, too.)

Re:  "Driving you nuts"

You guys are arguing over the symptoms--signs of reduced consumption and power outages in third world countries and import/export numbers.

But these are just symptoms.  The disease is Peak Oil and the expectation of infinite growth rate against a finite resource base.  

Based on Khebab's HL plots, I predicted, in January, that we were facing an imminent problem with net export capacity.  

Since January, based on EIA reports and admissions from the Saudis, world crude + condensate production is down by 1%, and the top four net oil exporters are all down versus December.  This is the problem.  Everything else is just a sympton of the problem.

Where do you think that demand destruction will show up first:  developing countries or the US?

A question for Jack & Oil CEO:



"As predicted by Hubbert Linearization, two of the three top net oil exporters are producing below their peak production level.   The third country, Saudi Arabia, is probably on the verge of a permanent and irreversible decline.   Both Russia and Saudi Arabia are probably going to show significant increases in consumption going forward.  It would seem from this case that these factors could interact this year produce to an unprecedented--and probably permanent--net oil export crisis."

I wrote this in January (this is actually the edited version, my version was more definitive).  Since then the EIA is reporting that oil production in Saudi Arabia, Russia and Norway is down since December, with Saudi Arabia admitting to a 5% decline since December.

Everyone knows what my views are.  My question is what are your specific predictions?  

Again, the central point is Peak Oil, and IMO, peak net oil export capacity.  What continues to amaze me are the number of people predicting rising oil production when the four largest producing oil fields in the world are almost certainly declining.   Sure there are a lot of smaller fields, but a lot of those are declining too.  How many smaller fields do you have to find to replace Ghawar and Cantarell?

Westexas: Your attempts to forcefeed knowledge are admirable, but it is like pouring water on a well-sealed roof.
I don't think Oil CEO or I are debating peak oil at all. Oil CEO in a recent post said that we are headed for an epic crisis to which I agreed. My intention is to debate some of the specifics to gain as much clarity as possible.

But there appears to be an innate defense mechanism common to many in the "advocate" wing of TOD. Any question over any detail is taken as an attack on peak oil. Minor peak oil minions like BrianT can be counted on to first compare any dissenter to Dick Cheney, then try to avoid arguement by suggesting the very question is preposterous, before falling back on what they do best, the insult.

For the record, I don't dispute your contention that it is going to be near impossible to replace the declining giant fields. I don't have have the time or the tools to question your depletion models. I have been taking them at near face value and they have influenced my thinking.

But that doesn't mean I have to accept everything else that you say on every topic, nor that every discussion needs to flow back through the depletion models.

You have made some bold asertions about the impacts on humanity of these declines that I am not convinced by. I have doubts about the propensity of oil exporters to hoard and don't think that every light bulb going out in a third world country is a smoking gun that consititutes proof of peak oil.

I will continue to challenge those points. I will be equally happy of I am proven right or wrong because I am looking for answers, not trying to evangelize. None of this indicates a lack of respect for you or your arguements. It is not an effort to win intellectual points. I do hope you will engage on these isues as I think it would strengthen your agruements and enhance your credibility. If you won't, I can't make you.

Jack: In your defense, you are getting funnier. "Minor peak oil minion"-classic.
Yikes.  That's a pretty scary article.
Agreed!  Westexas has the hardest hitting facts, IMHO.
No fishing = less food. less food = ?
I think it will be all too easy for the rest of the world to look at the US with anger and resentment because of our fuel use.  

My question for futher discussion on TOD.

What group or groups will take it in the shorts.  By this I mean who will get fingered for causing the problems that we face.  People are more rationalizing than rational.  Will they blame - terrorists, illeagal alliens,  bussiness owners, jews, blacks, who is going to feel the heat?  The Chinese( My God! They are using "our" fuel).  
We do have a supremecy problem in the white house.  So far this is counter productive to getting solutions.

Any group that is weaker and nearby can function as scapegoat. Expect a general flaring up of dormant conflicts.
You left Arabs out of your list. Unless synonymous with "terrorist". I already meet too many people who want to kill all Arabs and all Muslims.
Prices too high to fish story + plenty of fish in the market = fake story
CNBC is about to have a discussion of Mexico's oil production (11:15 A.M. Eastern).
They had our buddy, Dan Yergin, and a Latin American expert on.

Melissa Frances, at CNBC, expressed shock at how fast Cantarell is thought to be declining.   The overall theme was that Mexico desperately needs foreign investment in order to reverse the decline in oil production.  I doubt that anything will reverse the decline.  The best that they can probably hope for is to slow the decline.

Speaking of Yergin, we may not be too far away from "Daniel Yergin Day," when oil prices close at or above $76 (twice Yergin's prediction, made in late 2004, that oil prices would be at $38 in late 2005).  Note that oil crossed the $60 line prior to the hurricanes.

Yergin day is getting closer - oil just traded at $74.
Can you guess which candidate is in Bush's pocket?
Left-of-center candidate Andres Lopez Obrador wants to de-emphasize production of crude oil and focus instead on refined products such as gasoline and plastics, while his main challenger, conservative Felipe Calderon, proposes opening the industry to foreign oil corporations to help increase crude exports.
Obrador also has a plan to plant 1,000,000 acres of furniture grade trees to create a renewable resource that will provide jobs and a useful product for local consumption or export.  Maybe he "sees the forest for the trees" and is trying to diversify Mexico into products that will be renewable and in high demand after they peak.
I posted this at the bottom of the last Drumbeat, but wanted to post up here today as well in hopes of some further discussion:


Oh, I agree whole-heartedly.  I just believe humans have expended a HUGE amount of high-density energy in a small amount of historic time to create HUGELY complex and unnatural systems and then try to maintain or expand these systems.
These systems are constantly trying to become less complex due to natural tendencies to revert to a "natural state."  The cement and steel in buildings and bridges, if left alone over time, will dissolve into their basic elements.  We must constantly repair them to maintain their complex structure.  

For plants, this is not an issue because to them sunlight is free.  There is a natural energy state to which all elements will achieve (equilibrium) in the absence of externally-applied work energy maintaining the element within a more complex structure.

So for complex systems built by humans, what happens when the cost of maintenance exceeds what we are willing to pay?  The maintenance will be neglected and the systems and elements will start to flow towards their natural equilibrium.

So, energy prices go higher.  States cut back on maintenance of state infrastructure.  Companies cut funds to their operations budgets. Homeowners cut back on repairs.  Federal government cuts back on levee and dam repairs.

This doesn't add up to a pretty picture.  It leads one to ask, "In the new world of every increasing energy prices, how can we sustain these complex systems?"  Do we accept less complex systems that require less work energy to maintain?  Do we drain the energy resources of the world trying to maintain these systems.

If we are indeed at a energy crossroads then we will have to answer these questions.

If we are not, we can just continue with business as usual.

The political structure also takes a lot of energy to maintain.  Fortune has this article today:

Is the United States coming apart? The idea of the status quo persisting forever cannot simply be assumed, especially when the national rhetoric is so divisive.

(Note that Tainter predicts that ideological strife will increase as collapse approaches.)

Just curious, when did the status quo last forever?
Never, which is Enriquez's point.

In an example of kind of oddball factoid that Enriquez can come up with every other paragraph or so, he notes that not a single American president has been born and died under the exact same flag (because the number of stars on it kept changing).

Enriquez, the author of The Untied States of America, argues that the usual fate of nations is to fall apart.

I think his book (judging from the article) will be a useful discussion of current problems.  On the other hand, I don't see it as evidence of the "great decline" that pessimists see underlying all of history.

We, in the United States live in a "fallen apart" piece of the British Empire.  We generally consider that change to be a good thing.

Godo point...we call it a the Revolutionary War, while our friends across the Pond call it the War of Insurrection if I recall correctly.
Those American Revolutionists were damn insurgents, I tell ya.
As I've said before...just because you see "decline" (return to lower complexity) as the natural trend of history doesn't mean you are a pessimist.  

Many of the "powerdown" crowd are in fact the most optimistic of all.  They see it as a much better way of life than the one we have now.

"An optimist knows how bad things can be.  A pessimist is constantly being surprised."  I think I'm quoting Heinlein.  
I'd be dead at age 2 weeks without modern (well then-modern) medicine.  It's hard for me to see a "return to lower complexity" as a good thing.

Really we are talking about two things: first the distorted lense used to count all past progress as a negative, and then the second question about the future.

It is a mistake, but it is common, to confabulate the two.

Without oil, 14 out of 15 of us would not be alive, so you're not alone.  

However, many do not see cramming as many people on the planet as possible as a good thing.  

Lower complexity isn't necessarily bad. Much of the complexity in the modern world does no good. You can see this in all kinds of systems. Take Dragonfly's example of concrete in buildings. Simpler options exist for certain circumstances. The house I'm building doesn't use concrete footings. Instead it uses a "frost protected shallow foundation" (basically a rubble trench with a skirt of insulation). This design is simpler, uses much less energy, and is almost definitely longer lasting (jury is still out).  I could talk at length about our house, but I'll stop there.

My perspective is that a human population correction is necessary and will result in a better world for all over the long-term. I don't want to see mass starvation or disease. I'd much rather see a reduction in the birth rate, and not a forced reduction by government, but one brought about by conscious choices by individual couples. However, if we choose to ignore evidence that we are stressing the systems on which we depend, the correction will not be by choice and will be far from painless.

As for progress, I'm all for it. The question is exactly which past moves can be called progress.

I'm just objecting to the broad brush, and the loose lessons based on the broad brush.

I saw on TV that some Italian towns are still served by Roman aqueducts, constructed with approx. 2000 year old Roman concrete.  That's a pretty good long-term payback for constructing a bit of concrete complexity long ago.

I think we should address which of our modern efforts are appropriate, and to nominate a replacement word for "complexity," which are follies.

Ya, I got that. I was basically objecting to your broad brush. We agree about broad brushes.

Complexity is generally a negative, but also often necessary. As a computer programmer and a mechanical designer, I'm comfortable with complexity (I'm usually the source of it!), but I try to avoid it, especially in my personal life.

But Leanan was just using "complexity" to try to explain his view of decline.

I thought my broad brush was that there was no broad brush ... is that a broad brush?

No, I don't accept that "complexity is bad."  Most importantly, one man's complexity is another's simplicity.

Example: rail transport.

I never said complexity is bad, only that it takes more energy to maintain than a less complex system.  And I know there are complex systems/structures that have stood the test of time (pyramids, sphynx, aquaducts, etc.) but they have also been maintained through fairly cheap work energy.
The question is whether the source of the complexity you perceive is energy.  I say that much of it is not.  Some things like global trade where we manufacture things halfway across the world definitely are energy intensive.  Other things are fueled by things other than energy.  

Saying complexity requires more energy to maintain is nice, but what does that actually mean?  Does it mean fossil fuel energy?  Or does it mean something else, like the time and energy used by people to maintain it (thinking, planning, etc).  

We were sailing around the globe long before we refined our first barrel of crude.  Two thousand years ago we had empires that spanned thousands of miles-- larger than many countries of the modern era!  None of this was based on the use of fossil fuels.  

Fossil fuels have gone into fueling one thing, and that is technology.  The source of society's complexity is not due to burning oil.  Maybe now we can use our technology to transition to a different source of power.  

If everything we have is based on cheap energy, then you might expect some sort of devolution.  I say there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.  

And it's simply not true that the natural state is one of less complexity.  If that's true then why did life evolve here at all.  The clear goal of life is greater complexity.  Look how far we've come from single celled (or less) organisms.  In the scheme of all that life has overcome, do you really think the end of the era of fossil fuels is going to be a momentous hurdle?  

The goal of life is not more complexity. Rather, the goal of life is more life, and since it started at minimum complexity it can only expand into more complex forms. And that's why it seems to grow toward more complexity - while it simply starts from simplicity.
I didn't say that all natural states are less complex.  All things will tend to go towards their natural equilibruim state which may be fairly complex.  But humans have managed to create things that are removed from their natural state.  That's a great thing, not saying it's bad.  I'm just saying, it takes some form of work energy to maintain it.

Evolution occurred because there was enough raw materials and cheap energy around to allow it to happen.

If water was more scarce (like on Mars) or sunlight less available (like on Pluto), it would be more difficult for multi-celled (or any cell) organisms to evolve.

Almost no biologists now believe evolution has any goal.
He said life, not evolution.

This conversation has gone far afield in many directions, but originally (if I'm in the right thread) it was about doom, entropy, and the collapse of complex systems.

As far as I know, all living things build complexity as they build their bodies.  They all consume energy and fight (at least short-term) entropy.  Anything that manages to fossilize creates a bit of long-term complexity as well.  ;-)

The subtext to this has been a morality tale.  Are we overly complex?  Should we trust our gut on that?  Is it truth or truthiness?  etc.

No, odograph...you started the morality thread on this.  I wasn't going in that direction at all.
I think I saw this subtext higher in the thread than your comments:  "Enriquez, the author of The Untied States of America, argues that the usual fate of nations is to fall apart."
I am in the wrong thread!  This was the article that started me seeing entropy morality tales:

As a device explicitly designed to outrun the Second Law of Thermodynamics, an air-conditioner vividly illustrates the inevitable destruction caused by all economic activity, a process first described by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, the godfather of ecological economics.


And once I saw them, I saw them as a wider subtext.  My fuzzy vision ;-)

OK...sorry for the defensiveness.  Anyways...onwards and upwards.
No problem, sorry for the wrong-thread confusion as well.
BTW, did you catch the news (from the archeological record) that man has been wearing shoes for 30,000 years?



Sorry. It wasn't concrete. It was stone. It was carved by slaves and connected the nearest water source to the towns. Abundant water and baths enabled people to live in towns without disease killing them.
It had nothing to do with abundant water or baths. It was flowing, fresh water that was the key.
At times it would seem that the present elites in power are deliberately moving the world toward a rather massive die-off from which they plan on being able to use their personal wealth to survive and remake the remainder of civilization into whatever form they should desire. This sounds rather extreme as I type it but it seems that BCR is unlikely to be ignorant (at least CR anyway) of peak oil and the securitization of oil and a brewing of resource wars makes it seem less far-fetched.  
Or one could argue that the sum ouf our major powers could not agree on how to plan their way out of a papper bag. I think that is a more likely explenation then a grand conspiracy. But it is a more attractive thought that the worlds troubles and unsolved problems are due to true evil, that would give us someone to blame.
that's my view, or more petty larceny (free golf trips) and less grand conspiracy.
If my mom and I had survived my birth, I would have died at age 4, if all this had happened in the 1800s.

I personally would give up a lot of complexity elsewhere in order to maintain some semblance of modern medicine.  By modern, I mean medicine as it existed even as far back as the 1950s or 1960s, which was orders of magnitude over the century before, when we humans did not even understand the germ theory of disease.

I'm sure that others would have different priorities in maintaining certain aspects of technological, transportation and agricultural sectors, but me, I'd choose to survive until adulthood.

I (not surprisingly) agree.  I think some people are attacking "complexity" though when they should be attacking "energy intensity."

It is unproven, and certainly untested, how the "complexity" and "energy" curves will go from here on out.

I don't mind riding my bike to my regular doctor's checkup ... but I'd like the medivac to be there for the people who need it.

(BTW, I rode my bike to get frozen yogurt yesterday afternoon ... I'd forgotten how nice that can be in summer time.)

Low complexity Cuba has better infant mortality stats than uber-complex USA.
 Your mileage may vary.
I understand that Cuba has always had good pre-natal care for all expectant moms, regardless of income, because it has a national health system, which is one reason why Cuba does very well in the infant mortality department.  I say more power to them and advocate universal health care here.

However, pre-natal care as is done today in Cuba would not have saved me.  Antiseptic surgery and anti-biotics saved me.  I would imagine both are available in Cuba today, but were available nowhere in the 1850s.  It was later in the 1800s that surgeons learned to sterilize their instruments and disinfect the surgery site and wounds.  

One of the great tragedies of the 19th century was that during the American Civil War of the 1860's, the germ theory had been formulated, but not readily accepted.  Thus injured civil war soldiers were kept in close proximity to each other and nurses might use the same rag to wipe blood of a dozen men.  Probably tens of thousands of patients could have lived (or salvaged a limb) if basic measures had been taken, even in this pre-antibiotic era.  A few years after the civil war, the germ theory became widely accepted among physicians.  Even the Romans knew to sterilize surgical instruments in fire, to clean a wound before surgery and to keep infected patients separate from uninfected patients.  This knowledge was lost for 1400 years!
I'd say that the five best countries on infant mortality rate "uber-comples:

Iceland        3.29     2006 est.
Japan        3.24     2006 est.
Hong Kong    2.95     2006 est.
Sweden        2.76     2006 est.
Singapore    2.29     2006 est.


(But again, is the problem we face complexity, or energy intensity?  I believe Japan has lower energy intensity as well as lower infant mortality.)

I think that Sweden must use a decent amount of per capita for heating even though their housing is built with more insulation and features designed to make the spaces more economical to heat.

My guess is that all have good universal health care, high employment and sufficiently good distribution of food so that all citizens eat a good diet.

I have read that clean water, good sanitation, a balanced diet and the most common vaccines go a long way toward low infant and child mortality.

I agree.  I think that it is very difficult to imagine how we and our systems will adapt or fail once the liquid transportation fuels get scarce.

It all makes for much interesting speculation, but how much can any of us really know?

I do hope that if & when TSHTF and we go backwards to 1950 or 1850 in terms of energy use it is possible to do it so that some aspects of modern medicine can continue. My only point in bringing up Cuba was to show there is not a one to one correspondence between complexity (or expenditure or energy use) and outcomes.
 Medical people I know tell me we are witnessing enormpous steps backwards in maintaining basics like operating room hygiene. That's not because we are spending less or because operating rooms are getting simpler
I understand your point about complexity.

I am curious, though, about why we are having difficulty maintaining operating room hygiene?  What has happened? Do we not have enough people to clean or have they been improperly trained?

I'm not sure this is true.  It has been shown that even if you do absolutely every thing by the book and give peri-operative antibiotics, we still can't get post-operative infection rates below about 3%.  Now there are more resistant bacteria (esp. in hospitals) that are harder to treat bc/ bacteria are developing resistance to our antibiotics.  Does anyone have a source saying infection rates are rising?
But we're not going to go back the friggin' 1950s.  What do you think is going to happen, the last drop of oil is going to come out of the ground and the vaccum is going to open a rift in the space time continuum and we turn on the TV and It's Howdy Doody Time?  

Look at how much more technology we have now that can help solve our problem.  We are much more prepared for this transition now than in the 1950s.  

The truth is, we're not going back anywhere.  We're still going forward, we're just going to follow a different path.  The knowledge we have acquired is not going to change.  We'll have to do things differently, maybe find new ways of doing things, but lack of energy isn't going to cause us to move backwards like some seem to be suggesting.  

We need more efficient transportation.  We probably need more efficient agriculture.  Maybe we'll need more manpower devoted to some things.  But complexity and knowledge are not in any danger of going away.  People have been growing more food than they need for thousands of years.  It's how skill specialization came about in the first place.  

Energy is an important part of our lives today, but I think that even as important as it may be, many here tend to overestimate its importance.  There's more to our society than fossil fuel energy.  There's also other ways of getting energy than fossil fuels, and many ways of using energy more efficiently.  

I do not expect to see Howdy Doody on the TV.

I do expect, however, that at some point, we will have less money and energy to spend on medical manufacturing, both of equipment and medicines themselves. At this time in the U.S., physicians commonly use diagnostive testing in almost every case.  The equipment and laboratory tests can be very expensive.  Outside major metro areas, the tests are often sent away for analysis, frequently by Fedex.  I expect that much, much less testing will be done 30-40 years from now due to cost, and in small cities and rural areas, lack of a Fedex to move test materials overnight to far away laboratories.

I expect that other areas will be similarly affected by lack of money and energy.  Although, as I have said in many posts here, there really is no way to predict how things turn out.

I miss Howdy Doody.  Bring him back.
The most important thing is knowledge.

In my series of post-apocalypse novels set in the near future, one of the most important characters in an OB nurse.

If you have the knowledge, it is amazing what you can do with a razor blade or ethanol or vinegar or soap.

People worry way too much about getting "stuff" IMO. Much better is to study various cultures and see how they have solved universal problems. Most societies "solve" the high death rate problem with high birth rates. For a specific example, my father lost five brothers during the 1918-1919 flu epidemic--all in the space of ten weeks. He was one of eleven children. My mother was one of nine children. They had two children, both of whom are still living past the age of 65 and with good years to look forward to.

Here in the U.S., I think that we have accumulated enough "stuff" to last a long time, with repairs.  So much of what fills the stores is ridiculously unncessary.

As to having large families so that at least some survive, I would rather have fewer and see almost all of them survive well into adulthood.

I have seen what the death of a child can do to a family first hand.  In my opinion, frequent death of children and young adults in the past must have had a very depressing effect on the mass psychology of human society.  I hope that we will be able to maintain sufficient health care, personal and public, to avoid such an effect.  I think that the basics may continue for another 30 years or so, but I don't have much confidence for the succeeding years.l

As Semmelweis (sp?) pointed out, the great thing in delivering babies is to wash your hands first. In tenth grade biology (private school) the teacher spent two hours going in detail through how to deliver a baby, working on the theory that
  1. This could be vital information.
  2. A great deal about biology can be illustrated through human childbirth.

If death rates rise, then either birth rates rise to match them, or a society becomes smaller and may eventually die out.

The long-term main reason the Roman Empire fell was that Roman women did not have as many babies as were needed to equal the high death rates. Grumpy old aristocrats blamed this on the influence of "the Greeklings," i.e. oral sex.

Romans tended to blame most of their decline in morals on the Greeks and their decadant influences. Who should Americans blame?

I am not aware of any passage from an ancient author blaming a lack of births on oral sex :-)
You are right about the Roman disdain often expressed for Greek morals, though.
Oh, it's there--and goes way back to the days of the Roman Republic. "Greek practices" was a euphemism for oral sex and sometimes also for blatant and open homosexuality. The earliest source I can think of is Cato the Elder (will look for specific references) and the theme of Greek decadance and perverse sexual practices continues right through and indeed past the "fall" of the Roman Empire in 476.

Female Greek slaves were often reknowned for their skills in fellatio; Marc Antony used to be accompanied by one in the enclosed chair he was carried around in through the streets of Rome.

From (roughly) 150 A.D. there was a decline in the population of most parts of the western Roman Empire. There were several reasons for this decline--notably the horrible plagues during the reign of Marcus Aurelius. However there was also a notable decline in birth rates in what is now Italy, and the conservative grumpy old men blamed this on decadance imported along with Greek slaves and contrasted it to the "good old days" of the Punic Wars when Roman women had large families and Roman population increased for hundreds of years.  

     Omnia Graece . . .
hoc sermone pavent, hoc iram gaudia curas,
hoc cuncta effudunt animi secreta: qui ultra?
concumbunt Graece.


Nowadays everying's in Greek . . . in the language they express their fears, their anger, joy, worries, in it they pour out their heart's secrets: why, they even make Greek love!

Ah yes, "Greek love." BTW, not only the Romans but also the Greeks worried about both homosexuality and oral sex as causes of lowered birth rates. For example, in Plato's final book, "The Laws," he explicitly makes homosexuality illegal.

Say! I've got it!! That is the solution to the problem of reducing the world's population growth!!! All we have to do is to persuade everybody that "Greek love" is better than the old-fashioned kind that can lead to babies.

I wonder when oral sex was explicity invented for the purpose of contraception--probably a very long time ago. But it is not found in many (probably most) primitive societies.

No, Juvenal just means that women utter their sweet nothings in Greek rather than Latin. He makes that clear later in the same passage...quod enim non excitet inguen/
vox blanda et nequam? digitos habet ... zoe kai psukhe...
(Quoting from memory, a couple of lines escape me...)
To the best of my knowledge, about 14,000 causes have been put forth as reasons for the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. My favorite is the Gilfillan hypothesis--that rich Romans drank leaded wine, because you can get rid of the acid taste in the form of lead salts. Thus the people who ran Rome got crazier and crazier, more and more sterile and perhaps impotent too. For one thing, this hypothesis helps to explain the behavior of dudes such as Caligula, Nero, and Commodus, just to name a few bigtime wine drinkers.

BTW, many educated Greeks knew that lead was poisonous, and I've wondered if Greek slaves gloated as they poured quarts of leaded wine for their Roman masters. To the best of my knowledge, the poisonous qualities of lead were not generally known to Romans, and why not is a puzzle to me.

Lots and lots of Romans (and Greeks too) worried about low birth rates. Female infantacide was traditional means of population control among Greeks, abortion was not uncommon, and there were a lot of other things those old guys worried about.

In general, Romans invented few things outside the realms of engineering, architecture, weapons and law. In most (but not all) cases the Greeks got there first. Thus, whatever some curmudgeonly Old Virtuous Roman wanted to blame something on, he blamed the Greeks. Similarly, today in the U.S. everything is blamed on secular humanism by the religious Right. Scapegoating goes back a long way.

Interesting theory but not supported by the main historians. Gibbon, for example, attributes the fall of the western empire on the unwillingness of the proles to fight. He blamed Christianity for this. Others blame the very rich who had arranged that they should not pay taxes leaving the burden of maintaining the armies to the proles who then opted out. Seems familiar. BTW Greeklings is not oral sex.
Red Baron, great to see a new face. We like sources here. Gibbon, for example, would be considered a decent one. Christianity is blamed for everything. Did proles exist in Gibbon's time? What did they call them then?
Actually, they called them the "proletariat." This referred to a high-birth rate non-property-owning class that had nothing but its sons to contribute to Rome.

The association between large families and poverty was first noted some thousands of years ago--hard to say when and where. Plato worried a lot about it, and so did Aristotle. Both of these great philosophers considered population policy to be of prime importance to wise and effective governing of societies.

If you have the knowledge, it is amazing what you can do with a razor blade or ethanol or vinegar or soap.

This point was most exquisitely displayed by MacGyver.


"Using science and his wits, rather than violence, MacGyver could solve almost any problem."

Modern dental care is a good thing !
From my Mom's stories, local anesthetic and fast drills are gifts from the gods!
I agree with you about modern medicine.  We think of medicine as still progressing rapidly, and it some ways it is, but we're getting less bang for our buck these days than we did a half a century ago.  50 years ago a major discovery was a polio vaccine which for a hundred bucks per child prevents tens of thousands of cases of paralysis per year.  Today a huge breakthrough is a new chemotherapy regimen that costs $20,000 and extends the average survial of patients in their 60's and 70's from 22 months after diagnosis to 25 months after diagnosis.  Most of the extension of lifespan in the last couple hundred years is accounted for by a handful of what are today simple measures- vaccinations, incubators for weak newborns, good sanitation systems, etc.  Just as with oil, the low hanging fruit was picked first.  Today's breakthroughs are more expensive, more complex and have a narrower scope than breakthroughs of 50 to 100 years ago.
My recollection of viewing actuarial charts from early this century on some U.S.government website a couple of years ago, is that lifespans increased greatly with better santitation and clean water and then when we conquered childhood killers, polio among them, frequently with vaccines.  For a rough example from memory, children surviving in the late 1800s usually lived a reasonably long life into the mid 60s for men and a few years later for women.  

Testing, isolating and treating for TB was big help in adult health.  Now, of course, we have drug resistant TB.  I certainly hope that some drug companies are working to keep ahead of the killer strains.  Even early heart medications helped quite a bit.

Don't fall into the simplification of "progress". It didn't get better all the time. Rather, there were ups and downs. There are good arguments to say that agriculture-based empires were a big step down, rather than the beginning of anything worthwhile.
How about access to food and especially energy supplies as a dividing line between the food/energy haves and the havenots?

One would also expect to see migrations from food/energy consuming areas to food/energy producing areas, which is also true on a global basis.  

If Mexico's oil production, as I expect, really is going to crash, we are going to see a massive increase in illegal immigration from Mexico.  

Note that some states and cities tried to limit migration into their areas by unemployed people during the Great Depression.

To where will the people from LA, Phoenix, and Las Vegas migrate?  Can Kansas protect its borders?
Perhaps many of them will be migrated into Haliburton prisons processing facilities.


It is wise to prepair for large numbers of refugees but I would rather do it locally and distributed by upgrading sport facilities with large washing machines and fill mobilization depots with beds, foldable furniture, tents and heating equipment, etc. There is no need for clothes storage and if that would be a good idea it can be had very cheaply by conserving clothes from volontary aid organizations.

If there is a large security need I would prefer storage of rfid-tag ID-cards and DNA samplig kits with the apropriate analysis and IT infrastructure to keep track of individuals and then have no fences around facilities but more police moving around. The idea is to integrate the refugees into the surrounding society ASAP while having the ability for precise zero tolerance against troublemakers. If foreign refugees get stuck we realy need to be friends, mass refugees are probably comming form an old neighbour and if they move home we earn generations of thankfullness if we handle it well. Rolling out barbed wire everywhere would be the beginning of a disaster.

Then it would be good with stores of basic foodstuff and enlargement of the small volontary civil defence, volontary reserve police and home guard organizations. I realy like having lots of ordinary citizens in the middle of things since we have to handle it togeather and extreme people are dangerouis in an extreme situation.

I guess a reasonable size would be the ability to handle a total influx equal to 10% of the population.

We could have had this for nearly for free in Sweden if we had handled the cold war draw down better. And we had about a years worth of refined fuels in nuclear war proof storage, about a years worth of food in more open storage and mobile bakeries etc and butching facilites for a half million men army. I am realy irritated on some of our politicians who figured that if one risk for war goes away nothing bad will ever happen again and we can use most funds to buy votes today and get rid of those evil green thingis. Unfortunately I am not king. :-)

Btw more prisons are being built in Sweden. There has for some time been a trend to serve more of the centence and DNA technology has lead to a larger percentage of convictions and longer prison times since it has become possible to prove more crimes. Manny here including me are very impressed by the NYC zero tolerance policy. Our major problem is unemployment and too slow handling of young criminals. They dont need harch sentences but quicker and then often a change of surroundings and a job.

Between that and "Klepto Trannies Terrorize New Orleans" I just don't know what the world is coming to ...
Even under pessimistic assumptions, I think the western half of the US has an opportunity to power-down gracefully. Large coal resources in the Rocky Mountain states, wind resources from the Dakotas to the Texas panhandle, solar in the desert Southwest. Water is an issue. Outlawing grass might help, but here in Colorado >90% of all water use is already agriculture not including lawns. Some land management programs would also help: in Colorado, tamarisk, a non-native plant that has invaded hundreds of miles of stream and river banks, consumes about the same amount of water as does Denver and its suburbs when compared to the native plant species that have been displaced.

The urban strip from Boston to Washington, DC, OTOH, strikes me as a much more difficult case to solve. IIRC, there are 100M people in that corridor, just over one-third of the entire US population. And darned few energy or agricultural resources.

Areas around the urban strip could have a fairly decent outlook.  There is the possibility of rehabilitating small hydro sources as well as bringing some of the close in farm land back into production.  But like the west it to suffers from the fact that much of the good land has been consumed by sprawl.  Access to water looks pretty good as well, even in a changing climate, though that is hard to predict.  
I live on the fringes of the BosWash corridor in an area that still has much farmland.  However, the fields of corn and soybeans are giving way to fields of McMansions, warehouse operations and strip shopping centers and their paved parking lots.

I think that two things will happen.  First, now abandoned farmland north, west and south of the thickly settled area will go back into production.  Maine will bring back potatoes, more areas of New York state will be planted in fruit, particuarly apples, and Appalachian valleys will once again be home to at least some crops, even if grown by a farmer who also has another job.  All this will result in additional wood available for firewood, furniture and construction.

The other development will be the revival of backyard gardening, especially by those who are not in the upper third of the income distribution.  Gardening could also expand to the large lawns often surrounding schools, churches and commercial establishments.  

Certainly, people will fumble around with this at first, but they eventually will get the hang of at least producing a good portion of their vegetables in the later summer and early fall weeks.  Then people will figure out how to can, which can be done on weekends and off-peak.  Some folks might even try their hands with hens and rabbits.

These two developments will help reduce the tonnage of fruit and vegetable transported to the east from California and Washington State.  Undoubtedly meat and grains, and perhaps produce, will be send in, probably by rail, from the Midwest.  It is even possible that the old grain shipment route from Duluth, MN, or Thunder Bay, Ont., to Buffalo will revive.

All in all, it may be possible to increase food production in and near the BosWash corridor so long as we have some fossil fuels.  I think that people will surrender much mobility in order to eat.

Heck, no. There's no need to protect the borders.  They can just be put to work on the farms.  And then we'd invite them in to dinner if they earned it.
(native Kansan)
San Antonio Boom May Dry Up as Water Ebbs and People Pour In

June 19 (Bloomberg) -- Water supplies are declining from San Antonio to Austin, the Texas capital, as a mushrooming population and drought conditions strain underground reservoirs, threatening to stall the region's growth.

 ``I've been in this business for 14 years, and this is by far the worst I've ever seen,'' said Jim Blair, owner of Bee Cave Drilling, which drills water wells in two of the Austin area's fast-growing counties.  ``I'm scared because we're heading into our dry season.''

San Antonio is the third-fastest-growing large city in the U.S., according to Census Bureau estimates, and Austin has the eighth-fastest growth for a metropolitan area. Expansions by companies including Dell Inc. and Toyota Motor Corp. are fueling a housing boom.

 Water systems aren't keeping up with the new subdivisions, and wells used by some homeowners are drying up. Central Texas received only two-thirds of its usual rainfall last year and is running behind again this year, leaving reservoir levels below normal, according to the Lower Colorado River Authority, which regulates surface water.

(The article discusses Boone Pickens' water plans.)

Are they doing anything to limit growth?  It doesn't seem right that you can be living there for years, and suddenly have a new subdivision spring up and suck your well dry.  
The article discusses Texas' "Rule of Capture" law, outside water conservation districts.

Western writer Elmer Kelton said that "West Texas is in a state of permanent drought, broken occasionally by rainfall."  I think that this is true of the whole American Southwest, especially these days.

IMO, the entire American Southwest should permanently ban lawn watering.

My sister lives in Sacramento.  She says it's illegal to meter residential water usage there.  Other people can get fined for using too much water, but not Sacramento residents.  Fallout from the old water wars, or something like that.
I'm in Placer County, next to Sacramento. They are finally starting to get meters into Sacramento but it has been a battle. It isn't illegal to meter, it just wasn't done and everyone is arguing about the expense of going out and retroactively metering households. Of course this is ridiculous.

The water agencies here are required by law to get water to any development taking place. They have no power to argue that water isn't available or to place any restrictions. I think it's part of CA history that water is gold and everything has been set up by the moneyed powerful to serve their pockets.

The city hands out these pieces of paper called "building permits". If they really cared, they could not grant them unless there are sufficient power/water/sewage treatment/paved streets/etc. for a given project to proceed. ... Of course Austin and probably a lot of other cities, are lacking in numerate individuals capable of making that calculation.
Not really. I live in a formerly rural area southwest of Austin. Like most rural areas and small towns, the local governments are very friendly towards developers. There is one nearby town that put a temporary moratorium on new developments until they could figure out some infrastructure issues, but in the unincorporated parts of the county there are basically no restrictions to growth.

There are subdivisions being built all around us as the city's suburbs and exurbs expand into this area. Many of these are supplied with "free, all you can pump" well water which is used to water St. Augustine lawns and fill swimming pools. We use minimal water - no lawn to irrigate and no pool to fill - but a few months ago our well started to yield less and less water and it went completely dry three weeks ago.

A local hydrologist told me that even in the current drought, the water levels have been fairly constant in isolated areas. However, in areas with lots of development, the water levels have been dropping around four feet per month over the last year.

After debating whether it was worth $3,000 to have our pump set lower in our well, or to pay $6,000 (and $30/month) for a connection to a pipeline of surface water, we opted for the latter because of the uncertainty about the future of ground water in this area. We're lucky to even have that option - most homes in this area do not have access to that pipeline.

Still, I feel like we're subsidizing all the McMansions by buying our water while letting them have the ground water for free.

Much of the world's water problems come from 19th century thinking being used to solve 21st century problems. The same ocean borders every continent and the same atmosphere blows over every nation. This is a tailor made problem with solar and wind power solutions. Desalinate when the sun shines and the wind blows at a fast enough rate so enough is stored for the dark and calm times. Run big black pipes form the ocean to about 35-40 feet above sea level with wind driven vacuum pumps sucking on them. With a gradient of say 1 in 100 you would have over a half mile of pipe heated by the sun with an internal pressure low enough to boil water at 50-100F. As water boils off the remaining salt saturated water sinks to the lower part of the pipe and flows back to the sea. A second smaller pipe takes the vacuum pumped water from the pump and flows back to the inlet then up into a common water tower. The difference in the latent heat of water at the different pressures plus pump inefficiency is the amount of energy needed to do the job. Regular pipes and pumps powered by solar and/or wind could deliver the water several hundred miles inland.
There is also a energy efficient method of extracting water directly from the atmosphere using turbines and heat exchangers.
Gee, there's plenty of water in places like Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and their neighbors.

Of course, there are unions and some taxes, but water is a real limiting factor for life and some types of manufacturing.

The availablility of water for drinking, processing and shipping was one of the reasons that industry became so important in the Rust Belt.

New Orleans also has plenty of water as well ! :-)
Someday the bozos who seem to make the decisions will figure it out.

I visited your lovely city back in the '80s.  It was truly wonderful and I wish that I had been able to stay longer.

You have my best wishes in rebuilding--there is nothing like pre-Katrina New Orleans in the world!

P.S.  I'm moving and everything that I'm willing to part with has gone to the Salvation Army.  The reports that I read of their efforts in hurricane-hit areas have been good.

Yep, the situation is very serious.  But we can't make the mistake of saying our choices are limited to "doing what we do now and living with the higher energy costs" and "stop doing what we're doing because of the higher energy prices."

The third choice is to respond to the rising pressure of higher energy prices by adopting renewables (especially utility-scale wind and thin-film solar), vastly better conservation efforts, and (yes) new and better technology.

Ignoring this third choice is the (sometimes subtle) error at the core of almost every gloom and doom scenario.  Given the astounding amount of evidence we have that all of that supply and demand stuff works, even with (gasp!) energy, I think it's clear that this is the path we'll follow, and have already started down.

Peak oil and peak NG will be enormous, painful, and expensive challenges; only an idiot would claim otherwise.  But to assume that we won't mount an extraordinary response to these extraordinary circumstances is beyond belief.

Of course, there will be mitigation. But there really are only two choices that we as society can make: growth or stability. Technology is part of the growth choice, as we have seen, and stability doesn't preclude technological savviness. Though it requires us to find ways to do less work and reducing consumption, instead of finding ways to create work and increase consumption.
Lou, endless growth cannot be sustained. End of discussion.

Yes, there are alternatives. Yes, they are likely to lead to a very different world, and even far different than the idyllic Tolkien elvish utopias that most "greens" fantasize after too. But I'll bet we either end up in a steady state economy OR we go bust, bigtime and hard to the tune of about 5 billion dead. Since I see no move towards steady state yet, I continue to assume the bust will happen instead.

Peak oil is just one of several resource problems and the root cause of all of them is population. Unless and until we tackle that problem, we aren't going to fix a damned thing.

There is no proper order for solving these problems. Everything must be done in parallell, ASAP and AGAP, As Good As Possible.
Yes, dieoff is not a problem, it is the solution.  Although 90% of us won't make it (I most likely would be a pandemic casualty), the survivors will inherit a less crowded and more livable world.  The golden age of european pesantry that led to the creation of the middle class was after the black death,
A die-off is a tragedy even if it solves manny problems. I would fight it tooth and nail in search of other solutions. Seeing a die-off as a solution is a scary people-as-statistics way of looking at things that reminds me of stalin, the next logical thought after accepting such a way of thinking is how to proceed with it.
Overpopulation is one of the causes of people-as-statistics-thinking. We don't care if factory workes in Punjab have to suffer to deliver cheap clothes to us. We do care is it's our cousin's wife from the next village.

Of course a die-off is not desirable. It is a failure, but at the same time a solution because it will rebalance our act - in an utterly undesirable way.

"If we are indeed at a energy crossroads then we will have to answer these questions.

If we are not, we can just continue with business as usual."

This is the important question.  Sociology and economics aren't really the strong point of TOD.  Energy is.  Besides, why waste time debating how to "powerdown", before we figure out whether or not we have to?

I haven't seen any quantitative, detailed arguments for peak energy yet.  Let's try to nail that down first.

I'll start: wind is providing 1% of US electricity, and doubling every 2 years.  Wind is providing 40% of new generation in 2006, and 50% in 2007.  Wind has an E-ROI of somewhere between 20:1 and 65:1, depending on source. It may have a market limit of about 15%, based on current systems, which it could reach in 12 years, at current rates. Solar is about 10% as large, and also doubling every 2 years, so it's about 6-7 years behind wind (3 and half doublings).  It has an E-ROI of 5:1 to 20:1, depending on technology.  It has a different production pattern than wind, and probably also has a market limit of around 15%, when added to wind.  That gives a limit of around 30%, with current systems.

Plug-in hybrids complement wind and solar beautifully, providing the storage and demand-smoothing that they need.  EV's could probably by themselves lift the market limit for wind/solar to 50%.  In effect, EV's could be powered entirely by wind and solar.

That would eliminate 90% of oil for transportation, which is at least 50% of all oil consumption.  

That, and coal, would get us to 50 years from now, when storage and demand management will be much more sophisticated, and remove the market limit from renewables.

That doesn't look like peak energy to me.

Now, it's not as fast a replacement of fossil fuels as we need for GW, but it's fast enough for PO.  For GW, we need a bigger effort.

[Plug in hybrids]

But from where does the capital come to do all of this?  How many cars, light trucks, and SUVs to we have?  200 million?  So we need a quick 200 million hybrids at $40K apiece or about $8 trillion.  I read somewhere we would need 10,000 1 GW nuke plants at $8B apiece or $80 trillion.  If you're using wind instead I guess you would need 10 million 1 meg wind plants instead of the nukes.  How much do they cost?  We talk about people tightening their belts and not going to Wal-Marts; how are they going to buy new cars or pay electric rates that reflect the capital investment for nukes and wind?  Even if you are just trying to replace depletion rates, I would think the capital expenditure makes it unrealistic.

From wherever capital comes for todays new cars. You do not have to switch the whole fleet car for car at the same time. New cars are also likely to be used more then old cars and high pricess overall might give a larger percentage of single car families giving a lower number of cars needed.

I think your wrong. I'm not saying we won't do wind/solar but it looks to me like these solutions are for the technical elite that's who can afford to finace them. Also I might add electric trolley's trains etc are possible. In any case what I see is the standard of living declining drastically for a lot of americans since they will have no choice but to locate near employment which means renewing our inner cities.

I just don't see America and Europe able to avoid becoming just like the rest of the world with 30% or less of the people having a "western" living standard and 70-95% living in crowded conditions using public transportation what I call the asian city style.

Now you can have a nice dense city with plenty of public parks etc this is a urban planning issue but there seems to be no way to avoid moving to asian style cities to minimize transportation expenses.

And this transformation will be painful for America.

Or neighborhoods like mine, the Lower Garden District of New Orleans.  Fairly high density, mainly narrow (24' to 28' wide) one-way streets, beauty everywhere (architectual & trees & gardens), parks, most of life's needs & wants within walking distance or a streetcar ride away.  Little more than a mile from the tallest building in town & 1.5 miles from the French Quarter.

It CAN be a significantly better lifestyle !  But will America take advantage of this living template ?

Were it not a better way of life, why would so many return and deal with all that we deal with daily ?

Most of us here view urbanism the way you do.  When I visit a neighborhood that was built sensibly in the 19th century, it just feels so right.  But the American dream for so many people is to have a homestead and live away from it all.  Here in SE Ohio, nearly everyone either lives on a few acres, or wishes they did.  It's really absurd.  These people complain about the price of gas since they have to drive 10 or 15 miles to get anywhere (work, grocery store, kids' soccer practice) and they complain about having to spend 4 or 5 hours every weekend mowing their lawn.  And they have such a negative opinion on anything urban.  "the houses are on top of each other" they'll say.  I stick out like a sore thumb here walking 0.75 miles to work.  People ask me with wonderment what I'm doing. I tell them I'm going to work.  They have no category for the notion of going to work without a car.
I think people need to stand in the middle of the cities and suburbia they live in and figure out how to do something better out of what they already have and then do that immediately. It should not be that hard, you are after all a cultural superpower in for instance music and webcomics.
Well, I'll look at numbers tomorrow..
In high tax Sweden where manny people think they get a free ride from the system and most of the tax income is from the lower and middle class we have a large percentage of the population who can not afford a new car. This means that the car stock is depending on company cars and what middle class and up buys. What they drive other people drive a few years later. This has led to a targeting of company cars for incentives to buy environmental cars. Historically we have had it as it is in the US, the policy have encouraged larger Volvos and Saabs to support the local automakers giving us heavier and thirstier but safer cars. (Also making Volvo 240 and 740 into national icons. ;-) ) The point is that new cars will be bought even in a stressed economy and those cars will trickle down with a few years delay.

Myself I would buy a second hand cars untill I get so stinking rich that I can buy the latest plug in hybrid as a geek toy. I dont care for the new car smell of quickly dropping prestige value.

I have not been to asia but I guess that you refer to very crowded conditions with some chaos in planning and living. This is a reasonable outcome if you dont plan, lack capital and are in a hurry. If the doomers here are correct about USA this might be a large part of your future.

It is not hard to spread out a dense city and connect the parts with any kind of railway and have parallell systems with roads, bike and walkways and collective traffic.

And you can figure out something creative. Some architect recently suggested that it would be economical to densifie Stockholm with a very large number of narrow body 50 floor mini scyscrapers with apartments. He argued that the small footprint means that little needs to be torn down to build them and the contrast with the old buildings would be ok while making the city into a porcupine withouth a mountain shaped skyline. I dont know about that but it is a creative idea that could be mass manufactured in a rational way while needing fairly little of new supporting infrastructure. (Random strenghtening of electricity feeds and pipe networks, larger sewage works and probably some trolley lines. )

My guess about the future Swedish lifestyle is that most of the population will live in small towns and cities with railway connection to major urban centers. In a family one or both parents will bicycle or take a bus to work, often via a railway line, unless a car is a tool needed for their work. Their children will walk or bicycle to school. At weekends manny will take a family car to a summer cottage, visiting relatives or out to enjoy the countryside in some other way. It will probably still make sense to take a car or hire one for a trip to a mall area to now and then buy expensive things you seldom buy and some bulky stuff. More or less a return to the 50:s lifestyle but with better houses, better bicycles and trains with AC and this time we will have small and simple restaurants everywhere.

This could happen by a gradual fairly gentle change over some 20 years and most of it will follow old established building and travel patterns, I think it already have started. If the new parts needed are built with good thought and quality it will be quite nice, I can look forward to such a future. And no I dont se it as getting rid of cars, I see it as saving to afford a car for what you realy need it for while having an enjoyable life.

That would eliminate 90% of oil for transportation, which is at least 50% of all oil consumption

2/3rds of US oil consumption is for transportation (2004 data).

If the US uses (round #s from memory) 21 million barrels/day; 14 million is for transportation.  Of that 14 million, about 9 million is for private cars; which is the market that you are addressing (taxis, for example, have marginal use for the plug-in feature, and intercity trucking, airlines and barges have none).

Plug-in hybrids complement wind and solar beautifully, providing the storage and demand-smoothing that they need.

I also disagree with that.  You hypothesize consumer behavior that is, quite frankly, "UnAmerican".

Joe SUV Sixpack grudingly bought a plug-in hybrid.  He comes home and plugs it in, adding to the peak.  He will NOT want a "maybe it will recharge tonight, maybe it won't".  "What if I need to get a pizza for dinner ?"

We are better off modifying the grid (see my earlier ideas for a continental DC grid & more pumped storage) and allowing much higher levels of wind turbine penetration.

Wind is several more times more economic than PV or solar thermal today.  Both will improve over time, but I do not see solar "catching" wind economics is the foreseeable future.

Thus it would be cheaper and better to get 40% of our electrical energy from wind, modify the grid and build lots of electrified rail (with no or minimal gov't support plug in hybrids) and use the wind energy to displace natural gas than your alternative.

Point by point;

My: 40+% wind with grid modifications
Yours 15% Wind, 15% Solar

My: 2% of electricity for electric rail; rest of wind to replace natural gas use and some plug-in hybrids (8% ?)  Natural gas use for electricity reduced by 2/3 to 3/4.
Yours: Perhaps 20% of electricity for Plug-in Hybrids reduce natural gas use for electricity by perhaps 1/3

My: Massive gov't subsidies for electrified rail with "left overs" supporting plug-in hyrbids
Yours: Massive gov't support for plug-in hybrids

My: Providing electric freight railroads and a growing network of semi-High Speed intercity rail for pax & freight takes "some" traffic from trucks and airlines and barges.  With Urban Rail it addresses all facets of transportation oil use.
Yours"  Reduces private car transportations oil use only.

My: A growing "medium & low energy" lifestyles trending lower
Yours: Continues High energy Suburban lifestyles

Perhaps the optimum solution is in between our positions.  But there is, IMO, a better alternative to your vision.

Sometimes I hope for no improvements in battery technology, because that will be the path of least resistance and set the US up for another crisis in a generation, IMHO.

I have civil feelings towards your proposals, I just think mine are better.

[see my earlier ideas for a continental DC grid]   I thought the reason for going to AC originally was to avoid line loss associated with DC.  Is a continental DC grid technically feasible?
hmm.  A good dialogue - I'll think about it, and reply tomorrow.
Well, I think we're not that far apart, really.

What I'm trying to do is achieve some clarity on a slightly narrower question: does peak oil mean peak energy?, or to re-phrase it: can renewables provide all the energy we need?

That's a different question than whether we should work very hard to replace fossil fuels with alt energy to mitigate global warming (which I think we should), or whether we should re-organize our society to be more urban (which I also agree that we should).

The question is, can renewables provide whatever we need, to do what we want to do?

I think the answer is yes, and that's what I'm trying to clarify with a projected scenario for implementation of renewables.  I think there are perfectly good variations on it.

So, on to specifics.

On wind, I suspect you're right that with the proper adaptation of the grid that it could get a 40% market share and eliminate most NG, and that seems like a perfectly good idea to me.  I've seen several estimates that US wind resources equal it's energy needs, and wind is certainly cheap enough (around $.06/kwhr and falling) to provide economical electricity. In the long run there are a lot of other sources for the remaining 60%, including hydro and nuclear and solar.

I agree that electrified rail is a great idea, for both freight and passenger traffic.  I agree that greater urban density is good.

I don't really think massive subsidies are needed for any of these things.  I think all you need is to eliminate the regulations and subsidies that favor trucks, personal transportation and suburbs, and rail and cities would flourish.  Under the heading of eliminating subsidies I would include internalizing costs such as pollution, GW, congestion with carbon taxes, moving local government costs away from property taxes and towards fuel taxes, eliminating free parking, etc, etc.  Of course, that doesn't seem really practical in today's political environment, but what the heck, we're looking at alternatives here.  As an alternative, there are intermediate things such as raising the CAFÉ, mandating gov purchases of PHEV's/EV's, etc.

I guess the next question is do you agree that wind plus other renewables can eventually  produce all the power we need?  If yes, we're in agreement.  If not, let me give more info.

Solar costs are now around $.25/kwhr. Given that solar competes with retail electric rates, this is actually competitive without subsidies in some places: So Cal and Japan in particular (though subsidies are growing in So Cal, and phasing out in Japan).  Solar costs are dropping about 10% per year, which puts it at $.125/kwrh in 10 years, and $.06 in 20 (this is a cost-reduction path which is reasonably well accepted among experts in the area - actually, it may be much faster, with things like nanosolar happening).  I didn't mean to suggest that solar would catch up with wind anytime soon.  What I meant was that in around 7-10 years solar would catch up with where wind is now, which is to say that it will be a clearly up and coming large scale power source.

Solar supply matches demand much better than any other power source, and it's very clear that solar can provide much more power than we will need anytime soon (hourly solar insolation equal to annual human energy use).   Because it's a distributed power source that consumers can install when they want to, as it becomes cheaper it will get more popular, and compete strongly with wind.

As to whether plug-in hybrids will help with smoothing power peaks: remember when AT&T was the only phone provider?  Remember when AT&T had 3 long distance price bands: daytime, evening and night?  Everyone, and I mean everyone, respected those bands and scheduled their calls accordingly.  The current equivalent is cell phones: plenty of joe 6 packs schedule their phone calls very carefully to match their cell phone price plan.  The federal energy act of 2005 mandated that all residential service have time of day pricing by spring 2007: when smart meters are in place, people will have feedback.  As an example, in Ontario there is a new program which is working very well: people have a meter with clearly visible feedback, and they change their behavior to match it.  I haven't heard anything in the news about the federal time of day pricing mandate, but I think it's coming eventually.  People will respond to clear feedback.  Keep in mind that automation will simplify these things: there could be a very simple menu, preset at the factory, which charges when a smart meter communicates to the car, via powerline communications, that rates are low.  Also keep in mind that the beauty of a plug-in hybrid is that gasoline is always available as a backup in times of pizza emergency - it's just more expensive.

Well, I think we're not that far apart, really.

What I'm trying to do is achieve some clarity on a slightly narrower question: does peak oil mean peak energy?, or to re-phrase it: can renewables provide all the energy we need?

That's a different question than whether we should work very hard to replace fossil fuels with alt energy to mitigate global warming (which I think we should), or whether we should re-organize our society to be more urban (which I also agree that we should).

The question is, can renewables provide whatever we need, to do what we want to do?

I think the answer is yes, and that's what I'm trying to clarify with a projected scenario for implementation of renewables.  I think there are perfectly good variations on it.

So, on to specifics.

On wind, I suspect you're right that with the proper adaptation of the grid that it could get a 40% market share and eliminate most NG, and that seems like a perfectly good idea to me.  I've seen several estimates that US wind resources equal it's energy needs, and wind is certainly cheap enough (around $.06/kwhr and falling) to provide economical electricity. In the long run there are a lot of other sources for the remaining 60%, including hydro and nuclear and solar.

I agree that electrification of transportation is a good idea, and that electrified rail is a great idea, for both freight and passenger traffic.  I agree that greater urban density is good.

I don't really think massive subsidies are needed for any of these things.  I think all you need is to eliminate the regulations and subsidies that favor trucks, personal transportation and suburbs, and rail and cities would flourish.  Under the heading of eliminating subsidies I would include internalizing costs such as pollution, GW, congestion with carbon taxes, moving local government costs away from property taxes and towards fuel taxes, eliminating free parking, changing zoning, etc, etc.  Of course, that doesn't seem really practical in today's political environment, but what the heck, we're looking at alternatives here.  As an alternative, there are intermediate things such as subsidies for rail electrification and PHEV's, raising the CAFÉ, mandating gov purchases of PHEV's/EV's, etc.

I guess the next question is do you agree that wind plus other renewables can eventually  produce all the power we need?  If yes, we're in agreement.  If not, let me give more info.

Solar costs are now around $.25/kwhr. Given that solar competes with retail electric rates, this is actually competitive without subsidies in some places: So Cal and Japan in particular (though subsidies are growing in So Cal, and phasing out in Japan).  Solar costs are dropping about 10% per year, which puts it at $.125/kwrh in 10 years, and $.06 in 20 (this is a cost-reduction path which is reasonably well accepted among experts in the area - actually, it may be much faster, with things like nanosolar happening).  I didn't mean to suggest that solar would catch up with wind anytime soon.  What I meant was that in around 7-10 years solar would catch up with where wind is now, which is to say that it will be a clearly up and coming large scale power source.

Solar supply matches demand much better than any other power source, and it's very clear that solar can provide much more power than we will need anytime soon (hourly solar insolation equal to annual human energy use).   Because it's a distributed power source that consumers can install when they want to, as it becomes cheaper it will get more popular, and compete strongly with wind.

As to whether plug-in hybrids will help with smoothing power peaks: remember when AT&T was the only phone provider?  Remember when AT&T had 3 long distance price bands: daytime, evening and night?  Everyone, and I mean everyone, respected those bands and scheduled their calls accordingly.  The current equivalent is cell phones: plenty of joe 6 packs schedule their phone calls very carefully to match their cell phone price plan.  The federal energy act of 2005 mandated that all residential service have time of day pricing by spring 2007: when smart meters are in place, people will have feedback.  As an example, in Ontario there is a new program which is working very well: people have a meter with clearly visible feedback, and they change their behavior to match it.  I haven't heard anything in the news about the federal time of day pricing mandate, but I think it's coming eventually.  People will respond to clear feedback.  Keep in mind that automation will simplify these things: there could be a very simple menu, preset at the factory, which charges when a smart meter communicates to the car, via powerline communications, that rates are low.  Also keep in mind that the beauty of a plug-in hybrid is that gasoline is always available as a backup in times of pizza emergency - it's just more expensive.

Make sense?

Another good example of higher complexity being difficult to manage effectively is the space shuttle.  It's being retired in favor of the 1960's rocket and capsule technology of the Apollo era.  Still very complex, but the shuttle apparently reached apoint of complexity that even with advanced computers we couldn't fly them safely. Too many things that could go wrong: O-rings and bits of foam and panels and switches and...
And soon you may say the same about our current airline industry....
Yes, one example: the concord is being retired.  And even ignoring that, it now takes longer to get from the US to Europe (considering security checks, higher airway traffic and airport delays) than it did 30 years ago.
Is there a fast answer on the reserve size, and the barrels per day, that will be brought on-line as a result of the new offshore drilling?

Or are some of these areas "to be explored?"

I guess this development...


...answers my last question below:

Do we accept less complex systems that require less work energy to maintain?  Do we drain the energy resources of the world trying to maintain these systems.

Does it?  Does that story say there will be no more CAFE, Energy Star, inhanced building codes, or other efficiency mandates?

I don't doubt that humanity will drain the world's oil reserves (to the best of its ability) over time.  At the same time I see conservation attempts by every oil consuming nation in the industrialized world.

I think the current balance is wrong, and more energy should be put into efficiency, but ... I'll get sidetracked by these silly arguments that it is all about "trying to maintain these systems."

OK...it may be silly to you...that's your opinion and I respect that.

Obviously it's not my opinion...enough said.

Just putting my thoughts out there.  If they are wasting space, I apologize.

We probably agree on a lot of this stuff, which direction we should move, etc.

I just think it's good to remember that there are existing efforts to build on.  Some as crazy as critical mass

To be clear on what I'm asking, this is a messy few paragraphs:

It could contain 85 trillion to 333 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and 19 billion barrels of oil, according to the Interior Department's Minerals Management Service. The United States uses about 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas each year.

The potential treasure, which could take up to seven years to develop, is paltry next to demand and imports.

Americans consume about 20.5 million barrels of oil each day, or 8.6 billion gallons. Most comes from other countries, with Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Venezuela as the top suppliers.

Energy analysts and geologists have estimated that tapping the outer continental shelf would delay by five to 10 years for oil and 11 to 19 years for gas the day global reserves reach their apex and forever start to decline.

Kenneth S. Deffeyes, a retired Princeton University professor and former geologist for oil giant Shell, has said drilling in places such as the eastern Gulf would "only postpone the bigger problem."

You've got the "could contain" which is fuzzy enough, and then we've got the two paragraphs where "energy analysts and geologists" say a 5-10 years delay in peak, and then a comment by Deffeyes.  I don't suppose Deffeyes himself is so optimistic that he thinks we just moved the peak by that margin ...

Maybe there aren't better numbers and it has to stay fuzzy for a while.

IMO the best case scenario for east GOM will be a Prudhoe-Bay type hump on the continuing downward curve of US oil production, likely a smaller hump than that. Seems ridiculous to expect GOM production to actually raise US production to over the all-time peak. It may be a struggle to have a rise in domestic production at all with all the declining domestic fields dragging down the numbers.
I think you are correct that it would be a much smaller hump. Prudhoe-Bay was a king, to find it so late in the game near to lesser vassals would seem difficult.
I'm sure someone is gonna say, duh, but here goes anyway.  Those numbers above about 8.6B gallons of fuel a day or 20.5 million barrels per day seem off. 8,600,000,000/20,500,000=419 gallons per barrel of oil.  Is this accurate?  I thought barrels were 44 gal, yet when refined we get 10X the gas?  If it's accurate, it makes PO way clearer in my mind as to the consequences of dwindling oil.
Yeah, they slipped a decimal. But we don't even use 860 million gallons of fuel a day. I think gasoline plus diesel usage is less than 200 billion gallons combined. That would put our "fuel" usage at about 550 million gallons a day. Add a bit for fuel oil, but our fuel usage is not as high as that implies. Total petroleum usage is, but not all petroleum is used for fuel.


Re:  ANWR and coastal drilling in the US

I have only one question:

We do we get the RIGS and personnel to drill it?

Last I heard jack ups and drilling ships had a 3 to 4 year waiting list(on TOD).   And building new,  will take a long while, and that doesn't solve the skilled labor problem.

Best I can see is these new fields reducing the bottom 2/3rds of the tail (or 15 years out).

Am I missing something?    

It's all about population!

Maybe we can train Vietnamese fisherman to work on oil rigs...
Hehe...thanks.   Needed my morning giggle.

It's all about population!

PeakTO, jack up rigs and drilling ships are, of course, used only offshore. I am not sure what the jack up rig count is since Baker Hughes, to my knowledge, does not give us a count of jack up rigs or drill ships. However they do give us the total rig count:


As you can see they are at their highest numbers in decades. Land based rigs are small potatoes compared to offshore rigs. And even jack up rigs are much less expensive than drill ships which drill in areas too deep for jack up rigs. Jack up rigs can only drill in water 400 feet deep or less.

My point, ANWR would not be a problem as we could very come up with enough rigs to drill it like a seive. Offshore might be a bit more serious. From the URL below we see that a new jack up rig costs about $132 million dollars. Unfortunately the article does not say how long it takes to build one, (they have two on order), but I would guess a couple of years.


The CEO of the Rowan Companies said that by year end half of the jack-up rigs working the GOM will be in or headed to the Middle East.
Correct,  on the jack up point, I was initially thinking of the just the offshore and didn't catch that.  I know that rigs are quite numerous (corresponds to peak nicely), but are employed and booked into the future as well.

However, I don't think it changes my point.   Free Rigs and skilled manpower are in short/rare supply.

So a collosal search for oil in ANWR and offshore US to meet the projections of 7 years til gas flows,  still seems unlikely.  

A bit off topic (of rigs etc):  

Even if they can make 7 years,  7 years after peak based on Simmons (8% decline) latest estimates - 2013 and 44-48 mmbpd.  A shortfall of 18-22 mmbpd from todays demand.  

If they could double Prudoe bay pipeline peak production capacity - that's only about 2 mmbpd.   A small bump on the downside of the curve globally.  

If I am right, and it is 10 or more years til flow,  then the numbers become even more grim.  34-38 mmbpd globally in 2016.

And, that doesn't account for westtexas/khebabs net export issues.

Ouch.   But by 2016, I wonder what food production will look like and if the southwest US will have ANY water left.

It's hard to be optimistic,  I try but fail many days.   This must be one of those days.

It's all about population!

Oil gets to the lower 48 via a pipeline with a capacity of, I believe, about 2.5mbd.  Due to the North Slope decline, about 1mbd of spare capacity now exists in that pipeline.  So that seems to me like a severe bottleneck in getting much more oil from ANWR to the lower 48 than 1mbd.  That's about 1.25% of daily U.S. oil consumption.

How else can they transport it?

My figures may not be precise...but I think they are close.

How long did it take to build the Alaska oil pipeline?  How long would it take to build another to increase capacity?  How realistic is that?

It seems dumb to invest in a new pipeline if the life lenght of the present one is enough to get to get the new oil to market sooner or later. It seems like a resource waste that would not yield any additional profit, why hurry oil to market in an expensive way when the price is trending upwards?
Typo.  Prudhoe Bay is at 19% to 20% of it's peak today.
Best case for ANWR (90% or 95% probability) is a bit over 1 million b/day.  Every year, North Slope production declines.

ANWR will take ten years to first production and roughly 18 years to peak production after the political OK.

By the time that ANWR hits peak, ther ewill be just a trickle left (say 250,000 b/day) from existing North Slope wells.

Prudhue Bay is at 19% to 29% of it's peak today.  Later, smaller discoveries make up over half of Alaskan pipeline oil today.

Another feather in Ford's cap.  I wonder if this has more to do with the fact that Ford has to subsidize every hybrid it sells and adding those on top of the cars it is already losing money on, won't help.


Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. is backing away from his much-publicized commitment to produce 250,000 hybrid vehicles a year by the end of the decade, saying the company intends to pursue a broader environmental strategy that focuses more on other alternative-fuel vehicles.
Hahah, I love it how Al Gore talks about 'Junkies finding veins in their toes' in Rolling Stones magazine...
Hahah but I love it even more how he uses inflammatory and moralizing rhetoric to condemn others as junkies, when most of those others are just ordinary folks pretty much doing what they have to do in order to go about their lives, while he feels blissfully entitled to consume boundless quantities of jet fuel in the interest of mere egotistical self promotion.
I think you're being a little hard on Al.  As you correctly point out, most of us don't necessarily choose our present circumstances, we just sort of arrive at them.  To hear the sorts of things that Gore is saying, coming from a man who was very nearly the country's President -- well, it sort of makes you wonder what might have been.

Then again, it isn't likely that he would have said the things that he has said if he were currently in the Oval Office.

Give him a break. Let's face it: our current sad state of affairs doesn't owe to the bozo in the White House (he's just not helping things). It's a problem of the way that we -- you and I-- have viewed our relationship to the planet.

I would say that about many mainstream environmental "activists", but not about Gore.  He earns his keep. One of the few.
I think he's referring to the desperate struggle to not change our life, and our willingness to destroy vast areas of the earth for oil sands, coal, etc, producing global warming, rather than even considering a lifestyle change - which remember is "non-negotiable." I think "we will find any vein" is a damn accurate description. I'm not sure it's a condemnation of individuals as much as looking more broadly at the issue and how we're approaching it.

"while he feels blissfully entitled to consume boundless quantities of jet fuel in the interest of mere egotistical self promotion."

I would be careful there.  That same accusation could easily be used about Matthew Simmons,  Kjell Aleklett of ASPO and most of the other "celebreties" of the Peak oil movement who go jetting about to internatioal "Peak Oil" conferences.  Do people really think the stars at the big "Piza ASPO Conference" will arrive by bicycle.  There is a pecking order even in the post peak world, after all....

I was more surprised that no one really noticed that Al Gore reduced "Peak Oil" to a second order crisis.  He undercut the position that we are "running out" of fossil fuel with his remarks about "plenty of oil and coal", enough to toast the planet through global warming.  This means that the primary concern, and the great danger in his mind is decidedly NOT peak oil.  In other words, the REAL threat to humans and life is carbon release, and "Peak Oil" simply serves as a great provacationary tool to get people to stop releasing carbon.  Does this mean that if a safe method of carbon sequester could be worked out, and or carbon processed into a contained, stable useful form that we are not to be greatly concerned about peak?

This is one of the problems in trying to get the majority of the American consumer/voter/customers onboard for action on the energy front.  The issue is extremely complex, and the views of even so called "fellow travelers" on the peak issue often vary wildly one from the other.

Roger Conner known to you as ThatsItImout

I can't agree- by US politician (or former politician) standards, he appears to be quite ethical. I might be wrong. Most of the other pols don't even bother to pretend to be ethical anymore.

Introduction to "Woody Agriculture"

I worked on a DOE-funded biomass research project a number of years ago and, at the time, visited a site in Oak Ridge, TN where a species of fast-growing poplar was being raised for biomass.  The team doing the research was looking both at liquid conversion (methanol?) and direct combustion.  I have read that "coppicing" was/is a standard technique for woodlot management in much of Europe and it is said to be a very efficient system for growing wood.

Certainly, as a way to generate biomass, "Woody Agriculture" has some things going for it that say corn or sugarcane do not:  A continuous ground cover and presumably, a reduced need for tillage and fertilizer.  Those are big pluses, but "Woody Ag" shouldn't be viewed as a perfect solution.  Any mononculture will attract its share of pests and over time, stands may eventually become unviable.  Read here of the problems that one bee-keeper in Minnesota experienced when a "Woody Ag" operation went in next door.  

On a related note, no monoculture is likely to support a diversity of species.  These stands have the potential to be real "deserts," when non-native species are grown, especially over vast acreages.

Odograph asked above about estimated offshore reserves. Here is what the MMS reported to congress (really big pdf warning).

OCS Reserves -- Click to Enlarge

Shocking, isn't it? Look at that "undiscovered resource" column in the table. Remember, this is an estimate of technically recoverable oil and natural gas. It is at this point that I have to make the usual decision -- whether to laugh or cry. Now you can see part of the motivation behind the House vote.

Thanks.  That's pretty mind-boggling, or it wouldn't be if our minds hadn't been boggled so many times already.

I especially like the "mean estimate" in there.  Quick, somebody throw in a more optimistic estimate, which will of course move that "mean."

As far as I know, no one has ever shown that the mean estimate for an oil resource is also the most likely outcome.  The origin of the phrase "the winner's curse" hinges on the opposite ... that mean estimates will average out too high, dragged up by excessive optimists.

more here:


the phenomenum was actually first discovered in oil reserve auctions in the Gulf of Mexico!!!


I was wondering if anybody else had seen this news. Did we already cover it? I'm sorry, but I've only recently started paying attention to all this die-off talk.

World's biggest meteor crater discovered under Antarctica

I stumbled across it looking for the world's biggest craters to plug into GoogleEarth.

Yes, I had seen that. The date is poorly contrained. The rift between Australia and Antarctica runs through the crater. This constrains it's age on the low end at about 100/mya. On the high end, it is unlikely that any crater over 500/mya would still be detectable.

Although this has been reported as the "smoking gun" for the Great End Permian extinction, the dates are poorly constrained as of now. And dating the damn thing will be hard because of its remote location and the fact that it is buried in over 1 mile of ice. However, the crater size indicates a bolide hitting the Earth that was perhaps 5 times bigger than that which killed off the non-avian dinosaurs, among other species 65/mya. The reasoning goes that such a large object must of caused one hell of lot of damage and we know of one time, about 251.7 years ago, when that occurred -- at the end Permian.

Interestingly, the Siberian Traps (massive plume volcanism) is anti-podal with respect to the crater given the configuration of the continents at the time. The hypothesis therefore is that the impact rang the Earth like a bell and caused the volcanism. This latter (the traps) has usually been taken to be the culprit. Interesting subject, at least to me.

Some make the same claim about the Deccan Traps being antipodal to the Yucatan, hence a product of the K-T impact. Very much a minority view, though.
one problem with it.
the meteor that helped kill the dinosaurs had whats called iridium(spelling?) which from what i understand is common as dirt in asteroids. this one was big enough to deposit a good amount of this in the kt boundary.
people have already looked around the world for this calling card around the world on the remaining Permian rocks. none was found. of course the earth could of gotten lucky and was hit by one that did not have it.

From what i understand the preferred theory is still that the formation of the Siberian traps released enough c02 to warm the oceans enough to release the methane hydrates in the oceans resulting in a 15c+ rise in temp.

I'm not sure iridium is exactly abundant in asteroids nor the K-T boundary. It's just that there was a period of time (hundreds? thousands?) of years long in the sedimentary record where not much CaCO3 was deposited in areas that otherwise received a steady supply of foram shells and such. So when you would graph the (miniscule) abundance of iridium, you see a peak in abundance right at the boundary. — not sure what its concentration is but it's not like you can mine nuggets of iridium from the boundary layer.

The Alvarez Hypothesis is that an extraterrestrial body deposited some iridium, because there is a shift in isotopic abundances at the peak. As you can see from the wikipedia article, there are other theories as well.

From January:

Extinction Tied to Global Warming

The cause of this cataclysm is a matter of great dispute among paleontologists, but research released yesterday offers new evidence that global warming caused by massive and prolonged volcanic activity may have been the chief culprit.


The two reports, prepared independently, both cast doubt on another theory -- that the Great Dying was caused by the impact of an asteroid or comet such as the one that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. Both studies were published yesterday by Science Express, the online version of the journal Science.

But now they are saying:

Antarctic crater linked to ancient die-off

So it turns out Steve Forbes was right until about four weeks ago. Now we have nothing to worry about - except for meteors, that is.

I think a spate of violent vulcanism would be just as bad as impact from a five to ten kilometer diameter meteorite/mini-asteroid/big comet. Recall what happened to kill of the dionosaurs in the original "Fantasia," my alltime favorite movie: Volcanoes changed and dried out the climate, that killed the dinosaurs. That hypothesis was popular and still is viable as a source of rapid climate change.

HOWEVER, things get stranger. Based on recent data (Tamboura, Krakatoa), the immediate effect of big volcanoes is to cool the climate and eliminate summer for a year or more. Thus major volcanic action could simulate a "nuclear winter" and put us back into an ice age.

So many things to worry about, so little time . . . .

Great to see you back, Don. I've got another movie to add to the Post-Apocalyptic section of Sailorman's Peak-Oil Movie List. The 1975 cult-classic starring a very young Don Johnson of Miami Vice fame. 'A Boy and His Dog.'
"A Boy and His Dog" is the best story Harlan Ellison ever wrote--and that is saying a lot.

The more I think about it, the more I am coming to the conclusion that the most effective ways to change people's perceptions and worldviews is through movies and TV.

You are what you've viewed (and of course also what you've read. But who reads now?).

Once upon a time I was Executive Producer (i.e. the guy who put up the money) for a noble documentary film on the culture of the Bhils in India. I was young and idealistic at the time, and except for a few people such as Pauline Kael (a remarkable woman), nobody ever saw it.

Next time I'm going for LBBBO: Low Budget Big Box Office/

"Clerks" re-set in a gas station, with Jay and Silent Bob explaining peak oil!
That would be pretty funny. I can just see it now, with Oilrig Medic playing Jay - "It's like pissing down your milkshake straw to get the last little bit of shake out. Yeah you'll rinse it out, but will you want to drink it?"
Don -- Here is one reader (other than Pauline Kael) who would like to see your movie on the Bhils. Is it still available anywhere? I went to school up in Mount Abu -- one of the Bhil homelands.
"The Goat that Roared."

I don't have a copy of the film; but I'll try to get one from the director/writer/camera/sound man. It's really a pretty good doc film.

Hill people, including the Bhils, often are extremely interesting and quite different from the lowlanders.

Thanks -- My e-mail address is on "User Info"
I read Harlan Ellison's "Repent Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman" in high school. I was physically unable to be on time for anything for years. He is one of my all time favorite authors.

My other major influence of the era was the album Absolutely Free by the Mothers of Invention, especially the song "Brown Shoes Don't Make It."

Did college papers on both. Helped launch my tech writing career. Unfortunately, with influences like these, I was never able to grasp the art of making money. Had a good time, though.

"A Boy and His Dog" was a great story, as well as a decent movie. Thanks for the pleasant flashback to those 'back in the day' days.

Cities are hot again

Retirees, empty nesters and young professionals usually have little in common, but they're all in the vanguard of a recent trend - they're repatriating center cities.

The trend, which began in the late 1990s, marks a reversal of the post-war urban flight to the suburbs. Now, it's strengthening.

"I think it's likely to continue for the next 15 years," says John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the Urban Land Institute. "Boomers are aging and people think of cities as a good place to retire to, as well as to continue to work."


"For years people traded a commute for affordable housing," says Jim Gillespie, CEO of Coldwell Banker. The further out in the suburbs, the more affordable the homes. But as suburbs expanded and got more crowded, road construction did not, could not, keep up. Congestion grew worse.

"We can't build our way out of road congestion," says McIlwain. "It's a feature of America's suburbs from now on."

So, as soon as they are in a position to do so, many boomers move to avoid all that traffic.

The same movement is present in Sweden. I think the usual motivator is that couples have grown old and dont find the garden as fun to cultivate and the house is too big since it were sized for children. Or they have broken up and the house is way to big. I think the slowly growing restaurant and pub culture encourages it, you cant drink a couple of good beers and then drive home.

They often move to where they have city service within walking distance and an elevator for when they grow old and tired. Usually they have a fair ammount of money from selling their house and a lot of the new urban center construction is made for such people.

Manny young coupels with children move in the other direction.

EIA's International Petroleum Monthly Just Out

For those interested, the EIA has just released its monthly report of world oil production.


Nice one. Thank you. Wasn't expecting that until late next week, it came early this month.
Perhaps my eyes deceive me, but it looks like they revised every figure for total global production going back to 1997. I can tell this is going to make a lot of people happy.
They revised most months in 2005 by exactly 325kbd higher. Very suspicious, if you ask me. Previous months back to 1997 were revised higher or lower more or less at random.

The net effect is to make the recent months' YOY comparisons look a little worse. We now have two months in a row with lower production compared to 12 months ago. The curve now has a distinctly rounded look for the past year, heading down. I'm sure Stuart will give us the update soon.

I've only looked at 2004 and 2005. There is little change in 2004, like you say. 2005 through Feb 2006 has a uniform increase of about 300-325,000 bpd. I was trying to figure out where this came from. Table 13 shows they added 235,000 bpd to Saudi Arabia's Natural Gas Plant Liquids tally for the last 15 months, and 125,000 bpd(roughly) for 2004. The effect is to just slightly push the last year's production higher than 2004, ever so slightly pushing us farther back on the plateau.

The 9350 number for Saudi is interesting given all the reports of them decreasing production to 9100 in April.

Very strange in that the Saudis themselves have acknowledged the 9100 figure and tried to explain it several times in public

I may be wrong, but I suspect we'll see further revisions.
Overall it's clear that world production is running well behind 2Q 2005. For how long and exactly why?? - stay tuned.

I see you've adapted the Freddy Hutter method of tracking highs :) Personally, I like the centered moving average scheme  we use here. I think Freddy last said 2005Q4 was the high, but I may be misquoting him, and I believe he was using IEA data, anyway.

I'm getting:

2005Q2     84,786
2005Q3     84,072
2005Q4     84,287
2006Q1     84,565
2006April  84,526

So we're not so far behind, but I think re-adjustments for Saudi and I believe Nigeria for the last few months are going to cause some problems.

I did misquote him. He said 2006Q1 was the record according to IEA.
Yeah, I know. I don't really take these little differences too seriously as I think you realize. Guess I couldn't resist the little semi-veiled dig at FH :)
When he ends up proving us all wrong we'll have to rename the site after him.
Hutter's Bottomless Oil Drum
Score one for the cornucopians?

from today's Financial Times

Legumes offer hope for agriculture

Researchers have made a breakthrough that could prove as important for world agriculture as Fritz Haber's invention almost 100 years ago of the first commercial process for making ammonia and, therefore, nitrogenous fertiliser.

Leguminous plants - peas and beans - usually use bacteria to convert atmospheric nitrogen into the nitrates they feed on. These bacteria live symbiotically with plants in specialised root structures called nodules. Normally, bacteria have to be present for the nodules to form but researchers at the John Innes Institute in East Anglia, UK, and Washington State University have persuaded legumes to grow root nodules without them by identifying and switching on a key gene needed for nodulation in the legumes.

If they replicate this feat with wheat, rice and maize, they will have created crops that have no need of artificial nitogenous fertiliser. Their research is reported in Nature magazine this week. The savings in artificial fertilisers could be huge.

considering that we did not even know till recently that a single gene can be used to make more then one protien or amino acid it is highly posible that by doing this they cause a major negative side effect.
They fix nitrogen, but slowly. We are not a patient lot, so we have the Haber process instead — to build up the soil with legumes we'll have to recycle everything, and that would just be un-Amurrikan.

Seriously, soybeans (a legume) are now grown with artificially fixed nitrogen, just because the yield is so much better that way.

Native Americans were crafty when it came to fertilizer: Some tribes buried a little fish with each planting of three seeds of corn. Even just fish guts are fabulous for fast-growing tall corn. Also, some of their corn varieties (e.g. Black Mexican corn, what I grow--heritage seeds) tasted a lot better than the hybrid crap grown now and also has way more flavenoids.

Native Americans (including Inuit and Hawai'ians) invented and discovered extraordiarily ingenious solutions to life's persistant problems.

Most--but not all--novelty is error. For example, bicycles are a great invention and the germ theory of disease was a great discovery. But take houses, for instance: Often old ones are much better, stronger, and more livable than new ones. Old cars are relatively easy to fix, compared to new ones. Many modern sailboats are unseaworthy crap compared to the boats being made 100 and 150 years ago.

And was ever a better bicycle built than an old English 3-speed Raleigh? Modern bicycles are expensive and prone to trouble and relatively hard to fix. Light, yes. But who needs a $2,000 new bike when you can pick up a fine old one for $15 that will last indefinitely?

Has housing been culturally unimportant in USA?

My impression of Swedish local housing is that the quality have been fairly steadily improving, people building crap goes out of business. But quality of some parts have changed, indoor doors are much flimsier since about 30 years and the quality of window framing had a low in around the 70:s with using sub quality wood. And there have been some realy stupid trends such as flat roofs. I think insulation thicknesses in new small houses went down in the 90:s with cheap electricity and the addition of heat pumps.

I think people have prioritized their house more then their car. Is it generally the other way around in the US? It might also have to do with the presence of cold spells during winter, if you have -20 for a week and your house dont cope with that you fix it. Ourt climate might also have affected some deep cultural values. In old times if your house were not in order, you dident cooperate and you lacked food or firewood you died freezing.

New cars has much better mechanical parts then old cars, they dont rust as fast and dont need as much lubrication. The weakness is often the plentifull electronics. If a new car generation were made with medium performace and a minimum of electronics it would beat the old car on everything exept surving a crash. New cars crumble, old cars makes jelly of the passangers and can be repaired.

It is also easy to make a better bicycles then old ones, the only thing lacking is more customers asking for them. We got better steel, better bearings, surface treatments for chains, kevlar for tires, hub generators, and so on if you put the parts togeather.

The quality of new housing in the U.S. suburbs built during the last forty years is astonishingly low and probably declining. They are made quick and cheap. My son-in-law is a building contractor, and he refuses to work on suburban developments (though he could make much money doing so) because the standards are so low--doors are not sqare, not enough reinforcing bars in the concrete, unskilled labor inadequately nailing on cheap roofing materials, etc., etc. The emphasis in these suburban tract homes that sell for $200,000 to over $1,000,000 is to build them fast, build them cheap, bribe the building inspectors, sell them fast and then get out before the houses begin falling apart.

If you ever visit the U.S., go to a bar where construction workmen drink; buy a few beers for one of them and listen to them talk (and laugh) about what a shoddy job they are doing on these so-called "McMansions."

Up until roughly 1950, there was a tendency in the U.S. to build solid houses that would last perhaps for centuries.

But what do the banks use as security if the houses are of low quality? If what you say is true they might end up with nothing after only 10-20 years. And dont people care about the long time worth of their lives largest investment? And how do you insure a shoddy house? This does not make sense for me.
Excellent question, Magnus!

Here is the way it works:

  1. Appraiser way overvalues a new property so as to let financially strapped buyers get house with no money down.
  2. Original mortgage financer gets a fee of about $4,000 (or higher) for making the loan (which they know is a poor risk).
  3. Original mortgage financer sells the mortgage after a couple of weeks to another financial organization that operates under the delusion that these loans are not risky because they have a huge diversified "portfolio" of thousands of loans.
  4. Reality catches up:
   a. Foreclosure rate rises dramatically
   b. In a strong wind the roof blows off; all systems (plumbing, electrical, etc.) give trouble because of poor materials and very poor workmanship.
   c. Everybody starts suing most everybody else.
   d. Lawyers get richer; everybody else gets poorer.
   e. As foreclosure rates increase and Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (quaisi governmental home financing giants) fail, real estate crashes and then
   f. The collapse of real estate leads to a collapse in the stock market, a major depression and hence decline in the demand for oil for a decade. (That is my happy ending:)
A contractor next door bought an old mansion that had been cut up into apartments a dozen years ago.  Fairly rough shape then (only 2 of 5 apartmetns habitable).  He has steadily rehabbed the property and got four good apartments going (fifth, attic apartment still empty).  Ground floor (aka basement, but above grade) has 6'2" ceilings and will be used for storage and his office.  Three floors above the "basement".

He is now doing a complete rehab before turning them into condos (about $250,000 for 2 bedroom).  Small but nice grounds and one off street parking space/condo.

I have watched closely and the overall standard of work is excellent.  He is using salvaged materials where needed (this was not a cypress frame house, the creme de la creme, but built of heart pine; one drills a hole before hammering a nail).

He said that it took him two hours to repair hurricane damage.

So, all hope is NOT lost for US construction quality !

Hope is not lost, but I'd avoid buying stock in companies like Lennar and Pulte.
You are quite right (as usual!). One of my nephews rehabs old houses in Berkeley and makes a good living because of his integrity and superb craftsmanship. My richest nephew is a blacksmith/iron craftsman who caters to the luxury market in the SF Bay Area.

When my son-in-law the building contractor advertises for a journeyman carpenter (at wages of $30/hr. and up plus benefits in economically depressed northern Minnesota) he typically gets 300 to 400 responses, many from out of state. Now, can any of these guys hang a door? No, all they know is prehung doors. Will they reliably show up sober and on time and work long hours in the summer during the long days? Very few.

So what does he do? He finds some 16 year old kid in high school who has good work habits and informally takes him on as an apprentice. The problem is that after 5 years or so the kid is good enough to strike out on his own as a contractor, and they tend to do so.

BTW, my son-in-law does not win most of the contracts he bids on. Why? Because he quotes an honest price for quality work. Out of towners quote substantially lower prices, and most people are dumb enough to go for cheap rather than good quality and good value. However, because of his excellent reputation he does have a good backlog and makes a good living.

I thought I had sent a reply earlier, but here repeats.

I am going to have to look at the original article, because what they are saying makes no sense.

Nodules do not fix nitrogen (my wife did her PhD in this area). Rhizobium bacteria fix nitogen, and live in the nice little houses nodules make for them. The nodules also feed the bacteria and provide oxygen for the fixation process. The plant then benefits from the nitrogen that has been fixed. Legumes are often provided additional nitrogen to maximize productivity anyway, but this is not necessary for healthy growth. But having nodules without bacteria is like a car with no gas - useless.

I can almost hear Kurzweil chuckling at the doomers now.
Kurzweil chuckling? ... Do you mean to say that the blessed sigularity is upon us?  ... Has mankind transcended its dependence on those messy carbonaceous liquid fuels and arisen to a heightened evolutionary state where pure knowledge powers our existence? ... yes, yes, I feel the religion ... oops, no, sorry that was just a mosquito biting the back of my neck ... wonder if it carries the West Niles singularity
A story about the Yamanote line, the circular subway in Tokyo.

With an estimated daily ridership of between 3 million and 5 million passengers, the Yamanote Line is easily on a par with New York City's entire subway system

IMHO it shows how large and easy the potential is to conserve.

How do they do it? Simple: There is no free parking in Tokyo.

Americans and Europeans typically refuse to board at 70% to 85% of crush load (one cannot get more than 85% of crush load aboard since 100% will refuse to board under ordinary circumstances).

Tokyo uses white gloved "pushers" to get crush loads aboard every train during tush hour.  A GREAT argument for more subways !

I agree that parking restrictions are an easy way to boost mass transit ridership, but crush load commuting is not an "easy" solution.