The Course of Our Lives WILL Be Determined by the First Derivative of a Function

Tonight, I have three video pieces for you. The first is an oldie, but a goodie.

It seems to me that one of the keys to the puzzle of why people don't understand the problems that peak oil and other sustainability issues present is innumeracy and/or a lack of understanding spatial/change functions--namely the meaning and implications of constant growth.

I found a lecture that can help (linked over at GPM here) by Dr. Albert Bartlett. Dr. Bartlett professes physics at the University of Colorado. He knows what he's talking about--that much I can vouch for.

If you need me to sell it to you so you'll watch it, that's under the fold, as well as links to the other two videos you should watch from youtube, one on the Canadian oil sands, the other a 90 second short on peak oil.

First, the links to the youtube pieces. This is a link to a 20 minute video (sounds like it's from SunCor?--and it sounds like it's for the folks living around the Athabasca oil sands in Canada), about how the oil is extracted from the oil sands, the process, the dangers, the effects. Pretty interesting. Bad audio in some spots.

And then here's the 90 second short I spoke of above the fold. Rather dramatic, but on point.

Now, for my sell of the Bartlett lecture.

The tagline of the Bartlett lecture? "The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function (as related to peak oil and sustainability)." Bingo.

Now, I know/use calculus and differential equations and teach econometrics pretty frequently, so this stuff is already in my head. But, because I use it so much, for some reason, I forget some days that most folks do not have exposure to these ideas or the ability to use them in their daily lives.

It can be intimidating stuff. But we've used versions of calculus statements around here all the time by saying phrases like "8% depletion" or "we aren't actually running out of oil and that we're at half of supply."

But what does 8% depletion really mean?

The problem is that people, journalists, even some experts do not know what the functions behind these ideas mean, or more importantly their implications for the future. The numbers hide the meaning. Bartlett's lecture can help you give these numbers the meaning they deserve.

I don't mean to say that these people who don't get this or have never gotten are not intelligent. It's that they haven't connected those wires in their head, that's all. Bartlett is wonderful at making those connections, and that's why I am bringing this to you today.

So, if you're a wannabe geek and you have an hour, I would suggest that everyone in the world watch this lecture by Dr. Bartlett. Please. It's an easy piece to understand. In fact, it's damned near enjoyable for an arithmetic lecture.

One of the main points of Dr. Bartlett's lecture is that "we cannot let other people do our thinking for us." So, so true. But to do that, you have to have the toolbox to actually think for yourself!

Which reminds me, there's another book that I suggest for my students: Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics. It's a wonderful primer on how experts, politicians, and the press screw statistics up on a daily basis. This is another important book I would suggest that everyone reads to pick up the daily fallacies that try to enter our cerebra.

< rant >
I swear, every single person on this earth should have to take a research methods course (understanding measurement, science, modeling, etc., etc.) and a calculus or statistics (understanding what to do with those measurements) course, damn it.
< /rant >

The link to the oil sands video seems to be MIA.
thanks.  it's fixed now.
I swear, every single person on this earth should have to take a research methods course (understanding measurement, science, modeling, etc., etc.) and a calculus or statistics (understanding what to do with those measurements) course, damn it.
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes, they do Otto, they just don't understand it.

I don't think it's that people don't understand, it's that they don't have the incentives to change their behavior.

Why did the folks on Easter Island continue to chop down trees when it was apparent that the cut rate wasn't sustainable?

Probably a lack of property rights in the trees, otherwise the owners would see the increase in value of their property as the trees became scarce, and reduce consumption rates. Of course, Easter Island was probably never a model of laissez-faire capitalism.
But trees are a renewable resource as they can be regrown.

Beyond that, my problem with your argument is that intellectually, we all recognize that there is only so much oil in the ground, yet price signals have sent the message of 'cheap oil' for decades and decades. We are only now getting the relatively weak signal that oil may be more scarce than we thought but, realistically, the same situation of exponential growth and a limited resource base existed well before the price-signal 'alarm' went off.

Why didn't the alarm go off before this when the same situation and logic applied? Oil was just as scarce, in the long-run, as it is today, yet the alarm didn't sound. In fact, it sent the signal 'all is well, continue as normal!' If you really buy into the Walrasian rational-market myth then this is a real anamoly that needs explanation. Why didn't the market forsee the eventual long-term scarcity of oil and price it accordingly in the decades before this?    

The only explanation is that the way we discount the future in economic decision-making means we grossly underprice non-renewable resources used today. Markets are too incomplete and information too imperfect for prices to adequately convey information beyond a few years. Ideally, if markets were perfect and information complete, the price you pay at the pump for a gallon of gas today would reflect the fact that oil will be incredibly scarce in 2050. The price would even take into account the probability of alternatives being developed through some sort of futures marekt.    

But trees are a renewable resource as they can be regrown.

Ah. Clearly you have not read Jared Diamond's Collapse.
Let me give you a sneak preview.

No tree is an island onto itself.
Every tree is an integral part of a constantly maturing ecosystem.
Its roots extend into the ground to hold topsoil during rainy seasons.
Its leaves block sun from potentially competing weeds.
Its nuts feed the squirrels.
Its maple syrup makes the pancakes taste better.
Its branches are perches for migrating birds.
People eat bird meat.

OK. I admit it. I made up that bull about the squirrels and the maple syrup.
But Jared Diamond postulated that migratory birds were part of the Easter Islander's food source. They were killing off much more than they understood each time they chopped down another part of their "private property".

I've read Diamond's collapse. That still doesn't answer why they kept cutting does those trees.

Because, in the short run, those with power and trying to gain it (for access to females) did better than their peers by getting one more damn tree.

People are biologically programmed to look at threats and competition with other people---and wild beasts---not abstract forces of nature.

Look at the hysteria from 9/11.  Compare to the 15,000 people killed by hot weather in Europe, with the knowledge that this, unlike 9/11 is guaranteed to increase in severity for "as far as the eye can see".

It took enormous suffering before people understood the problem of infectious disease and adopted correct assumptions.

People want to find the perpetrator, not the derivative.

Consider the viewership of "real crime" stories which infest all the news channels to the time devoted to physical and biological issues in the world.

"Consider the viewership of "real crime" stories which infest all the news channels to the time devoted to physical and biological issues in the world. "

No question there's a genetic predisposition at work here to look out for predators, but the main thing making people watch crime stories instead of science is that the crime stories are much more entertaining.  People are stressed out, and they want relief (escape, encouraging stories, and entertainment), not boredom from bad science documentaries.

When science is covered in a way that's interesting, inspiring and encouraging, people will watch.  If it's boring, or depressing, they won't.

Why was Schindler's List a success?  It was educational.  It didn't whitewash the holocaust.  But people watched anyway.  Why? because it was entertaining, and inspiring.

I think we should have more respect for the intelligence of most people.  For instance, the public in the US is way ahead of the Bush administration on energy and the environment.  Think where they'd be if the media and government didn't work so hard to misinform them....

Why was Schindler's List a success?  It was educational.  ... it was entertaining, and inspiring.

I think the real answer is because a critical mass of people started seeing it and everyone else wanted to be part of the mainstream stampeding of the herd.

(Why do you care what MSM says if not for recognition that being part of the "mainstream" herd is important? Why do you think Hollywood cares so much about the opening weekend proceeds if not for the stampede effect?)

I don't think there is that much rhyme or reason for why a movie does well or not. Part of it is just the whims of the fickle herd on a given weekend.

Look at this weekend's Box Office chart

11     An Inconvenient Truth     $1,112,000 $16,980,000
12     The Fast and the Furious $1,037,000 $59,724,000

In the number 11 slot we have Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth. It is educational.  ... it is entertaining (well kind of), and inspiring. But total gross is just under $17M

By contrast, the number 12 slot is occupied by a juvenile car racing (and gas guzzling) movie with a gross so far of just under $60M. It leaves Al Gore in the dust.

And who is in the number one slot position?
1     Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest     this weekend=$62,186,000     total=$258,205,000

Argghh maties. The pirates just blow away the competition. Well at least they use wind power rather than petro power to win the race.

Even if information was perfect, we would still have a high discount rate.  After all, this is the future we are talking about. What did the next generation ever do for me?  And, especially the one after that?  

Oddly, I am 59 and yet my discount rate is rather low.  That's the real puzzler.  

Solution.  Increase longevity, but cut the birth rate way back. If we had to live with the consequences of our lack of concern for the future, then perhaps we could lower that discount rate.

Good point. :-) No one cares about a future they won't see.
I think you misunderstand his point. He said his discount rate is low despite his advanced age, meaning that he cares more about the future than most. And in fact, historically it is the elders of a tribe and a society who are seen as the wisest and having the most long-term view, who are entrusted with the decisions. Contrary to your statement, people do in fact care very much about futures they will never see.
from what i have seen they are vastly out numbered..
The whole concept of forestry (with the exception of some southern pulp wood forests with 20 to 25 year cycles) is based upon "over the horizon" benefits for most decision makers (typically age 50+).  

Iceland plants over 1 million Siberian larches every year.  Time to harvest - 90 to 110 years (extrapolated from 1903 trial plantings).  Swiss stone pine takes 40 to 60 years before bearing pine nuts, yet almost 100,000 are plated each year, many around summer cabins.

The same is true in many areas of the world.

do'oh! You're right of course.
When trees became more valuable, they would just cut them down faster. After all, the demand for status, hence, statues, hence, trees & ropes was insatiable.
ding ding ding, we have a winner!
A while back there was a post the quite effectively debunked the idea that private ownership of trees would preserve them better than public ownership. Only a government which has alternate sources of revenue will preserve a forest for future sustainable use. In a monetized economy interest rates need to be extremely low, well under 1% to make a sustainable rate of forest use sensible. At any interest rate we commonly experience means that clear cutting the forest then living off the bank deposits is more profitable in the long run then waiting for prices to go up. Letting the trees live means running the risk of loss through drought, fire, and pests where as money in the bank is, you know. When there is high demand for a resource that is the time to sell as much of it as possible then invest the profits elswhere. That's why the Arab royalty have such nice houses in Switzerland.
Actually, the current   r e a l   interest rate is only 1%:
inflation rate 4.2% (whole inflation, not the bogus core CPI)
10-year treasuries at 5.1%

>>>> real interest rate is 0.9 %.

Recommendation: plant American Walnut trees, start harvesting nuts after 10 years, your children will start harvesting wood after 40 years...

Conclusion: there must be something else in play psychologically, not only interest rates. Maybe 40 years is equal to "infinite" in our minds.

I wholeheartedly endorse your recommendation, walnut trees are wonderful: nuts, oil, some medicinal and chemical uses, beautiful wood. While you are at it may I suggest you plant the odd witch hazel, holly, hazelnut and chestnut.

The current real interest rate is probably still negative:

Interesting conclusion. I think you are right psychologically but I don't think the 40 year infinity is the real problem. I'd say it is selfishness: most people are happy to have what they want even if others (elsewhere or future) suffer more than they benefit.

I think it's one measure of how abnormal and sick our present society is that our landscaping is almost entirely non-edible and non-useful. This is not at all normal for human settlements. Normal is for the plants that surround human habitations to be useful/edible. It just makes sense - if you're going to have a tree outside your hut for shade, why not get nuts or fruit from it too? Traditional societies that are settled at all tend to be surrounded with edible/useful trees and plants, and even hunter-gatherers tended to encourage the growth of useful plants and trees in places they frequented even if they were only there one season out of the year.
Didn't ornamentals start as a display by the rich that they didn't need to grow food, they could grow beauty?  So cities, homeowner associations, etc. still feel rich enough for that.  Should it change, they can be somewhat reactive.  We could even cut water use at the same time (a drip-irrigated orchard being more water/energy efficient than a lawn).
Why did the folks on Easter Island continue to chop down trees when it was apparent that the cut rate wasn't sustainable?

Would it be apparent to me, if I were born on Easter Island?  Let's say the island was at 1/2 the original tree density (or 1/10).  If that's what I was born into, wouldn't I think that was natural?  I might even think (or hope, or justify) that cutting a few more was sustainable.

We face the same problem today, but we can fight it with books and histories.  This book, for instance, makes a strong case a how far we have fished down the oceans from their natural state.  We should have a better chance than the Easter Islanders at getting the word out.

... I certainly hope that our ocean treaties and fishing limits are better than their forest treaties and tree limits (???) ever were.

Something similar, I've been calling "The Decimal Point" problem.  Trying to help people understand the order of magnitude of the issue.  For example, if we converted all 21M acres of Maine to biofuel we'd make 5% of the diesel fuel the country "needs".  OR 5% of the heating fuel.  Not BOTH, not economic opportunity, not global supremacy, and not including the current uses of the Maine woods.


The posters over at could do with a training course.

"Order Of Magnitude" training would be a good start ...

Oh boy.  Here I go again...

I don't see the point in trying to teach "every single person on this earth" about research methods.  Stats would be useful, since we're immersed in them, and calculus I'd also pass on.  (I've had more than my fill of higher math; graduate-level microeconomics is essentially topology.)  Why?  It's not needed to get the point across to them about peak oil.

All you have to do is hit them with the simple, brutal statistics, like 85 million barrels of non-renewable oil every single day.  Most mainstreamers have no idea whatsoever how much oil we consume, but when you tell them, they're horrified.  (It also doesn't hurt to convert the numbers to other things they can sorta-kinda-almost visualize, like one day of oil consumption filling a 6-inch pipe from the earth to the moon.  (I'm quoting my own calculations from memory on that one, so I apologize if this is wildly off.))

My point is that it's far less efficient to try to change the people of the world to make them more teachable than it is to find a way to get the critical details across to them in terms they can understand.  I have yet to see An Inconvenient Truth, but I strongly suspect that for all its effectiveness it has zero calculus and a minimum of stats.  It can be done.  It's up to us to figure out how.

You might be right Lou but i'm with the Prof on this one.

It seems that when I am at odds with the public at large, my disagreement can often be traced back to research methods. This isn't just about about peak oil.

Sometimes I think that if we could just put everyone through research methods 1A, even democracy would be functional...

If everyone who works on K Street in DC was put through a research methods course, we'd all be in deeeeeep trouble.
(I've had more than my fill of higher math; graduate-level microeconomics is essentially topology.)  Why?  It's not needed to get the point across to them about peak oil.

I tend to agree, Lou. The math is useful to understand this issue in depth from a scientific standpoint, and many or most of the readers of TOD are probably capable of understanding it. But you lose the average person. You lose the media and the politicians. These are the people we need to come to grips with Peak Oil. We have to do it by explaining the issue to them in simple terms.

So, academic discussions on TOD are good, but you have to speak a different language when you discuss the issue with your friends and family. Think "Peak Oil for Dummies". We should probably think about writing that, for real. We could also write "Peak Oil for Academics", but it isn't going to sell nearly as well.



Hello RR,

The problem has to do with the average person having no appreciation of the passage of TIME.

Recall back when you were a kid and you first grasped the concept of 'something for nothing' or what is popularly called Christmas.  That one or two weeks, from when the Xmas tree went up, to when you could finally open your presents was an ETERNITY.

The next big hurdle was anticipating one's birthday to again get 'something for nothing'.  Once a child understands the concept of his/her birthday occuring ONCE A YEAR--it seemingly takes FOREVER for your birthday to finally roll up on the calendar.

The next 'something for nothing' reward is when you finally age enough to get your Learner's Permit & Driver's License.  I recall nearly going crazy counting down the days until I qualified to become a card-carrying member of the Easy-motoring, Drive-thru Masses in 1971.

Unfortunately [fortunately for me?], my parents could not afford to buy me any wheels, as it was the time period of the Arab Oil Shocks, a big recession, and the Lower 48 Peakdate--gas prices went up faster than my ability to save money to buy gas, much less save for a vehicle. So I had to keep pedaling and saving money from work until I was nineteen for my first vehicle and all related expenses.   Then I could finally enjoy the automobile-freedom as a full-fledged member of the Asphalt Wonderland.  Anybody remember buying practically treadbare used tires and/or retreads because you couldn't afford new tires?

Those of you that got wheels of your own at your sixteenth birthday--think back on just how long 3 years is in your teenage years--an eternity.

The point I am trying to make is that appreciation for just how fast Life passes us by is IMPOSSIBLE to convey to a younger person.  So even if they can do the exponential math, they cannot visualize the timeframe at the required mental intensity.  

They cannot mentally grasp a fifty year time period--because they have no emotional and personally historical reference points for comparision.  I am 51 now, and my father [who died last year at 96], said that the last years seemed only like mere weeks to him.  I still have a hard time grasping this concept in my own mind.

Kids today see the Vietnam war as ANCIENT History...You might as well be talking to them about the Pelloponesian Wars, yet it was a defining period in my lifetime with the Draft, the riots, Kent State shootings, Watergate, etc.

The closet Bartlett comes to achieving a true breakthrough is the minute-by-minute growth in the Petri dish. But I would suggest the average mental impact inversely decays exponentially based upon the age of the listener.

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

You're absolutely right on this one Bob.   I'm not quite as old as your father, and I'm having one heck of time trying to convence my own son that looking ahead may seem like an eternity, it isn't.  I remember the perticular time you were born.  I was already here and in my late teens, and believe me I thought 65, was an eternity away, well I whizzed by it so fast that I can hardly remember it now.  It's not time its self it's the preception of time.   Young people always look forward while old people look backward.
What you say about age and time is absolutely true. However, why is is that some of us have a very strong propensity at a young age to very, very concerned about the future, even the future that is way beyond our life times.  I, for example, was very freaked out about my death when I was only a eleven years old.  And I was also very concerned about running out of oil thirty-five years ago when I was 24.

As for my two children, I think they pretty much get the fact that the future could be very, very ugly. And yet, they also think it is hopeless and pointless to think about it or do something about it. They pretty much live in the present.

Which is ideal, right?

Frankly, I don't even get why my one of my children has a child.  

... very freaked out about [prospect of my own] death when I was only a eleven years old.

Man is one of the few creatures with a brain sufficiently self introspective to understand the concept of one's own demise at an early age.

We quickly develop defensive mechanisms to deal with this inconveneint truth:

  1. total denial
  2. belief in an "alternative" after life
  3. belief that it is in the far off future
  4. belief that "science" will find a cure
  5. what's your coping mechanism?

Gee. These sound almost like the defensive postures taken by most against the concept of Peak Oil, huh?
oh gawd this is so true. I was at my gym today. Lots of teenagers, 14-16 or so. A late 80s song from New Kids on the Block came on. And they were like, "what the fuck is this crap? God it's horrible." I thought to myself "just be glad you didn't have to live through hearing it every freakin day." (just turned 28) Point is I'm only 10-12 years older than these guys and a song that I instantly recognized they had never heard before.

BTW, I use what I call my "tupac shakur test" to gauge people's ages. Never heard of tupac? Probably over 60. Heard of him but never bought an album and don't know anybody who bought an album? over 40. Bought an album or downloaded a song? probably 35 or under. don't remember where you were when he got shot? probably under 20.

Please moderate your language so that geniuses at high schools can access this link.

Personally, I'm listening to "Simon and Garfunkel" on my best sound system and "Trainspotting" in my car.

Age is freaking irrelevant.

Young guys can have limp dicks.

And vice versa;-)

28 is the new 18.
65 is the new 45.
It's all good ... it's all good.
the last years seemed only like mere weeks to him.  I still have a hard time grasping this concept in my own mind.

... think of life as a roll of toliet paper
... it seems to run out fastest near the end

Re: "All you have to do is hit them with the simple, brutal statistics, like 85 million barrels of non-renewable oil every single day..."

That's what I do, Lou, in every post I write and most comments I make (unless, of course, I'm trying to inject some mostly unappreciated humor into the situation).

-- Dave

I guess I should add that this message is often indirect in so far as I am telling the people about troubles in Thailand, Chinese demand growth or disruptions in Nigeria.

In all these cases, however -- PEOPLE, ARE YOU LISTENING? -- the message is the same.

see below, Lou.  Descriptive statistics are nice, but they are just that: descriptive.  What about change?  causality?  measurement?  Isn't that even more important?
erm, Dave not Lou.
Well, let's see, PG. Usually we speak behind the scenes.

You're the one talking about exponential growth and

Many do not understand that 7% growth means doubling in ten years.
And although increased demand for hydrocarbons is nowhere near that, the supply is essentially flat. This is the "undulating plateau" that Stuart has been documenting for months now. So, there's an effective ceiling on our consumption. All economies are based on a "growth model" of some sort. My question is simply this: how can an economy grow if the fossil fuels are limited? The obvious answer is as you know, they can not. What to do?

And now for some of that unappreciated black comedy -- slightly modified from your thread today --

Dateline: July 2008

RedHen: Dr. Yergin, last December you correctly predicted the current price would be in the vicinity of $140/barrel. Today's close was $138.43. The US no longer imports any oil from Mexico. What's going on?

Yergin: Higher prices will do what they always do, dampen our demand and increase our supply. The market fundamentals are improving despite some geopolitical tensions fueling the current upswing. But the oil & gas business has long lead times so it may be a while before these new projects come on-stream. This is a painful time for many but consumers are making adjustments, at least on the demand side.

RedHen: Thank you. And now we turn to President Frist for his latest take on oil prices...

Have a good one...

-- Dave

Hi Dave,

You claimed that economies "obviously" cannot grow if fossil fuels are limited. Undoubtedly rapidly growing supplies of abundant and cheap oil have powered our economic growth for at least 50 years. However, I think if you think about it for a moment your statement can be seen to be untrue. Putting aside the fact that we could use uranium or renewables to fuel our energy growth we can still grow our economies even in the absence of growth in energy supply through the application of technology to drive efficiency - ie more output per unit of energy. Granted the further you push this the harder it will likely get to have growth but at least in the near to medium term growth CAN be achieved with flat or even declining Fossil fuel (or even with flat or decling total energy).


Germany's oil usage in 2006 is substantially less than in 1974 (with a larger economy). The perfect correlation between oil usage, economy strength and standard of living frequently touted on TOD has more in common with a religious belief than an actual fact.
I pretty much have to agree - in terms of the U.S., there is a far too obvious correlation between what is considered economic growth (more cars, more houses, more malls, selling more goods bought with ever increasing debt) and liqiud fossil fuels.

But when you start to challenge the universality of American experience based on personal experience and fact, you do find out how much of this is faith based.

The one I found best was when pointing out in another discussion thread that German farmers are increasingly using locally grown canola as the source of fuel for tractors, the other person posting said that such a response would only hasten the collapse of civilization in Germany.

In other words, we are all doomed because fossil fuels are being used, and we are all doomed when fossil fuels are displaced because the only thing keeping us from doom RIGHT THIS MINUTE are FOSSIL FUELS, which ARE RUNNING OUT RIGHT NOW.

And then comes whatever irrefutable explanation the other person finds convincing, along with the justification that other people turn away from this truth because it is just so horrible. Well, some people and some societies do seem to react that way, but others don't.

After all, Germany did a powerdown just a couple of generations ago, so to speak, and you know, they didn't clear cut the forests to stay warm - they put on more clothes, since there wasn't any other choice. The forests are important to long term balance for everyone living here, and simply chopping them down is not really considered an acceptable option - up to and including people freezing to death in exchange - freezing to death is not exactly something which will first be experienced after peak.

But try to tell someone that simple truth, and it is just as likely you will hear that technology is not the solution, since technology is not energy. I don't know - I think the small wood / coal stove is pretty efficient on its terms, and beats a fireplace hands down, though it doesn't really match a Kachelofen. Every other house around me has a Kachelofen, by the way - including the well insulated, solar hot water heated one built in 1997.

But building a house to use renewable energy is probably yet another reason that civilization will collapse even more quickly in Germany, since as will be clear to everyone in the future, not merely today's enlightened truth bearers, we are all doomed.

And we will deserve all of it, of course, especially the people who thought that technology is a solution to problems, like providing clean water.

I still wonder why anybody who believes this writes using a computer connected to a worldwide data network though, but then faith is something which really doesn't make sense to those without such beliefs.


My response to Roger applies to you, no need to repeat it.

Kachelofens DON'T solve the problem of greed/status/laziness something need to be done to bring the derivative to ZERO.
You mean the human condition remains a constant? - I seem to remember some rabbinical rabble-rousing woodworker saying something along those lines 2000 years ago.

So let's see, getting the rate down to zero is important.  
Sticking with our forest example, and remembering we start from clear cut, ca. 1700 to quite heavily forested today - yes, such reverse entropy violates all sorts of physical laws involving greed, soil depletion, and is just an illusion when seen with a big enough view, but then, I have never been that skilled at ignoring the world around me to bolster my arguments -

  1. Forests being maintained with a long term perspective, without any direct need of fossil fuels - check

  2. Local wood cut in local sawmill (seems to be powered from the wood chips, by the way) used for local buildings - check

  3. Imports of wood from other places - none necessary, though it certainly occurs. As for the externalities argument - sure, I am certain paper is imported from Scandinavia for example - a lot of that paper being used for ads, which in turn a lot of people here forbid by saying 'Keine Werbung' - no ads - on their mailboxes. You do know that Germany burns trash for energy - and that a lot of the trash burning projects have had a real problem finding fuel over the last decade, since Germans have been so diligent in cutting down on producing trash (they consider it waste, but with another emphasis on the 'waste.')? See - another example proving how by changing how you live, in this case by producing less trash, civilization collapses since the power plants which required the growth of trash are now forced to burn less trash which means less power, which means Germany has joined the 3rd world, or something.

  4. A consensus that cutting down trees faster than they grow is true stupidity - check

  5. Increasing efficiency of various heating/insulation systems - for example, the less you need to burn, the better - check Enforced by fairly stringent laws - the efficiency of the house's gas furnance, for example, is regularly checked, and if it falls below the mandated level, it will need to be repaired or replaced. And new houses have to follow insulation rules which would make a McMansion inconceivable here - well, they are pretty inconceivable here anyways.

  6. A long term perspective which includes the idea that freezing in the dark because someone thinks we are all doomed is stupid, and possible to avoid by finding different alternatives (you know, like dressing warmly in the winter) - check.

The difference between a society which creates things of value and one which lives off the credit of others may be part of the reason for your perspective. Certainly, things must look very bleak from inside the U.S. - assuming that is where you are writing from. But just because the U.S. is drowning in its various waste products doesn't mean other societies are stupid enough to do the same thing, due to 'greed/status/laziness'.
To emphasize the point, there could very well be computers, cars, internet, high tech bathrooms, you name it, provided that there is NO GROWTH.
(a bit theoretical, I admit)
So the trees growing don't count?

Why is that everyone so certain that growth is unstoppable? Apart from being unstoppable because it can't go on forever? Or is that the reason - things that can't go on forever won't? I knew that. So why is changing how you live then considered not a response?

The example of the Kachelöfen is pretty easy - it is how people here heated their living space before fossil fuels, using materials from around where they live to build them inside of houses which were built of the materials around them - houses which often last centuries, by the way, with proper care, none of it involving anything but sweat and local materials. I am pretty certain that people will also be able to build them in the next century, too.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that simply changing how you live is not considered an option for anyone who believes in the giant crash which will sweep the world clean of whatever the believers feel is impure. I keep pointing out concrete measures being taken in concrete ways by people at least as aware of various moral, ecological, and sustainability options as anyone posting here (in part, this comes from having your grandparents decide that Lebensraum means you get to do with the Untermenschen as you wish), and to the extent such information doesn't fit, it is simply dismissed.

Maybe the banal truth that you can't cut down trees faster than they grow and still have a forest in 50 years is incredibly hard for some people to grasp - whether Easter Islanders or modern Americans. It is considered a fairly plain fact in Germany, however. And they have centuries of experience to back it up, including the results of a war which really did end up with Germany looking much like the future predicted by the die-off perspective. Except even then, the Germans didn't clear cut trees, they kept planting them.

I will add a slightly interesting side note - the 16 year old son of neighbors of ours spent a year as a high school exchange student in the U.S. His parents are somewhat appalled at how one year living there seemed to change him - he is now quite convinced that living in America and getting rich is the future, that the way he used to live is simply too unsatisfying. Of course, some of this is normal teenager growth, but it is quite fascinating to see how deeply the propaganda seems to be running in the U.S., and how impossible it is to escape it. I haven't had a chance to talk with him yet, but it should be interesting.

But having the current American model collapse is not exactly something which fills me with dread, or has me desperately searching for alternative technologies so I can keep driving to McDonalds (if I wanted to go McDonalds, I would take the electric train anyways - it would be faster than driving - but since McDonalds is overpriced and very boring, I would probably instead get the falafel at the train stop before the main station - cheaper, tastier, and done with a certain homemade touch, being homemade, as is the bread). I certainly hope today's America will end, the sooner the better, since I have no idea of how to change it, and certainly can't live within it and stay even partially sane.

So when arguing with people convinced the world as we know it will end, I certainly hope so if what is meant is modern America. I believe that how we live will change dramatically - it is just that I don't think billions of people will die-off because someone has faith that they can't live with only 20 million barrels of oil per day, not 85 million. Most people in the world doesn't think a McDonalds drive-through critical to their survival.

My question is simply this: how can an economy grow if the fossil fuels are limited?

This is an excellent question to open a thread.  I won't get into it here, but one of the things that has been bothering me is the assumption that when X is limited all activities currently using X will decline.  Painting with that kind of broad brush is seldom right.

(I agree on the general topic that numeracy is good.  Other problems of resource consumption, and of course global warming, lack traction because people don't trust maths.)

"My question is simply this: how can an economy grow if the fossil fuels are limited?"

Suppose we became more efficient in the use of these limited fossil fuels, and reduced the amount of fuel used moving people around from A to B.  This could be achieved through, for example, more efficient autos, car pooling or more compact urban design.  Surely that opens up the possibility for new economic activity, i.e. growth, driven by the fuel saved.

Perhaps conservation IS more than a sign of personal virtue.  Could our Vice President be wrong?

In my area I've noticed a few tradesmen, who formally used full size pickups, switching to the Scion xB.  That's a fuel reduction without a loss of economic activity.

Of course the guy who shows up in an efficiency vehicle, to bill for an energy audit, expands both economic activity and energy efficiency.

Note to 'alpha', if he's a sharp dresser he might even overcome that efficient vehicle ;-)

Not only can you get more out of a unit of energy but there are things in our future that we can't even imagine.

In the late 1800's I understand that some of the UKs leading scientists became very worried about horse manure. They were in an era of horse and cart and never imagined mechanised transport. They looked at the streets and the increasing quantity of horses on the streets. They extrapolated forward and figured that by 1950 every building in London would be covered in horse manure. This was a deep concern.

The point of that story is that things change very quickly. At that time no-one envisaged nuclear power either. Perhaps there is a new energy source in our future. Maybe fusion. Maybe we will find a better way to extract solar energy. Maybe we will have high temperature superconductivity. Maybe we will mine space. Who knows? History is littered with problems facing humanity which have ultimately been solved.

The point is not to be complacent, but just to demonstrate that people who proclaim "the end of the world" have all of history against them. This is very unlikely. I think TOD should be used for sensible discussion of the problems around peak oil and potential solutions. I believe the scaremongering detracts from the good work that some people are doing and is couterproductive. It discredits the site.

I had a similar thought yesterday ... how could we be shipping this much cargo on the seas?  We don't have oak to build that many ships ;-)

On that topic:

Researchers Develop Cellulose-Based Lightweight Material as Tough As Metal

That's not a done-deal, but it would be pretty cool if it worked out.

History is littered with problems facing humanity which have ultimately been solved.

History is littered with failed civilisations too, which had not the good luck to stumble on an unexpected cure.
We DON'T SEE THOSE as much as we see the lucky survivors.

The peculiar state we are in is that there is ONE civilisation (of interest...) unless of course you are inclined to primitivists ideas and are counting those who will handily survive Peak Oil, "Olduvai theory" or whatever other incident bringing a shortage of burgers and coke.
Therefore betting on "maybe" solutions does not seem too serious and certainly "detracts from the good work" as much as scaremongering.
One thing is sure: if no one bets on "maybe" solutions, there will be no solutions.

(betting is not the same as putting all your eggs in one basket)

and the one thing everyone seems to forget is that to choose a solution can be WORSE then not choosing one at all.
"can be"
When I said betting on "maybe" solutions I meant waiting for miracles to happen.
I am NOT rebuffing hypothetical or risky solutions.
I would not care about TOD I will be with the primitivists or some other cult.
Sorry if I misunderstood.  For what it's worth, I think spreading our bets on new tech is the best strategy, while of course doubling up on applying current (and old) tech which increases our energy efficiency.
"History is littered with failed civilisations too"

Sure, but not because they ran out of resources.  You can certainly point to a few that ran out on their own, but mostly they were overrun by someone else.

Rome was overrun by the barbarians. Athens by Sparta, and Persia(?). Civilizations generally don't fall, they're pushed.

Even a lot of Jared Diamond's examples are controversial.  Some people feel some his examples were actually pushed - Easter Island for  example.  The histories tend to get written by the pushers, not the pushees, so their tracks get covered.  It's much easier for the Europeans to claim that the natives just disappeared, than to admit that they brought invading species and germs (and worse), sometimes deliberately...

So far all those failed civilisations have been replaced with a more technologically advanced order. Once upon a time people thought civilisation would collapse without salt - it was a key preservative for food. No-one today would believe this. We have refridgerators. People like you would have said: "there is not enough salt, we are all going to die". History shows us that when a resource we rely on becomes scarce we adapt. Maybe civilisation changes, maybe not, but we have always adapted. The maybe solutions are put foward as maybe solutions and framed in a sensible context. This does not detract from the site - it adds ideas for discussion. The scaremongering is phrased in such a way: "I know that half the population is going to die because we wont have petrol". Such a statement is typically justified with half baked "facts" which aren't even facts and no further evidence is given. Furthermore history has shown that time and again we have adapted. It is simply not credible to scaremonger in this way without justifying why the other energy sources can't work and why this time is different to the last 2,000 years of history. People are saying this without even thinking about the abundant energy we have - solar, wind, wave, goethermal, coal, nuclear, maybe fusion. I say one of these may be the solution because unlike the scaremongers I can't see the future. However I can provide evidence that every single one of those 6 sources of energy work and are in operation today. That is, they are credible outcomes for us. Regards.
The Western Roman Empire was replaced by less technologically advanced cultures.  An argument can be made as well for the Eastern Roman Empire, but that is more questionable.

There is a wide gap between "can" and "will".  The consensus here in other threads is that there is a technological solution that can be implemented, even at this late date, with minimal social disruption post-Peak.  I have pointed to the very disperate nations of Thailand, Brazil, Switzerland & Sweden as good examples of nations that are making significant efforts.  Perhaps not enough so far; but if they are doing 1/2 or 2/3rds of what future events show to be "enough" they can step up and reach that level.

The US OTOH (and others) have shown no coherent effort so far to deal with Peak Oil.  Not even on the radar, miles from making significant efforts, even further from doing "enough".

A society that cannot plan, cannot mount coherent and effective solutions to complex problems but focuses their very imited efforts on worthless "solutions" (see corn ethanol, hydrogen) seems bound to fail.  The modality of failure cannot be pre-determined (I am hoping for something like the UK from 1946 to 1980 and not die-off) but a society that cannot solve serious problems will fail.

For how long have you been reading TOD or, at least, been aware of Peak Oil or other threats to civilisation?
P.S. Tainter's Collapse of Complex Societies dates back to 1988...
Furthermore history has shown that time and again we have adapted. It is simply not credible to scaremonger in this way without justifying why the other [options] can't work and why this time is different to the last 2,000 years of history.

Funny, the last batch of dodo birds were saying the same thing amongst themselves.

History is littered with problems facing humanity which have ultimately been solved.

I feel like a broken record when replying to this illogical form of "sound" logic.

You and I would not be here discussing this question if our common history was "littered" with just one dead end.

All the lemmings marching to the edge of the cliff murmur, "So far so good".

laugh  I was waiting Lou...

I'll refine my argument from the last time we had this conversation.  (search if you're interested, I think it's July of 05?)

Most people do not think in terms of change.  Many do not understand that 7% growth means doubling in ten years.  Many do not understand what a differential or an equilibrium is.  Worse, many do not understand the consequences of either.

Most people do not think about measurement.  Many do not think about the ties between concept and operationalization and actual measurement.  I deal with this quite a bit in the social sciences, but it is even more important in the hard sciences.

Anyway, both of those issues are at THE CORE of what we're talking about here at TOD, every day.  Change and measurement are also at the core of critical thinking skills and the ability to present one's results to the world in a manner that they can understand.

So, that's why, if people have not had exposure to these ideas, I push the Bartlett lecture.  That's why I hope people, if they are so inclined, would read a book like Babbie's Research Methods text or at least Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics (so you can see how the media and "experts" screw up statistics every day in what we hear).

Yes, this is a personal cause for me.  But I think it's a valid one.  

Of course, my goal of having everyone take a research methods course AND a calc course is unrealizable...but, you have to admit, it sure would make it easier to explain the concepts of peak oil, economics, or just about anything else that deals with measurement and change to people.  

Most people do not think in terms of change.  Many do not understand that 7% growth means doubling in ten years.

I still vividly remember my first exposure to exponential growth. It was an algebra problem in 9th grade about compound interest. That was also the moment I realized that with patience, someday exponential growth could make me rich.

But I agree that people do not understand the downside of exponential growth, and how it doesn't take long to get into trouble if oil consumption is growing exponentially. That's why I laugh at EIA projections that Peak Oil will occur in 30 years. Don't they have any mathematicians on staff?



  I am pleased and reassured that there are people like you out there who utilize and inform us through applied higher maths and statistics, but I am quite sure I don't use them or 'fully' appreciate them, and yet I am thoroughly aware of the signifigance of what we are talking about here, and like most of you, I rack my brains to discover the way that I can share the urgency of this in a way that people will hear it and act on it.  Respectfully, I don't think that studying those subjects is the answer, even if it were possible.  There are too many different types of people out there who need to hear it in plain language.. not dumbed down, just plainly stated.

"The water is freezing and there aren't enough lifeboats, not by half!"

  There are some very simple people who will get this idea long before other much more 'sophisticated' folks.  No doubt many already do.  Maybe they are also surviving by cutting down the trees to use to loft our 'Easter Island Heads' into place, and feel that they are just 'little people', and don't have any power to change 'the system', so they cut back where they can, and hope to hear some inspiring idea that will let them join in some effort to build lifeboats or fire-extinguishers.

  I appreciate the Sciences as some of our best efforts to see the truth from within our imperfect shells, but I think there's an element of self-assuredness and even classism (present company not necessarily implicated) that burdens the 'fact-based' community and can ~sometimes~ interfere in clear, essential communications with these 'average people'.  It seems the Democrats are having the same problem, wish I could help.  Believe me, I'm trying.

Bob Fiske

Most people do not think about measurement.  Many do not think about the ties between concept and operationalization and actual measurement.

You should discover the joy of being a true-believer positivist: the measurement is the construct, bro. It's really cool, you take your "instrument" and just kind of "channel" insight from the respondents. If somehow the instrument is really poor, Lisrel will remove the errors.

But I'll bet you're the sort of guy who thinks that "dummy variable" is a double entendre.

And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but we may have more remedial needs before we get to philosophy of science issues:

Copernicus more popular than Darwin, but both lose

79% of Americans believe the earth revolves around the sun, but 18% still believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Gallup 1999

45% believe "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so". The public has not notably changed its opinion on this question since Gallup started asking it in 1982. Gallup 2001

And beliefs in 2005:

41% Extrasensory perception, or ESP
37% That houses can be haunted
32% Ghosts/that spirits of dead people can come back in certain places/situations
31% Telepathy/communication between minds without using traditional senses
26% Clairvoyance/the power of the mind to know the past and predict the future
25% Astrology, or that the position of the stars and planets can affect people's lives
21% That people can communicate mentally with someone who has died
21% Witches
20% Reincarnation, that is, the rebirth of the soul in a new body after death
9% Channeling/allowing a 'spirit-being' to temporarily assume control of body Gallup 2005

84% believed correlation was the same as causality
37% thought interval measurement referred to achieving a first down
97% admitted to falsification, but only 12% said it was naive

No questions were asked about abiotic oil.

I wonder which 1,000 to 5,000 person sample they used?

I have not watched TV in my own home for over 6 years now.  But I talk to people who seem to not be able to live without it, they cringe we I tell them that I have no clue what they are talking about when mention something off of it and why that is the case.

Haven't you heard, there are several ghost hunting series' on TV and I know several Wiccans and other modern day Witches.  The public mind is filled with things you can not explain away by reading a science text to them everyday and giving them a test on the concepts of particle decay,  Or Gravity Wells and Van Allen Belt Magnetic Storms.    Sorry, most people can't wrap their minds around half the things talked about in GRAD school, unless they take the time to go to the lower levels courses first and apply themselves.  

An American one.
on that point, Rick (that we have much work to do), I quibble not at all.

Hey, it might surprise everyone here that I actually have some post-pos in me.  It's a continuum though.  :)

It is valid Prof. Goose. It made a real difference for me - an 'average' person. I watched Dr. Bartlett's speech sometime last fall after someone linked to it in a comment here on TOD. It gave me a much broader perspective and deeper understanding in relation to PO. It can be applied to so many other things too. It was a true 'Ah Ha!' moment for me.

But, I also have an analytical mind and have always gotten A's in math. I tried to get my very intelligent peak-oil aware husband to watch it and he lost interest after the first 10 minutes!

So, I think it can be the right message for some people because it plays into their natural strengths, while others need a 'simpler' explanation of exponential growth and how to apply it. Different people learn in different ways.

  Are you familiar with  Kurzweil and the Singularity idea/movement? He takes about a third of his book "The Singularity is near" trying to get people to appreciate high exponential growth in the fields of genetics nanotechnology and computers. He thinks these fields, and others, are doubling in 1, 2, or 3 years and the world will be vastly different in 20 30 years and UNFATHOMABLY different in 40 years. Do you think any of this, if true, could solve GW or resource depletion? I think Kurzweil does.  
This sort of tech is changing the equation even without the singularity (junk?).  People need travel less with a good internet, and solar cells improve (slightly?) with nanotech.

(I think the singularity is a fun idea, but not serious at this point.)

People like Kurzweil just make the innumeracy problem worse.  What EXACTLY does doubling of knowledge in a field mean?  Twice the published papers?  Twice as many PHD's?  Twice as many patents?  The more you think about it the more you'll realize that people like Kurzweil, who should know better, are using math terms inappropriately for dramatic effect.  It cheapens the dialogue.
It's these very posts ;-)
(Seriously I do think "published papers" are exploding, as the Chinese billions have time/money for advanced degrees.)
To me this demonstrates Kurzweil's lack of understanding of exponentiation as applied to the real world. There are many situations 'in nature' where exponential growth happens, followed by a crash. He needs to get familiar with the concept of 'point of diminishing returns.'

Sorry, I'm simply not impressed with Ray Kurzweil.


The reason that nanotechnology and genetics (really the same field) are doubling so rapidly is that the laws of physics allow them to be so.

This was recognized by Feynman back in say 1960 or so, "There's lots of room down there".

Meaning that engineering stuff at the atomic level had many orders of magnitude of headroom possible in the laws of physics and facts about the universe.

Peak Oil does NOT have that luxury.

All alternatives are well studied and ever since 1939 {nuclear fission} we have not discovered any new laws of nature or facts about the Earth which change this in any way.   Things which are fundamentally different from the 19th century transition from animal/vegetable energy sources to petroleum:  this time we have fully mapped the entire planet with high-quality geophysical means.  There is no more planet left to discover.  We haven't discovered any new natural elements and we won't, because we have enumerated them all.  

Yes, This Time It Really Is Different.

Kurzweil is also wrong about the singularity because even in nanotech you will get to the limits of quantum mechanics soon and that's when things become enormously more difficult.  This is already happening.

There plenty of possibility for atomic engineering (which is what chemistry is!).  There is no possibility for quark engineering: laws of physics.

The laws of physics are also pretty clear about what we need for energy for reasonably long-term sustainability.

Accelerator based thorium reactors, and electricfication of transportation.

Such reactors do not need a chain reaction (hence better safety), and transmute the radioactive waste so that the timescale for safety is a few hundred years, which is easily containable with engineering means, versus 20,000, where you have to rely on uncertain geology.

Such reactors are probably also bad, thankfully, for making nuclear weapons material as they will produce elements which will contaminate the fissile material from the point of view of nuclear weaponry.    The difference between weapons-grade plutonium and the bad stuff is that the weapons-grade is much less intrinsically radioactive, as some kind of intrinsic radioactivity (in neutrons) disupts the functioning of a fission implosion.

I'm not sure if most people are even capable of simple arithmetic.  Have you ever heard anyone say something to the effect of "How can my one little SUV do so much damage?"  Unaware that there are millions of them all adding together, and that they're contributing.
85,000,000 times 42 gallons times 231 cubic inches per gallon.   BIG number.   take one cubic foot, divide into 4 blocks 6 by 6 by 12, to imagine a six inch pipe. Not going to worry about the pie*r-spuared to get the actual volume of a 6 inch pipe. take the above BIG number divide it by 1728 ( cubic inches in a cubic foot ) then times it by your 4 sections.  You get 2nd Big number, divide that by 5,280 ( number of feet in a mile.)  you get the answer of 361,545 miles of pipe.   Note, if you actually used the volume for the pipe you would get more distance.  

You have not lied to the people you have used this mental picture with,  in fact you have over shot the moon by several miles and might inform them next time that it is even further than the moon is to us.

I use money when telling folks about peak oil.  Their bank has money it that they can never get as much out of as they did yesterday.  It is good to use things that people understand.  For my mom it was milk in a glass.  For my dad it was money in the bank.  Konw those that you talk too, use examples that make them think about themselves.

Happy story telling.  Note, not all stories have happy endings,  so don't be afraid to scare people either.  

Real good way to get across basic calc  I found with my science seminar kids was to plot position, speed and accelleration against time in a car trip from home to shopping center.  All of them knew right away what I was talking about, and all of them got the plots right almost the first try - but were surprised to find that there was an actual  numerical connection between them.  If stopped at a light, position was a finite number that did not change, speed was zero and so was accelleratiion.  When light turned green, position did not change right away, and speed just started to, but accelleration jumped right upto a high number.  And so on.  Anyhow, right, grap what they know already and use it.

Much more important.  Sam Harris' book  "The End of Faith"  makes a hammer hit on the fundamental problem (pun).  Conventional religion of any stripe promotes TOTALLY ILLOGICAL BELIEF, unsupported by ANY evidence, and a huge number of people feel quite comfortable in this mind set, and will of course easily transfer it to accept absurdity to any other subject, like oil depletion.  No surprise.  So, hit 'em where they live- in dogmatic religion.

And don't forget your body armor.

Alas Sam Harris is overly optimistic and totally deluded.
We will never get rid of the illogical beliefs of religion short of some form of lobotomy.

Because it is a byproduct of paranoid tendencies which have been hardwired in the brain by evolution because they were beneficial in prehistoric times.
See Scott Atran's In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion

The belief in supernatural agency can in large measure be accounted for by the same cognitive adaptation that caused our remote ancestors to interpret the sound of a breeze rustling a bush as the presence of a saber-toothed tiger. In short, ‘supernatural agency is an evolutionary by-product trip-wired by predator-protector-prey detection schema’.
I'm afraid a lobotomy would just make it worse.
Goddam it!  You talk tough  (Harris) to a true believer, and he/she won't/can't budge, but the young ones standing around listening will say " What this guy says makes obvious sense, and that other guy is spilling bullshit.  

To hell with the sabertooth and all that.  Frontal attack.

The real target is not the true believer, that one is gone.  It's the others.

What this guy says makes obvious sense, and that other guy is spilling bullshit.

So you believe in rationality?
Don't know how old you are but you may be in for a few surprises.

The real target is not the true believer, that one is gone. It's the others.

Yes, that is called education.
But don't be so optimistic.
- You will need some kind of subsitute for the "religious cravings", being based on biological causes they will NOT go away.
Some "methadone for the soul" will be needed.
- HOW will you reach most children BEFORE they get entangled in religious crazyness?

Best luck...
How do you get to the kids?  Here's what I did- set up a saturday science seminar for any kid interested.  About a dozen showed up every sat. for years.  We had lots of fun and they really did learn a lot of science and math up to diff eqs re RCL circuit phenomena and like stuff.  I gave them all the room they wanted to think their own ways, and paid them money for right answers and clever methods.  We talked a lot about the virtues of maximizing uncertainty in the presence of a puzzle, and how unsupported certainty was a path to failure.  They got it.

Only one of them became a religion nut, but his mother told me he was that way from the start.  The others went on to fame and glory- and gave me a lot of credit.    BTW- the absolute top one was a quiet little girl.

How old? Hint-Herbert Hoover was prez and still in good repute.

Kevembuangga- (now there's a little puzzle)-  I forgot to thank you for giving us  a ref to look at Harris and Atran.  Thanks.  I will get Atran and dig out all the falsehoods in it and report back.  (jest, please all you literal minds, please-- play on dogma, prejudice and all that- please).
Very nice to you doing this.
That was only a dozen, don't you think more is needed :-D
Plus, how many will do as you did?
This is commendable but does not matter much, what matters is the AVERAGE numbers of well educated kids.
To have that an evolved social/political system is needed, thus we run into a chicken and egg problem.
May be there are "tipping points" over this matter too...

I will get Atran and dig out all the falsehoods in it and report back.

Prejudice, Eh?
(I am a literal mind)
Go ahead, this will improve your approach of "religiosity inoculation".
But don't expect too much.
Well, thanks again, Kev, for the reference- very interesting but not at all surprising.

I was trying to answer your question of how we get to the kids before they are devoured by some religion or other.  I wasn't the only one who did that science seminar - a couple of other engrs also did the same carrying on after me.  So let's say three dozen.  A start.

I asked my very tough-minded wife about religion and hard-wired outlooks, re sabertooths and such.   She gave exactly the answer I expected- " if that is true, how come you and I and most of our friends didn't get that wiring?  Must be some survival value in non-faith type thinking".

And, of course, the reference you cited says that non-faith thinking is related to success- at least the science version of it.

Note of relevance- I pushed Harris' book to some people who are church goers, and bible quoters and surprise- most of them said "That's what I think too"  So what to make of that?

"Must be some survival value in non-faith type thinking"

Obviously, "reality based" actions are very likely more effective than faith based ones.
However faith may give a "social" advantage in some circumstances, like at war (for the group, not the individual), and that would be enough to keep the meme alive.
As they say "successful memes might prove detrimental to their hosts"
For some people that works because they simply haven't taken the time or made the effort to know the numbers.  I try to know all those numbers including the US figures.  Most people, for example, do not know that in 2005 the US average US of oil was 21.5 million barrels per day and they have no idea of how that use breaks down into daily consumption of gasoline.  

For some this is the first time they've ever heard the numbers and they are curious why the alarm hasn't been sounded yet.  

But there is another group that is a curious mixture of "people combined with technology will prevail" along with the idea that they don't want to be told how to live.  I have now started asking how they got to work, whether the used roads, obeyed traffic signals, why they are sitting in this office rather than another one?  That one always boils down to because someone else told them what to do.

"Do you mean that we are going to have to live like and have an economy like North Korea?," I am asked.  Sometimes, in a word, the answer is yes.  But the question is do you wish to have some say in how that path to living less large is going to go or do you wish to have that selected for you because you didn't want to make the choice (Harvey Cox said "Not to decide is to decide.") and how is that different from this "I don't want someone else to make the decision for me?"  People will adapt, I am told, to maintain their life (styles).  

For thoe that see this a "doom and gloom" portrayal of the human existence, I add this one final point.  "You can hope you are right (and so can I), but if the end goes very badly and suddenly, the difference will be your surprise and shaken faith, not mine."

Besides, people are afraid to speak of situations that may mean their "premature" death.  

At least 25% of American adults actually long for someone else to decide for them. They want leaders to make that decision. If a military leader tells them to jump out of a trench and run towards a line of machine guns they'd do it without question. If a religeous leader tells them to put all their money into a basket that's being passed around they'd do it. If a leader in their workplace tells them that the asbestos dust they are breathing is harmless they keep digging. They remind a coworker who expresses doubts that they are paid to dig not think.
Work, don't think, is the mantra of the American workplace. People get so used to not thinking for eight hours a day that they can't think about the expotential function of oil depletion. They like McDonalds because the choices are reduced to which number combo to pick. Just look at a pretty picture and pick a number.
Half the population has below average intelligence.  Half the population never votes. Unfortunately it's not the same half.
So we can build a pipe from the moon to the earth.  Awesome!  Then we can extend our pipeline to Mars so on so forth ad infinitum.  Peak Oil will be billions of years away!
Good point, re Inconvenient truth.  I know several people who are now committed to change after seeing the movie. And yet, they knew most of the basic "facts" of the movie before they saw it.  And these are smart, well educated people.  They didn't need more statistics; they needed an emotional, visceral hook.  One such hook.  Gore says it is a moral imperative that we do something. But it wasn't just saying it. It was the way he said it and the context in which he said it.
Heh. The thing that turned my mind, and that seriously knocked me sideways was reading Hubbert's 1956 paper to the part where he cited the fundamental theorem of calculus.

If you know calculus, that's when you realize that Hubbert's paper is in fact a tautology, and therefore unassailable. And that's where you realize that a peak at 50% is a best case scenario for mankind.

Too bad few mainstream media reporters understand calculus.

MSM exists to sell cars.  Especially big ones.  MSM exists to promote the myth of eternal economic growth even though we live on a finite planet.

Disinfotainment is fun and easy and this math stuff is so dreadfully boring.  Likewise, people vote for the guy they'd like to have a beer with, not for a candidate who tells the truth.

The Middle East is boiling over in a slightly different and more obvious way (to most Americans who bother to even watch CNN, Fox, and so forth) than it was last week.

Who cares? Why do we care?

Well, if it threatens "our" supply of oil and makes the cost of gas go up at the pump and maybe makes the stock market jittery or prices at StuffMart go up, then we Americans care.

We must dress this up in mythology -- religious and political.

We must have a meta-narrative which justifies us as the entitled ones and perhaps at the same time the world's last best hope.

We must be at once entitled to extravagant comfort and also be seen as victims and martyrswho suffer so.

The MainStream Media is providing the meta-narrative very well.  There are a variety of sub-themes to choose from now, but as the ride gets rougher the meta-narrative will become screechier and more desperate.

"An Inconvenient Truth" works in one way, as does the magazine "Adbusters" or the folks at Participant Productions (Syriana, Good Night and Good Luck, and so forth).  Good efforts, but likely to little and too late.

So what do we do when it looks like anything we try is "too little too late?"

I keep trying what seems best, and encourage others to do likewise.  This may keep us open for good suprises as well as prepared for the tough stuff.

Sorry for the late-night rant!

well said, Apulieus...
Sorry but you're wrong.  A tautology is far from unassailable.  It's a circular argument and therefore meaningless since it posits its own truth as a necessary argument for that truth.
The fundamental theorem of calculus is a tautology to anyone who hasn't studied (and gotten a good grade - I got a D) analysis.

Still useful, though.

It took me nine attempts to master advanced calculus.

I had bad luck in my teachers;-)

I have a little different perspective on this. It's not necessary for the average person to learn statistical methods, or even to have an understanding of the nature of exponential growth. This is true for the same reason that it's not necessary for the average person to have a detailed understanding of steel manufacturing, or how to raise and butcher cattle, or any of the millions of other kinds of skill and detailed knowledge necessary to keep our industrial society operating today.

All that is necessary is that there be specialists who make it their business to know these things. Specialization is the great meta-discovery which has enriched the human raise to an incalculable degree and from which we all benefit.

In the case of the impact of exponential growth on finite resources like oil, the specialists are the participants in the oil market, people who are buying, selling, and speculating in oil. They make their living at this, and will learn everything possible in order to make accurate forecasts. The likely future course of supply, demand and price trends are the stock in trade of such experts. These are the people who need to know and understand not just the nature of growth, but a myriad other crucial factors.

Once they put their detailed technical knowledge to work, the job of everyone else in society is vastly simplified. We don't have to figure anything out or do anything complicated. All we have to do is to look at price signals. We just need to do what comes naturally: avoid things that are expensive and prefer things that are cheap. This simple comparison operation is all that the rest of society has to do in order to optimally allocate society's resources so as to maximize benefits for everyone.

More specifically, if the nature of exponential growth tells us that oil will be in short supply in the near future, we conclude that oil prices will be extremely high at that time, and the nature of oil means that today's prices will be high as well. Then everyone else need only respond to the high prices by conserving oil in order to save money. The result is that society responds to the long-term effects of exponential growth in the ideal way, even without people knowing the details about why they are responding this way (any more than people need to know the details of steel manufacturing to prefer products which use the more economical method).

It is not possible or practical for everyone to become an expert in everything, and fortunately in a free market it is entirely unnecessary. Price signals are sufficient to allow society to allocate its resources wisely.

The key assumption, of course, is that price signals work to convey the necessary information. Are markets complete enough and information perfect enough? If not, then I'm afraid this is little more than invoking the sacred can opener. :-)


Ah!  The proverbial vacuum packed container of annelids!!

LOL ;->

I'll just point out that imperfection of information is not a problem unique or particular to markets. Other institutions are just as bad or potentially worse at responding to inaccurate or missing information. Teaching everyone mathematics is not going to change that.

Oil markets in particular are quite strong as these things go. Futures contracts go out six years, there is a full range of associated option plays, the markets are highly liquid and closely watched by all relevant players. In these circumstances I'd suggest it is quite difficult for the market price to substantially disagree with insider consensus - there would be too much temptation for insiders to take a position and get rich, and in the process move the price in the right direction. In some markets you can make a case for lack of liquidity and ease of manipulation, but not oil.

The big problem for oil is not the market, it is the information; in particular, we have very poor information about the status of middle eastern oil reserves, and similarly for many other parts of the world. We can neither rule out the possibility that production has already peaked, nor that it can continue to grow for another ten years. The information is just not there. Given this reality, the market does the best job it can.

At least with the market, you not only get a price prediction, you get error bars in the form of a de facto standard deviation around the price. This comes from option pricing using the Black Scholes model. See this post at Econbrowser by Professor James Hamilton where he computes the two sigma confidence interval for oil prices over the next few years. Show me another institution that produces such riches of data and lets you not only see what the predictions are, but how much confidence you can reasonably put in them as well!

This comes from option pricing using the Black Scholes model.

:-), of Long-Term Capital Management fame?

I'll just point out that imperfection of information is not a problem unique or particular to markets. Other institutions are just as bad or potentially worse at responding to inaccurate or missing information.

:-) Of course, but I think one needs to be careful abut relying on markets to really convey information beyond the short-to-medium term. I think Winston Churchill's comment about democracy is very appropriate here in this case -- It's the worst system ever devised, except for all the others.'

The big problem for oil is not the market, it is the information; in particular, we have very poor information about the status of middle eastern oil reserves, and similarly for many other parts of the world. We can neither rule out the possibility that production has already peaked, nor that it can continue to grow for another ten years. The information is just not there. Given this reality, the market does the best job it can.

Well, that's saying the problem with the car isn't the car, just the engine. You have incomplete, assymetrically held information, and incomplete markets (i.e. no futures market for future technological innovations that provide a substitute for oil.), thus information contained by prices are going to be very incomplete and inaccurate.  

Let me put this in perspective. Say your circulatory system is old, but medical equipment (the market) signals that everything is fine -- nothing to worry about. Does that mean you forego buying life and medical insurance and quit that exercise regime you're on? Why?

Oil markets in particular are quite strong as these things go. Futures contracts go out six years, there is a full range of associated option plays, the markets are highly liquid and closely watched by all relevant players.

Six years. What about what happens in year ten? Year fifteen? What is the market-derived probability (price) that a substittue for oil will be developed for liquid-fuel transportation in the next ten years?

In these circumstances I'd suggest it is quite difficult for the market price to substantially disagree with insider consensus - there would be too much temptation for insiders to take a position and get rich, and in the process move the price in the right direction. In some markets you can make a case for lack of liquidity and ease of manipulation, but not oil.

Wait, didn't you say this:

The big problem for oil is not the market, it is the information; in particular, we have very poor information about the status of middle eastern oil reserves, and similarly for many other parts of the world.

Hard for insiders to manipulate? I think you misjudge who is actually an insider here. The trader at NYMEX is not an oil insider, the head of Exxon-Mobil and the Saudi oil minister are. These are the folks with the real information.

At least with the market, you not only get a price prediction, you get error bars in the form of a de facto standard deviation around the price. This comes from option pricing using the Black Scholes model.

Again, of Long-Term Capital Management fame? :-)

See this post at Econbrowser by Professor James Hamilton where he computes the two sigma confidence interval for oil prices over the next few years. Show me another institution that produces such riches of data and lets you not only see what the predictions are, but how much confidence you can reasonably put in them as well!

Pentagon estimates of VC/NVA fighting strength during the Vietnam war.

Don't get me wrong. Markets are great institutions, but they are limited in what they can do.

Don't forget the specialists whose role it is to deceive either other specialists or the community at large.

Advertisers do influence demand.

Lobbyists do influence policy (and externalities).

One is reminded of Westexas's 'Iron triangle' suggestions.

In any case, it is important to remember the other side of the coin with respect to specialization. There are specialists whose role it is to capitalize upon a distorted market, and facilitate further distortion upon which to capitalize...

ding. ding. ding.
we have another winner.
Trouble is, the price signals between 1981 and, say, 2005, basically told consumers to burn all the oil they wanted to burn. Furthermore, as Oil Drummers well know, the severe problems in data transparency and the lack thereof made a hash of price signals; Matthew Simmons made a case, in "Twilight in the Desert" of poor data leading to the oil price crash of 1998.

Furthermore, the model of competitive economics Halfin cites is underpinned by a number of assumptions. One of them is, wait for it, "perfect information." In English that means, buyers AND sellers have all the information they need to come to rational decisions about pricing goods and services. Without perfect information, the economy is less than perfectly competitive and requires a different description to account for imperfect information.

Another assumption underlying the perfectly competitive model that is germane to peak oil, is the assumption of "mobile goods." In English, THAT means, that in a frictionless manner, charecterized by smooth and CONTINUOUS mathematical functions, labor and capital go to their most profitable use until general equilibrium is reached (ask Lou Grinzo for the proper definition of general equilibrium, which in my day, required Brouwer's Fixed Point theorem, if not Mr. Grinzo's topology). As we oil drummers know: it can take years of exploration and development before oil flows from a newly discovered field. Oilfield development requires some large "lumpy" investments... you can't do 10% of the work to get 10% of the output. Also oilfields require trained and experienced workers, who are now in short supply. So much for mobile goods... The point of this is, we can't depend on price signals to tell us how and when energy projects should be developed, when we are looking at things from the viewpoint of maximizing society's welfare (which is what microeconomics tries to do in a mathematically formal way). What companies do to maximize profit, need not actually match the needs of society. This is not to brand anyone or any company "immoral," only to say that the incentives facing a company or country with an oil field to develop, could easily diverge from the incentives that would yield the greatest good for the greatest number.

Given that energy sector reality is so far removed from the theoretically competitive economy Halfin cites, I cannot believe that price signals yield a complete or accurate guide for energy related decisions.

My bad for typing in the small hours: classical microeconomics does not care about income distribution... the goal of classical micro is to find mere Pareto Optimality, where economic output is maximized and no "resources" are left unused. "The greatest good for the greatest number" is the formula of the Utilitarian philosophy of Jeremy Bentham and James Mill.
I have to disagree on a few points.

First, while better information helps, the market does not need "perfect information" unless it is to work perfectly. In the real world, we all get by with imperfect information.

Recall that the main issue here is whether it would be necessary or helpful for everyone to learn more about the mathematics of exponential growth in order to better manage our oil resources. Even if this happened, we'd still face the reality of imperfect information, and I claim that price levels would still be basically what they are today. Unless you can make an argument that bringing more people into the oil markets would be expected to substantially change prices, this position stands.

Another claim is that price signals do not tell "us" whether energy projects should be developed. This is largely true but irrelevant, because "we" are not the ones in charge. These decisions are made by oil companies, and indeed they do have to make elaborate extrapolations and projections in order to decide whether a particular field or play makes sense to develop. This is what I meant when I said that this knowledge is only needed by the specialists in the particular fields involved.

The point remains that by maximize their profits, oil companies do in fact maximize net social good. After all, profits derive ultimately from the social good they create. Only by maximizing benefits to the rest of society will the owners of a resource maximize profits to themselves.

Let me throw out a challenge to those who disagree. Try to describe a scenario in which everyone learns more mathematics, and that results in a substantial change in behavior with regard to oil consumption. Explain whether this new knowledge would result in a change in prices; if not, explain why behavior would change, and if so, explain why the current bunch of knowledgeable insiders are setting different prices than this new crop of mathematically trained layfolk.

Are you familiar with the Theorem of the Second Best?

It has enormous implications.

If it is a mystery to you, try Google, as usual, or if that fails, look in an advanced Microeconomics text.

I did look at that, and it is an interesting theoretical result, but I don't see a lot of practical importance. My interpretation is, if the conditions for a perfect market aren't met in practice (as they never are), then government intervention can sometimes help. Well, sure. But that doesn't mean that government intervention will always help, or even will usually help. There is a whole other school of economics that analyzes government regulation, and the general conclusion is that it doesn't work very well. Consider the Public Choice work for which Buchanan won the Nobel a few years ago. So it is a very different matter to consider whether government intervention will actually help in practice, versus an ideal government which can theoretically help in principle.

But that is all really not relevant to the issue at hand, which was not that markets are perfect, but rather that people do not have to become individual experts on oil and energy in order for society to make smart and reasonable choices on where to expend its resources. Any more than that would be the case for any of the many other kinds of expertise which exist in society.

Thank you for learning new things. For that you have placed yourself in the top tenth of the top one percent for intelligence and integrity.

HOWEVER, I do wonder if you "got it."

By that I mean:

Unless the totally unrealistic predictions of Perfect Markets are met in the premises, then market theory can tell us NOTHING WHATSOEVER as to what may be an optimum or even a satisfactory solution.

Thus, IMO, the implications of "Theory of the Second Best" strike a mortal blow at traditional market theory.

BTW, we know that government fails. What discourages me is that markets can fail just as bad.

 Are you trying to tell me that the low prices of 1981 and 1998 -- which are a historical fact -- sent the price signals that benefited society as a whole? Without that historical backdrop, I would not have bothered with my recitation of graduate level economic theory,to explain why real world markets do not resemble theoretical markets. The point is, the price signals in actual fact, encouraged oil consumption and discouraged investment in exploration and production.

If I believed that the price signals in question had worked for social good then I would have had to agree with you, that the markets worked well "enough." The plain historical fact, at least according to most peak oilers and certainly according to commentators like Matthew Simmons, is that these market signals hurt society as a whole.

I have no idea whether maximal oil company profits contribute to net social good. I can only say that Big Oil failed to take the risks of paying for big, risky projects and instead opted to maximize cash flow in low risk ways. As an oil executive, I might have done the same thing. But this behavior has not exactly helped us open up additional sources of supply. By starving the industry of trained E&P personnel, failing to replace 30 year old infrastructure in many fields, and failing to build new refineries, we have set up situations that will take time to undo (that was my point of saying why goods do not exhibit frictionless mobility in the real world).

BTW, I make my living trading the equity, futures, and options markets fulltime and have done so for 14 years. It is my observation that changes in prices for back month (and out year) contracts feed off the near term futures contracts and not the other way about. Moreover, market participants worry about expectations more than current price levels. I don't care what the price is now, the only thing that matters to me is where it will be tomorrow, for that determines if tomorrow's P&L will look better based on the positions I hold today.

Like most of us oil executives seemingly form their expectations based at least to some degree on past experience, simply because they can't know everything about what all the other current players are doing or plan to do. Oil executives continue to use the price signals of 1981 and 1998 to defend their conservative investment postures. Those price signals have had negative consequences that continue to this day. If oil is a near perfect market I shudder to think of an imperfect one.

(Note, oil prices were not cheap in 1981, in fact they were more expensive than today in constant dollars. However they were quite cheap later in the 80s and that is what I take your main point to be.)

I would say that given the information available at the time, prices in the 80s and in 1998 were reasonable and appropriate. Teaching more people the mathematics of exponential growth would not have changed prices back then.

After all, exponential growth had been going on for over 100 years, and oil reserves had only grown all that time. The more oil we used, the more still existed in the ground. For most of the 20th century, oil acted as though it were a renewable resource, as additional exploration and improved technology continually increased the resource base.

Maybe you can say, if we had had in the 80s the information that we have today, we would have or should have had higher prices. Unfortunately, that is not possible. We don't know today what conditions will be like in 2025, and surely if we did have that information we could make wiser choices between now and then. You can only do the best you can with the information available at the time.

And actually, I don't think you can make that strong a case that prices should have been higher in the 1980s. If they had been, we might well have see much less economic growth between then and now. There would be more poverty and hardship in the world. The tremendous increases in wealth which have occured over the past 20 years would have been greatly reduced. This would be real and genuine cost and harm.

Against this harm, what would be the corresponding benefit? Well, we would have more oil today, and oil prices would not have climbed rapidly in the past few years, we'll stipulate. But maybe today's oil would still be expensive in this scenario, it's just that it would have been expensive all along, in this alternative reality.

How does that benefit us? We have a loss of economic growth and well being, and not much benefit so far that I can see.

The only way to count a benefit is to assume that we would see substantially improved conditions in the future, to make up for the substantially worse conditions in the past, due to this policy (of long-term high prices going back to the 1980s). But we don't know that will happen.

There are many possibilities. Maybe we will successfully deal with a reduction in oil availability without as much difficulty as some here foresee. Maybe it will turn out that there is enough oil to keep production increasing for another decade or more, and by that time we will have better technologies to improve oil field recovery. There's no guarantee that things will be that bad, just as there was no guarantee in 1998 that oil would continue to be cheap forever.

We were wrong then; who is to say that we are not wrong today? The lesson from the past is not that certain people were right then, so they will be right forever; the lesson is that the future is inherently uncertain and unknowable. Making decisions on the assumption that you have perfect knowledge about the future is highly perilous.

So I would not be so sure that the world would be a better place if oil had been sky high for 20 years instead of for a year or two. That could easily make things a lot worse.

Very Good. Sunlight and Halfin. Two of the best. Back to your corners, fellas. Keep it clean. Remember, we're all friends here. And come out fighting... Ding!Ding!Ding!
Now we get to the nub of it. As a trader in the real world, I don't have all the information. I make my best guess and if the market tells me I am wrong, I take a stop loss and wait for the next high probability opportunity.

My understanding is that lack of information about such things as, Mideast reserves is what makes for an imperfect market. The futures market itself may be fair and open, but it can be a frictionless way to rip off the unwary. And yes I did read JDH's post (and skewered it fairly effectively, I might add) -- see my reply in the recent TOD thread which cited his post and other past discussions of oil price predictions.

More to the point: Elsewhere in this thread, we see debate on how other countries which have experienced high oil prices for some time, are better adapted to handle the current oil shock. Had we had higher prices in the 1980s, we might not have experienced the backsliding that we did on average fuel efficiency in the 90s, we might have obviated the SUV craze, and we might have blunted some of the easy and energy wasteful exurban development that will be hard to undo (more immobility in the goods market).

Higher oil prices in the 90s might well have crimped economic growth in the short run because of the effect on consumer budget constraints. On the other hand, if we had adapted to high prices early and set up an economy that was less oil dependent, consumer budget constraints would be less affected by high oil prices now. We might have taken short term pain in exchange for long term gain, and that is what wise adults do.

As someone who was interested in this in the 1970s (and published freelance articles in places like the New York Times and Baltimore Sun on energy during the 1979 oil shock) I already understood why Hubbert was right. It was already evident then that the US had peaked and the marginal cost of finding oil in the US was rising exponentially; Data Resources Inc., where I was then employed, did a study showing just that.

It didn't take a lot of brains to understand this much: we were going to run out of oil at some time, even if the date were uncertain, and to stay dependent on oil was to stay vulnerable. To undo oil dependence would take time and therefore it made more sense to err on the side of caution. The academics of George Mason University (where public choice "economics" was developed) can bloviate all they wish and transform that bloviation into impressive looking  math but they cannot change the physics of what oil is in the ground.

The whole conservative line about what "government" can and "cannot do," ignores empirical results about what governments HAVE done in other parts of the world (Ie., public transport in Hongkong or in the Netherlands as cited in this thread). Economics becomes a hindrance when it is used to support one's a priori point of view without looking at what actually happens. You can get tenure for being that obviously offbase as an economist but it is somewhat harder to do that in the hard sciences. When universities lend prestige to that kind of "analysis," public debate gets even more confused than it would otherwise be, and more is the pity for that.

In 1998, the Swiss people voted in a national referendum to spend 31 billion Swiss francs* from 2000 to 2020 to improve their already excellent railroad system.  The primary goal was to displace heavy trucks off Swiss highway sand onto (hydro) electric railroads.  A secondary goal was 200 & 250 kph rail passenger service (with 160 kph speciality frieght service).  1 billion CHF (of 31) for quieter rail cars.

The benefits (and reasons voters voted yes) were many & varied.  Less pollution & less congestion certainly were a factor.  But also less dependence of foreign oil, sustainability (creating something useful that will last centuries), less GW alos were major factors.

This is a society that made the right decision, despite low oil prices in 1998.

*Adjusted for currency today & population, this is comparable to the US voting to spend $1 trillion over 20 years to improve our rail systems.  And that much would "get the job done" !

Did you forget the part where the specialists hire lobbyists to game the government(s)?
Exactly, Halfin. The solution to high oil prices is high oil prices.  All the average person needs to do is pay attention to the price of gasoline as posted on every street corner in foot-high lettering.  They'll get the idea soon enough.
Yes and no, Halfin.

If the experts were honest and trustworthy I might agree with you.

If the economic system acted for the greater good I might agree with you.

If the markets showed a tendency to distribute wealth rather than concentrate it I might agree with you.

If the 'science' of economics recognised greater truths I might agree with you.

I could go on...

I'm probably a 'difficult case' though, I would not trust 'God'.

Wow!  Thanks for the Bartlett link and timely too.  

In a another forum, I have stated this doubling effect and gotten the reply that it's irrelevant of simply "silly."  My reply has largely been the same as the "In growth we trust." I have also noted that if it is silly then why rely upon it as a source of identification with success?  

The real challenge will be if they are willing to spend nearly an hour watching the link.  

Dear Professor Goose:
  1. We live in an age of discontinuity.
  2. The functions that revolutionize are lives are stochastic and complex, not continuous.
  3. You cannot differentiate a discontinuous function.
  4. I know you were writing in metaphor, but I love rigor--so long as it is not rigor mortis?

  5. Keep up the good work!
I will agree with the stochasticity, but I'll quibble on the discontinuity.  There's always some quantity of oil flowing, right?  I can differentiate any function that has some area under the curve...and it's that way with MOST of what we talk about here, right?

Yes, there are discontinuities, and the minute those functions hit zero, then it turns into philosophy and string theory, baby.

and also, let's remember, even if a function hits zero in one of its dimensions, there are many other dimensions (assuming a multivariate fucntion) that can be differentiated.  :)
I will not quibble, because your big point is correct.

However, I'd be happy to see threads on:

  1. Drucker's "The Age of Discontinuity."
  2. Chaos and complexity theory in math vs. calculus and differential equations.
  3. Quantitative historical comparisons, cliometry.
  4. A slugfest (as it were) between adherents of Tainter and those who are more Jared Diamond fans.
  5. More economics.
  6. More sociology, social psychology and cultural antropology.
I first saw Professor Bartlett's lecture in 1979 in my geography class at the University of Colorado.

I took it to heart and decided not to have kids, always drove very small cars, built a solar house and live on a small farm.

The weird thing is, some people think I'm selfish because I don't have kids.

Maybe you are selfish.

You're acting like you own the whole planet! What gall..

Too bad the cave men didn't have Professor Bartlett around. They would have known better than to aim for progress and try to improve the quality of their lives. We could still enjoy the pleasures of a lifestyle "nasty, brutish, and short".
rant -
I swear, every single person on this earth should have to take a research methods course (understanding measurement, science, modeling, etc., etc.) and a calculus or statistics (understanding what to do with those measurements) course, damn it.  /rant

Well, this is the Internet! :-)

If someone hasn't already done so, how about locating the best on-line materials (e.g., relevant, well written, intelligeble to the intelligent layperson, stable site, . .) covering the neccessary information, assembling the links into a webpage with explanatory verbage, adding pages of missing material and posting it with the sidebar link "Everyone should know this stuff". Maybe it could be sort of a "Wikicourse" - dynamically created and updated by content experts that are also excellent teachers. Basic thumb rules, like the Rule of 72, to the complex stuff. To drive points home, maybe some Java-based models of systems containing pos/neg feedbacks with various lags that the student tries to manage.  

that is a good idea.  we've done a good bit of it already with the indexes of certain threads of posts (see index bar up above)
The problem is the average IQ is just to darn low..
Half the people who voted, voted for GWB. W.T.F... you could be forgive the first time round but voting him in again was a very simple IQ test IMO... (Hey chickens vote 1 for Cornel Sanders:)

If you gave everyone an IQ test and the bottom 50% where not allowed to breed after a few generations we would see an improvement. But you dont need a license to breed or vote. Thus IQ is not improving it fact an arguement could be made that the opposite is in fact accuring.  
You don't breed from stupid sheep dogs and over time they improve. But humans are special right:)

Humans have always overpopulated and died off its what we do. Its just this time round its going to be quite spectacular.    

Hmmm It seems I have given up on the human race we are just not going to cut it. Close but not quite...

Albert Einstein had given up on the human race. Smart man that Albert....

I don't know which is funnier, the "to low" or the "Cornel" Sanders bit...

Last time humans tried breeding for the best and brightest, all the PC types the world over ganged up on that movement and tried their best to snuff it out.

Isn't the "average" IQ 100 by definition? If I had to pick out one gem from the commentaty, for the "which is funnier" award ... that would be the one. :-)
Einstein had a high IQ, and despite some sadder side-effects, I'd say his contributions to the human race, and his own apparent humanity was a benefit to us all.

But I don't think it's IQ.  There are some very clever people out there who work very hard to misinform those peasants so they vote how they do.. some other clever people who find ingenious ways to get us to keep shopping. Other ones make us scared of each other, and sell guns and bombs and padlocks and house alarms to both sides.  If eugenics is your thing, you might get a better EROEI working on the 'clever' ones, if you can also manage to spare the wise and the compassionate and the courageous at the same time.

Einie got his Nobel for the photoelectric effect, not Relativity which the non-US world knows was discovered by an Italian scientist. Einie also was a wife-beater, ardent, even shrill, Zionist, neglectful of his disabled son by his first marriage (and his first wife was also treated like hell and may have actually done the early work he got credit for) and in general was no one's hero - except to a brainwashed nation that gets spoon-fed a different version of reality than the rest of the world.
No, I have to part ways with you here. Einstein's personal life or political views have no relevance to his scientific work, and while scientific history is not the hagiography presented in the media, anyone who has studied general relativity will have enormous respect for him.
There's lots of brainwashing out there.  I don't think the US has the original patent.

Here are some religious views stated by Einstein.  This renouned Zionism isn't clear from them, but I'd accept some evidence..

"I do not think that it is necessarily the case that science and religion are natural opposites. In fact, I think that there is a very close connection between the two. Further, I think that science without religion is lame and, conversely, that religion without science is blind. Both are important and should work hand-in-hand.[24]
"A Jew who sheds his faith along the way, or who even picks up a different one, is still a Jew.[25]
As an adult, he called his religion a "cosmic religious sense".[26]

In The World As I See It he wrote:

You will hardly find one among the profounder sort of scientific minds without a peculiar religious feeling of his own. But it is different from the religion of the naive man.
For the latter God is a being from whose care one hopes to benefit and whose punishment one fears; a sublimation of a feeling similar to that of a child for its father, a being to whom one stands to some extent in a personal relation, however deeply it may be tinged with awe.
But the scientist is possessed by the sense of universal causation. The future, to him, is every whit as necessary and determined as the past. There is nothing divine about morality, it is a purely human affair. His religious feeling takes the form of a rapturous amazement at the harmony of natural law, which reveals an intelligence of such superiority that, compared with it, all the systematic thinking and acting of human beings is an utterly insignificant reflection.[27]

In response to the telegrammed question of New York's Rabbi Herbert S. Goldstein in 1929: "Do you believe in God? Stop. Answer paid 50 words." Einstein replied "I believe in Spinoza's God, Who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world, not in a God Who concerns Himself with the fate and the doings of mankind." Note that Einstein replied in only 25 (German) words. Spinoza was a pantheist.

Einstein was an ardent enough Zionist to take part in many of the fund drives that kept the Stern Gang, Irgun, etc going.

Relativity, both Special and General, are indeed beautiful theories. A testiment to their inventors both the originators and those who worked on them to fully develop them - not necessarily Einstein.

Quantum mechanics stands equal with Relativity and is equally beautiful, and is something we deal with more in daily life - semiconductors and lasers and so on. Einstein went to his grave denying that little theory though.

The science is not entirely seperate from the scientist. Einstein essentially dropped out of physics research after his young years and although officially was working on some Grand Unification Theory that was really going to wow 'em, really followed a new career as a sort of effigy of Science. That and campaigned like crazy for Zionism and Israel, and it's not too far-fetched to say he was instrumental to the founding of Israel.

After 1920 or so, science chugged along quite well without him, Bohr and Heisenberg and the rest came up with beautiful stuff that worked. And in all the hubbub, the Italian physicist who came up with Relativity was forgotten at least in the Empire - if only Italians ran the Empire's banking and media!

I could hardly demonize Einstein's humanity for his advocating of the creation of Israel, identifying as he clearly did as culturally Jewish.  Given the events of the day, the creation of the state of Israel was understood as a means of protecting a people who had been targeted specifically by a piece of machinery the world had never seen before. (Or thought it had not seen..)  The tragedies that have developed out of this process, the continual INsecurity of Israel's situation, and the continued geopolitical meddling in the Middle East's development by oil-hungry western nations does not, in my view, invalidate the desires and needs for the Jewish people to seek a safe-haven after such a horrific period of killing.

That he opposed quantum mechanics was his right, if that was his position.  He took part in some great advances, and was not part of others, or didn't see eye to eye with the next steps that came along after his own, but to say science 'chugged along without him' is a little misleading, since the intense attention given to his work, whether it yielded concurrent or antithetical reactions by later researchers simply supports the understanding of science as an ongoing and growing base of human knowledge.  As much as you want to sideline him, I don't know that many Physicists and Mathmaticians are as dismissive of either his scientific signifigance, or his humanistic legacy.

But of course, my point was about factors besides IQ that are essential to our future, or perhaps other measures of Intelligence.  I didn't know Einstein, so can only guess from the things I've heard and read, compared with my experience of the world.  My experience tells me that there are 'scientists' who don't use much math, 'humanists' who haven't found out how to stop hitting people they love yet, and 'Geniuses' who, with possibly the best of intentions, create untold volumes of misery, desperation and fear.  I have found myself most impressed with some animals that we call "Pests and Beasts", like Crows, Rats, Pigs and Hyaenas, since in watching them I have seen curiousity, the intention to learn and relearn about a thing, and the very root of intelligence.

When the peak really bites, I hope to be with the kindest rather than the smartest. Here, they seem to have relegated the Professor to the role of galley slave. Note to alpha males: look who gets the girls ...

There's an excellent set of essays called "Island Economics" on the site, where the economy is explained in terms of Gilligan's Island. And yes, Gillgan and the Prof are the workers whom everyone else does their best to live off of.

Oil Trader says...
"The problem is the average IQ is just to darn low.. "

William F. Buckley Jr. once said...
"If I had to be ruled without appeal by the first 100 names in the Harvard Faculty directory, or by by the First 100 names in the Boston phone book, I would take the Boston phone book."  (of course, he was a Yalie ;-)

...guess it's just my way of saying that it takes more than I.Q. to face obstacles in the real world.

Roger Conner   known to you as ThatsItImout

Which comes down to the essential problem of breeding for high IQ.

I do believe the Germans had the right basic ideas and goodness in their hearts, but the truth is, we don't know the best attributes for survival. The Germans in their period of lucidity compared the process to breeding good hunting dogs, but anyone who knows much about dogs knows the "really good" strains too easily become too inbred, get health problems, and over time aren't even the best hunting dogs because you might get 1 out of 5 that are good ones where the real world pretty much demands 5 out of 5.

Sheer IQ isn't the be all and end all. There are a whole lot of things that determine an individual's fitness and it changes greatly with environment. There are widely differing attributes in different populations due to the environments in which they evolved - for instance an African American teenage girl can have as much or more testosterone in her body than a Caucasian man - the high levels in the girl leading to aggressive and impulsive behavior are just what the doctor ordered for survival where her parents grandparents etc evolved, where the relatively low levels in the Caucasian male likewise confer the most fitness in an environment where you have to wait out a long winter, get along with your group in close quarters, and where tales of Viking* raids aside, peaceful trade was much more common than warfare.

In the future world, it's hard to say which characteristics will win out. In a real Peak Oil, back to what the sun and soil give us, scenario, all types will flourish, in their own territories. Pale people will not make it in the tropics, I grew up in the tropics and I can tell you, skin cancer would kill us off in 10 generations. Dark people will not make it in the far North where even the whites battled rickets in the days before Vitamin-D enriched milk. In fact white skin doesn't make any damn sense except as a means to get as much sunlight into the layers that make Vitamin-D as possible. In warlike areas the non-warlike will probably not last long, in other areas where cooperation wins out, generally the most harsh areas, cooperative types will win out - think about the Hopi and Bushman cultures where fighting is just uncool.
*Vikings were the 2nd, 3rd, etc sons of landholders in Iceland, Norway, etc. Since the first sons got the land, the 2nd sons needed to get money to buy their own farms to marry. So, they raided points further south. The ensuing shock and astonishment of the chroniclers of the time and the sensationalism regarding them even later tell us that this was very unusual behavior in traditional European society.

Fleam: I can only assume you are joking with this post (unless they didn't teach humour at Josef Mengele U).
It's pretty damned tongue-in-cheek.

The so-called thousand year reich lasted what, ten? Less than that I believe. They were a spectacular failure. Their failure seems to have been mostly due to their being convinced that they knew which human type was best to breed for - sorry, the world doesn't work that way. In fact from a sustainability viewpoint groups like the Australian Aborigines are just about the hands-down winners. And they're the opposite of what a Nazi, Francis Galton, Boston Brahmin, effete metropolitan snob type, or most anyone who thinks about such things, would pick as best and brightest. But in the light of history and Man's history of destroying his environment, they're the angels among us.

There's not even a settled-upon viewpoint as to what IQ is, or if we have the ability to test for it properly. The real IQ test is who survives, and if we doomers are right, that's going to be found out rather soon.

There are anthropometric indices, for example average acuity of eyesight, hearing and olfaction, where the evidence is that the Australian Aborigines rank near the top among all human groups, and Germans or other Europeans near the bottom. Unfortunately not enough has been done to investigate this fascinating subject.
I'm not going to touch Fleam's analysis of racial differences with a 10 foot pole.

However, here is something slightly less politically incorrect that I thought I might mention: the role of genetic deficiencies. Let me give you an example: I suspet there is a deficiency of pantothenic acid (Vitamin B-5)in my family. Long story short,  I have to take a couple grams a day in order to keep the skin clear, the energy levels normal, etc.  Now that is only a couple pills with breakfast, no biggie it would seem. But it is a huge amount as compared to what is normally found in food.  

So I started thinking, "where would a B-5 deficiency be advantageous?" Well, in an environment where people just had to wait out the winter or famine times for lack of food a defiency such as that could be an advantage. It makes you sort of depressed and lethargic, enough that you just sort of want to stay in bed. Thus you expend less energy and are more likely to make it through an energy shortage (a famine).

That's the kind of thing that orthodox science, at least in the Empire, won't touch. But it's an interesting point.

A lot of it can come from diet, the modern diet is basically crappy. Lots of empty calories and I mean LOTS. Hunter-gatherer diets meant nothing from a cornfield or factory, basically everything bursting with nutrients like crazy. Not just veggies and meat etc like we know them, since our veggiest and meat tend to be grown with massive inputs of petroleum based fertilizers and and much lower in vitamins etc than wild-grown, but sort of the equivalent of eating a constant diet of "heirloom" food.

There was a book out in the 1980s I guess called "Rocket Fuel" which I thought was a silly title, but I looked inside and the basic message was don't eat anything unless it's "rocket fuel" in other words very high quality for the calories. Quality as in vitamins, aminos, etc. Kind of the opposite of eating a box of Krispy Kremes and washing 'em down with a liter* of Coke.

*See? We can get used to metric quantities in this country, just size the soda bottles in 'em.  

Personally, as one who is by ancestry just one-half Neanderthal, I consider myself blessed. Why? Because of heterosis, a.k.a. hybrid vigor. Because my father married my mother, both me and my sister have great advantages.

Sister: five children and too many grandchildren to count
Me: four children, three grandchildren so far and probably at least half a dozen more to come.


It is hard to argue with rigorous quantitative analysis;-)

Oil Trader: You might be on to something. I think you are the first poster on TOD that has mentioned the apparent inverse correlation between IQ and offspring produced. You don't breed from stupid sheep dogs and expect to get smart ones. Classic.  
It is a myth, that IQ is not improving and that the opposite may be occuring. In fact, IQ has been increasing for the past century at a rate of approximately 3 points per decade. IQ test scores have to be renormalized periodically to keep average IQ at 100. This was discovered by political scientist James Flynn, and is known as the "Flynn effect". See for example:

[T]he so-called "Flynn effect" has been confirmed by numerous studies. The same pattern, an average increase of over three IQ points per decade, was found for virtually every type of intelligence test, delivered to virtually every type of group. The pattern applied to some 20 countries for which data were available, including the USA, Canada and different European nations, although the rate increase varied somewhat according to country and type of test. The increase was highest, 20 points per generation (30 years), in Belgium, Holland and Israel, and lowest, 10 points per generation, in Denmark and Sweden. Although the data are limited, it moreover seems that the increase is accelerating. In Holland, for example, scores went up most (over 8 points) for the last measured period, 1972 to 1982. For one type of test, Raven's Progressive Matrices, Flynn found data that spanned a complete century. He concluded that someone who scored among the best 10% a hundred years ago, would nowadays be categorized among the 5% weakest. That means that someone who would be considered bright a century ago, should now be considered a moron!
Flynn was an idiot.
Exponential growth in IQ please....
The ancient Greeks, and Romans clearly had geniuses.
For genetics to improve a selection process must be applying pressure. You cannot breed if you are dead.

The book Germs, Guns and steel makes an interesting point. Children growing up in a rain forrest must still have genetic pressure being applied to their gene pool. Only the smartist, best hearing, best eye sight survive. Stupid slow moving ones die.

Note our eye sight is now infact getting worse with each generation... The genetic pressure at the moment is the more stupid someone is the more kids (on average) they have go figure....

Flynn wasn't an idiot, as I understand it. His point was that IQ tests are drivel, not that we are getting smarter.
Aha Flynn may have been using irony or satire. One of those illegal things.
Flynn is still alive, by the way.

Here's another example I saw today in the new issue of Scientific American. It's not presented as a case of the Flynn effect but I think it fits. It's about chess ability as it has varied over the last century:

"John Nunn, a British mathematician who is also a grandmaster, recently used a computer to help him compare the errors committed in all the games in two international tournaments, one held in 1911, the other in 1993. The modern players played far more accurately. Nunn then examined all the games of one player in 1911 who scored in the middle of the pack and concluded that his rating today would be no better than 2100, hundreds of points below the grandmaster level..."

Of course chess is a pretty narrow field but it is remarkable that a grandmaster of the past would be far below that level today. To me, it is consistent with the idea of greater average intelligence today.

That's pretty silly. Good chess players make fewer mistakes because all the mistakes their predecessors made have been recorded, so it's much easier to avoid making them.
What's the growth rate of Oil Drum readership?
  1. highly variable
  2. not nearly high enough
Metaphorically, in the TTLB Ecosystem:
  • TOD is an Adorable Little Rodent
  • Bitch, PhD is a Large Mammal
  • Boing Boing is a Mortal Human
  • Daily Kos and Power Line are Higher Beings
It used to be a crunchy crustacean, so there's some improvement there ...
TTLB is rather misleading.  It goes by number of links to you.  We have just about double the hits/day of BitchPhD, but we don't get a lot of folks putting permanent links on their webpages to us.

in fact, according to TTLB, we are #158 in the 'sphere.

here's the link to the traffic rankings

  1. The Oil Drum | Discussions about Energy and Our Future 7898 visits/day (2152)
  2. small dead animals 7327 visits/day (223)
  3. The Agonist | thoughtful, global, timely 7186 visits/day (287)
  4. The Left Coaster 6815 visits/day (176)
  5. The Other Side of Kim du Toit 5746 visits/day (139)
  6. | The Aggressive Progressives! 5192 visits/day (767)
  7. locutusofblog 4974 visits/day (41376)
  8. 4955 visits/day (56)
  9. LiberalOasis 4935 visits/day (133)
  10. Dean's World - - 4851 visits/day (22)
  11., Where Your Opinion Counts 4547 visits/day (1659)
  12. RealClimate Climate Science 4458 visits/day (718)
  13. Shakespeare's Sister 4391 visits/day (46196)
  14. Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers 4360 visits/day (91)
  15. Ezra Klein 4316 visits/day (256)
  16. Bitch Ph.D. 4069 visits/day (128)

we're #2152 in # of links.  

When they say "visits" is that unique visits or does it include those of us who, like rats on crack, check our favorite blogs obsessively?

I like this system better than alexa. I used to check my alexa rankings but stopped cause it just makes you fell small when you plug in your site and it says you are only number 85,000 or whatever. But according to TTLB traffic rankngs LATOC would be somewhere 200-250 depending on the timeframe measured.

Alexa is shit.  It only counts people with alexa toolbars who come to your site.  

The visit count counts one visit as the time you have your browser open to TOD.  If you open TOD and then open links in another window, keeping a TOD window open, it's the same visit.  

If someone stays here and have multiple clicks, that is counted as one visit only.

TTLB uses the same sitemeter counts that we have over in the right sidebar.  kind of the industry standard.  blogads uses page views...and we're quite high on that one too obviously.

The problem for us is that while a lot of people link to us temporarily quite a bit, we missed the initial blogrolling of the 'sphere because we started a little later, so we're not in a lot of blogrolls, hence the low link ranking.

but 158 in traffic numbers.  go figure.
I have discussed peak oil with colleagues and friends, of varying IQ. They can all understand peak oil. This not the problem. The problem is relevance. One response: who cares? I think the problem is that people don't understand how reliant we are on oil. People don't believe or imagine that it could effect the food chain for example. They just think, okay it will cost me a bit more to fill up my car, I'll be okay.
HK trader,

They just think, okay it will cost me a bit more to fill up my car, I'll be okay.

That's probably how it is going to play out. People for who gas is only a minor portion of the budget (like everybody in the developed world) will experience it like that. Well, at least for the next decade or two.

For the people who are depending on cheap oil, as most people are in the developing world, the problem will be very different.

It's basic economics. What makes more money:

  • Flipping burgers at McD in Smalltown, USA, or
  • Growing rice in Kenya?

Oil is not sold on ppp basis, but for absolute dollars. The farmer in Kenya will die and his oil will go to the burgerflipper, so to speak.

Well, sort of.

Hi Richard,

I think you'd be surprised for who gas represents a minor part of budget. Because the developed world consumes vastly more oil per person than the developing world it wouldn't surprise me if the average american spends a larger proportion of the budget on oil than the average Indian. Sure Americans may have a budget several time more than the average Indian but the average consumption may be an order of magnitude more per person. Also I think you need to look at the amount budget availabe for consumption. The average american overspends budget, ie, today in america there is a neagative saving rate. If oil doubles the average american would have to borrow more (which is unsustainable) to consume. The Chinese are estimated to save 30% of income (amazing I know). Given they consume less oil and have ample room in their budget they can easily accomodate a doubling in oil price. The Chinese will push the price of oil up and up when we in the west are hurting.

So you see it not just about who makes more money but about perspective and relative consumption/income. I think we will be surprised to see how it plays out.


I don't know if it is appropriate to keep posting on a subject I don't know nearly enough about (economics), but maybe just for discussions sake? ;-)

Let's list a few things:

  • I don't know anybody for who the current oilprices are a real problem (apart from a nuisance at the water cooler)
  • And I'm Dutch, we have the highest gas price in the world (more than 7 US$ a gallon) In Holland, people don't really discuss it. Parlement also doesn't. It's not a political topic or anything.
  • Gas prices have been high here for decades and still I could easily cut my use in half. Take the bike, take the bus, well, you know the drill. It's only a 40 bike ride to work (and 30 min by car) and I still took the car (yes I changed that ;-)
  • 30% savings rate is high, but the Japanese do it too. And The Netherlands for instance, does 14%. Only the US desaves. Today I read the economist and it said that Holland has a 40 b US$ current account surplus. Scaling to US population, that would be 750 b plus.
  • The chinese have another problem: Their economic growth is mainly based on export, not on internal consumption. (Same as the Japanese) They have now about a trillion $ in foreign reserves. If they start spending it, they loose their export markets, because it is based on cheap labor.
  • The chinese have to create 300 m new jobs next decade, so they definately do not want a higher yuan.
  • Overall, I think PO will be played along the economic lines. Currency valuations etc.
Think of it this way - the farmer in Kenya probably doesn't use any oil anyway or if so minor. He is not totally dependent on oil to have his food delivered to him or to get to work. He doesn't need aircon or TV. He won't change his life much. You can't say that about the average westerner. The Kenyan can probably continue to grow his income modestly year on year as he is not dependent on oil. He is plodding along on a donkey whereas we are racing along in a ferrari.
Hi Richard,

I am half Dutch. My mother was From Enschede on the German Border. I think you are right that people are not really doing that badly right now with these oil prices. I think that means that if and when supplies drop it will take significantly higher prices to hurt people to the point that they really cut consumption. So prices will go higher than people probably expect. I think that the Dutch will do relatively well because from my experience they save, they are modest and conserving. In Hong Kong we have an awesome public transport system. I can say nobody here is complaining about high gas prices. I have noticed quite a bit of whinging about it from people in Australia and the States for some reason.


the farmer in Kenya probably doesn't use any oil anyway or if so minor

He probably uses chemical fertilizer, and insecticides.  His community is supplied with many products from the industrialized world which in turn are transported via liquid fuels.  If he is unable to afford the products that allowed agriculture to greatly increase production, then there may not be enough food to feed his people.  This leaves out any side effects of GW.

Hi Xironman,

Point taken. But the statistics still show that on a percapita basis the US is a vastly more voracious consumer on a per capita basis than any other country - I would say especially Kenya. So the point still stands doesn't it - the farmer uses a minor amount of oil compared to the equivalent farmer in the states. So we may be surprised that it will be easier for these people to adapt compared to people in the West. Brazil is doing very well with Ethanol, yet it probably wouldn't work in the states because the per person consumption is too big.
I would guess (and it's just a guess) that Kenya could convert to ethanol with much less disruption than the United States.


FWIW, a source of data on fertilizer use:

African agricultural development trends:

HK Trader: You and your friends can relax for a while. The guy driving 25000 miles a year living in a Dallas suburb while earning $40000 a year has more immediate issues. By the way, how many miles do you drive in a year?
HI BrianT

I can't drive. I never owned a car. I have never even taken a driving test. I use public transport. I have worked in London, Sydney, Tokyo and now Hong Kong and I can honestly say I never missed owning a car.


Bean counters have their uses.

But, can we really usefully analyse behaviour?

A depletion curve for honesty.

Exponential growth charts for disillusionment.

A pie chart for greed.

An equation for love and hate.

'Converting' people to PO is about communication between people.  Communication doesn't work if there are barriers.

Distance, language, literacy, numeracy, religion, culture...

Peersuasion is many times easier.  Prof.G's communication using stats etc. works best with those who get stats etc.  This is not to say PG is inelegant in other forms of communication.

I like beans.

All accounting data is historical.

For example, sales "projections" are just WAGS.

You see...

I have no idea what WAGS means!  And accounting involves beans.

Acronym, homonim, percentile, pah!

"I have no idea what WAGS means!"

That would be a wild-ass guess.  When an engineer makes a projection it is a SWAG, a scientific wild-ass guess.  SWAGs are much more accurate than WAGs.

But what does 8% depletion really mean?

Just propose to invest somebody's money for an 8% per year return. I bet you a dime the next day he calls you for details.

I wonder if this problem isn't generational. The farmers I know -know exponential growth/depletion- though they don't know the word. Growing plants, raising stock, requires such; and filling a barn, loading hay etc. is always a math problem.

OTOH my grandson while often brillant has yet to learn/understand such because video games nor school have not required such.

Thanks for posting the link to the lecture.  I am watching it with rapt attention as I am writing this - fantastic.

You did not really use a title like....
 "The Course of Our Lives WILL Be Determined by the First Derivative of a Function", did you, or did he, or would anyone?!

 Let's think real hard....the first and only absolute Derivative of the function of "Our Life" will be our death....peak oil or not. Everything else is optional, unknown, and YAHOO  (You Always Have Other Options)

So what is all this "Peak" talk about anyway, who cares?, right, we're all gonna die!

And that my friends of the TOD roundtable is why "Peak" is not "selling".  Because humans know, deep in their intuitive hearts, that we are not arguing about whether or not we will perish (we will, that's built into our "Function"), but how we will live in the meantime, and HOW we perish.  This is an aesthetic and philosophical  and NOT a technical or mathematical argument.

I think it is important for our math professors and world champeen graphers to understand something that math will have trouble overcoming and no amount of "research methods courses" will resolve or explain (now allow me to rant...some of the outright rabid elitism in the "peak aware" communtiy ASTOUNDS ME, and would DEEPLY ANGER ME, if it did not cause me to often collapse in peals of laughter! :-)

Here goes:
# When some of these good ole' boys say, "you'll have to pry that steering wheel of my cold dead hands.", this is not simply a manner of speech to them.

#When some of our politicians say, "Our way of life is non-negotiable.", this is not just a political re-election slogan.  It is all they know.  They are descendents of warrior kings, now dressed in three piece suits.  Frankly, they are being more honest than the ones who trie to proclaim being enlightened.

#When some office lady is told that the nation may not be able to provide her with gas for her SUV, and she replies angrily, "Well, they better!", due to her vote, buying power and numbers, she has to be taken as seriously as a Division of troops.
#And when Americans see the price of oil rise and scream on the message boards of the internet (visible to the world, by the way) "Nuke that desert to glass, they are animals anyway!",
this is often more than just hyperbole and a bit of afterwork venting.  (comparable to "reduce the population by 70% and we will be back in balance", by the way, the only argument then is method...)

Notice in the above examples, we somehow managed not to discuss "calculus and differential equations and econometrics" and somhow didn't need to, did we?

That's because what we are discussing here is NOT the numbers, but instead the very way of life, prosperity, freedom, DIGNITY and self meaning and image of a people.  For America, like almost no nation in the world, the OIL age and the MOTOR age is tied into who we are in a life defining way, a meaning defining way.  It is scary.  Some see it as silly.  Some see it as absolutely evil.  But...self loathing be dammed, it is who we are as a people.

The math means almost NOTHING, except in educating the technicians as to the almost Herculean task they must now attempt if they want to help our nation and world avoid catastrophe of Earth shattering preportions.

Because what they must do, with our (Meaning us "aware") assistance, is disguise this massive technical change, the drop in fossil non-renewable fuel production and consumption, in such a way so as to make it almost invisible to the public, to the masses, to the ones you all disdainfully call "the sheepies" (and then expect them to accept what you say as a gift after you insult all they are).  Notice, I am recruiting my fellow peak aware freinds to assist.  Why?  Becuase at least, despite our many differences, you accept the danger, and understand the scale, the math, of the problem.

Disguising this so called "powerdown" from the masses may not be technically possible.  We simply can't know yet.  We also cannot yet know that it is impossible.  We can only know that it must be attempted.  We cannot hope for a humane future in any other way.  We must at least attempt to hold together a reasonable facsimile of a modern technical consumer society, to prevent an ailment far worse than the hunger, cold, and privation that would be caused by Peak Oil, when it occurs.  What we must try to prevent is complete madness, and complete social and cultural meltdown.

If that happens, the high brow math of "Peak" will seem like a walk in the park compared to the very non-mathematical effect of complete cultural loss of identity, purpose, reason, and finally, sanity. The lack of fuel will be the tiniest problem.

Since the birth of the modern technical age, we have heard loads of clap about the "Thin Blue line" of cops protecting society and order, the "Thin Green line' of soldiars protecting us from being overran by barbarian invaders, both real and imagined.  But someone was providing the tools and toys to the cops and troops... the cars, the guns, the helicoptors and planes and fuels....and feeding and sheltering the citizens to keep them somewhat pacified, with TV and lights and heat, and powerboats on the weekend.

Let us talk about the "Thin Gray Line" of technicians, mechanics, chemists, themodynamicists, electrical designers and technicians, materials designers, engineers and specialists at all levels.

It is the "Thin Gray Line" that may stand between us and sheer madness.  They must pull off a magic act.  Just as magic is part illusion and part science, so it will be with the powerdown if we are to skirt complete meltdown.  There are technicians already underway.  Some of what they are doing, we know, is illusion.  But they have no choice, they have few tools and less time.  Our problem, since we can understand some of the tricks, is that we are too harsh as critics on their act.  It is not perfect.  Ethanol is an example, as is biofuel, tar sand, andsolar and wind.  Right now, they are serving to help create and maintain the illusion.  They are not levitating the stage.  But we must give some of them a chance.  We have to let the act develop, and support moving it in the directions we know can work.  We have to support the world wide movement of mirrors, and help provide the diversions, so that the technicians have a chance to move the stage pieces, get the mirrors in place, put the actors and props in place.  It is the technicians, and those who support them, who are not only providing a path out.  They are providing something more.

Belief.  A belief by the public that, as they see flames and misplaced persons, and illusions that are confusing and disorienting, they can feel and say, "hey, this is fun, it's all part of the act."

 It's a one shot in a thousand that the technicians can get the show up and running in time, and pull off the act.  But it's the only show in town.
They'll be the ones that know the math.

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Thanks for expressing this so very very well.

I would go further than this.  We have lots of off the shelf technology that would reduce reduce energy usage significantly.  We don't need no stinking grey line of geeks.  All of this is an effort to maintain the status quo and nothing more.

To me, the key is that people have to accept that life as they/we know it will change - either because they make the changes volitionally or because it is forced upon them.  I saw all this coming after the first Club of Rome report and made changes 30 years ago.  What is needed is a large-scale demonstration project showing how good life could be if society powered down.


Powerdown essentially asks people to do with less energy. This is like asking people to have fewer orgasms. The chemical processes set off by consumption and orgasm are not all together different. Because of the way we're wired, matter how many orgasm you have you always want more.

Now, somebody who is having 5 or 6 a day who is told "you need to cut back to 2 per day" might be willing to go along. After all, at 6/day the person probably realizes they are ignoring other parts of their life and maybe cutting back to 2/day would be good for them.

But most of the world is not having 6/day. They're only having 1/month. so they can't really cut back too much.

Put it this way: who is the average woman more likely to partner up with: a man who gives her 5/week or a man who gives her 1/month? Guarantee you she will find a way to rationalize her selection of the man who gives her 5/week no matter the effect on the planet.

(Which is why I have no desire to powerdown to be the guy who can only provide 1/month. No siree, I'll be eating my wheaties and taking  my vitamins till the planet is turned into a total cinder.)

That's why powerdown, while admirable, will never work out in the real world. Imagine campaigning on a platform of "vote for Mr. X, he'll give you have fewer orgasms."

Powerdown essentially asks people to do with less energy. This is like [...]

It's sad that the doomer philosophy is so dependend on these misplaced metaphores.

Maybe we need a cornucopian to say that powerdown is "like" discovering you can have the orgasm without a Hummer (no pun intended).


Something like 90% of marriages involve a woman who marries a man who makes more than she does. (don't have a link to the study handy)

What does this tell us? Well that women tend to mate/marry up the ladder of economic activity.

Econmic activity and the availability/consumption of energy are correlated although certainly not exactly. A certain amout of energy had to be consumed to produce the ecnomic activity that results in one's monetary income.

Asking men to powerdown means asking them to, more or less, reduce their economic activity which means make less money. It's asking women to be attracted to men who makes less money then they make, not more. This is the complete opposite of what we see happening.

It's not unlike asking investors to invest in the company that will give them a negative return on their investment. Invest $100, get back $90 is a monetary example of powerdown. Invest 100 BTUs get back 90 is the same equation in energetic terms.

It's why powerdown is no going to happen, at least not on a voluntariy basis.

Your "orgam without a hummer" example is a bit of a straw man but you probably already knew that.


I fully agree that powerdown isn't going to happen nor is a global oil prototol which is why I'm taking care of my own butt (and a couple of my neighbors).  Remember, I'm in the Hansonite school of the future.

Having said that, I believe that there is even less likelyhood that people will even consider change if they have no idea of how the change might play out.  To stay with your sex metaphore, it's like trying to convince someone to have sex reassignment surgey by telling them their sex life will be better than ever.


To stay with your sex metaphore, it's like trying to convince someone to have sex reassignment surgey by telling them their sex life will be better than ever.

Is it reasonable to suggest such a permenent change as metaphore?  Or is that another mismatch?

So you buy a bus pass and never use it ... that is so much like having your balls cut off.


I became concerned about sustainability in the late 1960's and have actually practiced this stuff for around 30 years whereas most of the people here only theorize. In point of fact, it IS going to be equivalent to having their balls cut off.  The idea of a "transition" is stupid beyond belief IMO.

We have city friends come up to our mountaintop and admire the views.  They had to see our PV system as they drove up and can't miss the wood cookstove in the kitchen.  But, what they don't see is that our time is spent working to provide for many of our needs.  There isn't any free time for all that "fun" stuff I read about nor is there money for irrational things like a home "theater."

The vast majority of people are going to be hit with a ton of bricks when it all comes down around them.


You know, I've done pretty well (so far) living a tech life in a coastal city ... but I think humility demands that I say mine is not the only way ... and that I'm the only one to have it figured out.

(that off-grid country stuff is great, most importantly if you enjoy living it, even without a crash.)

You got that right especially after years in and around "big" cities - Cleveland (?), NYC, Phila, DC and SF.  Give me land, lots of land with a stary sky above.  Don't fence me in....



Why am I generally the only non-poor person on the bus? Why are there not other late twenties studs like myself riding it? Cause to 99% of them, the effect of riding the bus would be like having their balls cut off.

You're shifting your goalposts bud.  It is not what people do with (relatively) easy resources, it's how adaptive they are willing to be in the face of declining resources.

It's about reaction.  If you "reduce economic activity" in the face of higher energy prices ... that's basically your decision, and your problem.

On the other hand, there is a growing number of environmentally-aware, peak-oil aware men and women for whom energy efficiency is a sign of the kind of adaptability that ensures a better chance for survival of offspring.

So if we take this idea of "fitness" another step further, we might see those who despise ecojustice and a scientific approach to the resources offered by our habitat to be increasingly less attractive.  Meanwhile the peak oil aware crowd will be seen over time as those who really take the time to prepare for their little ones.

YEs but even within this group, the men with more BTUs will prevail. Line up 100 owners of solar powered companies. Which ones will get the most attention?
Which ones will get the most attention?

Can we turn this question to:

How do we keep society at large from overrunning the ressources bases while still keeping the enjoyment of our deepest "natural" drives?

Tricky but possible may be.
In any case there is not much else that can be done beside a terminal crunch or totalitarian control (green fascism, another kind of crunch).
Do you notice at all that you simply "insist" you conclusions?

the men with more BTUs will prevail

I guess Owen Wilson uses more BTUs than Bill Gates.

Try Sex on the Bus.

Hint: A large thick blanket helps.

Which reminds me . . . of a trip I took to Honolulu some twenty or more years ago on a wide-bodied Lockheed 10-11 that had three great big engines and was two-thirds empty.

Well, there was a couple who could not wait to get started on their honeymoon, and for five and a half hours they humped nonstop under a couple of thin NW Airlines blankets while the rest of us supposedly watched the boring movie.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

When I wrote the above I was thinking of the local Sierra Club.  Status gambits are not gone, but they are a little more in which boots or jacket you wear, and a little less than the size of the car you show up in.  That's a group that starts from a different mental outlook, but it might not be a bad indicator of the future.

I'm sorry but your whole post is based on the foolish assumption that status must always be tied to underlying energy content.

... what does a surfboard do for your status vs. a notebook computer?  Is the answer related to energy of manufacture?

"Asking men to powerdown means asking them to, more or less, reduce their economic activity which means make less money."


Line up 100 surfers. Which ones are going to get the most attention? The champion surfers, ie the ones that are going to make the most money or achieve the most status. Status and money are correlated with how much energy you will have access too.

Powerdown is asking the champion surfers not be such champions. That way they'll have access to less status and thus less energy. It's asking the women to be attracted to the lower status surfers, those who won't have access to as much energy as their champion counterparts.

It's not that it's tied to the contentof the implement being used so much as how much status you have. Status is what determines how much energy you will have at your disposal.



Works for sailing too.

Win the biggest trophy and you have your pick of the prettiest girls.

Also, the best sailing instructors are much in demand . . . . oh my goodness, yes indeedy.

I thought about this conversation and sailing, as I did my 8 mile walk today (for health first, energy/evironment second).

I think sailboats are an example in my favor.  They have much lower lifecycle energy investment that powerboats, and they (the sailboats) build a wonderful social network.

I don't think we'd say the sailboaters lost out on their "powerdown."

No they didn't, but the champion boaters will have access to MORE energy than the suckers. They are powering up, not down.
I don't think you read my comment.
You know, I think a would-be cult leader could say "peak oil is like a grapefruit" and would-be cult followers would nod their heads in unison.

You started with a claim that powerdown was like giving up sex.  BS.  Powerdown is about using resources wisely.  You've hedged toward that when you say:

Status and money are correlated with how much energy you will have access too.

They are "correlated" ... oh dear, what shall we do?

(a lot depends on how they are correlated and if the function is linear.)

Matt, your analysis is correct, as things are. Unfortunately that way lies the messy and bloody resolution. Looking long term if humanity persists in this model it will periodically conflict-crash, each time having consumed more of the mineral resources, until there are insufficient resources to support an advanced society. Whereupon we might devolve to hunter gatherer apes.

Humans must change. Many human attributes that were beneficial as we exploded as a species are now maladaptive. I don't have an answer, it quite scares me when I begin to think of this, but I do know that the way we are probably dooms us as a species this time around unless we can find a way to change quite radically.

I doubt millions of years of evolution will be rewired in a matter of 5-50 years.
I doubt that, too. But humans have, in a sense, partly externalised behavioral determinants in a thing called society. There is hope that can change in the time available.

Humans have become too biologically successful for this planet, Darwinian evolution has achieved its goal and has probably become redundant and irrelevent for our future as a species.

<shrug>.  You guys are speaking from your gut.  This is a form of "truthiness."  Maybe it's "common sense" or maybe you just need a little more fiber and exercise.
Humans have become too biologically successful for this planet, Darwinian evolution has achieved its goal and has probably become redundant and irrelevent for our future as a species.

then you obviously do not understand evolution.
There is no goal, no final form that it will always reach. All it does is shape living things to best fit their environment by natural selection. It's a reactive force and not a proactive one. To claim it has a goal is to say it's a proactive force and to imply it has something intelligent behind it.
The 'goal' of evolution that I meant is to make species biologically successful through natural selection. I didn't mean to imply evolution is proactive, rather the opposite!

I do not think the future of humans will be determined by Darwinian evolution - we have become too dominant as a species on this planet. If the human future is going to be determined by Darwinian natural selection then human society and population levels will have to go back 10,000 years or more.

I was arguing that Darwinian evolution has been important in determining what humans are now but somehow we, as a species, must find an alternative adaptive mechanism of change. If we do not then we will have failed to leap from the Darwinian mechanisms that got us to here to a new mechanism that is essential if we are to go beyond that.

Evolution is DUMB, I ascribe no intelligence to it, it is also mostly very slow. Humans have out bred and dominated all life forms bigger than rats on this planet, our next evolutionary competitor is most likely to be Gaia. That will be a challenge.

It's like telling all the champion surfers to ride crumbly, 2-foot,  onshore mushburgers...  

It's like telling the sailors to sail their high speed boats in 3 knots of wind...

I think this thread gets at one of the hearts (??) of PO.  Call it the 'momentum of entitlement' or the 'stickiness of non-humility'.  When I see the faces behind the wheels (as I pedal by on my bike) I don't imagine these people letting go...

I think this sub-thread is about people glibly using "it's like" rather than doing the math .... this, in thread about doing the math, of all things.
No, it is not:

"Asking men to powerdown means asking them to, more or less, reduce their economic activity which means make less money."

it is

"Asking men to powerdown means asking them to, more or less, redirect their economic activity which means they have to 'think'."


Wrong. It is more than just being more intelligent. It is about progressively reducing energy use: both what goes on in your own personal life (biking versus driving) and what it takes to make the money you earn (sell less software, fewer books, etc)

Powerdown is EVERYBODY be they a bike rider or a car driver do the following, progressively lower their energy use year by year:

Year 1: 100 BTUs
Year 2: 97 BTUs
Year 3: 95 BTUs

Problem is that through millions of years of evolution, men evolved to get MORE energy and women evolved to select the men getting the more energy.

(Why don't you go show us how possible this is by taking a 50% pay cut big guy?)

So the guy who only has 50 BTUs of enery at his disposal is going to be less popular than the guy who has 100 BTUs. Why? Because, among other reasons, the guy with access to more energy is going to have access to more food, better medicine, have a better chance of getting out of disaster area, have more influence with politicianss, etc.

Why is this so hard for you to understand? I figured this stuff was common sense.

Why is this so hard for me to understand?  You haven't started with a depletion rate and showed that X rate kills A-Z economic sectors.

You mentino "sell less software" above.  You know, I've been essentially pushing bits since 1981.  The upstream energy required to process, store, or send, those bits has been on an exponential curve over that time.  Fortunately the curve has been "in the right direction."

There is no "common sense" on this.  You have to run the numbers and show that energy (and other resource) costs will run on a faster exponential than the other (computation) one.

(Through millions of years of evolution men and women evolve to leverage available resources, I expect us to continue to be semi-effective monkeys.)

This is one of the most important posts in the whole thread.

Yes, woman marry up not down, a woman who marries down is considered crazy.

Our whole culture is based on More - most (but not all!) cultures are. There's no way 99.9% of the people in our culture will powerdown willingly.

If the process is slow enough, there can be a gradual changing of values, after all, at least the older people in our culture still have the "waste is bad" meme, however weak it may be these days.

I have an interesting time "deconstructing" behavior though. How much is a given behavior purely functional and how much is it showing off/being wasteful to show the person can afford it? And how much is this encouraged by the big corporations that run everything in our lives?

A good example is.... the beer can. The pop-tops are made to make a distinctive noise that carries quite a distance. So the drinker (and no one who can afford to, more drinks just one can of beer - it's a game to see how many one can tank down) is broadcasting: Look at me! I'm having a BEER! Or the excessive amount of packaging of foods - the little Japanese-American cafe up the street packages everything up so much that when you're done, it looks like you put away enough food to feed 3 people.

The beer-can tops could be made quiet, if that's what people wanted. The fast/convenient food could be made low-packaging, if that's what people wanted. But people would complain that the quiet beer cans "make the beer flat" or something, the low-packaging fast food would be considered "where really poor people eat" or something. (I like to eat at the Vietnamese places, my favorite has everything on washable and seemingly eternal bowls and cups etc. and one eats with seemingly eternal chopsticks and spoons, the only waste paper is the napkin you may use and the wrapper on your straw if they remember to give you one, I find my ca phe sua da is just as good without.)

You know looking at this, this seems to be more of a "status" thing among the people who really are poor, since the well to do simply drink their beer from bottles, and eat at home or in better places than the fast food joints where the packaging isn't so excessive. In the very best places, there's no paper in sight - napkins are cloth, etc., and the only paper in the place is your check, and they even cover that up. So, what I'm observing is the "bigger is better" behavior of the poor/insecure. Given that that's about 60% of the US populace these days, I'd say we have a problem.

Given resources people will ceratinly engage in conspicuous consumption.  I think the question (which could be playing out around us this weekend) is how adaptive they will be in their consuption (and other social gambits) as conditions change.

Most of us desire status but we do not spend ourselves into ruin (usually) in order to achieve it in the short term.

My favorite example of the status/frugality message is when a rich guy shows of his $5K watch, and then explains that he isn't a chump, he got it for $3k.  There's something in that binding of behaviors that is interesting ...

My favorite example of the status/frugality message is when a rich guy shows of his $5K watch, and then explains that he isn't a chump, he got it for $3k.

I was standing in line at a wine festival in Ojai and comparing notes with guy in front of me about the hats we were wearing. His Panama cost $400 apparently. That's interesting I said, mine was $4 from Patzcuaro, Mexico...

"Powerdown essentially asks people to do with less energy. This is like asking people to have fewer orgasms."

No it isn't.  There is no pleasure in most energy waste for most people, rather it is a matter of ignorance.

Are you telling me, for example, that people prefer driving on a "freeway" more than 100 times more than, say, playing a video game?  The former requires about 20 kW, the latter about 0.2 kW (I'm erring on the side in favour of the car in both cases, the figures could easily be 50 kW and 0.05 kW, making it a factor of 1000 - obviously it depends on the vehicle and the computer).

Are you telling me that people enjoy driving alone in an SUV more than they enjoy flying with a couple of friends in a private plane?  (The latter is generally more efficient per person)

People enjoy incandescent lights 6 times more than fluorescent lights?

People enjoy empty office buildings with all the lights on?

Most people have no clue how much energy they are using - no clue at all.  How, then, can you possibly suggest that any measure of quality of life is directly related to energy use?  There are plenty of alternatives which consume less energy that people actually enjoy more.  Ironically sex ranks right up there.  To paraphrase your crude analogy: who is the average woman more likely to partner up with: a man who uses vast quantities of energy commuting two hours to work every day but who is too tired to have sex more than once a week, or a  man who walks to work and "gives her 5/week"?

If women were selecting guys who walk to work, you'd see lots guys walking to work.  You seen virtually none. Same for biking, same for taking the bus.

you're right: there is no pleasure in waste. That's not the point of an SUV, to simply waste energy for the heck of it. Like a peacock's energy wasteful tale, the SUV is a signal to the opposite sex: "I got access to enough BTUs that I can waste a bunch on this here wasteful activity."

So do yourself a survey.  Stand on a street corner and count happy couples in cars, and check them off by type: luxury, sport, economy, SUV.

After our Saturday discussion I kept a casual eye out on my 8 mile walk, and thought I saw as many attractive women in the passenger side of Hondas as anything else.

(FWIW, I think intelligent women avoid overt demonstrations of consumption.  If you want to pursue this with the full set of modern sociobiology, you have to get back into the finer details of "husband material" vs. "genetic material")

BTW, note to youngsters: a mate who displays (or is attracted to) consumption, may not be the mate to build stability or wealth later in life.
I think a lot of it is about winning. Dominance.

You have a machine gun, so what, I take you out with my sailing knife or two pencils attached to three strands of braided dental floss. (Did I ever mention that I used to write manuals?)

Fat rich guy in top-of-the-line Mercedes lays a hundred dollar bill on the parking attendant while I steal his girl because I'm way more fun and have an unbelieveably sexy and fast motorcycle.

I ride bicycles. I pick up bicycle girls. We do what comes naturally.

Three guesses what that may be;-)

I agree that we have lots of tech, and maybe enough for graceful powerdown (T.B.D.).

I think a certain fraction of the population understands that an energy crunch may come, but they think they can adtapt "when the time comes."  The frustration for all of us more pro-active types is that we think they should skip on the SUV now, not later.

So who's right?  We'll see.  I switched from the Jeep Cherokees (etc.) I had in the 90's to a Prius today.  Maybe some folks can get away with one more SUV .. and maybe they'll go "an SUV too far."

Odo I've discovered that being reactive rather than proactive is the key to survival in small business.

In other words, "let's cross that bridge when we get to it!" as our mothers said.

The financial signals for the average person have been to use all the oil ya like, so this is why the streets are paved with SUVs. In fact, it's amazing the Prius does as well as it does on the market - since they really only make sense when you have a long commute. I think there's just enough of the memory of the 1970s oil problems and the gee-whiz techniess of the hybrids doesn't hurt either.

However, in economics and in being thrifty in general, being proactive is the way to go. Even if oil goes back down, even if everything turns out ok (although how our way of life can be considered ok is problematic) it makes sense to pay down the mortgage, have a sensible car or no car at all if you can get by without one, pay down debts, etc. There's been a fairly constant "Frugality" movement in the USA for decades, and in fact their newsletters books etc may be very handy and encouraging to us as we powerdown.

I'm on board with that.
I did a bunch of type-fast-don't-look-back on those posts.  Sorry.  I've been spell-checking more regularly, but that was a lapse back to geek-style communications.

 Do you have an e-mail address at mcn?


Yea.  I may as well put it out there for the whole world again since I've done it other places:


This is hilarious... "disguise powerdown so the simpletons don't notice..."  

Another charade won't work and you'd never get the intellectual numbnuts to agree on anything anyway.

I can't believe there are still intelligent people around who think we can some how "manage" this Transition.  Daniel Yergin would feel right at home on this wing-nut thread.

The "thin blue/green/grey lineZ" and any other homo sap linez will blur or disappear in most of the First, Second and Third Worlds and Nature will run it's course.  

Civilization ebbs and flows and it is going to EBB big-time no matter what any fuzzy headed lint-pickers try to tell themselves and their brethren (my guess is most TODittes still live in cities and still cling to their own Delusions and refuse to dispell their own mental myths to avoid the discomfort of actually DOING something to take responsibility for themselves - instead of relying on Moe at the Utility and Curly at the Mayors office and Shemp at the Federal level... just keep "the Faith" guyz, especially you goofs who still chase grants for a living).

Humans will survive, the planet will survive, and this period Sap history will run it's Natural Course.  

Got Popcorn?

sendoil yes a bunch of us are going to die. Most of us in fact. I'm not sure whether the quick Plague Years type dieoff is better, or the over-a-century-or-two collapse, but we're headed for it.

But. For instance, look at how ppl in Iraq etc are coping, I think I read it in Dair Ismael's journal, he's in some city and the lights are on, and he asks a guy, "How come the lights are on, didn't the people in charge flee?" and the reply was, "Well, the electricians got together and decided to do what they could, and they got the electricity going, and the same with the plumbers etc."

Remember, the people you probably refer to with a sniff as "the people who change their own oil" are the ones who really keep things going.

I agree with you - as soon as the federal, state and especially local lint-picking, pencil pushing, chair warming bureaucrats die of of heart attacks due to having to actually do some work, us "Cockroaches" will pick up the pieces and be just fine... in some places (... probably Very few places, pick your new home carefully ;).

 I am one of those who happily changes his own oil because he can - unlike so many of the helpless and hapless suits in my 3D world - they "pay people to do that" <-SNIFF !!!->.

It's a one shot in a thousand that the technicians can get the show up and running in time, and pull off the act. But it's the only show in town.

Technology too is hit by the drop in marginal returns, "one shot in a thousand" may be too optimistic.
It sounds like you did not read Tainter, quite surprising for a TOD fellow.
Yeah the guy who said "1 in 1,000 chance but it's the only show in town" is probably somebody who:

A. Is a technician or sees himself as one or otherwise affliated with them


B. Wants the rest of us to give up some of our BTUs (money) to him or those he is affliated with.

It's just a smoother way of saying, "I'm your only hope, give me money or die."


First thanks for the reply, it gives me a bit of reason to retouch some of the points I mentioned (briefly, I promise), and to reply to your point.

First, on Tainter, I enjoy his line of thinking because it makes us really alert to the difference between "appropriate technology" and just an epic gargantuan race to anything technical, and the limits to technology.  It is a warning worth taking, but overall, Tainter is not a major influence to me due to the generality of his complaint. It is a general picture of doom and collapse with no useful time table and few useful specifics.  Tainter leaves questions hanging however that are fascinating:  How do you know how far you are in to what looks like an almost "organic" (my choice of word) pattern of collapse?
How do you account for paradigm shift which creates a complete new starting point  (the leap forward from all prior scale created by agriculture, the leap forward created by the industrial revolution, the possible forward leap coming soon by nano technology and bio science which could completely revolutionize the materials and energy sciences and by extension the economics.  But I am not dissing Tainter, I just take his forebodings as one possible scenario, not THE one.

It is amazing to me how much technology sits and waits, and for the most "marginal" reasons.  I wish some of the math wiz folks would do a study:  Exactly how marginal does an excuse have to be to use low level technology we already have to drive down energy consumption.  Is there a point at which the excuse will no longer hold?

"I don't want to improve my fuel mileage because it means I  would have to drive a slow car."  yeah, right, you would still be in a car faster than a comparable one was 10 years ago, and it seemed survivable then."  Give up that .05 of a second to 100 MPH, o.k., you'll never miss it
"Ground coupled heat pumps cost too much, and it takes too long to get the house built."  yeah right, you get a tax rebate for it, live in a more comfortable home, and save a fortune, and it takes what, two more weeks to build the house?  Get over it.  You will be heating and cooling that joint for 40 plus years..."
I could go on and on and on, talking about virtually invisible energy efficiencies.  This is not some kind of "high tech" Buck Rogers stuff.  But if the public, the government, the companies, and even the doomsters convince themself that nothing is worth trying, we fail, and not due to Tainter's marginal returns, but to outright laziness.
(By the way, haven't had the AC on in my house yet this summer, mid July in Central Kentucky, and the ole Diesel is still doing just over 30 mpg....
How's that for low tech?

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Sorry Roger,

You definitely did NOT grok Tainter!
He is all about the title of this very thread: the derivative of a function.
Fixing this or that shortage does not change the overall dynamic of the system.
It is of course beneficial for the ones who got a reprieve but just makes things worse further on the line, the next fix will be more expensive.
What is needed is some kind of social/cultural change which will bring the derivative to zero, a second order regulation, NOT just finding solutions for the "obvious" current problems.
From what I have seen so far 99% of the TODders are fixated to these near horizon solutions too, this is of course a requirement (need to survive first) but this is NOT ENOUGH.
The main impediment has been properly identified as greed/status competition, this will be difficult to tame.
As you noticed the next impediment is "outright laziness", but here again you don't seem to grasp the true meaning of this.
It does not matter if you and a handfull of others make your best efforts, what matters is the trend for society as a whole, the "thriving handfull" will not survive in the middle of a bunch of hungry loosers.
What's more, aren't the thriving handfull themselves reaching for the low hanging fruits first?
THIS is where the "bad derivative" sets in!
No obvious way to go against that.

Sorry about the delay in reply, and I don't know if it will ever be read, but, gives me a chance to make sure my own position is clear and not misunderstood:
To your comments:  "You definitely did NOT grok Tainter!"
As I said, that is probably correct.  I don't dislike what I have read of him, I just don't agree with many of the starting premises, so it's hard for me to come out where he wants me to.

"He is all about the title of this very thread: the derivative of a function."
As you know I considered that a poor choice of a title, and felt it did not help in telling me much.  If I could assume only one clearly known derivative, and NOT a great many convoluted and derivitives  from a function, (which may be plausible in a calc problem, but is almost never possible in the real world) I could perhaps go with more of his assumptions.  I spoke the other day about the real problem of trying to assign mathematical certainty where there is no evidence that any can be found.  People often make assertions, and then when someone wants some sign of evidence or proof, they say, "Hey, it's just the physics", when often, the physics in no may proves their assertion.  Saying it's physics does not make it proof.

"What is needed is some kind of social/cultural change which will bring the derivative to zero, a second order regulation, NOT just finding solutions for the "obvious" current problems."

This is of course the heart of the discussion.  I have nothing agains social/cultural change.  I think it's going to happen anyway.  But why?  Because exterior conditions change.  This means that there are actually only two choices:  Deal with the changes, or let the changes deal with you.  Now most people will want or need someone else to deal with the changes, and provide them with the solution to the immediate problem, simply because they do not know how to themselves.  Historicall, an even more so in technology, it will be the small minority that will create change, and this is why I absolutely refute the statement,
"It does not matter if you and a handfull of others make your best efforts, what matters is the trend for society as a whole, the "thriving handfull" will not survive in the middle of a bunch of hungry loosers."

I think it matters very, very much.  It is, in fact, the way the modern age was born.  The number of people who actually could figure out the applied technology of a steam engine, design and build one, and then operate it to show to the masses that it could be done would have been countable on less than the fingers of the two hands in the 1840's.  To me this is such an imperative understanding:
It is, as it has always been, the small handfull that make the best effort that drive "the trend of society as whole" as it relates to technology and scientific advance, more in that area than anywhere else due to the specialized knowledge required (and probably also to cultural change/moral and ethical development etc, but that is too broad for here).  It has NEVER been "the trend of society as a whole" that drives technology.  I think this is a fundamental tenent of history.  (This is why the cars and trains of the 1800's look almost completely out of place, almost humorous!  The houses, clothing, social mores and styles were hundreds of years old in style, but the technology had BURST into the middle of that scene, put there by a small minority of troublesome mechanics!)

"the "thriving handfull" will not survive in the middle of a bunch of hungry loosers."

James Watt did.
Michael Faraday did.
Carl Benz did.
The Wright Brothers did.

In fact, there is almost no demonstrable proof that "the trend of society as a whole" ever stopped completely paradigm changing technology from occuring.
And there is absolutely no evidence that if the technology was successful at doing what it promised, any "type" of society or culture could resist using it.

"What's more, aren't the thriving handfull themselves reaching for the low hanging fruits first?"  Of course.  And the amount of good they are able to do in overcoming a problem depends on how good they are at finding.  I have taken the position often, that we are not the victims of too advanced technology, we are the victims of far too primitive technology.  Our systems are "complex" and not easily sustained beause we are primitive, not because we are advanced!

"THIS is where the "bad derivative" sets in!"
Now, here we have to be honest.  The use of ANY technology will have "bad derivatives".  Fire has elavated humanity above the animals, but it has killed, horribly disfigured people and caused countless misery in all it's forms.
If Tainter is saying that any use of technology will fail due to it's negative effects, I do not accept that, but if he is saying any technology will have a downside, he is right.  

This is why there are such professions as engineering, design, applied technology, and science.  The goal is to reduce the "bad deritives" while enhanced the positive effects.  Will it be perfect?  No.  But can technology be by leaps and bounds more sustainable, cleaner, more useful, more liberating, more affordable, more kind to the Earth, and just plain much more beautiful?

I am placing my bet:  First, we will have to at least take the tools out of the box, and try them. If we do not, we are not being truly human in the greatest sense.  There will be risks, you say?  Look, If we were willing to try a nuclear device, and willing to detonate them over and over almost willy nilly,  should we not be willing to try advanced batteries, solar on a large scale, advanced hybrid drivetrains, meglev mass transit interstate trains, and the hundred other efficiency improving designs we have laying about on the shelf?

I have tried to see how the world's young people (and that is who this is all about, we will be gone before get the chance to see it all running anyway) will accept being told that they are going to have to go back behind a mule's azz without even being given the chance to get the tools and toys out of the box and at least try them.  I have tried to see how we would peddle this "return to the stone age" or "return to subsistance farming to them" and get them to buy it.

They won't.  In the end, we, and they may fail.  They may have no choice.  They may have to give up centuries of technical and scientific advance.
But I am willing to bet they will break out every tool in the box before they do (because really, what do they have to lose?), including some that Tainter and even you and I might not like.

The job of the  "handfull of others who make your best efforts," is to guide the small group of technicians and designers to the best of the future technologies, and try not to lose time, money, or do damage, with the poorly chosen ones.  

"What kind of music you like?'  "There are only two kinds, good or bad."
"What kind of technology you want?"  There are only two kinds.....

In closing you say, "No obvious way to go against that."
That's the kick!  The way forward will CERTAINLY not be obvious!   That is why only a small number of those making hard effort will find and be to implement the solutions!
But it is the most human trait to "go against that", whatever "that" is!

Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Lots and lots of misunderstandings well exemplified by you reply to:

"THIS is where the "bad derivative" sets in!"

Now, here we have to be honest. The use of ANY technology will have "bad derivatives". Fire has elavated humanity above the animals, but it has killed, horribly disfigured people and caused countless misery in all it's forms.
If Tainter is saying that any use of technology will fail due to it's negative effects, I do not accept that, but if he is saying any technology will have a downside, he is right.

The "bad derivative" I am talking about IS a derivative in the math sense of the term, NOT meaning any kind of adverse side effect.
The derivative is taken on the cost/benefit curve of ANY technical improvement, measured in whatever units you would see fit, money, energy even some happiness index if you can find one you like.

This is why the "obvious" strategy of reaching for the low hanging fruits first brings disaster.
Whenever the easiest ressources are exhausted reaching for the second best is not as cost effective (moving from B1-C1 to B2-C2).
Thereafter when the second best is exhausted too the third choice (B1-C3) is SO unattractive that it is CHEAPER to drop back to B1-C1, possibly to no avail since ressources are depleted, but in any case with a drop in complexity.
This is the primary reason why shale oil or ethanol are NOT possible solutions while nuclear fusion could be.
Yes, this is a shift in technology, a ENTIRELY NEW ressource which will refuel the growth machine but only for another while.
But there is no guarantee...
Did you REALLY read Tainter?


Thanks for the feedback, and I can't resist a few more words on what is in an odd sort of way an interesting topic, although I am probably spending too much time on this!
On Tainter, and
Did you REALLY read Tainter?

Here's a very quick history, and then I will give you my view of how I understood him based on my source, and you tell me where I missed something....

The book, "Collapse of Complex Societies" by Josef Tainter is actually a rather old book when you think about it, and I came into contact with it pre-Amazon days.  Needless to say, in those days, a book like that wasn't cheap or easy to find, at least where I live, so I read a library copy early 1990's. some several years after it was published.  This was in a period in which I was interested in Humanities, long before there was any such thing as "Peak Oil", at least as called that.

Given the amount of time since I actually read the book and the fact that I was not smitten at the time, I can safely assure you that your ability to explain Tainter  certainly far exceeds mine, and I am conceding your exertise on the subject of Tainter, and further conceding that I may have gotten him completely wrong, or missed something big, as you said the other day did not  "grok" him.  Allow me to say that since that time, I have made no real attempt to "regrok" him, not because I have anything against his work, but because I simply didn't find anything that added to my understanding in it, although I love the historical stuff as a matter of fun, and as I recall,  Tainter was very inclusive on the Roman, Indian, Mayan stuff, and have seen references recently indicating that.  I also know he has written stuff since Collapse of Complex Societies", (referenced mainly by Peak Oil folks) but frankly, I didn't hear or see anything that sounded breakthrough since the old days, so I did not search it out.  What I did see on the market was not cheap to buy either!

Now, real quick, let me try to "re Grok" Tainter from memory, in the context I first read it.  I was in the same period reading  Yale historian Dr. Paul Kennedy's "The Rise and Fall of The Great Powers" which was also, for me, a couple or three years old (so this would be, guessing, 1992 or 93.  I was only interested in Kennedy because he had been referenced by Alvin Toffler in "Powershift" and remembered his book being on the best seller list a few years earlier....and someone in a review had mentioned Tainter, so I decided to kind of handle them as a group.  REMEMBER, this is all long before "Peak Oil, "9/11" or the second Iraq why was I reading this stuff?

Because, I was down on my the late 1980's, early 1990's, I decided that I had no idea how America worked.  I was essentially broke, semi employed, and in a crisis.  So, I decided to "relook" at a subject that interested me, that is, what makes a culture tick.  I had read Toffler's "Future Shock" in high school, along with Whytes 1950's classic, "The Organization Man", and other social historical stuff, and liked it.
In 1980, Toffer's "The Third Wave" came out, and I bought it NEW, something that is VERY RARE for me, I usually figure I can wait a bit and let the price come down, or buy it in paperback, since most books, let's be honest, are deeply disappointing, in that they are often reworks of the authors own, or other people's prior work.  To this day, "The Third Wave" is one of the few books that I have ever bought new that I would do so again.

So, this is the background, as I came into my Community College library copy of Tainter's " "Collapse of Complex Societies".

How do I recall "groking" it?
Not all that well.
Correct me here on anything you think I just plain blew it on:
1.  The law of diminishing returns.  This really seemed to be the point, the whole complexity thing, but my father had told me about diminishing returns as a child.  He was a mechanic, and used the example, If I have a car engine that gets one hundred horsepower, and double it to two hundred, then try to double it to four hundred, and then try to double it to eight  hundred....we are still only talking about doubling each time, but it will get more and more expensive and difficult to double each time, where at some point the doubling would be almost impossible and almost infinitely expensive  (you see this in drag race engines all the time that produce 5000 plus horsepower, but at fantastic price per horsepower.  

Of course, I did not see anything breakthrough in the law of diminishing returns, and Tainter didn't help me because there was no clear discussion of timeline or limit.   How would you know when you crossed the line to "too complex", too expensive?  How long would it take?  The whole thing was vague to me and still is.  But, it must be said, that his central point is obviously correct, because it is so obvious!  There must SURELY be a limit to complexity, and there SURELY are diminishing returns.

The second major problem was "complexity".  The assumption seemed to be that it always goes up, in that perfect chart, in a nice bowed line, and then it begins to decline, and that's all she wrote, it's over, collapse.   At least that's the way I understood him.  But is there really proof of that?  This is called, often, a "cyclical" or "aesthetic" theory of history.  That is, and this owes so MUCH to Oswald Spengler, who was a biologist (or marine botanist, I can't remember right now, but life sciences),  That a culture is like a living plant or animal, it is born ONCE, it grows and develops to full adult power ONCE, and it declines into old age, and finally death ONCE.  That's it.  There will be no rebound, no second flowering, no chance of survival once old age is reached.  Once the cycle is ran, and it WILL BE RAN, it's over.
The problem is, there is no proof of this.  It is all decided by how you define your terms.

In some cases, it really is a done deal.  We can assume that Carthage will never return.  Likewise the orginal culture of Easter Island (the statue builders).  Of course, Carthage was essentially murdered by the Romans, and Easter Island lost any hope of reconstruction when the European Conquest came.  Did they "die" or were they "cut off" from any chance of recovery?

But some have essentially dissappered from the face of the Earth, and even wrote themselves off in despair, to reappear as a miracle later.  The Jewish culture comes to mind.  Likewise, the Polish.  But you say, that's not fair, they were not "Great Civilizations" in the way that Rome or Mesopotamia was.  But of course, Tainter does not let size per se be the judge when he uses examples, taking in the Hopi for example and some other ancient smaller groups (I can't remember them all) to make his case. I won't keep hammering this, but suffice it to say, I saw (perhaps wrongly, but this was my perception at the time) too much similiarity between the "cyclical" theories of history of Spengler, and his many followers, In particular Piterim Sorokin, and the Russian school.  it is now so commonly known, that Wikipedia gives something of a run down:
"The basic logic of these models looks as follows: after the population reaches the ceiling of the carrying capacity of land its growth rate declines toward near zero values and the system experiences significant stress with decline of the living standards of common population, increasing severity of famines, growing rebellions etc. As has been shown by Nefedov, most complex agrarian systems had considerable reserves for stability, however, within 50-150 years these reserves usually got exhausted and the system experienced a demographic collapse (a Malthusian catastrophe), when increasingly severe famines, epidemics, increasing internal warfare and other disasters led to a considerable decline of population. As a result of this collapse, free resources became available, per capita production and consumption considerably increased, the population growth resumed and a new sociodemographic cycle started. It has turned out to be possible to model this dynamics mathematically in a rather effective way. Note that the modern theories of political-demographic cycles do not deny the presence of trend dynamics and attempt at the study of the interaction between cyclical and trend components of historical dynamics."

One sees that all you have to do is substitute the word "complexity" for population, and you have a nice "cyclical theory" of history, which is as old as time.  It may be right, but how is it helpful?  It is essentially fatalistic, so nothing can be changed about it, and it has no time horizon specified.  Is the U.S. or the Western cultures half way there, a quarter of a way there, a tenth of the way there?  Or are we within days of being FINISHED!  Who can know, how would we know?

So to me, Tainter seemed interesting, a great scholar, but derivitive, and suffering from all the same weaknesses of all thee "cyclical theorists (even my own social history mentor Toffler).  The other problem was that I was reading Kennedy in a similiar period.  Kennedy was in some ways not far from Tainter, but narrowed his theory to international power relations.  His view was that as a nation became a great power, to get the resources and markets it needed to retain great power status, it had to spend more and more on policing trade routes, raw materials supplies and markets, and bribing and threatening allies and enemies alike.
The great powers allies could sit on their duff, however, and enjoy the raw materials and markets that the power had to police, and even enjoy the great powers market, and so have a huge comparitive advantage.  

Take Japan.  They get oil from the Middle East, but do not have to maintain the huge milatary presence we do there.  They know we cannot stop policing the region, so they "piggyback" on our effort,  Then to top it all, they compete in our market with products built by use of the energy we police for them!  Kennedy held that this would eventually bankrupt the great power.

So, as you can see, I was familiar with what I viewed as a slew of both prior and current books that said a lot of the stuff that Tainter said, at least as I viewed it, a lot earlier, and a lot of that questionable to me.  The last useful thing would have been the complexity argument, but I frankly could never see that as big enough nail to hang a great collapse on, not for us, not for the Romans, or anyone else.  I always felt that complexity, per se, was not the problem.  We could go for days on that subject, but I won't!  Here is my problem in a nutshell:

I don't think complexity can be easily measured.
I don't think complexity in itself can be easily proven to be bad.
I don't thinK complexity in and of itself is the only way to solve problems.
I don't thing complexity moves in a nice curved line from less to more as a society ages.  I think it would look more like a snake!
I think that complexity is much more a choice than mandatory in a free market economy.
And lastly, I am still a fan of "good design" which should always strive to simplify and make sustainable the product, whether the product be education, art, social structure, politics, cars or energy.  My core belief is that we have NOT EVEN BEGAN to practice or experience good, simple but sustainable design.  This is the challange of our age.

So in closing, am I saying that I got nothing from Tainter (or for that matter, Kennedy or the others)?

While I feel hanging the great collapse of societies on complexity is asking too much of that one factor, I do think that Tainter's warnings to be wary of overcomplexity where it is not needed are OF EXTREME VALUE.  Now as I said in my earlier post, there are occasions where a solution is needed, and complexity cannot be avoided.  We are left with two choices:  solve the problem, and live with the complexity, or don't solve the problem.  If the problem is critical, we will probably live with the complexity.  But if we get sloppy, and make the "choose complexity" choice too often when it is not called for, we are buying ourselves a big problem down the road.  Tainter may have been trying to simply warn us of that.  This is why decentralization and streamlining of practices and procedures, along with technology that is simple and well manufactured in the most simple possible way must be done.  We may be at that place now.  A free market has a better chance of breaking up entreanched elites and beauracrats better than a "command down" style system (which almost all the ancient examples in history have been by the way).  Does this assure success?  Helll no.  But I am certain that it in no way assures failure.  It will be a close call, either way.

Sorry to go long, of those cases where complexity is called for I am afraid, in dealing with a complex subject.  Tell me where you think I blew it....
This has been fun. :-)
Roger Conner  known to you as ThatsItImout

Thank you Roger for a good write-up of the urgent-technofix point of view.  I agree with your assessment of the dangers, but I don't think that the technofix is the "only show in town", and I also don't believe it is possible to technically forestall the biggest problems for very long (in the face of exponential growth).  Although technofixes may help somewhat in making the crisis less of an apocalypse, what's really needed is a cultural change, away from "growth" and greed.  Admittedly, that's a very tall order.  To facilitate that, one thing that is necessary (but certainly not sufficient) is wider appreciation of the arithmetic of exponential growth.
Great post!

I took a tour of the Calpine geothermal electricity plant in Middletown, California about a year ago. It was amazing, and the one thing that stayed with me was the guy giving the tour (an older plant engineer who could probably build the plant from scratch if need be) saying, "People just don't realize the amount of work it takes to make electricity. They just think it comes out of the wall."

off topic, that place is right up the road from here. I didn't know they gave tours.
I agree that education about the surprising consequences of exponential growth is essential.  For those who don't want to watch a fuzzy video, or don't have the bandwidth to download it, there are textual versions of AA Bartlett's lecture.  There used to be one nice PDF (2.8MB) here but it seems to have disappeared.  I have saved a copy, if people want it I might find a way to make it available.  There are also fairly nice HTML versions, 200-300 KB, with the tables but without the graphs (in the smallish saved version I have).  See here for one version.

Other places have it broken into several HTML files.  For example here.

I also have a condensed version in a small Powerpoint file (12 slides including a bit of graphics, 60KB).

More of Bartlett's writings can be found on his site.

BTW, "reviews" of the movie version, found here:

Movie- Forgotten Fundamentals of the Energy Crisis , by AA Bartlett.

  • "Absolutely riveting!," Rosie (the) Riveter, Steel Structure Journal.
  • "A fascinating juxtaposition of concepts and graphics with, well... ideas and graphs," Sir Oliver Stone-Lb, Royalty Weekly.
  • "An old, male curmudgeon yelling at us about exponential growth and the energy crisis-- a lifelike triumph of reality and algebra over style and ignorance," Prof. Livelybrooks, The Extremely August Journal of Physics and Movie Review.
The Bartlett lecture was good, but here is an example -- from today, on the internet -- of the "Iron Triangle" WestTexas posited.  How much is spent to hype SUVs and lure people away from things like Bartlett's lecture?

On MSN's front page:  "Why Now's the Time to Buy An SUV."  The link is to MSN's  "Money Central" of all pages -- free financial advice for all of us!

The article spells out how SUV prices are low now -- just in part because of temporarily high gas prices -- but will go back up as gas prices become lower within a year or so.  Yes, the EIA is quoted as authoritatively pointing out that petroleum will return to $34/barrel in a year or so as new projects come on line, so gas prices will go back down.


Here's the link for this and more free financial advice:  

We need a whole huge change in education from the early years up -- not only courses in research methods, calculus, and Stats.  We raise our kids to be pro-sumers, like lambs fattened for the slaughter.

I haven't read this whole thread, so perhaps someone else mentioned this, but what I find is that lots of people only understand the importance of a number if it has a dollar $ign in front of it.  Other numbers, how much of X we use per day, etc, don't sink in.  But when it's about money, they're all ears.  Unfortunately, money is fictional, it has all the reality of the Starship Enterprise.  This will be the two-by-four in the face that will change perceptions of what is truly important.
Money is 'Artificial', not Fictional.  It is very much real, even if it's simply a symbol for values adapted to labor, materials, energy, real-estate, time(rentals).  But we are using money by accessing this medium to communicate, using other important symbols, ideas and intentions to do so. Pray this $eries isn't cancelled next season.

I personally see Fiction as real, too. 'Art is the lie that tells the truth'  We have a complex social system and an involved history, complex emotional structures, and many choices to weigh as we go through life.  Storytelling is a crucial form of sharing both experience as well as Right-brain (right side?) extrapolation of combining ideas to discover new compounds..  Just because it lives just out beyond the pages it is printed on is no reason to accuse it of being unreal..  that's materialism, and as Don Juan DeMarco said, 'I would say that is a very limited understanding of the situation'..

But the money is real enough to affect how people will be able to live, and they should make wise choices about money.  I'm sure you do it, too.  There is the problem, both in consumer mentality and many business priorities that refuses to trust in investing in long-term investments, and running frantically for the quicker, cheaper solution, which may well cost them more. This, it seems to me is why we refuse to look at the work required, and hence even the problem itself, of replacing our energy assumptions and infrastructure with workable alternatives.  It will be a journey of a thousand steps, and we can't seem to get the first foot moving ahead.

Dr. Bartlett's lecture is very helpful. We have been given this message more explicitly back in 1973 when the renowned nuclear physicist Dr. Ralph Lapp wrote the Logarithmic Century (Charting Future Shock). The foresight is incredible. The book starts with a quote from Samuel Butler: "All prgressis based upon a uneversal innate desire onthepart of every organism to live beyond its means". This book can be ordered from Alibris books.
I'm going to quibble a bit about the title of this thread, "The course of our lives will be determined by the first derivative of a function".

First, I am not sure what the function is whose first derivative is supposed to determine the course of our lives. Bartlett's talk is mostly about exponential growth, so perhaps the function is a measure of world productivity, such as gross world product.

However, this site being about oil peaking, and PG mentioning depletion, my guess is that the function is oil production rate; whose first derivative will go to zero at the time of the peak. So the title could be interpreted as saying something like, "the course of our lives will be determined by when oil peaks and how fast it falls afterwards". That's perhaps reasonable but IMO it somewhat overstates the case, as many other factors will be relevant in determining the course of our lives. One problem is that this interpretation doesn't have much connection to Bartlett's lecture.

Another quibble is that with an analytic function, the function itself and each of its derivatives carry essentially the same information (at least, given particular initial conditions). So we could just as easily say that the course of our lives will be determined by the rate of oil production; or by the second derivative of this function; or by the tenth derivative. So referring to the first derivative is somewhat pedantic and does not add information. There is nothing special about that derivative that makes it more important than the base function itself, in fact arguably I'd say that the amount of oil produced each year will be at least as important as the change from year to year, since it is the raw amount that determines how much oil we have to work with that year.

One final quibble has to do with the nature of exponential decline. The Hubbert curve is roughly exponential in its declining end. So perhaps the reference to the first derivative is supposed to mean the rate of decline as a percentage. That would tie into the Bartlett lecture very nicely. However, exponential functions don't have constant first derivatives, but rather exponential first derivatives. So again, there is nothing special about this derivative that characterizes exponential curves.

Rather, exponential curves are characterized by the fact that the first derivative divided by the base value is a constant (per unit of time). And it is this constant which characterizes the rate of decrease: 3% per year, 5%, 8%, whatever. Maybe the title meant to say that this number will determine the course of our lives. That would make sense and tie into the Bartlett lecture. But if so, it isn't worded right, because this number is not the first derivative, but rather a ratio as I have described above.

So maybe the title should have been, "The course of our lives will be determined by the ratio between the first derivative of a function and the function itself." Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? If you'd like help constructing titles to any more blog postings, feel free to ask...

Watch the video, Halfin, then you won't make mistakes like this. It's not about peak oil though peak oil is a contributing factor.
Someone recently brought up the question of why a number of different peaks seem to be happening in a fairly compressed time frame, if not 'all at once.'
It seems to me that the exponential nature of the production, consumption and population growth hold the answers to this tendency. One could probably write a PhD thesis on the subject.

For example, say if beginning of serious usage of coal and oil happened within ~100 years and then serious usage of nat. gas 75 years later, why wouldn't the peaks of each of these happen at the same intervals of time? Because the exponential growth of consumption acts like a wave that compresses the 'time to peak' along an historical time scale. You could figure in peak corn, peak wheat and other things to and the same thing will happen. The time intervals between the beginnings of each curve are much greater than the time intervals at peak because of this exponential compression. We do seem to be in a 29th day situation with regard to many types of resources.

When we discuss the mathematics of net oil depletion, it is clear from these discussions that many do not fully understand the relationship between URR and production outlooks.  To speak of 8% or 5% or 10% depletion rates is ok wrt fields and maybe nations, but u can use this rhetoric on the global level w/o jeopardizing one's credibility.

When i look at probably the only three gentlemen that have studied this (Leherrere, Campbell, Koppelaar), they can approach the issue two ways.  Calculate the future use component of URR and target the production rates to get there, or vice versa:  calculate the bottom up production rates and total that ultimate extraction volume to come up with remaing oil component of URR.

Looking at all liquids, these modelers have come up with URR's of 3-Tb, 2.45-Tb & 2.5-Tb respectively... as compared to our all-models average of 2.992-Tb. And please remember, URR is the estimate of feasibily removable oil ... not all oil in the ground.  The latter is estimated to be about 8-Tb. To exhaust that recoverable oil over the next 150 years, the same modelers are using avg net depletion rates of 2.8%, 2.6% & 2.8% respectively.  Not 5%.  Not 8%  Not 10%.  Granted their overall avg net depletion rates are compilation of several rates thru the decades, but in general terms, which is what the rhetoric at TOD encompasses, it is foolhardy to speak of aggresive net depletion rates w/o addressing the concept of URR.

To be more clear, if we use the easily accessible data of ASPO, to use a 5% net depletion rate of 5% would in fact afford only a URR of 1.819-Tb.  Almost 600-
Gb of what we define of "recoverable oil" would be stranded.  URR becomes an oxymoron.  ASPO currently foresees 1407-Gb of oil for future use.  A 5% depletion rate would mean that almost half Campbell's estimate will never be extracted.  Ridiculous and an insult to all his thankless efforts.

A 8% depletion rate after peak would leave 875-Gb stranded.  10% equates to 956-Tb of stranded oil.

Thus those proposing 8% depletion after peak are proponents of a 1.75-Tb URR.  To put this in perspective, the lowest current estimate (conservative) of URR that i am aware of is 2.187-Tb by OPEC.

Freddy, whenever you use the word "model" most people stop reading, because they know what you mean by it is "guess".
Just saying.
What does that say about people who are certain, without even a "model?"