Collapse Step by Step, Part 4: Political Positions

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Published on The Easiest Person to Fool August 6, 2017

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Adapting to energy decline and economic contraction.

Kincardine Yacht Club, Returning from Wednesday Night Race

In my last post I talked about some ways of expressing the nuances of political positions. I started out with the basic left-right spectrum and then moved on to the "Political Compass" , which gives us a two dimensional map of our position, using the left—right axis and the libertarian—authoritarian axis. But without too much sweat I was able to come up with four more axes that, along with those two, define what I think are the most important aspects of a political position.

There are probably more, but in this post I'd like to focus on how a government's position on each of those six axes might determine how successful it is likely to be in adapting to the challenges that face us during the next few decades. Challenges that it seems very likely will lead to the collapse of industrial civilization.

Acknowledge Limits <—> Deny Limits

We are already nicely into a crisis caused by the end of economic growth and the start of economic contraction. If you accept the idea that there are limits to growth, this is not surprising and can be attributed to a reduced amount of surplus energy due to the dwindling supply of high quality, easy to access (high EROEI) fossil fuels. The obvious solution is to prepare for and adapt to a significant decline in energy usage. Yes, we will adopt alternative sources of energy, but they are not capable of supplying us with the copious amounts of surplus energy that we became accustomed to in the twentieth century

Accepting the natural limits built into our finite planet also means accepting that we are using up the sinks that have been absorbing the pollution our civilization creates. In particular, that the accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is causing the climate to change, and in the process making most of our other problems that much worse. Solving this problem will necessitate abandoning the use of fossil fuels, and with that a significant decline in energy usage.

If you are in denial about the limits to growth, then the current situation is probably quite puzzling and you will be casting about, looking for something (or someone) to blame things on and a way to get "business as usual" back on track. That's not going to work, but unfortunately it is likely to be the standard mode of operation for most governments in the immediate future.

In the long run, one would hope that intimate experience with limits will lead most of us to acknowledge them. But I suspect that, even then, there will still be a few enclaves hanging on where people can delude themselves that they are living the dream of progress, blissfully unfettered by any sort of limit.

Socially Inclusive <—> Socially Exclusive

At one end of this axis we have societies who feel a responsibility for the welfare of all their citizens, and to some extent all mankind and all of the other living things on this planet. They do what they can to provide for the poor as well as the rich, including an effort to limit inequality. It also includes a welcoming attitude to immigrants and refugees, and making an effort to be kind to the environment.

When the economy is contracting, the attempt is made to spread the pain around more or less evenly. There is no doubt in my mind that societies like this will do a much better job of coping with the declining circumstances in the years to come than those at the other end of this scale. There is much room for economic contraction in the lifestyles common in the developed nations, room for a lot of decline before we get to the point of not having enough to get by on.

At the other end of this axis we have societies where the rich and powerful make every effort to hang onto their wealth and power no matter what happens, with little or no concern for the poor or even the lower middle class, the bottom 80% economically speaking. As the economy continues to contract and even the rich begin to feel the squeeze, governments in these societies will become more forthright about their attitude toward the lower classes.

Every attempt will be made to replace labour with automation. Policies of "exterminism" will be applied to the poor, jobless and homeless. This term comes from Peter Frase's book Four Futures, and refers to simply getting rid of (exterminating) the "impoverished, economical superfluous rabble". I think it is pretty reasonable to expect a violent backlash from the lower classes in response to such policies. No doubt an attempt will be made to direct the dissatisfaction of the lower classes away from the upper classes using scapegoating and xenophobia, focused on one or more specific groups who are visibly different. In most of the developed world today, Muslims are shaping up to be one of the main targets.

It seems to me that U.S. is positioned at the exclusive end of this scale, with northern European social democracies at the inclusive end, and countries like Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand somewhere in between.

Fiscally Liberal <—> Fiscally Conservative

One hears fiscal conservatives complaining about "tax and spend liberals", implying that increasing taxes will have a negative effect on the economy. Fiscal liberals respond that the economy always performs worse under "borrow and spend conservatives". It seems that the two ends of this political spectrum have the opposite effects from what you might think. The policies usually followed by fiscal conservatives lead to deficits, while fiscal liberals manage to reduce or eliminate deficits.

The things is that when the economy was growing, deficit financing worked well. Government spending increased growth and helped pull the economy out of occasional recessions. And money borrowed one year could be repaid the next year using a smaller slice of a bigger pie. Government spending on infrastructure and social programs benefited everyone, so it was hard to argue with borrowing money to do it. This mode of operation was adopted by many western democracies after WW II, and it worked very well until 70s when economic growth began to falter. It stopped working altogether in the mid 90s when real economic growth came to a halt and was replaced by growing debt and financial bubbles.

Balancing a budget has two aspects: spending and revenue, and progressive taxation is the key to making revenue match spending. The idea that taxation has a negative effect on economic growth is self serving for businesses and the rich, but it doesn't stand up to a close examination.

There are countries at the liberal end of this spectrum where taxes are progressive and quite high. Things seem to be working quite well there—so well that even most of the rich folks who are paying those very high taxes are content with the system.

And of course there are countries like Canada who are somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, with moderately high taxes and government spending. Our budgets have even been balanced occasionally, though under Stephen Harper's Conservatives, taxes were lowered and deficits went back up. We hope our current government, under young Mr. Trudeau, will have better luck.

Sitting firmly at the conservative end of the spectrum we have the U.S. where taxes are low (and headed lower) and it is political suicide to discuss increasing them. Even poor working people seem to be against the very idea of taxation. I've asked Americans what's up with this and the best answer I've gotten, the one that comes closest to making sense, is that the American government is so corrupt that its citizens just aren't willing to trust it with their money. That may be so, but the American deficit keeps growing, despite numerous efforts to cut spending.

What can we expect to happen as the economy continues to contract? It seems to me that the U.S. deficit will grow until borrowing and printing money leads to a financial disaster that will greatly hasten the collapse of the country, hurting even those in the upper classes. More fiscally liberal countries will suffer less, managing a more graceful downward spiral.

At some point in this process, no matter how well managed, tax revenues will no longer support federal organizations like the UN, Europe, Canada or the US and decentralization will become a well established trend. It can be done the easy way, through negotiation and civilized agreements, or the hard way through secession and armed conflict. No doubt there will be some of both.

Communist <—> Capitalist

It is important to remember that this axis is about economics and not to get it confused with the types of government which are often associated communism or capitalism.

The totalitarian "communist" states of the twentieth century were actually practicing capitalism at the state level. And not very successfully. Most of those countries have since switched over to some more overt form of capitalism. At the same time, democracy has functioned best when restraining and regulating capitalism's excesses.

At the left end of this axis we have Communism. In the sense I am using here, it consists of the people in a group sharing resources and working together for their mutual benefit. The words "sharing", "work" and "benefit" give us the clue that we are talking about economics. Communism works well in small groups (up to 150 or 200 people) and was how we lived for all of our prehistory, more than two million years. And quite successfully, I might add.

At the right end of the axis we have Capitalism. It consists of a small minority of the people (the capitalists) in a group owning the resources and the rest of the people working for them to produce benefits that are enjoyed primarily by the capitalists.

The relationship between the capitalists and their workers may be outright slavery, serfdom or wage slavery. Outright slaves, who by no means have it easy, are at least provided with a minimum of food, clothing and shelter. Serfs in feudal cultures, don't have it easy either, but their lords do have certain obligations to them. Wage slaves, on the other hand, are provided only with a wage. Capitalist have no other responsibilities to them—in particular, when business is slow, capitalists are not responsible to provide jobs for all the workers who need them in order to live. And in modern capitalist societies there really isn't any other way to make a living.

This became particularly significant when we learned to convert heat energy into mechanical work and replace the muscle power of the workers with machinery. Initially, there was concern that many workers would be replaced by machinery and end up jobless. But workers were still needed to build, operate and maintain the machinery and for the last couple of centuries the economy grew fast enough to provide jobs for a growing work force and significantly increased their standard of living.

This is often pointed to as one of the great successes of capitalism, but it should actually be attributed to the increase in productivity made possible by the use of cheap, abundant fossil fuels. Indeed, capitalists did everything they could to improve their profits by reducing the amount of labour needed and the wages paid for that labour. It was only through unions and the support of left leaning democratic governments that labour made the gains it did.

Unfortunately, those days are over and with the slowing of economic growth, capitalists have been forced to try a number of strategies to maintain the viability of their businesses. And there has been a move to the right in many democratic governments which has helped with this.

Globalization, as long as shipping stays cheap, provides cheaper labour and a business environment with fewer safety and environmental regulations. Automation further reduces the number of workers required. And financialization offers a way of making profit by trading "virtual" commodities related to money, instead of real products. All this has been successful to some extent, but has worsened unemployment in the developed countries, and increased economic inequality between the working classes and the rich and powerful. This is a serious problem in consumer economies where the majority of consumers are also workers and need income to function adequately as consumers, in order to support the upper classes.

This and most of the other problems caused by capitalism occur when it is allowed to pursue short term profit (or shareholder value) to the exclusion of all else. As I said earlier, capitalism has worked best when governments have acted to restrain its excesses. Democracies have been particularly effective because with one vote per person the workers have more political power. But during the last few decades there has been a move to the right in most Western democracies and political parties, and power has slipped away from the workers and back to the capitalists.

It seems likely that this trend will continue, in an attempt to compensate for economic contraction. But it will not succeed in rescuing capitalism, which will collapse more quickly where it has the fewest restraints. Those of us with leftist leanings have always assumed that it would take action to end capitalism, but it's starting to appears that capitalism will collapse on its own, without there being anything ready to replace it.

Post collapse, with very much smaller and poorer states, and with capitalism already out of the way, and having acquired a bad reputation in the process, communities may be free to return to a more communistic approach.

Social Progressive <—> Social Conservative

The thing about this axis is that it changes over time as things that were progressive are gradually accepted and become the province of conservatives, while liberals move on to new horizons.

During the latter half of the twentieth century, in the developed world at least, social progressives won victories in gaining equal rights and freedoms for people of different races (particularly blacks in the U.S.) and different religions (particularly Jews, and at least in principle, Muslims), for women and for LGBT people. No doubt there are other similar battles to be won, but given the backlash we are seeing against the gains already made, it may not be time to move on just yet.

There are good reasons to think that society as a whole benefits when equal rights and freedoms are extended to those who have previously been excluded. That exclusion has resulted over the years in the failure to develop a great deal of human potential. Given the challenges we face currently and in the future, we simply cannot afford to do this. Excluding people for traits over which they have no control, which they did not choose, is surely unjust and it should not be necessary to explain why injustice is a bad thing.

Many people feel that as times get harder, socially conservative positions are more adaptive. I think just the opposite, but not surprisingly, that opinion is common among socially conservative kollapsniks, who see collapse as an opportunity to roll back social changes which they are not comfortable with, such as feminism, racial equality, religious freedom, and LGBT rights.

At the same time, I notice a trend for socially progressive people to hold a variety of anti-science positions. It is deeply shocking and abhorrent to me that they have bought into the wrong side of issues that are being pushed by people and companies for profit. The anti-vaccine movement lead by alternative medicine practitioners and the anti-genetic-engineering movement led by organic food producers and distributors are good examples of this, neither of which is supported in the least by the scientific consensus.

Libertarian <—> Authoritarian

It is important to be clear that this axis is about personal freedom, not economics. The libertarian movement and Libertarian political parties seem to be mainly about removing restrictions on the activities of business in order to get rich, with no concern for other people or the environment. I find that sort of activity abhorrent, and it is not the sense in which I mean libertarian at all. Anarchism might be a better term (anarchists being poor libertarians), but this term also has negative connotations for many people.

At any rate, we're talking about politics in Western democracies here, so what we are really looking at is variations in an area around the middle of this axis.

In order to make large countries like the one I live in work, the citizens must be willing to accept a social contract including the rule of law, taxation, regulation of business and the government's monopoly on violence. One receives all kinds of benefits in return, and in a representative democracy you even get to help choose the people who make up your government. This is fine unless the range of parties to choose from is so narrow that it really isn't a choice at all.

I suspect that our immediate future will no doubt see a move toward increasing authoritarianism in states that are nominally democracies. We are already seeing this in the U.S. Being a dictator may seem like a fine thing, until you are confronted with actually solving the sort of thorny problems that face many nations today. It's not as easy as it looks, and more resources are required to enforce this kind of rule than one where the citizens co-operate willingly.

I think the rise of the surveillance state is also something to be worried about. Fear is being used to manipulate public opinion so those in control can get more control. It's clearly a case of exchanging freedom for security, which always turns out to be a poor deal in the long run. The expense of watching over its citizens is something governments will be less able to afford as the economy continues to contract, but I suspect they will be eager to shoulder that expense and expand upon it.

In the long run, as a lack of surplus energy makes large states impractical, we may see a move in the other direction, to less authoritarianism and less surveillance.

And in conclusion…

I guess it's not too hard to tell, from what I've said so far, that I would pick a political party that acknowledges limits, and is inclusive, fiscally liberal, economically leftist, socially liberal but pro-science, and more libertarian than authoritarian. This combination of political positions would, in my opinion, give us the best chance of navigating the collapse of industrial civilization as gracefully as possible.

Unfortunately, due to the realities of modern politics there is no such party and most of the political positions I favour are unlikely to win any elections in the near future. The details of those realities and their consequences will be the subject of my next post.

Navigating 21st Century Hopelessness

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Published on The Doomstead Diner July 16, 2017

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Is our techno-industrial way of life fundamentally benevolent?  Is it advisable to continue perpetuating a civilization that is predicated by non-renewable fossil energy sources as well as unsustainable rates of renewable resource extraction?  Our civilization requires an ever growing GDP to be considered healthy.  This is a measure of production in terms of consumption.  Our literal benchmark for the health of our society is based on how much we can consume in a year as a nation.  The reason for this is to create monetary profit for the individuals of this society whom have shares in the corporations controlling this production.  The actual physical wealth of the world is subjugated to the tune of dollars and cents.  To make this pathway possible it requires a proletariat class willing to sell their lives for an hourly rate.  This hourly rate is the lowest possible rate so as to not reduce the profit that’s stolen from the resources of the Earth and the energies of its peoples.  This hourly rate is about making money and not about stewardship of any kind.  It does not have to be like this, but that is a delusory sentiment based on idealism. 

The road to ruin for our species began with agriculture.  Before agriculture emerged there was no need for money, and so it did not exist.  Agriculture allows for civilization which requires money to function.  With the creation of money we stratify into economic classes of people.  Once money is created life becomes about servicing this need for monetary acquisition.  Before money life is about engaging with nature to acquire food, fuel, fiber, medicine and shelter.  In aggregate these actions create a healthy human culture.  Agriculture allows for money and removes the limiting factors for our numbers.  Before agriculture the limiting factor is the amount of food that can be sustainably hunted and gathered.  The hunter/gatherer life is mostly nomadic as we follow the animals and plants through the seasons which define their lifecycles.  Our lives are imbued with rich somatic meaning as we engage with the body of nature.  We are from this Earth, and we inhabit it as a corporeal being made of the elements.  We evolved both physically and spiritually within the framework of our physical Earth.  Our health depends on engaging with nature to create life and its meaning.  The fall from paradise began with domestication which is nothing less than the taming of wild nature.  Domestication is tandem to agriculture and literally creates civilization.  What is being civilized if not the opposite of wild?  The two are anathema to one another. 

Agriculture means that we stop moving around.  It means that we domesticate ourselves as well as the wild beasts of nature.  It sets up the conditions that allows for a great competition between us and nature.  All of a sudden our culture becomes one of domination and control rather than harmony.  Being rooted in one place we begin building monuments to hubris.  We get bored and invent competition.  We stockpile food and create war and plague.  We set up the conditions for disease and famine and warfare (although nomadic people still do occasionally fight with opposing tribes).  We argue and debate and create inequality amongst our people.  Life becomes a struggle to create meaning and avoid boredom.  Eventually, as we move further and further from our natural origin, habitat, and culture the enchantment of being evaporates. We are left with a driving urge to consume to fill this void of meaning that emerges due to our domestication.  Time continues forward and our habits create technologies to service convenience.  We become lazy and our bodies grow fat with our sedentary nature which arises from our domesticated captivity.  No longer do we need our bodies for anything more than acquiring money.  We then want pleasure to fend off boredom and meaninglessness.  Life is no longer about dancing in the wild where we are from and where we return to.  Civilization is nothing more than something to do in the great illusion that we create for ourselves.  This is the way that it is.  The Matrix was born with the first surplus of cereal grain. 

Is there anything that can be done about this?  It seems to me that we are at the end of this failed experiment in hubris.  There is no harmony in domination and control and consumption.  There is only waste, disease, and poison by way of ecocide and genocide.  Our quest for the production of unlimited energy against the gradient of entropy has created cancer.    In the end we cannot dominate nature.  Aside from money the quest for domination  is the great fallacy of civilization.  We cannot think our way out of the limiting factors of ecology.  Our modern techno-industrial civilization will run out of the fossil blood that sustains it.  We will lose the capacity to safely maintain the nuclear power plants that liter the surface of the Earth.  They will spew out DNA damaging clouds of radioactivity as they have already begun doing.  The rain will become poisonous to life.  As we fight to continue this failing technotriumphalism we will continue increasing the CO2 in the atmosphere which will continue heating the human supporting biosphere.  Natural disasters will continue increasing in number and severity.  Our hubris has metastasized into a cancer that will shrink our settlements as the habitable regions atrophy.  Nothing is going to stop this process now.  All that remains is answering the question of what to do about this inevitability.  We have entered into the age of doom. 

There is no escaping this destiny that we have perpetuated.  The most unfortunate aspect about this hopelessness is that man cannot live without hope.  Hope makes life worth living.  Is hope itself a delusion?  What are we to hope for?  The nature of existence is a destiny with death.   The time we have between birth and death needs to be animated by meaning.  Meaning is derived from a harmony with all life.  Our civilization is marked by domination and control.  There is no harmony in control.  The great struggle is finally about the nature of life because life wants to live.  We must maintain ourselves within the boundary of our skin while we are here walking the Earth.  The overwhelming desire is to do this devoid of pain and misery.  The tragedy of man is to think that he can avoid his own nature by the creation of a technological utopia.  Life cannot be about domination and control, but that is what man forces it to be.  We are teetering in a suspended animation just before the moment of expiration.  We are flailing about in denial of this process of resolution.  Maturation as a species must culminate in an acceptance of suffering and death.  We must accept our temporary nature, stop struggling, and lie down in the great current of life.  We swim against this entropic process everyday as we participate in this civilization.  We collectively attempt to keep the center from flying apart under the pressures of our own technologically created centrifuge.  We struggle in vain against the pressures of physical dissolution.  We create illusions to fight against the natural process of becoming to fall apart. 

The first act was rife with physical struggle within the framework of existing in harmony with nature.  Hubris arose and we thought we could become gods using the power of physical manipulation.  We thought we could master the universe with our cleverness.  We are collectively a breaking wave, and nothing will stop the pull of gravity as we are recycled back into the void which we originally manifested from.    Idealism is nothing more than the ravings of a mental lunatic.  Idealism is a delusion that is born from the struggle to acquire more than we need.  Fighting against entropy is finally not worth it.  Yet this fight is what it means to inhabit a physical body. 

In the final analysis life must be about observing beauty.  Without beauty it is not worth living.  We have made a mess of this beautiful blue/green orb that’s floating about the universe.  We have partied our way to desolation.  Yet the Earth keeps spinning around in outer space in its dance with the sun that sustains us.  Every morning the sun reemerges to give us another day of life.  Our great challenge is to honor this life by creating beauty and not it’s opposite.  We have created a lot of ugliness.  Maybe the secret to this 21st century hopelessness is to learn how to make beauty out of malevolence.  Or maybe we should just stop struggling and accept the final act of misery which we have written for ourselves?  Or maybe we can simply embrace our collective ugliness with grace?  Without love and beauty this great struggle that is life is not worth it.  The greatest challenge that we face is learning to love and observe beauty even as love and beauty vanish under the oppression of our own collective delusions. 

The nature of a body is to act.  How are we to act?  We should act to minimize suffering for all sentient beings while honoring our bodily nature.  Every day is a new day to make the right decisions.   Yet every day requires a certain amount of money.  This is why my conclusion is that a lifestyle that requires no money is the only truly benevolent lifestyle.  That lifestyle is a fiction in this world we have created.  This world is quite literally hell on Earth.  Therefore we must learn to love and find whatever beauty we can while in hell.  We must not resist as we realize our ultimate destiny of assimilation with the machine we have created.  I’ve tried finding work arounds to the truth that life is suffering, but the only way to win is to let go, stop resisting, and accept the nature of this great delusion.  Manifestation is transience in action, and our resistance arises within that transience only to dissolve back into the void that is death.  All that is created within that resistance is more suffering.  Yet still we must act in the world, and how should we act when our actions only serve to create more suffering?  The heart of our civilization is the creation of suffering, and to participate only adds to this toll.  Not participating in this civilization can be our only spiritual redemption.  For the life of me, and my children, I cannot figure out how to not participate. 

The Economics of Unconventional Oils (externalities be damned)

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on July 13, 2017

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The Economics of Unconventional Oils (externalities be damned)

There are a multitude of reasons why the pursuit of unconventional oils represents obscene
environmental vandalism. It is homicide, suicide and ecocide. Water table contamination, surface
water contamination, destruction of arboreal and agricultural land and the triggering of earthquakes
are well known consequences. The carbon emissions are markedly greater than conventional oil
production and will vastly increase the probability of near term human extinction from climate
Irrespective of the trivial matter of human extinction, the purpose of this article is to focus on short
term profits, the only matter of interest to those vocal local yokels in politics and the media. This
article aims only to assess the economic viability of unconventional oils in a capitalist market, while
blithely disregarding any externalities they impose. Let us look at the pursuit of unconventional oils
solely as a cold blooded business proposition from the point of view of a self serving psychopath
interested only in short term greed. To hell with the suffering and death of most species on this
planet or the well-being (or even existence of) future human generations.
In this article I acknowledge key energy thought leaders such as Hall, Murphy and Lambert and
especially Louis Arnoux whose "five fingers of net energy allocation" metaphor I previously
borrowed and modified. I also acknowledge bloggers that have helped clarify concepts about
EROEI and net energy who I may have inadvertently borrowed from. Nicole Foss likened
harvesting unconventional oils to sucking dirty drops of stale beer out of a floor mat, a useful,
graphic and memorable image. However analytical readers may want a more quantitative argument
before they can be convinced about the economic worth or otherwise of unconventional oils.
Let us start from first principles: (for further explanations and graphs regarding energy and
climate concepts, please see )
1. Material wealth can be defined as having easy access to a wide variety of high quality goods
and services
2. Material wealth in our industrial economies is derived almost entirely from our energy
utilisation of fossil fuels, whether directly e.g. jet fuel for planes, coal for electricity
generation; or indirectly e.g. fossil fuels used to construct nuclear power plants or so-called
renewable energy projects. Human and animal muscle power pale into insignificance when
compared with the vast energy capacity of fossil fuels to manufacture and deliver our
modern day goods and services. Mass agriculture is also utterly dependent on fossil fuels.
3. Petroleum is the king of all fossil fuels in terms of its utility, flexibility and energy density. It
constitutes many essential, irreplaceable links in our industrial manufacturing and supply
chains. Without those links, the chains are shattered and industrial civilisation grinds to a
halt. We have no large scale replacement for conventional petroleum. None.
4. The richest, the most valuable sources of oil have been the conventional oilfields prior to, at
and shortly after peak production (rich being defined as bearing oil which is easy to extract
and refine and is quantified as having high EROEI, which is energy returned divided by
energy invested). Conventional oilfields start out being rich (high value fields) and
inevitably become poor (low value fields), with plummeting EROEI on the down slope of
the Hubbert curve as they deplete. EROEI defines the value of an oilfield2
5. Net energy is energy returned minus energy invested and is analogous to net income. Gross
income is meaningless. It is only after we have deducted business expenses, loan
repayments, taxes etc. from our gross income that we can calculate our net income and
know our true wealth (or poverty) and our true purchasing power. A high net income allows
generous allocation for many different expenditures including luxuries and fripperies. That
is what it means to be rich. A low net income forces us to contract our previously complex
lifestyles, to simplify our lives and to focus on basic needs. That is what it means to be poor.
High and low net energy availability are exactly analogous to high and low net incomes. Just
as gross income is meaningless, gross energy production is meaningless. Therefore all
those fancy looking graphs published by IEA, EIA, CERA, USGS etc which only report
gross liquid hydrocarbon production nowadays are meaningless. On the upslope of the
global Hubbert curve in the old days of high EROEI, i.e. before 2005/6, it was reasonable to
treat world gross oil production as being roughly equivalent to net oil availability. Now that
we are well down the global Hubbert curve in 2017, any figures and graphs that only report
gross oil production and do not at least attempt to estimate net oil availability must be
regarded as fraudulent. Even if world gross oil output appears to be the same in 2017 as it
was in 2005, if our net oil availability has halved, then the FACT is that we have lost half
our wealth. Net energy availability defines the material wealth and complexity of a
society. As net energy availability declines, industrial society becomes materially poorer and
is forced to simplify and to focus on basic needs3. Complex technological systems are
inevitably lost because it is no longer possible to allocate energy to support them. Pension
plans, promises of future retirement payments based on old, false assumptions of endless
future economic growth, will never be delivered.
6. Industrial societies are becoming materially poorer and are being forced to simplify as
net energy availability declines. This is happening right now. This is an utterly
inescapable fact, a law of physics as absolute and as certain as the law of gravity, no
matter what any mainstream economist or politician (= deluded idiot who talks about "return
to growth") will have you believe. The pie is shrinking, however one particular glutton is
hell-bent on keeping “their” slice of the pie the same size as back in the “good-old-days”
before Peak Oil. In a zero sum game, this can only achieved by escalating their background
activities of fraud, theft and murder – otherwise known as propping up the US petrodollar
and intensifying US "regime change" foreign policy. This arrogant sense of entitlement is
now hugely increasing the risk of global nuclear conflict4. The only possible way we can
maintain global peace is to educate everyone about the inevitability of our energy descent
and implement voluntary and fair reduction of fossil fuel use by everyone, everywhere. Such
reduction is inevitable, the only question is whether we pursue systematic, planned
reduction or whether we go cold turkey and collapse into violent chaos. Maintaining peace
will require a miraculous mass epiphany and widespread magical transformation eg America
turning into a socialist, rural, agrarian, non-violent society – everybody essentially becoming
Amish. Judging by the quality of our current so-called “leaders”, including the ignorant
and/or stupid and/or corrupt “knowledge leaders” in the universities, and the clueless,
deluded, sedated and distracted general public who blame “the other” for all their problems,
chaotic collapse is a dead certainty (dead being the operative word, die-off being the
operative phrase).
7. Net energy availability falls of a cliff when EROEI falls below 5:1, however industrial
collapse will occur some time before that (according to calculations by many energy
experts). Indeed economic stagnation and contraction occur when EROEI falls to around
10:1 (which is happening now) and that alone can trigger sudden financial/economic
collapse (and/or warfare) before further EROEI decline is able to occur. In other words if
EROEI declines to, say, 9:1 and society collapses, oil output will then suddenly drop to
virtually zero, rather than following a theoretical smooth downward curve with
progressively declining EROEI ratios.
8. Many pundits have stated that money is a proxy for energy. At face value this sounds
reasonable, given that money is a proxy for goods and services and the production/delivery
of all goods and services are mediated by energy. However such a premise also assumes a
fair "level playing field" market with all parties being treated equally (no government
subsidies or sweetheart bank loans to favoured sons) all parties facing perfect competition,
with everyone behaving rationally, applying sane valuations to all goods and services, with
perfect information available to them at all times and with honest interaction between them
(assumptions made by neoclassical, neoliberal capitalist economists who live in a theoretical
world and have zero understanding of the real world).5
With those considerations in mind, let us assess the economic viability of conventional versus
unconventional oils using simple arithmetic:
If one US dollar is the proxy for one litre of oil6 and I invest one dollar in a pristine conventional
oil field with an EROEI of 100:1, I will get a gross return of $100 and a net return of 100 minus 1
or $99. This is my profit or net income, a huge windfall.
As the oil field ages, even though the total production of oil rises exponentially on the upslope of
the Hubbert curve (and absolute profits skyrocket), the EROEI and net profit per dollar invested
inevitably decline, albeit imperceptibly at first. At peak oil production the EROEI may be perhaps
18 or 20:1. Beyond peak, on the depletion side of the curve, even with an EROEI of 10:1 the profit
is still reasonably good. A $1 investment now provides a gross return of $10 and a net return of $9.
Conventional oil fields typically produce prolifically for several decades and after peak may decline
by about 6% per year.
Let us consider an unconventional oil source now. Calculations of EROEI vary, with wild
overestimates by oil industry pundits, but full life cycle analyses of unconventional oils show them
to be universally dismal whether they be shale oil, tar sands or Fischer-Tropsch (gas to liquid or
coal to liquid) oil. Tar sands probably have EROEI of 3:1 or less. Shale oil EROEI is at best around
3:1 in a pristine shale oil "play" in the middle of a “sweet spot”. Often hundreds of exploration
drillings are required before suitable “sweet spots” are located. All that unproductive drilling
activity takes energy (which has not been taken into account in many studies, hence shale oil
probably has a true EROEI well under 3:1). Hydraulic fracturing is very energy intensive. There is a
reason why shale oil is also called “tight” oil. The impermeable kerogen rock holds tightly on to its
oil, only giving it up when subjected to violent fracturing by high pressure injection of chemicals
and sand. Shale plays reach peak output quickly e.g. within 5 years of starting production. Just 3
years after peak production they have typically depleted by 80-90%.
If we think of money as a proxy for energy, that means if I invest $1 in the best brand new shale oil
play, I get $3 gross return and $2 net return. However any “profit” is entirely fleeting due to rapid
depletion. Furthermore the fact that all such scams are deeply mired in irredeemable debt from day
one, means that over their lifetime, their books can never balance. Compare that return with a $9 net
return for a depleting but debt free post peak conventional oil field with EROEI 10:1. This means
that only an idiot would ever invest in a shale oil company compared with a conventional oil
company, even if the reserves of the latter were depleting7.
The ONLY way unconventional oil economics can ever be on par with conventional oil economics
is when conventional oil EROEI falls to 3:1, however complex industrial civilisation simply cannot
function at such a low EROEI, it will collapse well before then. This means that the technological
capacity to harvest unconventional oil (a difficult and complex process) will be unavailable then.
Hence unconventional oil will NEVER be economically competitive with conventional oil.
Looking at things another way: For high EROEI oilfields, production costs are low and their oil can
be sold cheaply while still enabling them to repay previous modest capital expenditures, allowing
them to become debt free and to make a good profit over their lifetimes. For low EROEI oilfields,
production costs are high from day one and their oil must be sold dearly in order to repay their high
capex before they can ever become profitable. So long as conventional oil has a higher EROEI than
unconventional oil, it will ALWAYS be cheaper to produce conventional oil, which will ALWAYS
be priced lower than unconventional oil in a properly competitive market8. Unconventional oil will
ALWAYS be priced out of a truly free market and can NEVER be economically competitive.
Note that such considerations depend only on EROEI and are utterly independent of the
contemporary, extant price of oil. Those pundits who state that if only oil prices rise again to,
say $100 or even $150 per barrel, that unconventional oils will then become economically
viable, are dead wrong. If the price of oil rises, the exploration and production costs of
unconventional oil will also proportionately rise and any financial returns will never be able to
repay capex, ensuring that unconventional oil will always be uneconomic.
In a bogus “free” market, unconventional oils will always have to be sold below production cost
i.e. sold at a loss, if they are ever to be sold at all. The losses are borne by sucker investors and a
taxpaying public who were unwittingly duped into subsidising those scams. Capex loans for
unconventional oil projects can never and will never be repayed. This brings to mind the old joke:
Q: What is the easiest way to make a small fortune? A: Start with a large one
Why then have so many unconventional oil projects been established in North America? Because
their so-called "free” market is NOT a fair "level playing field" transparent market populated by
rational players who value commodities sanely, have perfect information available to them at all
times and who deal with each other in honest ways. Unconventional oil projects have been
surreptitiously subsidised by the unwitting tax paying public (in the form of tax breaks given to
those oily scammers by the government, so their country can achieve "energy independence"). The
North American market is populated by irrational players: greedy banks eager to hand out loans
under ZIRP and QE 9 and stupid investors who base their decisions on bogus information with no
understanding of any big picture issues. All driven by the monstrous fraud and dishonesty pervading
the industry.
Will unconventional oil harvesting die a natural death once sucker investors who have lost their
shirts learn their bitter lesson and no further clueless investors are forthcoming? You can fool some
of the people all of the time, hence snake oil scams will still pop up now and then in the years to
come. As long as this bogus economic system continues to limp along, there will always be one
sector of the population who have more dollars than sense. More than that, however, some
unconventional oil projects will still persist irrespective of any economic “rationalities”, mainly for
military and “energy security” reasons, mandated and pushed through by Deep States which are not
governed by true capitalist principles. That includes the Fascist States of America, which follows
Bernie Madoff type capitalism, not Adam Smith type capitalism.
Let us consider another hypothetical scenario conjured up by the "thousand year shale oil supply"
food fraudster named Geoffrey Annison. Let us imagine that the oil industry spreads its tentacles
worldwide to frack the living daylights out of every shale play they can possibly find, and every
drop of net oil is used to feed "business as usual" industrial scale agriculture. No oil is used for any
other purposes except for agriculture and for the extraction of more oil, not even for military
purposes, in this fantasy scenario. Surely this means that even though the EROEI is very poor at
3:1, but because we allocate oil for no other purposes, we can therefore continue industrial scale
agriculture for another thousand years? Absolutely not. Oil fracking is a high technology activity
requiring complex machinery, complex chemicals (eg special fracking fluids) and complex
processes (eg horizontal drilling) and also requires delivery of all the equipment to remote areas
(with associated housing and logistical support of their personnel) and transport of the oil out. Not
to mention the high tech purification and refinement processes. That all requires a complex
industrial infrastructure (and the manufacture and maintenance of all necessary equipment and
parts, from engines to microprocessors). The existence of such complex industrial infrastructure
requires high net energy sources with EROEI of at least 8 or 9:1. This means that the low EROEI
shale oil industry can NEVER be self perpetuating, it will always require input from higher EROEI
energy sources to operate. It is a monstrous scam. The only "benefit" of unconventional oil
extraction has been to slow the terminal decline of total liquid hydrocarbon output to date, which is
nevertheless poised to fall off a cliff in a few short years to come.
– EROEI defines the value of an oilfield. A high EROEI oilfield is a rich, high value field
that can produce oil easily (=cheaply, if we regard money as the proxy for energy) and is
thus also able to sell its oil cheaply ie at a low break even price (a low price which still
allows for good profit as well as repayment of capex, which ensures overall financial
solvency of the oilfield)
– A poor, low value oilfield has low EROEI, extracts oil with great difficulty (=dearly) and
must sell its oil dearly ie at a high break even price if its debts are ever to be repaid.
– On a “level playing field” free market, unconventional oil can NEVER compete price wise
with conventional oil. If unconventional oil is to be sold at all, it must be sold below
production cost which means that the capex of unconventional oilfields can never be repaid
and they can NEVER be financially solvent and will ALWAYS be lifetime money losers.
– Net energy availability (or more specifically net energy availability per capita per year or
NEA/C/Y 3) is the primary index of true material wealth of a society (secondary indices
being fairness of energy allocation and appropriateness of energy allocation). I assert that
NEA/C/Y is a much better index of material wealth than GDP. Global average NEA/C/Y
is scheduled to plummet catastrophically in the next few years and this will affect different
parts of the world patchily. Russia and Iran, harnessing China's capacity to turn that last
remaining high EROEI energy to wealth (=goods and services), will be less affected in the
short term – unless America fabricates some bogus false flag excuse to launch a “sour
grapes” first strike nuclear attack against them4, which will bring about mutually assured
destruction. Even if by some fluke we are able to escape nuclear Armageddon, ultimately
nobody will be spared from the eventual collapse of fossil fool industrial civilisation.
G. Chia July 2017
partner/ I consider near term human extinction by 2100 due to climate
change related loss of habitat as a real possibility, even a high probability. This probability
increases with every new unconventional oil or gas project pursued. However the meme of
NTHE within nine years by 2026 due to climate change alone is utter rubbish and I have
completely falsified that nonsensical idea in previous essays. Nuclear war can certainly
destroy us any time soon, but that will not represent NTHE caused by climate change alone.
Climate chaos will be just one of several triggers for nuclear war. Reckless brinkmanship
fossil fuel politics (whether oil or pipeline related) i.e. resource depletion related conflict, is
a much more likely nuclear trigger in the short term.
2. EROEI analysis continues to evolve and definitions continue to be clarified. For example if
a depleting conventional oilfield needs X Joules of energy in the form of diesel fuel to run
the saline pumps to extract 2X Joules worth of crude oil, traditionally it would have been
described as having an EROEI of 2:1. The fallacy here is that the crude oil needs to be
transported to a refinery, fractionated into different components and the diesel component
must be trucked back to the oilfield to run the pumps. All those energy costs were
traditionally not taken into account. Such an arrangement may not in fact provide sufficient
net energy return to do any more than pursue a pointless extract-transport-refine-transportextract
loop. Hence an oilfield traditionally designated as having EROEI of 2:1 may in
reality, using honest accounting, have only an EROEI of 1:1 and may therefore be
completely useless apart from accelerating entropy and carbon emissions. Nevertheless
EROEI concepts are fundamentally important for us to work out the thermodynamic worth
of energy ventures and approximate values can be very useful for us to make informed
3. More
precisely the major parameter which defines the wealth of a society is net energy
availability per capita per year or NEA/C/Y (other parameters for wealth definition are the
fairness of energy distribution and the appropriateness of energy allocation). Examples: We
do not regard India as a rich country even though its total net energy availability per year
may be, say, ten times that of a European country. That is because per head of population per
year, the net energy availability may only be one tenth that of the European country – the
average Indian lives in abject poverty. Even if NEA/C/Y of two particular countries are the
same, but if , say, 99% of the wealth of one particular country is corruptly and unfairly
concentrated in the hands of a 1% parasite class, we do not regard that country as rich,
because of the vast majority of the population will be living in poverty. Similarly if energy
(=wealth) allocations are highly inappropriate, then a country cannot be regarded as well off.
If a country allocates the bulk of its wealth to adequate food, water, sanitation, housing,
health, education and environmental governance sectors to benefit everybody, the people
will actually be quite well off eg Bhutan. If however a country allocates the bulk of its
wealth to military expenditure, corporate managerial parasitic activity (eg in the health
insurance industry, the banking sector etc) and bombastic political campaigns, neglecting the
more vital needs of ordinary people, the populace cannot be regarded as being well off.
Short of a popular revolution and complete reform of all their institutions, this is the
inescapable, inevitable fate of the Fascist States of America. Poverty.
4. The USA no longer has high EROEI conventional oil fields and their attempts at achieving
"energy independence" by harvesting domestic unconventional oils have proven to be
spectacular economic failures. Some schemes have been astoundingly idiotic, such as
ethanol from Nebraskan corn. You simply cannot cheat physics and the laws of
thermodynamics, no matter how loud your PR spin. America's greatest fear is the fact that
Russia, Iran and some central Asian states, whose oil output have historically been curtailed
for economic/political reasons, will possess the last remaining high EROEI conventional
fields in the world (relatively high EROEI compared with the rest of the world, however
Russia and Iran are also past peak oil production now). This is because the historically
unrestrained high volume oil producers of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE are poised for
economic collapse in the near future, just as Egypt and Syria collapsed when their declining
oil production intersected with their increasing domestic consumption. Iraq is a wild card,
likely to remain in turmoil but just as likely to enter the fold of Iran, because Iraq is mostly
Shi'ite and has suffered terribly from the brutality of ISIS and Al Qaeda offshoot Sunni
Salafists, which were the monstrous creations of the USA and Saudi Arabia. The impending
relative petropower rise of Russia and Iran, with the accompanying decline of the USA, is
why the USA has been so hell-bent on regime change and on installing US puppets in those
countries, employing all manner of fabricated fake news to bring it about. That will not
happen because the world is now wise to the dirty tricks of the CIA. If Russia and Iran liaise
with China (with its massive industrial capacity), if those three trade in their own currencies
and sideline the US petrodollar, that triumvirate will economically dominate the world.
Europe and East Asia will inevitably gravitate towards them. This is in fact happening right
now, especially with the “belt and road” initiatives. The USA, who call themselves the
"indispensable nation" (indispensable to themselves), will be marginalised and will descend
into abject poverty even as the nations they despise and demonise achieve reasonable
"moderate prosperity". This will grate on American sensibilities no end. America will never
be great again but it will certainly grate again, just as it grated under Bush Jr, only worse.
The entrenchment of fanatical chickenshit armchair warmongering right wing psychopaths
in the US administration, irrespective of whichever political party occupies the White
House, bodes ill for the world, particularly as their meme of a "winnable nuclear war" (using
first strikes and theoretical anti ballistic missile shields) continues to bounce around the
hollow echoing corridors of that mental asylum10. The only role the USA now plays in the
world is that of spoiler, mass murderer and probable harbinger of human extinction by
nuclear war. The USA is not simply a schoolyard bully who steals the ball and runs off,
spoiling the game for everybody. The USA is a schoolyard bully who wears suicide bomb
underpants and is planning to detonate it on the playground, believing that their kevlar
jacket will prevent their own head from being blown off.
5. In a hypothetical ideal free and fair market economy, money should be a proxy for energy.
In the real world, that is only partly true. Unfortunately in many cases, money (and most
money exists as digital currency in the stockmarket) represents pure vapour with no value
whatsoever or even negative value as in the case of the collateral debt obligations of the
subprime mortgage scam, which in reality were liabilities, so-called “toxic assets”.
Unconventional oil scams are even more toxic, both literally and figuratively and are only
promoted by fools or liars. “EIA’s projections have been off by wide margins. In 2014 the
agency cut its estimates about the amount of recoverable oil in California’s Monterey shale
by 96 percent. And in 2012, research from the U.S. Geological Survey forced the EIA to cut
its estimates of how much shale was accessible in Poland by 99 percent"
html. It is true that some people made
money from those scams, specifically people who cashed out before those pyramid schemes
reached their peak share price (or from short selling just before price collapse). However the
only people who promote those scams as profitable enterprises are people who should be in
6. This overview is simplified for the sake of explaining certain concepts. Proper detailed
analysis would specify exactly what that one litre of invested “oil” consists of (petrol?
diesel? or a mix?) and that the energy returned should also be in the form of similar refined
fractions, to compare like with like. It should also incorporate the energy costs of crude oil
transportation/refinement and distribution of the refined products.
7. Given the monstrous level of deceit in the oil industry, even investment in conventional oil
nowadays is a money losing prospect due to fraudulently overstated reserves. Consider
Saudi Aramco who tried to sell 5% of their assets in 2016. Despite glossy brochures they
refused to disclose their true remaining oil reserves or allow any inspection. Independent
valuers Wood Mackenzie reckon that Aramco have overvalued their assets by 500%
Overvalued-By-500.html. Few took that bait, hence the 2016 offer fizzled. They will try a
formal IPO in 2018 but only suckers will buy into it. The only sane investment nowadays is
not oil or gold or silver or diamonds but climate resilient land on which you can establish
your off grid permaculture homestead (and the purchase of associated necessary items eg
tiny house, solar panels etc). The only truly valuable currency in the world is the currency of
trust you must build with “aware” people. Unfortunately not all “aware” people are
necessarily trustworthy.
8. It is a different matter if the conventional oil producers unite politically to raise their oil
prices well above production costs to maximise their profits, however they have not done so
in recent years. Indeed they have been using artificially low oil prices as a weapon.
9. Zero interest rate policy only applies to interest on the savings of bank depositors, those
working stiffs who struggle, scrimp and save to put a little something aside for a rainy day in
these difficult times. ZIRP maximises bank profits while screwing the little guy. The banks
of course continue to charge interest on any loans they provide to any borrowers eg
investors in shale oil scams. Those loans are created out of thin air by the fractional reserve
banking system, hocus pocus made ever easier by government quantitative easing policy.
The funny money of QE is also created out of thin air by the government. It does not cause
general inflation because it is money which is unavailable to the general public, only to big
ticket borrowers. It does however cause inflation of share prices in the stockmarket which
feeds ever more irrational exuberance among the Ponzi investors AKA suckers. Whatever
the situation, the banksters will still get their year end bonuses for any loans they hand out,
whether those loans are ever repaid or not. This is the definition of Bernie Madoff
10. In comparing Trump's White House with a mental asylum, I must apologise if I have caused
any offence to any mental asylums.

Interview with Ugo Bardi

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on June 7, 2017


Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner


Climate, Fossil Fuels, Resources and All That


The MEDEAS project team at a recent meeting in Barcelona. At the center, the project coordinator, Jordi Solé, Another group of well-intentioned people engaged in saving the planet. Yes, we know it is difficult: we are doing our best. 
This interview was recorded this February and is reported here from the site of the European Project MEDEAS, only minimally edited. Take into account that none of the people involved (interviewers and interviewed) are native English speakers and you can understand why the grammar and the syntax are, well, let's just say "not perfect". Then, as in all non-edited interviews, the flow of the concepts is also far from being perfect. However, I thought to reproduce it here because it contains much of what I have been trying to say, lately. Maybe you'll find it interesting (U.B.)

On 17th February 2017, during MEDEAS first General Assembly in Brno, Czech Republic, Ugo Bardi from INSTM, partner of MEDEAS Project was interviewed by Mikuláš Černík for Deník Referendum, an independent online newspaper focused on social and environmental issues. The interview discussed how science nowadays can address challenges as climate change and possible limitations of resources for the transition to a low-carbon economy. The whole interview can be found below in English, while the original version is published in the newspaper’s webpage





Your main topic is resource depletion. Since the release of your book on the Limits to Growth, how has the situation changed?




The thread that runs through everything I study is resource depletion in the broadest sense. You can restrict its sense to minerals, which is to take the core meaning, but then there is also climate change. Climate change can be seen as the depletion of the atmosphere’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases without overheating. So it’s also depletion—everything’s a question of depletion. And everything is a question of resources. People have spoken about limits to growth, which at one time was a very innovative concept, but these limits on growth derive from limits on resources, and that’s something we’re still working on.



You’re writing a blog called the Cassandra Legacy. How did you, as a scientist, decide it was necessary to write a blog?




Because many people speak about there being two cultures, humanist culture and scientific culture. And in my modest opinion, this is completely wrong. There are no two cultures, there is only one culture. And so a scientist should be within the limits as much as possible, should be a humanist as much as possible within the limits, should know something about hard science such as thermodynamics and physics, and so on. But unfortunately our world has fallen into the trap of overspecialization, which means that a lot of people study so much that eventually they know everything about nothing—which is the definition of a specialist. So we have specialists who know absolutely everything about nothing, which is a little useless in my opinion. So we need a modern view of science, and this is a concept that some of us are working on. It’s a new conceptualization that tends to deemphasize what we call “reductionist science”. To emphasize what we call “systemic science”, which looks at changes at the whole-system level. Because if you are a reductionist, you would say What is the problem? I’m slowly running out of fuel for my car. So you say, No problem, hydrogen will fix everything. If you follow a systems approach, you say well, okay, maybe hydrogen is a way to change the system, but how will the system react? I think that’s a fundamental part of the MEDEAS project we’re working on. To take a systems approach. We have a valuable collaborator in Brno as well. We’re sure we can get this done.



Do you think that, as a scientist, when you publish a scientific paper, it has any impact on a broader readership and on the general public and policymakers? How do you perceive the relationship between science and politics?




There is no difference. Scientific communication is just one of many kinds of communication. And that has to do with the fact that we communicate within a system. The world—call it the mediasphere or the cybersphere or the brainsphere—the world is a huge system in which ideas, comments, novelties, the news and everything moves and competes in a space. All these things grow, they evolve, they change and they take over spaces, and that’s the most “systemic system”, if you like. It is hugely interesting to study, and that’s what we’re doing. You might not have noticed, but my coworkers and I are developing models for dissemination, for spreading ideas in the websphere, the world wide web, in the mindspace. What we’ve discovered is that your message—you want to know the theory of messaging my coworkers and I are developing? Messages are made up of two parts—the message itself and the communicator who sends it. So the message must be simple enough that it can reproduce, but that’s not enough. The message has a signature that makes it recognized as ‘self/nonself’ and if it is not recognized as “self” it is discarded and the whole attempt to transmit it is useless. So what you do when you send the message is you send yourself. And that’s it. You don’t always hit people with facts. The relevant fact is you, because you are relevant. If you are relevant, you send a message which is understood. You need to understand who is sending the message, you need to understand what a person is. So if you don’t know what you are, you can’t send the message.



This leads me to the next question. Don’t you think that, when scientists put out messages to the public, the public may believe in their correctness and yet feel that what they say is overly pessimistic? That they’re not enough to make them change their behaviour? I’m talking about alarmism. Some people argue that when you scare people too much, as a consequence they won’t be willing to change their behaviour. Do you agree?




This is because most scientists are children when it comes to communication. They know very little, nothing in this field. I won’t use the term ignoramus, but the definition is that when you don’t know anything about something, you are an ignoramus on that topic. Scientific education doesn’t cover communication. So when you try to do work in a field you’re ignorant of, you may achieve zero. And you’re likely to make mistakes. Just think of riding a bicycle for the first time. You don’t know what a bicycle is, what pedals or brakes are, and so on. You don’t really know how a bicycle works. You fall off the bike straightaway. This is what happens when scientists try to communicate all these pessimistic things about climate science to the public. They’re using the wrong communication model. Their message—its penetration—doesn’t depend upon pessimism or optimism. This is a mistake. Think about Christianity. What is the message? It is that there will come an apocalypse. And it is spread easily. Even though it’s predicting an apocalypse. Because Christians knew much better – the old, the ancient Christians, they knew how to promulgate their message. They were able to emphasize the messenger. If you’re willing to get eaten by lions, then the message is important for you, it carries weight. But you must be ready to be eaten by lions to demonstrate the message is real and that, I think, scientists are not willing to do for Climate Science. Maybe we don’t need to arrive to that point but the essence is the same – it doesn’t matter if the message is optimistic or pessimistic. The power is not in the message, it’s in the messenger. The messenger must be believable and this is the problem with climate science. Scientists have made a lot of mistakes and they are presenting a contradictory message. Some scientists say, “don’t worry, we have the solution: you don’t have to do anything” and maybe they start babbling about hydrogen or nuclear energy or whatever. Other scientist say, “well, you have to make sacrifices” and they talk about investing in double paned glasses, using bicycles and the like. But these two messages are not compatible with each other. And if the messenger doesn’t send a coherent message, he or she is not believed.



What about the term peak oil—which was much more widely used in the recent past than it is today. Could you tell us how this term has evolved in public debate?




It’s a good example of how to spread a message. Generally because the message was simple: just two words. “Peak oil”. It has a ring to it, it was interesting, and it was simple enough to spread. And spread it did. These messages have a cycle. They peak, and then they go down. But I think the spread of this message was successful in the sense that it was not only viral, but became part of our culture. Its greatest diffusion came around ten years ago. Then it lost popularity a bit because people had difficulty understanding the term. They see that oil isn’t expensive right now and think that’s because it’s abundant. But that changes. It’s like limits to growth. It was criticised, rejected, demonised, but it was a successful concept, because it is still with us. We debate it, maybe over a long period, but still we debate it. And that’s what we can do with messages. They don’t necessarily need to take over the world, but they remain with us. They can’t be ignored.



Could you also tell us something about the project you’re currently involved in? About MEDEAS; and how it is changing the debate?




MEDEAS is an extremely important project, as a next step after Paris. Paris COP21 told us what we should do, and it was a very good meeting with a huge impact because the communication was taken care of by people who knew what they wanted to do. To have a message which will take root, it must be simple. So Paris – we had thousands of people, hundreds of models, tens of thousands of scenarios, the whole climate science with uncertainties and things like that and final result was one number: 2 °C. You condense everything into something like a piece of genetic code which will then be unpacked. You send a little virus to the mind with a very tiny chink of genetic code. It takes up residency in your brain. It reproduces and grows.



So do you really think the Paris agreement is a step forward in tackling climate change?




Absolutely. It was a remarkable success because it was well packaged. But the numbers in it are not enough, because we don’t know how to achieve them. And that’s what MEDEAS is answering. We give you another number—how much it will cost? If we can afford it and the degree of sacrifice it entails. How much are you willing to pay for your survival?



Let’s imagine that we achieve a post-carbon future. Who will be the loser and who the winner in the transition?




Some scientists in the MEDEAS group have developed a concept they call Thanatia, which refers to a world not meant to be—one in which people have survived, but the planet has died in terms of minerals. This means there is no longer any ability to mine rare minerals, and these minerals are what allowed us to build our civilization. The result is a future that is completely different. There are no more mineral resources like oil and cobalt, because these mineral resources are concentrated—you can’t just find them anywhere you want. If you need something that you lack but someone else has, you may have to fight to get it. But in the future, this will no longer be done, because we will stick to resources that are abundant, like sunlight, silicon, aluminium, magnesium, etc. Society can be built in a locally-structured way that may give rise to less competition for resources and fewer wars.



In our country, the Czech Republic, if we want to achieve what was promised in the Paris agreement, we need to cut our coal consumption, despite its abundance as a resource. How would you advocate this position with the public?




I don’t think this is such a big problem. I mean, the Czech Republic is a very small part of the world and of what’s going on in the world. And if the world starts moving in a certain direction, the Czech Republic will follow. We have coal in Germany, in Poland, in Ukraine, and these regions are burning it. It has to be phased out slowly, and I think we are moving in that direction because the cost is really increasing. Coal is not as cheap as it seems. In the future, you won’t be able to afford to burn the coal, whatever the politicians may say. Mr. Trump said “we have a thousand years of coal” and this is an alternative fact, in other words, a lie. I think we will cease to burn coal sometime over the next decade or two. And hopefully we will do so because we have agreed to stop burning coal and also because we have agreed to deploy renewable energy and replace it.



So basically what you’re saying is, the sooner we make the move, the more we gain?




Yes, that’s correct. The change is going to take place anyway. People talk about problems and that’s bad. Once you say there are problems, you begin to think of solutions. But not all problems are problems, and not all solutions are solutions. If you remember the “Jewish Problem” at the time of Adolf Hitler, well, once you start to say the Jews are a problem, you start thinking of the solution, and the solution they found was a very bad idea – as we all know. So we don’t have to think in terms of problems/solutions – that may lead us to very bad ideas. Instead, we must emphasize change. That change is ongoing, and you have a choice: either you go along with the change, or you reject it. If you reject it, the change will change you, and you will not be happy but will be swept away by the change. In other words, you can solve a problem but there is no solution for a change. There is only one way to face change: to adapt to it.



Ok, thanks very much.




You’re not going to ask me anything about Italian football…?






Atlantic Crossing

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Published on Peak Surfer on May 21, 2017


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"There are some black swans in aviation’s future that could tip its economic balance. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare."



We are in London this week and on our trip across the pond we could not help but think how much more we would much prefer to have gotten here by sail.



Sadly, there is a distinct competitive advantage that favors passenger jets. If following tradewinds for an ocean crossing means devoting days and weeks for such travel, clipper ships are not coming back any time soon. Still, given the past century’s advances in materials and computing power, there are great opportunities for innovation in Atlantic crossings.
There are also some black swans that could tip the balance against flying. The three biggies are peak oil, climate weirding and cyberwarfare.
A foretaste of what the future sails may look like, we can go to companies like Kite Ships and SkySails, each of which develops various forms of large, free-flying sails without masts, which are anchored at the bow of the ship with long, adjustable ropes.
They are hoisted and reefed automatically and are controlled and positioned by wind situation by means of an electronic control system. The automation does not require additional crew and the lack of a fixed rig does not disturb the ship in port. The sail is deployed several hundred meters high, and draws advantage of winds that are smoother and stronger than at sea level.
Norska Vindskip has another vision, appealing in its simplicity. The designers intend to remove the sails and rigging altogether, but believe they can achieve 80 percent emission reductions by an aerodynamic vessel design where the hull itself acts as a sail. The vessel is designed as a hybrid, which first accelerates on gas and then balances between wind and supportive gas to maintain a constant speed. When the ship comes up to speed it encounters a backwind. Although this apparent wind gives effect on the hull’s symmetrical aerodynamic profile, and generates traction even when there is no wind – there is a contributing factor to large emissions reductions. The concept includes a computerized navigation system using GPS and weather data to adjust the route continuously, to constantly give the ship the most optimal angle to the wind as possible. It is thought then to hold 18 knots in average and large portions of the time is powered exclusively by wind.
18 knots is still not the same as 570 miles per hour. A 6-hour crossing by a 757 would take 170+ hours at Vindskip speed — a week-long voyage. Surely we can do better. We need a killer app for ocean crossings.
Will Nodvik, who studied Computer Engineering at NYU Tandon School of Engineering, writes on Quora:
The foiling AC-72s sailed [in 2013] during the America’s Cup top out at around 40 knots in super heavy conditions. Average container ships move at around 20 knots. The mast on an AC-72 is 40m high. Keep in mind that this mast is a rigid wing. The AC-72 is the lightest, fastest, most highly advanced boat. These masts are the strongest material possible since no expense was spared in their construction.
Forty knots (46 mph) is still only 8 percent of the cruising speed of a Boeing 747. Figure three and one half days, if top speed could be held the whole way.


The America’s Cup Challenge resumes this June in Bermuda’s Great Sound. The AC-72 (72-foot) yacht that Oracle Team USA sailed to a historic come-from-behind 9-8 victory over Emirates Team New Zealand on San Francisco Bay in September 2013 is gone. Obsolete.


Replacing it is a smaller, lighter AC-50 (50-foot) catamaran with 79-foot carbon fiber wing sail and new alloy hydrofoils to give it near zero drag. All the competitors in this year’s trials are expected to fly above water for 100% of the race time.


The sail’s drag is one-third to one-half that of four years ago, while producing about twice as much power. The control system comes from the Airbus A350 XWB airliner, compiling a terabyte per race collected from as many as 1,000 sensors fed into the Oracle Exadata supercomputer for instant analysis. Oracle will predict wind patterns (within half a knot accuracy) all the way down to 100-meter or even 50-meter grids on the racecourse. The sailors — a six man crew (down from 11 in 2013), need only glance at smart watches connected to a small onboard Linux server, to know what they need to do.


Speeds approaching 60 mph are possible in the Bermuda races—about 20% faster than in 2013. That would get us down to a two day Atlantic crossing.
More importantly, the days spent on crossing by sail put nothing into the atmosphere except the breath of the sailors. Today’s commercial passenger fleet is responsible for 3 to 5 percent of climate forcing, on its way to 15 percent according to some IPCC projections. Clearly it is going in the wrong direction.
From Wikipedia:
In October 2016 the UN agency International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) finalized an agreement among its 191 member nations to address the more than 458 Mt (2010) of carbon dioxide emitted annually by international passenger and cargo flights. The agreement will use an offsetting scheme called CORSIA (the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation) under which forestry and other carbon-reducing activities are directly funded, amounting to about 2% of annual revenues for the sector. Rules against 'double counting' should ensure that existing forest protection efforts are not recycled. The scheme does not take effect until 2021 and will be voluntary until 2027, but many countries, including the US and China, have promised to begin at its 2020 inception date. Under the agreement, the global aviation emissions target is an 80% reduction by 2035 relative to 2020. NGO reaction to the deal was mixed.
The agreement has critics. It is not aligned with the 2015 Paris climate agreement, which set the objective of restricting global warming to 1.5 to 2°C. A late draft of the agreement would have required the air transport industry to assess its share of global carbon budgeting to meet that objective, but the text was removed in the agreed version. CORSIA will regulate only about 25 percent of aviation's international emissions, since it grandfathers all emissions below the 2020 level, allowing unregulated growth until then. Only 65 nations will participate in the initial voluntary period, not including significant emitters Russia, India and perhaps Brazil. The agreement does not cover domestic emissions, which are 40% of the global industry's overall emissions. One observer of the ICAO convention made this summary:
Airline claims that flying will now be green are a myth. Taking a plane is the fastest and cheapest way to fry the planet and this deal won't reduce demand for jet fuel one drop. Instead offsetting aims to cut emissions in other industries, although another critic called it "a timid step in the right direction."
But now imagine what happens when the ring wraiths start to arrive. On one side we have peak oil — for conventional liquid fuel production that happened in the US in 1969 and globally in 2005.


Dmitry Orlov explains:

[S]ustained and even slightly increased levels of per capita energy use have been enabled by constantly increasing debt that has temporarily compensated for the rising costs of energy production. The overall effect of this has been to depress both energy consumption and economic growth. Energy prices are low because that is all the consumers can afford and energy producers are forced to borrow to make up the difference between their production costs and their earnings. When economic growth stops and goes into reverse (what the French call décroissance) the debt burden becomes unsupportable, energy companies go out of business and per capita energy use drops precipitously. Thus, the phenomenon that has allowed per capita energy use to set some modest new records has produced an Olduvai plateau, which will be followed by an even steeper Olduvai cliff once this scheme, essentially one of attempting to borrow against the collateral of a nonexistent future, eventually fails. This moment is not far away: as I write this, the energy business has largely stopped being profitable, and there is a growing wave of energy companies entering bankruptcy.


Engineers like to work with physical quantities, and are loathe to admit that something that is essentially a game played with numbers on pieces of paper—which is what debt is—nevertheless can act as a physical motive force by forcing people to act. Its most dramatic physical manifestation is in depleting nonrenewable natural resources more rapidly and more fully. 

There are still pockets of oil fields that have not yet peaked, mostly in the Middle East, but on average, we are now into the decline phase. Ponzi land schemes support the popular fiction of a gold rush in “unconventional” liquids (fracked gas, shale oil, and the like). Prices at the pump are kept artificially low at this stage of the grift, as bigger fools are drawn into ever-more-risky real estate plays in the fracking patch, offshore, in the Arctic, and to the ends of the Earth, but sooner or later the real costs of these expensive, low-octane plays will bubble to the surface.
Petroleum explorer Colin Campbell many years ago compared our current moment in geological history to arriving at the tavern after final call and being so thirsty you take out your pocket knife and cut up the carpet to squeeze out any last drops of spilled beer (and whatever else might be there).
There are occasional headlines that some new discovery is a game changer, but those pieces of news never look at the data. Discoveries worldwide peaked decades ago and have not kept pace with extraction for many years. The situation is especially acute in post-peak producer nations like Venezuela and Mexico, the new normal for petrodollar addicts — destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix. Any flare-up in tension in the Persian Gulf or other oil region can suddenly squeeze supplies with serious, world-shaking effects.
As Jan Lundberg of Sail Transport Network is fond of saying, “sailboats will have no fuel supply problem.” Airplanes are another story.


Virgin Atlantic Airways flew a Boeing 747 from London Heathrow Airport to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport on 24 February 2008, with one engine burning a combination of coconut oil and babassu oil. Greenpeace's chief scientist Doug Parr said that the flight was "high-altitude greenwash" and that producing organic oils to make biofuel could lead to deforestation and a large increase in greenhouse gas emissions. Also, the majority of the world's aircraft are not large jetliners but smaller piston aircraft, and with major modifications many are capable of using ethanol as a fuel. Another consideration is the vast amount of land that would be necessary to provide the biomass feedstock needed to support the needs of aviation, both civil and military.


Climate change may have more surprises. The second ring wraith can be glimpsed when they spill your drink between you and the serving cart, thanks to unexpected turbulence. A report published in Nature Climate Change by Paul Williams, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Science stated: 
"air turbulence does more than just interrupt the service of in-flight drinks. It injures hundreds of passengers and aircrew every year – sometimes fatally. It also causes delays and damage to planes."
Increasing atmospheric instability is one of the hallmarks of global climate change. 
The third ring wraith brings with it the threat to aviation posed by errant cyber-viruses loosed by incautious government and corporate handlers. We were warned by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange on March 9 after he was informed by the hacker community that sloppy spycraft in the cyberwar arena has set in motion open source viruses capable of taking down major infrastructure, anywhere. As of the date of that press conference, 22,000 ISPs in the US had been infected with a backdoor opened by NSA/CIA. 
On May 12, that backdoor was exploited by a malware attack beginning with the British National Health System and the German Rail System, and eventually reaching more than 150 countries. “What happened with the Shadow Brokers in this case is equivalent to a nuclear bomb in cyberspace,” said Zohar Pinhasi, a former cybersecurity intelligence officer for the Israeli military, now the chief executive of MonsterCloud, which helps mitigate ransomware attacks. “This is what happens when you give a tiny little criminal a weapon of mass destruction. This will only go bigger. It’s only the tip of the iceberg.”
“The Central Intelligence Agency lost control of its entire cyberweapons arsenal,” Assange said.  “This is an historic act of devastating incompetence to have created such an arsenal and stored it all in one place and not secured it.” 



Brad Smith, Microsoft president, asked what would happen if the United States military lost control of “some of its Tomahawk missiles” and discovered that a criminal group was using them to threaten some country unless ransom was paid. But why use missiles when you can take control of commercial airplanes, just like in Die Hard 2?



Given the possibility that the air control tower managing your landing might suffer a “blue screen” attack as you make your descent, wouldn’t you rather be sailing?
“Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse.” (To sail is necessary, to live is not).  — Pompey


This week we have been resuming our talks with the Commonwealth of Nations to devise a strategy and timeline for reversing climate change using the permaculture tool kit. A key factor in the race to scale will be climate finance, and with that in mind we have bought to London a discussion of our concept for a ReGen Fund to issue “Cool Bonds” — lending instruments backed by carbon removal. Some of the projects we’ve discussed in previous posts — the Maya Mountain Research Farm in Belize, Ecosystem Restoration Camps, the Sunshine Ecovillage Network in China, Cool Labs in México and the Dominican Republic, and others — are prime candidates for putting that money to work. But there is another new piece on our chessboard.


Over the past few weeks we have been working with a ship’s architect on the concept for a mobile educational platform we are calling “Noah’s Ark.” The idea is for a research vessel not unlike Jacques Cousteau’s famous Calypso, that could move between moorings in places like New York, Miami and London and bring aboard researchers, activists, students, investors and others to meet with our change agents whom we are now calling Ambassadors. It would be a mobile networking hub, replete with television studio and conference hall.


To introduce our Cool Bond/ReGen Fund and Noah’s Ark, we joined with  Cloudburst Foundation and Project Noah to produce a short video.


This post is part of an ongoing serial we’re calling The Power Zone Manifesto. It is a series of building blocks that describe our existential climate dilemma and the only possible way to escape it. We post to The Great Change and Medium on Sunday mornings and 24 to 48 hours earlier for the benefit of donors to our Patreon page. We offer ecovillage apprenticeships, including Cool Lab trainings, this year at The Farm in Tennessee April through July and will be teaching a full permaculture course in Ireland in August. We will be on speaking tours in Brazil, Germany, India and China in late 2017.










From Oilslick to Tyranny

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Published on the ExtraNewsFeed on June 5, 2017

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A prosperous society is an orderly society.

People with full bellies, stable homes and secure employment do not allow themselves to be involved in civil disorder. Unfortunately we are living on borrowed money in a bankrupt society. When our debts catch up with us, society will collapse, violent disorder will ensue and martial law will be inevitable. Pre-oil, despotic rule was the norm and democracies did not exist; we are going to return to that era.

The hallmark of the tyrant is already being stamped on the nation for anyone willing to recognise it. Suppression of truth is already in hand, information on climate change has been removed from government websites. It is the preparation for your future governance. No names are given here, because no-one will recognise the opportunist until he makes his grab for ultimate power. It will not be who you expect it to be.

forget Wall St., this is what world bankruptcy looks like:






Oil is our prime source of energy, ‘alternatives’ cannot power our industrial infrastructure.

Any business that continually burns through its assets at ten times the rate of replacement can be said to be bankrupt; that describes the global economy. Fossil fuels are the only asset we have, because everything else is a derivative of coal oil and gas inputs. Without heat, nothing can be manufactured. We elect politicians to lie on our behalf, because we want to be told that our resources and growth are infinite. In return for our votes, they are happy to do this. Everyone is complicit in the grand deceit, to accept the truth would destroy the existence of all of us.

So to perpetuate that lie there is a collective insistence that the global economy must continue to function to a very simple (but ultimately nonsensical) formula:

the more fuel we burn, the greater our gross domestic product. The faster we burn it, the higher our percentage growth.

Our machines and the (finite) fuels that move them now form the sinews that hold all nations together. They feed us, provide heat, light and transport, and with equal importance, stabilise international democracies and political systems.

No matter how complex or mundane your current job, whether garbage collector or brain surgeon, someone, somewhere is producing sufficient surplus energy to support it.

Prosperity is not an infinite right

Collective prosperity at the global level depends on cheap surplus fossil fuel energy. For 2 centuries we have been able to use those fossil fuels as collateral for future debt, to build ever bigger machines to extract elemental resources from the earth. This has been our great burning, because extracted materials of themselves are of no use to us unless we use heat to process them into desirable commodities.

That excess heat is altering our climate beyond human tolerance.

But heat provides our industrial growth economy: fuels must be consumed to sustain it and provide continued employment to make things that are ultimately thrown away in order to consume more to enable our debts to be continually carried forward. Our system of rolling debt depends on increasing energy input ad infinitum. So the one who asserts that climate change is a hoax gets voted into office, granting permission to burn our planet forever.

Without economic stability, democracy cannot survive.

Fuel resources have been a once-only gift of nature, and there are no viable substitutes. When they are no longer freely available, the effects will be catastrophic and force the events outlined here because the availability of surplus energy directly underpins our economic system. Without surplus energy you cannot have a modern democratic society. Be under no illusions, on current trends the events outlined here are certain. Only timing is in question by a few years either way.

Our global bank balance in oil has been falling for 70 years.

We are living on legacy oil. Oilwells cannot be refilled by votes, prayers or money.

We have created an industrial economy that is entirely predicated on a single factor: converting explosive force into rotary motion. Those six words separate us from the economics of the horsedrawn cart, windmill and sailing ship. They also separate us from the disease and deprivation that was the lot of our forebears only a century or two ago. Only fossil fuels can supply that explosive force at the rate we need.

The global industrial economy is now an interlocked progressive whole. It will not allow isolationism to function, neither will it allow a return to a previous era and downsized economic environment. We demand more, you have heard the aspiring tyrant’s words that promise more.

Political promises evaporate when there is insufficient energy to support them.

The notion of “Saudi America” is reassuring, but the facts are not.

Despite the rhetoric and posturing, reality cannot be ignored: the USA produces around 9 Million barrels of oil a day, but uses 0ver 19MBd. (2016). This imbalance is not going to change, despite collective belief to the contrary.

Price fluctuations and the ebb and flow of gluts should be ignored. If the cost of oil rises to a level that sustains the producers, users can’t afford to buy it; if it falls, oil producers can’t afford to extract it. This is the economic vice that is inexorably crushing the global industrial system as oil supplies decline.

Real wages fall in lockstep with oil depletion.

As surplus energy falls away, so does real income. We have substituted debt for income and allowed that debt to grow to mask the reality of our situation. We are stealing from our own future and from generations unborn to stay solvent. It might be called intergenerational larceny. When our great grandchildren arrive they will find nothing left for them to burn.

We are already in the phase of expending too much energy to get energy, which is why real income has been static for 30 years. We live in an energy economy, not a money economy. Wages are paid from energy surpluses, not printing presses, and that surplus has been gradually reducing.

The mirage of infinity.

The killer factor is Energy Return on Energy Invested, EROEI. Over the last 150 years civilisation has been built based on coal that returned an EROEI of 50:1, and oil that returned 100:1. Those ratios of return provided the cheap surplus energy that created our industrial infrastructure, and led to the expectation of infinite affluence.

We cannot maintain our current lifestyle using expensive fuels which give a return ratio of only 20:1 (and falling), which is what the best oilwells deliver.

Around 14:1 our society might hold together in a rudimentary sense if consumption could be balanced at that level, but 80 million new people arrive on the planet each year. They demand to be housed clothed and fed, spreading available resources even thinner. The mothers of the next 2 billion people are alive now. They will reproduce as a matter of personal survival, taking global population beyond 9 billion by mid century, guaranteeing our fall off the ‘energy cliff’.

The Energy Cliff:

There are numerous interpretations of the ‘energy cliff’, offering different return ratios that will supposedly allow our industrial society to function. 14:1, 12:1 even 8:1. The exact figure is irrelevant, right now we are entering the ‘elbow curve’ of the cliff, pinning our energy hopes on PV, wind, nuclear and tarsands; the ultimate downturn is inescapable. Wind and solar farms cannot supply sufficient concentrated energy to replace oil.

We are 7.5 billion people on a planet that, pre-oil, supported between 1 and 2 billion. By any reckoning, 5 billion people do not have a future, let alone 2 billion more due over the next 30 years.

We must burn fuel to maintain what we have, but the act of burning destroys what we have. This is contrary to human instinct, so the only recourse will be armed conflict to take what others have. All wars are about survival and acquisition of resources. Conflict will drain what little energy we have left and finally exhaust any survivors.

When we reach the point of having only shale or tar sand oil or wind turbines returning 5:1, there will not be enough surplus energy in our industrial systems to provide the economic momentum we need, and maintain the necessary machinery to power the system.

When our wheels stop turning, we stop eating. Our situation is as brutally simple as that. Electric vehicles cannot function outside a hydrocarbon based infrastructure, and no transportation can exist beyond the extent of its purpose. A collapsed economy removes any such purpose. Battery power will not deliver fresh water and remove your wastes, and there isn’t going to be a bucolic utopia where we all become rural gardeners. We don’t know how, there isn’t enough room and probably not enough time. Hungry people will not allow a second harvest.

But the demand for answers will persist, a search for those responsible for our misfortunes, and insistence that our lives are restored to the ‘normality’ of previous times. Already the finger pointing rhetoric of the despot is being cheered on a wave of ignorance and bigotry: lock up opponents and dissenters, suppress the media, remove the unwanted, ignore the laws.

When that (and more) is done, all will be well. They are words from recent history, overlaid on our own time. We thought fascism was impossible in civilised nations; as long as prosperity held for all, that was true. As prosperity fails, it is stirring again, with an appetite easily fed but never sated.


As energy supplies deplete, the industrial economy will enter its terminal phase, still under collective denial. But no nation can hold together without the fuel sources that created it. Secession will become inevitable, into five, six, seven or more regions in the USA, along racial, religious, political and geographic lines. The faultlines are already there, with no energy base there will be nothing to stop ultimate breakup. Other conglomerations of states and provinces will also disintegrate. The EU, Russia, China, Africa will react and deny, but the end result will be the same: Energy depletion = social collapse.

As civil unrest takes hold, governments will act in the only way they know how: violent suppression to restore order. This will mean military intervention and imposition of martial law as civil breakdown becomes widespread.

At that point your elected leader will assume the role of dictator and suspend the constitution. Once established, godly certainties among those around him will cloak this in righteousness and subvert it into a theocracy of the worst kind. That will make it easier to identify the heathen and justify any form of retribution. It will be fascism cloaked in holy orders. It will not be the first time: Hitler’s army had “Gott Mitt Uns” stamped on their belt buckles.

Those who support him will become part of the new order. Those who do not will be dismissed from office, either voluntarily or by force. Police and military will fall in behind whoever pays their wages, and enforce the new regime. Totalitarian states have shown that there is never a shortage of willing hands to perform unpleasant tasks. They are always ready and waiting to be recruited.

The inevitability of regional secession will inflame regional differences, and spark civil war(s). It will be the time of petty states and tyrannies, each regime desperate to resist the decline into a different lifestyle, certain that the mess can be ‘fixed’, and only ‘they’ can fix it by enforcement of ideology. Yet without the power of fossil fuels there will be an inexorable regression to the brutalities of medievalism, with power resting only in the command of muscle.

Eventually they will be forced to accept each other’s existence, for no better reason than there will be insufficient means to do anything about it.

Welcome to the (dis) United States of America.

So what of the years to come? The dictator’s power will grow for a time, and make life unpleasant for millions, but ultimately his Reich will extend only to the door of his bunker. No doubt he will remain in his seat of imagined power for as long as possible, issuing incoherent commands that cannot be fulfilled because there will be insufficient energy to do so, just as his predecessor discovered 75 years ago.

Dimming Bulb 3: Collapse has ARRIVED!

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Published on The Doomstead Diner June 4, 2017

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Read also: The Dimming Bulb, The Dimming Bulb 2

Due to my High & Mighty position as a Global Collapse Pundit, I am often asked the question of when precisely will Collapse arrive?  The people who ask me this question all come from 1st World countries.  They are also all reasonably well off with a computer, an internet connection, running water and enough food to eat.  While a few of us are relatively poor retirees, even none of us wants for the basics as of yet.  The Diner doesn't get many readers from the underclass even here in Amerika, much less from the Global Underclass in places like Nigeria, Somalia,Sudan and Yemen.

The fact is, that for more than half the world population, Collapse is in full swing and well underway.  Two key bellweathers of where collapse is now are the areas of Electricity and Food. In his seminal 1996 paper The Olduvai Theory: Sliding Towards a Post-Industrial Stone Age, Richard Duncan mapped out the trajectory of where we would be as the years passed and fossil fuels became more difficult and expensive to mine up.  Besides powering all our cars and trucks for Happy Motoring and Just-in-Time delivery, the main thing our 1st World lifestyle requires is Electricity, and lots of it on demand, 24/7.  Although electricity can be produced in some "renewable" ways that don't depend on a lot of fossil fuel energy at least directly, most of the global supply of electric power comes from Coal and Natural Gas.  Of the two, NG is slightly cleaner, but either way when you burn them, CO2 goes up in the atmosphere.  This of course is a problem climatically, but you have an even bigger problem socially and politically if you aren't burning them.  Everything in the society as it has been constructed since Edison invented the Light Bulb in 1879 has depended on electricity to function.

Now, if all the toys like lights, refrigerators big screen TVs etc had been kept to just a few small countries and the rest of the world lived a simple subsistence farming lifestyle, the lucky few with the toys probably could have kept the juice flowing a lot longer.  Unfortunately however, once exposed to all the great toys, EVERYBODY wanted them.  The industrialists also salivated over all the profit to be made selling the toys to everyone.  So, everybody everywhere needed a grid, which the industrialists and their associated banksters extended Credit for "backward" Nation-States all over the globe to build their own power plants and string their own wires.  Now everybody in the country could have a lightbulb to see by and a fridge to keep the food cold.  More than that, the electricity also went to power water pumping stations and sewage treatment plants, so you could pack the Big Shities with even more people who use still more electricity.

This went on all over the globe, until today there isn't a major city or even a medium size town anywhere on the globe that isn't wired for electricity, although many places that are now no longer have enough money to keep the juice flowing.

Where is the electricity going off first?  Obviously, in the poorest and most war torn countries across the Middle East and Africa.  These days, from Egypt to Tunisia, if they get 2 hours of electricity a day they are doing good.

The Lights Are Going Out in the Middle East

The world’s most volatile region faces a challenge that doesn’t involve guns, militias, or bloodshed, yet is also destroying societies. Public fury over rampant outages has sparked protests. In January, in one of the largest demonstrations since Hamas took control in Gaza a decade ago, ten thousand Palestinians, angered by the lack of power during a frigid winter, hurled stones and set tires ablaze outside the electricity company. Iraq has the world’s fifth-largest oil reserves, but, during the past two years, repeated anti-government demonstrations have erupted over blackouts that are rarely announced in advance and are of indefinite duration. It’s one issue that unites fractious Sunnis in the west, Shiites in the arid south, and Kurds in the mountainous north. In the midst of Yemen’s complex war, hundreds dared to take to the streets of Aden in February to protest prolonged outages. In Syria, supporters of President Bashar al-Assad in Latakia, the dynasty’s main stronghold, who had remained loyal for six years of civil war, drew the line over electricity. They staged a protest in January over a cutback to only one hour of power a day.

Over the past eight months, I’ve been struck by people talking less about the prospects of peace, the dangers of ISIS, or President Trump’s intentions in the Middle East than their own exhaustion from the trials of daily life. Families recounted groggily getting up in the middle of the night when power abruptly comes on in order to do laundry, carry out business transactions on computers, charge phones, or just bathe and flush toilets, until electricity, just as unpredictably, goes off again. Some families have stopped taking elevators; their terrified children have been stuck too often between floors. Students complained of freezing classrooms in winter, trying to study or write papers without computers, and reading at night by candlelight. The challenges will soon increase with the demands for power—and air-conditioning—surge, as summer temperatures reach a hundred and twenty-five degrees.

The reasons for these outages vary. With the exception of the Gulf states, infrastructure is old or inadequate in many of the twenty-three Arab countries. The region’s disparate wars, past and present, have damaged or destroyed electrical grids. Some governments, even in Iraq, can’t afford the cost of fuelling plants around the clock. Epic corruption has compounded physical challenges. Politicians have delayed or prevented solutions if their cronies don’t get contracts to fuel, maintain, or build power plants.

Now you'll note that at the end of the third paragraph there, the journalist implies that a big part of the problem is "political corruption", but it's really not.  It's simply a lack of money.  These countries at one time were all Oil Exporters, although not on the scale of Saudi Arabia or Kuwait.  As their own supplies of oil have depleted they have become oil importers, except they neither have a sufficient mercantilist model running to bring in enough FOREX to buy oil, and they can't get credit from the international banking cartel to keep buying.  3rd World countries are being cut off from the Credit Lifeline, unlike the core countries at the center of credit creation like Britain, Germany and the FSoA.  All these 1st World countries are in just as bad fiscal deficit as the MENA countries, the only difference is they still can get credit and run the deficits even higher.  This works until it doesn't anymore.

Beyond the credit issue is the War problem.  As the countries run out of money, more people become unemployed, biznesses go bankrupt, tax collection drops off the map and goobermint employees are laid off too.  It's the classic deflationary spiral which printing more money doesn't solve, since the notes become increasingly worthless.  For them to be worth anything in FOREX, somebody has to buy their Goobermint Bonds, and that is precisely what is not happening.  So as the society becomes increasingly impoverished, it descends into internecine warfare between factions trying to hold on to or increase their share of the ever shrinking pie.

The warfare ongoing in these nations has knock on effects for the 1st World Nations still trying to extract energy from some of these places.  To keep the oil flowing outward, they have to run very expensive military operations to at least maintain enough order that oil pipelines aren't sabotaged on a daily basis.  The cost of the operations keeps going up, but the amount of money they can charge the customers for the oil inside their own countries does not keep going up.  Right now they have hit a ceiling around $50/bbl for what they can charge for the oil, and for the most part this is not a profit making price.  So all the corporations involved in Exploration & Production these days are surviving on further extensions of credit from the TBTF banks while at the same time cutting back on their capital expenditures.  This also is a paradigm that can't last.

The other major problem now surfacing is the Food Distribution problem, and again this is hitting the African countries first and hardest.  It's a combination problem of climate change, population overshoot and the warfare which results from those issues.

Currently, the UN lists 4 countries in extreme danger of famine in the coming year, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen.  They estimate currently there are 20M people at extreme risk, and I would bet the numbers are a good deal higher than that.


somalia-famine.jpg World faces four famines as Trump administration plans to slash foreign aid budget

'Biggest humanitarian crisis since World War II' about to engulf 20 million people, UN says, as governments only donate 10 per cent of funds needed for essential aid






The world is facing a humanitarian crisis bigger than any in living memory, the UN has said, as four countries teeter on the brink of famine.

Twenty million people are at risk of starvation and facing water shortages in Somalia, Nigeria and Yemen, while parts of South Sudan are already officially suffering from famine.  

While the UN said in February that at least $4.4 billion (£3.5 bn) was needed by the end of March to avert a hunger catastrophe across the four nations, the end of the month is fast approaching, and only 10 per cent of the necessary funds have been received from donor governments so far.

It doesn't look too promising that the UN will be able to raise the $4B they say is necessary to feed all those hungry mouths, and none of the 1st World countries is too predisposed to handing out food aid when they all currently have problems with their own social welfare programs for food distribution.  Here in the FSoA, there are currently around 45M people on SNAP Cards at a current cost around $71B.  The Repugnants in charge of CONgress will no doubt try to cut this number in order to better fund the Pentagon, but they are not likely to send more money to Somalia.

Far as compassion for all the starving people globally goes in the general population, this also appears to be decreasing, although I don't have statistics to back that up. It is just a general sense I get as I read the collapse blogosphere, in the commentariats generally.  The general attitude is, "It's their own fault for being so stupid and not using Birth Control.  If they were never born, they wouldn't have to die of starvation."  Since they are mostly Black Africans currently starving, this is another reason a large swath of the white population here doesn't care much about the problem.

There are all sorts of social and economic reasons why this problem spiralled out of control, having mainly to do with the production of cheap food through Industrial Agriculture and Endless Greed centered on the idea of Endless Growth, which is not possible on a Finite Planet.

More places on Earth were wired up with each passing year, and more people were bred up with each passing year.  The dependency on fossil fuels to keep this supposedly endless cycle of growth going became ever greater each year, all while this resource was being depleted more each year.  Eventually, an inflexion point had to be hit, and we have hit it. thing is, for the relatively comfortable readers of the Doomstead Diner in the 1st World BAU seems to be continuing onward, even if you are a bit poorer than you were last year. 24/7 electricity is still available from the grid with only occassional interruptions.  Gas is still available at the pump, and if you are employed you probably can afford to buy it, although you need to be more careful about how much you drive around unless you are a 1%er.  The Rich are still lining up to buy EVs from Elon Musk, even though having a grid to support all electric transportation is out of the question.  The current grid can't be maintained, and upgrading to handle that much throughput would take much thicker cables all across the network.  People carry on though as though this will all go on forever and Scientists & Engineers will solve all the problems with some magical new device.  IOW, they believe in Skittle Shitting Unicorns.

That's not going to happen though, so you're back to the question of how long will it take your neighborhood in the UK or Germany or the FSoA to look like say Egypt does today?  Well, if you go back in time a decade to Egypt in 2007, things were still looking pretty Peachy over there, especially in Tourist Traps like Cairo.  Terrorism wasn't too huge a problem and Da Goobermint of Hoser Mubarak appeared stable.  A decade later today, Egypt is basically a failed state only doing marginally better than places like Somalia and Sudan.  The only reason they're doing as well as they are is because they are in an important strategic location on the Suez Canal and as such get support from the FSoA military.

So a good WAG here for how long it will take for the Collapse Level in 1st World countries to reach the level Egypt is at today is about a decade.  It could be a little shorter, it could be longer.  By then of course, Egypt will be in even WORSE shape, and who might still be left alive in Somalia is an open question.  Highly unlikely to be very many people though.  Over the next decade, the famines will spread and people will die, in numbers far exceeding the 20M to occur over the next year.  After a while, it's unlikely we will get much newz about this, and people here won't care much about what they do hear.  They will have their own problems.

Book Review | When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on April 30th, 2017

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I left off last week's post – "Money Doesn't Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewable Energy Does" – by mentioning the existence of a rather excellent resource. By that I didn't mean an energy resource, but rather a book – a book that nonetheless gives a rather fine breakdown of our various energy resources and their applicability to a world in the midst of peak oil and declining EROEI levels. That book would be When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation by systems analyst Alice J. Friedemann.

But before I get to the book, it's worth reiterating from said previous post the notion that just as the coal lobbies, nuclear lobbies, and all the other "dirty" fuel lobbies are wont to exaggerate and obfuscate the specifics of their energy resources, so too are lobbyists for the large-scale application of "renewable" energy sources more than willing to exaggerate, obfuscate, and even fudge the facts when it comes to conveying the benefits and advantages of their energy resources. And as I also pointed out, the latter is just as often the work of PR agencies and other marketeers, the goal effectively being anything but conveying a clear understanding of our current energy situation. Friedemann perfectly explains why this is (italics mine):

In business, …analysis is essential to prevent bankruptcy. Yet when scientists find oil, coal, and natural gas production likely to peak within decades, rather than centuries, or that ethanol, solar photovoltaic, tar sands, oil shale, and other alternative energy resources have a low or even negative energy return on the energy invested, they are ignored and called pessimists, no matter how solid their findings. For every one of their peer-reviewed papers, there are thousands of positive press releases with breakthroughs that never pan out, and economists promising perpetual growth and energy independence. Optimism is more important than facts. And, it's essential for attracting investors.

So don't let a title like When Trucks Stop Running give you the impression that Friedemann's book is simply one about the energetic options for the trucking industry, since what it actually does is use trucks as an interesting starting point for how to understand the viability of the various energy options available to our declining industrial way of life.

While it was coal-powered trains and railroads that, as described, allowed for extensive inland settlements distant from shipping ports, it was cheap oil supplies after WWII that allowed for the even more distant and scattered suburbs – "truck towns" – thanks to the proliferation of diesel-powered trucks (ten million trucks in the U.S. alone), the millions upon millions of miles of road (4.1 million miles in the U.S. alone), and the just-in-time transport enabled by it all. With our industrial civilization now largely built around the continued operation of these trucks, Friedemann then explains that if our current way of life is to be maintained – and since supplies of various fossil fuels are finite and have begun, or are to soon begin, peaking – this suggests a turn towards renewables to power those trucks. But as is pointed out, renewables themselves are just as dependent on trucks as the rest of our modern, industrial civilization is: trucks are needed to transport massive wind turbine blades and the rest of their thousands of components (more than 8,000 in all), they're necessary to transport the cement needed for windmill sites, they're necessary to build and maintain the very roads they themselves travel on, and so forth.

You don't see many Amish men and their horses hauling those things around on dirt roads

The underlying question then becomes: How can the trucking system be adapted to run on alternative fuels in order to remain viable in a world of depleting fossil fuels of which said trucks rely on? Because if the trucking system can't be adapted, then there wouldn't be much reason for building out the large-scale windmill, solar photovoltaic, and all the other fandangle electricity generating ideas being hyped.

For starters, diesel-engine trucks can last decades, this implying a decades-long replacement time due to the billions of dollars already sunk in said trucks of which isn't going to be thrown away. Simultaneously, a chicken-and-egg problem exists of an aversion to buying alternative-fuel trucks due to the non-existence of fuelling stations, buttressed by an aversion to the building of alternative-fuel stations since the alternative-fuel trucks don't exist either.

What is ideally called for then is a "drop in fuel" – a fuel that utilizes the existing infrastructure and so works with the engines and pipeline systems we've currently got. But as Friedemann explains, ethanol and biodiesel can't travel in oil pipelines for a variety of reasons, one of these being the resultant corrosion of said pipelines. (Instead, ethanol will continue to travel by trains and trucks powered by twice-as-energy-dense… diesel.) Furthermore, hydrogen isn't a drop in fuel for the simple reason that it can't be used in existing engines, never mind that it would ruin existing oil and/or natural gas pipelines anyway. And although natural gas already has pipelines to be transported through, it can't be used in existing engines either.

In short, a drop in fuel doesn't exist.

That being the case, Friedemann proceeds to break down the three most notable alternatives to diesel-powered, internal-combustion-engine trucks: battery-powered trucks, hydrogen-powered trucks, and trucks running on a catenary system (an overhead wire system as used by trolleys/trams/streetcars).

Battery-powered trucks:

While it might be possible to get a battery-powered remote-control Tonka truck with a cute little Tesla sticker on it, the battery-powered trucks that matter are the massive ones that can haul 30 tons of cargo or pour cement, generally weighing more than 40 times your average car. Problem is, the amount of batteries needed to allow a truck like this to travel an appreciable distance results in a significant dent in available cargo space, which is then made even worse by the decreased amount of payload a truck can carry due to the sheer weight of the batteries themselves. This doesn't make for economical transport, and nor does it help that the advancement of batteries is bumping up against physical and thermodynamic limits (as Friedemann has explained on her blog, Energy Skeptic). But supposing you've got the money to burn (and/or have made some key donations to people in the right government departments and/or positions) and wack it all together anyway, the inherent limitations to the energy density of batteries not only dictates the need for more frequent stops, but for prolonged stops of several hours in order to recharge the batteries. As if that weren't bad enough, battery-powered trucks have many performance issues, such as mediocre acceleration and problems driving up steep hills, shoddy performance in subzero temperatures, declining range as batteries degrade, and simply cost much more than a conventional diesel truck. As a result, the battery-powered trucks currently in use are heavily subsidized by governments and exist in the form of smaller-sized hybrids used for garbage pickup since this allows them to utilize all the stopping and starting to recharge their batteries. In other words, they aren't even the type of truck that hauls large loads and travels for long distances without stopping.

I stand corrected. Even Tonkas use diesel – turbo-diesel! (photo courtesy of Dana Martin)

Hydrogen-powered trucks:

As should go without saying, hydrogen isn't a fossil fuel we mine from the ground but rather an intermediary of sorts that other energies (such as from wind, solar, etc.) can be transferred over to for storage or other means of usage. In other words, hydrogen isn't an energy source but more like a battery, and since it takes an enormous amount of energy to split hydrogen from water (water which must be very pure), 96% of H2 is derived from natural gas. In effect, hydrogen has an abysmal efficiency rate due to the multiple stages where energy is lost – liquification, hydrogen re-forming, fuel cell efficiency, etc. On top of all this, hydrogen-powered trucks are so horrible at acceleration that they actually require a secondary propulsion system – batteries – which results in a single truck costing more than a million dollars each – in comparison to the $100,000 or so for a diesel truck.

Catenary system:

Problems quickly appear here due to the frequency of trucks travelling on the system – once every few seconds versus trolley/tram/streetcar systems in which passenger vehicles generally come once every ten minutes or so. This puts a significant strain on the system due to the enormously large loads of electricity that must pass through the overhead wires. Moreover, the tens of thousands of trucks that would travel on a single system each weigh twice as much as one of the few hundred trolleys/trams/streetcars on an urban transit system and so require much more energy to move. Then there's the massive overhead costs to install such a system over tens of thousands of kilometres (at several million dollars per kilometre) and the abhorrent amounts of electricity that tens of thousands of trucks would necessitate, compounded by the fact that catenary enabled trucks also require an added battery or fuel cell system for those times when trucks need to drive off the catenary system towards a delivery/pick-up point (or simply overtake another vehicle), or for those times that the power goes out and one doesn't want the highways to turn into McParking lots.

And that's all supposing that there's even enough energy in the first place to charge those batteries, or to be a feedstock for the hydrogen fuel cells, or to power the overhead catenary system. Because while being a slim and easy-to-read 131-page book, When Trucks Stop Running also gives a barrel-by-barrel, kilowatt-by-kilowatt account of why none of our fossil fuel energy sources – not oil, not coal-to-liquids, not natural gas, not even any of their combination – are capable of maintaining the trucking system and thus our current industrial way of life. Likewise, the book also conveys why no amount or combination of renewable energies are enough to maintain a trucking system which is needed to maintain a… renewable energy system. And sorry, Friedemann also explains why energy storage systems are a crapshoot as well.

In effect, you aren't going to find much in When Trucks Stop Running to help sell your favourite brand of snake oil in order to prop up your Madison Avenue lifestyle. Otherwise, it's an excellent read.

Without fossil fuels, how will the trucking industry be able to move around all the
components necessary to maintain the trucking industry? (photo by jeshua.nace)

That all being so, Friedemann suggests in summation that rather than waste the fossil fuels we've got left on attempting to build out systems that won't have much of a shelf life, we'd be much better off using that fossil energy to convert away from industrial agriculture, to build passive solar houses and buildings, maintain and upgrade domestic waterway transportation infrastructure as well as other low-energy systems.

Regardless, no PR agency, or energy lobbyist, or charlatan is going to be content with letting Friedemann get away with the last word here. For as was mentioned in the passage of hers I quoted earlier:

[W]hen scientists find [uncomfortable facts], they are ignored and called pessimists, no matter how solid their findings. For every one of their peer-reviewed papers, there are thousands of positive press releases with breakthroughs that never pan out…

And you know what that means, right?

Elon Musk just announced the unveiling of the Tesla Semi truck!! And it's "Seriously next level"!!

Okay, okay, I don't mean to say that the latest MuskMobile will "never pan out", just that Concordes generally necessitate too much energy to make them viable without significant subsidies of one sort or another. And that isn't to say that there's anything inherently wrong with subsidies either, just that while Friedemann also points out that "it is energy, not money, that fuels society", it is also energy, not money, that fuels subsidies (money is after all a proxy for energy, as I've previously written).

In other words, using energy to subsidize energy probably isn't much of a viable long-term plan, but it can certainly score you the starring role as the latest messiah in this age of optimism being valued over facts.

Sorry there Elon, but it looks like even the big boys realize their Tonkas have no
choice but to use diesel – mighty diesel! (photo courtesy of Wallace Shackleton)

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees, Industrial-Scale Renewable Energy Does

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on April 19th, 2017

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When you wish upon a star the Blue Fairy sends Tinker Bell, who plants a magic seed, which grows into a giant beanstalk, which leads you to the goose that lays golden eggs, which can buy you all the renewable energy you could ever want. The End.

Follow the headlines and you can hardly be blamed for thinking that we're on the cusp of a monumental renaissance, one that'll usher us into a renewable energy paradise and allow us to maintain our profligate first-world standard of living for… well, forever!

My favourite recent headline indicative of this supposed renaissance came via the website Ecowatch (by no means a lowly-ranked website), which proclaimed in one of its article's titles that "California Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half its Energy Needs".



Well kinda half – "haaaalf." For as the article's second paragraph states,

Recent data shows California coming through. The state briefly generated enough solar power to meet nearly half of the state's electricity needs, according to data from the largest grid operator in the state, California ISO.

Let's break down this paragraph and the title of the article from which it came from:

1) Perhaps the most troublesome thing about this paragraph that should stick out more than any other is the slipshod way in which the article morphs into stating that it's not half the state's "energy needs" that were met (as the title stated) but half the state's "electricity needs" (as the second paragraph stated). This makes a huge difference, seeing how electricity is only one aspect of our energy usage – which also includes liquid and gaseous energies burned in internal combustion engines, central heating systems, etc., amongst much else. In fact, since electricity generally accounts for roughly 17% of overall energy usage, this means that it wasn't 50% of all energy needs that were supplied but 50% of 17% – otherwise known as 8.5%.

2) Perhaps the second most troublesome aspect of the situation isn't the article's clarification that the energy-cum-electricity generated wasn't even half but "nearly half" (so we're talking less than 8.5% then), but the revelation that this level was met only "briefly". That is, the most ideal data from the most ideal time of the day was cherry-picked, then inexplicitly substituted in place for… I don't know, the title didn't say – the entire day, week, month, year? Fortunately the article did in fact say, and it turns out that it was for the single day of March the 3rd. Or at least part of that day, because if one looks at the supplied graph for the 24-hour 15-hour period, one can confirm that the sun didn't in fact shine in the early morning, and that it looks like the appreciable levels of solar energy were generated for roughly eight hours between 8am and 4pm – which means about a third of the day, and so reduces the 50%-cum-(less than)8.5% to less than 3%.

Data was omitted from the evening hours in hopes that it'll encourage the sun to be less shy and so come out to play at night?

3) Last of all, it's stated that the data came from "the largest grid operator in the state", which is later in the article stated to not include urban places like Los Angeles or Sacramento. So while the inner cities undoubtedly have much less energy being generated by grotesque blobs of photovoltaics than rural California, this doesn't necessarily change the energy generation percentages in the slightest. Nonetheless, the wording and situation does still nonetheless seem a little fishy, which in my book justifies decreasing the less than 3% figure by another third, meaning that California, the stated state that "Generates Enough Solar Power to Meet Half its Energy Needs", possibly produces less than 1% of its energy needs from solar. Or in others words, jack shit. (Or in other other words, Jack ain't climbin' no stinkin' beanstalk to grift geese that lay golden eggs.)

My back of the envelope guess apparently wasn't even very far off, because after I realized that I'd better do some Internet sleuthing before I made an ever bigger arse out of myself, five seconds of research resulted in me finding an article explaining that in 2015 California ISO generated 15,591,694 megawatt-hours of solar electricity, out of the state's 231,965,326 total – that being 6.7%, along with 5.9% from hydro and 5.3% from wind. Multiply that 6.7% by 17% and, as I apparently wasn't very far off, we find that in 2015 California ISO produced 1.139% of the state's total energy usage via solar generation.

If that dismal number wasn't bad enough already, it also turns out that California has nearly half the entire country's solar electricity generation capacity. Jack and Jill really ain't gettin' Jack shit at the top of that hill.

Since the Ecowatch article gives nowhere near the kind of (cobbled) clarification that I just gave and instead resorts to conveying even more obfuscation and unwarranted hype, it's probably safe to say that this article's title is actually much worse than mere clickbait. One reason being, the misleading information that permeates these articles provides ample fodder for fossil fuel-backers to denounce renewables as full of BS, thus giving renewables in toto a bad name and giving many people the wrong impression of their complete futility. Secondly, while the article can not only be faulted for having a misleading title, but an ignorant-to-the-issues reader might very well come away feeling reassured that "well, the article didn't lie in the long run because it did ultimately straighten things out". In effect, a reader can consign themselves to believing that while things aren't as good as the title would have lead them to believe (if they even bothered going beyond the title, and if they even noticed some of the incongruities I pointed out), nor are things as bad as "industrial civilization is screwed". But the thing is

On top of all that, articles like the one from Ecowatch are by no means anomalies since our various forms of media are rife with this kind of claptrap.

Denmark is of course the poster-child for renewable energy Shangri-La, one example of the kind of stuff that gets bandied about being that "In the fall of 2015 Denmark generated 140% of its electricity demand with wind power". Which to me sounds like the entire three months of the season called "fall". However, not only did this stated 140% occur on what was "an unusually windy day" (as opposed to an entire windy season called "fall"), but the measurement occurred at the precise moment of – wait for it – 3am in the morning! To throw insult to injury, and as quoted in a Guardian article shoddily titled "Wind Power Generates 140% of Denmark's Electricity Demand", a representative of the European Wind Energy Association actually had the gall to then say that "It shows that a world powered 100% by renewable energy is no fantasy". No, no more fantasy than if we set our clocks to a permanent state of 3am, all went outside to blow really hard, and as a result found our energy woes to be solved.

Nor is it any more fantasy than setting our clocks to 11am, our calendars to Sunday, and similarly finding ourselves blissfully energized. Because at 11am on Sunday, May the 8th of last year, "95% of German electricity demand was being met by renewable energy". (The inclusion of the word "demand", as was used in both quotes about Denmark and its wind energy, gives me the impression that all this energy wasn't actually consumed [and certainly not stored] in Germany and for whatever reason had to be offloaded out of the country, but we'll let that one slide for now.) As said proclamation then continued, "In one of the most advanced manufacturing countries on the planet – this is an amazing feat of engineering."

Really? Is that such a feat? Because as another article described the very situation, "This demand is seen as pretty low, mostly a result of warm temperatures, the summer break and the weekend, when most commercial operations remained closed." Phew, sanity prevails. Or… or does it? Because as the paragraph then continues, "But exactly at such points of time, it can be proven how renewables are edging closer to be capable of covering 100% of the demanded energy."

!?!? Are renewable energy industry shills actually trying to sell the idea that cherry-picked data is proof of viability!? Does stealing candy from babies really mean we can have all the candy we want!? Is everybody involved in the energy industry smoking crack!?

Like that guy who walked on water it's as if you could walk on energy

Thankfully not, because as another article clarifies the similar notion that Germany now produces half of its energy using solar (of which was repeated in Popular Mechanics and Rickard Dawkins' website, and which both errantly used the word "energy" instead of "electricity"), "Last year only 4.5% of Germany’s gross electricity generation came from solar panels, far short of 50%." As it then states,

Germany's solar output varies massively during the year, and these variations can be made clear by a simple comparison. Daily output of Germany's solar panels peaked last year on 21st of July, when panels produced 20.9% of daily electricity demand. In contrast, the worst day of the year was 18th January when solar panels produced just over 0.1% of Germany's electricity demand. This second statistic has, unsurprisingly, failed to elicit any headlines.

Phew – and without any caveats!

Anyway, it's hard to not get the impression that what the wind energy lobbies, the solar energy lobbies, and whatever other renewable energy lobbies partake in is the same hype, wishful thinking, and arguably outright lies that the coal energy lobbies, the nuclear energy lobbies, and all the rest of the "dirty" energy lobbies partake in.

On top of all that, similar to how money lenders will lend to both sides in a war and ultimately not really care which side wins since they'll be coming out on top either way, PR agencies, advertising agencies, and the rest of the Madison Avenue types cumulatively couldn't care less if it's the coal industry that comes out as winners, or the fracking industry that comes out as winners, or the renewable energy racket that comes out as winners, or if Tinker Bell comes out as the supreme winner. Because whichever way it ends up, their industry is coming out on top.

And while getting paid and maintaining cush salaries is of the utmost importance here rather than clear assessments, it's probably not too far off the mark to surmise that – as Eric Janzen did back in 2008 and John Michael Greer did more recently – what's being created is a renewable energy bubble, possibly contributing to, or even causing, the next stock market crash. (The race is on frackers!)

None of this is to say though that "renewable" energies are all for naught, just that their large-scale application isn't going to work any better than "dirty" energies will at maintaining industrial civilization in light of the onset of peak oil and plummeting EROEI levels.

In the meantime, weeding through all the BS and delivering a straight assessment regarding all these energy sources is of course a massive undertaking, so next week I'll take a look at an excellent resource that has done just that.

Why EROEI matters: the role of net energy in the survival of civilization

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on March 13, 2017


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The image above was shown by Charlie Hall in a recent presentation that he gave in Princeton. It seems logic that the more net energy is available for a civilization, the more that civilization can do, say, build cathedrals, create art, explore space, and more. But what's needed, exactly, for a civilization to exist? Maybe very high values of the EROEI (energy return on energy invested) are not necessary.

A lively debate is ongoing on what should be the minimum energy return for energy invested (EROEI) in order to sustain a civilization. Clearly, one always wants the best returns for one's investments. And, of course, investing in something that provides a return smaller than one is a bad idea, to say the least. So, a civilization grows and prosper on the energy it receives. The question is whether the transition from fossil fuels to renewables could provide enough energy to keep civilization alive in a form not too different from the present one.

It is often said that the prosperity of our society is the result of the high EROEI of crude oil as it was in mid 20th century. Values as high as 100 are often cited, but these are probably widely off the mark. The data reported in a 2014 study by Dave Murphy indicate that the average EROEI of crude oil worldwide could have been around 35 in the past, declining to around 20 at present. Dale et al. estimate (2011) that the average EROEI of crude oil could have been, at most, around 45 in the 1960s Data for the US production indicate an EROEI around 20 in the 1950s; down to about 10 today.

We see that the EROEI of oil is not easy to estimate but we can say at least two things: 1) our civilization was built on an energy source with an EROEI around 30-40. 2) the EROEI of oil has been going down owing to the depletion of the most profitable (high EROEI) wells. Today, we may be producing crude oil at EROEIs between 10 and 20, and it keeps going down.

Let's move to renewables. Here, the debate often becomes dominated by emotional or political factors that seem to bring people to try to disparage renewables as much as possible. Some evidently wrong assessments claim EROEIs smaller than one for the most promising renewable technology, photovoltaics (PV). In other cases, the game consists in enlarging the boundaries of the calculation, adding costs not directly related to the exploitation of the resource. That's why we should compare what's comparable; that is, use the same rules for evaluating the EROEI of fossil fuels and that of renewable energy. If we do that, we find that, for instance, photovoltaics has an EROEI around 10. Wind energy does better than that, with an average EROEI around 20. Not bad, but surely not as large as crude oil in the good old days.

Now, for the mother of all questions: on the basis of these data, can renewables replace the increasing energy expensive oil and sustain civilization? Here, we venture into a difficult field: what do we mean exactly as a "civilization"? What kind of civilization could a renewable-powered society support? Could it build cathedrals? Would it include driving SUVs? How about plane trips to Hawaii?

Here, some people are very pessimistic, and not just about SUVs and plane trips. On the basis of the fact that the EROEI of renewables is smaller than that of crude oil, considering also the expense of the infrastructure needed to adapt our society to the kind of energy produced by renewables, they conclude that "renewables cannot sustain a civilization that can sustain renewables." (a little like Groucho Marx's joke "I wouldn't want to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members.").

Maybe, but I beg to differ. Let me explain with an example. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the energy source that powers society has an EROEI equal to 2. You would think that this is an abysmally low value and that it couldn't support anything more than a society of mountain shepherds, and probably not even that. But think about what an EROEI of 2 implies: for each plant in operation there must be a second one of the same size that only produces the energy that will be used to replace both plants after that they have gone through their lifetime. And the energy produced by the first plant comes for free. Now, consider a power source that has an EROEI= infinity; then you don't need the second plant. So, the difference is only a factor of two in the investments necessary to maintain the energy producing system forever.

It is like that: the EROEI is a strongly non-linear measurement. You can see that in the well-known diagram below (here in a simplified version, some people trace a line in the graph indicating the "minimum EROEI needed for civilization", which I think is unjustified)):



You see that oil, wind, coal, and solar are all in the same range. As long as the EROEI is higher than about 5-10, the energy return is reasonably good, at most you have to re-invest 10% of the production to keep the system going, which is pretty reasonable. It is only when the EROEI it becomes smaller than ca. 2 that things become awkward. So, it doesn't seem to be so difficult to support a complex civilization with the technologies we have. Maybe trips to Hawaii and SUVs wouldn't be included in a PV-based society (note the low EROEI of biofuels) but about art, science, health care, and the like, well, what's the problem?

There is a problem, though. And it has to do with growth. Let me go back to the example I made before, that of a hypothetical energy technology that has an EROEI = 2. If this energy return is calculated over a lifetime of 25 years, it means that the best that can be done in terms of growth is to double the number of plants over 25 years, a yearly growth rate of less than 3%. And that in the hypothesis that all the energy produced by the plants would go to make more plants which, of course, makes no sense. If we assume that, say, 10% of the energy produced is invested in new plants then, with EROEI=2, growth can be at most of the order of 0.3%. Even with an EROEI =10, we can't reasonably expect renewables to push their own growth at rates higher than 1%-2%(*). Things were different in the good old days, up to about 1970, when, with an EROEI around 40, crude oil production grew at a yearly rate of 7%. It seemed normal, at that time, but it was the result of very special conditions.

So, the problem is here: our society is fixated on growth and, in order to have high rates of growth, we need high EROEIs. Renewables are good for a steady-state society but probably can't support a fast growing one. But is it a bad thing? I wouldn't say so. We have grown enough with crude oil, actually way too much. Slowing down, and even going back a little, can only improve the situation.

(*) The present problem is not to keep the unsustainable growth rates that society is accustomed to. It is how to grow renewable energy fast enough to replace fossil fuels before depletion or climate change (or both) destroy us. This is a difficult but not impossible task. The current fraction of energy produced by wind and solar combined is less than 2% of the final consumption (see p. 28 of the REN21 report), so we need a yearly growth of more than 10% to replace fossils by 2050. Right now, both solar and wind are growing at more than a 20% yearly rate, but this high rate is obtained using energy from fossil fuels. The calculations indicate that it is possible to keep these growth rates while gradually phasing out fossil fuels by 2050, as described here


Thermodynamic model of oil depletion sparks controversy

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on March 6, 2017


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This is a post by François-Xavier Chevallerau, a Brussels-based public policy professional who is in the process of setting up a new international think tank to support the emergence and promotion of biophysical economics in the public debate and the policy conversation. Here, he comments on the "Hill's Report" that was also discussed in a previous post on "Cassandra's Legacy." 





Guest post by François-Xavier Chevallerau

A report on the world’s oil depletion problem published several years ago by an obscure association of anonymous consulting engineers and professional project managers is suddenly coming under fierce criticism. 
In December 2013, an ‘association of consulting engineers and professional project managers’ calling themselves ‘The Hill’s Group‘ published a report titled ‘Depletion: A determination for the world’s petroleum reserve’. Depletion, as is well known, is the inevitable consequence of non-renewable resource extraction, and determining how this depletion will affect petroleum production has been a key focus of energy analysts and researchers for a long time.

Arriving at an estimate for the remaining extractable petroleum reserve is usually attempted by adding together the quantity of petroleum believed to be present in each field, a method which is error-prone and imprecise. The Hill’s Group’s study proposed an alternative model of oil extraction and depletion, rooted in thermodynamics – i.e. the branch of physical science that deals with the relations between all forms of energy. This model, called ‘ETP’ (Total Production Energy), is allegedly derived from the fundamental physical properties of petroleum, the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and the production history of petroleum.

The methodology used by The Hill’s Group is based on ‘exergy analysis’. Exergy in thermodynamics means ‘the maximum amount of work that can be extracted from a system’. The system being considered, in this case, is a unit of petroleum. The Hill’s Group’s study calculates the maximum amount of work that can be extracted from a unit of petroleum, using the physical properties of the crude oil in question, equations derived from studies of the First and Second Laws of thermodynamics, and the cumulative production history of petroleum. It then uses these these values to construct a mathematical model that it claims can predict the status of the world’s petroleum reserve with a much smaller margin of error than can be provided by the quantity measurement approach.

Optimistic estimates place the world’s total petroleum reserve at 4,300 billion barrels. Of that quantity the model proposed by The Hill’s Group predicts that it will only be possible to extract 1,760.5 billion barrels, or 40.9% of the total reserve. Its model suggests that petroleum’s ability to supply the energy needed to sustain its own production process is declining, that petroleum depletion is further advanced than generally assumed and that oil production will decline or even collapse much faster than commonly anticipated.

From its ETP model the Hill’s Group also derives a petroleum cost curve, which it says maps the price of petroleum since 1960 with a correlation coefficient of 0.965, making it the most accurate oil pricing model ever developed. It also says that the price of oil depends, in addition to production costs, on the amount that the end consumer can afford to pay for it, and derives from its ETP model a Maximum Consumer Price curve, representing the maximum price that the end consumer can pay over time for petroleum. It is based on the observation that the price of a unit of petroleum can not exceed the value of the economic activity that the energy it supplies to the end consumer can generate. According to the Hill’s Group, its model shows that 2012 was the energy half way point for petroleum production, i.e. it was the year when one half of the energy content of the petroleum extracted was required to produce the petroleum and its products. From then on, it says, the price of oil can only be pulled down along the descending Maximum Consumer Price curve, which it says is curtailed at $11.76/ barrel in 2020. At this point petroleum will no longer be acting as a significant energy source for the economy, and its only function will be as an energy carrier for other sources. In other words, the oil industry as we know it will disintegrate, with a myriad of negative consequences for the world economy.

The Hill’s Group’s original report was published over three years ago, and a second version was published in March 2015. It gained significant popularity and was favorably commented on many blogs and websites. All this however seems to have change, and the Hill’s Group’s ETP model is now coming under fierce criticism from various sources:

‘SK’, a professor emeritus in the department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering at a Major U.S. University, delivered a strong critique of the ETP oil extraction model at The fact that The Hill’s Group said that a threshold for oil markets was passed in 2012 and that oil prices would tend to go down shortly after seems to give the report a superficial credibility. But according to SK the thermodynamic analysis is incorrect and therefore any calculations and graphs based on this analysis must also be unreliable.

Spanish physicist Antonio Turiel published on his website an analysis of the theoretical basis of the ETP model (in Spanish). Applying the principles of thermodynamics to evaluate the limits of the oil’s capacity to deliver net energy to society makes sense, he says, provided it is done in a proper way. The ETP model, however, is according to him based on an incorrect use of thermodynamic theory, erroneous deductions, definitions that do not make sense from a physics point of view, deficient data processing, and ignorance of the interactions between oil production and the economy as well as other energy sources. Given these important shortcomings, he says, the ETP model cannot be used for a serious discussion of oil depletion, at least not until it is fundamentally revised and rebuilt.

Another Spanish physicist, Carlos de Castro from the University of Valladolid, also published a scathing critique of the Hill’s Group’s report (in Spanish). The physical, technological and economic foundations of the report are erroneous, he says. The Hill’s Group in fact focuses on the loss of thermal energy involved in the oil extraction process (oil moving from a high temperature reservoir to ambient temperature outside), which he says has nothing to do with the energy cost of the oil procurement process for human societies. What matters to society, he says, is not oil’s thermal energy but its chemical energy – even if this chemical energy may then be used to generate heat. The ETP model, he concludes, is not an adequate model to assess the net energy derived form petroleum extraction and its evolution.

Prof. Ugo Bardi from the University of Florence is also taking aim with the Hill’s Group’s work in a recent blog post. The Hill’s Group’s report, he says, is badly flawed. While it is true that the oil industry is in trouble, the calculations by the Hill’s group are, at best, irrelevant and probably simply plain wrong. The problem of diminishing energy returns of oil production is real, Bardi says, but the way to study it is based on the ‘life cycle analysis’ (LCA) of the process. This method takes into account entropy indirectly, in terms of heat losses, without attempting the impossible task of calculating it from textbook thermodynamic principles. By means of this method, we can understand that oil production still provides a reasonable energy return on investment (EROI). It is anyway erroneous, says Bardi, to draw conclusions regarding the economy from net energy analysis. The economy is a complex adaptative system that evolves in ways that cannot be understood in terms of mere energy return considerations.

This controversy surrounding the Hill’s Group’s report reveals some inconvenient truths that the ‘peak oil’ community now has to face. The Group’s work was widely embraced and disseminated in this community, with no or limited critical scrutiny. It indeed has an aura of scientific accuracy that comes from its use of basic thermodynamic principles and of the concept of entropy, correctly understood as the force behind the depletion problem. But behind the thermodynamic terminology, it proposes a series of assumptions, not always explicit, and of complex mathematical calculations that nobody until recently had apparently taken the time to review. As pointed out by Antonio Turiel, the Hill’s Group’s work would probably not have passed a proper peer review process in its current form.

Yet the report was widely accepted and commented in the ‘peak oil’ community. According to Ugo Bardi, this episode shows that “a report that claims to be based on thermodynamics and uses resounding words such as ‘entropy’ plays into the human tendency of believing what one wants to believe“. As many in the ‘peak oil’ community want to believe in imminent collapse and disaster, works like the Hill’s Group’s report that are perceived as providing a serious scientific basis to catastrophism are widely embraced. If the scientific basis is revealed to be not as sound as initially thought, as seems to be the case for the Hill’s Group’s work, then its embrace and dissemination can only be detrimental to the peak oil community and undermine its credibility.

Energy researchers and analysts should probably be particularly cautious and vigilant when using the concept of ‘entropy’. As pointed out by Ugo Bardi, “entropy is an important concept, but it must be correctly understood to be useful. It is no good to use it as an excuse to pander unbridled catastrophism.” The problem being, of course, that entropy cannot be correctly understood so easily. As famous scientist John von Neumann (1903-1957) once advised a colleague: “You should call it entropy (…) nobody knows what entropy really is, so in a debate you will always have the advantage.




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Published on The Doomstead Diner on March 5, 2017

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I ran across a chart on Bloomberg which is perhaps the best demonstration to date that the Oil Economy is in Full On Collapse mode now.  The chart is of Oil Inventory in storage, and covers the last 35 years since 1982 of Oil Inventory in the FSoA, and is the Header Pic for this article.

Do you note the Hockey Stick nature of this graph?  For 35 years until 2014, Oil Inventories were kept within a very narrow range.  Supply & Demand were kept in balance by the folks in control of both the extraction of Oil and the production of money.  A more or less steady "growth" rate of the entire system was maintained, as oil output and population increased, the money supply increased in tandem with it, a couple of percentage points ahead which provided return on investment for those in charge of creating the money in the first place.  For everyone else, this appeared as Inflation as the cost of housing, food and just about everything else besides techological gizmos kept spiralling upward.

However, even through all the recessions through the 1980s to today, Oil Inventories always stayed inside this narrow range.  That includes the Great Recession following the 2008 Financial Crisis.  Something CHANGED in 2014 though, and my good friend Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow pegged it to the month more than 2 years in advance with his "Triangle of Doom".  What changed at this time was that the cost of extracting oil went higher than the price the customers could afford to burn it at.  The price crashed, from over $100/bbl down to $40/bbl or so.

Charts by Steve Ludlum of Economic Undertow

August 2012 Prediction

April 2015 Reality

At this price, virtually nobody extracting oil makes a profit.  A few folks like the Saudis still have Legacy fields they can extract oil at a profit at $20/bbl, but across the whole of Saudi ARAMCO their costs are a good deal higher than that.  Here in Amerika, the Frackers may have got their extraction costs down to $60/bbl in some of their better fields, but they're still not making a profit at $50/bbl.  Just not bleeding money quite so fast,and if they are TBTF, then Wall Street keeps rolling over their loans to keep them floating another day.  This is better in the short term than having to write down $Billions$ in losses, which then would make the bank itself insolvent.

So what has occured here in the Oil Trading market since 2014?  Well, Oil Traders keep holding back selling until they can make a profit.  But in the $50 range they mostly can't, so the oil stays in a tank somewhere while they wait for the price to go back up, but it doesn't.  Meanwhile, the Extractors of Oil all around the world keep extracting, because they have to do that to pay their bills.  Crude keeps piling up because Konsumers refuse to burn the shit fast enough, because they can't AFFORD to burn it faster!

Until they lower the price DRASTICALLY, the glut will continue to accumulate.  Eventually here, they will run OUT of tanks to store this shit in, and it does cost money every day to keep the Oil you bought at one price stored in a tank somewhere to sell on another later date at the higher price you hope for.  NOBODY wants to "buy high, sell low"!  That's a recipe for Bankruptcy of course.  So they keep the oil in the tanks, and they keep filling up more and more.

Oil Tanker Parking Lot off Singapore

Inevitably, a LIQUIDATION SALE has to come here.  There is not endless room for storage of this stuff above ground, and besides that it's expensive to store all that oil. Whoever owns it is bleeding red ink as long as they hold onto it.

Now, whenever you read any of the Oil pundits, they will tell you the reason for the glut is either OPEC members cheating on their quotas, Iranians bringing more Oil online or FSoA shale frackers drilling more wells.  But is the total global production really up all that much?  No, in fact it's been going down since it peaked in August of 2015.  So if it's not the supply going up, why the glut?


Because they massage the figures everywhere else in the economy to show "growth" and nobody wants to admit being in a recession, Oil inventory keeps growing.  This figure you can't massage (well not too much), because the stuff is a physical quantity that has to be stored in…something.  So they have to know where they are going to put it.

Oil is a Global Commodity, in which the FSoA is among the largest consumers but it's not the only consumer.  Europe as a whole consumes a lot, China consumes a lot also.  All the consumption is not Happy Motoring either, a lot of it is industrial consumption.  Globally in aggregate, if the economy was truly growing we would be consuming more Oil, not less.

Sometimes when I make the Demand Argument with respect to both the price and the glut, critics will tell me, "But RE, the traffic is just as bad as ever and everybody in my neighborhood is still driving gas guzzling SUVs!".  Well, that may be true in your neighborhood, but in somebody's neighborhood somewhere it's definitely NOT true.

My best guess is most of the reduction in demand is coming from southern Europe, where they have been in severe recession for years now.  This is probably also bleeding into the Chinese manufacturing sector with declining demand for their toys.  So then they use less Oil in the manufacturing process.

With a declining amount of total production, along with a Hockey Stick graph of skyrocketing inventory, the only answer can be declining global demand for Oil.  In order to get the demand up, they have to drop the price down.  But they're already losing money at the current price in the $50 range.  So the traders keep hanging on for the day the demand will magically rebound here and the consumers will step back up to the pump and pay the prices they need to make a profit.  There is however no reason at the moment to believe that the consumers will magically get more money to pay more for the oil, they already have trouble paying for it at the price it is selling for now.

Unlike the magical world of Money where you can conjure as many digibits as you want out of thin air and which takes virtually no room to store inside a laptop, Oil is a physical commodity which must be burned to have value.  If it's not burned as fast as it is pumped, then it's going to lose value.  The traders don't want to recognize the loss of value though, because they will take a serious bath.  A bloodbath.  They don't have to take the write down though until they actually sell the stuff.  So they don't sell, they keep it stored on a tanker somewhere and pay the daily storage fees out of more borrowed money, which the banks keep lending them because they will go tits up when the traders they lent money to go tits up. No matter how much money they lend to keep storing the Oil though, eventually they're going to run out of room.  Then EVERYBODY will HAVE to stop pumping Oil until they work through the glut.  Given there is double the normal inventory, this could take a little while.  Can any Oil Producing nation go even a week without the revenue from their Oil?

This condition of extreme glut has to break, and the only way to break it is a major reduction in the price.  When that comes, there will be carnage all across the energy and banking industries.  I don't know how long before the last storage tank and VLCC tanker will be full up, but I can't imagine it is too far off.  The End Game Approaches.

Book Review | Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence

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Published on From Filmers to Farmers on February 13, 2017

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While trying to get to the bottom of the underlying reasons for geopolitical events has always been enough of a challenge, an unfortunate side-effect of the explosion of information that the Internet has provided us with is the even further erosion of the signal-to-noise ratio. The mainstream media can pretty much be ignored altogether unless the intent is to understand the context and/or see how current events are getting framed and spun by the powers-that-be, which pretty much leaves one with having to seek out more independent sources of media – such as blogs – if what is sought after is insightful and revealing material.

Supposing you've actually managed to make your way through the morass and have found yourself a few good blogs that aren't just charlatans trying to pawn off guides to buying gold or some questionable vegetable seeds, there's also the unfortunate fact that information on the Internet tends to come out in staccato bursts, not as an encompassing whole. To coalesce all this information into a proper narrative requires time and effort of course, to go along with the fact that virtually no one wants to scroll through and actually read 100,000 – 200,000 words on an Internet page. So although books can't possibly be as up to date as a blog, they can give the much needed "big-picture" account that tends to be anathema to the Internet. And that "big-picture" regarding global events of the early-21st century has fortunately now been assembled by blogger (Insurge Intelligence) and author Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed – Failing States, Collapsing Systems: Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence.

At the core of Ahmed's argument is that we're not facing a "clash of civilizations" but rather a "crisis of civilization". And at the centre of this crisis, which is all but certainly going to beset us throughout the 21st century, is the triple whammy of energy, climate and food crises. As Ahmed returns to several times, a major roadblock hampering us from taking action in regards to this "crisis of civilization" is that we generally suffer from what he calls "whole system knowledge deficit", primarily thanks to the slipshod job of what he then refers to as the Global Media-Industrial Complex. As described in Failing States, Collapsing Systems,

Despite an abundance of information, there is a paucity of actionable knowledge which translates this information into a holistic understanding of the nature of the current global phase-shift and its terminal crisis trajectory for all relevant stakeholders. While much of the human population has been denied access to such information, and thus actionable knowledge, vested interests in the global fossil fuel and agribusiness system are actively attempting to control information flows to continue to deny full understanding in order to perpetuate their own power and privilege. The only conceivable pathway out of this impasse, however difficult or unlikely it may appear, is to break the stranglehold of information control by disseminating knowledge on both the causes and potential solutions to global crisis [pp. 91-92].

In his contribution towards rectifying our knowledge deficit, Ahmed draws early attention to the fact that oil's global EROEI levels have been declining since the 1960s. Coupled with a global oil production rate whose continued increase since the 1960s has been going on at a slower and slower rate, and what we're left with is the startling correlating fact that the global growth rate of GDP has been slowly dropping since the 1960s as well [p. 27]. Energy makes the world go round.

Added to this is the fact that while abundant fossil fuel supplies have allowed for the expansion of the monetary and financial system, decreasing EROEI levels have now implied an increasing need to rely on financialization (lest our Ponzionomic system implode in on itself). Or as Ahmed puts it, "the shift from the expansion of money, to the expansion of credit (debt-money) [p. 37]". This was most recently seen by the quantitative easing (AKA "printing money", AKA credit creation) to bail out insolvent banks after the rash of predatory lending-induced consumer defaults.

In the meantime, Ahmed points out that various forms of state-level violence have been intensifying since the 1970s and then accelerated in the late 1990s, the former corresponding with the period when oil's global EROEI level peaked, the latter with the year that the global EROEI level for all fossil fuels (not just oil) reached its overall peak (1999 to be exact), both of which have been steadily declining since.

What is probably Ahmed's most cogent example of this emerging "crisis of civilization" is the ongoing problems currently besieging Syria. The conventional argument given as explanation for Syria's plight is that of repression by its president, Bashar Al-Assad, an argument that is a grossly oversimplified explanation, in line with explaining away the "Arab Spring" as being due to a "deficit of democracy". As Ahmed points out, this misconception has resulted in "international policy [that] has focused on viewing the conflict through the lens of geopolitical interests and regional security [p. 49]". Fortunately, there are however those who recognize the role that climate change has played with Syria's misfortunes, others who recognize peak oil's role, and yet others who factor in the recent food price spikes. But as Ahmed sees it, all of these fail to recognize the systemic interconnections between these factors and so don't offer a systemic understanding.

For starters, Syrian oil production peaked in 1996, dipped by almost half by 2010, and then plummeted again by even more than half upon the outbreak of war. With a dwindling influx of currency due to shrinking exports of crude, the government was forced to slash fuel subsidies in May of 2008, tripling petrol prices overnight and significantly driving up the price of food (a serious problem when food makes up an overwhelming part of your budget, and when what you eat is virtually nothing but staples). Ongoing drought conditions have only exacerbated poor harvests in what used to be a country self-sufficient in wheat, and so coupled with spiking food prices and Assad's inability to maintain subsidies due to dwindling influxes of foreign currency, the situation has only gotten worse, and then worse, and then worse.

Using the situations in Syria and Yemen as base-points, Ahmed surmises that it takes about 15 years from when a country hits its peak in oil production before additional systemic pressures – such as drought, overpopulation, climate-induced water and food scarcity – contribute to outbreaks of systemic state failure. How's that bode for the rest of us?

To answer that, one must take another look at the situation in the Middle East, if not at its largest producer, Saudi Arabia. While Saudi Arabia's primary source of revenue is of course oil, according to Ahmed Saudi Arabia is expected to reach its peak of oil production by no later than 2028. But that isn't its only problem, because due to a significantly rising population which is adding to what are already rising internal consumption levels, Saudi Arabia has actually been exporting 1.4% less oil year upon year. While implying an earlier kind of peak, this of course doesn't bode well for those expecting Saudi Arabia to be their sweet-crude-daddy (which I'll get to in a moment), and will eventually impose upon Saudi Arabia a world of its own problems.

While Saudi Arabia went on a crash course several decades ago to increase its wheat production in order that food couldn't be used as a weapon against it in the same way that it withheld oil from the West (for a while Saudi Arabia, a desert country, was actually one of the world's largest exporters of wheat), its depleting aquifers have been recently putting an end to production that was also using up 18 percent of its oil revenue. While the state-sponsored Saudi Arabian wheat production is now kaput, Ahmed points out that 80% of Saudi Arabia's food is purchased through subsidies. Along with that, he states that 70% of Saudi Arabia's domestic water supplies are procured through desalination, an extremely energy-intensive process that estimates state burns through about half of its domestic oil consumption.

For the time being, and unlike Syria and Yemen, Saudi Arabia has been able to stave off its own "Arab Spring" thanks to bounteous subsidies for housing, food, water, oil, and other consumer items. But as Saudi Arabia's oil exports decline to zero in the next 15 years, and as the then-subsequent dwindling production for internal usage means less air conditioning, less water, less happy motoring (that is, supposing your gender is even allowed to drive in the first place), less everything, life in the desert is once again going to become like life in the desert. As the saying goes, and to put it lightly, "My father rode a camel. I drive a motor car. My son flies a jet plane. His son will ride a camel."

That's not to say though that Saudi Arabia is only Saudi Arabia's problem. As Ahmed points out, Saudi Arabia's and the Middle East's exports of oil will be significantly decreasing right when China and India will be expecting significant inputs in order to power their booming economies (not to mention their need for increasing imports of food). Since China's supplies of coal and conventional oil have in all likelihood just recently peaked (as stated by Crude Oil Peak, Peak Oil Barrel, and others) and its supplies of unconventional oil are expected to peak in another five years (as Ahmed relays), then like India China is in all likelihood going to be experiencing "outbreaks of domestic disorder [that] will become more organized, and will eventually undermine state territorial integrity before 2030 [p. 75]", all of which will render a shift of power to the East all but fantasy.

Might at least Europe be a safe haven? Well, while European oil producing countries have all passed their peaks (with only Denmark producing more than it consumes),

As crisis convergence unravels the global food system across the Middle East, Africa and Asia, geopolitical pressures and northern Europe's relative immunity from the immediate impacts will make the region a prime target for regional and international migration [p. 80].

In short, and to go along with Ahmed's expectation that Mexico will experience state failure sometime between 2020 and 2035 due to its peak of oil production in 2006,

it is difficult to avoid the conclusion as we near 2045, the European and American projects will face escalating internal challenges to their international territorial integrity, increasing the risk of systemic state-failure [p. 85].

Mexico is getting close to having no excess oil to sell for foreign
currency, which theoretically implies there being no crude to spare
for its volatile neighbour with the voracious appetite to the north –
unless (ahem) a certain dealmaker could swing a "you give us all
your remaining oil, we won't make you pay for the wall" kind of deal

With intractable border issues between Mexico and the United States an inevitability – wall or no wall – and with increasing instability in the Middle East and North Africa an eventuality even with mitigation efforts, Europe and the United States are likely due for an influx of migrants that will make the relatively mild-mannered amount of middle-class Syrians currently able to pay for the costly overtures look like a pleasant Sunday-afternoon jaunt on the ferry.

Alongside that, while 2011's Occupy and "Arab Spring" are but a taste of things to come, there's also the fact that while the situation in Syria has allowed for the emergence of ISIS and other jihadis, the coming state-level failures in the Middle East will only exacerbate this. Looking at intra-state conflict, civil unrest, Islamic terrorism, and far-right terrorism, Ahmed's studies show that

the escalation of Western military interventionism has provoked an increase in Islamist militancy, which has further fueled far-right extremism, both comprising the principal sources of escalation in PV [political violence] pandamics [sic?]. Both, of course, have further elicited further militarization in response to these different forms of rising militancy and terrorism [p. 43].

The problem here of course is that influxes of migrants will further fuel nationalist sentiments, which we are likely only just seeing the initial emergence of. Is there anything that can be done regarding all – or any – of this? Well, as Ahmed puts it,

The cases examined here thus point to a global process of civilizational transition. As a complex adaptive system, human civilization in the twenty-first century finds itself at the early stages of a systemic phase-shift which is already manifesting in local sub-system failures in every major region of the periphery of the global system. As these sub-system failures driven by local ESD-HSD [Earth System Disruption – Human System Disruption] amplifying feedbacks accelerate and converge in turn, they will coalesce and transmit ever more powerfully to the core of the global system. As this occurs and re-occurs, it will reach a system-wide threshold effect resulting in eventual maladaptive global system failure; or it will compel an adaptive response in the form of fundamental systemic transformation [p. 88].

Put a bit more succinctly,

The system must either adapt to these threshold effects by transforming its structure, adapting its overarching rules, norms and values, and thus transitioning to a new evolutionary state – or experiencing a protracted collapse process by failing to do so [p. 47].

With a bit of a positive note, Ahmed points out that

Human civilization is in the midst of a global transition to a completely new system which is being forged from the ashes of the old. Yet the contours of this new system remain very much subject to our choices today. If the forces of systemic failure overwhelm us, then the new systemic configuration is likely to represent a maladaptive collapse in civilizational complexity. Yet even within such a maladaptive response – which arguably is well-underway as these cases show – there remains a capacity for agents within the global system to generate adaptive responses that, through the power of transitional information flows, hold the potential to enhance collective consciousness. The very breakdown of the prevailing system heralds the potential for long-term post-breakdown systemic transformation [pp. 88-9].

As a side note, and having read a previous book of Ahmed's years ago, I'll add that Ahmed is one of the few writers I've come across that is cognizant of the conflict between our (Ponzionomic) money system and peaking energy supplies. For as he puts it, what we need is

democratic money creation processes, including community currencies, in place of debt-based fractional reserve banking; communities reclaiming the commons, especially in the sense of communal land stewardship systems; [p. 91]

Along with other suggestions, Ahmed then points out that

Such a vision may, in the current context, appear impossibly utopian. By 2030, and even more so by 2050 – as the manifestations of global capitalism's self-catabolic trajectory become more obvious – it will appear increasingly realistic [p. 91].

Although the book's first two introductory chapters may be a bit too theory-laden for some, the remainder of the book – a very accessible 94 pages in total – without a doubt gives the best "big-picture" explanation of why world events are currently playing out the way they are. If you're new to the notions of peak oil / EROEI / collapse of industrial civilization, and/or would like to try and enlighten a friend that might be receptive to these issues, I'd say that you can't go wrong by picking up a copy (a hardcopy!) of Failing States, Collapsing Systems.


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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on January 13, 2017


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Peak Uranium: the uncertain future of nuclear energy

Alice Friedmann recently posted on her blog "Energy Skeptic" a summary of the discussion on nuclear energy from my book "Extracted" (Chelsea Green, 2014). It is a well-done summary that I am reproducing here. Note that the text below mixes some of the considerations of the main text (written by me) and of one of the "glimpses"; that were written by other authors. The glimpse that reports the results of a model of future uranium production was written by Michael Dittmar. He told me in a recent mail exchange that his model seems to be doing pretty well more than two years after its results were published in "Extracted". (U.B.)


Peak Uranium by Ugo Bardi from "Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet"




Figure 1. cumulative uranium consumption by IPCC model 2015-2100 versus measured and inferred Uranium resources




[ Figure 1 shows that the next IPCC report counts very much on nuclear power to keep warming below 2.5 C.  The black line represents how many million tonnes of reasonably and inferred resources under $260 per kg remain (2016 IAEA redbook). Clearly most of the IPCC models are unrealistic.  The IPCC greatly exaggerates the amount of oil and coal reserves as well. Source: David Hughes (private communication)

This is an extract of Ugo Bardi’s must read “Extracted” about the limits of production of uranium. Many well-meaning citizens favor nuclear power because it doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.  The problem is that the Achilles heel of civilization is our dependency on trucks of all kinds, which run on diesel fuel because diesel engines transformed our civilization with their ability to do heavy work better than steam, gasoline, or any other kind of engine.  Trucks are required to keep the supply chains going that every person and business on earth require, from food to the materials and construction of the roads they run on, as well as mining, agriculture, construction trucks, logging etc. 

Nuclear power plants are not a solution, since trucks can’t run on electricity, so anything that generates electricity is not a solution, nor is it likely that the electric grid can ever be 100% renewable (read “When trucks stop running”, this can’t be explained in a sound-bite).  And we certainly aren’t going to be able to replace a billion trucks and equipment with diesel engines by the time the energy crunch hits with something else, there is nothing else.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]

Bardi, Ugo. 2014. Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Although there is a rebirth of interest in nuclear energy, there is still a basic problem: uranium is a mineral resource that exists in finite amounts.

Even as early as the 1950s it was clear that the known uranium resources were not sufficient to fuel the “atomic age” for a period longer than a few decades.

That gave rise to the idea of “breeding” fissile plutonium fuel from the more abundant, non-fissile isotope 238 of uranium. It was a very ambitious idea: fuel the industrial system with an element that doesn’t exist in measurable amounts on Earth but would be created by humans expressly for their own purposes. The concept gave rise to dreams of a plutonium-based economy. This ambitious plan was never really put into practice, though, at least not in the form that was envisioned in the 1950s and ’60s. Several attempts were made to build breeder reactors in the 1970s, but the technology was found to be expensive, difficult to manage, and prone to failure. Besides, it posed unsolvable strategic problems in terms of the proliferation of fissile materials that could be used to build atomic weapons. The idea was thoroughly abandoned in the 1970s, when the US Senate enacted a law that forbade the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel.

A similar fate was encountered by another idea that involved “breeding” a nuclear fuel from a naturally existing element—thorium. The concept involved transforming the 232 isotope of thorium into the fissile 233 isotope of uranium, which then could be used as fuel for a nuclear reactor (or for nuclear warheads). The idea was discussed at length during the heydays of the nuclear industry, and it is still discussed today; but so far, nothing has come out of it and the nuclear industry is still based on mineral uranium as fuel.

Today, the production of uranium from mines is insufficient to fuel the existing nuclear reactors. The gap between supply and demand for mineral uranium has been as large as almost 50% from 1995 to 2005, though gradually reduced the past few years.

The U.S. mined 370,000 metric tons the past 50 years, peaking in 1981 at 17,000 tons/year.  Europe peaked in the 1990s after extracting 460,000 tons.  Today nearly all of the 21,000 ton/year needed to keep European nuclear plants operating is imported.

The European mining cycle allows us to determine how much of the originally estimated uranium reserves could be extracted versus what actually happened before it cost too much to continue. Remarkably in all countries where mining has stopped it did so at well below initial estimates (50 to 70%). Therefore it’s likely ultimate production in South Africa and the United States can be predicted as well.




Table 1. The European mining cycle allows us to determine how much of the originally estimated uranium reserves could be extracted versus what actually happened before it cost too much to continue. Remarkably in all countries where mining has stopped it did so at well below initial estimates (50 to 70%). Therefore it’s likely ultimate production in South Africa and the United States can be predicted as well.




The Soviet Union and Canada each mined 450,000 tons. By 2010 global cumulative production was 2.5 million tons.  Of this, 2 million tons has been used, and the military had most of the remaining half a million tons.

The most recent data available show that mineral uranium accounts now for about 80% of the demand.  The gap is filled by uranium recovered from the stockpiles of the military industry and from the dismantling of old nuclear warheads.

This turning of swords into plows is surely a good idea, but old nuclear weapons and military stocks are a finite resource and cannot be seen as a definitive solution to the problem of insufficient supply. With the present stasis in uranium demand, it is possible that the production gap will be closed in a decade or so by increased mineral production. However, prospects are uncertain, as explained in “The End of Cheap Uranium.” In particular, if nuclear energy were to see a worldwide expansion, it is hard to see how mineral production could satisfy the increasing uranium demand, given the gigantic investments that would be needed, which are unlikely to be possible in the present economically challenging times.

At the same time, the effects of the 2011 incident at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are likely to negatively affect the prospects of growth for nuclear energy production, and with the concomitant reduced demand for uranium, the surviving reactors may have sufficient fuel to remain in operation for several decades.

It’s true that there are large quantities of uranium in the Earth’s crust, but there are limited numbers of deposits that are concentrated enough to be profitably mined. If we tried to extract those less concentrated deposits, the mining process would require far more energy than the mined uranium could ultimately produced [negative EROI].

Modeling Future Uranium Supplies

Uranium supply and demand to 2030




Table 2. Uranium supply and demand to 2030




Michael Dittmar used historical data for countries and single mines, to create a model that projected how much uranium will likely be extracted from existing reserves in the years to come. The model is purely empirical and is based on the assumption that mining companies, when planning the extraction profile of a deposit, project their operations to coincide with the average lifetime of the expensive equipment and infrastructure it takes to mine uranium—about a decade.

Gradually the extraction becomes more expensive as some equipment has to be replaced and the least costly resources are mined. As a consequence, both extraction and profits decline. Eventually, the company stops exploiting the deposit and the mine closes. The model depends on both geological and economic constraints, but the fact that it has turned out to be valid for so many past cases shows that it is a good approximation of reality.
This said, the model assumes the following points:

  • Mine operators plan to operate the mine at a nearly constant production level on the basis of detailed geological studies and to manage extraction so that the plateau can be sustained for approximately 10 years.
  • The total amount of extractable uranium is approximately the achieved (or planned) annual plateau value multiplied by 10.

Applying this model to well-documented mines in Canada and Australia, we arrive at amazingly correct results. For instance, in one case, the model predicted a total production of 319 ± 24 kilotons, which was very close to the 310 kilotons actually produced. So we can be reasonably confident that it can be applied to today’s larger currently operating and planned uranium mines.

Considering that the achieved plateau production from past operations was usually smaller than the one planned, this model probably overestimates the future production.

Table 2 summarizes the model’s predictions for future uranium production, comparing those findings against forecasts from other groups and against two different potential future nuclear scenarios.

As you can see, the forecasts obtained by this model indicate substantial supply constraints in the coming decades—a considerably different picture from that presented by the other models, which predict larger supplies.

The WNA’s 2009 forecast differs from our model mainly by assuming that existing and future mines will have a lifetime of at least 20 years. As a result, the WNA predicts a production peak of 85 kilotons/year around the year 2025, about 10 years later than in the present model, followed by a steep decline to about 70 kilotons/year in 2030. Despite being relatively optimistic, the forecast by the WNA shows that the uranium production in 2030 would not be higher than it is now. In any case, the long deposit lifetime in the WNA model is inconsistent with the data from past uranium mines. The 2006 estimate from the EWG was based on the Red Book 2005 RAR (reasonably assured resources) and IR (inferred resources) numbers. The EWG calculated an upper production limit based on the assumption that extraction can be increased according to demand until half of the RAR or at most half of the sum of the RAR and IR resources are used. That led the group to estimate a production peak around the year 2025.

Assuming all planned uranium mines are opened, annual mining will increase from 54,000 tons/year to a maximum of 58 (+ or – 4) thousand tons/year in 2015. [ Bardi wrote this before 2013 and 2014 figures were known. 2013 was 59,673 (highest total) and 56,252 in 2014.]

Declining uranium production will make it impossible to obtain a significant increase in electrical power from nuclear plants in the coming decades.



A Power Zone Manifesto

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Published on Peak Surfer on January 8, 2017


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" The physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan."


Fire in the New Valley, Egypt – PlanetLab

2016 was a year for revolutions. Really it was only a continuation of the Tunisian Spring that began in 2010 or, even before that, the Arab labor strikes that ran from 2006 to 2008, followed by insurgencies and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen, civil uprisings in Bahrain and Egypt, large street demonstrations in Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and Sudan and minor protests in Djibouti, Mauritania, the Palestinian territories, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and the Western Sahara, then the 2008 financial crash, Occupy, the collapse of Greece, the Ukrainian civil war, Brazil, Venezuela, Turkey, many more and eventually Brexit and Trump. A major slogan of the demonstrators in the Arab world was Ash-sha`b yurid isqat an-nizam ("the people want to bring down the regime"). It applied equally well to Brexit and Trump.
 It is no coincidence that all this revolutionizing started with the crash of the world’s energy pyramid in 2005 and the climate chickens coming home to roost about the same time. It has been papered over by financial fictions in the West (Ponzinomics), but 2005 marked the start of the long emergency and the decidedly different times in which we now live. Historic, concurrent and rapid state failures in the Middle East, Northwest Africa, South and Southeast Asia, Europe and North America are either coming, or have already arrived. This week we are witnessing the implosion of México, next week it could be Japan.

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


— Yeats (1919)

In Failing States, Collapsing Systems (Springer 2017), Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed writes:

Yet while policymakers and media observers have raced to keep up with events, they have largely missed the biophysical triggers of this new age of unrest – the end of the age of cheap fossil fuels, and its multiplying consequences for the Earth’s climate, industrial food production, and economic growth.

What we are about to undertake is to write a prescription. Essentially, over the next 10 or 12 weeks, we are going to write a book comprised of a string of these blog posts, chapter by chapter. We intend to lay out the whole philosophy of the change required, and then describe, in mechanical detail, not only what must be done, but how it can be accomplished without bloodshed but with plenty of gaity, song and dance. We are calling this our Power Zone Manifesto.

Power Zone: A kite wind window is the area where the kite can fly. This is a three-dimensional semi-dome. In the wind window there are three components: the power zone, the intermediate zone and the edge of the wind window. When you can feel the wind in your back, you will find the power zone lying in front of you. In the picture you see the red and orange colored areas where this is indicated. This is the part where the kite catches wind the most and thus where the kite generates the most power. A Power zone is a risk zone where you should go with caution, but this does not mean it’s dangerous. It’s a learning process on how to use it.


Manifesto: (1620, Italian, from manifestare — denunciation, and Latin, manifestus) a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group

— Mirriam-Webster  

We are embarking, with this first installment of the New Year, on a journey together. We are sending a kite into the power zone. Our subject is climate change, but more importantly, civilizational change. The two are a coupled pair, like matter and anti-matter. Not everyone understands that yet, or appreciates the gravity of the situation, and that is unfortunate but okay. The full horror will reveal itself gradually, in fits and starts, and in times and places not of our choosing. Here, in 2017, we take it on faith that we still have options. That faith could be entirely misplaced  but from the available evidence we cannot say either way — the climate juggernaut is in motion but perhaps still reversible. Faith gives us agency. Apostasy does not. We are creatures that exercise agency as an inherited condition. Take that away and we psychologically shatter, wither and die. We need to feel we have choices. We need to be able to exercise will.
So, feeling the wind at our back, we edge the kite closer to the power zone. 

Escondida Mine, Chile, PlanetLab

It has been said that what distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to make tools. We disagree. Other apes make tools. A crow uses a stick dabbed with honey to catch ants. A humpback whale, having neither hands nor feet, may fashion a bubble net to snare its lunch, humming a song of its own composition as it reels in the harvest. 
Perhaps one thing that distinguishes homo from other animals is our ability to accumulate knowledge culturally, and to do so more rapidly than, say, the lessons passed by each generation of she-wolves to their young, or the nuanced dances of honey bees.

Climate change is occurring so rapidly now, and with such apparent acceleration, that it forces us to go beyond even our high rates of cultural cataloging. We do not have the luxury of slow, generational change. Already born are children who will experience an Earth four or five degrees warmer than it is right now, maybe even much hotter. 

Graeme Taylor, in A Realistic (Holistic) Approach to Climate Mitigation, World Future Review 2016, Vol. 8(3) 141–161, writes:

In general, a realistic climate mitigation strategy must (1) clarify the requirements for a safe global climate, (2) develop a viable strategy for managing critical risks and ensuring safe outcomes (e.g., a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation), (3) progressively build scientific and political support for this strategy, and (4) develop national and international alliances to educate, encourage, and pressure decisionmakers at all levels to take effective action.

Diplomats and politicians have been slow to come to agreement about the requirements for averting catastrophic climate change. Rather than clarify, they have generally done everything possible to obscure. Scientists, by contrast, have been gradually moving into consensus for the last century or more and now are at nearly complete unanimity, with piercing clarity. 

In broad stroke, to reestablish the relatively stable climate of the last 10,000 years, the Holocene epoch, we must restore the relationship between energy arriving and leaving Earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere.
By any reasonable measure, we are outside the zone of safety already.
The physical requirements to return to a safe climate zone are these:

  1. Humans must stop adding carbon to the atmosphere (and thereby to the oceans);
  2. We must stop throwing off the balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and other critical cycles that maintain photosynthetic equilibrium and the energy balance of the Earth in relation to the Sun;
  3. We must reverse desertification;
  4. We must arrest the degradation of biodiversity;
  5. We must restore the naturally regenerative systems and allow them to heal the damage that has been done.

These five physical requirements are not negotiable. They cannot be bargained down, discounted, or put on a layaway plan. This creates a dilemma for human societies, because, as far back as our emergence from the past ice age and the adoption of agriculture, we have been marking progress by measures that result in the precise opposite of these requirements. 

Atmospheric carbon dioxide, at least a third attributable to agriculture, is on track to peak after 2050 at 600 ppm, more than double the Holocene mean. But agriculture was only made possible by the advent of the gentle Holocene.

Agriculture made us sedentary, created a system of division of the commons and private property, installed capitalism (to borrow and lend lands and seed and to apportion risks and profits) and militarism (to protect property, stored harvests and contract rights), codified laws beyond the moral variety handed down on tablets from God, and gave rise to cities and monumental state architectures.

Could it be that to meet the five requirements we next need to undo all that? Is that even possible?

This is what regime change looks like

Taylor’s second point is more difficult to address than his third and fourth. We have been building political support the same way we built the scientific support, only much more slowly. National and international alliances have been forged, across all parts of civil society, and those continue to exert pressure on decisionmakers. To find “a multitrack approach capable of both accelerating change within existing institutions and catalyzing systemic transformation,” however, is a much bigger ask.

Taylor correctly summarizes the state of international negotiations:

Critics argue that the Paris Agreement failed to deal with many crucial issues. These include assessing and managing the real risks and costs of climate change; defining greenhouse gas (GHG) concentration safety limits; determining a time frame for emissions to peak; stopping fossil fuel subsidies; imposing carbon pollution taxes; limiting both fossil fuel supply and demand; developing clean substitutes for nonelectrical uses of fossil fuel energy; ensuring that climate change costs are borne equitably by rich and poor nations; reducing resistance to climate mitigation through developing alternative, nonpolluting uses for fossil fuels; and planning the transformation of the global political economy into a sustainable system.


Because it does not take a holistic, precautionary risk management approach to climate modeling, it does not recognize that biophysical limits and timelines are nonnegotiable, and that passing critical thresholds creates the potential for systemic failure or state change. For instance, the Paris Agreement does not place safety limits on atmospheric CO2 and other GHG concentrations, an absolute cap on ocean and atmospheric temperature increases, an absolute cap on ocean acidification, or a specified timeline for reducing GHG emissions.
None of these deficiencies was corrected in Marrakech, nor are they expected to be corrected in COP-23 in Bonn next year. This does not make the UNFCCC multi-stakeholder process useless, it just means it is very slow. Like climate itself, it moves in fits and spurts. We can agree: it is probably not up to the challenge posed by exponential chaos.


Plutonium Valley, Nevada Test Site, PlanetLab

If you are toying with some of these ideas, before you throw in the towel and say its hopeless, lets start by naming the deluding passions.

The world is not easily divided between those who deny climate change is a problem and those content to criticize the political stalemate as the karma of capitalism. Nor is it easily divided between those who assume that governments have the matter under control and those that believe the AI singularity will deal with it by dint of human ingenuity.

There is a spectrum of opinion out there. One may overlap with another, or the roles reverse without warning. What is “conservative” actually? What is “liberal?”


Reframing Reality

One might think from the plain definition of the word that conservatives are those who seek to protect and “conserve” the resources that confer wealth upon societies. Those would be things like soil, water, clean air, biodiversity and a system of social contracts that prevents despoliation of the commons. And yet, whether you are speaking of conservatives in the US, UK, Europe or somewhere else, they all have in common a disdain for these very things, and are doing everything possible to use up, trash, and deregulate the expropriation of resources while at the same time relaxing restrictions on pollution and habitat destruction.

On the flip side of that coin we have the liberals — like deer in the headlights when it comes to net energy and peak everything. “Liberal” should mean broad-minded, generous, and progressive. Instead, in an era that screams for rapid build-down of over-extended economies, liberals champion expansion, whether it be programs to resettle, educate and empower refugees, conferring rights to “sustainable development” on non-industrialized, rapidly overpopulating countries or sending out a high-tech military empire in search of the final drops of fossil sunlight in order to sustain the nonnegotiable.

Caught between these polar conflicts are masses of sheeple, running this way and that, trying to escape the pull of the power zone. Knowing that Ash-sha`byurid isqat an-nizam  is the dominant sentiment, regimes are running scared, whether they are regimes of government, economics, academia, or science. Regime change is in vogue. The world has become a free-fire zone.

Cooler heads will eventually prevail. Some pain may have to be experienced first. A change is coming, and next week we will continue to tease out some of its outlines.

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

H is for Hydrogen Dreams

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Published on the 22 Billion Energy Slaves on November 7, 2016

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I can clearly recall one day in 1997 when I was working for a large company in the UK energy sector and one of heads of the Corporate Strategy department came down to give us a talk. He confidently predicted that inside 10 years "almost every car on the planet" would be powered by hydrogen. This sounded a bit fishy to me, and even though I was a corporate flak at the time, something didn't ring true about his claim. I asked him a question: "But where will the hydrogen come from?"

His eyes boggled at the sheer stupidity of such a question. "Where will it come from?" he repeated, his mouth curling into a smile at the corners as if I had made some kind of joke. "Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe! It's everywhere! You yourself are 10% hydrogen!" There was a ripple of laughter around the room and I felt like the stupidest kid in the class. How could I be such a dumbo!?

Now, almost 20 years later, I have yet to see a car powered by hydrogen. But why?

For a start, hydrogen might be abundant, but it is not a primary fuel. It had to be turned into a useable fuel by employing methods that involve using other fuels. Electrolysis is the main method used to extract hydrogen from water, and most electricity is currently produced using fossil fuels.*

Never mind, let's ignore this energy usage for now and continue making hydrogen. Once we have extracted some pure hydrogen from water (or natural gas, as if often the case – but shhh! don't tell anyone!) we will notice that it is incredibly light and fluffy. To get it into a liquid form we'll have to compress it using a compressor. 10,000psi should do it so that it's usable for a car. Of course, it'll need to be stored in a very thick and heavy high pressure tank.

Okay, so now we've arrived at the stage where we've burned up loads of coal, natural gas or even uranium making water into liquid hydrogen fuel. We have compressed it and stuffed it inside a heavy steel tank ready for using. Can we just store it there until we might need to use it? Well, actually this is also problematic as hydrogen has a boiling point of -253C — which is damned cold by most accounts. Anything above this and it will boil off and evaporate. So forget filling up the tank of your nifty "green" hydrogen car and leaving it sitting on the drive for a few days — you need to use up your fuel before it disappears, which it typically does at a rate of 3-4% a day.

Does it still seem so attractive? Leave you car for a couple of weeks while you go on holiday and you'll likely come back to an empty tank.

Anyway, assuming none of the above really bothers us, what about our good friend the Second Law of Thermodynamics — you know, that old Cassandra party-pooper who endlessly repeats that energy is lost at every stage of conversion, increasing entropy as it does so — does he have anything to say about hydrogen powered motoring? Well yes, quite a lot actually. It turns out that using electrolysis to create hydrogen, compressing it and storing it gives it an energy return (EROEI) of about 0.25. Yep, that means we have to put in four units of energy to get one back.

If anyone still thinks this is a good idea go and grab the nearest six-year old and ask them to explain it to you.

But … assuming you don't care about the energy loss, the burning of fossil fuels to turn natural gas feedstock — sorry, water — into hydrogen, the compression costs, the storage losses and the fact that your hydrogen car weighs twice as much as a normal one due to the giant onboard tank — assuming none of that matters — where are you going to fill it up? According to the US Department of Energy there are 31 stations nationwide where you can fill up your vehicle. Yes, that's 31 that have hydrogen, compared with about 90,000 that have gasoline. As far as I can tell, there are around two in the UK "with another four planned". Yep, the hydrogen future is already here.**

So, for our hydrogen fuelled cars — which will inevitably also feature lithium ion batteries — to be usable to those people who don't live across the road from a hydrogen fuelling station and who like to travel more than 10 miles from their homes, we'll need to retrofit more or less the entire energy infrastructure.

Need I go on …?

So, here we are, still waiting for the great hydrogen future ("It's everywhere! The only pollution is water vapour! The fossil fuel industry doesn't want this to take off!") It probably has some industrial application that could be useful but if we think that hydrogen is a straight substitute for petrol we're going to be sorely disappointed.

In the meantime, here's a "zero emissions" train that's just hit the tracks in Germany. Apparently it is entirely pollution free and "runs on water" (like Jesus, but faster?***) Want to play a fun game and lose all you friends in the process? Every time one of them posts a link to the train on Facebook, leave a simple reply saying 'BS' and link to this post. It works wonders — I've already lost several friends as a result, and expect to lose more in the future.

But don't mind me, I'm just a dumbo, and I'm 10% hydrogen.

* Yep, I know you can make electrolysis happen using solar PV or other renewables, but please refer to the bit where I mention the Second Law, and also consider the sheer amount of solar PV that would be needed to do so on a large scale to keep us on a happy motoring course and how it might be better employed.

** In my second career as a journalist/editor, we got invited to meet the late Shimon Peres in a darkened hotel room in Copenhagen during the shambolic COP15 conference. Peres wanted to push his 'Better Place' hydrogen/electric car initiative on us. We were not allowed to ask questions, such as whether it would actually work. "Better Place" went bust a couple of years later due to the unwillingness of the Second Law to negotiate, and the plug was pulled on it — as were several articles that reported on its demise such as this one in The Guardian "Better Place: What went wrong for the electric car startup"

*** As a small footnote, there's a personal irony in this. The Jesus Train was built by the company Alstom, for which my father, gods rest his soul, used to be a purchasing director. In his time he negotiated and purchased all the major parts for the first trains to run through the Channel Tunnel, as well as the French high speed TGVs. I actually spent a summer working in Alstom's French train factory when I was 21. My father would have hated all this BS — he's probably turning in his grave right now.

Reveries of Collapse

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Published on Epiphany Now on December 26, 2016

Celtic Japanese Bambo Druid crazy like a fox wordsmith ninja

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Lady Gaga's meat suit

Energy deflation and dollar preference are large forces beyond the control of politicians, generals or central bankers. They are driving countries and events toward involuntary conservation. America’s new president is the product of economic failure; the inability of the economists to make correct analysis, a long grinding recession disguised as recovery; media falsehoods and the unwillingness of Americans and others to face reality, government policy failures and the headwinds of resource depletion. Trump and his cretinous gang of thieves represents the last gasp of a defunct industrial system that is sinking under the weight of its own costs.

Keep in mind, oil producing states like the US tend to be autocratic. The US, Canada, Mexico and others are on their way to becoming single-party police states like Saudi Arabia or Iran. Because of autocrats promise of access to energy, they gain ascendancy with their populations’ eager consent. What is at stake for Americans and the West is democracy itself: a choice between the right to have a say in our own affairs versus the false-promises of energy-driven ‘prosperity’ offered by autocrats … the choice between the (vague) promise of convenience or having a functioning republic.

King Trump the Irrelevant

I think these two paragraphs sum up our reality nicely.  They capture what is true about our situation.  I'm in agreement with everything quoted above. 

I've long said that the power of money is nothing more than the power of the energy we have at our disposal.  They can create as many digibits as they want to create, and with no consequence since digibits are digital and not really subject to any physical laws.  The banking insolvency is really just a ruse.  Like politics, like arguing about who would be the better president, like watching football, it's just something to talk about that applies to our reality only in a fictional way.  Our talking about it gives it it's strength and relevance.  The great reality behind it is the primary economy of energy and other natural resources.  However, those natural resources cannot support a global economy without the energy to make use of them.  Trees, food produced by the monolith of industrial agriculture,  our collapsing fisheries, fresh water, minerals, ores, all of those things require energy to harvest them, and then to fashion them into consumer items.  Money is simply the means by which we are able to claim our portion of that energy.  The more money you have, the more energy you can lay claim to by way of goods and services.

In the face of a finite world it's really all just an illusion of cohesion.  The great reset should have happened in 2008, but it did not happen.  Instead, the failing energy sector was propped up by the creation of more digibits.  It's not the banks that were too big to fail but our way of life.  If they had not exercised the ability to create digibits ad infinitum, and to put those digibits in service of bringing energy to market, than we would have been forced to engage with the reality of our diminishing resources.  The trillions of digibits that have been created by the Federal Reserve and the Federal Goobermint have amounted to nothing more than the largest financial subsidy in the history of the world.  Just like our industrial agriculture is made possible only by it's subsidization, our energy is now only made possible by subsidy.  It's not a direct subsidy though.  It's a subsidy of money creation loaned into existence for free.  The 3.8 billion dollar DAPL pipeline had to be financed by this money that the banks create by turning the digibit knob.  It could have just as easily been 3.8 trillion dollars, and had it been that price the banks would have created that money and loaned it into existence.  The truth is that without that energy our civilization will become transparent, and we will all be forced to wake up and see the house of cards that we have built. 

The simple truth is that everything we do is only made possible by fossil energy.  Our food, transportation, electricity, buildings, cultural methods of inhabiting our world, clothing, medicine, everything all hinges on the energy being present to create them in the first place.  It's not that we can't create those things using the power of our own bodies and that of our beasts of burden.  It's that we no longer have a human scaled way of inhabiting our planet.  That is why robotics have become so important, and it's why NAFTA had to happen.  NAFTA simply made slavery legal again for the first world, buy it was hidden in third world countries.  We took their resources, and the energy of their people, and exploited it to feed the 1st world empire.  We sold a lie that their people were joining ours by becoming "developed" countries, as if to have a culture made by hand, a culture that is actually a culture made of people and their skills and engagement with the natural world, was not a real culture. 

Now we have what amounts to what I like to call a "global anti-culture."  Now science has enabled us to live a culture free life where we are kept busy by free entertainment glistening on flat screens, the flat lands that are devoid of virtue.  Now robots are set to do all of the work that must be done to continue inhabiting our world the way that we inhabit it.  Every year more and more people must scrap by with mailbox money that must be meagerly portioned out to overcome the cultural atrophy that has descended down upon us all.  Our bodies are becoming nothing more than energy sinks without a purpose.  What jobs there are, that are not part of the service economy, are jobs where we sit and do what amounts to nothing.  Driving around, staring at computer screens in inefficient climate controlled box buildings made of glass, engaging with fictional digibits.  Our bodies are no longer required and so they atrophy along with our brains.

We are entering into the last act now.  This last act is symbolized by the election of Donald Trump to lead the first world "democracy" that we supposedly have.  How perfect is that?  This is a man of no substance beyond that of ego gratification.  A man who has done nothing of any real value, but a man that is filthy rich for it.  Trump is like a mirror of our national consciousness.  He is only reflecting back to us what we have become.  It doesn't matter who the president of the United states is, because the system of business as usual has so much momentum that only it's own weight has the power to destroy it .  The momentum is built up by what social critic, James Howard Kunstler, has aptly titled "the psychology of previous investment."  It's the way we inhabit our landscape that has become to big to fail.  But like the psychology that created it in the first place, it is fundamentally flawed and wrongheaded.  It is based on an infantile wanting with no regards to limits and consequences.  It is a hallucination that continues to exist because we give to it our energy.  We infuse it with our psyches and it is failing us.  It is failing to produce anything of any substance.  It has choked the very life out of our bodies and made us powerless and useless. 

Now all that is left is for this pointless business as usual to slam into an immovable wall that is corporeal limitations.  Just like cancer cells that kill their host and thereby commit suicide.  Our way of life is failing, and like all civilizations that have come before us, it will collapse.  It has been collapsing during my entire life.  The cancer has become a global entity, and it has already metastasized and gone systemic, and all that is left is the awareness that we are dying.   I suppose the silver lining is that this has always been the case.  Just like individual beings who are born, mature, and then die, our civilizations are no different.  All civilizations overshoot their resource bases and end up in collapse.  This collapse won't be on the nightly news (as if anybody under 60 years old even watches MSM now).  It won't be televised any differently than it has been already.  It's not something that will be talked about, but that in no way diminishes the reality of it.

Or maybe I'm just deluded and living in a fictional world made up of the laws of physics.  Time will reveal the truth of my words.

Supporting Everything that Smells Bad

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on December 15, 2016


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Michael Klare has published an extensive comment on "Tomgram" about what appear to be the current policy choices by Donald Trump on energy and he correctly notes how contradictory they are. Basically,


The main thrust of his approach couldn’t be clearer: abolish all regulations and presidential directives that stand in the way of unrestrained fossil fuel extraction, including commitments made by President Obama in December 2015 under the Paris Climate Agreement.

In other words, Trump seems to be locked in a market-only vision of the problem, thinking that physical realities have no role in the extraction of fossil resources. On this, he is surely not alone, but the problem is that deregulation is not so important as Trump seems to think. It was not because the market was over-regulated that oil prices spiked up to $150 dollars/barrel in 2008 and kept hovering at around $100/barrel from 2011 up to late 2014. And it was not because oil production was suddenly deregulated that prices collapsed to below $40 in 2015. The oil market, as all markets, suffers from instabilities that may be, sometimes, cured by regulations. Eliminating all the regulations may well cause further price swings and wild oscillations, rather than increase production.

If oil companies are in trouble, right now, is because the oil prices are too low, not because oil extraction is over-regulated and Trump's policies – if they were to work – may damage the fossil fuel industry even more. That, in itself, would not be a bad thing – especially in terms of the effects on climate. The problem is that Trump's ideas to revitalize the fossil fuel industry may not be limited to deregulation, but could involve actively discouraging renewable energy, a policy that, for instance, the Italian government has been successfully applying during the past few years.

So, why does Trump want to do such a thing? Here, we can only imagine what passes in the mind of a 70-year old man who is not known to be especially expert in anything. Klare puts forward a possible explanation as:


To some degree, no doubt, it comes, at least in part, from the president-elect’s deep and abiding nostalgia for the fast-growing (and largely regulation-free) America of the 1950s. When Trump was growing up, the United States was on an extraordinary expansionist drive and its output of basic goods, including oil, coal, and steel, was swelling by the day. The country’s major industries were heavily unionized; the suburbs were booming; apartment buildings were going up all over the borough of Queens in New York City where Trump got his start; cars were rolling off the assembly lines in what was then anything but the “Rust Belt”; and refineries and coal plants were pouring out the massive amounts of energy needed to make it all happen.

And don’t forget one other factor: Trump’s vindictiveness — in this case, not just toward his Democratic opponent in the recent election campaign but toward those who voted against him. The Donald is well aware that most Americans who care about climate change and are in favor of a rapid transformation to a green energy America did not vote for him,

Given his well-known penchant for attacking anyone who frustrates his ambitions or speaks negatively of him, and his urge to punish greens by, among other things, obliterating every measure adopted by President Obama to speed the utilization of renewable energy, expect him to rip the EPA apart and do his best to shred any obstacles to fossil fuel exploitation. If that means hastening the incineration of the planet, so be it. He either doesn’t care (since at 70 he won’t live to see it happen), truly doesn’t believe in the science, or doesn’t think it will hurt his company’s business interests over the next few decades.

This interpretation by Michael Klare may or may not be correct but it underlies a basic problem: elections give power to people on the basis of their promises, but nobody really knows how they will behave once they have power in their hands. The world's history is full of leaders who had mental problems of all kinds or even just had a vision of the world that was completely out of touch with reality. The result was normally unmitigated disasters as leaders, in most cases, refuse to learn from their mistakes. And not just that, they tend to double down, worsening things.

About Donald Trump,as I discussed in a previous post, nobody can know what's going on inside his mind. All what I can say is that America may badly need God's blessing in the near future.


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Published on The Doomstead Diner on November 27, 2016


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I gave a mini presentation at a Griffith University “sustainable economy” seminar on 29 November 2016 As the themes were slanted towards “business opportunities”, I chose this title for my talk: “Tiny House Communities: grassroots solutions for those with sufficient initiative to exit a collapsing industrial civilisation”. In my pre-conference paper/abstract submission to the GCSE, I made it clear I was going to talk about much more than just tiny houses. Ultimately I spent only 5 minutes talking about tiny house communities and 15 minutes talking about our collapsing industrial civilisation. I focused especially on the sudden global energy descent we will soon be facing and tried to explain the key concepts with my “post peak oil” slides

I received the usual denialism response I have come to expect from one individual in particular, a person who in a previous session advocated that if only we use objective science to persuade the public, we can transform society and create a great future. That person also said we should not convey negative messages to the public because that would alienate them. I had neither the time nor inclination to engage with that person. I did not bother to point out the obvious contradiction in his position: that objective science unequivocally shows our future to be dire, which by necessity will convey a “negative” message to the public.

At a subsequent main session, Professor Susanne Becken, a highly acclaimed professor of “sustainable tourism”, spoke about Peak Oil and Aviation and projected this slide from the International Energy Agency on the screen:



To her credit she couched those IEA future oil projections in cautionary terms and advised the audience NOT to invest in the aviation industry.

As an audience member at the Q&A session, I made this comment and posed this question to her (I paraphrase here. The event was recorded and my exact words may be audible if Griffith eventually post the session as a webcast):

I was amused to see the IEA slide you displayed, which included “oil yet to be found” and “oil yet to be developed” in the projection of future oil available, which made the future total oil curve look flat or even rising. Such wild speculation brings to mind the thought that if pigs had wings, pigs could fly and flying pigs will solve all our aviation problems. IEA are well known for always overestimating future oil availability, then having to revise those figures downward when reality proves them wrong. In terms of deceit they are second only to Daniel Yergin's CERA, a stooge of the fossil fuel industry. I am sure you know who I am talking about. I am sure you are familiar with David Murphy's Net Hubbert curve which takes into account energy returned over energy invested. I am sure you are familiar with Jeffrey Brown's export land model, which looks at future oil availability for oil importing countries. If you superimpose the ELM on the Net Hubbert curve, which you must do if you believe in basic physics and mathematics, you will realise that Australia will have no more conventional oil available to import within ten years. Do you not think such a graph is more accurate and appropriate to use?”

To her credit, the professor did not take offence at my “flying pigs” comment and acknowledged the validity of my points. She really had no choice, otherwise she would be denying basic physics and mathematics, which would make her look foolish. She accepted that proper assessment of actual oil availability should subtract the amount of oil needed to produce that oil. To her credit she stated that unconventional oils such as tar sands have such poor EROEI that in reality they are not worth pursuing. However with regard to the short term prospects for her particular fields of interest (aviation and tourism), she was sanguine. She expressed a “Realpolitik” view that when there are competing interests for diminishing oil supplies in the future, such as whether to allocate oil to produce food for the poor or to fuel the aviation industry, the business interests of aviation will win out and the poor will starve. She made a valid, if cynical point there. That view is not dissimilar to my own view about how the “five fingers” of net energy will be allocated in the future when we tumble even further down the net Hubbert cliff: Military activities will be given priority over everything else, thus promoting human die-off. Gotta love the human race.

My ongoing concern is that such “peak oil experts” continue to use fraudulent fantasy graphs based on cornucopian speculative projections in their presentations, which to a less critical audience will otherwise be accepted and go unchallenged. Here is one solution to this conundrum: make the audience less critical by getting rid of troublemakers.

Needless to say I do not expect to be invited back by that particular department of Griffith University in the future. And so it goes.

G. Chia Dec. 2016




Peak Oil in a Fact-Free World: the New “Oil Bonanza” in West Texas

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Published on Cassandra's Legacy on November 18, 2016


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Sometimes, I have the feeling of living in a fact-free universe where the laws of physics hold only if you believe in them. (image)

So, the USGS comes out with a press release that the media immediately diffuse in terms of a great discovery: 20 billion barrels, somewhere in Texas in a place called "Wolfcamp".  Bloomberg multiplies the number by the current oil price and comes up with a title that reads: "A $900 billion Oil Treasure," for a piece that tells of "bonanza" and of "the gift that keeps on giving". USA today speaks of "The Largest Oil Deposit Ever Found in the US". And how about the comments? Just a few examples.


As our new President will do – DRILL BABY DRILL!!! Energy independence – that sure has a nice ring to it. Middle finger to Middle East arabs.

I remember in the late 70's when scientists said we would be running out of oil by the late 90's. I wonder where those scientists are working now? Climate change?

They are constantly finding more reserves. President Trump will open up more land and ocean for safe drilling. Something the Obama administration had no clue how to do..


but of course the Radical Left, determined to return all of western civilization to the hunter-gatherer society of 10,000 years ago will do all it can to prevent this once great nation from becoming energy dependent and permanently kicking the barbarian raghead arab oil nations out of this country.

Great fun, and all fact-free! But let's suppose, for once, that facts mattered. What should we say about the "Largest Oil Deposit Ever Found in the US"? One point is that nothing new was "found;" the Wolfcamp formation was well known and already being exploited. The USGS just made a new estimate; probably valid within the assumptions made; but it is just that: an estimate. It doesn't mean that these resources have been discovered (note that the USGS explicitly says "undiscovered.") So, what all this means is that, statistically, these resources should be there, but nobody can be completely sure and it wouldn't be the first time that these estimates turn out to be optimistic. (in this case, the round number "20" is more than a little suspicious).

But never mind that; let's assume that these 20 billion barrels are there for real. How does this amount stack up in comparison with the world's oil situation? Here are some data, taken from Bloomberg (not exactly a den of Cassandras).


Let's compare these data with the world's oil consumption that, according to "Index Mundi," is today a little more than 33 billion barrels per year. So, you see from the figure that, during the past decade at least, we have been consistently burning more oil than we could discover. Now, if there had been other major discoveries this year, they would have been trumpeted enough that we would know of them. So, adding the 20 billion barrels of the Wolfcamp formation to the meager total of 2016, probably, we still don't reach a total of 33 billion. In the end, all that we can say is that, for this year, oil discoveries were just a little less, rather than much less, than what the world has consumed. These would be the news, if facts mattered.

But, that's not even the point: the essence of depletion is not how much of it there is, it is how much it costs to extract it. Here, Arthur Berman notes that Bloomberg had calculated the value of this "treasure" at $900 billion as if "if the oil magically leaped out of the ground without the cost of drilling and completing wells; if there were no operating costs to produce it; if there were no taxes and no royalties." Then, Berman calculates how much it would cost to extract all this "bonanza" of oil and concludes that, at the current prices, it would result in a net loss of some $500 billion. 

So, aren't you happy to live in a fact-free world? You can keep thinking that it is enough to poke a few holes in the ground to see it gush out in never ending abundance because, as everyone knows, it is really "abiotic." Sure, and you can also walk on thin air, as Wile E. Coyote can do as long as he doesn't realize he does.

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