free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: November 2005

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


I've already established that oil will not peak without warning. But assuming it did, or that we were still completely unprepared for some reason, let's see why the scenario of starving to death because of oil shortages is simply not going to happen.
  1. Demand is controlled by prices. The 0.15 worldwide elasticity of oil prices means that a 5% reduction in supply each year will cause an annual price increase of 33%. This is not unprecedented … in fact it's only slightly higher than the price rises we're experiencing now. It will cut away demand and make alternatives like shale, tar, gas, biofuel, coal and grid-powered cars more profitable. These technologies are far more advanced and far more ready for implementation than they were back in the 70s. You would also expect to see efficiency improvements for trucks just like we're now seeing for cars.
  2. If the food supply is really at risk, the government can take steps to protect it with fuel rationing and driving restrictions. The IEA "Saving Oil in a Hurry" report lists measures that, if all used simultaneously, could restrict automobile use 30%. That alone offsets the effects of Peak Oil for at least six years. On top of this, if worldwide oil shortages are a real problem, it is likely that some kind of international body will coordinate measures to ration oil and ensure that there is enough for the most vital uses. Contrary to what you might think, leaders are generally neither incompetent nor evil. They just need to be convinced that there is a certain and immediate threat, which there isn't at the moment.
  3. Who says that oil shortages have to demolish the economy in the longer term? Peak Oil could actually have a positive effect, creating new jobs and industries in a headlong rush to develop alternatives. In some ways I can't think of anything better for the car industry than replacing every car in the country with a fuel cell vehicle.
  4. Oil production doesn't have to follow the Bell Curve exactly. Production will actually increase some years, just as it has fluctuated in the past. This will give the economy a respite and buy more time for adjustments to the new economy.
Colin Campbell seems to agree with all this. After all, he reckons that Peak Oil happened last year (see #52). The fact that nobody has noticed implies that Campbell believes Peak Oil will not be instantly catastrophic at all.

As a further note, GM is aiming to sell a commercial fuel-cell vehicle as early as 2010, and no later than 2020 (Source). Next year you will be able to buy the zippy ENV Fuel-Cell Motorbike for around $6000 AUD, or $4500 US.
-- by Roland

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


According to the DOE, this is the list of countries who have no coal reserves at all:

Bermuda, Saint Pierre and Miquelon, Antigua and Barbuda, Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Falkland Islands, French Guiana, Grenada, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Martinique, Montserrat, Netherlands Antilles, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent/Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands, Uruguay, Virgin Islands (U.S.), Virgin Islands (British), Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Denmark, Faroe Islands, Finland, Gibraltar, Iceland, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malta, Switzerland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Conga Brazzaville, Ivory Coast, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Reunion, Rwanda, Saint Helena, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda, Western Sahara, American Samoa, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei, Cambodia, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Guam, Hong Kong, Kiribati, Laos, Maldives, Mongolia, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Tonga, U.S. Pacific Islands, Vanuatu, Wake Island.

In addition, the following countries have very small reserves which could only fuel their power grids for less than five years: Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, UK, Egypt, Malawi, Zambia, Burma, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, New Caledonia, Taiwan.

Clearly, the idea of switching back to domestic coal isn't an option for this mass of humanity. They aren't going to be liquefying coal for their vehicles, or building coal-fired power plants to charge electric cars. Many of the most hard up are going to need coal for their power grids, unless we're planning to take them all nuclear. These countries who need coal are going to have to use somebody else's, and that somebody is likely to be the U.S. and Australia.
-- by JD


Paraguay is an interesting case-study in energy issues. According to the DOE and the Oil and Gas Journal, it has no coal, no oil, no natural gas and no nuclear. The country would seem to be a prime candidate for electrical blackouts, but (it turns out) they are not. Paraguay is the joint owner of the largest electrical generating facility in the world, the Itaipu Dam (12.6 Gwatts):

From the DOE:
In 2002, Paraguay consumed 2.5 billion kilowatthours (Bkwh) of electricity, the fourth lowest level of power consumption in South America. Paraguay generates nearly all its electricity from one hydropower plant, Itaipu, which provides about 94% of Paraguay's relatively small electricity demand. The Yacyreta and Acaray hydropower plants, as well as six small thermal-fired plants, supply the remainder of the Paraguay's power demand.

Although Paraguay consumes a relatively small amount of electricity, the country ranks as the fourth largest electricity producer in South America, behind Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina. In 2002, Paraguay generated 48.4 Bkwh, of which 95% was exported, mainly to Brazil. In 2002, Paraguay's net electricity exports of 45.9 Bkwh were the second largest in the world, behind only France.Source
Paraquay is like France, a country with a strong natural advantage in the post-peak period.

But let's compare it with one of its neighbors. Uruguay also has no coal, no gas, no oil, no nuclear. So how are they going to keep the lights on? Primarily with hydro, but beyond that, they're in a bit of trouble. Here's the DOE data on Uruguay:
Generation Facilities
Four hydroelectric facilities provided the bulk of Uruguay's electricity generation in 2004: Terra (0.53 Bkwh), Baygorria (0.40 Bkwh), Palmar (0.98 Bkwh), and Salto Grande (2.85 Bkwh). The remainder of the country's electricity generation comes from thermal power plants, which UTE only calls upon during peak demand, or when weather conditions suppress output from its hydroelectric facilities.

Under normal weather conditions, Uruguay's hydroelectric plants cover the country's electricity demand. However, seasonal variations can leave Uruguay at a severe power deficit, forcing the country to rely upon imports or costly oil- and diesel-fired generators. In 2001, UTE announced a tender for a new, 400-megawatt (MW), natural gas-fired power plant that would help diversify the country's electricity supply. However, a combination of factors forced Uruguay to withdraw the tender in early 2005, including the election of a new president in early 2005, questions regarding the future of natural gas imports from Argentina, the cost of the facility ($200 million), and the construction time (26 months) of the project.Source
The DOE has a link on those "questions regarding the future of natural gas imports for Argentina", and clicking on it, we find this:
Issues Concerning Imports
Due to natural gas shortages, Argentina has recently begun interrupting its natural gas exports to Uruguay and Chile. This has raised concerns in Uruguay about the future security of its natural gas supply and jeopardized plans to increase domestic natural gas consumption. Uruguay has negotiated with Bolivia about building a natural gas pipeline between the two countries as an alternative to Argentine imports.Source
This is just one manifestation of a wider phenomenon.
Monday, November 28, 2005. Page 6.
No More Cheap Gas, Russia Tells Neighbors
Russia said Friday that it would stop supplying subsidized energy to some former Soviet republics and charge them at world rates, putting further strain on the Commonwealth of Independent States.Source
Russia is interesting because it's using the stick-and-carrot approach. Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova (who have become increasingly friendly with the West) had their subsidies removed, while "Belarus, whose autocratic leader Alexander Lukashenko is on good terms with Moscow, also enjoys subsidized gas rates, but these are not being renegotiated."
Another case is Chavez, who is well-known for supplying cut-rate oil to Cuba, and even poor citizens in the U.S. This is a similar phenomenon, and illustrates a trend counter to the usual hype about resource war: nations helping other nations with fuel. (In fact, I am more and more of the opinion that this will be the most immediate challenge of peak oil. It's not enough for the U.S. to think only of itself. Some nations might not pull through without assistance.)
Of course the phenomenon has its other face too, and it's even emerging (at least in embryonic form) between the U.S. and Canada:
It may or may not have struck you as interesting that, although Alberta has oil reserves estimated to be in excess of 1.6 trillion barrels, our gas prices are skyrocketing along with the Americans’. We aren’t the ones with an oil shortage, so why are we paying the price?

What came with NAFTA and the FTA (a Canada-U.S. free trade agreement) was the obligation to sell over 60 per cent of the fuel produced in Canada to America. Our oil prices are also tied to theirs — we are unable to charge Americans a different price for our oil than we charge Canadians. We have surpassed Saudi Arabia to become America’s main supplier, but we exert nowhere near the influence over oil prices that OPEC countries do.

Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, along with other oil exporting countries, give their own citizens a better price for oil and gas than they charge for export. The fact that we are unable to do the same started to become a nuisance around the time gasoline prices first pushed over the dollar mark.Source
-- by JD

Monday, November 28, 2005


As we've seen in #28, fertilizer is not made from crude oil. It is made from natural gas, coal and even water (via hydroelectric electrolysis).

I know from experience that "fertilizer is made from oil" is a pernicious bit of misinformation which arises frequently in peak oil circles. However, the other day, I was confronted by a person who said that no authoritative peak oil expert claims that "fertilizer is made from oil". That is generally true, but wherever the meme came from, the fact remains that it is widespread in peak oil circles, and is a good indicator of the degree to which lies are being spread by irresponsible peak oil doom sites. Check out all these commentators talking about "oil-based fertilizer":

peak oil
"Do you buy food products grown with oil based fertilizers and pesticides, harvested by petroleum fueled vehicles, transported using petroleum, ..." California Rolls Toward Hydrogen
"because bio-diesel crops require oil-based fertilizers to produce."

Peak Oil Crisis
"After the Korean war, it had developed a modern farming system depending on machinery and oil-based fertilizers. After the Soviet Union fell, Communist aid ..."

EcoCity Cleveland | Transportation Choices
"Starvation will abound because oil-based fertilizers we've grown to depend on will be in short supply. Energy wars could erupt to control the remaining oil ..." - Dam Or Damn The Nile? Peak Oil Weekly In House ...
"It was decided that oil based fertilizers would now be used to make the fields along the Nile, bloom. In essence, the farmers have lost the power to control ..."

Odeo: The End of the Oil Age
"The food we eat: grown with oil-based fertilizers, pesticides and other
petrochemicals, sowed by oil-powered tractors and machinery. ..."

Democratize Energy Production--Reclaim
"We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops. We have allowed our addictions to overtake our common sense and a good portion of ..." - Jobs, Renewable Energy and The Economy. Peak Oil ...
"Gains in employment will happen in farming as oil based fertilizers become increasingly expensive. Hard working organic farmers will have to do more with ..."

Organise: Article / Why do they hate us?"
"Transportation depends on gasoline. Food depends on oil-based fertilizer and pesticides. Clothing, housing, and other things widely use oil-based plastics. ..."

:: I WANT CHANGE!!! ::
"... For everything we have, everywhere we go, everything we do depends on cheap oil.
Using oil-based fertilizers produces our abundant and cheap food. ..."

Lots more here.
-- by JD

Saturday, November 26, 2005


When a country is past its peak (like the U.S.), total oil production for the country declines by a certain percentage each year. This percentage is called the Type III decline rate of that country.

As an example, let's look at the decline of the U.S. since its peak in 1971. As you can see in the Table below (from the 2004 Annual Energy Review, DOE), U.S. oil production (including NGL) peaked in 1970 at 11,297,000 barrels per day, and has been declining ever since (click images to enlarge):

From these stats we can calculate Type III decline in the U.S. for each year since 1971:

As you can see, the rate fluctuates greatly. In some years there is a steep decline (1989: -6.6%), and in other years it doesn't decline at all (i.e. 1980-1985). The average decline rate over the last 34 years has been a mild 1.3%.

On the face of it, this seems to be good news. At some point, the entire world will decline, but if the U.S. is a good model of the world, we can expect the world to decline at a mild rate of 1-2%. Is the U.S. a good model of the world?

To answer that question, I asked Rembrandt to help me calculate the total decline for all countries in Type III decline (not just the U.S.) My reasoning was this: The set of all countries in Type III decline is a larger sample, so the Type III decline rate for that set of countries should give a better approximation of total decline for the entire world in the post-peak period.

So which countries are in Type III decline? Here's the ASPO list from a presentation (ppt) by Colin Campbell and Jerry Gilbert:

This list has a number of problems, as Rembrandt points out:
Brazil, only non-deepwater has peaked
Venezuela only conventional
Iran has had one peak but not yet a second one
Russia one peak but not a second one
And they are also counting small countries (Netherlands, Chile,
sharjah? (I have never even heard of sharjah..)

He also has this to add:
I have 46 separate countries in my spreadsheet with the other countries on a
bulk (other South Africa, other Europa etc.). This follows the same method as in the attachment (world oil production pages from the latest data from the IEA statistics journal). Of these countries I can only see 21 that have for certain peaked (and are in type III decline) and will not show production increases to all likeliness, those are:

Indonesia, USA, Canada (conventional), Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, United Kingdom, Norway, Italy, Romania, Oman, Syria, Yemen, Cameroon, Egypt, Gabon,Tunisia, Australia, Brunei, Papua New Guinea, Uzbekistan.

Then there are countries that will to all likeliness peak between 2005 and 2010, those are:

Denmark, Mexico, Congo Brazzaville, China, India, Malaysia, Peru (2nd peak)

Then there are countries that might peak between 2005 and 2010 but I am not really sure of that given the amount of data I gather. And when I don't have enough data I don't do anything although I have the feeling that these figures are quite accurate, it's unscientific to guess.

Qatar, Venezuela (conventional, maybe already peaked), Angola (2010), Nigeria (2010), Russia (2010?).

And then we have the Middle-Eastern countries (Iran, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait) of whom I do not think that they will peak in the near-term future. Maybe around 2015, or later, but nobody really knows what's going to happen there.

From the numbers above it shows that you can "stretch" the number towards 50 that have peaked. The only number that I kind off trust: 33 countries out of 48 that have peaked according to Chevron ( This is quite similar to the numbers that I get (46 large countries in my spreadsheet, and also counting the countries that have peaked in 2005 and are going to
peak in the coming years gives around 30 to 46).

So let's focus on the countries which are truly in Type III depletion, and look at their Type III decline rates. Rembrandt was kind enough to supply the following data from the IEA (which includes conventional and non-conventional oil, and NGL):

This is not such a soothing picture. Clearly the U.S. is the anomaly, with the 2nd lowest decline rate (after Brunei). Total depletion for this set of countries is about 4.3%, much higher than the 1.3% figure for the U.S. alone. Furthermore, some of these countries have decline rates which are atrocious: Australia -12%, Papua New Guinea -10%, UK -10%, Trinidad & Tobago -9%.

There are a few points to note:

1) Due to the nature of the arithmetic, the world's Type III decline rate will be dominated by the decline rates of the largest producing countries -- i.e. the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia. At the moment, the U.S. is the only thing keeping the Type III decline rate for all declining countries at a semi-reasonable level of 4.3%.

2) While severe declines in individual countries may not pose fatal problems to the world oil market, they clearly do pose serious problems for the countries themselves. Indonesia, for example, will continue to relentlessly lose foreign exchange earnings, and it's unclear where that process might end up. Mexico is likely to come under similar stress. Where will they get dollars to replace lost oil revenue?
Even a G7 country like Britain is likely to experience serious financial stress due to its oil and gas running out.

3) Why does the U.S. perform so abnormally well? I would attribute it to free enterprise and infrastructure -- lots of independent drillers, and lots of pipelines to make drilling for small pockets of oil economically viable. So the question is: Can (or will) the Russians and the Saudis do that? The Saudis are worrisome because they run their entire operation in a top-down fashion. Is it really possible for one organization (with no competitors) to drill as many wells, and install as much pipeline, as they are going to need?
-- by JD

Friday, November 25, 2005


Nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas (NG), and recently we've been hearing a lot about how high NG prices are putting the crunch on US farmers. For example (as we saw in #112) the fertilizer lobby is teaming up with the oil industry to push drilling in ANWR, Lease Area 181 and the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf). The industry PR tugs at your heart strings: "U.S. farmers provide a safe and abundant food supply for the entire world." Apparently, American agriculture is feeding the world like UNICEF and Bob Geldof. We're also being pelted with a steady stream of media sob stories about Joe the patriotic farmer, withering under the high nitrogen prices while he toils out on the back 40. For the peak oiler, this is how the die-off begins. Food is oil, and food shortages begin to occur as the price of fossil fuel inputs rises.

But is fertilizer in the U.S. really about food?

Here's some interesting figures on total fertilizer consumption (by crop) in the U.S.:
Corn: 41%
Soy beans: 6%
Cotton: 5%
Sorghum: 1.5%
Tobacco: 0.5% Source

That's most of U.S. fertilizer use (54%) right there. Now -- being as it's thanksgiving and all -- what would you say if you went to your relatives' house for the holiday dinner, and they were serving corn, soy beans, cotton, sorghum and tobacco? How much of that stuff do you actually eat? Not much, I suspect.

For comparison, the U.S. uses 13% of its total fertilizer for wheat, and only 4.5% of its fertilizer for all fruits and vegetables combined.

In other words, the fertilizer "crisis" is about $$MONEY$$, not food. The expense accounts of the fertilizer lobby aren't being paid by farmer Joe back in the Ozarks. The fertilizer lobby is being paid by Cargill, and operations growing ethanol corn for government subsidies. The threat to the food supply is just lobbyist spin. In reality, the NG crunch is primarily a threat to profit margins.
-- by JD


Peak oil doomer sites have sprouted like mushrooms all over the internet, and I think it's high time they had their own awards show. LATOC is just the tip of the iceberg. We've yet to grasp the true breadth and depth of all the great stuff out there.

Here's my nomination:
Gotta love that Prepare to Survive The Suffering catch phrase.
And of course, what would a doomer site be without the obligatory reference to fertilizer made from oil. Check out the link to "products made from oil", and sure enough, there it is filed under F: fertilizer.

Here's some great doomer copy:
Nations will begin fighting (have begun fighting) for oil and natural gas to save their economies. As people are unable to pay higher prices for manufactured products, employers will begin layoffs and unemployment will increase. The unemployed will not be able to buy, and businesses will close creating more layoffs and homelessness. Protests, riots, and crime will increase and the response will be martial law, a police state, and government seizure of weapons, foods, and medicines for emergency relief and control. All of the efforts to control and protect remaining resources will ultimately fail. This spiral of war, failing businesses, and social decay will get worse in all nations as oil and natural gas resources are depleted.

And of course, the de rigueur Warning!!
The following may be very traumatic to think about. We will need all our strength and courage to deal with the consequences of what "peak oil" means. We can handle the truth and we have the right to know what the most frightening and challenging issue is that we are facing in the world. Knowing what difficulties are in front of us is the first step in choosing for ourselves how we will react. If this is the first time for you to learn about the worlds energy situation (oil and natural gas) then you will need some time to think about these coming events, and more time to do your own research to fully satisfy your mind and affirm your ability to get through the difficult times ahead. If you are not ready for this now you can come back later. EXIT
I was kind of bummed out when the "EXIT" button at the end didn't take me to, so we'll have to dock a few points there.
-- by JD

Thursday, November 24, 2005


GM and Toyota may have ditched their plug-in cars, but other manufacturers haven't. There's a wide range of tiny, cheap, customisable EVs on the market today. For instance, there's the It Sedan:

Or the Indian-made Reva:

Or Daimler-Chrysler's E2, as driven by the Italian Police:

These are really sensible, inexpensive cars that are perfect in Europe, but Americans would just make fun of them. If you want a "normal-looking" electric car, what do you do?

The answer lies with the Prius. The standard Toyota Prius has a button that allows it to run in electric-only mode, but it doesn't go very fast since it doesn't have enough batteries. Luckily, a company in California is hoping to sell a modified version of the Prius, the Prius+. By adding extra batteries and hacking the firmware, they've made a Prius that plugs into 120v power, getting economy of 100-150 mpg. You could drive it to work and back without using a single drop of oil. Conversions are expensive at the moment but if oil prices head through the roof, the large installed base of retrofittable hybrid cars could provide a window of adoption for electric vehicles. (Link:
The back of the Prius+

Rumour has it that Toyota is now considering building a fully electric vehicle themselves.
-- by Roland

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


Grid-powered electric cars are one of the most obvious, but most neglected, solutions to the oil problem. The main argument against them is their slow top speed (a little over 100 km/h), and their limited range (a little under 200 km per recharge). While this is probably an issue if you live on an autobahn or in the Sahara Desert, for the vast majority of commuters it's more than sufficient.

Plug-in cars are very attractive for a few reasons:
  1. Their oil dependence is zero.
  2. We know we have plenty of electricity to power them with. According to this article, "there is more than enough off-peak electricity available to allow the transfer of all of our driving miles from gasoline- to electric-powered vehicles.”
  3. Even using coal-fired electricity, they produce less emissions per kilometre driven than an internal combustion engine. Why liquefy coal into oil when you can just burn it as it is?
  4. They're silent and (usually) quite small.
  5. They cost only a dollar or two to recharge, which is about a quarter the price of driving even the Prius over the same distance.
  6. They're very cheap, especially compared with hydrogen.
  7. They are available now, with today's technology.
There is nothing standing in the way of these things except consumer perceptions and the vested interest of the oil/auto-parts lobby. The technology has been there for over a decade and as oil prices go up they are looking more and more attractive.

About 5 years ago, Toyota and GM figured this out and produced cars on limited-lease test-runs. Both the cars could go fast enough to drive on a highway and had a long enough range for an extended commute. They looked and performed like normal cars, and the customers loved them.

There was the sporty-looking GM EV1:


And the Toyota RAV4 EV SUV:


GM distributed 465 EV1 cars on a 3-year lease. But when the lease was up and GM ditched the project, they crushed the cars, shredded them and disposed of the remains – allegedly, because of pressure from part manufacturers and the oil industry to erase all evidence that plug-in cars were viable Link). The former EV1 owners are still protesting about this; you can see their website here. The few remaining EVs which GM didn't manage to destroy are now lovingly protected by enthusiasts.


Ford ditched its compact Th!nk EV and disposed of it in a similarly suspicious fashion. The Honda EV is no longer available either. Toyota axed the RAV4 trial project, but unlike other manufacturers it didn't destroy the cars. It sold 328 of them on the open market in California, where they are still driving around today (Link). You can see "The Campaign to Save Electric Cars" here.


Meanwhile, a company called the Solar Shop in Adelaide, Australia wants to sell a tiny electric car from India named the Reva. But red tape is in the way as usual:
But for over a year now, the Reva had been stranded in a customs warehouse in Melbourne. Despite soaring fuel prices, the Federal Government will not allow it on our roads because it doesn't have a classification for the vehicle.
"In Europe where it's been classified it's called a Quadracycle, whereas in Australia we don't have a Quadracycle category which is why it's been sitting customs for the last 18 months," he said.
"If the Government gave us approval, we'd start selling it today. We're ready to go," Adrian said.Source
-- by Roland

Sunday, November 20, 2005


The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and this is one of the main reasons the U.S. will retain its strength going forward. In terms of fossil fuel, it is clear the U.S. will be the last man standing, even after both peak oil (2010-2020?) and peak gas (2030, Lahererre(pdf)).

However, it is too simple to just point at the U.S. coal reserve, and say "problem solved". Lots of people are putting dibs on U.S. coal -- too many people if you ask me. For example, it's very clear that the U.S. military will stake a claim. And of course there is the existing claim on U.S. coal by the electric power industry (50% of U.S. electricity is generated by burning coal). The electric car advocates are staking a claim on coal, by promoting plug-ins. The synthetic liquids advocates also say we'll turn to coal to fuel our vehicles. People in the U.S. switching from gas/oil to electric heating are also (more likely than not) turning to coal.

In the U.S., there are really only two near-term options for large-scale power generation: coal and nuclear. Natural gas is declining, and some relief may be available from LNG, but LNG will not be fueling the U.S. power grid any time soon. Neither will renewables. The path of least resistance is clearly to burn more coal, and that's what will be powering the electric vehicles of the near-term future.

But that's not the end of it. Mexico too will put demands on U.S. coal. Check this out from the latest DOE Country Analysis Brief on Mexico:
In 2002, Mexico ’s installed electric power generating capacity was 42.3 gigawatts. In the same year, the country generated an estimated 198.6 billion kilowatthours (Bkwh) of electricity, of which thermal (oil, natural gas, and coal) electricity generation account for 81%. According to Sener, total power generating capacity as of May 2004 was 50.7 gigawatts. Oil-fired power plants accounted for the largest share of Mexico 's thermal electricity generation, but many of these plants are being converted to natural gas. According to Sener, fuel oil accounted for 49.4% of thermal feedstock in 2002. Currently, only about 6% of electrical generating capacity is coal-fired. By 2012, natural gas is forecast to account for 63% of Mexico 's power output while fuel oil's share is expected to drop to 24.2%. In 2002, hydropower accounted for 12% of Mexico 's total electricity generation, followed by nuclear with 4.5% and geothermal with 2.5%. Mexico also has one wind-power installation in Oaxaca , which generated 0.005% of the country's total electricity generation. There are plans to increase Mexico 's wind capacity, which has not been added to since 1999.
Notice that oil accounted for 40% of Mexico's power generation in 2002. In the 1990s, Mexico had the highest percentage of oil-fired generation in the OECD (59% of electricity generated from oil). This is in a country where oil is currently peaking (or will do so shortly). Notice also that NG-fired capacity is increasing, in a continent where NG is also in decline.

So it's not really a question of whether the lights can be kept on in the U.S. That's not in doubt because oil only accounts for about 3% of U.S. power generation. The question is how to keep the lights on Mexico. (We should also note in passing that the electric grid of northern Mexico is connected to the grid of the southwestern U.S.)

Henry Groppe has mentioned the idea of freeing up oil for vehicles by switching oil-fired electricity nations like Mexico to another fuel source:
On the supply side, he believes oil is pretty much at peak and will flatten out and then start declining. But what caught my attention was his opinion on the demand side. He believes that something like 20mbpd of the current 84mbpd of oil demand is going for heat and power generation primarily in developing countries. He thinks that with oil in the $50-$60 range, all of this will get converted to coal or natural gas, and that, along with vehicle fuel efficiency, will be the main initial responses to peaking, and will keep us out of serious economic pain for a decade or so.
I'm skeptical about the idea of converting Mexico to natural gas because North American NG is peaking. We're getting too many claims on a shrinking North American NG pie. I don't see massive LNG imports being a solution for Mexico either. It's hard enough trying to switch the U.S. to LNG, let alone switch the U.S. and Mexico at the same time. (Then again, Mexico may be the place to locate LNG ports due to U.S. NIMBYism.) At any rate, Mexico and the U.S. will be joined at the hip on the NG front, no matter how events pan out.

Switching the Mexican grid to Mexican coal isn't an option. If Mexico generated as much electricity from coal as the U.S., their reserves would run out in a little over a year. So that leaves two near-term options: U.S. coal and nuclear. I take it nuclear is out because: a) nuclear accounted for only 4.5% of Mexican power generation in 2002, and b) the U.S. may not be comfortable with a massively nuclear Mexico.

So that leaves coal, and now we've got another nation making a claim on U.S. coal, and as a member of NAFTA they certainly have a right to it. We might also wonder whether coal will be the solution for Mexican motoring as well. Will Mexicans be driving electric cars fueled by U.S. coal? Or high-efficiency hybrids fueled by U.S. coal? Or will they just keep it basic, and try to keep the lights on?

And Mexico isn't alone. According to Oil & Gas Journal, lots of countries have no oil, gas or coal: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hondurus, Jamaica, Panama, Paraguay, Puerto Rico, Uruguay etc. Are they all going to turn to massive capital projects like LNG and nuclear? Or are they just going to give up electricity?

It's obvious what needs to give in this equation. Electricity is necessary to live a first-world standard of living, cars are not. Cars are a low priority compared to maintaining the status quo in electric power.
-- by JD


One of the main problems with the dieoff is crowd is their assertion that such a scenario is unavoidable. Apart from the diceyness of their data and the failure of their past predictions, the also greatly underestimate the complexity of the future. The future is not simple, nothing in it is inevitable, and doomers do not know more than anyone else. They made this mistake back in the 1970s, and after the reading the Ehrlich's One with Nineveh and the Club of Rome's new number Beyond the Limits, it's clear that they don't want to make it again. "If the projected increases in energy use were derived from renewable sources instead of fossil fuels," concedes Ehrlich, "and if the population's peak size could be kept well below 10 billion, the outlook would become considerably brighter" (compare this to the quotes in #146). These original doomers have now become cautiously optimistic about the ultimate fate of the planet, perhaps because they realise that unless people believe problems can be fixed, they won't try and fix them.

Peak Oil, on the other hand, has been hijacked by a niche community with a fondness for gloomy-looking websites and folk-tales about the grisly end of suburbia, with the Hubbert Peak the unanticipated final straw that will swiftly bring down a well-deserved Malthusian catastrophe on the cancerous mass of humanity. (Read the latest issue of the Magazine "Adbusters" to get a taste of such hysterical fear-mongering.) As long as Peak Oil is associated with this kind of culture it will be viewed as a kooky theory not deserving of public attention. It needs to be rationally examined and recognized for what it is, i.e. another troubling but solvable issue along with Climate Change, environmental degradation and poverty. In other words, Peak Oil needs some context. It's far from the only thing going down on Planet Earth right now, and for this reason I thought I'd share some other trends and ideas that might give some perspective to the whole thing. Please suspend your cynicism, doomers, and enjoy the ride.

An Ecological Revolution

Oil is just one part of a larger issue, ie that humans are, and have long been, straining the boundaries of the planet. This is mainly because the current economic system ignores the state of the environment, assuming there will always be more resources and more space to dump the waste. Yet politicians continue to espouse the oxymoron of "sustainable growth", and treat the environment as a separate issue. This is, said economist Herman Daly, like looking only at an animal's circulatory system while ignoring its digestion.

While many people look at this and see disaster, others, like Amory Lovins, see opportunity. His argument is that the current industrial model is an obsolete relic of the 19th century. Back then, we were limited "not by the number of trees but by the number of axes". We used machines to extend human productivity, resulting in the Industrial Revolution. Today, Lovins argues, that situation is reversed: we have too many axes, but we are running out of trees. Hence, we need a Second Industrial Revolution which will reflect these changed realities. Just as the First Industrial Revolution got 200 times more productivity out of each worker, the Second Industrial Revolution will get 200 times more efficiency out of its raw materials. It will view waste as a profit-leaching evil, and appreciate the true value of Natural Capital and the free services that nature provides, reconciling the interests of environmentalism and business. The goal is to minimize the flow of materials by maximising the flow of information.

Lovins is on the right track because, as JD says, our current society is appallingly wasteful. In the book Natural Capitalism, Lovins and his co-authors give countless examples of how to eliminate this waste with a combination of new technologies, better design, new cultural attitudes and pure common sense. Lovins reckons that pretty much everything produced by industry today is very badly designed, which is true. Examples of good design include the Prius, this custom-made fridge, and the book Cradle to Cradle, which is made not out of paper but from a water-resistant synthetic material derived from plastic resins and inorganic fillers. (Link:

The idea of an ecological revolution gives a wider frame for our efforts to make the world more sustainable, and this revolution is already in progress all around the world, particularly in Europe. As Lovins points out, societies usually move down the path of least economic resistance, and it’s increasingly the case that sustainable practices are more cost-effective than unsustainable practices (a situation to which Peak Oil will contribute). The situation can only improve since the cost of technology falls exponentially, while non-renewable resources invariably don't. Inflexible old players (like the big car companies, or the United States) must recognize this, or they'll get outpaced by agile newcomers. Why do you think British Petroleum changed its name to Beyond Petroleum, or an array of European countries pledged a "factor four" increase in efficiency, or McDonalds replaced polystyrene containers with biodegradable material?


Perhaps this Revolution goes even further, to the social and economic system itself. There is increasing recognition that GDP is not a good measure of a society's well-being, particularly as it also measures undesirable things like crime and waste. Technology cannot increase efficiency forever, and even if it does we are looking at a population implosion before 2050 as a result of declining birthrates. So maybe it's best to begin transitioning to a Steady State Economy. This would not rule out occasional periods of economic expansion thanks to new technologies or population increases, but it would abandon a 3%-a-year growth of GDP as the overriding preoccupation of policymakers. Instead, they could concentrate on actually improving services and boosting quality of life.

Of course, a Steady State Economy poses some challenges because we have to work out how to adjust our "perfect" economic system to accommodate it. Just as the 19th century gave rise to new social theories and forms of government, so the 21st century will have to perfect "Neo-Capitalism", a tweaked version of the capitalist system which (a) Accounts fully for human dependence on the environment and (b) Does not require constant growth to function. While I'm sure this is possible with Islamic Banking and the elimination of risk-free government loans, perhaps the biggest challenge will be the cultural shift required to defeat the dogma of GDP-worship which currently pervades society.

Nanotechnology and the Kurzweil Singularity

Imagine that before we've even started adjusting to these changes, something else comes along whose impact far dwarfs anything we've yet experienced, making our social, political and economic systems obsolete, replacing all our challenges with new ones, and raising unprecedented ethical questions about the nature of consciousness and the meaning of life. That something is Nanotechnology.

In the shorter term, Nanotechnology will revolutionise manufacturing by using nano-factories like this, which can assemble products at the molecular level from a small range of raw materials. The cheap, widespread affordable use of such machines, coupled with extremely cheap energy, would mean that manufactured products basically cease to have monetary value, and the only use of money would be for 'unique' commodities like real estate, antiques or human services. Concerns about population could be diminished by producing food this way. As a result, all the problems that Natural Capitalism and the Steady State Economy tried to address are basically solved, replaced by new ones like how to deal with spiralling unemployment, how to avoid nano-warfare, and how to redesign society from the ground up to accommodate such changes. (Link:

The fun doesn't stop here. Ray Kurzweil, a pioneer in text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and music synthesizers, has dedicated much of the recent part of his life to advancing a theory known as "The Singularity". Kurzweil believes that the rate of 'salient events' follows an exponential curve either upward or downward, proportional to the amount of "chaos" in the system. While development of the universe is getting slower and slower, the speeds of both evolution and technological development are speeding up. We are currently approaching a "knee in the curve" where technological advancements happen so fast that within a few decades we will reach a "singularity": a point where life changes so much that it is beyond the capacity of earlier humans to reliably predict or even comprehend – like trying to explain world trade to a caveman.

In The Age of Spiritual Machines and The Singularity is Near, Kurzweil predicts, probably correctly, that the power of a $1, 000 computer will soon exceed the human brain. Advances in neuroscience will allow a person to be scanned and transferred into a computer. There will be two intelligent and conscious species on Earth, one evolving faster than the other. Meanwhile, lifespan could be drastically extended by using medical nanobots to fix bits of your body as they deteriorate. Ultimately, the human body could become obsolete altogether as we transfer our consciousnesses into computers where our intelligence could be augmented thousandfold and we could travel independent of physical matter. We could actually "be" a spacecraft or other vehicle, or imbue physical matter with intelligence. Aliens have probably done this already, which would support the old ants vs. humans argument for the current failure of SETI (that aliens are on as different a plane of existence to us as we are to the ants).

The point is that both Richard Duncan and Francis Fukuyama have both announced the "end of history" too soon. The future is a lot more complicated. We're looking at two new Industrial Revolutions, the complete redesign of our social and economic system, and developments that will irrevocably change the nature of life on Earth beyond our present capacity to imagine. These are only some of the possibilities, and you and I could see them all in our lifetimes. What are we complaining about? We live in the most exciting century in human history.

The Naivety of a Simple Future

Right now the doomers are probably saying, "You've got your head in the clouds. If we fall off the Olduvai Cliff then all of this is completely irrelevant". Which is true, but it completely misses the point, just as the hysterical doomer Kurzweil's online forum with scary messages about the dieoff has missed the point. Doomsday scenarios are not obstacles in the way of the future, they're simply undesirable future possibilities that we are trying to avoid. The future is far from simple and it's definitely not certain. That's why the gospel of intractable doom is as damaging to the environmentalist cause as cornucopianism. It's why blind faith in technology is no worse than blind dismissal of it.

In preparing for the future we've got to realise that we can never be quite sure what we're preparing for. It's like someone in the 1880s inventing a machine to clean manure from city streets, and completely failing to foresee the invention of the automobile. Or Arthur C. Clarke in the 1950s figuring out how to support the crew necessary to change the vacuum tubes in his communications satellites, and completely failing to foresee the transistor. Likewise, as a society we've got to prepare for the worst-case scenario – that is, the most "conventional" scenario. But one thing working in the favour of optimism is that there are always wildcards. We've got to work out how to transition to a Steady State Economy, but before we’re done we may find that Nanotechnology made the economy obsolete. We need to solve the immediate challenge of Peak Oil, and work out the finer details of the hydrogen-refuelling infrastructure in the year 2040 … but when the year 2040 rolls around we may find we're living in another dimension.
-- by Roland

Friday, November 18, 2005


Traditional PV panels are highly efficient (at more than 20%), but they are very expensive and take a long time to pay for themselves, if ever. They're also bulky, inflexible and difficult to install. Fortunately, a new generation of solar cells will soon be on the market that will revolutionise the world of solar power by using either nano-crystals or special polymers.

These new solar cells are extremely cheap and far easier to manufacture than traditional PV panels, and they're already a reality. In the past, the only obstacle to their widespread adoption has been their efficiency (around 1%, compared to more than 20% for traditional panels). But that's quickly changing. A team at UCLA announced last month that they have more than quadrupled the efficiency of Organic Polymer Cells to 4.4%, and researchers at New Mexico State University and Wake Forest University have made nanotech cells with an efficiency of 5.2% Source1, Source2. They expect to get beyond 10% in the next five years, at which point these cells will be marketable.

Apart from their extremely low cost, the whole point about these new cells is that they are incredibly flexible and unbelievably strong. They could be woven into fabrics, such as curtains, tents or clothing, or printed onto a lightweight, flexible film that can be stretched over a roof. They could be painted directly onto walls and will eventually be so strong they can even be stretched over a road. In other words, almost every type of surface can be covered by solar cells at a fraction of the cost of today’s panels.

You can buy cheap and flexible low-power solar panels already:

With CSIRO in Australia creating a small, inexpensive hydrogen-production device the size of a microwave, and the ENV hydrogen-powered motorbike going on sale next year for only a few thousand dollars, it's entirely plausible that a 100% solar/hydrogen-powered lifestyle will be both affordable and cost-effective within a decade.

Here are some links:
-- by Roland


Friland is a small community near Aarhus in Denmark. It's a genuinely fantastic idea and there should be more places like this:
Friland (Freeland) is the home of a small community, the Friland Cooperative Ltd. It is situated in Jutland on Djursland, about 20 miles east of Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city.
At present there are 14 families at Friland. They have left the city to build, live and work in this rural corner of Denmark. The settlers at Friland will be trying out new ways of living with each other and with nature.
Even though it is called "Freeland", a few rules apply to all: First of all every family must build a mortgage-free house using recycled or natural materials such as bricks, straw, clay and mussel shells.
Secondly, when moving into their self-built houses - at least one person in every household must start his/her own business or telecommute. Hopefully, in time Friland will become a local power centre and a valid contribution to the regeneration of rural areas.

Friland is an attempt to do something about pollution and environmental degradation. By using un-processed building materials, by minimising waste and by handling own waste water, the Freelanders will do their part to move towards a more environmentally friendly and cleaner future.
Being mortgage-free, the Freelanders will be able to prioritise the important aspects of life such as family, friends and a satisfying job. In the end, Friland is about community, finding a sense of belonging and living out your dreams.

You can visit Friland's official website here.
-- by Roland

Wednesday, November 16, 2005


We've heard a lot from the peak oil pessimists about the impossibility of conservation in the U.S., but the times they are a-changin'. It's interesting that Christians and conservatives are playing a key role in this process.

Senate Group Unveils Oil-Saving Plan

By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press, Nov. 17, 2005

WASHINGTON - Efforts to stem America's appetite for oil, nearly two-thirds of it imported, are getting new attention in Congress with a push from an unusual coalition of environmentalists, evangelical Christians and conservatives.

The diverse groups are putting pressure on lawmakers to find ways to curtail oil use, especially in transportation, and to promote alternative fuels and new technologies less dependent on fossil fuels.

Environmentalists view reduced oil use as a way to curtail pollution and lower the risk of climate change. A number of conservatives and others argue the dependence on oil imports poses a security threat.

Both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans in Congress are listening.

A bipartisan group of senators unveiled legislation Wednesday they said would save 2.5 million barrels of oil a day within a decade and 10 million barrels a day by 2031. The country now uses a little over 20 million barrels of oil a day, most of for transportation.

"Failure to act, we fear, will make America like a pitiful giant, tied down and subject to the whims of small (oil-producing) countries," said Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., calling U.S. dependence on foreign oil a national security risk.Source

-- by JD

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Urban design makes a huge difference to energy use. Long hauls to get food and to get to work means more overall energy use, and basing urbanism around cars means congestion, waste and more fuel waste.
Typical Walgreen's in the U.S.

New urbanism is one movement in town planning which aims for 'smart growth', although in effect there's nothing new about it. Older suburban and urban developments were laid out around compact, mixed development and people moved around about on foot and mass transit. These areas still exist in much of Europe and more traditional parts of the US.

Walgreen's in a new urban context (U.S.)

In its most extreme form it eliminates cars and minimises energy use. In the future this is likely to be coupled with heavy use of IT, providing information and energy sustainability. New urbanism is happening now to reduce congestion and produce alternative neighbourhoods.

The principles of New Urbanism can be applied increasingly to projects at the full range of scales from a single building to an entire community.

1. Walkability

-Most things within a 10-minute walk of home and work
-Pedestrian friendly street design (buildings close to street; porches, windows & doors; tree-lined streets; on street parking; hidden parking lots; garages in rear lane; narrow, slow speed streets)
-Pedestrian streets free of cars in special cases

2. Connectivity

-Interconnected street grid network disperses traffic & eases walking
-A hierarchy of narrow streets, boulevards, and alleys
-High quality pedestrian network and public realm makes walking pleasurable

3. Mixed-Use & Diversity

-A mix of shops, offices, apartments, and homes on site. Mixed-use within neighborhoods, within blocks, and within buildings
-Diversity of people - of ages, classes, cultures, and races

4. Mixed Housing

A range of types, sizes and prices in closer proximity

5. Quality Architecture & Urban Design

Emphasis on beauty, aesthetics, human comfort, and creating a sense of place; Special placement of civic uses and sites within community. Human scale architecture & beautiful surroundings nourish the human spirit

6. Traditional Neighborhood Structure

-Discernable center and edge
-Public space at center
-Importance of quality public realm; public open space designed as civic art
-Contains a range of uses and densities within 10-minute walk
-Transect planning: Highest densities at town center; progressively less dense towards the edge. The transect is an analytical system that conceptualizes mutually reinforcing elements, creating a series of specific natural habitats and/or urban lifestyle settings. The Transect integrates environmental methodology for habitat assessment with zoning methodology for community design. The professional boundary between the natural and man-made disappears, enabling environmentalists to asses the design of the human habitat and the urbanists to support the viability of nature. This urban-to-rural transect hierarchy has appropriate building and street types for each area along the continuum.

7. Increased Density

-More buildings, residences, shops, and services closer together for ease of walking, to enable a more efficient use of services and resources, and to create a more convenient, enjoyable place to live.
-New Urbanism design principles are applied at the full range of densities from small towns, to large cities

8. Smart Transportation

-A network of high-quality trains connecting cities, towns, and neighborhoods together
-Pedestrian-friendly design that encourages a greater use of bicycles, rollerblades, scooters, and walking as daily transportation

9. Sustainability

-Minimal environmental impact of development and its operations
-Eco-friendly technologies, respect for ecology and value of natural systems
-Energy efficiency
-Less use of finite fuels
-More local production
-More walking, less driving

10. Quality of Life

Taken together these add up to a high quality of life well worth living, and create places that enrich, uplift, and inspire the human spirit.
-- by Wildwell

Monday, November 14, 2005


Rembrandt Koppelaar and the Peak Oil Netherlands Foundation have their new report out:

The central conclusion made from our research is that the production of world liquids (all oil and oil equivalent resources) will approximately peak around 2012. Liquids production is expected to form a "plateau" for approximately 6 years starting around 2010. This peak could arrive earlier if our estimate for world decline rates proves to be too low. It also could arrive later, around 2017, if oil companies succeed in improving the recovery rate of oil due to technological improvements.
-- by JD


The doomers often say: "We can handle P.O. technically. It's the fear and hysteria that's going to cause the collapse." Personally, I think fear is counterproductive, and those who are inciting it will be the #1 enemy of our society in the post-peak period. They will have to be marginalized, ridiculed and shouted down.

This is a great speech by FDR, which shows how leadership reacts to hysteria. It is the model which any future President will look to in leading the U.S. out of a peak oil crisis:
I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the Presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel. This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.Source
-- by JD


This is a fun scenario to goof around with:

Tomorrow, fuel imports to the US come to a complete halt, due to a perfect storm of terrorism, weather, acts of war etc. 60% of the US oil supply (12mbd) is lost, and the US must now survive on only 8mbd -- or else start tapping reserves. Private inventories are 314 million barrels, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is 686.9 million barrels. That's a total of 1000 million barrels, which will be used up in 83.3 days, if drastic measures are not taken.

A state of emergency is declared, and the country is powered down. The number one priority is to get people with frivolous jobs to stop working and consuming energy. The only people allowed to work are those who provide absolute essentials, such as food, water, electricity, fuel, energy equipment, heat, phone, critical transport, police, emergency services etc. The system is totally bare-bones, and no expansion of work permits is allowed.

So some people are still working, as usual. Most people, though, are laid off, and anxious because they don't have a job. The government understands this. They know they can't keep people from working without providing them some form of subsistence. A bold idea is proposed: Social Security, unemployment benefits and welfare will be suspended. Cash payments will no longer be made to beneficiaries. The trust fund will also be temporarily accessed by the government. In return, the government will purchase essential goods and services (staple foods, water, electricity etc.) and provide them to the entire U.S. population. It's crazy and "communist", but this is a crisis, and something has to be done. We simply can't drain the SPR, and at the same time, the people have to be fed. Normalcy will be restored at the soonest possible opportunity, but during the crisis, the TV says: "we would like to ask that you cooperate with the national effort to reduce working".

After a few weeks, an emergency task force is convened. The government realizes it can't keep paying all these bills for food, so they simply expropriate all the food according to existing executive orders. This doesn't mean that they go out and physically seize all the food; they simply declare food to be public property. This way, they can get the food for free, and they in fact, institute a law making food rations free of charge. When you're hungry, you just walk into the grocery store with your ration card and pick up some food, as usual.

Now, you may wonder why the farmers will do the work producing the food, if they don't get paid. Don't they have to make a living? Well, no actually. They're already "making a living" from the universal food/utilities dole. Granted, this may lead some farmers to be lazy, but that problem will be solved by calling for volunteers to do work related to agriculture and food distribution. These volunteers are all being supported by the universal dole, so they don't need a paycheck, and are simply helping because they enjoy the work. It's a nice break from just relaxing all the time, so there's many applicants for every volunteer position. (Remember, frivolous energy-consuming work is frowned on by the system, and working without a permit is a crime. The government is more than happy to round up lots of "work criminals", and put them in prisons where they can be put on the dole and prevented from working.) Farmers who don't want to work for free can thus be phased out in favor of farmers who don't mind working for free. The new farmers would work on the agriculture system much like programmers work on Linux. Food would become an "open-system" available to all for free, and created/maintained by hardworking volunteers.


I think modern people have some real psychiatric "issues" with the work ethic. On the face of it, you'd think that "life without work" would be a reason to celebrate and relax, but people are addicted to work, and "life without work" is a troubling, frightening concept. It's like I noted above: you would probably need brutal laws and criminalization to PREVENT people from working. That's how bad the disease is!!

Here's a related news article:

Philippines to work four days a week to save energy

I think we have to face it, folks. It's all this "working" that is sucking down the energy. I know it's unthinkable, and hard to come to grips with it, but frivolous work is the cause of energy problems, not the solution.

It may seem communist to pay people for not working, but we do it all the time. We pay farmers to leave their land idle.

Instead, why don't we pay people doing frivolous jobs (like tax preparation or sports memorabilia sales etc.) to be idle, and take away the subsidies from farmers so they produce a massive glut of food and cause food prices to drop to ridiculously low levels?

-- by JD

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Doomers say renewable energy is irrelevant to modern society because it is intermittent and unreliable. Modern 3MW wind turbines would be no good because when the wind doesn't blow then the lights go out.

Let me introduce SMES or Superconducting Magnetic Energy Storage. Not only is it 97% efficient but it can instantly discharge large quantities of power.

It stores energy in the magnetic field created by the flow of DC in a coil of superconducting material that has been cryogenically cooled. These systems have been in use for several years to improve industrial power quality and to provide a premium-quality service for individual customers vulnerable to voltage fluctuations. The SMES recharges within minutes and can repeat the charge/discharge sequence thousands of times without any degradation of the magnet. Recharge time can be accelerated to meet specific requirements, depending on system capacity.

... As an energy storage device, SMES is a relatively simple concept. It stores electric energy in the magnetic field generated by DC current flowing through a coiled wire. If the coil were wound using a conventional wire such as copper, the magnetic energy would be dissipated as heat due to the wire's resistance to the flow of current. However, if the wire is superconducting (no resistance), then energy can be stored in a "persistent" mode, virtually indefinitely, until required. Superconductors have zero resistance to DC electrical current at low temperatures so that ohmic heat dissipation is eliminated, hence the refrigerator is needed in the SMES to cool the coil. In AC applications, there are still electrical losses, but these can be minimised through appropriate wire architecture and device design. For both DC and AC applications, energy savings will be significant.

An SMES system includes a superconducting coil, a power conditioning system, a cryogenically cooled refrigerator and a cryostat/vacuum vessel. SMES are highly efficient at storing electricity (greater than 97% efficiency), and provide both real and reactive power. These facilities are used to provide grid stability in a distribution system and power quality at manufacturing plants requiring ultra-clean power, such as microchip fabrication facilities.


Energy is stored directly in a superconducting magnetic energy storage system. It is able to store energy with a loss of only 0.1% per hour (this is required for the cooling system), compared to a loss of about 1% per hour loss for flywheels. It is claimed that SMES is 97-98% efficient and it is much better at providing reactive power on demand. So far, SMES have only operated on a relatively small scale. However, projects have been started with SMES on a much commercially larger scale. This is very beneficial, as the unit cost of SMES facilities will decrease as the size increases.At this point SMES systems are able to store up to about 10 MW. Some research groups have achieved much higher capacities of hundreds of MW, but only for a second. However, some researchers believe SMES can potentially store up to 2000 MW. Theoretically, a coil of around 150-500 m radius would be able to support a load of 5000 MWh, at 1000 MW; depending on the peak field and ratio of the coil's height and diameter.Recent developments have tried to use silicone-based three-phase adjustable speed motor drives (ASDs), which bring down the scale of SMES to fit into lorry trailers. Storing energy in the range of 1-10 MWs, they are aimed at the power quality market.
-- by Wildwell

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Mark Allen writes in with some thoughtful and important comments, so I will respond in detail. Mark writes:
I'm not sure you conservation/doomer types are understanding each other. I just read most of the entries on your front page and it's possible I misunderstood too, but I'd like to summarize what I believe might be the disconnect.

Am I correct that your key point is that supply will shrink gradually, prices will rise gradually, and as this happens people will make gradual lifestyle changes to conserve, due to the economic pressure from increasing prices? And it won't be too big a deal because most of our gasoline use is frivolous and could be cut back if people would take the initiative to do so.
Yes, that's basically it. Although I am not necessarily committed to the idea that prices will rise gradually. They may raise suddenly, but even in that case, huge and immediate savings can be achieved through simple lifestyle adjustments like sleeping at work or piling large numbers of people into commuting vehicles.
I have a theory about where this disconnects with the doomer reasoning. I think they would argue that oil has both frivolous and valuable uses. Frivolous being commuting in an SUV or heating/cooling a large house. Valuable perhaps being manufacturing and distribution of goods, or more modest climate control of a smaller home or just a room.

I think this would be one point for you to discuss with the doomers. Do you believe that valuable worthwhile uses of oil do indeed exist?
Yes, there are critical uses of oil, such as fueling farm equipment and work trucks. But I don't believe there is any essential job where oil cannot be replaced with a viable substitute.
Assuming so, the doomers probably perceive your argument for conservation as being "right now we still have cheap oil, so lets all stop our frivolous usage thus extending the supply of cheap oil so we can maintain these valuable uses as long as possible."
My argument is more like this: Oil is high right now, and it will definitely get higher due to the inability to meet demand. This is a direct consequence of peak oil. Oil must decline, and although substitutes are easily capable of meeting demand for valuable uses, they will not (by a long shot) be able to meet demand for the current level of frivolous use. So it's better to stop your frivolous usage now because you're going to need to save money for your worthwhile uses. Everybody's going to get thrown into the pool anyway, so you might as well get your feet wet. Also, there are many advantages to conserving early. For instance, if you want to move closer to work, it's economically advantageous to do so now before everybody gets the same idea.
That may or may not be what you're saying, but I think that's the argument they're debating against. And the argument against that is easy enough, that when some of us conserve and manage to reduce our demand and keep prices low, all we're accomplishing is allowing others to continue their frivolous use until the supply becomes seriously strained.

So people like me bike to work, and reduce demand, thus allowing prices to stay low. Meanwhile my neighbor looks at the nice low gas prices and says "golly gee, what's all this talk about peak oil and conservation, we're rolling in cheap oil, always will be" and proceeds to buy his daughter an SUV so she can drive it to high school every day.
I read your argument like this: If the goal is to reduce overall consumption of gasoline, then any one person's bicycling will not help. That's true.

But why should I care about overall consumption of gasoline? Why is that an important issue for me? If I start bicycling, and then I look in the newspaper and see that the numbers for gasoline consumption have gone down, have I met my goal? Do I say "Woo-hoo! Nationwide consumption down. Mission accomplished?" No, I don't. If I stop using gasoline, I don't care about the gasoline market anymore, just like reformed alcoholics don't worry about national alcohol consumption. It's irrelevant.

The flaw in your argument is that it assumes the only goal of conservation is to reduce overall consumption of gasoline, and if overall consumption does not go down, the effort has failed. But that is wrong. There are many other reasons for conserving:
1) Saving money
2) Maintaining your standard of living in the face of price increases
3) Respecting the environment
4) Getting into shape
5) Enjoying the benefits of a car-free lifestyle

In my own case, I don't use any gasoline at all. So I don't really care whether total gasoline consumption goes up or down. The price of gasoline might as well be the price of donuts on Mars, for all I care. True, gasoline prices do filter through into the price of goods to some degree, but that effect is very small and it is something I can't change. So I don't worry about it. The point is: Conservation meets many of my personal goals, and therefore it is not a failure, even though total consumption of fuel did not go down.

Or look at it this way: Suppose I'm just an ordinary person, working at Walmart, and commuting 40 miles a day each way. As oil prices rise, so do my commuting costs, and they start pinching my budget. Should I conserve by (for example) moving closer to work or riding a scooter? Well, according to your argument, I shouldn't because my conservation is not going to reduce overall consumption. In fact, I should just keep commuting in the same old wasteful way because, if I don't, my neighbor will use the fuel I'm conserving. But clearly there is a price point where this logic breaks down. I have to save myself from bankruptcy and preserve my standard of living, and it really doesn't matter what my neighbor and everybody else are doing with gasoline. That's their problem, not mine, and it always was.

One thing is for sure. Peak oil is coming, and the best thing you can do to prepare for it is to reduce your exposure to oil prices. Your argument purports to show that you should stand in the middle of a street where you know a truck is bearing down. It's bogus on the face of it. If a truck is bearing down, you should get out of the way.
So I think the doomer argument is that the frivolous users will keep demand charging full steam ahead until prices rise dramatically, and at that point we're stuck not only cutting off the frivolous uses, but we're also stuck paying prohibitively expensive prices for the oil that goes toward the valuable uses.

Anyway I don't think everyone in the "we need oil" crowd is saying "we need cars and SUV's". And I think it would be helpful if you clarified your own argument. Are you saying that conservation today while we still have cheap oil is valuable, or just that conservation will be valuable and useful in the future after oil prices rise significantly? It's that first argument that's a harder sell, given things like my neighbor-SUV example.
I think the main problem with your take on the situation is where you say "we still have cheap oil". Oil (and natural gas) are not cheap, and they aren't going to get any cheaper.

But I think your larger point is a good one: the rich may consume so much oil for frivolous uses, that people begin to suffer due to a lack of oil for valuable purposes. In fact, I would argue that that is already happening; waste in first world countries (particularly the U.S.) is already causing hardship in poorer nations. This, however, is a political problem, not a technical problem, and it will have to be addressed by political means. I think democracy is the best guarantee we have against a Marie Antoinette situation, where the poor are starving due to lack of fuel, while the rich are wasting fuel, farting around in their yachts. Such a situation cannot last long if the poor have a vote. It is also instructive to note that the U.S. imports much of its oil from poorer countries, like Venezuela, which may at some point halt exports because they don't like the idea of Americans wasting their oil while their own people suffer.

Finally, I would like to point out an irony which is becoming increasingly obvious: Conservation is the foundation of the optimistic view of peak oil, not the pessimistic view of peak oil (as you might first expect). True doomers don't like the idea of conservation because it might save "the system", or prolong the agony of die-off. This (I believe) is where much of the doomer negativity about conservation (and the "futility" arguments like the one you proposed) come from.
--by JD

Friday, November 11, 2005


As we saw earlier in The Doom Chronicles, we can learn a lot about peak oil doom by sampling the candid comments of its practitioners over at (Isn't it great that we're "getting the word out" on peak oil? These folks got "the word").

Here's the latest from Matt Savinar:
That's the plan: kill Arabs, take their oil.*
Note that Matt will not lift a finger to oppose this plan. After all, how can you oppose what you regard as inevitable? That would be futile.

Ayoob wants to be a brownshirt when he grows up. He has fantasies of being a guard at the post-peak American Abu Ghraib:
I've given this line of reasoning a lot of thought over the last year or two and have come to a conclusion for myself. I'm going to join the new Nazi party, whatever it is, polish up my jackboots, and kick some ass.

We're going to enter a time of competition for scarce, life-supporting resources. I believe the day will go to the vicious and the terrible. So be it. I've had enough of pretending I want my fellow man to thrive. I want my fellow man to be herded like the sheep he is, while I circle the fences and do as I please.

The bottom line is we need to end social entitlements so the old die earlier, add tons of victimless crimes to the list so we can get anybody we don't like put in jail (and working for 12 cents an hour), and generally dumb down the population with more religious inculcation.

The good news is I'm going to get involved with politics and pander to the religious right by taking a hard stance against abortion and gay rights, ramp up the drug war and any other pleasure I can whip the ignorant into a frenzy over, and do my best to imprison as many people as possible.

I believe people will trade security for freedom at this time. Let's get busy and lock 'em up! They will consume fewer resources that way.

I think that's pretty much all it will take to become powerful. Simply be a traitor to every good thing in the world. Jay Hanson has it right, kind of. He thinks money is going to take the day, and I think viciousness will.

I wonder when he'll run out of money.*
MonteQuest wants to legalize murder:
JD: Well then, why don't you answer a simple question: Should we kill the weak and infirm, like nature does? Yes or no. And if not, why?

Montequest: Through Euthanasia and assisted suicide, yes.

Should we keep alive crack babies on a respirator? No.

Should we perform heart transplants on people who will only live a few years, no.

Where do we draw the line? I don't know. But our bad decisons in the past will force us to make those triage decisions.

Remember, it was your use of the word, "kill", not mine.

JD: Monte, if you unplugged a crack baby on a respirator, you would be arrested and charged with murder in every state of the union. You should know that as a former Federal law enforcement officer. You are advocating murder, as it is defined in the statute books.

Montequest: So, we let the population swell until there is a die-off? Who's the murder then? You can't have unchecked population growth. Sooner or later someone has to die.

Assisted life support in cases like this need to be removed and the laws changed to permit it.**
Ibon is a proponent of "compassionate fascism":
Anyway, if we can hypothetically imagine an enlightened global community of governments legislating population control today I would personally not see it as an afront to my personal freedom or those of my offspring if we limited the number of children we can have, mandate the use of contraceptives and or abortion or sterilization to guarantee it. Those already here should be allowed the highest quality of life permitted within a sustainable paradigm. With the help of natural cycles of disease etc. we could achieve a sustainable population on this planet within a couple of generations. Does this make me an eco-fascist? If we cant do it voluntarily than obviously our collective human culture will either die off from natural events or we will create a human control mechanism that will impose itself as an authority. This may lead us down the road toward fascism. Maybe it will be called compassionate fascism? Sounds like one could make a political campaign out of that! Why not, let's have a little fascism to set us straight.***

-- by JD

Thursday, November 10, 2005


A major argument of Peak Oil doom is that growth is unsustainable. They argue that economic growth has to stop, and that this will bring down Western society. They argue that population growth must be halted, and the best way for this to happen is with a massive dieoff.

Now, I agree with them that humanity as a whole cannot grow at our current rate forever, at least as long as we are confined to the Earth. Most of our problems do come from the fact that more and more people want more and more wealth. This lecture by a guy called Al Bartlett explains the problem quite nicely. ("The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function").

The thing is that growth isn't a problem as such. The real issue is relative growth. In other words, if you have limited space and resources you can only sustain growth in certain aspects as long as you shrink others. So while economy, population and per-capita natural impact cannot grow simultaneously forever on a planet of finite size, as long as one of them is decreasing while the others are increasing you can continue to improve human standards of living indefinitely without the need for a "collapse" of any kind.

In the past, there have been two main phases in human growth:

  1. Economy, population and per-capita natural impact grow slowly and continuously over thousands of years. There are no real limits to growth because the world has more than enough space and resources for the small number of humans.
  2. In the 20th century, economy population and per-capita natural impact grow very quickly. For the first time, we run up against the limitations of our planet.

Over the coming years, humanity will experience three new phases of growth as we transition back to an environment where unlimited growth is possible again, ie space.

  1. Economic and population growth continues while per-capita natural impact shrinks. In the 1st half of the 21st century, resource limitations and environmental decline cause innovation and economic activity to focus on new energy sources and more efficient resource use, instead of larger cars and houses. Living standards rise thanks to new developments like nanotechnology and synthetic food production.
  2. Economic growth and per-capita natural impact increase while population shrinks. Decreasing birthrates cause population to fall over the second half of the 21st century, allowing other measures of growth to rise while human impact on the Earth remains the same.
  3. Unlimited growth in all three factors returns as human beings move into space. The continually-expanding boundaries of space mean that there will be no more limits to growth until we fill up the entire solar system. Meanwhile on Earth, all three factors can continue growing to some extent because global population is now so much lower.

None of this guarantees that various kinds of collapses will not happen, but it demonstrates that humans can continue to increase standards of living and economic success without requiring any kind of catastrophe.

This graph shows the falling birth rate around the world, dipping under replacement levels by 2040 (or a few years earlier if we enter "plague mode"). Note that birth rates peaked in the 1970s, around the same time as global oil discoveries (click the image to enlarge):

--by Roland

Note from JD: Total fertility rate (TFR) is the average number of children each woman will have in her lifetime. World-wide TFR has been dropping like a rock since the 1970s. 61 countries now have a TFR of 2.1 or less (replacement fertility) Source. The curve for TFR (see below) looks like a Deffeyes linearization of oil production. If you showed it to a peak oiler (and told him it was a curve for oil), he'd swear up and down that variable was going to peak soon. And, in fact, it's perfectly possible that world population will peak at around 7.5 billion in 2040.