free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 308. REVIEW OF "POWERDOWN" BY RICHARD HEINBERG

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

308. REVIEW OF "POWERDOWN" BY RICHARD HEINBERG

So, would anyone care to describe the so-called "powerdown" option in enough detail that one could get a sense for what's proposed? I've asked the 'downers on the PO site, but they all just point me to the bible of the 'downer movement, Richard Heinberg's book Powerdown. I've now read it, and I still don't get it. Not only did I not learn anything new about the PO problem, I still couldn't tell you what the powerdown option actually means.

In the introduction, Heinberg sets up the problem, trotting out the familiar four horsemen of PO apocalypse: overpopulation, resource depletion, environmental destruction, and the current political and economic system. His description of industrial society as a rickety raft in imminent danger of sinking is amusing. "Miraculously, seconds go by and it is still afloat,", he says, followed by "A minute goes by and still the damned thing is afloat.", and finally "...every one of your predictions about the fate of the raft has been disconfirmed...there must be some mystical power keeping the raft afloat..." One gets the impression of a man who hates the technological society that spawned and sustains him, and is frustrated by the fact that reality refuses to confirm his belief that it should end in calamity.

Chapter one does a decent job of laying out the magnitude of the energy problem we now face in keeping the raft of civilization from sinking, but rushes over important energy alternatives inconvenient to his thesis. Perhaps these are discussed at greater length in his prior book. Of coal, he says "If we rely on coal to make up shortfalls from other fossil fuels, extraction rates will peak within decades." Decades of coal-derived energy sound to me like decades in which to develop non-fossil energy alternatives, hardly an imminent collapse of society. "Nuclear power is dogged by the unsolved problem of radioactive waste disposal, as well as fears..." So, what, we're going to throw in the towel on civilization because we can't overcome interminable legal hurdles to proper waste disposal and fear-mongering from anti-nuclear advocacy groups? "...the necessary uranium would run out within just a few decades." Ignoring breeder reactors, a technology we've already developed, as well as resources that would become economic at higher uranium prices. France gets 75% of her electricty from nuclear reactors, a pretty good existence proof that the problems dogging nukes aren't technical in nature.

Chapter two, "Last One Standing", is largely a 30-page paranoic rant about the administration of George W. Bush, complete with unsupported allusions to 9/11 conspiracy theories. The point of this bilious assessment of recent events is that US leaders are plotting to fight wars over the remaining oil resources. But wars are incredibly wasteful of resources, especially energy, and certainly won't make more oil resources available. And an all-out war over oil resources with China would like lead to a nuclear exchange that would spell the end of both countries, a fact that surely wouldn't escape even the most dimwitted of current world leaders. In the last chapter Heinberg writes "Even the nation that wins the game will be utterly devastated...and not even the wealthy will be able to maintain their current way of life...Why would anyone choose this path?". Couldn't have said it better myself. A far more likely explanation of events in the middle east is that the US is seeking to ensure an orderly market in the world's dwindling oil resources by instilling fear of US military action in the hearts of the despots that now control those resources, and might be inclined to use the "oil weapon" at this critical time in history. Or there is Paul Robert's contention, in his book The End of Oil, that the US is trying to open up Iraq to exploration and production by western oil companies, all of whom have run out of ways to replace their reserves. Like most people in the US, I'm looking forward to the end of GWB's presidency in 2008, but to suggest that we're looking at the opening salvo in a shooting war for oil is a stretch.

Chapter three was as noted the biggest disappointment to me. It was here that I expected to see the cooperative, powerdown option laid out before me. Yet the reader gets no more than disjointed glimpses. Heinberg describes the Kyoto protocol on climate-change and reprints the Uppsla protocol for managing down oil consumption advocated by the ASPO. He lists the 7 recommendations from the Club of Rome's Limits to Growth (LTG), most of which are completely reasonable and none of which require that industrial civilization end. He briefly rails against the evils of the debt-based fiat money system without explaining the terms, and asserts as self-evident that the system has lead to the problems of population growth and oil depletion. He appears to gravely misunderstand the fundamentals of economics and money when he suggests that all the ills of the system could be cured by having countries issue their own debt-free money. While he argues that economic growth is inconsistent with limitations on resource usage, the data he provided in chapter one refutes this because since the 1970s the world experienced smaller but positive economic grown even in the face of declining per-capita energy use. He takes some shots at globalization without defining what he really means by "re-localization". Finally, he give both Cuba and the Indian province of Kerala as instructive with regard to the likely shape of a powerdown, but admits that neither of these will match what will be faced by modern industrial nations. Readers are left to imagine a powered-down version of their country as either utopian or apocalyptic. Are major metropolitan areas of the US decaying ruins long abandoned by people who've gone back to an agrarian lifestyle? Or dense hives of humanity packed with former suburbanites who've moved closer to work and/or have fled from reclaimation of their land for agriculture? Heinberg doesn't say. Does the powered-down civilization still have high-tech healthcare? Electricity and running water? Modern sanitation? Or has it reverted to a pre-industrial level of technology that will never advance further? Re-localization doubtless means US citizens can no longer obtain mass-produced shoes from China, but are they then buying mass-produced American shoes, or hand-made shoes from the village cobbler? (The assertion that re-localization will be required isn't supported with any numbers. Long-distance transport of goods by ship is incredibly efficient. As oil resources dwindle, one might expect lower-value goods to become too costly to ship, but high-value goods might nevertheless still be more efficiently manufactured in centralized locations and transported around the world. Oil itself is of quite low value in relation to its mass, worth about 25 cents a pound - as long as any world market exists for oil, I would expect a market for higher-value goods to continue to exist as well.) Worst of all is that Heinberg doesn't tackle the population problem that he believes is at the heart of the sustainability problem. In the last chapter he says "By any reasonable assessment, the Earth has already exceeded its carrying capacity for humans...the drawdown of fossil fuels temporarily enabled us to...create phantom carrying capacity." Exactly how far does the population have to drop to provide the liebensraum needed by the survivors? Although Heinberg criticizes environmental organizations for timidity on this subject, he, too, avoids giving a number or timetable. (PO 'downers cite other sources that put the figure at 2 billion souls - reaching that target from the current 6.5 billion within this century is the stuff of sci-fi nightmares.)

Chapter four, "Waiting for the Magic Elixr", invites the reader to skip it, as it's clear what the author thinks of alternatives to oil just from the subtitle, "False Hopes, Wishful Thinking, and Denial". Indeed, a common 'downer response to initiating any discussion of energy alternatives is the assertion that the proposer is "in denial". Apparently they haven't read past the title, for the chapter is interesting both for what it discusses and what it does not. What it does not discuss at any length are two obvious near-term sources of energy to replace oil, coal and nuclear power. Instead, these are both buried in a short discussion of hydrogen, well-known by most PO-aware people as an energy carrier but not a resource. Of these important energy sources, Heinberg simply asserts that by using them to produce hydrogen they cannot meet America's transportation needs, and that both sources produce wastes (which, I suppose, Heinberg thinks are worse than the consequences of powerdown). He gives plenty of space to methane hydrates, a highly speculative possible source of vast amounts of fossil energy. He even mentions unnamed (and thermodynamically impossible) sources of "free energy". The overall effect is to give the reader the feeling that all of the alternatives must be equally untenable. Heinberg barely discusses renewable energy sources, since the chapter on powerdown appears to count them as part of the solution. That's good, because wind turbines are, like coal and nuclear power, an obvious next step after oil. He mentions efficiency improvements as a strategy likely to be at least partially effective, again, apparently included in the powerdown option. Heinberg has in effect classified energy sources and efficiency measures he likes as part of the powerdown solution, while ones he does not like as magic elixrs. Finally, several pages of this chapter are devoted to the strawman that even with an unlimited energy source, humans would ultimately have to curb growth because of Leibig's Law of the Minimum, the idea that the resource in shortest supply will limit growth in a species' population. Heinberg invites people to confuse economic growth with population growth and increasing resource consumption, yet as Heinberg himself notes elsewhere most of the population pressure is coming from under-developed nations. Most industrialized nations, including the US, would have below-replacement population growth were it not for immigration. If an unlimited energy source were to become available and were used to lift under-developed nations to US levels, experience to date suggests that the population would rapidly level off. Still Heinberg persists, asserting that once the hypothetical new energy source was saturated, a turn towards resource wars would be inevitable anyway, and thus even a successful switch to alternative energy ends up following the resource-war trajectory. How fortunate for those of us reading this today that this same line of reasoning wasn't used when wood, whale oil, and coal appeared to proscribe the limits of human achievement. There is no question in my mind that there is an urgent need to curb human population growth, so as to keep the demands on energy alternatives as low as possible. But Heinberg simply hasn't proven that the current population level cannot be sustained over centuries with sufficient sources of energy, in other words, a combination of both powerdown ideas and ideas that Heinberg would doubtless consider "magic elixirs".

Chapter five, "Building Lifeboats", is a green light for people looking for an excuse to become the new survivalists. I won't rehash it here, since it's not terribly detailed. (The sidebar on people attempting to relearn stone-age technologies provides dark amusement.) About the only thing I found illuminating in this chapter was the description of the Amish, which perhaps hints at the lifestyle Heinberg would have us adopt. And yet, Heinberg notes that Amish families typically have large numbers of children, something that has historically been common to agrarian societies. He does his best to square this with the urgency of population reduction, but I found it unconvincing. I found encouraging the statistic that the yields of sustainable Amish farming practices are 50-75% of mechanized agriculture, which gives me hope that a turn away from current practices (one of the LTG recommendations I agree with) won't necessarily spell starvation for us (because, at least in the US, we produce far more food calories than we actually need to have excellent nutrition). Heinberg doesn't explain how the lifeboat communities are going to avoid destruction by rampaging hordes of well-armed, starving, ex-urban thugs in a "Mad-Max" world. If anything, human history suggests that eventually feudalism would return.

The last chapter casts the current situation as a struggle between the Elites, who've opted for resource wars, and the Movement, an alliance of environmental, anti-war, anti-globalization, and human rights organizations. The chapter is a call to action, to push the elites towards the powerdown option while building lifeboats as "plan B". Although generally sympathetic to their aims, his biggest criticism of members of the movement is their lack of frankness on population issues. (I'm also generally sympathetic to environmental causes - my biggest criticism is that they've successfully and unthinkingly blocked nuclear power in the US, leaving us dependent on fossil resources decades past the point where we should have weaned ourselves from them.) It is here that he attempts to explain the apparently irrational behavior of the elites as having been selected for by the capitalist political system. Indeed, it's hard to argue that our present system has not yielded a great number of political leaders unable to look beyond the next election cycle, and business leaders unwilling to look past the next quarter's results. Still, it's a huge leap to assert that they've lost the capacity for long-term planning, at least in their personal lives. Most of these leaders are healthy people in their 40s, 50s, and early 60s, who will live to see the consequences of their strategies played out during the early part of this century. Almost all have children and grandchildren whose futures they would certainly care about. The obvious infeasibility of resource wars will rule them out as a deliberate choice even of the elites. It is more likely that they honestly think the raft not as shaky as Heinberg believes, and that real solutions to our problems that preserve industrial civilization await only the will to execute them. I hope they're right, because it won't be much fun to break the raft up into a few strong logs, and allow everyone that can't fit onto them to drown.
-- by Doctor Doom

68 Comments:

At Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 8:45:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

Another articulate and well executed piece of work.

Now cue the cries of 'heretic heretic!' by all the freaks who just had one of their false idols discredited.

 
At Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 8:55:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

Nuclear is my litmus test for credibility. As soon as someone mentions a shortage of fissionable material, I laugh and tune them out. Thus, I didn't make it very far into Heinberg's book until I tore it up and had it recycled.

Finally, I feel compelled to ask the following question again and again: why does anyone take this guy seriously? Heinberg is a nutty dilettente passing himself off as an academic with the following dubious credentials: "journalist, educator, editor, lecturer, and musician." Since when is that enough to be considered an expert on energy alternatives and policy?

Powerdown: Welcome to the new New Age Movement.

 
At Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 9:54:00 PM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

Doctor Doom,

If you really thought LATOC, Heinberg, etc. are so removed from reality, why do you spend so much time on them? Surely, if you thought they were as off base as you claim you do you would dismiss them as the enviro version of the "rapture ready" crowd.

I think deep down you know they are correct. The truth is what was responsible for the volatile reaction you had to LATOC and now Heinberg.

HA

 
At Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 10:37:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

Wow, flawed logic AND psychotherapy in just one post! Way to go, HA.

I suppose the same, mindless criticsm can be leveled right back at ya', Bub: what are YOU doing spending your time here? Keeping the doomer faith? Why waste your time? Isn't it at a premium given the looming armageddon? Shouldn't you be tending to the chickens or dropping deuce on your garden? Chop, chop man! The big die off will getcha' if you don't start planning now!

Sheesh. Everyone is entitled to their opninions. Instead of writing another mindless, knee-jerk doomer dismissal, how about you actually posit an argument to discuss? Is that too much to ask?

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 2:44:00 AM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

no shit. Since you apparently forgot you were sitting around in the last thread rambling on about your sweaty dick and ass and how worthless this site is and so on, HA. and yet here you are again, hanging around.

allegory for all of you doomer freaks. you have no faith in the future but you wont just kill yourselves and end it all because youre secretly clinging to the hopes that your own apocalyptic jack off fantasies will turn out to be the bullshit that they really are.

pot, kettle, pwned.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 3:12:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

YAY!!! HA is back again. Perhaps I can get you to answer my question from the last thread here cos it seems you avoided answering it. Ill repost here in the hope that you will bother to answer this time.
In response to this quote....

Do governments know about this. Of course. Dick Cheney can do math you know. $200 per barrel times the 100 billion barrels in Iraq equals a whole lot of money for Halliburton and a tidy little retirement for him. (He's invested in Halliburton stock options.)

Q: Why are they (halliburton/Cheney/US govt/business bothering to make a ton of money if collapse and die off is inevitable? It doesnt make sense. They will die with the rest of us and their money will be worthless. Why bother?? Civilisation will end remember. Armageddon. Mass die off. All the money they make will be worthless wont it? Inside 25 - 50 days according to LATOC. Why are they bothering? Dick Cheney wont be able to retire because he will die with the rest of us. No exceptions remember??? You cant get past this im afraid. Its either armagedon or its not. Why hoard money if there is going to be a massive depression? It will be worthless. If there is no way out why do anything? Their prosperity requires civilisation to continue. Period. Those in power desire nothing more than to keep power. And that requires a civilisation through which to exercise that power. Doesnt it?


Answer please.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 3:14:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

Sorry to repeat this point but i feel that it is the linch pin of the doom argument and need to be examined.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 8:45:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

"Sorry to repeat this point but i feel that it is the linch pin of the doom argument and need to be examined."

Setite: Come hell or high water it is prudent to collect any and all wealth you can get your grubby hands on for as long as you are able. Whether you think the civilisation will end or not.

Here's a tip: Substitute the word 'wealth' for 'money' in your post and this will become obvious I should think.

Furthermore, it's disingenious to say all doom scenarios require the destruction of everything and everyone. They don't. For example, my doom scenario has 10-20% of the world population living in general opulence throughout this century. The other 80-90% will end up living in primitive squalor, poverty, and violence. In such a scenario there is plenty of opportunity for wealthy people to prosper.

This explains clearly why even a hard-core doomer should still do his best to obtain wealth, doesn't it? Your welcome.

Sendak: Dr. Dooms post does not 'discredit Heinberg' as you feel the need to jump the gun in asserting.

Dr. Doom merely complains about perceived ommisions and gaps in Heinberg's train of thought. Such complaints do not discredit. To the contrary, they invite an author to fill in those gaps and ommisions percieved by an attentive reader and student wanting to know more.

dc: Heinberg is, as his credentials make clear without ado, no specialist in all of the myriad fields of research and enterprise that bear on the issue of PO. However, if this were a requirement for someone writing on the issue then noone should write about it at all.


Dr. Dooms concerns about Heinbergs book are respectable, but too demanding IMHO for such a short book. For example: asking whether it will pay to huddle in the cities or return to the land will probably depend upon a whole load of (local)factors, requiring extensive argumentation. I suspect that Heinberg chose to leave this involved discussion open for no other reason than to keep momentum in his story. As concerning the other points dr. doom raises.

Dr. Doom, if you send this post of yours to Heinberg, maybe he will adress it in his next book?

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 9:28:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

One more thing about the agony of foresight, which is related to dr. Doom's concern about Heinberg so-called shagrin at civilisation not toppling yet:

The financial markets -specifically futures trading - can theoretically shift the real effects of PO arbitrarily far into the future. How far depends only on market confidence. Consider this:

I have 10000 pieces of gold. Every day I lend you a piece, expecting you to return it at some later date, with interest. I lend it to you because I see that you have a business and I expect you will be able to pay me back.

However, after 30 years I find out that you infact ran your business into the ground after 5 years and cannot pay me back. So over 30 years I have lent you all my gold and thought I was rich with the interest on it all the time. You were also rich, spending my gold. We both felt rich, although we both ended up destitute.

If someone had told me sooner that your business was dead in the water, then I could still have spent more than 20 years lending you money and still thinking I was rich, if you were clever enough to hide the truth from me. In fact, I could have spent those 20 years also making a fool out the person who warned me your business was dead. All because of futures trading and misplaced confidence. Even though the informant was right that I was in trouble, I spent another 20 odd years believing nothing was wrong.

In this simple example the person with the gold loosely represents the countries with massive oil reserves. The person with the failed business is the US. The ridiculed informant is Heinberg. See my point?

Heinberg's expectation that civilisation should have ended by now was proven wrong not because of grossly false analysis on his part, but probably because of unexpected, irrational developments in the financial markets.

The day that the financial markets lose their confidence in the ability of the US to repay it's debt will be the day that Heinberg and others are vindicated.

I hope it comes sooner rather than later, so we can get a bearing on where we are at, instead of betting on future revenue and spending it today, creating a false illusion of plenty despite clear warnings concerning oil, global imbalances, environmental stress, and the strain of these on the economic outlook going forward.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 9:34:00 AM PDT, Blogger Artie said...

Dr. Doom wrote: "The point of this bilious assessment of recent events is that US leaders are plotting to fight wars over the remaining oil resources....A far more likely explanation of events in the middle east is that the US is seeking to ensure an orderly market in the world's dwindling oil resources by instilling fear of US military action in the hearts of the despots that now control those resources, and might be inclined to use the 'oil weapon' at this critical time in history."

Bilious assessment, eh? Not much of a distinction between your bile and Heinberg's. Is this the same Dr. Doom that posted "Confessions of an ex-Doomer" to the Google group? What happened to the even-handed approach of that nice essay? Do you see one scintilla of evidence that US foreign policies are fostering "orderly markets?" I don't.

Call our little permanent outpost in Iraq whatever you want. It appears to me, and others, that US leaders are quite prepared to fight wars over the remaining oil reserves if their pathetic attmpts at "orderly markets" don't pant out.

Consider this quote from Dick Cheney: "We're there (Iraq) because the fact of the matter is that part of the world controls the world supply of oil, and whoever controls the supply of oil, especially if it were a man like Saddam Hussein, with a large army and sophisticated weapons, would have a stranglehold on the American economy and on — indeed on the world economy."

Sure, Heinberg has his own agenda. When you articulate one of your own, we'll do a comparison.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 12:22:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

"...However, after 30 years I find out that you infact ran your business into the ground after 5 years and cannot pay me back..."

If it takes you 30 years to figure out that I went insolvent in 5 years then you deserve to lose your shirt. Thank heavens for the free market! Seriously, posts like yours make me want to get on my knees and kiss its proverbial feet. Why? Because it means idiots such as yourself, with NO understanding whatsoever of economic theory or financial analysis, can't control what I do with my money.

There are a ton of brilliant people out there looking to turn a buck. That's the beauty of the free market: its a decentralized newtork that inadvertently dissemenates information in the quickest possible fashion. Its why your argument holds no water. Its why you, Heinberg and your ilk are ridiculed and summarily dismissed. Its fine by me if you don't want to put the time in to understand exchange markets, econ, etc., but please refrain from prosyletizing on the basis of your misinformed opinions. I would ask Heinberg to do the same, but I don't think anything can keep him from playing wannabe-academic.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 12:26:00 PM PDT, Blogger Patrick said...

Interesting article. I haven't read that particular book, but does seem to fit the general pattern of peak oilers, such as JHKunstler's "The Long Emergency."

While not a peak oiler myself, I do worry about the possibility. Not so much from a production point of view, but simply looking at consumption.

The BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2006 just came out and I was playing around with the numbers. According to the report, roughly 900 billion barrels of oil has been consumed from 1965-2005--so 40 years 900 billion barrels. Next, this report shows that consumption in nearly every country has increased significantly from 1965 to 2005--the US increased about 170%, and places like South Korea increased consumption by 9221%!

So even if consumption never increases beyond the 2005 numbers, it appears that the world will use another 900 billion barrels in less than 30 years--so 30 years 900 billion barrels, instead of 40 years.

Now, based on just this--the consumption numbers, don't you think there should be some worry about the possibility of a peak oil situation, esp since it looks like the 2 trillion barrels of oil(which nearly everyone says is the total amount of global oil) will be used up by 2035(or even sooner).
1965-2005 900 billion
2005-2035 900 billion
1.8 trillion barrels consumed
BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2006

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 12:36:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

"Heinberg is, as his credentials make clear without ado, no specialist in all of the myriad fields of research and enterprise that bear on the issue of PO. However, if this were a requirement for someone writing on the issue then noone should write about it at all."

Hey, the man is free to write/say whatever he wants, but your missing my point: he warrants no credence. Why should I take his word over the consensus of geologists? Or how about economists? Or nuclear scientists? I shouldn't. And the proof is in his writings: he's clueless. But he's considered a member of the merry, inbred band of "so-called" experts cited in doomer circles. Fine. I'll let it slide if I can have Dave Chapelle considered an expert on Nuclear Energy. Red Rocks!!

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 1:22:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

For example, my doom scenario has 10-20% of the world population living in general opulence throughout this century. The other 80-90% will end up living in primitive squalor, poverty, and violence.

So the world pretty much stays as is then???
Just for fun, where did you get this scenario from? How did you come to these conclusions? Where do you get this idea of a stable/profiting 20% from? If there is TOTAL economic and political collapse then EVERYONE suffers. If not then there is partial collapse. Which isnt even in the same ballpark.



Furthermore, it's disingenious to say all doom scenarios require the destruction of everything and everyone. They don't.

Hmm. LATOC and Dieooff.org speak of such things. LATOC then goes on to say there is nothing we can do about it. Then proceeds to sell you a book about it. And a solar oven and electricity efficiency devices (in a world where efficiency makes everything worse remember)These are the core sites of the doom movement.
As for your "scenario", where do you get this idea of a stable/profiting 20% from? If there is total economic and political collapse then EVERYONE suffers.
Finally, i dont need to substitute wealth (what exactly do you mean by wealth anyway???) for money because if Cheney is investing in oil stocks that is what he is trying to make. Money. Which will become worthless when the apocalypse hits.
You too are most welcome.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 1:29:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

More interestingly Jev, what are you doing to help the situation. I have converted my car to autogas, cycle all my short journeys, have energy saving lightbulbs in the house and solar water heating (immersion tanks use a ton of electricity. What have you done?

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 2:06:00 PM PDT, Blogger Sumyung Guy said...

Interesting article JD.

So is it just me, or have you attracted a small bunch of doomers who regularly hit your webpage in order to defend the Peak Oil Doom faith?

Like you, I was someone who stumbled upon the Peak Oil arguments and got worried after an initial reading. Then I started looking for evidence that debunked the Doom scenarios. Being a guy who's pro-environment and pro-technology I started looking to see if there were technological solutions out there. All it's taken has been a couple of years of high gas prices in the US to see new technology come out of the wood-work.

Of course, I'm less worried these days about if we're going to hit peak oil or not as I am about global warming. I don't truthfully think we can afford to burn all the oil we actually have left (at least in the fashion we've been doing so). But let's even leave that argument aside, as there may be many who don't agree with the increasingly greater scientific consensus over global warming. Let me quote what someone else has said:

"Reduction of man contributed global warming is the least of our reasons to move away from fossil fuels.

The larger reason is that we are bank-rolling anti-american ideologies with 40% of our trade deficit that could easily be spent in our own back-yard instead."

Indeed, if nothing else, energy security is national security.

Now, as far as the "long emergency" is concerned? Looking at the fact that the US accounts for aproximately 25% of global oil consumption, and the fact that approximately 60% of the oil used in this country goes for gasoline, improvements in gasoline efficiency would go a long way to helping stretch oil supplies and perhaps more importantly cutting back on the amount of money that eventually finds it's way into the hands of terrorists.

So, what brilliant automotive technological innovation, one that can be incorperated into the current fleet immediately, do I suggest? Simple. Car pooling.

Take three guys at work, Joe, Jack and Kevin. Say each of these guys have big 'ol trucks or SUVs that on a good day get 15 MPG. Now, lets say that these three guys decide to start car pooling to work because paying $100 per week on gas is really starting to hurt. Now the effective MPG of that SUV has jumped from 15 to 45, because we've tripled the number of passangers it's hauling the 20 miles or so these guys commute. It means a little less convience for these 3 guys, but it seriously impacts the amount of gas they consume per year since probably at least half of their miles per year are spent on their daily commute and most of that commute is spent jammed up idleing in traffic jams --- not the most efficient speed to be running an SUV. And if a lot of Joes, Jacks and Kevins started car pooling their commutes, commute times might actually get shorter since there wouldn't be so much bloody traffic.

Before you tell me that it's not likely that Some Three Guys are gonna get together and do this, I personally know a Jack and Kevin where I work that I could car-pool with. Why don't we do it now? One, we live closer than 20 miles from where we work and two, we don't actually drive huge-ass SUVs. I drive a 4 door car with plenty of room for the baby seat in back that still gets by on less than $30 of gas per week. But trust me, before civilization ends due to Peak Oil, you can bet that me, Jack and Kevin would be car pooling in our semi-economy cars.

That's just one example of easy ways that serious improvements in energy efficiency could be achieved without folks having to return to a Stone Age existance. Another example I've already mentioned is living a little closer to where you work. One way I'm seeing that happen now is the "gentrification" of the downtown in my city. There are folks buying condo's downtown and new projects going up, so that they can literally live within walking distance of where they work. So maybe instead of living in a suburb of (insert your favorite huge metropolitan axis here), you might move a little closer to where you work or you might live in a smaller city, like I do, where you don't have to commute through hellish traffic.

Then there's the fact that energy efficient 4 door diesel sedans exist, right now, that get 52 MPG. And before you rightly point out "what about diesel particulates?", these come equipped with diesel particulate filter systems that cut the emmision of particulates by a factor of 10,000.

Lets not even look at the fact that in 2005 there were more bicycles sold in the US than cars. Yeah, there are guys that decided to commute to work on 10-and-12 speeds. And that's after just one year of really painful prices.

Significant changes in energy demand can't occur rapidly? Then why is it that after just one year of (what I consider) really high gas prices, energy demand in the US went flat while the economy grew at 3.5%? Why is it that US demand for gasoline actually dropped in 2005? Is it possible that the demand curve can actually respond to high prices? But isn't Jevron's paradox going to suddenly mind-control me into driving more? Frak no, not with gas at $2.74 still at the local pump it's not!

Yes, the sarcasm (directed at the chorus of Peak Oil Cassandras chanting "DOOM! DOOM!" in the background) has increased. Only point I'm trying to make is that there are things that everyday folks can do right now that would have a definite favorable impact.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 5:53:00 PM PDT, Blogger GreenNeck said...

This is my first post here (I've been lurking for some time) and here is what I believe:

1. Peak Oil is real. It is a finite resource after all. You cannot 'debunk' that.
2. It will not be doomsday. it will be too slow a process. We may take a big economic hit, but our civilization will carry on.
3. 'Powerdown' doesn't have to be a bad thing. It may be a good thing from a personal point of view.

When I 'found out' about PO a few years back I initially reacted like many others here: surprise, a bit of depression, then denial, etc. Eventually it provided the kick-in-the-backside I needed to make a change in my life.

I believe in hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. At the time I was working like a dog to maintain the big house-2 car-2 kids in college lifestyle.

Well, it all changed. We sold the house, moved to the country (we call it here in Ontario, Canada 'cottage country') and started to grow organic food, use wood for heat, raise chickens, and install a windmill for power. A perfect PO-doomer dream!

You know what? I found out we could live on less than 1,000$ a month. And still enjoy 21st century amenities like Internet, satellite TV and cell phones. Who needs to go back to Stone Age? We both could quit working for others. The farm/home chores take about 3 hours a day. The rest of the time we just enjoy life! My wife and I have never been healthier and happier.

Would I ever have made those changes without PO? Probably not.

Anyway, whatever happens, happens. Disasters and hardship have been part of human history for all ages, and we'd be fools to think it cannot happen to our generation. But at the same time, life is too short to be consumed by worries all the time.

 
At Wednesday, July 12, 2006 at 9:36:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

I love you you present that jev. "my doom scenario". like a diorama you made for show and tell or something.

extra credit: how does your 10-20% of the global population maintain its "wealth" with 80-90% ready to kill to take it away? Or is that doomer trip where everyone who sucks in the cities winds up killing themselves leaving ma and pa kettle to live off the fat of the land out in the wilds of kansas?

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:16:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

1. Peak Oil is real. It is a finite resource after all. You cannot 'debunk' that.
2. It will not be doomsday. it will be too slow a process. We may take a big economic hit, but our civilization will carry on.
3. 'Powerdown' doesn't have to be a bad thing. It may be a good thing from a personal point of view.

Welcome aboard greenspan.
In answer to your oint.
1) Yes it is and everyone here accepts that. What is being "debunked" is the fearmongering and hype surrounding the issue clouding and rational thought and thus inhibiting appropriate action. I believe that scaring people can be good as it can propel them to action. I think that telling them everything they do will make the situation worse is not good. Telling them they are doomed no matter what is downright daft because then people do nothing. Which is the absolute worst response to have.
Let us call it Savinars paradox:
Savinar: "Any energy efficiency measures you take will only exacerbate the situation. Oh by the way, here is an electricity efficiency meter and a solar oven to help save energy."
The left hand gives fear the right hand takes money.
This is what is being debunked.
2)I agree.
3) I agree also
Although neither 2 or 3 are a given.
This is the second thing being debunked. The "predictions of doom". NO ONE KNOWS. And there is no way for them to know. Prediction the economy is like predicting the weather. Difficult at the best of times.
We need to be positively pro active, not hide in bunkers waiting for the end.
Just out of interest, do you still drive???

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:16:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

greenneck i mean!!! oops....sorry...

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 6:12:00 AM PDT, Blogger GreenNeck said...

the_setite: Thanks for your reply.

I think basically what Savinar is saying is that while our civilization is doomed, individuals and small communities can still maintain a decent life based on low energy use. He may be over the top with his doom rhetoric, but the devices he's peddling can still be valuable.

The fact is, demand for energy grows so fast that the efforts of a few to use less will be negated many times over by new consumption elsewhere. This is how I understand Jevon's paradox (but I may be wrong). I read they add some 10 million cars a year in China! Even if we curtail our use in North America (and I agree we're quite wasteful) the world's total energy demand will go only one way, up. Sooner of later, this 'going up' will hit the wall of finite resources.

Sure, oil and oil-equivalent will be obtained from other sources like tar sands, deep water, coal-to-liquid, ethanol, etc. But none of these sources will provide more than a fraction of what conventional oil does. For example Alberta may sit on more oil than the Middle East, but it is doubtful the production there will exceed 3-4 MBbl a day. It's like replacing a fire hose with a straw, and still hope you can put out the fire.

Now to answer your question yes, I still drive, about once a week to get supplies. And I also use a few other gasoline-powered toys like a chain saw, and an ATV & trailer to haul the wood. I'd say my use of oil is less than 10% of what it was in my previous life.

Re. doom predictions, I agree nobody can make them accurately. There are too many variables. I think the effect of PO combined with the precarious economic situation in N. America (high debts, deficits, etc.) will contribute to a 1930s-style depression in the coming years. Not pleasant, but nothing our grandparents didn't survive. My grandparents did well during those years because they had a farm and food, and this is why I chose to do the same, to some extent. And in those days there were no gangs of warlords terrorizing the countryside as is the case in the doomsters fantasies, in spite of the widespread unemployment and misery.

With that said, we can't rule out the possibility of a full-blown war between USA, China, Russia and others over dwindling resources, oil or otherwise. THIS IMO would be the worst nightmare.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 6:40:00 AM PDT, Blogger GreenNeck said...

DC wrote:

"Shouldn't you be tending to the chickens or dropping deuce on your garden?"

Hey, that beats sitting in a freakin' cubicle all day :-)

And what is deuce?

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 9:46:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

Come on now Setite, someone has to play the doomer. That may frighten you but I'll give it a shot any day.

Maybe there's is a need to define the term doom because it seems we're talking about different things.

Define 'doom' as a situation wherein the prospects of an intolerably great part of the populace are below a tolerable level.

Now I claim that you ex-doomers have simply shifted your definition of what 'tolerable' means to a point where you don't expect the related doom scenario to occur in your lifetime. That's your version of the 'family farm' ticket described above. and the 'guns and ammo' version of HA. Even the 'conservation' play admits that there's no option other than to use less and less energy indefinately.

In my book you are all doomers of the worst kind, telling people how everything will be fine while taking every precaution you can to protect yourself. Tell the landless Africans south of the Sahara, living in garbage, to get a fuel efficient vehicle or ease up on their use of clean water. What vehicle? What clean water?

That is the future.

We must have cheap energy. Since we won't it's going to be downhill from here on in!

Of course, depending on which slopes you take down, you might have a good time of it. I claim you ex-doomers have simply figured/or led yourself to believe that you've found a couple of relatively benign ones down, while callously ignoring the fact that most of the species is headed on ever steeper courses.

Perhaps a doomer is simply a person aware of the PO problem, and an ex-doomer is a doomer behind a sturdy fence. Whether that fence is gold, land, a good job or a high tolerance is beside the point.

I think 10-20 percent will be behind a fence of one sort or another while the rest is kept under control one way or another. Take your pick of militaristic dictatorship, heavily policed plutocratic wage slavery or idealist/religious isolationism.

Master/slave relationships come in all sorts and sizes. Globalisation can put a lot of distance bestween the masters and the slaves, given enough military superiority.

What I'm doing to save energy is nothing. I never was a great energy user. I live like a monk. I service a modest morgage on an energy efficient 4-room appartement. I save and invest in the right places. I support a wife and kid, with one or two more coming. Beside that I don't consume anything but food, water and a few beers in the weekend. I drive about 25 miles a day in a 40-mpg car.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 11:29:00 AM PDT, Blogger DC said...

And what is deuce?

#2. Fertilizer. ;-)

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 11:44:00 AM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

I bought one of those electricity meters Savinar is selling. I plan to use it to save energy. Then I'm going to take the money I save and buy more guns.

HA

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 12:55:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

We must have cheap energy. Since we won't it's going to be downhill from here on in!

Point in hand. Cheap energy is not the same as cheap oil. Peak oil is primarily and for the most part a fuel problem. A serious one and one that will have repercussions elsewhere but for the most part it is a fuel problem. Period. America is complaining that $5 gas may come soon!! Well whoopee. In the UK we are paying that now (more for diesel) and there is almost no disruption. Because we arent as reliant as you on driving and therefore ultra cheap fuel. Its all relative isnt it? See below.

In my book you are all doomers of the worst kind, telling people how everything will be fine while taking every precaution you can to protect yourself.

What are you gibbering on about now???? Im not telling anyone its going to be fine, I just find the End of the World Amd Max doomer wet dream childish and misleading. Once again, peak oil is a problem. A big one. But armageddon?? I dont think so.

Let me explain something for you, by way of an imaginary scenario.

If the UK govt told everyone that they could not drive their cars tomorrow or ever again, our country would carry on almost as normal. Why?? Because we have a well built and effective public transport system I can get from one end of the country to the other without ever needing to set foot in a car or a plane. I can take a walk to the local shops (they are 2 minutes down the road). Our major supermarket chains are switching to using trains for transportation (asda being the first that springs to mind), to counter rising fuel costs. We would carry on pretty much as normal with minimal disruption. We get most of our electricity from coal and nuclear and overall we use half the America uses. Because we drive less. We can import goods from europe on the rail system too. Granted it is not ideal. It also isnt disastrous.

Apply the same thing to America and Canada. You would be screwed becuase you drive everywhere. Your public transport infrastructure is almost non existent. America is the homeland of doom culture and the above scenarion goes a long way to explaing why. You rely on oil so much because you drive so damn much . Dont apply the same logic to Europe.
This is why im not in a panic about this. OK?
This is why im not frightened.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 12:56:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

Perhaps a doomer is simply a person aware of the PO problem, and an ex-doomer is a doomer behind a sturdy fence. Whether that fence is gold, land, a good job or a high tolerance is beside the point


Im not an ex doomer.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 12:57:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

Master/slave relationships come in all sorts and sizes. Globalisation can put a lot of distance bestween the masters and the slaves, given enough military superiority


Which requires oil? Which will eventually run out?? How stupid do you think these people are?????? Not everyone is as short sighted as you.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 2:56:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

Master/slave relationships come in all sorts and sizes. Globalisation can...

Blah blah blah. More proactive doomer rationalizations. If the Peak Oil armaggedon fails to materialize, the doomers will just shift their arguments to Peak whatever and claim they've never been wrong!

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:11:00 PM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

I save and invest in the right places.

What for?? Your money will be worthless when the shit hits the fan.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:35:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

I bought one of those electricity meters Savinar is selling. I plan to use it to save energy. Then I'm going to take the money I save and buy more guns.

The most honest and touchingly stupid thing youve said yet HA. thank you for setting aside all doubt that you are the exact kind of fantasty happy chump that the hard times of pod absolutely love. when the doom days roll in it can be assured that having more than one gun will certainly save you from the millions of rioting freaks. most of which will also be armed to the teeth thanks to gun control in the states.

repeat after me: if youre any good you only need one gun. even if you are any good one bullet will still kill you. your "solution" works in arnolds movies but to any rational human being, you are the butt of the peak oil joke.

and Mr. Savinar thanks you for your donation to his church. i'm sure.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:44:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

and jev, just wow. its like three different people are writing your posts. you seem to make ridiculous assumptions about the character of others while preach temperence and then you totally shite it with this crap:


I think 10-20 percent will be behind a fence of one sort or another while the rest is kept under control one way or another. Take your pick of militaristic dictatorship, heavily policed plutocratic wage slavery or idealist/religious isolationism.


boy howdy. the beauty of this is that it was also the plotline of land of the dead and equilibrium, so youve covered all bases. in case PO doesnt work out you also have peak zombies and peak robot overload matrix takeover covered without having to change your tune.

its hilarious that you have kids though. and want to have more. in the same post as slagging on people for being selfish and unrealistic and letting their fellow man suffer while they hide behind a fence? you planning on fattening them up and eating them when your canned corn runs out? or are you like every other doomer (reformed or otherwise), croaking your fatalist message while secretly going on with your mclife, expecting science to bail your ass out?

cant have it all in one sitting, mate. even if you are an american.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 3:50:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. said...

you planning on fattening them up and eating them when your canned corn runs out?

LMAO. For a while after the initial doomer-shock effect, I got into the whole gallows' humor mindframe. Every time I'd be wandering around the mall watching one of those assembly-line family units with like fifteen kids and a pregnant wife toddling along, all I could think was..

".. well. That's *good* eatin'."

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 4:11:00 PM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

look you freaks if technology is coming to our rescue why has the rate of technological innovation declined to a near standstill? don't believe me? then read it and weep you weak minded and feebled bodied fools:

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2099-1813695_1,00.html

debunk dem apples

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 4:13:00 PM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

here's a bit in case you are too stupid to cut and paste the url into your browser:

Jonathan Huebner is a physicist who works at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California.

He began to study the rate of significant innovations as catalogued in a standard work entitled The History of Science and Technology. After some elaborate mathematics, he came to a conclusion that raised serious questions about our continued ability to sustain progress. What he found was that the rate of innovation peaked in 1873 and has been declining ever since. In fact, our current rate of innovation — which Huebner puts at seven important technological developments per billion people per year — is about the same as it was in 1600. By 2024 it will have slumped to the same level as it was in the Dark Ages, the period between the end of the Roman empire and the start of the Middle Ages.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:04:00 PM PDT, Blogger DC said...

Looks like Jim "Hunter S. Thompson wannabe" Kunstler is trying to weasel out of his growing record of wretched analyses and prognostications:

My own involvement in Y2K in the early days of blogging derived from my observation that a lot of knowledgeable tech people were taking the Y2K problem seriously, and yakking about it on the Net, and so I concluded the issue deserved attention.

Well Jim, calling attention to the issue and Crying Wolf are not one and the same. You were dead wrong. Nothing transpired. NOTHING! Stop trying to rationalize your shoddy analysis and own up to your hysterics.

So this might just be a good point to step back and ask where are we now at mid-year, 2006. In January, I predicted that the US economy would get into a lot of trouble, specifically that the Dow would melt down to around 4000 and that we would see carnage on the real estate scene. When you figure in inflation, the Dow has just gone sideways for six months. What is propping it up? Last week I referred to...

No, it can't be that he was just WRONG! No no no. Something else is afoot! I suppose this is prime territory to posit some petro-dollar/Jevon's Paradox/phantom inflation contrivance to prove that everything is proceeding to plan.

What a hack.

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:07:00 PM PDT, Blogger popmonkey said...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Huebner>Jonathan Huebert

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:08:00 PM PDT, Blogger popmonkey said...

hmmm, lets try that again:

Jonathan Huebner

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:29:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

lol. HA is a classic. make a stupid point, have someone knock it down, and instead of trying to substantiate it quickly run to another one.

then read it and weep you weak minded and feebled bodied fools:

i laughed my ass off at this. from the guy who seriously believes that buying more guns is synonymous with survival.

and hey, youre still hanging around here, HA. taking a beating while doing so. werent you supposedly leaving because you were fed up with the site?

 
At Thursday, July 13, 2006 at 7:42:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. said...

No, it can't be that he was just WRONG! No no no. Something else is afoot! I suppose this is prime territory to posit some petro-dollar/Jevon's Paradox/phantom inflation contrivance to prove that everything is proceeding to plan.

It doesn't jive with Doomer mentality when the markets don't magically kowtow to whatever prediction they happen to be lighting candles over at any given moment. So, we get the usual shopping list of excuses:

*Freak anomalies are buoying up the current market.
*Initial figures were wrong, wait three months.
*The government/aliens/corporations are doing secret money-feeds to keep pandemonium from breaking loose.
*It's already happened and you just haven't realized it.

And so on and so forth. The majority of this jackshit is like trying to predict the weather. Plenty of sound theory that does absolutely nothing for long-term predictions.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 2:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger Omnitir said...

I guess if progress has ‘peaked’, very soon not only will we stop developing more advanced technology, but will soon start to unlearn what we have already developed! And given that the rate of decreasing intelligence will rapidly surpass the finite supply of innovation, only 20 years post peak progress we will reach the equivalent technological capabilities of 50 years pre peak progress. By 2020 we will have forgotten the basic laws of physics, and by 2050 we will be back in a technological dark age!

Hmm, actually, judging from the blatant raping of the laws of thermodynamics by PO doomers, it seems we have already forgotten the laws of physics…

People that honestly think progress is slowing are seriously delusional and need to take a look at the wealth of innovation continuing to occur on a daily basis. How do these people come to such ridiculous positions? Seen too much Star Trek as a kid and have concluded that science has failed us because we don’t have warp drive and photon torpedoes yet??

The vast majority of the scientific community acknowledges continued rapid progress, simply because the evidence is obvious and ubiquitous to anyone with an understanding of science and technology.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 2:17:00 AM PDT, Blogger Freak said...

For Christsakes HA!! Peak Science??

go here, peak badgers

www.badgerbadgerbadger.com

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 3:00:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/08/040825094820.htm


Repeat after me....PEOPLE ARE WORKING ON THE PROBLEM RIGHT NOW. Remember this is 2 years old

Jonathan Huebner is a physicist who works at the Pentagon's Naval Air Warfare Center in China Lake, California

There also seem to be a lot of holes in his theory pertaining to your point. The most obvious being that he is researching innovations per capita.

Heve any of you heard of the Jumping Jesus phenomenon??? Its to do with availability of information available to a person at any one time. Robert Anton Wilson writes about it. Ill try and find some references to it on the web.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 3:02:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

http://www.rawilson.com/sitnow.html

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 3:04:00 AM PDT, Blogger The_Setite said...

http://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd/archives/2003/10/jumping_jesus_p.cfm

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 7:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

if technology is advancing so fast why are the computers you jackasses typing on most likely powered by COAL! yes you idiots, coal the energy source of the freakin 1700s.

and you're probably still driving to your job - if you have one - in an ICE powered by oil based fuel which was discovered in the 1800s.

dumbasses.

face it, tech is stagnant with the exception of your ipod which i might add is also most likley powered by a battery which had its electricity come from COAL!

fools.

ha

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 7:18:00 AM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

lol. when all you can do is blubber on with insults and not even respond to the constant corrections being made to your "arguments" you have truly become a proud doomer.

you and byofuels should share a bunk HA. you can have your own version of brokeback mountain until the top ramen runs out and you have to eat each other.

and i would just like to point out that youre STILL posting here. way to salvage some pride buddy.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 7:33:00 AM PDT, Blogger HoardingAmmo said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 8:40:00 AM PDT, Blogger GreenNeck said...

Re. comments above about apparent 'slowing down' of science. I think it is a common perception in people of my generation (I am 47) that science somehow let us down.

I recall when Armstrong and Aldrin set foot on the Moon and back then, the future looked bright indeed. I was convinced, like many others, that a permanent base on the Moon would be built by 1980; a trip to Mars at about the same time; and space travel to Moon & planets would be routine by 2000. Also we were told robots, computers and AI would make our life a lot easier. A person in year 2000 may work only 20 hours a week. A cure for cancer would be found, and nuclear fusion mastered. At the time all this looked perfectly plausible.

Well, 35 years later we haven't got back to the Moon. Now we say we'll go back in 2018 - 50 years after the first flight there. Mars is not before 2030. Fusion is still decades away, if at all. Cancer still kills, although some major progress has been made in diagnosing/treating it. And those of you working less than your fathers did in the 1960-70s, raise your hands!

What went wrong?

This is why some people believe PO will lead to some kind of doom: they have lost confidence that science will solve it.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 10:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger DC said...

What went wrong?

Nothing. If anything went wrong, it's that we went to the Moon in the first place. There was no incentive to underwrite that white elephant other than Cold War pissing rights (and this is coming from a former NASA employee who used to drive past a giant Saturn V on the way to and from work each day).

Predicting the future is a dicey proposition, often riddled with baseless hyperbole. Go back and look at the World's Fairs of the early 20th Century: flying cars, gigantic skyscrapers, etc. Do the failure of these innovations cancel out other innovations like the Internet (i.e. instant dissemenation of information across the globe), radar and nuclear fission reactors? What about the Simplex Method and the whole field of applied mathematics and logistics that has transformed commerce?

Let's talk shop on Moore's Law. You must keep it in its proper context: it is a model applicable to semiconductor-based computers. That model is changing, be it either through quantum, biological or optical computation. Just consider the possibility of quantum computation: a computer with a 10 quantum bit register is more powerful than any computer ever designed. A computer with a 100 quantum bit register is more powerful than every computer operating right now COMBINED. Imagine the possibilities of that kind of computational power: the ability to solve Integer Programming formulations like the Travelling Salesman Problem and to model Boundary Layers for vastly improved weather prediction and aerodynamic design. P = NP? With that brute computational power, who cares?! It becomes moot.

Finally, there is the possibility that the computer as we know it will be a relic. All that matters is computation: a bit can either be a transistor or an open door. That is, with a fiber optic infrastructure, processing is no longer limited to one box or chip. Communication and computation will meld in ways we can't even predict. And that's the whole point: Moore's Law doesn't predict it. It's like using incompressible flow theory to predict that we can never design a supersonic vehicle. There's nothing wrong with the model, just the way its being applied.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 12:48:00 PM PDT, Blogger half said...

Where's the good stuff about F.I.A.T. money? I want more federal reserve insight about how they killed the electric railroads.

Death to Abarth!

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 8:09:00 PM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

dc, the intellectual wonderworld, though very nicely depicted by you, does not ease the predicament humanity is in now.

Quantumcomputing is just the same wine in a different vessel. The bottleneck in numerical analysis has been gathering the input (validation) data for quite some time already, despite ever 'Moore' computing power.

Although you might not expect it, I have some experience in engineering research and there is one thing that is thematic in discussions between academic researchers: The undeniable fact that dissertations are becoming wordier, more detailed and are providing less economically usefull information, than they used to.

All many of my colleagues are doing is conducting years of painstaking research, optimising an existing process to the poor tune of no more than a few percent. At the same time, experimenting and documenting the research has become incredibly time consuming and expensive. Fat books with little significance in the world of fruitive activity.

Up to a third of your time is spent poring over archives, inventorising hundreds of papers that touch your subject. You get the impression that everything worth knowing was discovered half a century ago and that you're left with the dregs: subject matter nobody felt the stomach or need to tackle.

"How to get X to do Y a few percent more efficiently"

Yeah sure it can be done, but its obviously not worth the money or it would already *be* done. In my field the above example is typical. I suspect it's so elsewhere as well, since I've heard the same mutterings in the soft sciences.

The End Of Science?

Hell yes. I've been seeing it since the nineties.

Which bring me to another nail in the coffin of this civilisation: The freak reliance on the promise of technology that is not currently viable.

It's fine and well that you and I know what will probably work and what probably won't: the sheeple really have no incling yet. They think that a concept is the same as an implementation. All because thay cannot judge the scale of things correctly. And industry? Industry can calculate what's worth implementing but they use the wrong scenarios for the development of energy prices the coming decades so they stay put.

Except of course the oil business where everyone that counts knows the problem inside and out.

Why are they scraping tar from the ground if the Saudi's got all we need? Because they obviously don't, which gaurantees the safety of the massive investment in tardigging. Worse, they apparently see no alternative to leeching tar from the ground. Where are the 'secret supertechnologies'? As fully expected: not there, but tell it to the sheeple.

Did you know that the Dutch government reckons that oil will cost less than 28$ "in the long run"?

They cannot even imagine that although they can videophone someone in Tokyo it will become too expensive to use the car for a trip to the beach.

Finally: you should realise that by appealing to the undeniable quality of our knowledge and scientific tools as crucial for mitigating peak oil, you (ironically enough) prevent action from occuring. For instance: the suggestion that something will be invented that will supersede CSP as the energy production technology of choice delays the moment when CSP will be actively implemented.

In this way you are actively reducing the effectiveness of peak oil mitigation, by implying that investors better wait 'for the next technology' like fusion or hydrogen use instead of using the knowledge we have (and which will not significantly expand while optimisation of existing technology is tailing off!)

In short: "The End Of Science" should be *promoted*, because it helps ease the decision making in the decades ahead.

We have to use what we have now. Since we're not, we're still headed for doom.

 
At Friday, July 14, 2006 at 8:55:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

Although you might not expect it, I have some experience in engineering research and there is one thing that is thematic in discussions between academic researchers: The undeniable fact that dissertations are becoming wordier, more detailed and are providing less economically usefull information, than they used to.

the point of this was? trying to demonstrate credibility like heinberg does? "i once read something and know some people in academic circles so therefore i am qualified to predict doom".

you should write a book jev. the only thing separating you from HA is phony eloquence which is all one really needs to be considered an 'expert'.

but lo and behold, no explanation for why you hold these belies and yet keep plugging on with having kids and shooting for the mcamerican dream. you a sadist? or just have no real conviction?

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 4:14:00 AM PDT, Blogger EnergySpin said...

jev said ...
"The bottleneck in numerical analysis has been gathering the input (validation) data for quite some time already, despite ever 'Moore' computing power."

What do you mean by that? That numerical computing is limited by the data available to apply algorithms to? Sorry but this is BS ... Methinks that you do not even know what numerical analysis is. Flipping through the pages of Numerical Recipes book I find no chapter/sectionm that even remotely suggests the validity of your assertion :P
OTH I find a preoccupation with stuff that would be easily solved with the increased computing power that QMs provide.

jev said ....
"The undeniable fact that dissertations are becoming wordier, more detailed and are providing less economically usefull information, than they used to."

Man don't keep showering us with crap! IIRC (and I might be wrong about that), the purpose of dissertations is to advance science NOT to provide economically useful information. If they do that's fine, if they don't that's also acceptable. But they have to be, well researched and have advanced science to a measurable extent.

jev said ...
"Up to a third of your time is spent poring over archives, inventorising hundreds of papers that touch your subject."

Yes, so what's your point ? It makes a lot of sense to actually do that, and it is expected for any PhD candidate not only to review the literature, but summarize it, identify the major problems in the specific field and depending on the context (and the brutality of the supervisor), to offer solutions in at least one such problem. Many of the subject areas are centuries-old now, so I expect any decent candidate to have at least a cursory understanding of the genesis of his or her field; searchable full text databases have extended our reach to papers that were published 2 1/2 centuries ago (think JSTOR), so a little time spent in the library (and hundreds of papers later), one is mature enough to touch one's subject. It worked for my PhD ... and I do expect my grad students to do the same.

jev said ...
"You get the impression that everything worth knowing was discovered half a century ago"
Crap ... many things were conceptually discovered half a century ago ... but this is simply not true for many fields: medicine, biology, mat sci or even computer science. But I do agree with one point you are trying to make: that a lot of time is spent on trivialities.


jev ....
""How to get X to do Y a few percent more efficiently"

Yeah sure it can be done, but its obviously not worth the money or it would already *be* done. In my field the above example is typical. I suspect it's so elsewhere as well, since I've heard the same mutterings in the soft sciences."

Again, not all PhDs are engineering ones. Basic science PhD do not deal with efficiency at all, and the suggestion that "soft sciences" suffer from this is ludicrous. After all they can redefine their field as they want (to keep the grant money coming) ...

Man you have no idea what you are talking about ... get a good science book, and quit reading books by "professors" in fringe colleges that offer advanced courses in dope smoking, barefoot walking and get in touch with your inner-self via group tandric sex techniques.

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 5:46:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

"the point of this was? trying to demonstrate credibility like heinberg does?"

Look, I'm just another science buff dabbling in futuregazing, like many who are involved in exploring PO I suspect. I wanted to illustrate from my daily experience that the fears about a slowdown in new ideas being developed, as refered to in the excellent link posted by HA, seem justified to me.

"Many of the subject areas are centuries-old now, so I expect any decent candidate to have at least a cursory understanding of the genesis of his or her field"

Of course I don't dispute that at all. Obviously literature study is a principle activity for any academic! But the *degree* to which it is these days is unprecedented! You have to admit that. Now what could that portend????

Maybe you should have talked more to your professors about the 'good old days' after the war and get a feeling for the big picture taking shape! The diminishing returns of (intellectual) investment into science, if you will.

I'm just saying there used to be a time when you could basically pick a subject at will and get to work. Today you have to read hundreds of papers just to *find* a subject that is worthwhile. And in case you didn't notice: Frankly I am sickened by the degree to which not only final theses but also dissertations are being churned out these days with little to speak for them, even concerning your much touted scientific advancement. Like I said: it's mostly old wine in new vessels.

When is the next new energy transformation technique going to be discoverd, for a case in point?

"the purpose of dissertations is to advance science NOT to provide economically useful information. If they do that's fine, if they don't that's also acceptable."

Of course, yawn. It's just that such economically relevant information is *much* scarcer than is was and getting scarcer.

I recall reading a book by an ex-editor-in-chief of Scientific American a few years ago entitled "The end of science" which really struck a chord. Incidentally, that author was fired from his position because people like you couldn't understand his meaning. Science has become a religion for everyone but the scientists themselves it seems, promising salvation. Hell, even most scientist are necessarily so specialised that they honestly don't see the forest for the trees anymore, like you it seems!

"you a sadist? or just have no real conviction?"

Ideals like world peace and the necessary triumph of reason and righteousness over chaos and avarice have always seemed quaint to me. I believe hell and heaven have always both existed here on earth and people are more or less at the mercy of fortune and nature in anything they might undertake.

The only thing I know for sure is that every person has a right to strive for happiness, procreation and personal advancement. The only general principle I uphold is that each person should aim to at least not further aggravate the troubles of the world.

Before you ask: overpopulation doesn't seem a big enough problem to me to stop myself from procreating. Rather, I expect that the human stock will be sufficiently culled by some sort of disaster soon enough for my personal actions in this regard to serve any purpose.

Finally concerning my comment about the soft sciences also struggling to innovate: I've talked to more than a few researchers echoing my thoughts exactly: that there is precariously little scope for any shocking new revelations to emerge. Rather, in order to add anything, huge budgets for experimentation are necessary, and even then only more refined correlations are expected to result. There is will be nothing new under the sun anytime soon, despite the massive amount of research being conducted.

Challenge any academic to explain to you the current promising esoteric research in his field. For one he won't be able to do it in 25 words or less, which is tell-tale. In fact, he will likely have to delve into his subject matter so deeply that you won't even be able to follow him without significant, detailed study of your own!

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 6:17:00 AM PDT, Blogger JCK said...

Challenge any academic to explain to you the current promising esoteric research in his field. For one he won't be able to do it in 25 words or less, which is tell-tale. In fact, he will likely have to delve into his subject matter so deeply that you won't even be able to follow him without significant, detailed study of your own!

Tell-tale of what? That most academic research is complicated?

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 6:51:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

"Tell-tale of what? That most academic research is complicated?"

No, that most academic research is so focused on detail, while the problems academic research are expected to help solve are so fundamental!

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 7:15:00 AM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

Consider the folowing oft-quoted piece of cornucopian drivel concerning the significance of oil depletion:

"The stone age did not end for lack of stones"

That statement is naively suggesting that an alternative to oil will be found that will far exceed that resource in potential, supposedly like bronze was superior to stone in the old days! This is the way people have been conditioned to think of science!

Furthermore: Even if there somehow is a fuel source superior to oil out there, waiting to be discovered, then we won't find it by polishing up the technologies we already have, which is all that about 99.99% of people in technology research are doing!

Sure, there will always be people building a better mousetrap. Who cares? That's not going to change humanity's predicament. Like Einstein himself warned: The significant problems we have cannot be solved at the same level of thinking with which we created them! Well, our level of thinking is not improving so we're in trouble! It's not a matter of the raw quantity of research being conducted! It's a matter of the quality!

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 9:03:00 AM PDT, Blogger allen said...

Actually, what the statement is stating pretty obviously is that the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones.

The corollary is obvious but rather then engage that, you go all big-eyed and throw a couple of insults around as if that's a critique of the underlying idea.

I can understand your problem. Peak Oil is a prediction and the only way to judge the accuracy of prediction is to look at the track-record of the predictor. So? You want to explain how Peak Oil is any more likely to occur then Peak Stone or Peak Wood or Peak Coal or Peak Food or Peak Iron or Peak any effing thing? Just what is the track-record of the predictors of Peak People and Peak Water and Peak Land? Not so good? You want to explain why anyone should give you the time of day when, boiled down and stripped of the gold-leaf, all you've got to say is "this time fer sure!"?

This is the way people have been conditioned to think of science!

But not you. Made of sterner stuff then "people" are you? So what's that mean? That you're the next step in evolution or that you're posting from somewhere off-planet? Waaay off planet?

Gawd, I can't get past paragraph three without choking on all the assumed insightfulness and intellectual superiority.

As for your dismissal of the quality of science being done now and the narrowness of the focus, you might want to crack a book on the history of science. You obviously haven't bothered to aquaint yourself with how science is actually done versus how you think it ought to be done. I'll give you a hint about what sort of scientific acorns can grow into pretty impressive trees: the photovoltaic effect. If you're going to quote Einstein you might want to know something about his work.

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 1:58:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. said...

Ah, jev. The customary biliousness of your arguments regarding the failures of science could be printed out in a POD recruiter's pamphlet, they're so typical. For such an obviously intelligent individual, your myopia seems pretty staggering.

This argument:

Furthermore: Even if there somehow is a fuel source superior to oil out there, waiting to be discovered, then we won't find it by polishing up the technologies we already have, which is all that about 99.99% of people in technology research are doing!

Is the keystone of the Doomer "science is dead" rhetoric. You postulate that there is no single fuel source superior to oil, like Savinar does, which immediately equates "we have failed in our ability to invent, research and refine". It would look great on a t-shirt or totebag, too.

But here's the problem. The argument is fundamentally true, and seems to be supported by rhetorical correlaries such as the moonshot. However, there's never any clear explanation of what application it is, exactly, that we need a "better fuel source than oil" for. Your expectation that every single one of the thousand-some uses of oil in current industry must be replaced by the "tonic theory" is classic Doomwear.

Solar doesn't power cars. You can't use coal to make pesticides. Nuclear won't lubricate machinery or make ships run. Blah, blah, blah. It goes around and around in a moebius strip of convenient pessimism, where the lack of development in one field of energy research somehow spells doom for 400 others, which may or may not be directly related.

The same tunnel vision that keeps POD culties hoarding ammo and cans of SPAM prevents even the most basic common sense from applying: there is no singular "fix" for the issues of peak oil, because there's no singular ISSUE requiring a fix. This has nothing to do with the moonshot, or whatever other rhetorical fixing-point is being pissed around on.

Staring at the sun for the sake of making a point only blinds you to everything going on at a ground level; science hasn't failed shit. If anything, it's operating on an unprecedented series of levels in response to market transitions. You just need the right kind of eyes to see it, rather than some bombastic theory that completely overreaches the reality of the situation.

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 2:09:00 PM PDT, Blogger Mel. said...

LOL. I almost missed this.

Before you ask: overpopulation doesn't seem a big enough problem to me to stop myself from procreating. Rather, I expect that the human stock will be sufficiently culled by some sort of disaster soon enough for my personal actions in this regard to serve any purpose.

So, you basically admit that you've got no issue with bringing a bunch of kids into a world that you believe is fundamentally fucked; moreso, you *expect* them to die off in a major disaster, pretty quickly.

And in the meantime, watching the skies for Megiddo, your ex-wife and current wife and kids you've had and kids you might have and any kids you don't know about that might be running around out there will all be sucking down those resources at American rates, using up oil, and further propagating the miseries of the "human stock" that you're so vehemently railing on here.

As much as I might think that Chris Sendak is an overreactive idiot, it didn't take much for him to expose the base-level fruitcake hypocrisy of your supposed beliefs, jev. Cut to the chase next time and just come outright:

"I believe I have a right to procreate freely despite supposedly biblical beliefs of annihilation, because I'm better than you and everyone else, and my family will either miraculously survive while the cities burn or it'll turn out that all the stuff I was banking on was bullshit. In either case, I need to get mine."

Congrats. You've graduated to the highest levels of the American psyche, bud.

 
At Saturday, July 15, 2006 at 4:19:00 PM PDT, Blogger Chris Sendak said...

jev lost his credibility the moment he used the words "excellent" and "HA" in the same sentence. but points for at least being honest about being a sadist.

 
At Monday, July 17, 2006 at 4:09:00 PM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

Frankly I couldn't care less what you think of me of course. I'm not looking for friends, which some of you might not be able to imagine, poor nerds that you might very well be. Internet discussion may be brutal and devoid of ethics. If not then I might just as well go to a campus bar and talk shop instead of hammering on a keyboard. I like anonymity and shameless directness and I dispise PC liberalism.

On the other hand, I've not been bored following this thread yet so please continu to do as you will if it tickles your fancy.

Continuing, I only see mel's dismissal of my pessimism regarding the prospects of science as a point worth further discussion. That, and his apparent dismissal of the significance of specifically oil within the whole of human society.

First: I've never said science has failed, or anything of the sort! To the contrary! All I'm saying is that I don't see much scope for *another* paradigm shift such as the ones we've had in the 1900's which have certainly brought us to where we are today - having boosted our power over the natural world to such an unprecedented degree. That's over with! No more boosts to be expected! Get over it!

What we *have now* is what we'll have to learn to be satisfied with in solving the problems of existence. No use saying in 20 years: "So what happened to the hydrogen economy? Shouldn't it be here about now? I'm starting to feel this 10$ gas and there are no more arabs left to murder."

Science didn't fail, but it's definately looking like all science is likely to discover in the next 100 years won't do much to feed, cloth and pacify more than 6 billion people. We'll have to do that with what we've got is all I'm saying, and it was a surprise to me too when I first realised it.

Now about the significance of oil. Sure we don't have to have something that does *all* the things oil does, but if it's going to be any good it's going to do *much* of what oil does, namely:

- be dirt cheap
- be readily convertible into other forms of energy
- work with simple machines made from cheap materials

So *what* if the 'new things' can't deliver in each of these catagories, you (mel) might say? Well, then energy and using energy simply becomes expensive again, and a greater percentage of the population will return to a subsistence lifestyle as a result! How great that percentage will eventually become is not the point, only that it will become greater, continuing a worrisome trend.

In effect oil freed the slaves so they could get beer and watch TV. Scarcity of oil will shackle them again and make them work the fields. This is the doom *I* am talking about.

And yes, if there is no big push for the broad implementation of renewables - which could indeed offset the problems of oil depletion to an arbitrary degree - then so be it! However, if it has to be war and oppression as still seems to be the gameplan judging from current affairs then I'm going to try my very best to get to the slavedriver class, instead of the slaves class, thank you very much!-

 
At Monday, July 17, 2006 at 4:24:00 PM PDT, Blogger Jev said...

One more thing: I'm EU, not US.

 
At Wednesday, July 19, 2006 at 2:58:00 AM PDT, Blogger bc said...

You know that I am not a doomer and I'm a big fan of science, but I don't have a problem with the idea of science "slowing down". We may be ex-doomers but we don't have to have a knee jerk reaction against every idea that could be used by an opponent.

To wit, it is fairly obvious that the rate of increase in scientific discovery, in terms of return per unit research is slowing, in fact it has to. We cannot maintain an exponential rate of increase in this or anything.

The question of how much this matters is a separate issue. I don't think it does matter too much. Society does not rely on scientific discovery: even if we froze research a its current state, it would not really matter. We have plenty enough knowledge to survive, additional knowledge is icing on the cake. Sure, we have not discovered warp drive and teleporters, but we don't actually need to. Improvements in design and manufacturing (i.e. technology) can still improve even without new discoveries.

On the wider issues of returning to the Moon - perhaps we have peaked. But this is more about the realisation that the practical applications are limited. We can go to the Moon, but we don't need to. We can have supersonic air travel, but we don't need to.

 
At Thursday, July 20, 2006 at 11:48:00 AM PDT, Blogger Wildwell said...

Not read the book but specifically if we are talking Oil depletion one would expect to see some examination for real costs and understanding of economics.

Do you want to see something really academic on the subject? Try this. It’s an examination by the world's leading transport academic on costs and economic growth, with elasticity calculations.

http://www.tsu.ox.ac.uk/research/d1.pdf

Baring in mind most oil use is road transport (around 50%), there’s some interesting conclusions:

Transport was 7.1% of costs for manufacturing, 12.1% of costs for services, and 16.4% of costs for distribution industries. In developed countries transport costs are typically between 2 and 4% of total costs.

LET’S JUST REPEAT THAT. TRANSPORT COSTS 1-2% OF THE ECONOMY AND OIL IS AROUND 25% (AT MOST) OF THAT COST.

So forget oil is everything, it's less than 0.5% of the cost to the economy, at least in terms of transport. This seems very manageable to me.

While transport allows the economy to happen, it’s worth noting that investment in infrastructure doesn’t always yield growth, especially when externalities are taken into account. So much of the bullshit about oil use is driving a large proportion of economic growth is just fluff. It allows the economy to happen, but is obviously very easy to substitute.



- 1987 Eagle and Stephanedes concluded there was no relationship between highway investment and growth in jobs



- 1998 Rienstra et al concluded in the Netherlands Motorways had no clear impact on employment.



- 1994, Whitelegg ‘There is no evidence whatsoever to support the myth that roads are good for the economy’.



And so on and so forth (pages 24/25)

To conclude this is experts in the field concluding this, or are we still in the business of doomers know best?

 
At Thursday, July 27, 2006 at 12:31:00 PM PDT, Blogger skye said...

One of the main points people often miss when it comes to alternatives is the rate at which these alternatives could be brought online to enable a shift in infrastructure. The Hirsch Report mentions 20 years for a smooth transition, and 10 years minimum for a rough transition.

You pointed out that much of what we consume is unnecessary and could be cut to make up the difference if it came to that. So in PO terms, you would be classified as a 'soft lander'. In a sense, you have your own powerdown scenario. I agree with your observations (at a minimum), though when that time comes, oil will likely climb well over $100/barrel, and remain volatile thereafter, due to economic instability caused by high prices.

 
At Friday, January 11, 2008 at 9:48:00 AM PST, Blogger Lewis Medlock said...

Dr. Doom wrote: "Heinberg simply hasn't proven that the current population level cannot be sustained over centuries with sufficient sources of energy"

Maybe he didn't in that book, but I think the evidence is clear, all you have to do is look. Our topsoils are rapidly depleating and renew far too slowly to think rotation will solve anything. 90% of the big ocean fish are gone and size/age of what we do catch goes down every year. GMOs don't increase yields much and may be very bad for us. Pesticide use has bread super-weeds and resistant bugs, annual food production globally has started to fall, and that's with all the petro-fertilizers. Using all this energy to increase food quantity has caused food quality to diminish rapidly, leading to disease, and we are causing a rapid mass extinction event just to feed ourselves. Clearly there are too many of us to live like this. Maybe if we all became thin vegetarians, stopped developing farmland with Wal-Marts and had a massive effort to reform agricultural practices could we come close to sustaining this. Any takers?

 

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