free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: February 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008


For a lot of peak oilers, communist Cuba is the "poster boy" for post-peak agriculture. And I do mean "poster boy". The Community SolutionTM actually sells a $30.00 poster, described as: "A detailed presentation of Cuba's transition from an industrial, energy-intensive society to a low-energy, sustainable one. Great for classrooms and presentations at exhibitions."

They also sell a DVD film called "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil". Here's the blurb:
When Cuba lost access to Soviet oil in the early 1990s, the country faced an immediate crisis -- feeding the population -- and an ongoing challenge: how to create a new low-energy society. This film tells the story of the Cuban people's hardship, ingenuity, and triumpth over sudden adversity -- through cooperation, conservation, and community.

"Everyone concerned about Peak Oil should see this film." Richard Heinberg
Of course, we all know that Richard Heinberg loves the Cuba model, and has even proposed implementing it in the U.S. In a piece called 50 Million Farmers, he tells the inspirational story of how Cuba saved itself by returning to low-tech agriculture:
Early on, it was realized that more farmers were needed, and that this would require education. All of the nation's colleges and universities quickly added courses on agronomy. At the same time, wages for farmers were raised to be at parity with those for engineers and doctors. Many people moved from the cities to the country; in some cases there were incentives, in others the move was forced.

The result was survival. The average Cuban lost 20 pounds of body weight, but in the long run the overall health of the nation's people actually improved as a consequence. Today, Cuba has a stable, slowly growing economy. There are few if any luxuries, but everyone has enough to eat. Having seen the benefit of smaller-scale organic production, Cuba's leaders have decided that even if they find another source of cheap oil, they will maintain a commitment to their new, decentralized, low-energy methods.
Now, you can imagine my surprise when I'm reading the news today on Google, and run across this little nugget:
Cuba expected to turn over new leaf in farming
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
February 21, 2008

MIAMI -- Without Fidel Castro as president, Cuba is more likely to launch reforms to boost food production, create oil industry jobs and put more pesos in citizens' pockets, analysts said Wednesday.

Some changes, probably starting with efforts to help farmers, are likely to occur during the next year, some analysts said.


With food production pitifully low for a country with fertile land and a year-round growing climate, farmers need more land and more autonomy in tilling it to boost output. Cuba imports at least 70% of its food, including a record $437-million worth from the United States last year.Source
Cuba has been on the U.S. tit for years, as attested by this vintage news item from 2004:
Cash purchases of US food have grown exponentially since November 2001, when hurricane-ravaged Cuba began taking advantage of the first breach of a trade embargo imposed in 1960 and maintained through 10 successive US presidencies. Cuban purchases from what is now its biggest food supplier, already nearing the $300-million mark by the end of July, are set to exceed $440 million this year, Alvarez said in an interview.
So... all this time, Heinberg & Co have been talking up the amazing benefits of relocalized Cuban agriculture. And all this time, Cuba has been suckling on the tit of industrial agriculture -- to the tune of 70% OF ITS FOOD SUPPLY. Geez... talk about being asleep at the switch.


A couple of further notes...

The Community SolutionTM's blurb about Cuba "A detailed presentation of Cuba's transition from an industrial, energy-intensive society to a low-energy, sustainable one" is complete bollocks. Cuba didn't transition to a low-energy, sustainable society, and it didn't lose 50% of its oil, as shown by the EIA chart of Cuba's oil consumption below. In 2006, Cuba is using just as much oil as it ever did:

Cuba did suffer a 20% drop in oil consumption with the collapse of the USSR, but that oil was not the decisive factor in Cuba's implosion. So Cuba is a very poor model of peak oil. The primary reasons for Cuba's troubles were: a) the implosion of the USSR and its trading block, and b) Cuba's communist economy. This passage from an Oxfam America report(pdf) gives a clearer picture:
The breakup of socialism first in Eastern Europe in 1989 and then in the Soviet Union in 1990 created a major crisis in Cuba known as the "special period." Cuba lost 80% of its export market and its imports fell by 80% -- from $8 billion to $1.7 billion -- practically overnight.

The country went into shock as employment, production, and standards of living went into a tailspin. In the cities, buses stopped running, generators stopped producing electricity, factories became as silent as graveyards. Obtaining enough food for the day became the primary activity for many, if not most, Cubans. At the Cuban Communist Party's fouth Congress, President Castro painfully listed the commitments unfulfilled by Cuba's former allies:

"As of September 30 [1992], we had received none of the rice, 50% of the split peas, 16% of the vegetable oil, 7% of the lard, 11% of the condensed milk, 47% of the butter, 18% of the canned meat, 22% of the powdered milk, 11% of the fresh and canned fish, 16% of the fertilizers, none of the sulphur..."
As you can see, Cuba's crisis was not caused by a shortage of oil, but by a shortage of everything.
by JD

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


This is a continuation of the previous article, with further discussion of the Doomer Feedlot:

I think it's a classic Marshall McLuhan situation: we like to think it is the *content* of the news items which is the reality, but, in a way, that's just an excuse, and the real story is the social relations created by a new media (in this case, the internet).

Consider power outages and brownouts, for example. Certainly, there have been chronic failures of power grids for decades, particularly in the 3rd world. However in the past you couldn't aggregate real-time news of such outages into a feed. But now you can, and you can also aggregate a readership around it. And the feed has a sort of iconic, brute power. Imagine a teletype machine in the back of a room, reeling off power outage news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It would be even more effective if you had a robot read the reports over a loudspeaker...
The Doomertron speaks... All doom, all the time.

It would be totally unnerving... You would start worrying that the world was ending due to a massive overload of power outages, simply due to the number and flow rate of reports.

In fact, though, you're just reading/listening to noise. It was there all along. You just didn't have a microphone hooked up to it before.

In a way, I think we're all just drunk on the power of the internet. The ability of the media to generate news is now surpassing the ability to digest it, so you need feedlots of media consumers to try to choke it down, like a snake trying to swallow a pig. The ability to gather and analyze statistics has taken leaps and bounds too, resulting in new forms of journalism like Stuart's massive opuses. But we're starting to reach saturation, where the consumers can't choke it down. The supply of peak oil information is grossly exceeding the reading capacity.

The solution to this problem is the Feedlot. Zones of concentrated, intensive media consumption. It's ironic that peak oilers are so strongly offended by "consumer society", and yet they tend to be absolutely feverish consumers of the classic post-industrial product: Media.

You've got the spellbound people, huddling around the robot, listening to the never-ending power outage news, and they like to think they are in touch with "reality". But they aren't actually obsessed with reality. They're obsessed with *media*. Reality is that thing you interact with when you turn the computer OFF.

I think, if you asked a lot of wives out there, the #1 impact of peak oil on their family is their flabby husband addicted to the computer. *That's* the reality.

Peak oil is something you can cope with quite easily, without following any news at all. So that doesn't explain the phenomenon of the feedlot. There is an illusion that something useful is being done, but in fact, it's more akin to entertainment, like people watching sports.

Since 2004, when I first started following peak oil, I've heard the peak oil doomertron ramble on about horror story after horror story: the Iraq war, 9-11 conspiracies, financial armageddon, depleted uranium, reinstitution of the draft, hurricanes, global warming, "trophic theory", bird flu, peak phosphorus, entropy, collapse of the dollar, the Iranian oil bourse, fishery depletion, soils, biodiversity, financial chicanery, toxic debt, power outages, zombie hordes, infrastructure deterioration etc. etc.

Meanwhile, this was the big picture (from UN World Economic Situation and Prospects(pdf)):
Strong world growth, and hundreds of millions of people raising themselves out of poverty in developing countries.

by JD

Friday, February 15, 2008


For those of you just coming to peak oil, you're going to want to understand the most basic concept of peak oil: The doomer feedlot. Forget about the Hubbert curve, and oil, and all that complicated math/science bullshit. That's all irrelevant to the actual day-to-day reality of peak oil. Today, I'm going to tell you what you really need to know to survive in the peak oil world.

First you're going to want to go to a doomer feedlot, like or DrumBeat at the Oil Drum, and get a user ID. It's like one of those tags that they crimp onto your ear. All the doomers look the same, and they're all packed nose-to-bunghole into the feedlot, so the feedlot needs a way to tell them apart in case one "goes down" or flips out etc.

Now, I know it's intimidating, but you're going to want to shove your way through all those packed in, fly encrusted doomer asses until you get to the trough. It's a real thrill, waiting for the truck. You got grizzled doomers on the left and right. Their fat guts are thickly marbled from all the scary news articles they've read over the years. They'll body check ya if they sense you're not scared. Just look one in the eye and say: "We are soooo fucked." They'll think you're one of them.

You're going to want to get used to this ritual of bellying up to the trough, cause you're going to be doing it about 10-20 times a day at the doomer feedlot. Ideally you'll want to work your way towards the front of the trough, near the fresh news items, but don't get too eager, some of the grizzled old-timers have staked out the best positions, like that Westexas bovine that just hangs there at the front of the trough, come rain or shine. Animals can be real stubborn like that.

Then the tails start waggin. Hot diggidy dog! Here comes the truck!! It's Leanan, in her overalls. She shovels the doom into the trough every morning, so you get your head in there and start slurping those juicy news items.

Here comes a shovelful: "Babies freeze to death in Kyrgyzstan."

That's got the stink of doom all over it, and the cows' eyes bug out with excitement...

"Babies freeze to death in Kyrgyzstan? Oh mama... Got bunker?"
"We are soooo fucked!"

Leanan really knows how to blend that feed. You see, lesson 1 is that peak oil is not about peak oil. Peak oil is about the inevitable die-off of industrial society and mankind due to hubris and stupidity. Any news item which advances that thesis... goes in the feed.

Remember: This is very much NOT about helping suffering people in other countries. The die-off is inevitable, so help is pointless. It's about the process of deriving nourishment from suffering in the form of news. Plowing through reports and commentary and blogs, day after day, for years on end, for signs of depression and mass death. Using reports of suffering to score debating points.

Pretty soon you'll be chewing through truckloads of material all by yourself. Biofuel report after biofuel report, until your mind is reeling, and your brain is starting to short-circuit from the sheer stress of seeing the word "biofuels" too many times, following footnote links that never end, and other nightmarish scenarios. You click on a link and cause a nuclear explosion etc. etc.

Don't worry these are all perfectly natural, psychological reactions to the stresses of life in the doomer feedlot. Endless biofuel reports and phonebook sized statistical analyses and prep checklists and satellite photos and reams of news items and press releases, you're going to have to read them all, and defend your opinions of them all, down to the fine print, in mortal combat with wave after wave of Zombie doomer chat room trolls. It's like Mad Max, except that was only a movie, and peak oil is even less real than that because the peak oil zombie hordes are just internet nerds with tough-sounding doomer screen names who invade forums and blogs. So, are you ready for peak oil? Do you have all your preps? You will need:
  • A good sturdy chair
  • Eyedrops
  • A thick pillow to keep your ass from getting sore
  • Some pain relief ointment for your mouse clicking finger
  • Headache medications
by JD

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Wal-Mart often plays the role of Satan in the anti-capitalist peak oil cult, and the end of Wal-Mart is a frequent subject of doomer porn:

Kunstler sees Wal-Mart rather like an entity from a horror movie....
It was a manifestation of the 20-year-final-blowout of cheap oil. Like all economic distortions, it produced economic perversions. It allowed gigantic, predatory organisms like WalMart to spawn and reproduce at the expense of more cellular fine-grained economic communities.
...which must wither and die when oil prices rise:
Operations like WalMart have enjoyed economies of scale that were attained because of very special and anomalous historical circumstances: a half century of relative peace between great powers. And cheap oil - absolutely reliable supplies of it, since the OPEC disruptions of the 1970s.

WalMart and its imitators will not survive the oil market disruptions to come. Not even for a little while. [...] WalMart's "warehouse on wheels" will not be able to operate in a non-cheap oil economy

It will only take mild-to-moderate disruptions in the supply and price of gas to put WalMart and all operations like it out of business.
Maybe the purest expression of the peak oiler theory of Wal-Mart was a 2004 attempt by pup55, one the "experts" at, to slay the beast by applying the usual Hubbert curve voodoo. In a thread called Peak Mart, pup55 used highly advanced mathematical techniques like logistic curve modeling and Q-inf to show that, in 2005 or 2006, sales of Wal-Mart would peak and terminally decline (like everything in the peak oiler universe). Here's the chart (pup55's forecast in purple, actual stats in yellow):

Oops. As you can see, the "Peak Everything" pseudo-science didn't work so well this time. Since the late 90s, the price of gasoline has roughly tripled, and so have the revenues of Wal-Mart. The "end of Wal-Mart" was just wishful thinking.

To add insult to injury, it turns out that Wal-Mart is planning to co-opt the organic food business:
In the United States the pressure to bring the cost [of organic food] down will vastly increase soon because in 2006, Wal-Mart, the largest grocery retailer, announced plans to increase the amount of organic food available in its stores.Source Specifically, the increase in demand for organic food will require that more organic produce be imported.Source Secondly, the push to lower prices might "virtually guarantee that Wal-Mart's version of cheap organic food is not sustainable".Source
Talk about diabolical. For the peak oil cult, this is the equivalent of Satan himself baking the communion wafers.

by JD

Monday, February 04, 2008


Here's an interesting technology I ran across while researching something else.
From the Oct. 6, 2003 CERN Courier:
Laser alchemy could burn nuclear waste
A new approach to disposing of radioactive waste without using intense sources of neutrons is based on nuclear alchemy by laser. Ken Ledingham and colleagues from Strathclyde University, Glasgow University, Imperial College, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in the UK and the Institute for Transuranium Elements in Karlsruhe, Germany, have harnessed the ability of intense laser-plasma interactions to produce gamma rays that can be used for nuclear transmutation.

Working with the petawatt facility of the VULCAN glass laser at RAL, the team used a 0.7 ps pulse of 360 J to focus on a gold target with an intensity of about 5 x 10^20 W cm^-2. Electrons from the plasma formed in this way reached relativistic energies and emitted bremsstrahlung gamma rays as they stopped in the gold. The team used these gamma rays to irradiate a sample prepared with waste solution from a fuel processing plant. They found that the irradiation changed iodine-129 into iodine-128. While both these isotopes are radioactive, the change is important because it corresponds to swapping a half-life of 15.7 million years for one of 25 minutes.
by JD