Special Report: Peak Oil

Petro-Apocalypse Revisited

OPEC's spare capacity number is a deep sea monster, like something dark and shimmering in BP's gushing seafloor well. It could be almost nothing; it might be 2 Mbd at best. The only thing people agree about is that the number is dropping.

By Andrew McKillop
Published July 11, 2010

What is the Petro-Apocalypse? Is it still alive, waiting to unfurl like Paul the Psychic Octopus, and tell us we will all lose? Or did the Apocalypse disappear like visions of Global Warming and mass CO2 fear and loathing, in 2009? Or has it been magicked away by huge finds of deep water oil, bounding tarsand oil production, and vast quantities of shale gas?

Scenarios of catastrophic rapid declines in oil supplies, economic crisis, geopolitical rivalry and Islamic-flavoured oil war faded somewhat since their heyday around 2005, being replaced by real world record high oil prices (and prices of coal and uranium) by 2008.

Today's downsized Petro-Apocalypse cottage industry focuses events like BP's Gulf of Mexico environmental massacre but without high oil prices to keep consumers focused, scenarios for 'traditional' crises or 'traditional' oil wars are pale things, compared with the latest government austerity plan or latest idiocy on YouTube or Facebook.

Intellectuals, or supposed intellectuals, criticize Peak Oil as a "Malthusian view" of mineral resources - Malthusian doomsters defending the strange idea that non renewable resources necessarily decline as production and consumption rises. Other key arguments ranged against Peak Oil include the claim that human innovation, new technology and corporate initiative will always "unlock new resources", and do so fastest whenever things look bleak for the human race. For fossil fuels, shale gas is the present shining light.

Tony Hayward of BP, still trying to get his life back, was himself an early cheerleader for shale gas development using hydro fracturing of "tight gas" reserves mostly found in shale formations, relieving and rescuing natural gas consumers forced to pay more for declining conventional gas reserves. BP, as we know, is a world leader in deep water oil exploration and production, and deep water oil resources are another claimed quick fix for beating the decline of conventional resources, an arena for steel nerved corporate risk taking, and a full metal replique to "Malthusian views".

Certainly in the case of deep water oil, less surely for shale and fracture gas, these "last best" solutions are unlikely to head off high and rising oil prices, or gas prices that will trend upwards from their recent extreme lows in the USA, and stay at what are called high price levels outside the USA.

Talking down Peak Oil is always the basic goal. Since 2009, Peak Oil alarm has been heavily but inexpertly talked down from its mid-year 2008 high point, when oil prices on the Nymex briefly attained US$147 a barrel.

Keeping prices below "psychological ceilings" is very important, notably the US$90 a barrel price level identified by US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke, at the August 2009 Jackson Hole meeting of world central banking chiefs. The rationale is that high oil prices are bad for confidence in the economy, bad for inflation and bad for consumer spending - and the hoped-for economic recovery needs more oil.

Fighting Facts With Dreams

The cheap oil wish list dates back to the very first Oil Shocks, of the 1970s, and is based on what can seem credible to consumers of sloganized economic notions, but runs against simple geological and technological, industrial, economic and financial reality. The cheap oil dream held true for a long time. But when global oil demand recovers to anything like the 2004-2007 rate of annual increase, around 2% a year or 1.75 million barrels a day extra demand each year, the world supply ceiling will be quickly crunched.

Prices will then rupture the magic $90/barrel glass ceiling. The reason is that world production capacity has not caught up with demand, despite prices multiplied by around seven times in the last ten years and record level oil exploration spending for more than five years. This alone should alert even the coziest minded economist that "something is wrong", and of course fuel a million conspiracy theories.

To be sure, deep water oil discoveries are trumpeted in the corporate-friendly press and media, but the numbers given for oil finds carefully avoid saying that deep water resource finds, and producible reserves, are two different things. Resource finds like the BP Macondo field (on which Deepwater Horizon was drilling) announced as a resource find of maybe 300 million barrels or more, will probably produce less than 50 million barrels. BP in July 2010 itself estimated 44 to 50 million barrels.

World oil resource findings are still at best one-third annual consumption. That is, 10 billion barrels are found but 31 billion barrels are consumed. Of the 10 billion found each year (and some years in the 2000-2010 period the 'score' has been below 5 billion), we do not know what percentage will be extracted and produced over the next 15, 20 or 30 years, but it will be low.

Almost at any time, the dreaded 100-dollar barrel can soar out from the ruins of the shattered 90-dollar glass ceiling.

World gas prices, increasingly dependent on high capital cost LNG infrastructures, will likely trend up towards current LNG prices, around US$9 - 11 per million BTU, not down to unrealistic current prices for US pipeline supplies at under US$5 per million BTU. These forecasts are rarely heard in the media, whether business, financial or other.

Coal and uranium, which are far from Forgotten Fossil Fuels, face their own geological, as well as industrial, economic, financial and environmental, as well as geopolitical limits on constant supply expansion. In the 2007-2008 period both uranium and coal prices attained their most recent record highs, uranium prices growing from their most recent low, of US $8 per pound in 2000 to US $135 a pound in 2007, and coal prices mutliplying by 6 through 2000-2008.

Oil, gas, coal and uranium are needed to power economic recovery in the real world economy. That is needed to power real world airplane flights, and real world cars bought by real world consumers - not oil saving electric vehicles of the high cost and fragile, ecological fantasy future.

Saving the airline industry and cranking out more cars have been two of the rare signs of economic recovery in OECD countries, following the subprime belly-up for the finance sector, recourse to massive government borrowing by political leaders, and "injections" of these borrowed funds into the economy - notably to encourage car buying.

This shift of private and corporate debt to government and sovereign and national debt has been the only real change in the economy since late 2007 and though 2008-2009. Restoring economic growth, if only to reduce national debt burdens, needs confidence.

The conventional argument for cheap oil says that if oil stays cheap, consumers will stay confident. This cozy argument has been many times disproved by simple global macro trends, and specially the petrodollar recycling fillip to growth, described in many IMF and US Federal Reserve working papers, but the story remains a crowd puller.

What is real is that cheap oil wastes resources and keeps careless consumers wasteful, and oil greed starts wars, but that is not a consumer-friendly message.

Oil Demand Recovery

The world economy relies on oil, but the Petro Apocalypse theory pretends that high priced oil will blow up or blow out the economy in an inflation fireball. The economic crash of 2007-2009, triggered by scam financial products derived from mortgage debt traded for supposedly responsible high street banks - and not by high oil prices - saw some countries, for example Japan and a string of European countries, plunging at a rate of 5% to 15% in their GDP output over one year.

World trade contracted at more than 12% a year, in an economic crisis described by the IMF as the worst since 1929, but this economic woe managed only to dent world oil demand by about 3.5%. By midyear 2009, world oil demand contraction had ceased.

From late 2009-early 2010, demand growth returned and oil prices bounced back, as the giant emerging economies of China and India power ahead - using oil - in a totally classic model of industry based economic expansion. This notably includes their car industries, producing cars 98% fueled by oil, with car output growing at 10%, 15% or 20% a year, like the number of airplane passengers their national fleet operators carry.

Both China and India have a capital surplus and manageable national budgets, totally unlike the OECD countries, such as the USA with its federal budget deficit for year 2010 estimated at US $1.16 trillion. Despite average per capita wealth 10 or 15 times lower than OECD averages, paying for oil at US$90 a barrel is no problem for China and India.

Imagining that Chinese and Indian economic growth might be possible without oil is like Tony Hayward imagining he can keep his job.

Finding More Oil

The Petro Apocalypse - for some this summarizes to paying more than US$90 a barrel - can only be pushed back a little further in time, another day gained for the plastics-and-pesticides, greed-is-good consumer society, by finding more oil. Finding oil is what pushed and incited BP, and other major oil corporations, from all leading oil importer countries, including China and India, to make a lemming rush into extreme high-cost, high-risk and high-loss deepwater oil exploration and development.

The reason is simple: onshore and shallow offshore oil reserves are depleting. The OPEC states and Russia control the largest remaining onshore resources of cheaper-produced oil. They are not particularly interested in producing and depleting their natural resources in the shortest possible time to satisfy consumer countries. Between "resource nationalism" and "resource imperialism", the conservation-exploitation divide runs like Africa's Rift Valley.

Getting more oil out of the ground, anywhere on Earth, is increasingly difficult. For the OPEC states and Russia, the likely coming trend is a cap or freeze on exploration spending, dictated by costs more than supposed "economic terror" cravings or a desire to ruing the world economy.

Press statements and news releases from the Big-Five International Oil Corporations (IOCs) BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Total and Shell vaunt their high-tech cutting edge, their corporate respect for the environment, and their supposedly high-efficiency, low-waste extraction of the precious oil needed to power the consumers. In fact, their deepwater and tarsand oil production is necessarily high-cost, high-risk and high-waste. A single "dry hole" in an ultra deep water prospect can cost US$200 million.

Producing synthetic oil from tarsand and oil shales typically needs barrel prices over US $75 to break even. Further, the break-even price level rises with the barrel price because production itself is so energy-intensive.

Risks are shown by BP's Macondo field disaster, and by typical "normal loss" rates as high as one or two percent of nameplate capacity in very deep water: leaving pollution that will take decades or centuries to disappear in the ice cold waters two or three kilometres straight down from the surface. Only in highly special circumstances, like BP's disaster, are these loss rates made known to the consumer public, casually swigging the increasingly high-cost, high-waste and high-environment-impact oil they think they rely on.

Actual extractable or productible reserves, relative to resources, are usually in the range of 5% to 15%. In the case of BP's Macondo field, the extractable amount will be around 44 - 50 million barrels, over 15 years or more, for a field probably holding an initial resource of 250 - 300 million barrels.

Likewise, BP's nearby "supergiant" Tiber field, found in 2009, is claimed to hold as much as 8 billion barrels, but BP estimates that probably under 400 million barrels can be extracted from it over its operating lifetime.

Going back to the case of the Macondo field, we can note that BP's current estimate of extractable oil from this field, about 44 - 50 million barrels through about 15 years of field operations, is enough oil to cover about 12 - 14 hours of today's world demand.

If this is a robust defeat for Malthusian thinking or the "Malthus principle", applied to oil, we could argue that rising NATO troop levels in Afghanistan are a sure proof that hearts-and-minds are being won. In fact, with oil like the tolerance of Afghans for military occupation, the faster we use it up, the faster it runs out and is gone.

Mother Of Invention

Apologists for deep offshore oil and its onshore lookalike for destruction of the environment, high costs, high waste and low net energy yield - Canadian tarsand oil extraction - quickly shift their pitch. They describe the deepwater scraping of the barrel (and ripping tens of thousands of square kilometres of Canadian boreal forest land) as yet more stirring proofs that Necessity is the Mother of Invention.

When the oil-based, oil-fired society starts seriously running out of oil, producers find new ways to predate the environment, because society only has one need: to keep the party going. One More Day is the sole credo. This generates a never-ceasing and solid outpouring of hypocrisy and bleating.

One favourite is that High tech oil may only be "transitionally" damaging to the environment. Well-managed news on high tech finally reducing environment impact and ultimately reducing resource waste has a simple bottom line: keep the consumer public bumbling along in happy ignorance of reality, and keep producing enough nonrenewable resources to keep the public consuming, powering unstable and fragile, certain-to-fail economic growth.

A 2003 version of this semi-religious, morally flexible vision was applied to selling the Iraq War as a justifiable struggle to open up a formerly closed OPEC state to high tech oil prospecting and development.

With the help of august bodies like the American Institute of Petroleum, the propaganda circus went as far as claiming that vast quantities of ultra light, sweet crude oil were located just a few feet deep, under each and every one of Saddam Hussein's palaces. Remote sensing from spy planes or spy satellites clearly showed the prospect, on fuzzy, grainy black-and-white photos, the same type used to flash images of Iraq's Weapons of Mass Destruction, threatening both cheap oil and humanity.

Sadly enough, the cheap sweet crude under Saddam palaces was as fake as most BP press statements on actual rates of oil spewing from its sea floor well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. In a sign of the times - the move to Green Energy - the propaganda machine has moved on. Afghanistan is now claimed to hold vast quantities of lithium, to make electric car batteries. This will save the oil - that thanks to deep water exploration and production can never, ever run out!

Setting The Scene

Resource Cornucopians are related to hypocritical imperial apologists. Both know that to keep consumer friendly, they must move with consumers' shifting, unsure set of daily obsessions and instant slogans. Oil shortage was a 2008 worry bead, replaced in 2009 by climate change and CO2 emission fears, and then by economic crisis, austerity and debt in 2010.

The return of oil at over US$90 barrel, in 2010, will therefore surely set the scene for vintage media outpourings. Logically speaking, Afghanistan's extremely rich lithium resources, justifying further excesses in this colonial war, makes it unimportant if oil prices rise. The consumer will only have to pay US$90 a barrel during the few years needed for the car industry to make a 100% shift to all-electric car manufacturing.

How to charge the batteries of a 950-million world car fleet of electric cars, assuming the present car fleet doesn't grow, and does shift to all-electric, is another fantasy subject area.

Oil resource Cornucopians inform us that when we get to the real paydirt for cheap oil, which will be onshore and will unsurprisingly be located in OPEC states and Russia, all prospect of oil shortage will be banished forever. Oil prices will fall to any nice, low number the most wasteful oil consumer would care to name.

Cornucopians normally respond to any question as to why the IOCs are foraging and recklessly grappling oil from ultra-deep water, and from Athabasca tarsands, that getting oil from "tight formations" and from "hostile environments" is a great example of Necessity Mothering Invention, a splendid proof of man's ingenuity. This heroic technology, they go on, will however only be needed in the interval before our IOCs get access to the incredible bounty of cheap oil that remains.

This is onshore, in all OPEC states, not only Iraq, and also in Russia, as well as smaller amounts but more easily pillaged, in Africa.

Liberating Russia's oil by military invasion is presently out of the question: the country has too many nuclear weapons, can defend itself, and would massively react to oil-greed motivated "liberation". Another problem is that Russia's remaining oil reserves, like its gas reserves, are both over-estimated and depleting. Getting what remains of Russia's oil reserves needs more devious and diplomatic methods than outright invasion, for example by long-term sapping of the country's already super-corrupt economy, society and politics.

Liberating Resources For Civilization

This leaves the OPEC states, and the gaggle of smaller but collectively interesting new oil producers of Africa as better targets for a quick hit, that is Afghan-style and Iraq-style military invasion and "liberation", or at the least political intimidation and oil-fired Gunboat Diplomacy.

For the African oil producers there is one detail: to keep them exporting a high percent of their small production, they have to stay dirt poor and undeveloped, not using too much oil at home, to generate the oil export surplus that feeds the "mature postindustrial democracies". This helps explain the rush to force Green Energy down African throats, most recently by the IMF's thwarted attempt at creating a $100 billion facility for green energy in low income countries "by 2020".

However, dependence on OPEC and Russia, in a world supposedly "brimful" with oil, is depressingly easy to demonstrate. Saudi Arabia and other GCC country members of the OAPEC group, plus non-OPEC Russia, currently supply around 28 million barrels a day (Mbd). This is about 55% of world total traded and transported oil, all coming from seven countries. This export surplus from seven countries covers the oil needs of more than 100 countries.

The fantasy claim of cheap oil hopefuls is that OPEC can no longer "manipulate market prices". These are now manipulated by American private bankers, notably Goldman Sachs and other "big players" on world oil markets. As shown by their antics of 2008, oil traders can gouge prices every bit as much as Arab despots or Russian mafiosi, in their permanent shadow play and rumor circus, a casino where 80 - 100 paper barrels are traded for every one real barrel. It has no relation at all to real-world oil production, by OPEC states or anybody else, but it smacks of "free market transparency" whenever it talks down prices.

Supposed "key fundamentals", feeding the rumor mill, include OPEC's claimed surplus, or under-utilized oil pumping capacity at any one point in time. This claimed excess capacity has continuously declined from its heyday at around 10 Mbd, in the 1990s, when the oil trader fraternity had only to chant "Structural oversupply - Too much capacity", and prices would obediently shrink to almost nothing. This story stopped working by at latest 2005.

OPEC's flagrant non-performance in keeping up spare capacity is clear.

Back To Oil War

Today's OPEC spare capacity number is a deep sea monster, like something dark and shimmering in BP's gushing seafloor Macondo well a mile below the surface. It could be almost nothing; it might be 2 Mbd at best. The only thing people agree about is that the number is dropping.

The press in the consumer democracies have few problems identifying why this is the case: OPEC's hostility and cynicism, its refusal to invest in producing more oil to supply more and keep price low for consumers countries, and the diversion by OPEC states (and probably Russia) of oil revenues from the sacred quest of increasing oil output and depleting their national reserves faster, to aid terror and hinder the free market.

This gives another cut on how Petro-Apocalypse will burst back, when the right price signal is set by Nymex traders: OPEC states are run by terror-aiding political despots intent on harming innocent drivers of 4WDs on their way to shop for plastics and pesticides in the Universal Supermarket. With only 2 Mbd "behind the valve," oil supply they can turn on and off at will, we are evidently held to ransom. Pre-emptive oil war is justified and normal.

This is despite what Apologists and Cornucopians throw at the microphone, on the vast oil resources held in deep water offshore provinces of civilized countries, like the USA, gorged with oil in the same way that Russia and the OPEC states are gorged with onshore oil. Unlocking this oil is a sacred task for our high-tech, environment conscious oil corporations like BP, but since this is taking rather a long while, costs too much, and can even cause minor environmental crises, invading OPEC states is a better strategy.

Global Non Investment

How can supply be so short when Cornucopian dreamers gurgle that so much oil is still available in the ground? The answer is under-investment. A favoured estimate of world oil reserves by truth-loving and reliable Tony Hayward of BP is that we have "at least 150 years' supply", about 4.5 trillion barrels, in reserve. His chief economist could give the cutoff barrel price used to cobble this massive prospect - maybe US$250 a barrel.

The basic problem is therefore simple: it costs a lot of dosh, not slick Powerpoint slide shows at business feel-ins and get-togethers, to extract smaller percentages of oil in place from depleting and smaller-sized reserves in more and more remote geological basins, including the deep ocean floor. Missing out on tiny tiny pockets of high-cost, very hot oil locked under salt beds, eight kilometres under the sea floor, beneath two kilometres of water, can cost US$200 million a shot. This explains why so few new barrels are found per dollar spent on exploration, and why the cost curve for new finds only goes up.

Through the 1985-1999 period - the Cheap Oil Interval - global oil industry investment was a no-no. There was too much supply capacity, due to Saudi Arabia caning its reserves to keep the USA happy, and Russia caning its reserves to pay off its debt. But all good things - for greedy oil consumers - come to an end. Oil sector investment has climbed the same steep curve as oil prices since around 2004, but to no avail. Every year it costs more to add or replace the same barrel-per-day pumping capacity.

Capital spending needed for each extra barrel-day of capacity, or to prevent or slow the same capacity from being lost, has been rising at typical rates of 20% a year for more than five years.

Deep offshore and Canadian tarsand oil are two of the most expensive possible methods of extracting oil. There is no possibility of this production being sustained without what average consumers and their average political leaders call "high" oil prices.

Cornucopians wax realistic from time to time. For instance, they say it takes huge and costly investment to maintain capacity, and massive exploration, drilling and production budgets to sustain and replace lost and declining production. The Deepwater Horizon rig, blown up in April 2010 and killing 11 workers is an example: this supposed jewel of high-tech had a price tag of $365 million. Shallow offshore and onshore rigs cost a fraction of this.

OPEC states that do not invest huge amounts each year to maintain export supply volumes are therefore natural targets of consumer ire - but the unsurprising fact is that OPEC states and Russia have other things to invest in, such as regular economic development, education, health, housing and transport - exactly like the oil consumer countries.

Venezuela is a favoured non-Arab target for American oil whining and jealousy, with the Hugo Chavez government accused of mismanaging a stagnant output oil industry, committing the heinous fault of not always increasing output, to prevent prices from rising and satisfy American oil wasters.

Venezuela's national oil company, PDVSA, which continues to employ many Americans in strategic posts, faces plenty of challenges - including geological depletion of its cheaper and easier-produced reserves, which have been extracted for over 85 years.

The claim is that Venezuela "could double its production", especially if it was invaded, that is "liberated" Iraq-style. For Chavez, however, like his ally Evo Morales of Bolivia sitting on a stash of lithium (but now menaced by Afghan warlords), high prices for his oil commodity export - say $100 a barrel - buy plenty of street credibility.

There Will Be Oil

Over and beyond the war-crazed ranting of old style imperialists unable to accept that depletion is a reality, the basic fact is there is no real shortage of oil, if the right price is paid. Also at this time, and simply because world supply/demand balances are so tight, the invasion and occupation "model" or "war option" for improving oil production performance in exporter countries, such as Iraq, would surely backfire if it was used.

Loss of supply from the country being "liberated" by war criminals would impact fragile and "mature" supply structures - quickly driving up oil prices, to the displeasure of average greedy consumers, who also occasionally vote.

The well-mapped tipping point for peak oil starting in 2010-2011 depends only on the intensity of the global economic recovery and the growth rate of world oil demand. By late 2010 we can have prices back over US$100 a barrel, and by early 2011 prices may be very high, due to structural shortage.

Despite this, we will have only reached the point where 50 percent of the world's ultimately recoverable oil has been consumed. The second round is coming, and

The other 50 percent will be more wisely used, simply because prices will rise to high levels - and stay at high levels despite cyclic or other economic recessions, encouraging conservation and substitution. Welcome to the real world, real future!

Andrew McKillop is a writer and consultant on oil and energy economics. Since 1975 he has worked in energy, economic and scientific organizations in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North America. These include the Canada Science Council, the ILO, European Commission, Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and South Pacific, and the World Bank. He is a founding member of the Asian chapter of the International Association of Energy Economics. He is also the editor, with Sheila Newman, of The Final Energy Crisis (Pluto Press, 2005).

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 11, 2010 at 23:26:05

I believe that a new word might eventually enter the language. MacKillop, as in Tony Hayward was MacKilloped. Its definition would be something like: beaten down so thoroughly there is no escaping. I lost track of how many living or ideological victims were MacKilloped in this article but Ryan, I hope the RTH will invent an award based on various metrics such as MacKillops per article, average words per MacKillop, minimum words required to MacKillop, etc. My fav in this article:

.....average greedy consumers, who also occasionally vote.

Who in Hamilton fits that description? Anybody....???(Developers don't count as they aren't average.) Well, let me start the ball rolling.... i'd say, based on residential Hamilton being about 4/5ths suburbia, that 4/5ths of us fit that description.

Go ahead, downvote. I keep my MacKillop ready behind the door!

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By Ron Cobb (anonymous) | Posted July 12, 2010 at 05:25:56

Twenty-five years ago this month, California scientist Emmett Brown unveiled the first of a series of interesting high-performance auto prototypes running on alternate fuels, including a plutonium/garbage hybrid. There were many skeptics at the time, but he may get the last laugh.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted July 12, 2010 at 09:04:28

I hope eventually we figure out how to have electric and alternative fuel for vehicles, but I also hope there is about 100 years of scarce oil with few options for extensive highway driving so that we can get walkable cities back again. Wouldn't it be great if nobody had to sit in stressful traffic (worst way to start a day), nevermind all the other reasons why it is absolutely ridiculous.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 12, 2010 at 13:41:11

The author's disregard for innovation and technology is troubling. There are solutions, some available right now and there are companies spending large sums of money to develop alternatives. Just speaking for my company if we could figure out how not to burn diesel fuel in our product our product would instantly become the most cost effective product in the marketplace. For a product often chosen on cost of operation that is a huge (almost insurmountable) advantage. Does the author not realise or believe there are large multinational corporations who will benefit from these types of innovations and are actively pursuing them? The decline of our oil economy would mean massive profits for some very large very powerful corporations.

Supporting and using currently available technologies, (e.g., electric vehicles, alternative energy sources) developing additional technologies laying just on the horizon, (e.g., supercapacitor batteries) and changing the way our society is structured (e.g., telecommuting, urbanizing of suburbs) can change this world for the better. Peak Oil doesn't have to be all doom and gloom… but saying so may not make as sensational an article.

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 12, 2010 at 21:24:03

Please allow me to expand the descriptive senselessness of Mr. Innes' quoted comment using McKillop.

Unfortunately, logic is not a strong point of hippy dreamers, congenital liars and the braindead consumer herd... average greedy consumers, who occasionally vote.

To which Mr. Innes, in sinister perplexity wonders:

Who in Hamilton fits that description? Anybody....??? (Developers don't count as they aren't average.) Well, let me start the ball rolling.... i'd say, based on residential Hamilton being about 4/5ths suburbia, that 4/5ths of us fit that description.

Bob, all we can truly say concerning 4/5ths of Hamilton residents is that they are employed, retired or too young to be employed or retired. The remaining 1/5th is at or below the poverty line and doesn't count. That 1/5th doesn't have the resources necessary for over-consumption.

The solution, which globalized austerity predisposes, will seek to grow that impoverished 1/5th minority to a 4/5ths majority, "Burning sticks or twigs and dancing round a solar collector."

I'm sorry Bob, but as a frugal individual with an already smaller environmental footprint than 4/5ths of Hamilton's middle-aged men, I must still consider myself a hippy dreamer who may occasionally vote.

I do not totally agree with Mr. McKillop's doomsay, but I am completely opposed to Kiely's blind faith in science. I'll gladly take four 4 horses over another eclectic automobile any day. A horse runs on water and grass and excretes natural fertilizer as a by-product. We won't find any better science than that, so be patient as fresh water becomes the new oil and corn our new golden staff.

As William Empson wrote in his poem Missing Dates:

Slowly the poison the whole blood stream fills…

The waste remains, the waste remains and kills.

Who can feel it's anything other than the worst of times when the Gulf of Mexico is set to die before our eyes. Alexander Cockburn

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 12, 2010 at 23:11:16

There are technologies which could fix these problems. If big corporations profited from sustainable technolgical solutions, why is there so little investment in solar? Why weren't big efficient train networks developed decades ago?

Virtually every level of technology which preceded ours was FAR more sustainable. If you were to put two lines on a ten-thousand year graph, technology and environmental destruction, they'd match each other nearly exactly (both peaking at times like the late Roman Empire).

Are cars going to get more efficient? Yes. Though they clearly haven't been working hard (there was a decades-long stagnation thanks to SUVs) at it, they'll have to. The question is, will those efficiency gains be swallowed up by more driving, and more drivers, or whether it will complement a transition?

I'm not saying that technology itself is inherently bad, but relying on it to fix our woes is an act of religious faith, not rational or scientific observation. Some technologies will unquestionably help us fix the world. However, the first priority needs to be finding the excess capacity and shutting it down. A factory fishing boat must consume an unsustainable number of fish to pay its bills. This kind of technology, like deep-sea oil drilling and the tar sands, just has to go. Whether the local-scale fisheries and energy production which replace them work with thousand-year-old net designs or GPS navigation (or likely both), what is important is that there are enough fish being born and growing up to be caught the next year. If there aren't, that city-sized floating factory is going to have to shut down anyway, just like Eastern Canada.

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2010-07-12 22:31:58

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2010 at 00:44:55

Good comments, voting notwithstanding.

Kiely, being as much for technology as you, I nonetheless appreciate the necessity of MacKillop's approach as being one means, perhaps the only means of getting folks serious about the needed change. Without knowing what your company makes, let us assume its a diesel driven pump - might be of interest to WRCU2. Its a little fantastic to imagine a pump running without fuel and of course it would be a world beater. Yup. But it seems to be in keeping with most suburban thinking to assure everyone that such a thing is just around the corner. That way, nobody has to adjust their lifestyle or thinking. Not to mention the side effects undustrial worries about.

Andrew is trying to make us understand that is highly unlikely to be possible. I will have to retract that statement iff (if and only if)cold fusion or an equivalent something-from-nothing technology is successfully invented. String theory anyone? But until such a thing does happen, we must act on the assumption it will not happen, not that it will. Even in our world, a new technology takes 20 years to fully emerge so that is not an unreasonable requirement. Both you and Adam2 mentioned desuburbanization as one obvious solution - that needs very little technology. WRCU2 describes this as low footprint but how will said suburbanites adopt such a drastic change without being MacKilloped a few times?

Before I, a lover of gadgets and technology, and I hope all of us dismiss the concerns of Undustrial and WRCU2 as so much Ludditism, please find out more about the following which just came to me today and which scares the heck out of me for the sake of my kids. Chilling, but it "solves" undustrial's fish problem.

It has been shown that after three generations of eating only GM food, hamsters go completely sterile. [comment on pro GMO article.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/natur...

The time challenged might want to download the podcast on this page which also notes:

according to the Daily Mail, 1 in 5 men is now unable to breed

http://www.quintessentialpublications.co...

We the people are being betrayed. As Plato said, our silence gives consent

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By Anatoli Ostapenko (anonymous) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 04:27:06

Summarizing the article:
Every move the US government (and mass media) makes in terms of politics, ideology, economic, environmental and military policies boils down to keeping the American monetary system afloat through limiting the barrel price of oil.
This, the author concludes, is counterproductive (even contradictory) as development of new oil deposits require higher price to be economically viable. Cutting corners, in order to make exploration and production cheaper, leads to environmental disasters. This closes the circle of contradictions - there isn't a way out, not through renewables or electric cars - the whole system must change.
Those who run the system don't want any changes. They would rather opt for economic stagnation or even war to save the US Dollar as the world's currency from the risk of depreciation (annihilation, disintegration, etc.)
Am I getting this right?

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 08:57:22

Thanks Bob, I don't mind dismissed from the technological addiction that got us where we're at. I know that a critical mass of us will not kick the habit in time to save us from ourselves. You should know this too.

How many of us are willing to part with our central air conditioning? I never had it to begin with and my children can't stand to be in air conditioned buildings, they claim it makes them sick and sterilization through GMO foods? That's interesting Bob, you should research the other methods being incorporated as well. I wasn't born yesterday.

Anatoli Ostapenko asks, "Am I getting this right...there isn't a way out, not through renewables or electric cars - the whole system must change?" Exactly Anatoli, and I challenge anyone here to come up with a solution short of 4 horses that will get us there, especially you Bob.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 10:01:34

Kiely's blind faith in science. - WRCU2

Bit of an exaggeration on your part don't you think?

Having "faith" in existing, viable, but under supported and under used technology is hardly "blind faith" in science WRCU2.

A horse runs on water and grass and excretes natural fertilizer as a by-product. - WRCU2

Imagine all the cars in the world replaced by "fertilizer excreting" modes of transportation. Ya, good times that would be. The "good old days" only appear so in history books and movies. Pining for a world that doesn't exist anymore is useless.

Would it be better if all of us were Mennonites and luddites? Sure, maybe. But being realistic and not seeing that happening any time soon, I choose to support new technologies to help with our "Petro-apocalypse". Calling that "blind faith" in technology is incorrect (i.e., it is not "faith" to believe in proven technologies) and ignorant (i.e., makes me think people are unaware of what technologies are available and how some of them can change our world).

Are cars going to get more efficient? Yes. Though they clearly haven't been working hard (there was a decades-long stagnation thanks to SUVs) at it, they'll have to. The question is, will those efficiency gains be swallowed up by more driving, and more drivers, or whether it will complement a transition? - Undustrial

It wasn't just SUVs Undustrial and beware the "efficient" word… car companies love that word. 40 mpg cars existed in the 1970s. If people were happy with the performance levels of late 1970's cars we'd be much better off today but unfortunately a lot of the engine technology over the past 2-3 decades has been seen as horsepower gains not increased fuel economy. Cars have become overpowered rich men's dens on wheels. Now a mid size sedan can produce 250-300 HP while achieving 20 mpg, cars have become dramatically more "efficient", but that is not the same as better fuel economy. But this is the fault of the people buying, not the people selling.

But it seems to be in keeping with most suburban thinking to assure everyone that such a thing is just around the corner. That way, nobody has to adjust their lifestyle or thinking - Bob Innes

I clearly state lifestyle changes are needed too.

I will have to retract that statement if (if and only if)cold fusion or an equivalent something-from-nothing technology is successfully invented. String theory anyone? But until such a thing does happen, we must act on the assumption it will not happen, not that it will. - Bob Innes

I don't know if the "all or nothing" attitude of this comment was intended Bob, but there are things that can be done prior to cold fusion. And FYI, cold fusion may very well be a pipedream but it isn't dead yet.

I nonetheless appreciate the necessity of MacKillop's approach as being one means, perhaps the only means of getting folks serious about the needed change. - Bob Innes

Sensationalizing does not help. Go ask the climate change movement how the "doomsday" preaching has helped their cause? I don't disagree with Mr. MacKillop's facts, I just don't care for how he packages them. I see no benefit in his attitude.

Sometimes we stare so long at the door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open - Alexander Graham Bell

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 10:05:18

Exactly Anatoli, and I challenge anyone here to come up with a solution short of 4 horses that will get us there - WRCU2

Not a popular topic, but here it is... Global human population reduction.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2010 at 13:56:15

Kiely, i'm a little confused by your contradiction: you clearly advocate lifestyle changes including the most drastic of all (population reduction which can easily be achieved by death!) and then you advocate, against most evidence i see, that technology will get us out of this jam. My broad understanding is that the lifestyle changes you advocate will render technological advances unnecessary! If only 1/2 billion people are left as some suggest(90% of us eliminated), and they mostly live in (are restricted to?) cities, they can all have their SUVs without running out of oil or worrying about CO2, at least for 1000 years, i'd guess,with only minimal change in technology. By then, i'll grant a reasonable chance that renewables, fusion or teleportation are realistic expectations -- provided WW3 is avoided. Avoiding WW3 is unlikely the way we are headed, imo, so, despite that you are right to compare Climategate, i continue to support (and think we all should support) MacKillop's approach, even if it seems alarmist. Anything is better than a nuclear WW3 brought on probably by destabilizing, depressive forces similar to the 30s. Despite that it might achieve your population objective. Orwell's everlasting war against Oceana or whatever it was called, would be almost as bad, no?

Until/ unless we see that your suggested lifestyle changes are actually being adopted - openly/ willingly/ consequences understood too - i see any benefits from technology as being minuscule compared to the problem we face (less than 20%, completely overtaken by China/India, etc.) Hybrids, CFLs, renewables, nuclear, telecommuting, even conservation are all way too iffy since side effects exist and/or benefits too small. Nano solar is about the only thing that might change my mind but even that seems to be too distant to rely on. Now. Having developed one of the most cost effective solar concepts imaginable only to witness its complete failure in the marketplace of ideas, i remain quite disillusioned about the ability of technology to deliver us from the situation MacKillop describes.

WRCU2, methinks you would enjoy Atwood's Year of the Flood. I understand it is part of a trilogy about our present predicament and which i'm hoping to find and complete the reading of. Quite an enjoyable story, especially if you have heard her speak recently on CBC's Ideas or where-ever. One can even 'hear' her droll wit in her pages.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 14:54:18

That is a lot of words you put in my mouth Bob.

I do not condone massive and immediate population reduction. I simply countered WRCU2's claim that there was no other option but going back to horses and agrarian living (which would likely require a population reduction as well).

I remain quite disillusioned about the ability of technology to deliver us from the situation MacKillop describes. - Bob Innes

Do you doubt the technology or our ability to recognize and adopt it??? Two very different things.

Many societies collapsed for similar reasons (i.e., over consumption) prior to the technologies some people want to blame for the decline of our society. It is the people, we are the problem. Many people don't want to change, many people don't want to sacrifice any of their preceived entitlements. We've created a society of consumption and we have aggressively expanded that agenda globally. Blame technology all you want for this, but blaming technology is like a mechanic blaming his tools for snapping a sparkplug off in the head.

Having said that, technology will not get us out of this jam… we have to do that. But there are technologies that can help. Simple example, the majority of us could currently be driving short to mid range electric vehicles that could be recharged overnight through renewable energy sources (e.g., roof mounted solar panels, small scale wind turbines), that technology is viable… but we don't do it. Is that technologies fault???

Frankly I doubt this debate is going to get us anywhere Bob. I will not adopt the nihilistic stance that you, WRCU2 and Mr. MacKillop seem to favour... I simply do not view it as constructive.

The guy standing on the corner wearing the "End of the World is Coming" sign is right… but most people still think he's nuts.

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By Anatoli Ostapenko (anonymous) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 15:08:41

With all due respect to the author and his professional expertize in the economics of the energy sector I have to conclude, that his critique of the American energy policy (although quite an eye-opener) is rather single-sided. I suppose the FED chairman might know quite well how the higher oil price would affect the US economy. I am not even talking of higher costs of production, transportation and about everything else. Nor I am mentioning would be rising interest rates - usual consequence of price inflation.
I feel there is something hidden, unspoken in connection to this "$100 dollar oil" limitation, something that goes beyond the US economy and has global implications. In my opinion (I am an engineer, not a financial guru) the US dollar depreciation alone would cause adjustment rather then catastrophic collapse of the international monetary system based on the US dollar. There is something that we don't know about. Something that is nearing the breaking point. American rating agencies back-stabbing the EU - what other evidence one needs to look at? Wars begin for lesser reasons.
As an engineer I could only guess the following:
Wealth of the American nation is at stake with rising oil price. Not the paper dollar wealth, but the real one. The one that is determined by real things like housing, roads, bridges, power stations, pipelines, industrial plants, arable land, fruit trees, clean water, etc, etc. This may include healthy, young and educated people, schools, hospitals and other stuff.
America has lost trillions of dollars in the financial crisis. A brand new 1000MWatt nuclear power plant, complete with lifetime fuel supply, maintenance and decommissioning costs is only worth $5 billion. Its service life is about 35 years. If the country had lost these trillions in real assets as opposed to paper wealth, Bangladesh would be the richer one. This is why there is so much outcry for that "little and insignificant" spill in the gulf "thing"- damage to the real assets is the key to understanding the situation.
On the other hand, if these newly created trillions will ever surface in the real economy, the whole price structure will crumble and contract law will seize to exist. These are the funny money for the financial crooks and nothing more.
Getting back to the question of $100 oil threshold, I can only say that the country has build WRONG kind of infrastructure for that. It needs insane 20 million barrels a day just to function. With difficult to extract oil, significant part of the American wealth tuns into liability. How is possible to painlessly rebuild the country, change it's lifestyle and culture and keep the international power play going on at the same time? There is no way on earth this can be done. Well, we could save a bit here and a bit there, like stop burning diesel fuel for heating purposes (the so-called heating oil) and switch to natural gas instead. But "cunning" Chinese will never stop upgrading that brand new, clever infrastructure of theirs. They want to drive own cars and be rich too. Plus, that crazy Chinese economy just keeps on growing no matter what.
This all wouldn't be too bad if we lived in the ancient times, like in the Roman Empire. Everything was build forever there: roads, bridges, houses, aqueducts, etc. In our world of techno-miracles all the assets are so short-lived that any "advanced" economy can lose its competitive edge in a couple of decades: communication satellite - 10 years, chemical processing plant - 40 years, nuclear power plant - 35 years, pipeline - 30 years, power substation - 25 years, fighter jet - 20 years (9000 hours), aircraft carrier - 30 years, highway (without repairs) - 10 years, etc.
Given the circumstances I can only say that whatever was and is happening will progress faster and faster spiraling out of control. Those with political power will escape by converting this power into personal wealth so they can regain the power after the dust settles.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2010 at 16:16:29

History has been pretty clear about all this high-technology stuff. The Roman Empire, though much "simpler" than us, worked on a very similar model of conquest and exploitation, as well as local populations having comparatively "high" standards of living (getting to watch Gladiators etc). They had the highest technology, living standards and military power of anyone, ever, in the known world.

The fall of the Roman Empire was inevitable. Everyone argues about exactly what happened, or which individual factor was the "main cause", but nearly everyone agrees that one way or the other, it couldn't have lasted. You could say virtually the same thing of dozens of other civilizations which experienced similar peaks and collapses - virtually all of the Americas went through something very similar around 900 AD, long before the white man started his conquest. The Maya, Anasazi, and many others "collapsed" very rapidly, and only survived through massive social change. The Maya, for instance, built new grand cities, but never again had "god-kings". In any modern sense of the word, the Americas were much more "modern" in 800 AD than 1500. Cities, agriculture, etc. But it didn't work. Just like Babylon (which fell due to its advanced agricultural practices, turning the whole region into a desert).

Civilizations are very, very mortal. We're watching it happen all over again, a dozen factors converging - water, ecology, climate, centralization of control, warfare etc... We can guess which one will be the "main cause" of our own civilization's demise, as will anyone who comes after. But much like the actual date of peak oil, or whether Hurricane Katrina would have happened without climate change, it may never really be known. The real world doesn't need to be neat and definable to have enormous effects on millions of people.

One way or another, this way of life can not last, and will change. Only we can decide what that change will be, and mean.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 13, 2010 at 16:32:24

History has been pretty clear about all this high-technology stuff. - Undustrial

Or has history been pretty clear on human nature?

We have met the enemy and he is us - Pogo

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2010 at 18:46:22

Kiely, thanks for clarifying. Words in your mouth was only how i understood you- now i'm clear - and in agreement that people are both cause and cure. Glad you're not in favour of culling (or presumably its cousin, euthanasia).

Do you doubt the technology or our ability to recognize and adopt it??? Two very different things.

My response is yes to both. As Anatoli says

we could save a bit here and a bit there,

although the diesel-natgas example he gave was substitution, not saving. But if you think technology can gives us more than 20-30%, to be quickly swallowed up by China growth, etc. you'd better give us an example to chew on that's better than your electric car/solar panel example, which may be ok in xx years, but horrendously expensive unless you live in Arizona or get a big fat subsidy from maybe me.

As for people recognizing/ adopting technology, it depends. People are quick to go gaga over 'sexy' developments like subsidized solar but they/ we certainly eschew any serious 'backsliding' as suggested by Undustrial and WRCU2. Does anybody in Hamilton conserve water, except for a few diehard rain barrel types? Anybody care to post their average consumption?

So its back to people, which is to say, political solutions, where you correctly identify de-suburbanization as a real and viable cure of enormous magnitude. Will people embrace it? Given the state of the stadium debate, I'm pessimistic - which is not the same as nihilistic. Until energy prices seriously rise that is, after which, everything will change of its own accord. But as Anatoli senses, we will be a lot worse off too. We(at least many of us) will perforce be adopting WRCU2's and Undustrial's solution - an enforced smaller footprint. That would also not be nihilistic, indeed some even see it as idealistic. It will just happen as folks grapple with their alternatives.

We are in a tight spot. What do i think we should do? We should act before the storm hits but this action must respect our democracy and freedom too. We cannot have elites dictating draconian penalties onto ordinary people that the elites are able to evade via tax writeoffs. Technology by all means, encouraged but not forced by distorting subsidies. We could start by stopping all subsidies & military intervention, such as those to energy projects as I'm sure our board libertarian, A Smith would suggest. We should ignore/eschew foreign treaties and just get our own house in order. Energy taxes, even carbon taxes, probably, to emulate future conditions, something like a stress test. Reduce other taxes accordingly. Given our existing debt load, we must downsize gummerment asap ie. re-balance the public and private sector. We must trim corporate malfeasance and overbearing ways. Locally, we should change codes to allow/ encourage densification - but this is a huge fight against selfish nimbys. Without MacKillop's articles to force folks to confront our less energetic future, it can only be accomplished after the fact when destitute people will have to force codes to accomodate whoever is accomodating them.

Comment edited by BobInnes on 2010-07-13 17:47:33

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 13, 2010 at 21:15:37

As all can see from my website, I'm far from anti-technology. I wholeheartedly believe we should all embrace it - take the last appliance you had break, look it up online, and build something cool with the parts. As far as independant, off-grid energy goes, I have a solution which can yield megawatts very quickly: electric motors can work in reverse as electric generators. Which means that next time a fan or washing machine breaks, it can be integrated into the house's power systems at the base of a small windmill, waterwheel or stationary bicycle. Or hooked up to a Stirling Engine or Telsa Turbine, or other alternative-technology.

Even the Luddites were not anti-technology. They were against certain technologies (notably, new weaving frames) which devalued their labour and lowered the quality of their products. It was a rebellion about the social inequities which appeared at the dawn of industrialization. And at it's height, the British army had more troops fighting them than they had fighting Napoleon at the time. though like so many other terms ("anarchist", "Malthusian" etc it's poorly understood).

And I'd never suggest we force people to give up technology. I once had John Zerzan, perhaps the world's leading intellectual in the anarcho-primitivist community, tell me exactly the same thing. I just think we should stop giving billions of our dollars to projects like the Tar Sands, suburban development or big industrial fishing fleets. If they can design a subsidy system that works, I'd welcome it, but as it stands, that money belongs to the people of Canada, not Suncor. GM just died a death of "natural capitalist causes" and was brought back as some sort of oil-sucking pseudo-socialist super-vampire. The money that took could have given composting toilets and solar water heaters to millions. This kind of commitment to petroleum-era technologies needs to end right now, as it not only makes problems (oil depletion, debt etc) much worse, but flushes away any money we might be able to use to fix the problem.

The ultimate, ugly truth that most Canadians and Americans don't want to face is that our lifestyles inflict an incredible amount of harm on the world around us, most of which we never see. People are clearly being forced into low-tech, poverty conditions right now, and if that ended, we'd find ourselves up a certain creek very quickly.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 14, 2010 at 09:16:26

Kiely, thanks for clarifying. Words in your mouth was only how i understood you- now i'm clear - and in agreement that people are both cause and cure. Glad you're not in favour of culling (or presumably its cousin, euthanasia). - Bob

No worries Bob, I opened my mouth wide enough for the words to be put in : )

We should act before the storm hits but this action must respect our democracy and freedom too. We cannot have elites dictating draconian penalties onto ordinary people that the elites are able to evade via tax writeoffs. Technology by all means, encouraged but not forced by distorting subsidies. We could start by stopping all subsidies & military intervention, such as those to energy projects as I'm sure our board libertarian, A Smith would suggest. We should ignore/eschew foreign treaties and just get our own house in order. Energy taxes, even carbon taxes, probably, to emulate future conditions, something like a stress test. Reduce other taxes accordingly. Given our existing debt load, we must downsize gummerment asap ie. re-balance the public and private sector. We must trim corporate malfeasance and overbearing ways. Locally, we should change codes to allow/ encourage densification - but this is a huge fight against selfish nimbys. - Bob Innes

Agreed.

As far as independant, off-grid energy goes, I have a solution which can yield megawatts very quickly: electric motors can work in reverse as electric generators. Which means that next time a fan or washing machine breaks, it can be integrated into the house's power systems at the base of a small windmill, waterwheel or stationary bicycle. Or hooked up to a Stirling Engine or Telsa Turbine, or other alternative-technology. - Undustrial

Excellent example Undustrial. There are plenty of websites with DIY wind turbine plans.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2010 at 20:39:56

The biggest and best appropriate technology we'll probably see in the west is passive solar. Not just in heating homes, but also for water. A bunch of plastic or metal piping comes together almost as easily as Lego, and can do all sots of nifty things by exposing a dark pipe to sunlight. Water expands when heated, so it can pump for you. Under low pressure it boils very easily, so it's a fairly decent refrigerant - meaning we can make ice, refrigerators and air conditioners which work best on the hottest, sunniest days. And if you can heat and pump water with sunlight alone, you can drive an engine. With only cardboard and tinfoil you can concentrate a horrendous amount of energy to cook (or melt things on youtube videos).

Such a vast and productive energy source, much of which could be built for free out of garbage, would be very difficult to profit from in the way that either big "renewables" (hydro, windfarms etc) or conventional energy are easy. It could create nearly permanent systems, so simple that very little industry would be needed. So instead, government subsidies and big corporations focus on things like windfarms which are much easier to centralize and control. One more really good reason to do it without 'em.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 14, 2010 at 20:58:33

Undustrial, I'm currently reading Everything I Want To Do Is Illegal by Joel Salatin. I think you'd really enjoy it.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2010 at 00:16:10

Undustrial, we're pretty much on the same wavelength, which might explain some of my frustration /discouragement re Kiely's techno-enthusiasm. In fact, i'm thinking you must have stole my unvention!! Having tried some of those ideas (and wanting to do more) I now see how difficult the 'easy' stuff can be, how little it does (even if it is satisfying, impressive even), and how unattractive to other people (besides you) it can be. Not to mention how the rest of the family reacts to it all!!! Alright for tinkerers and nerds but you'd better have a patient spouse when the sun/wind isn't co-operating.

My essential idea in thinking something should be done NOW is that there is a time element involved, beyond the theoretical benefits. The excess of our lifestyle makes such things possible but once oil goes to 200 and beyond, that surplus, which is garbage (negative value) now, will disappear. That means all your solar gadgets must be made NOW but since people are smug NOW, they are uninterested and snotty toward any such efforts. I've also discovered in my recycling career that once any big demand emerges for something, the price rises. All those old motors would acquire a value and the tinkerers wouldn't be so tempted to make something of it as opposed to buying new. But buying new for solar or wind is seldom worth it unless you are subsidizing me. This is a knotty problem that has puzzled me for years. Not that it can't be done though, just that its tricky. I can see that green jobs are good in theory but definitely not the way Spain became a PIIGS - their subsidies to green jobs caused a destruction of the regular economy and regular jobs for an overall net loss. Perhaps the time element is critical. If the jump in oil is sudden, there will be say a 1 or 2 yr window where folks will still be throwing out stuff but many many folks will see a value and we will see a vast increase of midnight pickers in our neighbourhoods. No such luck if prices rise gradually. In grade 11 physics, i think we called this effect hysteresis. The silver lining in the cloud of declining lifestyle (brought on by the east overtaking the west) is that wages will probably have to decrease which will bring back long forgotten sectors like repair services, architectural detailing, etc. So in conclusion, perhaps your prognosis will come into being of its own accord. Other than that, lets compare notes someday on how to build stuff. Maybe there's a project here somewhere, eh?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 15, 2010 at 08:45:17

Undustrial, we're pretty much on the same wavelength, which might explain some of my frustration /discouragement re Kiely's techno-enthusiasm. - Bob Innes

Enough with the exaggeration Bob. I believe there are problems that can be solved/alleviated through the use of currently available and viable technology. It is hardly "blind faith" in science as WRCU2 declared or "techno-enthusiasm" (whatever the hell that is). You want to debate, let's debate. If you want to exaggerate my stance or put words in my mouth, I have no time for that.

I find it pretty rich that people using computers and the internet to broadcast their opinions are espousing opinions that view technology so negatively.

In grade 11 physics, i think we called this effect hysteresis. - Bob

Ironic choice of words Bob.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:06:39

I think the main point we're trying to make is simply that social change is the lynchpin, not technological innovation (as so many who would be affected by social change like to claim). Everything we really needed to live sustainably was around a hundred years ago, and things haven't changed yet - at least not for the better.

Technologies are not neutral. They are intricate parts of larger social systems. Every one has costs and benefits, and the world-changing implications of certain technologies (television, nuclear weapons etc) make it clear that we shouldn't just wantonly adopt new ones without first considering the cost.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 15, 2010 at 12:55:50

Everything we really needed to live sustainably was around a hundred years ago, and things haven't changed yet - at least not for the better. - Undustrial

Are you saying "better" as in more sustainable or just better in general Undustrial? Because if you're saying better in general you're obviously not a women, a black person, a miner, labourer or slaughter house worker, sick, mentally or physically disabled, etc, etc, etc... Calling a time when life expectancy (a statistic that is generally a reflection of childhood deaths) was 50 years old "better" is a little hard to swallow.

If you're just talking sustainability, I'll hesitantly agree.

Technologies are not neutral. They are intricate parts of larger social systems. Every one has costs and benefits, and the world-changing implications of certain technologies (television, nuclear weapons etc) make it clear that we shouldn't just wantonly adopt new ones without first considering the cost. - Undustrial

Agreed.

The main point I'm trying to make is I'd rather sit and talk solutions with these guys than apocalypses with Mr. McKillop… I think it would be more productive.

But in the end the "petro-apocalypse" warnings may be akin to shouting iceberg on a ship that is already sinking. There is a good case to be made that we will run out of the ability to pay for fuel before we run out of fuel itself and the real "apocalypse" will be a financial one.

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2010 at 21:39:53

Kiely, your link gives us somethnig to chew on (but am just heading out the door). Can't read the whole article but it says xxx wind & solar plants + will be cheaper than conventional. Can you give us some idea of how they plan to do that since everything i've seen says these things are way more expensive. Cheers. Bob

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2010 at 23:42:17

By "better", I mean sustainably. It isn't just that we've got far more people, each using far more resources. We're using new resources in in new ways which were nearly inconcievable a century ago - oil, uranium, coltan etc, with no idea what the ultimate long term concequences will be.

There's no question that there have been improvements in the last century. It's not possible to suggest that we're more sustainable than a hundred years ago - we're simply using resources on many times the scale that they were, and yet the Earth is no bigger and much more damaged.

As for civil rights and other improvements, it's important not to view that kind of thing entirely within our own cultural context. From a broader perspective, 1900 was in many ways a low point for human rights globally - it wasn't that long before 1900 that industrialization and colonialism had decimated women's rights worldwide. Similarly, Africans were actually much more equal in Europe up to around 1500, when the slave trade began. Black people were welcomed in Ancient Greece and Egypt. After the Atlantic Slave Trade started, the "science" of racism exploded. Before Europeans conquered the globe, there were many examples of free and equal societies - just look at women's rights in the Iroquois Confederacy, which many consider a matriarchy. And of course, many marginalized people in the modern world (especially women, natives and black people) are still living in some very horrific conditions. "Progress" is never as simple as it sounds. And taking the good elements of the past doesn't need to mean abandoning the good elements of the present.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 16, 2010 at 11:29:21

Kiely, your link gives us somethnig to chew on (but am just heading out the door). Can't read the whole article but it says xxx wind & solar plants + will be cheaper than conventional. Can you give us some idea of how they plan to do that since everything i've seen says these things are way more expensive. Cheers. Bob

I read that article on a plane a while back and found it very interesting… As far as expense, if I remember correctly, they basically take the "as these technologies become more main stream they will become more economical" stance which is often true does but leave a little bit to be desired in the "how" department.

I have seen this expensive to economical shift happen with technologies first hand before so I know it does happen. An example is the use of synthetic fluids (a significant technology improvement). 10-15 years ago synthetic fluid was deemed too expensive and not economical by many users. But as the technology developed and improved and as more suppliers of synthetic fluid became available it became economical and the benefits are significant.

Some numbers to "chew" on:

A small to medium mining operation will have say 100 haul trucks (Big operations will have 2-3 times that).

The trucks typically operate 6000 hrs per year

100L of oil is required per final drive and there are 2 per truck = 200L

Conventional Oil needs to be changed every 250 hrs = 24 oil changes per year

24 x 200 = 4800L of oil consumed per year per truck.

4800 x 100 trucks = 480,000L of oil consumed

Synthetic Oil needs to be changed every 4000 hrs = 1.5 oil changes per year

1.5 x 200 = 300L of oil consumed per year per truck

300 x 100 trucks = 30,000L of oil consumed

A difference of 450,000L of oil.

I could show you similar numbers for engines and hydraulic systems but I assume you get the point … it very quickly gets into millions of litres of oil saved per year just on 100 trucks. Factor in additional equipment, larger fleets and more sites and you can see the significant impact the development of synthetic fluids has had on consumption. With the dawn of nano-technology in lubricating fluids we are seeing even longer life from oils and even the potential for nano-coatings capable of allowing "dry-running" (i.e., no lubricating oil at all).

I could go on about DC to AC inverter technology, GTOs, IGBTs, regenerative hydraulic systems, eco-fluids and other new technologies that reduce our demand on fossil fuels and our impact on the environment but hopefully at this point you can see why I really have no time for people who want to declare that technology can't help.

As for civil rights and other improvements, it's important not to view that kind of thing entirely within our own cultural context. - Undustrial

True Undustrial I was providing a North American perspective. It is a tough topic, lots of "ya, buts" to consider.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-07-16 10:33:06

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 16, 2010 at 16:55:33

Hi Kiely. Interesting stuff. Seems to be two inter-related issues, stuff getting cheaper and incremental improvements enabling new technologies. Having never "declared technology can't help" I already allowed for a 20-30% improvement which i suppose includes both above elements plus conservation. Greens however, are demanding much more and given Undustrial's thoughts, it seems any 30% reduction is simply not enough given the China thing.

As pertains to our debate, I say the stuff you mention, while interesting is 1. no big deal (falls within the 30% in next 20 years) and 2. if you make a big deal about it and folks listen, those folks will go back to sleep and NEVER CHANGE the more fundamental stuff like urban density that could make a much bigger difference. Why would they? Kiely says its ok! For that reason alone, i would prefer that we listen to MacKillop rather than your argument, even despite that you have a good point. I can't recall all your past posts, but i'm sure you've argued in favour of the urban solution RTH espouses, no?

BTW, i hope all that used lube oil is being recycled by that place in, i think Breslau (can't recall the name) or at least burned for heating (after contaminants removed).

However, i argue against the idea that windmills and conventional solar will EVER get much cheaper. There is already lots of competition, we probably saw the 2nd last big advance with thin film and both sun and wind are dispersed. Oh, i'm sure 10-20% reduction is within reach but how do you improve a propeller, a 100 yr old technology or an electric generater (150 yrs) or a big pole (how old is that)? Better fibres will only go so far. Solar collectors tend to have glass covers which will only increase with the price of oil. How do you change that? Nano solar, sure, but in the debate about the shape of our cities, I think it is irresponsible to depend on what is not yet invented.

Nano could be a disruptive game changer but shouldn't we as they say, hope for the best but plan for the worst? The precautionary principle, i believe.

The other whole dimension i think you're missing is what the response to your technical progress will be. So pretend you have a magic wand and can advance the next 20 yrs development into one night. Tomorrow, the cost of mining and all those other activities drops to say half of what it was. Do you think folks will mine less, refine less, buy less, drive less, war less, wear less, travel less, etc.? I think Undustrial would say no, i think he'd be right. If you tried to mine the same, competition would lower the price so consumers, sensing an improvement, would buy more. Demand would rise. Personally, i think mining would use the new advantage to attack lower grade ores, increasing our environmental impact. So now we see the real effect of technology is to multiply our impact, not reduce it. I rest my case. ;-) . Bob

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 11:33:05

Why would they? Kiely says its ok! - Bob Innes

Come on Bob, I left grade school a long time ago.

BTW, i hope all that used lube oil is being recycled - Bob Innes

You think they recycle oil in the middle of Indonesia, Africa or Central America? Of course they don't, that's why the numbers presented are even more important. The best many sites will do is use the old oil in blasting operations.

I don't know what it is Bob but sometimes in discussing things with you I'm left thinking you don't get out much.

i would prefer that we listen to MacKillop rather than your argument,- Bob Innes

Of course you would. Doom and gloom appeals to some "demographics". I prefer a positive approach to solving problems you like sky-is-falling, chicken little type stuff. That's fine by me.

I think Undustrial would say no, i think he'd be right. - Bob Innes

Debating with other people's opinions now Bob??? You do love putting words in people's mouths don't you?

However, i argue against the idea that windmills and conventional solar will EVER get much cheaper. There is already lots of competition, we probably saw the 2nd last big advance with thin film and both sun and wind are dispersed. Oh, i'm sure 10-20% reduction is within reach but how do you improve a propeller, a 100 yr old technology or an electric generater (150 yrs) or a big pole (how old is that)? Better fibres will only go so far. Solar collectors tend to have glass covers which will only increase with the price of oil. - Bob Innes

This whole paragraph reveals your level of ignorance. You really think they haven't improved the generator???

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-07-17 10:34:01

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 13:42:24

I know we through the bullshit back and forth quite a bit Bob. I know I never take it personally, I hope you are likewise.

I believe conceptually we agree on what our society's problems are and to some degree most the causes. Our whys, hows and solutions may differ somewhat but that is natural, those types of opinions generally depend on life experiences and all of ours are different.

While you may find Mr. McKillop's approach enlightening, he isn't telling me anything I don't already know. We're fucked, I get it. Now what are we going to do about it? I don't believe anything gets solved by focusing on the negative. That probably comes from being a mechanic… you can cry about something being broken all day, it isn't going to fix itself.

To me the Pandora's box of rampant consumerism has been opened… globally. Seeing the dawn of consumerism in places like Kalimantan, Indonesia (i.e., Borneo) and Dexing, China will lead you to believe that. So while you and others may want to try and slam the lid back on Pandora's box, others need to continue to try and deal with controlling the mess that is already out there. Frankly, both are needed.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2010-07-17 12:43:34

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By BobInnes (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 15:41:08

Kiely - the essence of our debate:

I don't believe anything gets solved by focusing on the negative.

I do. Especially in/with Hamilton, but also this oil thing. I don't understand why you can't see the positive side of being negative. It's the social FUEL for the change, no? If the problem isn't held before the public, where will the political will come from? If Hamilton is so great, why change? Especially if there is public pain involved. So, whether you like my schoolboy question or not, will you not accept that we need not one but 100 McKillops? If the Mackillops were not around, wouldn't the public conclude that the easing of oil prices indicates that the whole peak oil thing was complete nonsense? You and I may know the story already but believe me, most do not, nor are they willing to read MacKillop's details.

You really think they haven't improved the generator???

I can't let you get away with that can i??? ;-) When i left school, i think electric motors/generators were almost 90% efficient. Are they 5% better now? Don't confuse increasing sophistication with efficiency, don't believe everything in Popular Mechanics. I don't mind you calling me anything you like, my concern is for readers who might think you had actually addressed my questions or refuted my assertions.

But i think we do agree on most stuff and even how to fix it, given both technology and social change are required. But between the two, social change is far more potent - and painful. Let's work on the difficult task of defining a reasonable (non-manipulated) objective and getting folks to accept the more or less painful inevitable, while holding on to the great civilizational legacy we were given by our parents.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted July 17, 2010 at 17:18:19

I can't let you get away with that can i??? ;-) When i left school, i think electric motors/generators were almost 90% efficient. - Bob Innes

Similar to myself I assume it has been a while since you left school Bob? If so, I suggest you read this book.

Or just look at the 75Kva generator here and compare to modern 75Kva generators.

Still think there has been no "improvement" in 150 years Bob?

I don't understand why you can't see the positive side of being negative. - Bob Innes

"I can understand pessimism, but I don’t believe in it. it’s not simply a matter of faith, but of historical evidence. not overwhelming evidence, just enough to give hope, because for hope we don’t need certainty, only possibility." - Howard Zinn

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 19:30:11

A 450 000L savings of oil is impressive, but Americans use over 20 million barrels per day of crude. And while nanotechnology is awful cool, it's important not to get caught up in the science fiction of it all. Nano-construction, already shown by microchips, is unbelievably expensive and resource-intensive. Not only that, but it requires highly specialized and centralized facilities. There are simply too many technologies today which could be implemented immediately to wait for something new and revolutionary to come along.

And as far as complex self-replicating nanostructures go, I think I'll stick to plants and microbes. Why do ya think, with all of our technology, we still have so much trouble copying basic biological materials (leather would be a great example).

Low tech solutions are simple and cheap, yet can yield enormous energy savings. Bikes, clotheslines, local food, passive solar etc. Why do you think the Europeans enjoy a standard of living on vastly smaller energy footprints? When we've dropped our average energy consumption by half or more via the simple means available to us (weatherstripping, proper tire inflation etc), then I'll be ready to talk about high-cost, high-tech solutions.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted July 17, 2010 at 23:03:49

Kiely Gotta give ya S fer persistence but

Still think there has been no "improvement" in 150 years Bob?

Nope! Great picture though. Read what i said more carefully:

i think electric motors/generators were almost 90% efficient

And i did NOT say we hadn't made progress in the LAST 100 yrs. What you showed us was mostly a steam boiler/ engine coupled with a low speed generator (and i believe its excitor (secondary gen). I don't recall saying anything about steam engines. I'll bet that generator wasnt much worse than today's model. Wanna see another still in use? The Humber Sewage plant has a gen set running on methane. 700 rpm or so. Huge but still effective. Faster is smaller in that field but all the gains are mostly done, as in many fields. Your book link showed something (neat enough)that i think Undustrial's post can be applied to. The point is that going gaga over minor improvements is throwing non tech politicians off what really needs to be done.

Also you should be willing to notice the diff between negative and pessimistic. MacKillops article is a call to action to avoid negative consequences. It's only pessimistic if you are overwhelmed or are looking to NOT CHANGE.

But i think its positive that a MacKillop article has over 30 comments! We just shouldn't get carried away.

Undustrial: The Europe thing is always quoted but we have to remember its 450 million vs our 30 in a much bigger place. That density makes things such as district heat, hi speed trains, recycling, a LOT more practical. Plus we send them our gulf stream. We should charge them, no?:-o

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 18, 2010 at 21:22:37

Don't worry 'bout the whole Gulf Stream thing. It probably won't last anyway;)

And while Europe has a lot of natural advantages, there's a lot they do - small cars, cycling, high-density housing, cheap/free education etc - that we can learn from. I recognize that there are some very serious infrastructural hurdles - that's the problem. If there was a big switch in your basement which could reset your lifestyle to European levels, I'd be telling you about it, believe me.

The infrastructural hurdles are exactly what we need to tackle. We can gripe all we like about Canada's trouble with train service, but we can't even get full-day GO service into Hamilton. We have a city of half a million people, and while Burlington mertis three full-time stops, the whole thing just halts at our border. And while a stop or two more along the line in Oakville or Missisagua may take some of the load off the 403 at rush hour, cutting Hamilton's commuter traffic would lighten the load all the way to Toronto. If you want to see why our country is so far behind, you don't need to look far.

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