Friday, December 31, 2004

my crosscutting friend

Got a great gift for solstice +3 day: A paper shredder. Words cannot describe the yuletide joy I felt as this contraption chomped three months worth of credit card offers and other SS related errata.

Got another gift for xmas, apparently from robot santa: brominated flame retardants. I've committed the smell to memory and the active ingredients to my flesh.

I mean, my EPS 6IIX papyrus shredder is drooling these neurotoxins into my home.

Marvelous. Good thing I am in no position to breastfeed anyone.

Monday, December 27, 2004

where the red necks are

Good permaculture article referenced from the Energy Bulletin.

One of the things that drives me nuts about peak energy is the aftermath. I'd love to live on a farm and raise my own food. I worry that my dainty hands are better suited to raising and lowering a cubicle chair, rather than milking the pigs or collecting popcorn in the fields under a noon day sun.

I got skills. I can order knick-knacks on EBay, I can merge through seven lanes of traffic, I can even feed my goldfish. It hardly needs to be said that the value of these skills has peaked, and will steadily decline over the next twenty years.

Who among us has useful post oil peak skills? Is being smart and adaptable enough, or does that equal a one way ticket for re-education at some hypothetical Mid Western Gulag?

So I am a big fan of permaculture, and also high tech, low energy solutions for the future. I truly hope that certain urban areas will be livable as described in the top referenced article. I can grow food on a small scale and be a good neighbor. That I would like. Maybe my plot can be zoned for beer trees.

The pragmatic side of me says that for every green city like Portland, there will be a devastated wasteland like Phoenix or Las Vegas.

It is a matter of no small curiosity on my part to see how the USA will deal structurally with Peak Oil.

Millions of displaced and dispossessed humans, rummaging about.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

dark musings and I feel fine

DarkSyde elegantly wove some of the peak themes into an essay here.

There is definitely a gloomy side to our collective peak energy musings, and I am often struck by reactions to it.

To wit, friends and family: Ignore the issue, or put it safely out into the future. Peak oil? Reasonable, but we're gonna be jes fine until 2015. Any attempts to push the date up, say, to next year, I start to get eyeballs on me like I have a scraggly beard and a 'End of the World' sign.

A holistic view of the world, by which I mean as unmuddled and complete as possible, makes me happy, no matter how serious the issue. 6 billion to die next century? They were gonna die anyways, and me with 'em.

If Kunstler is right, and this year is the last blowout ...

I for one am going to enjoy it.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Blog and be merry

Ok, enough with the essays. I'll start blogging current events.

And, barring disasters, rapture(s) or a run on the peso, I'm on hiatus until the silly season is complete.

I wonder when foreigners wil stop buying t-bills?
Maybe on George Bush's inauguration day? I'm laying in the bets now!

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Your Little War

In my nightmare.

Israel soaks the first. Ten by a thousand years wisped into glittering, bloody glass. The United States gets the next two or three, and we know New York will suffer. Alas, Babylon. Then the bad guys run out of their tin plated, rust bucket cobble-bombs.

Leaving the feuding, oil hungry principles with nukes resting unused in their eggs, begging to blossom. Bounce the perps in their cradles, polished plutonium whispers. Maybe the US will take out Mecca. Thanks for teaching us McBarbarism! Thanks for chopping off the heads of a thousand westerners! What goes around.

In my nightmare, the single most oil hungry entity in the world, the United States armed forces, wastes more oil fighting wars than it locks up in oil territory in the next ten years. Imperial America becomes a singularity in world history - the most reviled, hated civilization of all time, forwards and back. No nation will ever rise higher, because the oil will be gone. The moon is gone. We went there once. You can't visit a place like that unless you are dripping energy wealth.

In my nightmare, five billion people starve to death. This will happen in your lifetime, if you live sixty more years and no replacement for oil is found. In my nightmare, a replacement for oil is found, and we finish off planet Earth and the other one billion.

In times of chaos, there is potential for foundational change - positive or negative. Look how 9/11 turned the United States towards fascism and unbridled militarism. Impressive, no?

We'll get our chance to achieve great change. Without sentiment, we need to prepare paths and possibilities for humanity that nurture the Earth as oil fades away. The population of humankind will shrink, and our ability to damage planet Earth will shrink with it. The lesson will be burned into every culture, a lesson of folly and hubris. A myth, a flood story. And balance will come like flowers through pavement.

In my dream.

And please, no nukes. They are ruin.

(c) Jon S., 2004

Friday, December 17, 2004

Poison Pen

Taste the rainbow. It isn't a tuna, its methyl mercury. Stuck in your throat? Wash it down with a little fluoride. Fluoride is necessary for your teeth, friend, like a cheeseburger is necessary for an Okinawan. It is bad for you and it makes you feel stupid good.

Oil and markets have driven the witless industrial poisoning of the last two centuries. I hate it that spinach is as likely as not to be tainted with fertilizer wastes and arsenic. I am aggravated by Teflon stuck in my liver. The marker of this epoch will be a million billion plastic globules littered over every square mile of the planet.

Can't feel good about steak hopped up with antibiotics and steroids. Funny, my doctor doesn't prescribe antibiotics like candy anymore, but does permit breastfeeding. Score one for old wives tales, dock science negative two. Monsanto is going to give us corn that grows kernels upside down, because upside kernels are intellectual property, belonging to Monsanto, and any crow that carries a kernel to an adjacent field and flips it over will be prosecuted. The new economy can be so tricky.

Got asthma? Might be diesel pollution. Got aluminum? Probably, but you don't need it. It isn't a vitamin. Feel heavy? Try leeches, you only need so much lead. Bit dusty down by the old nuclear reactor? Anything, even tissue paper will stop nasty alpha particles before they can damage you. Unless they should get embedded in your soft tissue. Now how would that happen? Breath deep. It is called "Gulf War Syndrome". Or just, "Hanford Breath".

Want to pump waste into the ocean? All your friends doing it.

I could go on. Even buckyballs have betrayed us. Male frogs are growing breasts.

What kind of world will be left when this abuse ends?

(c) Jon S., 2004

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Seed Corn Economy

When times get tough, or winters long, farmers eat the seeds meant to be buried in the spring. Often this is a preface to calamity. Keep a handful of seeds, and you can grow more.

We could have done anything with our oil endowment. Benevolent utopia could have flowered. We're the smart ones, right? Standing at the peak, and looking back down the way we came, it becomes apparent that humanity took the callow path of least resistance. Utterly.

Our intricately structured global economy is stupidly buttressed with one thing. More oil, every year. You need oil for agriculture, and oil for the trucks that deliver strawberries from Mexico in December. Oil to power fifty million cars, each pulling a grinning monkey. Let us not forget oil for drugs, and piles of plastic crap. Oil is electricity. Electricity is ephemeral. So is oil, when you burn it.

Yank out the carpet. Hubbert’s Peak locks in, and right quick every bank realizes they can't extend more credit, to anyone. No one, no country, will have the ability to pay back their obligations. There will literally be less of everything. Less food, water, drugs, and energy.

Bam. Money will be printed. It is the only graceful way to draw down unpayable debt. Money, in the sense that it isn't a fiction, will suddenly be less valuable. In the sense that it is a fiction, you will see people hesitant to trade dollars and euros. They'll barter instead. I'll decorate your Hummer as a studio apartment if you give me a bushel of corn -- that kind of thing.

Look, when it really gets bad, you're going to be spending most of your time within ten miles of your home. No more pokemon. No more Australian wine. Just where do you live? Is it near a farmable river valley, and do your neighbors like you? Buried gold, did you? Got a shotgun? Survivalists make me itch, but odds are we will be stuck in a survival economy in the near future.

Sure, there will be an oddball steampunk parody of our current economy, and dribbles of oil wealth here and there. We'll be stuck with the painful knowledge of what we did, and did not do. Our decadence will astound our children.

You've got something jingling in your pocket right now. The petro dollar. Right now you can literally use it to buy things of lasting value. This icon won't hold value forever. A penny saved is a penny burned. Buy real things. Swords and plows. Seed corn.

Oil itself is not part of the living Earth. Buying a cell phone or a new TV is like planting a dollar bill in the ground. It will not grow, it will not bear fruit.

(c) Jon S., 2004

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Oranges in Oregon

Been unusually warm this year - everywhere - for the last two decades? Want to lay odds that it is just a goofy, statistical blip, the kind that happens, you know, every hundred thousand years or so? And what's with the drought that is leeching reservoirs dry all throughout the Western United States as I write?

We'll not argue global warming. I assume you are not a rube.

Instead, let's run a thought experiment. What happens to all the people in LA should they run out of water? I don't mean the stars, like Halle Berry and Jennifer Lopez, although I sometimes wonder what their houses look like, and I bet a crazed mob would too. I mean the thirsty blacks and Latinos, millions of them, boiling out of the desert: North, South, East and West. And white people. They can get powerful thirsty at times.Will the American Indians take them in? Sorry, the casino is closed. Will neighboring states let them in or will they be met with peasants wielding pitchforks and shotguns? I vote yes to the latter. And the stink will rise up for centuries.

Global warming presents us with an irony. Just when we might need a source of cheap, efficient energy to solve our big problems, the selfsame source of energy that caused our problems in the first place - oil - is running dry.

That's funny once.

Take this as a personal warning. Global warming and Peak Oil are running out of control at present. The death spiral as China and Japan and America and Russia and India and who else? all fight over the right to burn the caramelized pools of ancient slime has begun. When the shooting stops, will humanity have created a feedback loop that ends all carbon based life larger than cockroaches?

Not yet. We are not doomed. The world still has resources. It can still soak carbon and we can help it. But we are skating, and this isn't the little ice age.

(c) Jon S., 2004

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Energy Glut

Somewhere under the shifting sands of Ghawar, Saudi Arabia, oil is dancing with water, a shotgun wedding. This modern miracle of water injection to maintain oil production is no less astonishing than turning water into wine. Ghawhar is a super giant, an oily Betelgeuse Al Mankib, and its like will never be seen again. The soup we call light sweet crude took many hundreds of thousands of years under favorable conditions to mature from its source material. Biomass sludge to high energy fuel. A good reservoir is sealed tight, as a frosty bottle of beer, crowned with bubbly natural gasses, waiting for a chimp to come along, crack it, and drop a straw.

We've never had so much usable energy as we have now, in the shadow of the last millennium. We are flush; the sharks are drowning in blood and growing fat. Cheap energy is a necessity woven into our post modern world. There is no alternative. A gallon of oil is cheap. A solar cell or a battery is horrendously expensive in comparison, and at best an energy carrier. It might seem strange to describe a solar cell as an energy carrier. In terms of energy spent (lost) to create a solar cell, plus the energy it can trap and use in its lifetime (gained), there is little if any net energy creation. A water wheel is far more efficient.

This glut isn't just a party, it is a ringing alarm. We don't have any energy alternatives that are worth a damn. Given the poor way in which we have used our global energy allotment, that's a twisted blessing. Humanity as a whole has all the brains of an algae bloom. Overpopulation is rising to the extent that we will outstrip our food supply even with plentiful oil. Loss of topsoil suitable for farming is increasing in step with global warming. Eco-systems and food chains are being shot in the head. Never mind widespread poisoning of oceans with heavy metals. South Pacific - now with flavor crystals!

This is driven by the energy that is cheap, and poisonous. When it comes out of the ground, it is sprayed all over the surface of the planet, as a fine mist. Something for everyone. When I drive my car, I am ruining the planet for myself and for starving orphans in Ethiopia. There are plans to burn desiccated trees in Arizona for energy, a product of the western drought, a product of global warming. There is a reason the term "Cedars of Lebanon" is an anachronism. There is a reason Easter Island is treeless, and the Middle East looks like a nuclear war hit six thousand years ago.

So, how long can it go on? Hold up one hand and count some fingers. There you go. That is a good estimate, in years, for how long we have before peak oil hits. Peak energy is the next milestone, and it depends on how much natural gas is out there. Oil is hard to measure, but solid work has been done in recent years by retired oil geologists. Gas is harder to figure. We might have ten years of natural gas growth left, or none. As Matt Simmons has pointed out, it's a vapor. It depletes really fast. And you can't pump it into your clown car. Certainly North America is in decline. Finding a way to prevent floating bombs of LNG from finding port in America is a good example of a useful holding action. Weaken a weak system, and prevent further damage.

There are many sources of information on the glut. Their scholarship is impeccable, unassailable except in a particular context. That context is point of view ignorance, somewhat less than blissful. There is nothing to be done at this point to prevent short term disaster. We must instead plan for the post peak energy world, even if it means doing things which counter-intuitively seem to be anti-environmental. SUV's no longer concern me. Drive and burn all the oil you want. The Kyoto accord will be strictly enforced by Hubbert's peak.

What can we do about a post glut world? Stop hugging trees and hug coal instead. A thousand liters of fluoride and mercury being pumped into our water every year is a catastrophe for a hundred generations. A dead tree? That's life; we can grow more, and on human timescales, as long as the world has not been poisoned, baked and blasted too severely.
Not to pick on trees. That Redwoods are still being hacked down is absurd. I think declaring war on South American cattle is a fine idea. Veganism is a feel good approach to saving a rain forest; a more proactive approach might be to cut down the mono-cattle as if they were buffalo and ignore the lamentations of their ranchers. Level the rain forest for cheeseburgers? It is happening on our watch. Pick fights that affect the world. Nevada may not be the best place for nuclear waste, but we are out of time - if we don't move all the nuclear material that is lying around now into one spot, we never will. Fold the bad hands, and keep moving.

(c) Jon S., 2004

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Real Story

Every so often, an entire culture changes within a sweeping concentric circle, a lightning crack of awareness and newly evident knowledge. The change could be considered necessary, (Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I have dream" speech) or unnecessary (Hiroshima and Nagasaki). After being so wounded, a new meme lives in the brain of every conscious being who participates in the culture.

The world is about to change. The oil age is almost over. Not everybody knows it yet, and not everyone is going to keep reading. That's fine with me. There won't be room for all of us at the bottom.

A sheaf of formally disparate trends are about to weave into a rope that chokes off the industrial age. The most important is Hubbert's Peak, or the end of cheap oil. Besides quickly killing off half the world's humans, this event should prevent us from clownishly loading up the atmosphere with enough carbon to destroy everything but the single celled and the bottom feeders.
Another thread in the rope: The biggest die off events in the history of the world (such as the Late Paleocene Thermal Maximum) are associated with an average global temperature rise of twelve degrees Fahrenheit. We're at about one and a half now and appear to be in a worst case scenario for global warming.
The carbon sinks are failing, no longer absorbing the excess CO2. The Alaskan tundra is belching, not soaking. The oceans are still soaking, but to such an insane degree that the animals that live there are being affected by the levels of acid in the water. The trees would soak, and do, except when we chop them down so we can have bovine jelly sandwiches. We're running out of fish, due to plain old over fishing, and those that are left are absorbing all the industrial pollutants that we piss off the sides of our continental shelves. Fish today are mad as a hatter. Allah help us if the methane hydrates cut loose because the oceans warm too much. God help us if the Gulf Stream, which has been flickering in the last decade, shuts off and turns Europe into a popsicle.
There’s more. Accompanied by an overwhelming amount of supporting data. None of it is a mystery, except to the extent that it spans fields, lives and willful ignorance. What is going to happen?
When oil runs low, population will crash in direct proportion to the amount of food that can be generated. Without petroleum, agriculture efficiencies drop seventy-five percent. Subsequently, fifty years from now the 600 million or so people left on planet earth will have a huge mess to clean up. Occam's Razor.

What can we do? We had better learn from the malaise of mainline glossy environmental groups, self licking ice cream cones that at best make their client members feel good about failure.

We need a holding action to save as much of the world as possible before the post oil years. All I can do right now is collect information and broadcast it. Where to start? Maybe a new idea in our culture, a catch phrase like "Liberal Media" that highlights the danger and focuses attention at the water cooler.

Like, "They are killing us."

(c) Jon S., 2004

Where am I coming from?

Every day this week I'll be posting a backround essay that relates to peak oil.

Sounds boring, I'll do my best to make it interesting.

All essays will contain a copyright, feel free to reprint them on the internet provided you maintain the copyright.

Even if they suck!

Sunday, December 12, 2004

OPEC and the narrative

From Forbes:
OPEC May Consider Further Production Cuts

So what is behind this? Sure, summer driving season is over; OPEC is a cartel, gotta keep the money maximized.

But in reality, pumping at 30 million barrels a day will remind people (and worse, investors) how close to the production threshold we are every time a pipeline pops in Iraq or a freighter gets stuck in the Panama canal.

Gotta have wiggle room. That tar Saudi was pumping last season to meet their promised "raise in production" impressed nobody and made quite a few people jittery. Maybe structural problems in the world economy can be soft pedaled for one more year, weak dollar not withstanding.

Also, if OPEC is incapable of pumping 30 million next year, a plausible lie is locked into place.

Peak Energy - is there such a thing?

Of course there is no such thing! Except in the context of our stunted industrial reality.

I'll be focusing on the pathetically limited western civilization built around oil and energy derivatives. Yes, the good old USA and Super Friends.

There are a lot of good blogs and sites out there on Peak Oil - I'm not competing with them. This blog is a forum for my opinion on something that concerns everyone in the world.