Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Weekly Roundup – Words of Whipple

Ethanol and Peak Food by Tom Whipple
Finally we have the big question. As America is going through 500 million gallons of motor fuel per day, how much of this can safely be replaced by sharing our food with our fuel tanks?
A few days after the Post story, the answer came with a thundering crash when Canada 's National Union of Farmers issued a report on the world grain situation. The first sentence says it all: "The world is now eating more food than farmers grow, pushing global grain stocks to their lowest level in 30 years".
If the first sentence didn't get your attention, the second one says: "Rising population, water shortages, climate change, and growing costs of fossil fuel-based fertilizers point to a calamitous shortfall in the world's supplies in the near future."

Last week, I posted from an article describing the “grain gap”, which lacked references. The erstwhile and consistant editor Tom Whipple comes through again, with a carefully written editorial on peak oil that, as usually, pulls no punches. We may choose. Corn for our gullets, or corn for our lifestyles.

Venezuela Seeks to Cut Oil Output
Of course, most delegates to the Thursday meeting are expected to nod politely to Venezuela's calls for output cuts that could drive prices even higher, while doing the opposite by reaping all they can from the current bonanza of high prices. The oil minister of the United Arab Emirates rejected talk on Monday of a possible cut in the cartel's output quotas of 28 million barrels a day.

This article – and paragraph - is almost incomprehensible without a bit of “peak knowledge.” Simply start with the fact that oil output will drop in Venezuela, because over time, oil depletion happens. Then, watch prices go up. Industrial society is denominated in energy, not dollars or euros or yen. Consumers around the world are beginning to figure this out, even as New York Times reporters are confused.

The dollar's evil twin

...I learned that "Currently, the world is drowning in dollars, even a small movement could trigger a massive recession in the United States." I also learned that "There's no prospect of the US running a trade surplus anytime soon. Bush has savaged the manufacturing sector, outsourcing over 3 million jobs and shutting down plants across the country. . . . Currently, the national debt is a whopping $8.4 trillion with an equally harrowing $800 billion trade deficit."

I put all these facts into my brain, stirred them up and added a few more facts that I stole off of Google. "America's total national income is approximately $2,100 billion a year but our debt is approximately $8 TRILLION." That means that we taxpayers are only making enough salary to pay off less than one percent of our debt. And yet our economy hasn't crashed? What does THAT mean?

Read this. It is right on. The bunnies approve. I've switched my currencies already, I now pay all debts with chocolate coins wrapped in foil.

Environmentalists Urge Global Ban on Fishing Trawlers
Bottom trawling involves dragging huge, heavy nets along the sea floor. Large metal plates and rubber wheels attached to these nets move along the bottom and crush nearly everything in their path, says Greenpeace. "All evidence indicates that deep water lifeforms are very slow to recover from such damage, taking decades to hundreds of years--if they recover at all," the group says on its Web site.

Maybe them opposable thumbs didn’t work out as well as they could have. Hell, if I were a fish right now, I'm thinking the feet were a mistake...

Monday, May 22, 2006

Weekly Roundup - Food and Air

Global Food Supply Near the Breaking Point
In five of the last six years, global population ate significantly more grains than farmers produced.
"Many Canadian and U.S. farmers are going out of business because crop prices are at their lowest in nearly 100 years," Qualman said in an interview. "Farmers are told overproduction is to blame for the low prices they've been forced to accept in recent years."

This item featured prominently on several energy and environmental sites. The quality of the article disappointed. It appears to be hacked up, and missing references for key points. If the world is eating more grain than it is producing, how much more? Information on trends here would be extremely compelling. One would hope it not sharply negative, but the lessons of climate change past tells us to expect shortages.

Interesting to me is the blurb on the farmers, and the low prices for grains which are driving them out of business. I’ve posted on this before. The question of “Why?” remains. Seems fishy. Still digging.

Lure of the Urban Veggie Garden
So they started sowing niche-market crops -- spinach, radishes, lettuce, carrots -- in yards ranging from 500 to 3000 thousand square feet. After paying rents ranging from $100 to $200 per yard per summer, the two were able to make up to a few thousand dollars per plot. In their first year, Satzewich and Vandersteen stopped telling the homeowners just how much they were making off their property.

In counterpoint to the depressing news in the lead article, consider turning your lawn into a cash crop! Annoy the neighbors, raise ducks and weasels. If one out of every 100 homeowners did this, it would point a way out of hell if serious shortages do develop. Be like Cuba.

Shoppers' thirst for palm oil threatens ... orangutan
The demand for a cheap ingredient found in thousands of products, from shampoo to biscuits, is contributing to the extinction of the orangutan, warn conservationists. One in 10 mass-produced foods on Britain's shelves is estimated to contain palm oil, a bulking agent and preservative, but supermarkets and food manufacturers have been accused of doing too little to ensure their supplies are not threatening forests that are vital to the survival of Asia's only great ape.

The place one can consistantly find a forest these days is in a 2 mile strip on either side of the freeway, blocking views of the starving orangutans in the aft of the boat. Screw the primates, bulking agent tastes great!

IEA could cover cutoff of Iran oil for 4 years
"When you take all of the stocks that all of the countries hold together in the IEA, we have the ability to meet a complete shutoff of Iranian oil for over four years," Karen Harbert, assistant secretary for policy and international affairs at the Energy Department, said at a hearing before a House Government Reform Committee panel.

I call bullshit.

Oil Prices Rise Past $70 a Barrel
Crude futures gained Tuesday as scientists' predictions that the next Atlantic hurricane season would be an active one renewed concerns about potential supply disruptions at U.S. Gulf of Mexico refineries. Also supporting prices was news that Nigerian oil workers have threatened to strike over wages, snags at a couple of Gulf Coast area refineries as well as persistent concerns about how the West's standoff with Iran over its nuclear ambitions will affect that nation's oil exports.
But worries about sluggish demand, rising supply, and slowing economic growth limited the increase in oil prices, analysts said.

Good heavens, oil has crested $70 bucks AGAIN? A popular target these days, on the dartboard of oil prices. Bullseye not yet marred. Air. I need air.

Sales of canned oxygen to create fresh market
A drop in the amount of oxygen in the body can make people start to yawn and sigh. Normal air contains only about 21 percent oxygen, but the oxygen concentration in the cans is 95 percent, and breathing it in can reportedly bring on a feeling of invigoration.

No one is worshipping Mel Brooks yet, but I suspect we are close.

Monday, May 15, 2006

summer hours

With the summer months upon us in the Northern Hemisphere, I will be pulling back from my duties as a full fledged blogging machine to something a little more sporadic.

I am not swearing off blogging, nor do I have any wish to separate from the hooked in community of people who care about Peak Energy and attendant issues. In fact, there are plenty of voices out there, writing high quality stuff every day, and I can barely keep up with everything going on at Energy Bulletin, a tribute to the efforts of the editors there. I'll remain involved.

My current summer plans are to do a news round-up of noteworthy stories every week, with a bit of commentary. Look for this on Mondays.

I also will aim to produce one interesting and meaty article a month. Kind of like the MuseLetter, though perhaps with a twist of satire instead of staid liberalism.

Aside from this blog, I hope in my now abundant free time (hah!) I'll be able to pursue some other writing projects.

Mostly, I'll be enjoying a long, hot summer, waiting for Fall, when the dollar will wither and drop from the trees.

See you next Monday!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

awareness out

We Have Much Work to Do, People... Prof Goose
Stiffpicken says rightly: "I punched in "peak oil" ... search volume appears to have hit its own plateau but news volume is on the rise." Then Mike A notices: "What is really SOBERING though, is to compare search and news volumes between 'peak oil' and 'gas prices'. 'Peak oil' hardly shows a blip compared to 'gas prices', which implies to me that most people are still not making the connection. [...] Again, check the distribution of languages - in English 'gas prices' have far, far more results, but the Europeans seem to "get it", with 'peak oil' having more responses in Swedish, Finnish, Dutch & German (in that volume order)."
Then I was playing around and made a couple more observations: 1) Portland seems to be the most peak aware city via google, followed by Austin and Seattle. 2) BUT, even more interestingly, look at the regions tab. New Zealand and Australia have more raw numbers of people (i.e., not percentages folks) searching for "peak oil" than in the United States! What's the population proportion between the US and those two countries? 20m-ish for Australia and 4m-ish for New Zealand, compared to 300m-ish for the US!

Prof. Goose at the Oil Drum
highlights something that has been bugging me lately. Everyone knows gasoline is expensive. It is all over the news. Then, there is the scattershot analysis as to why. Turnip trucks full of experts out there, buried on page nine, giving their opinions. Plenty of opinions for all, enough to build a pyramid of denial.

Sure, Matt Simmons gets a little play. He told the truth as he knew it on Lou Dobbs at CNN, for example. His "Peak" mindshare must contend with the melange of voices - - Saudi ministers, economists, cornballcopians, laying out their soothing stories.

It is tough to discern, standing amongst this babble, that oil has permanent, underlying structural issues that will result in production tailing off. I might not be blogging today if Ken Deffeyes hadn't written a pithy, wise little book on oil. Oil prices are for many a nagging background annoynance in the midst of a busy life.

Prices will never go down. Alternatives are needed. Nothing has changed, except the seasons keep spinning. It is spring again in Death Valley.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

enjoy the ride

Monday, May 08, 2006

In Bush We Trust

Let Us Now Spit Upon The Earth Mark Morford
It was Earth Day weekend. The president talked about how mountain biking helped him "settle his soul" and "burn off excess energy when you're living life to its fullest," which apparently means blindly running your nation into a bloody flaming wall at full speed like a drunk NASCAR driver on Ambien. He talked about how he enjoyed mountain biking because it had such minimal impact on the pristine, wild surroundings. Shockingly, lightning did not strike him dead on the spot.

Later on, the prez talked up the need for wildly implausible hydrogen-powered cars to the California Fuel Cell Partnership, a group who, if they had a drop of integrity and brains among them, didn't believe a single word he said.

Bush on Earth Day. It's like Satan talking up the joys of Easter. It's like Paris Hilton chatting about treading the planet with humility and grace. It's like Jerry Falwell gushing about his love of Brokeback Mountain, Eli Lilly extolling the virtues of meditation and green tea. It is, in a word, embarrassing. Humiliating. Intellectually bludgeoning. And hypocritical in a way, and at a depth, that is as nauseating to stomach as the testosterone levels at a Duke lacrosse frat party.
There's more at the article - - Mark Morford draws a nifty comparison between George Bush and the scandelous Mayor Jim West of Spokane, Washington. On the topic of people who talk out of both sides of their mouth.

One wishes that this presidency were business as usual, but of course it is worse.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

ten pizzas

Either way, I've got the SMWs
I got a real laugh out of the headline at Associated Press that read "The Battle Over the Blame for Gas Prices". Hahaha! The article figures that it is either greedy oil sellers or gluttonous buyers. Or, as others say, Congress. And while all these people are all guilty to one huge degree or another, everybody entirely misses the point, which is that while Americans might enjoy getting dollars in exchange for goods and services, the people of the oil-exporting countries do not want dollars or euros or yuan or any other money. They want their own money, doofus.

But what all these groups of people have is common is that they all want to be paid in their own units of purchasing power, which (at $75 a barrel) is about ten pizzas. It makes no difference to them what kind of money you use to pay for the oil, as long as they can exchange it for ten pizzas. Preferably, they would like to be paid in units of purchasing power that GAIN in purchasing power, so that tomorrow they can buy eleven pizzas for a barrel of oil. And if not gain, then at least not lose purchasing power, and tomorrow only be able to buy six pizzas!

Somehow, comparing a barrel of oil to the retail equivalent of ten pizzas puts everything in perspective.

Can the days of the fifteen pizza barrel of oil be that far in the future?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

skittish squirrels

Wind turbines send wildlife diving for cover
NOISY wind farms in California are making squirrels edgy and prone to scurrying for cover. This change in behaviour could have knock-on effects on animals that depend upon the squirrel, such as the golden eagle, which feeds on the rodent, and the red-legged frog and California tiger salamander, which live in its burrows.
The biologists played recordings of alarm calls to each group of squirrels. Those living near the wind turbines were more likely to dash back to their burrow when they heard an alarm call, and spent more time looking around for predators. Team member Donald Owings says that the noise of the turbines seems to make the squirrels more alert, perhaps because they need to compensate for their reduced ability to communicate through sound.

This is a fine little study. Marvelous. It needs a little perspective, however. If we are going to fuss about the "siting" of wind turbines to save the frayed nerves of the wee critters of nature, there are a few animals who might be further up in the queue of concern.

Like the participants of a formerly functioning ecosystem in the Appalachian mountains. Lately being bulldozed into a desolate wasteland to extract reams of sweet coal. There were squirrels in those parts - - once. Now, there is nothing to study. Problem solved! Maybe more care should have been taken, and the destruction should have been "sited" somewhere else, like Hell.

Don't forget the delicate froggies and beeses. They are growing breasts and dropping dead left and right. (Not from the breasts - - rather, the petrochemical waste being smeared around our habitat for humanity, Planet Earth.) Remember the Prophet's final message before he floated up to heaven: "You are all frogs...(the transcript trails off here)"

Wind isn't perfect, but it might help slow down "Peak Species".

New Red List paints bleak picture of extinction
Two out of every five species on the planet that have been assessed by scientists face extinction, according to the latest World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.
Overall, 16,119 animal and plant species are in danger of extinction, including 1 in 8 birds, 1 in 4 mammals and 1 in 3 amphibian species. Since records began, 784 species have been declared extinct. From the poles to the deserts, “biodiversity loss is increasing, not slowing down,” says IUCN director-general Achim Steiner.

Yes, it is a race. Can we chew through half of the animal kingdom remaining on Earth, before we hit Peak Oil? Michael Lynch might agree! Then, the rest can easily be wiped out on the downslope of our energy boon, and our evolution will be complete.

We'll live "in the future" and eat algae by the bucketful. I'm am sure the culture will be smashing.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

when the oil is extracted

The U.S. Govt’s Secret Colorado Oil Discovery
Dear Reader,
Five months ago, the U.S. Energy Department announced the results of a land survey…
It was conducted to determine the official amount of oil a thousand feet deep in the Rocky Mountains…
They reported this stunning news:
We have more oil inside our borders, than all the other proven reserves on earth.
Here are the official estimates:
* 8-times as much oil as Saudi Arabia
* 18-times as much oil as Iraq
* 21-times as much oil as Kuwait
* 22-times as much oil as Iran
* 500-times as much oil as Yemen
And it’s all right here in the Western United States.
You may be aware of a similar situation going on, right now in the oil business, in an area called the Alberta Oil Sands. This region in Northern Canada holds billions of barrels of oil – which also happen to be locked inside large amounts of sand and rock. Why am I telling you this?
Because in their recent analysis of the Green River Formation, the Energy Department wrote that the opportunity to make money in U.S. oil shale is “Comparable to Alberta, Canada Oil Sands.

Written with breathless, deathless prose, a Drudge on speed with something to sell, the secret oil hoard has been revealed.

Slippery. Rocks.

The sickest thing about this "investment opportunity" is that doubtless those Energy Departments quotes are accurately rendered. Why, I just read something similar in the latest U.S. News and Whorled report.

Hedging energy investments is the way to go in the short term, but stay alert for the boners. They won't all be this obvious, and friends and family will be at risk.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Don Quixote tilts again

I caught a rancid whiff of Michael Lynch's latest arguments against near term Peak Oil, which lately have de-volved into a combination of ad hominem attacks combined with logical absurdities. Mobjectivist, alert to the presence of Spike, weighed in before I could sharpen my keyboard:
Infinite URR?

MICHAEL LYNCH: Actually, I think the problem here is that Julian and a lot of the people making these arguments are not that familiar with the technical terms in the oil industry. The estimates that there's about two trillion barrels of oil resource are actually done by some very simplistic models, which have not always failed, but almost always failed on both the national and a global level. The oil conventional oil resource base, the oil in place, is about eight to ten trillion barrels. And right now, most estimates are that about 40% of that will be recovered, in other words, about three, three-and-a-half trillion. But the amount we'll recover will grow over time. So we're not -- we're really not even close to halfway through the conventional oil resource base.
Here, Lynch claims that we have no worries as the global economy has over 3 trillion barrels left in reserves, i.e. a relatively healthy URR.

Well, I can do him one better and claim that we can have an infinite supply left, yet we will still have to face a peak in production.

To create such a scenario, we need only to create a production profile that -- when integrated from now to eternity -- tends to an infinite cumulative value. Simple enough, the following curve1 does this quite nicely:
Production(Time) = A/(B + C*abs(Time-T0))
The curve, for a T0=2007, looks like the following:

It looks innocent enough on the way up, and then goes through what looks like a precipitous drop, a sure sign that we have entered a doomster realm. Right? Well, not quite. The long tail that this curve contains actually contains a huge bonanza of future returns, why, a veritable cornucopia of oil!

Too bad it completely trashes Lynch's rosy assessment, which he clearly built off a dodgy initial premise. In reality, we have no idea how that purported 3 trillion, or infinite amount, in reserve will play out. On the bright side, we should have lots of time to find an alternative source to keep our productivity and life-style moving forward.

Translation: Mister Lynch has moved beyond his artful dodginess ("I believe in Peak Oil but...") into fictional accounts of reality leavend with insults:

"I mean, I've dealt with the people who have done the original research that he's relying on, and, you know, I’ve pointed out the flaws in their arguments and the fact that they have had to repeatedly revise their estimates and research. It's the claim that is often made by people like Matt Simmons or Colin Campbell that you can't increase the recovery factor much, you're just getting now faster. But if you look, you'll find that they say this over and over again, and they don't give you any real evidence to back it up. If when you talk to the industry, and I've debated with Matt in front of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and you tell them that Matt says this -- he doesn't say this to the engineers, because they would laugh at him -- that's the reaction. I mean, these guys are working all the time to raise the amounts that they can get out of the ground." - Lynch

Sure, you can always find new ways to extract oil out of rocks. These methods all require energy, far more energy than is generated by a roomful of engineers laughing.

Lynch frames Simmons as the boo-boo head outsider, a naif, an innocent banker lost in his theories.

That's right, Lynch. Pick on the banker. It's all you've got left.