Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Real Cost Of Black

A reader (thanks M3ANON) had this to say, by way of criticism to yesterday's post:

"To top it off you all seem to be in favor of rebuilding society on alternative energy methods that, at present, are not efficient or even self-sustaining. It might be a different matter if the alternative energy methods you all propose were actually efficient and capable or maintaining society as we know it..." (bold added).

I would like to address the two points highlited above, because I believe many people have similar concerns.
  • Alternative energy methods are not self sustaining or efficient.
Well, obviously solar energy is self-sustaining - for several million years more, anyway. Solar energy includes direct (i.e. solar panels) but also energy derived from the wind, waves, salinity differences, marine temperature gradients and biomass (am I leaving anything out?). Geothermal and tidal energy depends on the Earth's core and the Moon respectively and is also likely to last another few million years - unless a big asteroid hits.

Efficiency is measured by EROEI and all of the above energy sources now likely exceed "black" energy, when all costs are included. For example, the cost of maintaining the enormous US and other nations' military machines and occasionally fighting wars. Or the cost of environmental change caused by greenhouse gases. And how about geopolitical cost, to account for the very real risks arising from the increasing concentration of "black" resources in a handful of nations?
  • Maintaining society as we know it.
Can we actually maintain society as we know it? Society's ability to consume ever more (i.e. Permagrowth) was made possible with the enormous energy boost of fossil fuels. They are running out and are destroying our habitat, besides. So we have no choice but to change our society to better fit whatever energy is available. If we plan ahead wisely, changes will come with few major disruptions. But if we keep on pushing on the gas pedal we will just fly off the cliff.

Oh, we may maintain our society as we know it, allright. But what about our children's society? Are we willing to consume their future so we can maintain our present?


  1. Sob, sob, sob.

    Here's something for the less sentimental.

    * No matter disappears from Earth (even satellites return back eventually). Mining is the way man reorganizes matter to his advantage. An iron atom has more utility as a part of a railway or a car than 1 mile under the ground.

    * If energy reserves must not be used because of preservation for future generation, they can never be used. Every generation must save them for their children. Same goes for money savings. Once they exist, touching them is theft from your children. The rule is simple: Every finate resource that exists must never be used.

    * Are future generations really paying for investments made by previous generations (research, disease treatment, infrastructure)? Would our generation prefer a world with tuberculosis but with the iron left in the ground?

    * The number of armed conflicts in the world is decreasing.


  2. M3ANON,
    I'm less optimistic than Hell about few major disruptions but in any case my reply to your question is on yesterday's post with 2 links that you might find informative.

  3. All of this talk of higher oil prices loses sight of what really ills the US, which is mainlt that the middle class is diappearing. People expenditures toward gas and food are much lower than theywere 30 years ago. It is only becasuse the typical US household can not subsist on one income that houses must own 2 cars and buy more oil. The typical houshold is at the breaking point because heatlcare cost are ridiculous, they are living in in a house that is too expensive so their kids can go to a "better" school and they have to to pay for 1/3 of the childs education (preschool and college). This never existed 30 years ago. Oil is the least of our problems in my opinion. it really distracts people from the real problems...

  4. I don't think you can just totally write off military expenditures either. We've had armed conflict as long as man has been alive. Always have. Always will. You can't just assign that as an expense of using black energy.

  5. OK, I think everybody is missing the point here.

    - The poster mentioned in this blog entry missed the fact that it's absolutely impossible to maintain society as we know it. The only thing we can be absolutely certain is that in no way society is going to be the same as now in 20 years time. We can't maintain it any more than we can keep perfectly still and without breathing.

    - Hellasious is missing the fact that this isn't about our children's future any more. The Arctic ice cap is predicted to go completely in summer by year 2013. The data of the IEA seems to indicate peak oil happened on May 2005. This isn't about our children any more, it's about us.

    - The first anonymous commentator for this post misses the point that it is the energy, stupid. Matter doesn't disappear from Earth. Energy can, and does, arrive into Earth (in the form of sunshine) and dissipate (in the form of useless heat caused by machine friction, for example). The problem we have is not about running out of iron, platinum, or any kind of matter. We are depleting the energy contained in the chemical bonds of fossil fuels, and that isn't going to come back in millions of years. The same as it's foolish in the extreme, if you get a big lump sum (for example, by inheritance), to just spend it like there's no tomorrow, instead of investing it wisely so you get a steady return for the rest of your life, it's foolish in the extreme to use the energy contained in fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow, instead of using it in extreme moderation to build renewable energy projects that will produce a steady return of energy for the rest of our lives and future generations.

    - The fourth poster misses the point that energy is at the origin of two of the key problems he cites.
    1. The typical household cannot subsist on one income because governments have done all they can to encourage services that were being done for free (just about everything housewives did) to become paid jobs that increase the GDP, because everybody knows economic growth is the secret of the wellbeing of a country. But the truth is that economic growth was fuelled by the fact that jobs that were previously done by people are now being done by machines, machines that require energy - in other words, energy slaves. Of course, getting a machine to do your job promotes wellbeing of a sort. It also takes energy that may or may not be available in the future. And certainly turning unpaid tasks into paid ones doesn't particularly increase anybody's wellbeing.
    2. Houses are expensive because the way the last big recession was contained was by slashing interest rates to ridiculous lows. The last big recession was, supposedly, due to the dot com bubble. But everybody seems to forget that the US deficits were starting to become scary at that time, that oil imports made up a big part of that deficit, and that the usual economic argument that the deficit isn't recessionary and it shouldn't matter because the dollar is a free-floating currency doesn't apply when the main countries you do business with, especially oil producers, peg their currency to the dollar.

  6. M3ANON said:

    Hellasious -
    Thank you very much for referencing my points Hel. Thanks. Today is my only dayoff for the week and the sun is out so I will go straight to it.

    Perhaps "self-sustaining" was a poor choice of words. I recognize solar energy is self-sustaining. I recognize the geothermal and tidal forms to.
    But my point was that our vehicles and methods of powering our needs in society are based on fossil fuels and will continue to be so for at least the near to near-mid term. Though the alternative energies you reference are indeed self-sustaining the immediate technologies to harness these energies, not to mention maximize them, have not been developed etc. So when you and others advocate letting Creative Destruction come about so we can rebuild things based on current alternative energy methods this is in error because #1 society cannot exist on these alternative energies due to their lack of development and #2 society, instead, will gravitate back to the cheapest and surest method of powering its needs (that is fossil fuels).
    Another point you are all missing is that the vast majority of people in all societies actually want society to progress instead of regress regardless of what is "good for them" (or deemed to be "good for them" based on projections from a particular subjective perspective of observable fact - i'll try to go into that one more after enjoyin' the sunny day).
    Society will not rebuild itself on the clean methods you all advocate - it will get back to speed as quick as possible meaning that all concern for the environment will be further than a secondary concern. You guys need to continue your work whilst people are comfortable because it will give you the time to further develop your alt-energy methods so they can actually even moderately replace fossil fuels. You alt-energy types have it made now - you have enough people comfortable in life where then can afford to be concerned with the environment (to the point of readily accepting mercury-light bulbs in their homes - we flipout if mercury gets in our creeks but increasing the exposure inside ourown homes? Come on!).

    Yoyoma -
    Before getting to this post I did go through your links posted on the other thread.
    The wilderness page I couldn't find - the page said "out if date" and did not pass the .com/free/ directory.
    The other page I did see but, as you can understand, did not view entirely (that prof doesn't care that I'm trying to go enjoy my sunny day off) but I saw enough to reference the following:
    #1. How can you refer to "Peak Oil" when their is ANWAR, the Bakken formation, oil sands, the Brazil find in the south Atlantic just to name a few? The question does not revolve around oil peaking - the question revolves around the what it costs to get it. Sure the stuff cannot last forever but we should get it while we can WHILE developing alternative energies.
    #2. Oil output did not peak in 1970- if it did fossil fuel-induced "Global Warming" would not be a concern now. China and India weren't even on the scene then. Oil is expensive now but if peak oil growth had been in 1970 we'd be back on horses at this point.
    #3. The life expectancy of industrial civilization is 100 years ? Huh ? The Industrial Revolution was less than 150 years ago - but industrial civilization is still here and shows no sign of disappearing (unless it's means of energy are purposely cutoff due to agenda (ahem - ahem) - this can also be used to contradict the blackouts/brownouts argument too).

    GEEZ - I gotta go git and enjoy this sunny day off (and burn me some fossil fuels in the process - YAAA-HOOO!!) 8-)

  7. "Would our generation prefer a world with tuberculosis but with the iron left in the ground?"

    Uh, Johan, we still have Tuberculosis, only now it is a very nasty, mostly drug resistant kind. It's a major population check waiting in the wings. That vaccine you got as a child wears off over time.

    re: arctic melt. The Northwest Passage opened for the first time last summer. Norway, Russia, Canada, and the US have all been planting flags on the ocean floor.

  8. For those looking to get a good handle on the amounts of energy involved in comparison of renewable energy schemes, I don't think there currently exists a better resource than this new book (in the making):

    Sustainable Energy - Without the Hot Air

  9. If you are going to discuss lifestyle then, it seems to me, you have to discuss population density and growth. Total population and density are the root problems to solve. Otherwise, solving the energy "problem" will lead to a water, food, pollution, living space or other resource "problem". Biology students know that all organisms have the reproductive potential to outgrow their resources. Unless we manage our population growth we will always have a resource problem to solve.

  10. M3ANON,
    Hope you enjoyed the sunshine, a few points:

    1)the address for the wilderness should be typed in all as one line but I couldn't make it fit on one line in the comments section

    2)the mercury in CFB is sealed and presents a hazard only if the bulb breaks (they shouldn't be tossed in the trash but go to a recycling center instead)

    3)you're right that people will gravitate to the cheapest energy and that is why a carbon tax is necessary to raise its cost and to generate revenue to subsidize the massive amount of infrastructure that will be needed to provide the alternatives

    4)the sources of oil you mentioned are all impossibly difficult to access; Brazil's is under miles of ocean and salt layers thousands of feet thick, Bakken is a shale formation and precious little oil will flow out of it unless you set off nuclear explosions to pulverize the rock and liberate the oil, ANWAR is conventional oil and it will be tapped when we get desperate enough

    5)total oil production didn't peak in 1970, it peaked on a per capita basis; we have become more efficient in our use of oil since then because we've had no choice, once total production peaks and declines the amount available on a per capita basis will crash

    6)the first century of the industrial revolution was powered mostly by coal and steam; oil and electricity didn't become common until after WW1 and we're coming up on the centennial of that era without a sufficient replacement

    7)obviously survival will take precedence over the environment but that's no guarentee of success, are you familiar with the theory of overshoot and Easter Island (google those two terms together); a focus on short term survival can guarantee long term extinction

    we've gone too far without a plan and there are no longer any easy ways to extricate ourselves; it's going to be a painful transition or we simply won't make it

  11. Dear Hell,

    Copper price is also at all time high. Why not talk about alternate copper as well? How about peak rough rice, peak soybean and peak potash?

    You are a smart dude, and I agree with everything you say about the credit crisis - but I am amazed that people like you and Mish continue to believe in this 'peak oil' scam.


  12. Where is your stop????

    Hello Hell,

    Every smart trader in the market has a stop. Where is your stop on 'peak oil'?

    I do not see how crude can escape $35/barrel in a short order. Will you still continue to talk about peak oil then?

    At what crude price will you declare that the market is right and you are wrong about peak oil?


  13. OK, posted this challenge on my blog:

  14. Greenie-

    "Copper price is also at all time high. Why not talk about alternate copper as well? How about peak rough rice, peak soybean and peak potash?"

    I'm not sure I follow. Are you saying that running out of sufficient copper or fertile land to meet the desires of the ever-growing global population is a myth like the "peak oil scam"?

  15. All I am trying to say is commodities do not 'peak' in normal growth situation. As population attempts to grow, society either figures out a solution or adjusts growth rate.

    Instead, when we have fake inflationary growth based on increasing money supply, that gets checked by real world variables like lack of commodities. The focus of this discussion should be more on money supply and less on commodities.

    How do we know that we had a fake boom based on increasing money supply, and not an intrinsic supply problem in the availability of oil? It is simply from the fact that all commodities (land, copper, corn, rice, oil, gold) and not just oil seem to be in short supply.

  16. People are afriad of change.

    Americans were afraid of change when the industrial revolution started and are now equally afraid of change as the industrial revolution ends.

    European cities and infrastructure are now better positioned for a new century then most American cities.

    Americans need to re-design thier infrastructure to bring back a modern, high-tech, small town America. Already happening in some areas.

    The age of super highways, suburbs, regional shopping centers, 1 hr daily commutes, no public transportation, ... all needs to go ... all means change and so is very painfull for Americans and American politicians.

  17. "The typical household cannot subsist on one income because governments have done all they can to encourage services that were being done for free (just about everything housewives did) to become paid jobs that increase the GDP, because everybody knows economic growth is the secret of the wellbeing of a country."

    Noooo, WWII accelerated women entering the workforce, and the two income families could then afford to pay for "new" services and could afford more housing. Now, it is much harder for workers entering the workforce to find good housing without a roommate, since they are competing with two-income families. The government had little to do with it: classic paradigm shift.

  18. yoyoma wrote: "2)the mercury in CFB is sealed and presents a hazard only if the bulb breaks (they shouldn't be tossed in the trash but go to a recycling center instead)"

    Bwahahahaaaa! How about "accidents shouldn't happen, and the free-rider problem should be eliminated? Nice solution.

  19. Hell -

    Amen, brother.

    Unfortunately, humans will continue to consume and pollute until we suffer an environmentally induced population reduction. May be disease, or wars over scarce resources, or famine. But whatever the cause, the outcome will be the same. 6.6 B is just too many.


  20. M3ANON said:

    ("Ah yes, another blessing of this site - nonAmericans telling us what is "good for us" based on their own subjective perceptions - for crying out loud, what about the #$%^ CDS Market ?!?")

    I have decided to start something I hope may make my point regarding this man-made Global Warming stuff. From now on when I post to this blog I will reference the record high temperature in Chicago based on records at the Chicago Tribune website. I would pick a major city which is a little closer by but doing so is a bit embarrassing (though we are about to sweep the Yanks - BAM!).
    The record high temperature for Chicago on May 1st is 90 degrees set back in 1951. Yup - 1951. The year that Global Warming started roasting off Humanity.

    On another note I heard about this article today and thought I'd post it for those interested. Though the article and quoted scientists take great pains to tell readers that man-made Global Warming is still a threat regardless what they predict the greater point is made - just as there are natural cooling cycles that don't depend on the Works of Man there are also natural warming cycles that go on regardless of Man. We really don't make that much difference (or at least to the point that Al Gore wants to believe).

    Yoyomo -
    Thanks. Yes - it was a nice day. And in case it is of interest one of my stops today was to the recycling bins, surprised?
    In reference to your points
    #1. I'll see if I can get to the Wilderness article - but I don't trust the whacko.
    #2. There was story a few months ago about one of those bulbs breaking. The homeowner called the authorities to see what to do and she ended up spending over $1000 to get it all cleaned up because mercury is considered a environmentally hazardous substance. Light bulbs break and people will toss them in the garbage anyway because they don't want to pay the extra $ to dispose of them appropriately. These CFB lightbulbs are a bad idea and will lead to more environmental damage.
    #3. Given the rebuilding scenario you want to impose a carbon tax ? You really think that a society rebuilding itself will agree to tax its "carbon footprint"? Societies trying to get back to progress don't tax themselves backwards.
    #4. I read an article a couple days on Bloomberg about how dificult things will be with Brazil getting the oil. I know it will cost but the point is that peak oil is far from a reality - but it will be expensive. That is why my next vehicle purchase will be more fuel-efficient (my pickup isn't so bad but I can do better - though I am afraid what the county deer will do to my li'l fuel efficient future purchase).
    #5. I don't recall that prof's abstract using the term "per capita" but all the same - we haven't reached the peak.
    #6. Your argument is based on the prof's theory - his theory does not make it a Fact that a replacement MUST occur. There is a lot of activity going on in the Coal sector and it is becoming a popular energy of choice again especially in China. Coal is cheap and there is gobs of it (it might even be the main energy rebuilding choice given the Collapse-and-Rebuilding scenario advocated on this site) The prof's theory does not a Fact make.
    #7. I believe your Easter Island point was further referenced in that popular book a few years back ( I forgot the writer's name but I know it was big). This, again, is a theory - Easter Island is very secluded, might the Easter Islandians have died off if they could take a helicopter off the island? This is like saying turning off the air into a fishtank will cause the apartment inhabitant to suffocate as well.

    Again - causing society to collapse in order to rebuild it on unproven and inefficient energy methods is no plan at all. It will only lead to destruction because no collapsed society trying to get back to where it was will care about "The Environment 1st". It is not neccessary given the progress in the Alt Energy field.

    The Yanks just tied it up. Now I must go pray.....

  21. I might as well add to the mess....

    I had a few odd thoughts recently.

    Once paid for renewable energy sources may be much cheaper than fossil fuels. Is it possible that such a utopia would allow accelerated growth to another unsustainable situation of some sort?...Likely there would be a good few nice years in between. Unlikely that we will get there any time soon.

    The other odd thought was that I don't think that the world,... "Gaia" know... the concept of a living world, hates us. Or the fact that we have transformed the world and are probably sowing the seeds of our own distruction by extracting all the old carbon and pumping it into the air.

    It is possible that had we not started doing it a super ice age may have caused the entire planet to freeze over never to recover.

    I think it is possible to say that by heating the mixture and adding more carbon, the basis of organic life, we have insured, barring the astroid problem, that something new will come along.... eventually.

  22. American's in particuliar are leading extreme lifestyle's regarding the consumption of food,housing,transportation. No where on earth can one find middle class housing with large RV's,ATV, boats, motorcycles and multi auto's for pleasure and work. We are a nation that has gone hog wild on cheap energy pushed along by our own greed and the poor leadership provided over the past 40 years. The big energy party is over and it will not be possible to continue along with our merry lifestyle's nor will the rest of the world be able to take our place no matter what they may wish.
    The lag in understanding our situation is understandable since it means an end to a very enjoyable and carefree lifestyle.

  23. Gary Alan
    There is no way that we can maintain society in its current state of development. It is far to energy intensive. If we are extremely lucky, we will re-start our nuclear industry to keep the lights on. outside of this, we may do well to re-start the trains with coal for movement of freight. We are going to have a difficult time with wholesale farming that we have today. Far too expensive to grow food and ship it to market in its current form. There will be a whole generation of Americans that will learn how to garden out of necessity. This need will push us toward lower population density and a much simpler lifestyle.

  24. Copper price is also at all time high. Why not talk about alternate copper as well? How about peak rough rice, peak soybean and peak potash?

    Agreed with greenie.


    The global food crisis is a monetary phenomenon, an unintended consequence of America's attempt to inflate its way out of a market failure.

    The energy crisis is of course a most serious pending issue. Not an imminent one.

    The currency crisis is THE CURRENT CRISIS.

    I support this call for "Hell-As-IOUS" to focus on it. This is both his skills and his job!

    Regards to all of you.

  25. Looks like Homo Sapiens is about to meet its well derserved End while still being in denial, full of excuses and trying to blame everything and everbody. Good luck.

  26. "Can we actually maintain society as we know it?"

    The answer to tha question is a clear and simple NO...! Society is always changing. I yearn for the days when we used to sit around throwing feces at each other. Those were the "GOOD OLD DAYS".

    We are geneticaly predisposed to make whatever changes are necessary for the survival of the human species. Those changes are occuring right now as we speak, however they are too gradual and incrimental for the human eye to detect. If humanity is to become extinct, the cause will not be of human origin. However, all the obvious facts yield to the proposition that we're pretty f---ing stupid.

    No offence to anyone.

    Best regards,


  27. Francois,
    Dollar inflation would not be a problem for other nation's if they didn't peg to the $. I don't know why China continues to do so but most OPEC members fear the US pulling an Iraq on them (or an incipient Iran). This all leads back to the US having the deadliest arsenal on the planet and its lack of reticence in using it to aquire the resources it wants.

    If the threat of intervention or destablization (Sudan, Somalia, Venezuela, Nicaragua, etc., etc.) didn't hang over them, many countries would be moving much faster to decouple from the US as it no longer pays for its imports (not with anything of lasting value anyway).

    As it becomes more obvious that the US can't and won't pay its debts the danger will arise when exporters try to refuse to accept $ as payment. Will the US accept to borrow in foreign currencies or will it react violently? That is the question that keeps these small countries purchasing dollars and debasing their own currencies and impoverishing their populations.

    When they can't or won't do that any longer is when J6P will be forced to take the full brunt of the Fed's monetary policies.

  28. Remember, Nature is everything.

    " You cannot go against nature
    Because when you do
    Go against nature
    It's part of nature too."

    Love and Rockets
    No New Tale To Tell

    Jason B

  29. Once paid for renewable energy sources may be much cheaper than fossil fuels.

    That there is the rub. The cost of switching to sustainable energy sources is capital intensive (like building railroads or highways were). But long term, the solar technologies will more than pay for themselves. The problem is that Americans want to maintain the tax rates we have now (even if it means we run out of energy quicker).

  30. Here's a clip from the venerable Financial Times about ExxonMobil:

    Exxon Oil Production Struggles for Growth

    What's even more interesting are the related remarks by the Rockefeller family, who own much of ExxonMobil's stock. They are exhorting the hidebound company to make the leap to alternative fuels.

    It's not a question of "if", or really, even "when". The question is "how are we going change our energy production and consumption profile".

    And working from yesterday's theme, if you're waiting around for some "leader" to show you the way, you'll probably be waiting quite a while.

    Bottom-up is where the change comes from. There are many lists on the Internet describing simple, cheap, incremental ways to re-cast your energy consumption profile.

    Remember, the doom-and-gloom crowd and the flat-earth-deniers often have one thing in common: they make lots of noise while doing nothing.

    "It's not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change"

    -- Charles Darwin

    How are you doing at responding to change? Still talking?


  31. M3ANON said:

    ** Please, will someone educate me further on this by providing an answer to the following question - I'm serious. I need to know the Truth.**

    By the way, today's record high temp in Chicago is 91 degrees set back in 1959. Ah yes, 1959 was a sweaty yet informative year. It was in 1959 that we really knew man-made Global Warming was cranking up the fry and soon we would all be doomed. Of course then we decided in the 1970's that there was Global Cooling going on - but now we are back on topic. Yup. 1959 was the beginning of manmade Global Warming - why it's almost 50 degrees now and it's not even noon! Oh why won't the People believe?

    Might someone please provide me a GENUINE OBJECTIVE URL that tells me FOR FACT what percentage of Global Warming is attributable to Man?
    I'm not asking for "Nature Joe's We are On the Eve of Destruction"-type subjective stuff - everyone has an opinion. Can anyone please provide me a rock-hard objective scientific Fact-source that can tell me EXACTLY how much of Global Warming is UNDENIABLY attributable to Man ?

    Thanks in advance. Have a jolly day.

  32. M3ANON said:

    Correction - it is currently 65 degrees and it is before noon.
    Wouldn't want to be a fibber.

  33. "Can anyone please provide me a rock-hard objective scientific Fact-source that can tell me EXACTLY how much of Global Warming is UNDENIABLY attributable to Man ?

    50%. The other half comes from women. Animals don't have thermometers.

  34. M3ANON... forgetting the issue of global warming for the moment, I doubt you disagree with the validity of the national energy security issue.

    Or do you take issue with the view that the military costs of protecting foreign oil reserves and supply lanes are large and real? For if you were to add these additional military/social costs into the price of oil (paid from things like income taxes) renewable energy would look a lot more attractive. And it is dishonest accounting if you do not add these costs. Further, even if many of these costs are paid by the people we 'protect' (e.g the Saudi Arabias of the world, etc...) in the form of things like US debt/treasury purchases at absurdly low rates, etc…. Still, our (the U.S.) portion of this bill is considerable.

    So knowing all you know, do you really believe paying for oil/energy the way we do now (low costs at the pump, high costs in income taxes, military spending, etc…) that America has really put the proverbial lego's together in the best possible way? It is reasonable to periodically look at how we spend our money as a society to see if it can be ‘done better’ (usually means getting bad government policy/spending out of the way).

    Who will do this: government? The Private Sector? Either is fine with me. I think Hell’s point is that until we put our collective minds on this endeavor, it probably won’t happen. Even if we do spend lots of time and money, there is obviously no guarantee it will happen (would be one hell of a bad high risk investment), yet his hunch (I think), and certainly my own hunch, is that the ingenious talented people of this planet will solve the technical issues and the cost/benefit will work without any accounting gimmickry (perhaps we can all pay less in income taxes? Yah right! :-) )

    And while I don't think our government need fund basic science energy research any more than it fund any other type of basic science research, I do support government funding of basic science research as a general rule (and energy can certainly be part of this) for the simple reason the 'payback' on basic science research investments often run greater than 30+ year-- probably beyond the patience of even the most patient private investors. The National Academy of sciences has quantified America's basic science research investment at >30% annualized over the entire 20th century, so if history is any guide of the past, (granted this is flawed inductive reasoning), still it seems like a pretty good ‘bet’ with taxpayer money.

    Certainly this is not controversial.


  35. Americans have the right to self-destruct. The pursuit of happiness is not necessarily correlated to the pursuit of sustainable longevity of the individual, humankind, or the biosphere. Those these phrases are loosely based from the US Bill of Rights, philosophically they apply to all humans.

    Optimistic news is more pleasant to listen to than troublesome news so more people watch the Pravda-esque Fox News than any other channel. So Fox has more $ and the lesser news sources die off. Is Fox, capitalism, or human nature to blame? I'm going with human nature.

    But that's not fair since there is more than one "human nature". This division of personality types could be the next step in evolution. Gotta stop this tangent and get back to my intended point...

    So if humans have the right to engage in behavior that will lead to their suffering and/or death, is the humanitarian thing to do 1)limit their freedom and prevent their inevitable pain or 2) let them have complete freedom and watch helplessly as they cry later? Tough call, yes?

    The various governments and their resource philosophers (economists)will try lots of options, but I can't see any of them being effective because of their size/complexity. I think a small group of dedicated people are going to have to volunteer to dedicate their lives to researching energy solutions without profit incentive (not that I'm against it, its just that profit can't be their main goal or expectation or they'll have to waste time with patents, insider trading, etc.). Science monks.

  36. "The National Academy of sciences has quantified America's basic science research investment at >30% annualized over the entire 20th century"

    Seems like they are not different from NAR or NAHB in talking their books.

    I do not see, why government needs to fund research. However, given the options between defense spending, farmer subsidy and scientific research, I would go for National Association of Scientors.

  37. Greenie said... "

    Thai said... "for the simple reason the 'payback' on basic science research investments often run greater than 30+ year-- probably beyond the patience of even the most patient private investors."

    I am all ears if you see the flaw in this logic... you of all people should know I am not a proponent of big government.

    Think on your own geneticist background, most of the 'practical' applications in your field came out of very esoteric origins.

    As for the NAS 'cooking their books'-- I won't challenge your point, the accruacy of the numbers in either direction are highly questionable-- but a quick 'back of the napkin' calculation using ballpark numbers from your own experience might also conclude the numbers are plausible-- I did it myself out of curiosity.

  38. Dink said... " small group of dedicated people are going to have to volunteer to dedicate their lives to researching energy solutions without profit incentive"

    Usually we agree but not on this-- Who will do this in large enough numbers to 'save society' for free?

    Its absolutely fine with me if profit is their main goal-- if they come up with new energy solutions why should I grudge them a nickle? Expecting someone to do it for free is absurd-- everyone benefits from their actions, why does society need to dump on them?

  39. Dink,
    There isn't going to be another step in evolution, if the sober types can't stop the party people from all rushing to one side of the boat (the convenience-at-all-costs side) at the same time then its going to capsize and we're all going down together. Judging by the relative numbers of each type, who do you think is going to prevail?

    Hi Thai,
    Hope you have better success enticing M3ANON towards the light, I gave it my best shot to no avail but the lad is obviously sincere.

  40. Thai/Yoyomo,

    Party people do make up a greater percentage of the population. And their behavior will cause a capsize. In fact, I believe the tipping slowly started a few decades ago and the angle is getting steeper day by day (overpopulation/resource depletion).

    And this stresses me because 1) I'd like to live as long as possible and as well as possible, and 2) the suffering of others truly upsets me (even when it is brought about by unintended consequences of their own behavior).

    So the 1st order of business is my own survival (spouse too). I'm a clever bastard and think I can manage this under most circumstances. The 2nd order of business is gathering up all my science/engineeing buddies into the Clever Bastard Survival Club. This will aid in survival and pleasant social contact. The 3rd order is more recruiting of the willing and like-minded for farming and physics research. Once we discover sustainable energy we check in on the rest of the world. If capitalism is still viable, we distribute the technology in a way that generates some cash while saving humanity. If capitalism has crashed, we give the technology to the global survivors on the condition that they don't make the same mistakes as previous generations (overpopulation, violence, CDS swaps, etc.).

    To any readers who think this is bleak vison of the future: Sorry, but this is as optimistic as I get!

    P.S. To those who believe biofuel crops are leading to global starvation I just read that over half of US corn goes to feeding cows. We gotta get rid of cows.

  41. "As for the NAS 'cooking their books'"

    It is a question of opportunity cost.

    Every month NSF or NIH websites declare that government funding made this big discovery possible - such as NIH funding made sequencing of a genome available to people. How can anyone find out, whether the sequence would not have been available to the public, if NIH did not suck away money from public? You hear all kinds of arguments like "companies will not give it out for free", "large projects such as human genome sequencing cannot be done without the government". Yet, in a different space, we find google creating world's largest database of online information and giving it out for free.

    NIH, NSF, DOE, NASA etc. are all big bloated government agencies. I do not know, why anybody in his right mind will like to expand them.

  42. Forgot to add - NAS is just the representative of status quo. If government increases funding for agencies, they reap disproportionate share of it. Is there any surprise that they always ask for government to increase science budget? The Science journal publishes editorials month after month about why Washington should raise science budget. Have you seen a single editorial opposing a raise?

    When the establishment is biased, you can get any result that you like to see. If that 30% number looks too bad, let me know. I will discuss with few NAS members to adopt a different statistical measure.

  43. "small group of dedicated people are going to have to volunteer to dedicate their lives to researching energy solutions without profit incentive"

    and who will feed these small group of lazy @sses? Companies surviving in the jungle and making some profit for a change.

  44. M3ANON said:

    The Chicago Tribune has not updated their site for May 3 yet but the MSN weather page says that the record high temp for Chicago was 88 degrees set back in ... 1949. 70 years - Global Warming has been chasin' us with the frying pan for 70 years but it hasn't gotten over 88 degrees yet. This manmade Global Warming is a killah - yup!

    RJ -
    That was funny.

    Thai -
    You are attempting to change the issue and it will not work. As you know these discussion of the last few days has centered around the assertion that we need to switch out of fossil fuels NOW NOT because of national security concerns but because we are all about to kill ourselves off due to polluting Mother Earth and causing her to crank up the burners on us. Yes there are national security concerns - but forcing a recession on ourselves so we adopt alt energy methods quicker is a matter of maintaining U.S. national security?

    Yoyo -
    Aye, this lad is sincere. And he is also sincerely disappointed that no factual evidence can be provided to substantiate your claims - you didn't even attempt to sneak a Goreism past me! GEEZ!

    Dink -
    I think we should off more cows too. They are too cumbersome and go great with cheddar - slice'em and grill'em, Yeah-Buddy!

  45. Greenie, I am interested in your contention that high prices for all commodities might be basically due to global monetary inflation. But first, let me just state the peak oil orthodoxy. Though peak-oil advocates certainly treat the high prices as a confirmatory sign, the real argument that peak oil is now comes from national production curves, exhaustion of known fields vs discovery of new ones, and so forth.

    That argument can be had in many places, I don't know if you want to go over it here. Anyway, what I'd like to know, to begin with, is where you get your $35/barrel figure from - a forecast of recession plus deflation, perhaps?

  46. M3ANON,
    I would not want to sincerely disappoint you so I'll give it my best shot so please bear with me. It will never be possible to prove with absolute certianty what the cause of global warming is (is it natural or man made?), all we can do is observe how fast it is happenning and try to correlate it with other variables like CO2 levels in the atmosphere, among other things. From there we can speculate as to causality with some theories being more plausible than others.

    By taking ice cores from ancient glaciers and analysing the air bubbles trapped in different layers of ice we can measure the amount of CO2 in the air over the last 500,000years or more. It is also possible to get an idea of the temperature in different eras of the distant past by examining the proportions of different types of pollen trapped in the layers of ancient ice; when the earth was warm there would be a higher proportion of pollen from warm weather plants, when the earth was cooler there would be a higher proportion of pollen from cold weather plants.

    When comparing the levels of ancient CO2 to ancient tempertures, higher levels of CO2 correlate very tightly (after adjusting for volcanic dust which also shows up in the ice cores) with higher temperatures. Now I realise that it may be hard for you to believe but Chicago is not the world and local variability can easily camouflage global trends and global average temperatures have been trending gradually higher along with the rising CO2 levels.

    In any case, the biggest impact of global warming is felt near the poles especially during spring and autumn. Eskimo villages are reporting spring temperatures 20-30F above normal which is causing more of the permanent ice to melt each summer.

    A much bigger worry is the melting of the permafrost because that would release the huge quantities of methane trapped in the frozen ground and methane is far more effective at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 (that is why methane from oil wells is flared, producing lesser-heat-trapping CO2, instead of simply being vented). There exists a very real possibility of a self re-inforcing cycle arising beyond the control of humans if the methane in the permafrost and frozen on the ocean floor starts to escape into the atmosphere.

    The main concern is not that Earth would resemble Venus but that the change in rainfall patterns would destroy the world's ability to feed itself. Obviously there will be winners and losers which explains Russia's refusal to abide any curbs on emmissions. A warmer globe would benefit them.

    All that said, global warming is not my first worry. It will be gradual and with strict birth control population levels can ratchet down to adjust to it.

    My main concern is resource depletion; peak oil, peak soil, peak ground water, peak potash, peak phosphorus, post-peak nickel, post-peak tin, etc., etc... These constraints will hit with full force, sudden impact. There is only so much substitution possible and there will not be enough to go around for 6-7billion people.

    I'm not a climatologist but I hope this sheds some light on the subject.

    Final note; we all have to eat but if I were a cow I wouldn't appreciate the callous insouciance of your final remark. Their central nervous system for feeling pain and fear is every bit as highly developed as yours is; my turn to be sincerely disappointed.

  47. Mitchell, $35 is 2000-02 low adjusted for decline in the price of dollar.

    "the real argument that peak oil is now comes from national production curves"

    I have been through many 'peak' arguments. One that was popular in 2000 around silicon valley was peak in Moore's law. Looking into future, people projected that they would not be able to pack more transistors into a computer chip, and that was seen as the biggest threat to silicon valley industries. Peak in Moore's law keeps getting shifted from 1984 to 1990 to 2000 to know the drill.

    Another one said that they do not make land any more in hot places around the world. You know how that ended too.

    Regarding oil, it is supply versus demand. Peak oilers argue that demand will keep going up very fast, because of rising India and China. Unfortunately, the current boom in India/China is linked to monetary inflation in US. Pension funds of baby boomer generation are trying to go into any place with higher yield, be it Chinese stock market, Pakistani bonds and mortgage-backed SIVs. Everything else is derived effect.

    When inflation runs out of steam, all the 'peak' believers change topic or go into hiding. Seen it many times.

  48. "My main concern is resource depletion; peak oil, peak soil, peak ground water, peak potash, peak phosphorus, post-peak nickel, post-peak tin, etc."

    peak rough rice, peak soybean, peak wheat, peak coffee, peak obesity, peak Mcdonald, peak Starbucks, peak shopping malls.....

  49. M3ANON I will stay out of the global warming debate as I have not read any of the primary science so I really can't intelligently comment (the extent of my knowledge comes from articles in popular magazines, etc...).

    As for opening national oil reserves now to prevent a recession now-- this seems as absurd a view as some of the 'peak' extremists-- the oil still takes years to come on line.

    If a recession is in the near future (from poor monetary policy, etc...) it is coming whether we release the oil or not.

    In the end the piper always wants his money.

  50. Greenie,
    Your charm simply leaps from the page, please don't ever contemplate depriving the rest of us of its healing benefits.

  51. Greenie-

    "and who will feed these small group of lazy @sses? Companies surviving in the jungle and making some profit for a change."

    Perhaps I'm not painting a clear enough picture to get my point across. It would be a self-sufficient tribe hidden from the rest of humanity because (this is the important part, Greenie) the rest of human civilazation will be going Mad Max. No NYSE, no 911, no supermarkets, no antibiotics.


    Nice synopsis on global warming! Interesting comment on it benefiting Russia...


    The prions have already gotten to your brain. You're hallucinating that you're the Illinois Nero.

    Greenie again-

    So how do you think this all turns out? The various hoaxes are revealed and the economy acts likes it 1998 for the next few decades? I'm not being an a-hole here, I'm genuinely curious.

  52. not having read all the posts, i'll guess that I'm not repeating

    'permagrowth' has not been a consequence of energy availability but a particular set of dominant social relations of production, e.g. the combining of: production not for use by the direct producer but for sale; the seperating of direct producers from their means of production and transformation into free wage workers with nothing to sell but their labor-power; reciprocally related to this, the progressive concentration of ownership of means of production into the hands of those who had accumulated means to purchase such and to pay for the required labor-power with its ability to create greater value than cost of its means of subsistence, to create a surplus value for the owners of capital, and a surplus that when realized through sale of product became profit; all within and determining a legal political structure of private property hence the historical necessity for a then revolutionary class of capitalists able to overthrow ancien regimes and take state power.

    This set of relations, hundreds of years in the making, was also the birth of a system driven on not by EROEI but a competitive interacting of profit maximizing, accumulation driven, individual enterprises. Competition though is never for competition's sake but to increase mass and rate of gain and when the latter declines to offset via increasing the former, whether through market share or acquisition or both but ceasely seeking to expand.

    From the very moments of its birth, this system's 'genetic code' contained a globe covering destiny as well as the need to drive forces of production to ever higher levels.

    Yet these same forces episodically come into contradiction with the relations they flow from, something evident during every crisis. IOW, the capital system must destroy to survive and on occassion is forced to destroy more or less of itself. Rentier capitalism has been nothing more than the system's struggle to overcome its own global limits that have less to do with nature as such than the nature of the system.

    What prevents generalization of new green technologies? The relatively insufficient rate and mass of return, which is not directly related to energy efficiency. An energy theory of value fails to take account of that which is systemic but does allow some to unconsciously make excuses for the same system of relations which has damaged the natural and social environments.

    Yes, capitalism is 'society as we know it' and yes, it cannot solve itself or the tralectory it has been on since moreless 1909.