Peak Oil News: 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Energy Crisis: Brother, Can You Spare a Gallon?

Political Affairs Magazine

By Norman Markowitz

As the Eisenhower administration prepared to take office in 1953, Adlai Stevenson, the unsuccessful Democratic candidate, said: "the New Dealers have been replaced by the car dealers." I thought of that today as I read the Republicans new "energy policy," or rather smoke and mirrors – dare we even dignify it by calling it propaganda -– aimed at saving their endangered congressional majorities in the coming elections.

First, the Republicans want what they call a "tax holiday" in the form of a $100 rebate check to every family. Actually, this would amount to two full tanks of gas for most of us with long daily commutes and no feasible public transportation alternatives.

The Republicans, for whom pro-corporate policies are a matter of faith, are obviously hoping that history will repeat itself. In the 1980s, the Reagan administration gave "tax cuts" for working families were offset by various regressive taxes, property, sales, and social security payroll taxes that took much more out of the checks of those families.

Many working people really didn’t catch on that the federal cut backs which accompanied the tax cuts created the increase in regressive federal, state, and local taxes, and sometimes accepted Republican propaganda blaming social programs, public employees and unions for a tax burden that forced them deeper into debt. The government also went much deeper into debt, as increases in military spending and corporate subsidies far outweighed public sector and social service cutbacks and added to lost revenues from tax cuts. This too was blamed on "tax and spend liberals" and "welfare."

The Republicans have controlled both houses of Congress since 1994 and have no "tax and spend liberals" to blame for the present crisis. The Republicans have invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq and threaten to launch a war against Iran, two of whom are the world’s leading oil producers. Though rarely discussed in the mainstream media, these events have clearly contributed to the sharp rise in energy prices.

For this reason, it would be difficult for the Republicans to blame the present energy crisis on a "weak liberal foreign policy" the way Reagan blamed the energy crisis of the 1970s on the Carter administration’s perceived failure to flex US military muscle. Although Russian companies have profited from the price increases as an energy producer, the Republicans can’t (at least I doubt they can) see a Soviet plot to capture strategic oil routes and use their oil money to spread revolution.

Republicans pushed for and won deregulation of the energy industry, so they can’t trot out "supply side" economists to call for deregulation and privatization of energy resources the way the Reaganites did.

To counter massive popular criticism and the Democratic Party’s call for a "windfall profits tax" against the oil companies, which is a good short-term idea but one that Bush and the Republicans and their oil company backers will fight to the death, the Republicans resurrected their phony compassionate conservatism, expressing feigned concern for the working families who have to cut back on necessities to purchase gas. They have even suggested that alternative energy resources should be developed and – get a hold of yourself – charges of "price gouging" should be investigated, despite the fact they have opposed such a measure just months ago.

Along with their opposition to any windfall profits tax, the Republicans remain true to their most sacred beliefs when they continue to push for an Arctic drilling program that would destroy the Alaska Wild Life Preserve while providing massive subsidies and super-profits for oil companies. After all, it was Ronald Reagan who, expressing a strong distaste for all things environmental, said, once you’ve seen one Redwood, you’ve seen them all. For the GOP, that must go double for Alaska, which isn’t even part of the lower forty-eight.

First, no one should take the Republicans program seriously. The "rebate" concept is meaningless, unless it were to be a regular monthly check, something like "welfare checks" that the GOP has long seen as leading those who cash them to social purgatory. Their call for the development of alternative energy resources is hypocritical in the extreme. The GOP is big on ethanol since it enables them to subsidize some of their rural supporters, rather than solar power, which they continue to identify with radical elements of the 1960s counter-culture. In fact, Reagan abandoned work done on solar power, which poses the best long-term solution to energy needs, and other alternative energy sources at the beginning of the 1980s, even selling off publicly financed scientific work done in these areas to foreign governments.

The Bush administration has escalated the divestment in basic scientific research that the Reagan administration launched and the Clinton administration slowed down substantially. Who would trust an administration and a party that have undermined and suppressed important research on the effects of global warming, in large part because such research impedes the oil conglomerates, to pursue any serious long-term alternative energy policy?

As for trusting the Republicans and the Bush administration to investigate price gouging, which frankly is always built into any deregulated system, this would be like trusting bookmakers to investigate the fixing of horse races and other sporting events.

But what about the Democrats? While they have proposed a windfall profits tax, increased subsidies to low-income families for home heating costs, stiff penalties for price-gouging, and have repeated vague calls for developing alternatives and eliminate dependence of imported oil, they have yet to present a definitive, long-term national energy policy with concrete proposals that respond to widespread public demands for alternatives energy sources. All the Republicans learn from history is how to recycle and update the prejudices of the past, but the Democrats could learn something if they tried to think outside of the box they have put themselves into. By publicizing a national energy program with serious re-regulation, price and production planning and a real public sector, activists can help the Democrats put the heat on the Republicans and the Bush administration.

Roosevelt’s New Deal government advocated a National Energy Policy, established the publicly owned Tennessee Valley Authority to generate hydro-electric power at low cost, and had plans for large regional public energy projects on the TVA model. Unfortunately, Cold War politics and priorities eventually killed it. Even the Truman administration, which launched the Cold War, fought unsuccessfully to keep states, particularly Louisiana and California, from gaining control of offshore oil resources in order to protect those resources from being handed over to unplanned and unchecked oil company exploitation.

Progressive Democrats also campaigned unsuccessfully against the infamous Oil Depletion Allowance, a "tax break" that allows oil companies to write off the value of the oil that they use up, giving them an incentive to use more and more fossil fuels rather than either developing any conservation program or any alternative energy program. Democrats in the 1950s and 1960s did successfully stop Republican attempts to sell off public energy resources to private companies. Progressives also resisted until the end of the 1970s right-wing drives to "deregulate" energy production and also made important environmental advances in taking leaded gasoline off the market and compelling companies to provide energy use information to consumers and, where possible, encourage the purchase of energy efficient products.

Re-regulation, if it were in the hands of those committed to a pro-labor, pro-environment progressive policy, would enable the federal government to begin to actually accomplish what the Republicans have been hypocritically talking about – the development of alternative energy sources and the reduction of profiteering and price gouging.

The oil companies, whose profits are both obvious and obscene, could be compelled to put a large part of these profits into a Public Transportation Trust to fund the development and expansion of bus, rail, and other multi-passenger vehicles to provide public transportation alternatives for the huge number of workers in Urban-Suburban regions who daily drive to work. This would also significantly reduce consumption.

Establishing a "peacetime military budget" – something in the reasonable vicinity of $200 billion – would also permit the government to promote scientific research and public programs that would encourage greater energy efficiency in both work places and homes, rather than the current nonsense of encouraging families to turn down their thermostat in the winter.

The medium-term effects of such policies would also see a real drop in dependence on crude oil and the possibility of working with other developed and developing countries through the United Nations on a global energy policy.

These are the issues that progressives should raise as the Bush administration and the Republicans make noises to appease the electorate and scrounge around for programs to contain the price of gas until the elections are over. They are the issues that trade unionists, environmental activists, and peace activists should be raising most of all, since they are all inter-related to establishing an economy which produces quality employment opportunities, an environment that gives citizens more than the right to fight traffic jams on the way to shopping malls, and a foreign policy that rejects completely what has most characterized it in recent years, the conquest and control overseas oil resources.

--Norman Markowitz is a contributing editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Peak Oil Panic: Is the planet running out of gas?


Is the planet running out of gas? If it is, what should the Bush administration do about it?

ByRonald Bailey

The Princeton geologist Ken Deffeyes warns that the imminent peak of global oil production will result in “war, famine, pestilence and death.” Deffeyes, author of 2001’s Hubbert’s Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage and 2005’s Beyond Oil: The View from Hubbert’s Peak, predicted that the peak of global oil production would occur this past Thanksgiving.

Deffeyes isn’t alone. The Houston investment banker Matthew Simmons claims in his 2005 book Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy that the Saudis are lying about the size of their reserves and that they are really running on empty; last September he announced that “we could be looking at $10-a-gallon gas this winter.” Colin Campbell, a former petroleum geologist who is now a trustee of the U.K.-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, warned way back in 2002 that we were headed for peak oil production, and that this would lead to “war, starvation, economic recession, possibly even the extinction of homo sapiens.” In his 2004 book Out of Gas: The End of the Age of Oil, the Caltech physicist David Goodstein wrote that the peak of world production is imminent and that “we can, all too easily, envision a dying civilization, the landscape littered with the rusting hulks of SUVs.” Jim Motavalli, editor of the environmentalist magazine E, writes in the January/February 2006 issue, “It is impossible to escape the conclusion that we’re steaming full speed ahead into a train wreck of monumental proportions.”

And James Schlesinger, the country’s first secretary of energy, declared in the Winter 2005–06 issue of the neoconservative foreign policy journal The National Interest that “a growing consensus accepts that the peak is not that far off.” He added, “The inability readily to expand the supply of oil, given rising demand, will in the future impose a severe economic shock.”

Even some traditionally calm voices are starting to sound panicky. In March 2005, the New York investment bank Goldman Sachs issued a report suggesting that oil prices would experience a “super spike” in 2006, reaching up to $105 per barrel. ChevronTexaco’s campaign, featuring a series of full-page newspaper ads that urge Americans to conserve energy, flatly declares, “The era of easy oil is over.”

Such forecasts have been bolstered by a steep rise in oil prices over the last three years, going from $18 a barrel in 2002 to $70 last fall. If the price of something goes up, after all, that means it’s becoming scarcer.

The good news is that the peak oil doomsters are probably wrong that world oil production is about to decline forever. Most analysts believe that world petroleum supplies will meet projected demand at reasonable prices for at least another generation. The bad news is that much of the world’s oil reserves are in the custody of unstable and sometimes hostile regimes. But the oil producing nations would be the ultimate losers if they provoked an “oil crisis,” since that would spur industrialized countries to cut back on imports and develop alternative energy technologies.

Apocalypse Yesterday

Predictions of imminent catastrophic depletion are almost as old as the oil industry. An 1855 advertisement for Kier’s Rock Oil, a patent medicine whose key ingredient was petroleum bubbling up from salt wells near Pittsburgh, urged customers to buy soon before “this wonderful product is depleted from Nature’s laboratory.” The ad appeared four years before Pennsylvania’s first oil well was drilled. In 1919 David White of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) predicted that world oil production would peak in nine years. And in 1943 the Standard Oil geologist Wallace Pratt calculated that the world would ultimately produce 600 billion barrels of oil. (In fact, more than 1 trillion barrels of oil had been pumped by 2006.)

During the 1970s, the Club of Rome report The Limits to Growth projected that, assuming consumption remained flat, all known oil reserves would be entirely consumed in just 31 years. With exponential growth in consumption, it added, all the known oil reserves would be consumed in 20 years. These dour predictions gained credibility when the Arab oil crisis of 1973 quadrupled prices from $3 to $12 per barrel (from $16 to $48 in 2006 dollars) and when the Iranian oil crisis more than doubled oil prices from $14 per barrel in 1978 to $35 per barrel by 1981 (from $45 to $98 in 2006 dollars).

In response, the federal government imposed price controls on oil and gas in the 1970s and established fuel economy standards to encourage the sale of more efficient automobiles. The sense of doom did not dissolve. In 1979 Energy Secretary Schlesinger proclaimed, “The energy future is bleak and is likely to grow bleaker in the decade ahead.” The Global 2000 Report to President Carter, issued in 1980, predicted that the price of oil would rise by 50 percent, reaching $100 per barrel by 2000.

Most of today’s petro-doomsters base their forecasts on the work of the geologist M. King Hubbert, who correctly predicted in 1956 that U.S. domestic oil production in the lower 48 states would peak around 1970 and begin to decline. In 1969 Hubbert predicted that world oil production would peak around 2000.

Hubbert argued that oil production grows until half the recoverable resources in a field have been extracted, after which production falls off at the same rate at which it expanded. This theory suggests a bell-shaped curve rising from first discovery to peak and descending to depletion. Hubbert calculated that peak oil production follows peak oil discovery with a time lag. Globally, discoveries of new oil fields peaked in 1962. The time lag between peak global discoveries and peak production was estimated to be around 32 years, but peak oilers claim that the two oil crises of the 1970s reduced consumption and thereby delayed the peak until now. Hubbert’s modern disciples argue that humanity has now used up half of the world’s ultimately recoverable reserves of oil, which means we are at or over the peak.

The prophets of oily doom are opposed by preachers of energy abundance. Chief among the latter is the energy economist Michael Lynch, president of the Massachusetts-based Global Petroleum Service consultancy. “Colin Campbell has the worst forecasting record on oil supply,” says Lynch, “and that’s saying a lot.” He points out that in a 1989 article for the journal Noroil, Campbell claimed the peak of world oil production had already passed and incorrectly predicted that oil would soon cost $30 to $50 a barrel. As for Matthew Simmons, Lynch dismisses him with a sneer: “Petroleum engineers know a lot more about petroleum engineering than a Harvard MBA.”

One petroleum engineer— Michael Economides of the University of Houston—calls peak oil predictions “the figments of the imaginations of born-again pessimist geologists.” Like Lynch, Economides, who worked in Russia to boost that country’s oil production in the last decade, rejects Simmons’ analysis. Saudi Arabia, which currently produces about 10 million barrels of oil a day, “is underproducing every one of their wells,” he claims. “I can produce 20 million barrels of oil in Saudi Arabia.”

The Tank Is Still More Than Half Full

So who’s right? Fortunately, it looks like humanity is at least a generation away from peak oil production. Unfortunately, there could be another “oil crisis” any day now.

The world consumes about 87 million barrels of oil per day, or nearly 30 billion barrels of oil per year. How much oil is left? It’s hard to be sure. Proven oil reserves—i.e., oil that is recoverable under current economic and operating conditions—are estimated to be 1.1 trillion barrels by the industry journal World Oil, 1.2 trillion by the oil company BP, and 1.3 trillion by the Oil and Gas Journal. In March 2005 the private U.K.-based energy consultancy IHS Energy estimated that the world’s remaining recoverable reserves, excluding unconventional sources such as heavy oil or tar sands, are between 1.3 trillion and 2.4 trillion barrels.

But are proven reserves all that’s left? Several analyses put ultimate reserves at much higher levels. For example, the USGS undertook a comprehensive analysis of world oil reserves in 2000. It calculated that the total world endowment of recoverable oil is 3 trillion barrels. (Its figure is higher because it includes estimates for undiscovered resources and projected increases in already producing fields.) In addition, the total world endowment of natural gas is equivalent to 2.6 trillion barrels of oil, plus 330 billion barrels of natural gas liquids such as propane and butane. The USGS figures that the total world endowment of conventional oil resources is equivalent to about 5.9 trillion barrels of oil. Proven reserves of oil, gas, and natural gas liquids are equivalent to 2 trillion barrels of oil. The USGS calculates that humanity has already consumed about 1 trillion barrels of oil equivalent, which means 82 percent of the world’s endowment of oil and gas resources remains to be used.

In its 2005 Energy Outlook, ExxonMobil estimates “global conventional oil resources total 3.2 trillion barrels…with non-conventional ‘frontier’ resources such as heavy oil bringing that total to over 4 trillion barrels.” In November 2005, the International Energy Agency, an organization created in 1974 by 26 industrialized countries to assess global energy issues, released its annual World Energy Outlook report, which accepted the USGS numbers and concluded that “the world’s energy resources are adequate to meet projected growth in energy demand” until at least 2030. The report predicted that oil production would grow from the 2004 level of 82 million barrels a day to 115 million barrels a day and that any “peak” would occur after 2030. It suggested that world oil prices will decline to around $35 per barrel (in 2004 dollars) by 2010 and eventually rise to $39 per barrel by 2030. At the Montreal Climate Change Conference in December, Claude Mandil, head of the International Energy Agency, declared: “We don’t share the tenets of the peak oil theory. We feel that they underestimate technological developments. For many decades to come there is no geological problem.”

Probably the most respected private oil consultancy in the world is Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) in Boston. On December 7, 2005, CERA senior consultant Robert W. Esser testified at a House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee hearing on the peak oil theory. “CERA’s belief is that the world is not running out of oil imminently or in the near to medium term,” Esser said. “Indeed, CERA projects that world oil production capacity has the potential to rise from 87 million barrels per day [mbd] in 2005 to as much as 108 mbd by 2015.…We see no evidence to suggest a peak before 2020, nor do we see a transparent and technically sound analysis from another source that justifies belief in an imminent peak.” Instead of a sharp peak followed by a production decline, CERA’s analysts foresee an “undulating plateau” in which global oil production remains more or less steady. “It will be a number of decades into this century before we get to an inflection point that will herald the arrival of the undulating plateau,” said Esser.

Peak oilers discount these rosy scenarios, insisting the relevant fact is that new oil discoveries have been falling during the last couple of decades. But the petroleum optimists, such as the analysts at the USGS, say there is more to it than that. They point out that reserve growth and new discoveries have been outpacing oil consumption. (Reserve growth is the increase in production in already discovered and developed fields.) From 1995 and 2003 the world consumed 236 billion barrels of oil. It also saw reserve growth of 175 billion barrels, combined with 138 billion barrels from new discoveries, added a total of 313 billion barrels to the world’s proven oil reserves. In the U.S., oil field reserves typically turn out to be four to nine times as high as the original estimates. The increase in production is a result of improved recovery technologies, further discoveries in the field, and improved field management.

Consider the Kern River field in California, which was discovered in 1899. In 1942 it was estimated that only 54 million barrels remained to be produced there. During the next 44 years the field produced 736 million barrels and had another 970 million barrels remaining. For geological reasons, petroleum engineers cannot pump every drop of oil out of a reservoir. But by 2004 technological advances enabled them to recover 35 percent of a conventional reservoir’s oil, up from an average of 22 percent in 1980. If this recovery factor can be increased by another five percentage points, that would boost worldwide recoverable reserves by more than all of Saudi Arabia’s current proven reserves. Economides points out that in 1976 the U.S. was estimated to have 23 billion barrels of reserves remaining. In 2005 it still had 23 billion barrels of oil reserves, even though American oil fields produced almost 40 billion barrels of oil between 1976 and 2005.

Matthew Simmons claims to have found that the Saudis are greatly exaggerating the size of their reserves. If true, this is bad news, because the Saudis have more than 30 percent of the world’s reserves and have served as the world’s supplier of last resort for a couple of decades. Simmons argues that the Saudis and others are exaggerating what they have because the supply quotas set by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were tied to the size of a country’s reserves—the bigger its reserves, the more oil it was permitted to sell. But the desire to boost quotas cannot account for the fact that non-OPEC reserves grew nearly three times faster than OPEC reserves between 1981 and 1996. And whatever incentive OPEC members had to lie about their reserves should have dissipated as the price of oil rose during the last couple of years. Economides notes that the Saudis are investing $100 billion in new production projects, which undercuts the notion that they know they are running out of oil.

At a November meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations, chief International Energy Agency economist Fatih Birol responded to the assertion that Saudi Arabia can’t raise its oil production by outlining a scenario in which he assumed that Saudi oil reserves were 35 percent lower than claimed. Birol noted that experts believe forcing water into reserves to maintain pressure would raise the cost of producing oil by 70 percent at most. In his analysis, Birol assumed it would raise the cost by 300 percent. Considering that it costs about $1.50 to produce a barrel of Saudi crude oil, that means the cost would rise to $6 per barrel. Even with these two assumptions, Birol argues the Saudis could easily produce 18 million barrels of oil per day by 2020, up from the current level of around 10 million.

So if the world has adequate oil supplies for the next generation, can we all go back to driving Hummers? Not so fast.

The Real Oil Crisis

Simmons has been wrong so far: Gasoline does not cost $10 a gallon. Oil prices hovered between $55 and $65 per barrel in late 2005 and early 2006, down from $70 in September 2005. The U.S. Energy Information Administration believes gasoline prices will remain below $3 per gallon in 2006.

What about the future? The International Energy Agency calculates that $3 trillion must be invested in oil production and refining facilities during the next 25 years to meet world demand in 2030. In principle that target could easily be met, since producing 1 trillion barrels at $30 per barrel yields $30 trillion in income over 25 years.

The problem is that the vast majority of the world’s remaining oil reserves are not possessed by private enterprises. Seventy-seven percent of known reserves belong to government-owned companies. That means oil will be produced with all the efficiency associated with central planning. Michael Economides estimates, for example, that it will take $4 billion in investment to keep Venezuela’s oil production at current levels. Yet that country’s Castro-wannabe president, Hugo Chavez, is investing just half that.

If ChevronTexaco, ExxonMobil, or other private companies actually owned the reserves, the world would be in a much more secure position with regard to oil production. Instead, we are subject to the whims of figures like Chavez, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and must worry about the doubtful stability of their personalities and regimes. (To be sure, even a private reserve under such a regime would face the constant threat of nationalization or other interference.) In the mid-1990s, the world had more than 10 million barrels per day of spare production capacity. That figure has fallen to between 1 and 2 million barrels, which means that any significant disruption in supplies can cause prices to soar.

Economides worries that the conventional wisdom that oil-producing countries do not want to cause a global economic recession is wrong. “The danger posed by the axis of energy militants—Venezuela, Iran, and, increasingly, Russia under President Vladimir Putin—is that they could not care less,” he says. “These militants hardly have functioning real economies whose workings would be adversely affected by a recession.” Economides’ views looked prophetic when oil prices jumped to a three-and-half-month high after Iran’s threat in January to retaliate against any United Nations sanctions imposed to curb its nuclear ambitions by cutting its oil exports.

Despite the recent jump in oil prices, the world’s economy has not slowed down. Why not? Goldman Sachs notes that oil is less important than it was a generation ago. At the height of the Iranian oil crisis in 1980–81, paying for gasoline took up 4.5 percent of U.S. GDP and 7.2 percent of U.S. consumer expenditures. In 2005, even though U.S. gas prices peaked at $3.07 per gallon after Hurricane Katrina, only 2.6 percent of GDP went to pay for gas and consumers spent only 3.7 percent of their incomes to fuel their cars and SUVs. Goldman Sachs believes gasoline prices would need to exceed $4 per gallon before consumers really started to cut back.

As the oil crisis of the 1970s demonstrated, while the demand for oil is inelastic in the short run, consumers do eventually adjust to higher prices. U.S. oil consumption declined by 13 percent between 1973 and 1983. According to Frederick Cedoz, vice president of the D.C.-based energy and political risk consulting group Global Water and Energy Strategy Team, “We get three times more GDP out of a barrel of oil than we did in the 1970s.”

The higher prices of the 1970s led eventually to an oil glut and prices below $10 a barrel by 1986. Should one or more of the “energy militants” choose to deploy the “oil weapon” again, they will cause considerable economic pain to the developed countries. But detonating the oil weapon would end up disarming the energy militants for a generation, after consumer cutbacks produce a new glut.

Oil War Hawks

Unfortunately, you don’t have to go to Iran, Russia, or Venezuela to find energy militants. We have some homegrown ones right here in America, and they think the world is already in the opening stages of a global energy war. Last July, the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C., assembled some of the scariest American oil war hawks for a program called “The Coming Energy Wars: A 21st Century Time Bomb?”

All the participants apparently accept the idea that world oil supplies are about to decline, and they all share a zero-sum view of natural resources. According to the Heritage panelists, the chief villain in the coming energy wars is China. Referring to China as the “Thirsty Dragon,” Cedoz warned, “China wants to lock up supplies at the wellhead with long-term purchase contracts.” He darkly pointed to Chinese negotiations over oil supplies in Sudan, Ecuador, and Colombia. (Actually, if the Chinese sign up for long-term contracts, that would encourage producers to invest more in production. That would benefit all consumers, not just the Chinese.)

Refurbished cold warrior Frank Gaffney, president of the Center for Security Policy, opposed the $18.5 billion bid by the China National Offshore Oil Corporation for the California-based oil company Unocal last year. “It’s a very ill-advised transaction,” said Gaffney. “It’s not in our interests to turn over more of our finite resources to others. They should be taken off the market.” Our finite resources? Seventy percent of Unocal’s reserves and production are located in East Asia and the Caspian Sea region.

The Chinese company withdrew its bid after a number of congressmen promised to outlaw the sale. But Gaffney isn’t breathing easier. China’s oil grab, he announced, “is only part of a larger plan to deny us strategic minerals, strategic choke points, and strategic regions. Their purpose is to deny the U.S. a dominant role in the world and if necessary to defeat us.”

Ilan Berman, vice president for policy at the American Foreign Policy Council, regretted that “energy is not viewed through a national security prism. We should be competing to lock up supplies and diversifying and exploring new technologies.” Berman argued that as resources become scarcer there is no way to avoid a zero-sum game. “We have to approach this through the lens of the haves and have-nots,” he declared.

One dissenting voice at the Heritage Foundation session was Harvey Feldman, a former ambassador to Papua New Guinea and an East Asian specialist. “Berman is suggesting that we change from a paradigm of relying on the market,” said Feldman. “OK, we’re going to be in competition with the British, Japanese, French, Germans, Indians, and everybody else. Is this really in the interest of the United States?” Given that most of the experts in the oil business don’t think the world is about to run out of oil, this is one time to hope that President Bush is listening to his buddies in the oil industry.

Instead of preparing for an energy war, the best policy is to let markets have free rein. Even if, say, the Iranians make the political decision to disrupt the flow of oil to world markets, those markets left to themselves will eventually discipline them. The temporarily higher prices will encourage more exploration and technological advances, which will bring energy prices back down. On the day of his inauguration in 1981, President Ronald Reagan lifted oil price controls. Five years later oil prices fell below $10 a barrel.

One day, the oil age will end. As with all resources, there is ultimately a finite supply of oil. So it is not yet clear how the world will power itself for the bulk of the coming century. But we have at least another three decades to find alternatives to petroleum. “Trusting markets is the only way we can assure energy abundance in the future,” notes the University of Houston’s Economides. “It’s also the only way that we will ever transition to something other than oil and gas.”

Ronald Bailey, Reason’s science correspondent, is author of Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution (Prometheus)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006


James Howard Kunstler

America commuted back into the unknown country of $3-plus gasoline and $75-plus oil (per barrel) last week, and President Bush revisted the Tomorrowland of hydrogen cars in the absence of any reality-based response to the global energy crunch that will change all the terms of America's "non-negotiable way of life."

Actually, we are negotiating, or bargaining, as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross once put it in describing the sequence of emotional reactions of humans facing certain death:

denial > bargaining > depression > acceptance

Events seem to have dragged us kicking and screaming beyond the sheer denial stage, since this is now the second time in six months that oil and gasoline prices have ratcheted wildly up. Something is happening, Mr. Jones, and now we want to talk our way out of it.

The main thread in this bargaining stage is the desperate wish to keep our motoring fiesta going by other means than oil. This fantasy exerts its power across the whole political spectrum, and evinces a fascinating poverty of imagination in the public and its leaders in every field: politics, business, science and the media. The right wing thinks we can still drill our way out of this, if only the nature freaks would allow them to. The "green" folks thinks that we can devote crops to the production of gasoline substitutes, even though a scarcity of fossil fuel-based fertilizers will sharply cut crop yields for human food. Nobody, it seems, can imagine an American life not centered on cars.

This is perhaps understandable when you consider the monumental previous investment in the infrastructures and equipment for motoring, which includes the nation's car-dependent suburban housing stock -- which in turn represents the average adult's main repository of personal wealth. If motoring becomes unaffordable, then what will be the value of my house twenty-eight miles upwind of Dallas (Atlanta, Minneapolis, Denver, Chicago, et cetera)? The anxiety is understandable.

But the problem is not going away. It's not five or ten years down the road -- it's here, now. We're in the zone. We're entering a world of hurt. The pain will ebb and flow, as the pain of a fatal illness ebbs and flows over the days. The price of oil and gasoline will ratchet up and down, but along a discernable upward trendline.

Can we bust out of this narrow tunnel of fantasy? Can we imagine living differently? Can we turn more fruitful imaginings into action before the American scene becomes a much more disorderly place? It would be nice to see President Bush really lead by taking a well-publicized ride on the Washington Metro, or dropping in to visit an organic farm, or signing a bill to increase incentives for small-scale hydro-electricity, or turning loose some federal prosectors on WalMart's human resources department. It would be nice to see the Democrats put aside their preoccupations with gender confusion and racial grievance and start campaigning to restore the US railroad system. It would help to see the science and technology sector return from outer space. Corporate America and its leaders are probably hopeless, but so is the current scale and scope of their operations, and circumstances will decide what they get to do. The mainstream media, representing the nation's collective consciousness, remains in a coma. This morning's electronic edition of The New York Times displays not one home page headline about oil or gasoline prices, despite the trauma of the week just passed.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Addiction to oil


By Joseph Prows

Thank you, John Crisp, for your thoughtful letter about peak oil and its implications for humanity. I agree, we are dependent on oil for just about every aspect of our lives, not simply as fuel for our automobiles and to heat our homes. Oil is used either directly or indirectly at virtually every stage of every type of production and manufacturing of virtually anything you can think of. Looking around my room right now: the paint on my walls is almost completely petrochemical based. The keyboard I am typing on is plastic, which comes from oil. The metal in my computer was mined using huge, oil-powered equipment, and huge amounts of energy went into smelting it into usable metal. My backpack is nylon, which comes from oil. The carpet is made out of God-knows-what, but it's mostly oil. The cotton in my clothes was grown in huge fields that rely on huge inputs of fertilizers and pesticides (which are largely made of oil), and the fields were planted and managed by huge pieces of farm equipment that all run on diesel. Also, because petroleum makes transportation so cheap, it was economical to ship this cotton to a variety of poor countries thousands of miles away, where people were paid very little to turn that cotton into clothes, at which point petroleum provided the energy to ship it thousands of miles to a distribution center, which then shipped it thousands of miles to my local store. Petroleum is the most useful stuff you could possibly imagine, and the global population has been able to grow to almost 7 billion people as a result... but we are running out of oil much more quickly than most of us realize, and there aren't any good replacements.

Until the day comes when we can use nuclear power provide the energy to specially engineered microbes and enzymes that are able to pull carbon dioxide out of the air and use it to assemble chains of reduced hydrocarbons (oil), the price of oil is going to increase linearly, exponentially, or geometrically. I am a biochemist, and believe me when I say that this sort of technology is many, many decades away. Too many. This worries me a lot.

There has been a lot of hype lately about "biofuels" - you know, people running their cars off of biodiesel, ethanol, or even waste vegetable oil. Even President Bush mentioned biofuels in his campaign speech. But it's a ridiculous fantasy to believe that biofuels could ever replace petroleum; at most, they could provide a teensy tiny fraction of the amount of petroleum we use. Currently, if every drop of vegetable oil that we produced in this country were turned into biofuel (this would mean no more french fries), this biofuel could supply a measly 1/360 of our current demand for petroleum. Furthermore, all that vegetable oil that we produce is only possible because of the massive inputs of petroleum (as pesticides and fertilizers) inherent in modern industrial agriculture, not to mention the resultant loss of topsoil and the depletion of aquifers. We probably spend around two gallons of petroleum to produce one gallon of vegetable oil.

No discussion of the magnitude of a problem is complete without some suggested solutions. The end of oil could be very, very bad - as in, billions of people worldwide dying of starvation, exposure, and resource wars. Personally, I don't want to die of starvation, or of any of these things. I want to live in a cozy home that passively heats and cools itself without ANY need for electricity, oil, or even a fireplace. I want to grow all of the food that I need to eat inside my home and in my yard. I want my home to capture its own drinking water and all of my waste back into food. The technology to do these things (EVEN IN ALASKA) is actually incredibly simple. You can build a house like I just described (in my opinion, they're the most beautiful homes in the world) using little besides dirt, glass, and (!) old tires. Interested? Order a copy of the book "Earthships" by Michael Reynolds (check out, and if you want to grow huge amounts of tasty food (y!
es, it's possible in Alaska - especially if you have an earthship with a nice, warm indoor garden), look at the techniques described in the book "How to Grow More Vegetables" by Jon Jeavons (available at the Ketchikan Public Library!). Earthships are usually built for about $40 per square foot, and they're great for the economy because they put a lot of people to work without hardly having to spend any money on materials.

Let's not be in denial about how bad the end of oil could be! It's time to demand intelligently designed homes from our architects. ARCHITECTS: GET SMART! PEOPLE: DEMAND SMART ARCHITECTS! Homes should be habitats that provide their inhabitants with everything needed for comfortable survival. Homes should be durable, should look after themselves, and should treat their own waste. Homes should produce their own food. Homes should be inexpensive to build, and they should be built out of locally abundant materials. Let's start taking REAL steps to protect ourselves and future generations from the terrifying fallout of our addiction to oil.

Joseph Prows
Houston, TX - USA

About: Joseph Prows used to live in Ketchikan. He moved to New Orleans last July to go to medical school at Tulane University School of Medicine; because of Hurricane Katrina his school has moved to Houston for the year.

Peak Oil And The Political Economy Of Terrorism

By Mathew Maavak

Crude oil has breached the $70 psychological barrier again. This time, however, it will not be a one-day seduction by the stormy Katrina.

The causative culprits are aplenty.

Terrorist have taken out 25 per cent of Nigeria's sweet crude since late February and the daily joust between Washington and Tehran is providing splendid returns to those who had invested in oil stocks. For these savvy investors, there will be enough gas in the tank during the peak summer driving season.

Than there is that 10.2 per cent growth registered by China, announced very conveniently before President Hu Jintao's scheduled meeting with his US counterpart George W. Bush. China's booming growth can only be greased by a harder-to-pump oil. The alternatives are stark. If the Chinese bubble gets pricked, the global economy suffers, US corporations may need higher tax cuts - or even subsidies - and Americans will finally need to trim their bellies.

That would be Hu's sales pitch but Bush may opt for a more risky oil prospecting venture. This time, the failed former Texan oilman may succeed, and ignite enough fires in an energy-strained world.

It is high noon for those prospecting for maximum oil returns. Even the types not usually associated with Wall Street, rocket science and deficit spending are glued to Bloomberg's running crude oil tickers by the minute.

The objective is the lucky strike. Peak Oil is forming a strategic fit with Peak Terrorism.

For a synoptic glimpse into the future, read this excerpt from New York Times' April 16 article headlined "Blood and Oil":

Just as things seemed to be calming down in the delta region of Nigeria after a spate of kidnappings and insurgent attacks, the militant group calling itself the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta — MEND — announced last week to all who would listen that it was planning new violence against oil facilities in the region. Apparently unconcerned about tipping its hand to the authorities, MEND even gave a date for the start of its new campaign: April 25.

That date is perfect! These guys are more financially savvy than stuffed suits who have hedged their future in a world where oil never existed. D-Day in the Niger Delta is just 72-odd hours before the UN Security Council meets to unleash a little fission over Iran's nuclear enrichment program.

Crude oil at $80 per barrel on April 28? Who knows?

If a rag-tag bunch of militants in Nigeria are accurately reading the tea leaves in an oil-brimmed cup, imagine what Al Qaeda and the pan-global martyrs of terror have in store?

There is a greater lead-filled premium now for oil-related and economic targets. In a business-speak twist, collateral damage can be applied to the unlucky rejects in a fire sale transaction.

You can bet your every last dime that terrorists are ready to throw their explosive spanners into the machineries of global trade. They know the drill. There is tremendous potential here to cause pandemonium and cross-border tensions. Targeting energy infrastructures will be far more efficacious and less opprobrious than the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians.

Why assassinate politicians or shoot a GI when mobs - deprived of their daily bread - can do more in aggregates and derivatives? In layman's terms, we are talking about riots, sit-downs, union strikes, looted stores and political mayhem. Economic targets offer the best returns with less risks. Stock markets will be depressed, inflation will set in, bankruptcies will proliferate, and people will starve.

The concatenation of financially-induced social upheavals has been witnessed before - across continents - during the currency crisis of the late 90s. Unless checked, wars are the inevitable culmination. There are no IMF prescriptions for dwindling oil reserves, busted pipelines and electricity blackouts.

Call this the political economy of terrorism, but apart from Iraq and Palestine, terrorists will increasingly focus on the conveyor belts of finance and trade. There is no shortage of targets for disgruntled elements worldwide. There are Maoist guerillas in Nepal, ethnic insurgents in Burma, Al Qaeda-inspired militants in Islamic nations and assorted purveyors of violence in every nook and corner where there are power plants, ports, retail stores, trading depots, factories, banks and transborder pipelines. Mundane industrial structures - particularly those connected to oil - have attained value-added targeting than shoppers at a marketplace. A suicide bomber might as well "walk the last walk" into a minor, provincial bank than into a crowded souk. Planting midnight bombs at ATMs in a major city entails little or no bloodshed, though, it may douse seasonal fire sales the next morning, not to mention the lack of change for lunch. Ever noticed the anticipatory or frustrated month-end file of workers at ATM kiosks short on notes?

A little inconvenience can go a long way in disrupting normal routine, and no nation can provide complete protection for these mundane cogs of human activity.

Terrorists switching to the political economy side of their trade can expect other windfalls. Destroying the perceived icons of (Western) imperialism elicit less disgust - and perhaps sympathy - than the televised butchering of individuals. Suicide bombings that shred innocent limbs at a discotheque and net relayed beheadings of infidels reek of bestiality. Why kill a Daniel Pearl when you can play Che Guevara?

But is this happening?

There were strong hints emerging since February.

The Niger Delta attacks offlined production amounting to 550,000 barrels per day, rendering the affected Royal Dutch Shell installations immobile till today. What was untouched was probably left for April 25. Almost simultaneously, violent protests in the Ecuadorian province of Napo forced state oil firm Petroecuador to halt supplies through its Trans-Ecuadorean pipeline.

Both incidents raised US crude oil futures by $1 overnight. It has since risen by more than $10 dollars - a safe median figure used by commentators without an MSNBC or Bloomberg ticker on their offline notebooks.

In Iraq, while bombs routinely kill civilians, little has been noted of pipeline sabotages, stretching from Kirkuk to Bayji to the Turkish border. Restoring normal output may take up to a year. And that's a big hypothetical "if" with Iraq in a state of disintegration. Think of the hundreds of thousands of miles of exposed pipelines around the world, and the cumulative number of years needed to repair them? If Iraq's oil and its pipelines can energize the current sectarian war, couldn't that be replicated in places simmering with ethnic and social tensions? Expect authoritarian governments to manufacture terrorism for the perpetuation of power. If you regard the USA PATRIOT Act as draconian, you haven't seen the world yet!

Any bomb anywhere can be pinned on "terrorists" and sifting the real from the manufactured would be next to impossible with censorship laws established to prevent the transmission of coded communications. Sounds familiar?

It would pose no barrier to the Real McCoys, however. Terrorists - separated by ethnic, ideological and religious motivations but united by calculated anarchy - have learnt their economic primers on the go. It is the most potent weapon in this age of Peak Oil.

Neither the brotherhoods of anarchy nor coded messages are needed to set action time. The daily business headlines will do.

In Sync

While oil traders were still risk managing the outage from Ecuador and the Niger Delta, militants in Saudi Arabia attempted to blow up the world's largest oil processing complex in Abqaiq on Feb 24. If they had succeeded, there would have been a double digit increase in the price of crude in 48 hours. It could have also precipitated social anarchy in a land seething with repressed anger against the Al Saud monarchy. Under such a scenario, repair works at Abqaiq would be next to impossible, oil would shoot to above $100 per barrel, and a vortex of violence would spiral to engulf much of the world. Remember, society is only three meals away from anarchy.

As tensions rise by the day over Iran's nuclear enrichment program- and it's not only Iran - pipelines and economic targets are easier pickings vis a vis heavily-guarded political, military and constabulary bastions. Call this risk management on both sides. Governments will prioritize security for the levers of governance and power; terrorists will probe and prioritize valuable, less-guarded targets to trap security apparatuses in a game of musical chairs. This will leave a gap for political targets sooner or later. It's an old trick with new destructive possibilities in a world peaked of oil.

Terrorists can also conflate ideological mileage with financial aggrandizement. This was demonstrated during the days leading up to the Sept 11 attacks. Unusually heavy transactions were noted on airline stocks in the hours and days leading up to the fateful incident. The yet-to-be-proven suspects were Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. This gives a new twist to the maligned practice of "insider trading," and it ingeniously raises capital for further terrorist ventures. Non-ideological players like organized criminal gangs and state actors would have taken note. Each day, violence permeates our airwaves, are regurgitated on news clips, and are headlined on our dailies. The real dangers of terrorism can be manipulated and faked by the religious devotees of Mammon.

Blames can fly in all directions.

Terrorists, after all, are the dernier cri bogeyman of our times. They can - advertently or not - create political and financial capital for powerful entities. The terrorism shill also provides a Trojan Horse for state actors to destabilize a hostile nation. In this high-octane world of dwindling mineral resources, "terrorism" might be the spark - and later a sideshow - for outright inter-state conflict. Wars are dictated by the primacy of economics while ideologies serve to rouse the masses.

The most tindery powder keg right now is Iran. It's not just hedge fund managers and investment gurus who are bracing for the worst, or the best, depending on one's philosophy. There is money here for Armani-clad entrepreneurs and coups de grace for ski-masked individuals.

If Iran burns, or if neighboring Iraq descends further into anarchy, expect scattered strikes against oil installations, ports and power plants the world over. There will be more trouble in Nigeria and Ecuador. Hotspots will get hotter with conflicts spreading far and wide. With so much happening, renewed conflict in little-known Chad - among the five poorest nations in the world but one with a billion in crude reserves - may not blip on our media radar.

The Ides of March have passed and it has left us with bad omens for the coming months. The game of energy geopolitics is taking new turns and uncertainties, including the option of a tactical nuke attack on Iran's Natanz, Isfahan, and Bushehr complexes. If Iran gets hit, the anti-American Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez may deliberately divert oil supplies to nations like China, depriving the US of 15 per cent of its oil imports.

Highly unlikely but there are other variants to this game.

Al Qaeda may bomb targets within Iran, and blame it on the United States, or it could sink a few tankers in the Straits of Hormuz and blame it on the Persians. Neither the United States nor Iran need to fight in a best-case scenario - if an extraneous culprit can be identified and a standoff reached in time. A Straits of Hormuz blocked by sunken tankers either way will immediately reduce global oil supplies by 20-25 per cent per day. Perhaps more, depending on which estimates you have been reading.

The United States, after all, has the largest strategic petroleum stockpile in the world, and its powers would be aggrandized through this energy buffer. Is that good news? Well, should US soldiers die in a Middle East artificially contrived and subverted by Britain? Cut a deal with Tehran! After all, Iran might have been a US partner today if not for Winston Churchill. The CIA only stepped in later, in 1953. The tussle started over the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, which no longer exists by that name, but the bone of contention has gone on to include tactical nukes.

Like changed names, the United Kingdom's role in global subversion has been well-masked by Uncle Sam's schoolboy misadventures.

Trust the Brits to ramp up their global terror machine again and expect Uncle Sam to receive the annual rogue superpower award. Expect a scramble for oil worldwide, providing targets of opportunities to militants, criminals, and state-sponsored terrorists. When this happens, the current national and international structures would be blown out of shape.

Within this nightmare world, ordinary folks would gladly welcome some order, or a New World Order. That plan was readied long back - lock, stock and barrel. Long before the United States of America came into being!

Welcome to the year when the artifice of civilization begins its slide into a natural state of barbarity.

Mathew Maavak is a Malaysian journalist and a recent visiting fellow at Jakarta's Centre for Strategic and International Studies. He was trained in psychological warfare, propaganda, crisis management, media crisis and security-related issues at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom. Contact him at

Originally drafted in early April.

Copyright @ Mathew Maavak 2006

Politics After the Peak

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple

There is little doubt the effects of peak oil will someday soon radically change the political landscape in America—and nearly everywhere else for that matter. It is still a little too early to say when oil depletion will start appearing in political equations. If we have a particularly bad summer as some suggest, then "gas prices" could feature prominently in our November 2006 mid-term elections. If predictions of peaking within the next couple of years are correct, then energy policy likely will be a major factor in the 2008 presidential election. If peaking slips a bit then it is almost certain that the 2012 and 2016 elections will be fought over nothing else.

From the vantage of April 2006, it would be folly to speculate on the details of elections taking place months or years from now. A new "Peak Oil Party" could emerge to lead us out of the darkness (literally) or the same old Republicans and Democrats, retooled for the post-oil era, could compete for our votes. America could emerge from a decade or two of converting to new lifestyles as a new and stronger democracy, or the demise of the oil age could be too much of a strain for our current political arrangements. However, there is a lot of recorded history around for insight and human nature being human nature, a few general observations might be in order.

One of the most disturbing things I have read recently pointed out how hard it is for people to radically change a way of life. The writer noted how in 1860 when the South was threatened by abolition, an entire generation picked up arms and marched off to endure terrible sufferings in order to protect a way of life from which few benefited directly.

Equally disturbing is how a significant portion the German middle class embraced the Nazi Party after their economic well-being was wiped out by hyperinflation.

Given the love affair that Americans, and everybody else in the world that can afford one, have with cars, giving them up is going to be the collective trauma of a lifetime. Polls tell us a vast majority of car owners say they will drive to their last dollar or until there simply is no choice.

From a political point of view, such a strong emotional and lifestyle attachment is fertile ground for demagoguery. The Congress already has summoned the oil executives to lecture them before the cameras about high gasoline prices. Various states have passed anti-price gouging bills to make it look as if they are doing something. The administration has declared an "Advanced Energy Initiative" which throws a few million dollars at a problem that will require trillions. The trivial increases in CAF� standards for SUVs will someday appear as laughable as battling an ocean with a sword.

We are starting to see scattered instances of peak oil tax demagoguery. At a time when government should be rapidly increasing energy taxes to slow consumption, some politicians are calling for the elimination of gas taxes so their hard-working constituents can afford to drive as they wish. At a time when gasoline prices will soon be thought of in round dollars —$3, $4, $5 gas— rather than cents, eliminating a few pennies of tax will soon be recognized as pointless.

The ultimate absurdity will be the price cap. If anyone wants to bring transportation in a country to a complete halt, simply decree that motor fuel can't be sold for more than "X." Osama Bin Laden couldn't come up with a better idea if he tried.

As some point however, the silly season will end, the body politic will come to recognize that hearings, tax cuts, price caps, and drilling in national parks are not the remedy for peak oil. Whenever that day comes, congressmen, legislators and governments will start look for real solutions: massive conservation and a transition to sustainable fuels and lifestyles. The real question then is whether this will happen soon enough to avoid causing damage that will set the transition back many years and increase the hardships. Will an administration —the current, the next or the one after that— have a change of heart mid-term, or will an election have to be fought over remedies for peak oil first?

Any poll taken today will show Americans are worried about "dependence on foreign oil" but are not yet ready for hardships, such as serious reductions in driving to achieve this goal. For an administration committed to not rocking the boat while tossing in a sea of other troubles, it probably will take a mega-development in the oil production world that quickly spikes gasoline prices into the $6-$7 range to force a change.

The bellwether for change will be the imposition of a strictly enforced nationwide 55 mph speed limit. Until such an inexpensive and effective oil conservation measure is passed, our politicians are still listening to the call of a bygone age rather than preparing us for the next.

Before the oil age comes to a complete close, let's hope someone rehabilitates Jimmy Carter as one of the most prescient Presidents ever to hold the office. Congress might even rename an airport for him— just before it is shut down forever.

The Long Emergency - James Howard Kunstler


By John N. Cooper

This book, "The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century" by James Howard Kunstler [Atlantic Monthly Press (2005) ISBN 0-87113-888-3] is depressing. Nonetheless it should be in the background of every thinking, questioning, concerned citizen of the 21st century.

The principal themes are several: Virtually everything in our present economy requires, is made from or is based on gas or oil, from agriculture through transportation. Fluid fossil fuels - natural gas and oil - and their derivatives are past their prime in availability. As both their scarcity and worldwide demand increase, they will price themselves out of utility for all but the most wealthy individuals, corporations or nations. Alternative energy sources will NOT substitute adequately. Consequently, civil society will HAVE to reconstitute itself, becoming more local, more self-reliant at every level of organization. Ultimately humanity will have to do without essentially all the gas- and petroleum-derived amenities presently taken for granted. It is an important and sobering exercise to step through everything in everyday middle-class American life that currently is derived from, or dependent upon, cheap fluid fossil fuels.

This book is essentially a walk through the history, economics and social consequences of humanity's dependence on, and depletion of, a resource that was, and is, absolutely non-renewable on the scale of hundreds of millions of years. We, the developed world, have allowed ourselves to become addicted to a limited stash; the withdrawal phase will be very difficult at best.

There are at present no general ready replacements for fluid fossil fuels. Each of the well-known, oft-mentioned possibilities - nuclear, wind, solar, hydroelectric, etc. - may do a little to soften the landing but overall not at the scale required to sustain present levels of industrialization. Massive attempts to upgrade any or all of the alternatives would cost so much of the remaining oil and gas reserves as to make those a poor use of an increasingly scarce commodity. It is time to readjust and reconfigure.

The chapter titles are indicative: Sleepwalking into the Future; Modernity and the Fossil Fuels Dilemma; Geopolitics and the Global Oil Peak; Beyond Oil: Why Alternative Fuels Won't Rescue Us; Nature Bites Back; Running on Fumes: the Hallucinated Economy; and Living in the Long Emergency. Significantly, the geographical focus, initially worldwide, narrows to residents the continental US at the book's conclusion. But the rest of the world cannot be ignored; oil and gas depletion are planetary.

The subtitle - Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the 21st Century - is a misnomer. The book is descriptive, and predictive, with very little that is prescriptive. Little advice concerning surviving is proffered. Rather Kunstler foretells the differing difficulties persons living in the various regions of the US will experience as we transition from an economy and politics based on oil and gas to one dependent on a more renewable or less quantitatively limited energy basis. Without cheap oil and gas, far more of what we need will have to be provided by individual effort. Far more of our daily effort will be devoted to acquiring warmth, food and shelter.

Much of what we experience today will be unable to maintain itself: corporations, cities, suburban sprawl, mega-structures in general. Kunstler's model of the impending future is something between that of the Amish today and the early years of the twentieth century before extensive motorized transport. Muscle power, human or animal, will significantly replace motorized or mechanical. Cities will become progressively more dysfunctional than they are at present. The spreadout suburbs are doomed by the unavailability of cheap transport. Localities will have to become more compact and self-sufficient agriculturally and otherwise. Vast areas will be unable to support and sustain their present populations. Conflict over arable land, water and ready resources is likely but will only further deplete and diminish each. Society will have to contract, reconfigure, reorganize and reconstruct on a much more local scale. Individuals will fare better who produce something tangibly useful. Paperpushers, number jugglers and managers beware!

Kunstler occasionally lapses into nasty, petty labeling and name-calling, particularly of groups disliked. Just step around it and keep going, the overall message is what matters. Generally, despite the ominous tone, the book is quite readable with one excruciating howler: "the region once known as Aztlan [the mythical Aztec homeland in the American southwest] and more recently known as the southeastern (sic) United States". There are a few bibliographic references within each chapter but the lack of comprehensive Index is a great pity. Overall the ride is not a pleasant one but the trip is well worth the discomfort.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Oil production peak: we may already be there

Wisconsin Radio Network

By Bob Hague

Are you familiar with the theory of peak oil?

We all know fossil fuels can't last forever, but Ed Blume with RENEW Wisconsin and the Madison Peak Oil Group says many experts believe we're a lot closer to the production peak than you might imagine. "The point is, we will get to the peak," said Blume. "And then we will simply have fewer petroleum products to pull out of the ground and use."

If the world's oil producers have indeed reached that peak, Blume says it's not unreasonable to assume that's a factor in the price of gas at the pump. Blume was on hand at Wednesday's "Clean Energy Fair" in Madison, which included a display of efficient vehicles.

AUDIO: Bob Hague reports (:57 MP3)

What is driving oil prices so high?


Crude oil prices have surged to record levels of over $72 a barrel - a rise of more than 18% in 2006, and a threefold gain over the past three years.

The effect is to heighten fears about inflation in importing countries - and to exacerbate international tensions.

The price of US-traded light, sweet crude hit a record of $72.40 on 19 April, while UK-traded Brent crude from the North Sea has raced to an all-time high of $74.

BBC News looks at the factors that are driving oil prices higher.


The biggest catalyst for oil's seemingly remorseless rise in recent years has been the simplest economic driver there is: the balance between demand and a supply.

For starters, oil demand is at an all-time high.

The big change has been the continued breakneck economic expansion of the developing world's biggest economies, India and China.

With more than a billion people each, and sustained annual growth rates of 7% in India and 9% in China, manufacturers and consumers are sucking in energy at an ever-increasing rate.

But on top of that, there is little sign that demand from industrialised countries is flagging. In the US in particular, the gas-guzzling Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) still dominates the car market. Economic growth rates, already strong in the US, are likely to pick up in Europe this year.

Oil producers' group Opec says demand is up a million barrels a day over the past year - a little more than 1%.

But some projections suggest that over the next quarter of a century, demand could soar from the current 90 million barrels a day to as much as 140 million.


More recently, though, security threats to the world oil supply have risen up the agenda.

Predictions that Iraq's oil production would increase dramatically following the US-led invasion of Iraq have proved over-optimistic due to the deteriorating security situation in that country.

Nigeria, another key member of oil producers' group Opec, has its own security problems. Much of its oil comes from the Niger Delta region, and local activists demanding a bigger share of revenues have repeatedly shut down production, invaded platforms and refineries, and even taken foreign workers hostage.

Now, though, it is Iran, another of the world's biggest oil producers, which dominates the headlines.

The country's push to acquire nuclear power and, many believe, nuclear weapons has sparked concern in the international community - and raised the spectre that Iran could use its own oil supplies as a bargaining chip at best and a weapon at worst.

And barely-veiled threats from the US suggesting that military action remains a live option have further accentuated fears.


The reason the security concerns play directly onto oil prices is that they threaten supply and roil the oil markets.

But more general supply trends play their own part in pushing up prices.

Big oil companies are having a harder and harder time replenishing their reserves, and must look further afield and in more hard-to-reach locations.

At the same time, calls for more efficient use of resources and better returns for shareholders has led them to run down stocks - and push the construction of new refineries down their agenda.

The result has been to tighten supply just as demand has soared.

A more controversial concern is the so-called "peak oil" theory: the idea that the world has reached the natural limits of oil exploitation, and that there is little more to be found in the ground whatever the price.

Although many in the business dismiss the concept, energy planners in several countries are nonetheless beginning to take it into account.


Most of the headlines about oil prices look at the issue from the consumption perspective: the pain which high energy costs is causing.

But on the other side of the fence, producers are having a wonderful time.

In South America, for instance, oil revenues are underpinning President Hugo Chavez's efforts to reshape Venezuela, allowing him to fund extensive social programmes and reject US criticism of his economic policies.

Opec, the source of about a third of the world's oil, has a theoretical target price of about $30 a barrel for oil - but Mr Chavez thinks his fellow member states should push that up to $50.

And apart from Saudi Arabia, which remains by far the world's biggest supplier, few in Opec have either much of a stomach for increasing production - or much capacity to spare.

Meanwhile, outside Opec, Russia's oil and gas bonanza has underwritten efforts by President Vladimir Putin to centralise and even renationalise the country's energy sector.

And several African countries are riding high on oil demand.

The tiny states of Equatorial Guinea and Sao Tome & Principe are high on the list of popular destinations for oil firms these days - although their populations seem unlikely to see the kind of benefits that many Venezuelans are now enjoying.

A fate worse than global warming?

Scripps Howard News Service

By John M. Crisp

While we temporize about global warming _ some would say dither _ its long-term dangers may be overtaken by a related, but more acute, crisis: The depletion of the fuels that power the way we live on the planet, especially hydrocarbons like oil and coal. Eventually they will be exhausted.

This fact should be unsurprisingly obvious, since we're using these fuels at a rate that is much greater than they could possibly be replaced. Still, our reserves are enormous, making it easy to develop a sense of complacency about the future.

But, as a number of writers have pointed out, the depletion crisis will come not when the last barrel of oil or the last bucket of coal is burned, but when the peak of worldwide hydrocarbon production is reached. With regard to oil, this peak is sometimes called Hubbert's peak, after Shell geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who in 1956 predicted that U.S. oil production would peak in the early '70s. He was right; U.S. production has declined every year since 1970.

Other scientists have used Hubbert's methods to predict a peak in worldwide production, as well: the optimists give us 25 or 30 years; the pessimists believe that the peak is occurring right now. (Two good discussions of the prospects for worldwide oil production are Kenneth S. Deffeyes' "Hubbert's Peak" and David Goldstein's "Out of Gas.")

Whether it occurs in two years or five years or 30 years, what happens when we reach the downhill slide on the far side of peak oil production? In his book "Powerdown," Robert Heinberg suggests several possibilities, none very attractive.

One of them Heinberg calls "Waiting for the Magic Elixir." It's based on the hope that as hydrocarbons become less available and more expensive, other energy sources, as yet undiscovered, will emerge. Heinberg doesn't rule out this possibility entirely, but it's unlikely that any fuel with the energy and availability of hydrocarbons is waiting in the wings to save us. Depending on this hope is similar to setting out across the Pacific in a 747 with half-empty fuel tanks, hoping to find mid-air refueling on the way.

A second possibility is what Heinberg calls "Powerdown," which involves a recognition that the end of the hydrocarbon age will eventually arrive and that a rational, organized response is called for, one that brings the size of the earth's population into sync with the renewable energy that's actually available for the long haul. This alternative, however, requires a deep re-conception of the modern attitude toward what it means to be human and civilized. It calls for the reverse of globalization, for shrinking back into self-sustaining renewable communities. In short, it's unlikely to happen.

Far more likely is the alternative that Heinberg calls "Last One Standing." This is the default option, the one that, in lieu of rational action, humankind will choose simply because it requires us only to follow the natural course we've followed whenever resources have become scarce in the past: we fight over them.

World Wars I and II are good examples of conflicts over access to energy, and our current presence in Iraq, our interest in the Middle East, the incipient tensions with China and Iran are hard to explain unless oil is part of the equation. Competition for access to the last inexpensive, accessible deposits of oil and other hydrocarbons will continue to heat up until, as Heinberg puts it, there's only one left standing. Ironically, in spite of our worries about global warming, before the globe has time to heat up to the point of uninhabitability we may self-destruct is a series of chaotic energy wars over the last of the oil.

The Bush administration is unlikely to lead us out of this hydrocarbon wilderness; they're oilmen, locked in psychologically to a hydrocarbon future. So are most Democrats. Unfortunately, finding our way out of this dilemma will take more than innovative thinking and new discoveries. It will require a realization on a global scale that human life is unique in our universe, as far as we know, and that it can be preserved in the long run only within a framework of renewable energy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Will America Face an Oil Crisis Soon?

CBN News

By Dale Hurd

Some believe that the world as we have known it is about to change.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) is talking about what he thinks could be the biggest challenge in our nation's history.

"The world has never faced a problem like this," Bartlett said.

A huge and sustained increase in the price of oil that would devastate our economy and the world economy, and would force all of us to change the way we live. Why?

It is a phenomenon known as "peak oil." The idea is that oil is a finite resource. There is only so much of it in the ground, and eventually we will start to run out.

One of the leading advocates of this theory is oil industry analyst Matthew Simmons. In his book, Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, Simmons uses reams of hard geological data to argue that the oil fields of Saudi Arabia -- the world's largest producer -- are in serious decline, and prices for oil at some point will skyrocket.

The quantity and price of oil follows a bell curve. When Saudi oil was first discovered and oil production was growing, the amount of Saudi oil on the market kept increasing, assuring low prices. But at the point when Saudi oil production falls and can no longer meet demand, prices go up.

And because energy-hungry nations like China and India are in the midst of economic booms, the demand for energy is increasing daily, while the supply of oil, if it is shrinking, will make oil scarcer, and much more expensive.

Some of us remember gasoline prices of 29 cents a gallon or less. Today, we have gotten used to gas prices that were once unthinkable. But what if gas prices were $7 a gallon, or more?

Bartlett said, "The peaking may have already occurred. If not now, then very soon. So I think we are probably beyond the point where we can avoid the consequences of peaking. I think what we need to do now is to simply minimize the consequences of peaking. I don't think we have a prayer of avoiding the consequences of peaking."

What is the absolute worst-case scenario from peak oil? A world war over oil supplies. But the less dire economic scenarios are not much better. It would most certainly lead to a deep worldwide recession, or even a depression.

Our economy and way of life has been built around affordable oil. Many of us live in the suburbs. We have to drive to work, to grocery stores, to just about everywhere. We enjoy a high standard of living, thanks to affordable goods and services made possible because of cheap energy.

An oil price spike to perhaps $200 dollars a barrel or more could wreck whole sectors of our economy, like the airline industry, which is already hurting from oil at $70 a barrel. Just think what would happen if airline ticket prices tripled from today's levels!

Peak oil prices would also pour a lot more money into the coffers of some regimes around the world who do not like the United States.

But if there is a plus side to peak oil, it is that unaffordable oil would finally force businesses to invest seriously in developing alternative fuel technologies.

Simmons' book has created such a stir in the energy industry that the world's largest oil company, ExxonMobil, created an ad to dispute it. It says that the Earth still has plenty of untapped oil to meet demand for decades to come.

Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think-tank, said, “At some point, oil production will peak. I think that is a long ways away…In the early 1930s, the Department of Interior estimated that we'd run out of oil by 1940. So there's a long history of predicting these things, and most of the predictions turn out not to be true.”

There is plenty of oil in the ground right here in America, but environmental protection laws prevent us from drilling for it.

Ebell also observed, “There are political obstacles to oil production in many places in the world -- most seriously in the United States.”

But if Simmons is right, America is facing a serious problem that Bartlett warns may now be too late to prepare for. He says we must begin to conserve, and to develop other sources of energy.

“I think this is going to be the overarching problem for the next decade,” Bartlett said. “We will transition from fossil fuels to renewables (renewable energy). Geology will insist on that. It will be a really bumpy ride or a less bumpy ride, depending on how we relate ourselves to it and what we do now.”

And everyone -- from President Bush on down -- knows how much America depends on oil. Bush has said that "America is addicted to oil."

And if the prediction of peak oil is true, America needs to start moving away from oil as an energy source as soon as possible.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Book review: 'The Long Emergency'

On Line Opinion

'The Long Emergency' at

By Peter McMahon

There is a long tradition of books presenting an apocalyptic future, but most have turned out to be a little pessimistic, to say the least. Until now, that is. Suddenly, with global warming accepted as scientific fact and Peak Oil a commonly discussed subject, the future does appear somewhat tricky.

James Howard Kunstler's book, published in 2005, is titled The Long Emergency and subtitled Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. The book does discuss global warming, declining fresh water supplies and other environmental problems, but overall Kunstler's main concern is the imminent end of cheap oil.

Kunstler makes a compelling case, relying mainly on the Hubbert's curves analysis, that Peak Oil (that is, when half the available oil is used up) is imminent, and that afterwards global civilisation faces enormous problems, regardless of whatever else happens. He points out that the issue is economically cheap oil, not a shortage as such, and that once the production peak is reached prices will skyrocket as demand outstrips supply.

He argues cogently that the very basis of modern society, initially developed in the US and now globalising rapidly, has been very cheap oil - a one-off boon that enabled extraordinary growth in population and wealth. Cheap oil has been behind plentiful food, urbanisation and just about everything else modernity takes for granted. But in a century and a half we used up energy deposited over many millions of years. He argues that the often touted alternative oil sources, such as shale, although representing vast quantities of oil, are simply uneconomic to develop.

The basic facts he presents are indeed stark. Of the roughly two trillion barrels of liquid oil thought to exist, we have burned around one trillion, essentially the best quality and most easily available. Production follows discovery, and discovery peaked in 1964. We use about 27 billion barrels a year, and even if we could extract all the oil left, it will run out around 2042.

Kunstler effectively deals with hopes that either currently available renewable energy technologies or any near future varieties can take the place of oil. Basically, they either just cannot be scaled up enough, or they are in the wrong form. In particular, he points out that the whole hydrogen economy notion is fanciful, as hydrogen is an energy carrier, not energy generator. He says that in fact the hydrogen economy is code for nuclear economy as only nuclear power can provide the original energy in adequate quantity.

Kunstler is sanguine about nuclear power, seeing it as the only energy source that might play some meaningful role in the transition phase, but even so, this could only occur if there was a sudden surge in the building of new reactors. It is quite obvious that we will have a new debate about nuclear power, especially as it is being promoted as greenhouse-friendly, and it is highly likely that a new generation of supposedly safer reactors will be built.

It is also obvious that Australia, as a major uranium source, is about to get mixed up in a very complicated issue, as indicated by recent talk of supplying fissile material to China and India. Uranium is a strategic material, since it is a prime energy source and also the raw material for nuclear weapons.

India, which is not in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has already exploded nuclear weapons, while China, currently undergoing a major military build up, is set for an interesting relationship with the world superpower, the United States. So what are arguably the two most important countries to Australia have moved towards a stance that might conceivably involve the threat or even use of nuclear weapons.

The last part of Kunstler's book is a more detailed description of what may well happen in the US as cheap oil runs out, but is not hard to translate his arguments to Australia. We suffer most of the problems of a high energy use society; indeed in some ways we are worse off than the US, especially as recent governments have led us down the American path.

The main change Kunstler sees will be a reversion to localism as long-distance travel becomes difficult and energy dependent cities and suburbs crash. Social upheaval and even war are probable, especially as the strong wrest the dwindling energy resources from the rest. Indeed, he sees the invasion of Iraq as merely the first of the likely energy wars.

In many ways, survival will necessitate a return to earlier arrangements, before the era of cheap oil. Rail, not road, with local energy sources where applicable, and all technology greatly simplified. The eventual pattern will be small towns surrounded by fields for growing food while relying on animals for power. But many people will have died by then to match the lesser carrying capacity of the solar economy.

Of course, parts of the world would find this transition relatively easy. They have contributed little to the use of oil, less to global warming, and have not forgotten how to live without oil.

Kunstler's main interest in the past has been suburbanisation, and so he brings another viewpoint to the emerging debate on the imminent global crisis. In this he is part of what might be called the second wave of analysis which focuses not so much on the issues of climate change and Peak Oil as such - both results of the same basic phenomenon, late industrial civilisation - as their effects and what the changes will mean for global civilisation.

The Long Emergency is a sobering read. Kunstler's strength is his ability to join the dots and see the big picture, and if he is right, there is no easy way out of our predicament. Perhaps he underestimates human ingenuity and our capacity to act cohesively when the chips are down. Certainly, we need to construct new ways of interacting that place need over want, scientific evidence over ideology, and to develop an awareness that in this matter we sink or swim together. In any case, the sooner we face material reality and get organised, the better our chances.

Oil Major CEO talks about "the real problem of peak oil"

Energy Bulletin

by Jerome a Paris

I've been cut off the internet in the past two days, and I still have access only via a very slow dialup, (and I have some serious issues to solve) so I won't be around much for the rest of this week, but this is too big to pass up.

In an interview with the Times of London, Christophe de Margerie, who is the head of exploration and production and the likely next CEO of Total, the French oil major (which is the 4th or 5th biggest around, depending on the metrics), say the following:

People are failing to deal with the reality of the price, which has nothing to do with speculators or even any lack of reserves, which are ample. "It is a problem of capacities and of timing," de Margerie says. "This is the real problem of peak oil."

The oil is there, he says, but the amount you can deliver today depends on how many wells you can drill and how fast you can deplete an oilfield, not to mention gaining the co- operation of governments, which guard access to the precious resource jealously. There is no prospect of reaching the lofty peaks that economists at the International Energy Agency, predict will be needed to satisfy world demand for oil.

There are not enough engineers, rigs, pipelines and drillers to increase current world output of 85 million barrels per day to 120 million, he says.

It would be possible only in a world without politics, he says. "If there were no Americans, no Iranians, no English, no French and no Italians. Not a world I know."

So, he is essentially saying that the problem is not with reserves per se, but with the rates of production, and that we will never be able to reach the production levels predicted by the IEA (International Energy Agency) - or by the US Department of Energy, for that matter - simply because it is taking increasing efforts to get the oil out of the ground and that effort cannot be accomplished with today's industrial resources.

He underlines a point that I have been making repeatedly: the oil majors are running out of opportunities where to invest. Their investment budgets are stable or slightly increasing, but in a context of skyrocketing prices for a number of items (rigs, for instance), they are not developing more fields than before. They are constrained by lack of resources, lack of people, and lack of access to the remaining reserves, which are mostly located in countries closed to them, and which do not seem in a hurry to invest themselves.

Whatever the reasons, we have the number two guy of one of the top oil companies saying explicitly that the production hypotheses that everybody uses for long term planning are bunk. will that be enough for people to notice? When are the people at Boeing and Airbus, the car makers, the power companies, the civil works and construction companies, etc... - and the people that finance them over 20-30 years start noticing that the long term hypotheses are more and more absurd?

I finance windfarms, so I figure that it's a safe business to be in the long term. My colleagues down the hall finance new highways and bridges, on the basis of tolls to be paid by drivers, and they usually assume a steadily, if slowly, growing traffic, over periods like 30 years or more. When I ask them, "but who will pay for your tolls in 30 years when oil is scarce and/or incredibly expensive?", they just look at me and say that some substitute will have been found by then....

Well, scientists had better hurry, and it's not the US government who's going to help...

Get it in your head: no sane oilman believes in the rosy production increase scenarios still touted by the authorities. It's time to act on it.

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Darwin Award For Self-Extinction Goes To:

By Bill Henderson

When a young Edwin Hubble started looking out into the universe at the beginning of the 20th century experts thought that this universe was only tens or maybe hundreds of millions years old (most people thought the world was less than 10,000 years old). Now, on a 4 1/2 billion year old Earth in a 13 billion year old universe, the odds against the end of the world today or tomorrow are astronomical. (Unless you belong to a willfully ignorant cult like the President.)

But don't make fun of the end of the world catastrophists . And don't be overly optimistic about the resilience and adaptability of our civilization, profoundly misunderstanding the challenge facing us today.

In man's long history - ten thousand years since the innovation of agriculture and civilization; seventy thousand years since the bottleneck where geneticists have determined that only around ten thousand humans out of a global population of tens of millions survived a 'volcanic winter'; and back at least hundreds of thousands of years to taming fire, learning language and the dawn of religion and culture - it has been only in the last century that we have had the ability to alter the surface of the Earth so that human life was in jeopardy.

Twice (at least) in the past century we have created a possibility of our own accidental extinction: nuclear winter and depletion of the ozone layer.

So far the existing thousands of powerful nuclear warheads haven't been unleashed in mutually assured destruction (potentially blocking the Sun for a decade like the presumed bottleneck- causing Toba explosion). But Bush Administration acceleration of US militarization of foreign affairs, advocacy of a pre-emptive unilateralism specifically aimed at any emerging threat to US supreme power, and pure, grab the oil, aggression for self-interest in Iraq, is taking us down a resource war path, putting us closer to that final nuclear world war than any time since '62. (It is remarkably underappreciated how Bush Admin aggression challenges still nuclear Russia and emerging power China and how much more dangerous life is for all of us through the choice of the resource war path instead of multilateral cooperation and innovation.)

The second possibility of extinction was one small family of the ninety thousand plus synthetic chemicals created in the past century which floated up after their useful life in aerosols and solvents and refrigeration to interact with and corrode a thin layer of ozone surrounding the Earth and absolutely necessary to the survival of most forms of life. Fifty years after their industrial application scientists clued in that CFCs were not harmless inert gases but, fortunately, the cumulative damage to the ozone was only thinning and holes and not the possible century of invading radiation scouring life from Earth's surface.

At the end of the 19th century scientists began considering the long term effects of burning fossil fuels and specifically the effects of the extra CO2 released into the atmosphere. By the end of the last century measurement of accumulating CO2 and other greenhouse gases and climate modeling based upon scientific determination of climate changes over the past hundred thousand years strongly suggested that there was a potentially very serious global warming problem.

Several decades ago some scientists predicted that raising global mean temperatures would lead to the release of huge amounts of presently safely sequestered greenhouse gases - methane, especially, stored safely away under the oceans and in peak bogs - and that there was a potential for runaway global warming pushed by this positive feedback of freed greenhouse gases. They warned that runaway global warming could raise temperatures to such a degree that most life forms on Earth including man would certainly become extinct. Somewhere around 400 ppm amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere and nature takes over.

Fortunately, as we have developed the power to re-engineer the world for human use and therefor the power to self-extinct we have developed a maturity to safeguard humanity's future. Not.

Matt Simmons re-thirty years on evaluation of Limits to Growth is relevant. William Catton Jr's OVERSHOOT has been reborn on the net because the relevant catastrophe graph isn't Hubbert's Curve but that graph we all know where human population bumps along the bottom of the graph for millennia before spiking exponentially beginning in the 16 century with the use of fossil fuel. Catton views us as a species needing, using, and dissipating energy, as a species that should be concerned by a tendency for animal populations to rise exponentially, overshoot and crash. What goes exponentially up promises to go exponentially down.

Exponential growth on a finite planet has consequences.

Edward O. Wilson has developed a Bottleneck metaphor graphing the consequences of ever expanding human populations with powerful technologies in the 21st century. Human populations with a biomass a hundred times any previous animal except bacteria are eliminating untold biodiversity in re-engineering formerly wilderness habitat for human use. Humanities cumulative footprint will cause severe resource depletion - now peak oil, but water and food in the future too. Greenhouse gas production is another example of the possible negative consequences of our overwhelming footprint. Wilson envisions human survivors of the Bottleneck maelstrom, but his fear is a world where biodiversity has been severely depleted, a Sixth Extinction that requires millions of years to recover.

A Darwin Award - how to explain this most terrible possible idea to someone eating a burger before the next text distracts. Those denying the very real probability of catastrophe help keep us in growth economy business as usual 'muddling through' instead of taking urgent corrective measures. Darwin Awards to all and every person who chooses to remain willfully ignorant of who we are on this planet, our precarious position, and our responsibilities.

Dad, Mom and the kids are out boating on the reservoir: little Johnny's helping Dad fish (and the fishing is hot); Mom's enjoying a relaxing nap and the twins are playing in the front of the boat. Everybody's having so much fun they aren't really aware that they are drifting towards the dam and the spillway. Even if the fishing is wonderful, reasonable people would make sure that they stayed far away from the point of no return past which they couldn't escape death for the whole family.