Peak Oil News: 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007

Monday, August 27, 2007

Deeper than a mud puddle

By Brandon Marshall

The following story is told from the point of view of a farmer living in an intentional community in a post-Peak Oil world several years from now. The details change as it continues to evolve in my mind, but in all its versions it sticks to one general assumption. The gap between energy demand and supply widens, and at some point in the future various aspects of our social and economic institutions begin to break down in earnest. Here is today’s version…

Before settling here several years ago, I was a bit of a floater. The casual observer might have seen an aimless wanderer but there was always a direction, always an encompassing method. That method was largely determined by my own vision of what energy descent might be like. I would move somewhere to take a job that I thought might teach me a useful trade, or attend a class or two at a local college, and move on when I had learned the fundamentals or saw the returns starting to diminish. That path has meant wearing many hats, but my farming hat, which is really many hats in itself, has always fit the best.

When I first started looking to settle somewhere, some places ranked higher on the list than others - arable land and rainfall versus desert, for example. But my search became based more on the “who” rather that the “where”. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was thinking in terms of my own personal “thrival”. Thrival is a word that has been added to the vernacular since we passed the Peak. Like a lot of the new language, it was probably being used locally somewhere to describe some aspect of social adaptation and then gradually spread. Thrival is sort of the opposite of rival. I’ve heard it described as cooperative survival. It sprang up about the same time the international intentional community and ecovillage movements were becoming popular.

The community here has grown into a small town in recent years. It is starting to reap the rewards from its early efforts at promoting diversity. The result has been a local, needs-based economy where people enjoy self-reliance with regard to food, water, and energy. We also enjoy a strong social network. This network has kept us flexible when the inevitable hiccups occur.

“Fingertipping” is one way that our social network is expressed. It’s almost like a salute. People stretch their arms out to their sides with their index fingers extended, which sort of represents each person’s world, and then they embrace. Each person has stepped into the other’s world. Auggie, a four-year-old in our cohousing group, is going through a fingertipping stage. He sets out every morning on his village circuit and folks stop whatever they’re doing when he shows up. If they’re arms are full when he gets there, he patiently waits with arms outstretched in anticipation. His morning lap has become something of a neighborhood ritual.

I guess that’s how we deal with the hiccups in the world. It’s kind of like riding a bicycle uphill. The community seems to have figured out the best gear to be in so the hiccups don’t feel like Himalayas. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still daily struggles, but we’re able to see which ones are important at the fingertip level and which ones can be let go of. The ones we tend to spend time on involve strengthening our relationships and getting everyone’s basic needs met. Maybe those are two versions of the same thing. I know our food system often falls in that category.

For instance, we started having trouble finding parts for the tractor several years ago. We had grown uncomfortably dependent on the contraption since the CSA had expanded and it was becoming a concern in the community. So when the cost for parts and fuel to keep it running became hard to justify there wasn’t much debate when someone suggested replacing it with a pair of draft horses. Now its engine is mounted to a generator for emergency power and anything that wasn’t stripped of parts for use elsewhere has taken up a life of leisure as a yard ornament. Often times the kids are out climbing all over it like a jungle gym. It’s ironic; some of the horse drawn equipment we now use was filling a similar role when we bartered for them.

Since getting that original team we have gone on to buy three more seasoned horses, and recently two young mares that are still a bit green. The neighbor down the road whom we affectionately call the “horse lady” is our source. Apparently she was a big-time corporate executive back in the old days. I’ve heard her talk about how she used to take a jet here and there, always on the go. Then one day she realized that she didn’t know who she was anymore. She quit her job - didn’t even give notice. I hear stuff like that happens a lot. She and her bunch come to all of our potlucks. They’re good cooks and always ready to eat.

Today several folks are working in our commons area. We grow the community’s broad-acre food and energy crops here. It is the same thing we were doing last week; it is the same thing we will be doing next week. The term “job security” comes to mind, but that is an old notion that has gone out of fashion with all that has happened in recent times.

I’m on the back of an old binder cutting oats with one of our Percheron mares, Naka, and one of our new Belgians. Naka and her sister, Ima, were our original team. We have been pairing them up with the new horses to help in training. Whenever the youngster is feeling a bit persnickety the old girl is there to help keep her in line. Naka is an old pro. She has done this more times than I can count. Mostly, I just try to stay out of the way and let her do her thing.

We’ll come along next with the threshers we converted to run on vegetable oil and finally bale with the horse powered baler that one of the former engineers in the community designed and put together for us. We have found that using a lot of this equipment is more of an art than a science and keeping it up and running is a full time job. Fortunately, there are several mechanically inclined folks living here that are always coming up with new inventions or ways to make things work better. One of them just installed a horse-powered line shaft to run our mill and seed press. Another is working on adapting it to some old wind generator parts for charging batteries to run our shop lighting. I think a lot of these technical types have rediscovered their creative sides after living here for a while.

The community has been busy this week with visitors. Someone brought word of gas shortages in this place or that - same old, same old. There isn’t much time to dwell as gardens are in full swing and the village has several projects going on. Our visitor flow is usually high this time of year but every year it seems to decrease a little as it gets harder for people to get here, both from the shortages and the ever deteriorating roads. Most are anxious to get hands-on experience and we have no problem finding a place for them to help out. One of the folks visiting is an old friend and has quite a bit of experience driving horses. With her help we are getting a lot done. I haven't seen her in a long time and I pull the team along side to let the horses rest and do some catching up.

“How was the ride up?” I ask facetiously. I haven’t traveled in a while but have heard stories about the state of things.

She looks at me with a grin and replies, “It was… deeper than a mud puddle.”

We have a good laugh. She knows the phrase has a dual meaning here. Local folks sort of morphed its meaning over the years to describe the strong relationships we have developed. Interdependency is a word that comes to mind. But that’s not how the phrase was born.

The phrase originated back when maintenance on the state highway systems first began to falter during the RISE program. After the first serious post-Peak economic hiccup, the government developed several new programs. One of them was RISE. RISE stands for Regional Initiatives via Sponsored Enterprise. The idea was that the states knew best how to improve their local economies so the federal government would provide block grants with the understanding that the responsibility for regions within state boundaries now fell squarely at the state level. In reality, it was a way for the government to cut funding to states in order to attend to its own fiscal dysfunction.

Already overburdened state governments ended up funneling the grant money to their higher profile programs and decreased funding for infrastructure in areas that were considered “non-contributors” economically. This mostly meant rural areas and depopulated urban centers. Unless you lived in a place experiencing some measure of economic stability, or near a work camp or military base, you had probably felt the effects of being “razed”. This program quickly earned a new title: Regions Isolated by a Stopped Economy.

The transportation work camps began focusing on interstate highways and the corridors connecting Canada and Mexico. Most state highways and virtually all county roads went without. People in rural areas began to classify roads by how deep the resulting potholes, washes, and gullies were. If a route had been labeled “deeper than a mud puddle”, you were taking a chance traveling at speed on it. The danger wasn’t the average pothole, but the “abyss” that might lie around the next turn.

The phrase quickly spread to describe several aspects of society that might once have been considered safe and reliable but had grown questionable, dangerous, or nonexistent. Roads, bridges, air travel, law enforcement, food, water supplies; if these had earned the infamous “deeper than a muddle” reputation in an area, you could bet that people were trying to get out.

We are finishing up for the day and unhitching the girls when an older model motorcycle comes up the drive. It is pulling a small trailer loaded down with camping gear and gasoline containers. A man is driving and seated behind him is a woman. There is a small girl sandwiched between them. He seems in a hurry to get here and raises a big cloud of dust as they come up the dirt road leading to the barn. The young mare has never been approached by a motor vehicle traveling this fast. She tenses up in preparation to bolt so I reassure her with a calm but firm “Eaassssy”.

The motorcycle stops several yards short of us. The man turns to the woman and says something in a low voice before walking over to us. He could not be more than forty years-old but a chronic look of concern has wrinkled his face prematurely.

He politely introduces himself and his family and proceeds to give an animated account of his life. He describes how he was a teacher in an urban school district that had fallen victim to the RISE. After some anxious months looking for work he tells me how lucky he felt to find work as a contract educator for the work camp system. He traveled from place to place for a few years in this position, teaching whatever the system needed. Then the work camps began consolidating and he was informed that the contract program was being terminated and that he would have to become fulltime staff at one of the larger facilities if he wanted to stay in the system. So he reluctantly moved to a site a few hours from here about a year ago.

Several weeks ago he hears a rumor from a friend in the work camp’s security department. More consolidations are coming and this time unneeded staff will be unceremoniously absorbed into the work camp population. He doesn’t believe it at first, but then his friend shows him a message from the camp headquarters to the security office instructing them to begin suspending gate passes for selected staff. His friend tells him that his name is not on the first round of suspensions, but that he is a likely candidate for future rounds.

Desperation builds in the stranger’s voice as he begins to tell me about the lifestyle his family would have as part of the work camp’s population. He describes the open barracks-style housing in the camp shared by several hundred families, the loss of personal freedom and dignity his family would endure, and the difficulty in transferring out of the camp population once in it. After receiving the warning, he decides to take a couple of days off to look for another job.

He tells me that screening at the security gate is usually a technicality for staff members, but when he tries to leave the next day he is detained. Suddenly, the camp seems very interested in where he is going and when he will be coming back. He quickly makes up a story about visiting relatives for a few days and is finally allowed to leave. As he drives away from the camp he knows he and his family will not be returning.

At this point the man is near hyperventilation. He doesn’t think the work camp will bother to search for him but he has traded their car for the motorcycle and all the gas they can carry just in case. He has been on the road for a week looking for work. He returned to this area because he had friends in the next town but they have since moved. In an exasperated finish to his tale and with a fair amount of huffing and puffing, the gentleman, in a near shout, asks “How will I feed my family?!"

The younger mare does not appreciate the excitement and steps back, bobbing her head.

I turn to look at Naka who is not fazed by the behavior. She has been in the midst of many a person exclaiming that the sky is falling with all the associated hand waving and frantic body language. Naka is a wise old girl, always steady. She never runs back to the barn, even after a long day out in the field.

She looks at the man for a few seconds while chewing at her bit, and then glances over to the motorcycle where the woman still sits with the child in her lap. I see here ears kick forward as the child says something to her mother that is inaudible from where I stand. Her ears then tip slightly to the side and she gives a deep exhale. She gets a soft, almost mystical look in her eye and turns back to me. This is my cue.

I turn back toward the gentleman and ask, "Sir, what do you know about canning green beans?"

After oil supplies dry up, what's Plan B?

Extreme scarcity could be disastrous for U.S. economy

By Erica Etelson

When Hurricane Katrina struck two years ago, Americans learned just how ill-equipped the government is to respond effectively to natural disasters. But if you think the government's response to Katrina was inept, brace yourself for peak oil.

Global oil production will hit its peak in the next few years, at which point oil prices will skyrocket and voracious consumers like the United States, China and Europe will quickly drain every last barrel they can afford to buy. Our per-capita oil consumption is double that of most European nations and more than triple Mexico's, and shows no sign of slowing. As supplies dwindle, an economic disaster on a par with Katrina will start to unfold.

Global oil demand is at 84 million barrels a day and rising, and there are at most a trillion barrels' worth still in the ground, most of which is very difficult and expensive to recover. Do the math, and you'll see that the end of oil is, at most, 30 years away.

But long before oil actually runs out, economists and energy analysts warn that extreme scarcity will cause prices to soar so high that it will no longer be feasible to use petroleum on a wide scale. It is the imminence of this supply-demand shortfall that has people like National Petroleum Council member Matthew Simmons and Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Tom Udall, D-N.M., worried - very worried - about our economy's ability to withstand the end of oil.

Cheap and plentiful oil is the foundation of our economy. Everything from food production and distribution to the manufacture of clothing, footwear, medications and plastic goods relies heavily on petroleum. You name it, and we need oil to produce it, ship it and, in many cases, run it.

In February, the U.S. Government Accountability Office dropped a quiet little bombshell: a report on peak oil concluding that there is an urgent need for a swift, coordinated government strategy to assess and develop alternative energy technologies to avert "severe economic damage."

The agency concluded: "(T)he United States, as the largest consumer of oil and one of the nations most heavily dependent on oil for transportation, may be especially vulnerable among the industrialized nations of the world." Stark though its conclusion is, the GAO may in fact be understating the gravity of the situation.

The report followed on the heels of a 2005 peak oil risk management report commissioned by the Department of Energy, which warned of the "extremely damaging" and "chaotic" impacts that will ensue if "intensive," "aggressive" and "expensive" mitigation measures are not put in place at least 10 years ahead of time. Both reports landed with a dull thud and have been dutifully ignored. In other words, there is no Plan B.

Depending on whom you ask, the impacts of peak oil range from dire to catastrophic: At best, get ready for a crippling recession and widespread inflation. At worst, we face severe global food shortages that threaten wide-scale starvation and an overall breakdown of social and economic institutions. And if history is any guide, we can expect a series of military invasions into every remaining oil hot spot in the world - invasions that may, by the way, require even more fossil fuels than we could possibly expropriate by force.

Because oil companies and OPEC nations are notorious for overstating their reserves to manipulate the market, it is impossible to predict when exactly the world will start feeling the crunch. As award-winning New York Times reporter Peter Maas wrote in 2005, "Because we do not know when a supply-demand shortfall might arrive, we do not know when to begin preparing for it, so as to soften its impact; the economic blow may come as a sledgehammer from the darkness."

But here's a little hint: Crude oil futures hit an all-time high of $78.21 per barrel on July 31. Prices cannot go much higher without us beginning to feel the foreshocks of a peak oil catastrophe. Oh, and by the way, natural gas (which provides 42 percent of California's power) is running out, too. One day, even coal will be gone. How much longer are we going to wait before we figure out how to survive without fossil fuels?

The United States has reacted to the threat of peak oil and gas with all the alacrity of its response to climate change. It is ignoring the looming crisis for as long as it can, just waiting for that sledgehammer to land its first blow. Eventually, when a recession hits, tax revenue will plummet, and the government will have nowhere near the money it needs to build an alternative energy and transportation infrastructure. Every year that goes by without an intensive mobilization to build an oil-independent economy diminishes our odds of surviving the end of oil.

States, too, seem to have their heads in the sand. California, considered a leader in efforts to reduce carbon emissions, just cut funding for mass transit by $1.3 billion for the fiscal year. Like most states, it ignores the urgent need to build a transportation network that does not rely on fossil fuels.

At this point, you might be asking yourself: When oil becomes scarce, how will I get food? That's a very good question. Here are a few more: Will my garbage get picked up? How will my water district purify and deliver water and treat sewage without petrochemicals? What if I need an ambulance? What if my home is one of the 7.7 million that rely on oil for heating? Which of my medications are made out of petrochemicals? How will I get to work? Will I even have a job anymore?

But don't just ask yourself. Ask your elected officials, your public utility district and your grocer. Ask the U.S. Postal Service, Federal Express and American Airlines. Ask GM. If you have one, ask your financial adviser or stockbroker which companies will still be in business after peak oil hits. Odds are, he or she will give you a blank stare.

While the United States blindly carries on with business as usual, countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Ireland are taking steps to assess and mitigate peak oil impacts. Oil-rich Iran has begun rationing and has already cut oil consumption by 25 percent. But here at home, demand for oil is ever on the rise, and there is no talk of conserving reserves for essential goods and services or to develop an alternative energy infrastructure.

Instead, we are on course to squander every last drop on long solo commutes, leisure travel, mountains of plastic junk and the senseless transglobal shipment of unsustainably grown food.

That's where local government comes in. Small but growing numbers of municipalities are initiating a process that federal and state leaders should have begun 30 years ago, when domestic oil reserves peaked. They are, in short, figuring out Plan B.

In May, Oakland appointed an Oil Independent Oakland by 2020 Task Force. In June 2006, Portland, Ore., formed its own Peak Oil Task Force, which got busy fast: By March of this year, it had released its first major report, urging the city to "act big, act now," even without further study or analysis. The report prompted the city to pass a resolution to accelerate oil and gas conservation measures to halve Portland's fossil fuel consumption.

Last year, San Francisco passed a resolution to assess the city's vulnerability to oil depletion and to develop a transition plan. Other cities, from Austin, Texas, to Bloomington, Ind., are confronting the stark reality and trying their best to figure out how to soften the blow.

Cities are looking at options such as local food cultivation, urban redesign to minimize transportation needs, locally controlled electricity, rainwater catchment systems (to ensure local access to water for food cultivation), energy-efficient mass transit, and the preparation of emergency plans for sudden and severe food, water and energy shortages. They are embracing bio-regional sustainability - a concept once dismissed as an ecotopian fantasy that is suddenly starting to look like our last best hope.

But cities cannot solve the peak oil problem on their own. They don't have the revenue needed to build light-rail networks and wind farms or to store massive grain reserves. During a recession, they will be in no position to guarantee income supports for millions of laid-off workers. But the more they do now, while they still have a revenue stream, the better off their residents will be.

If the peak oil doomsday scenarios are to be averted, it will require coordinated action at every level of government, by every sector of the economy and by every community and citizen in the nation. We are heading into a political era in which the need to come together to invent and support life-sustaining social and economic systems will trump all else.

Some tout alternative energy technologies as the silver bullet that will save us from a peak oil crisis. But there is a broad consensus among energy analysts that it will be decades before such alternatives are available for wide-scale implementation. Moreover, some of the alternatives with the strongest political backing, including ethanol and liquefied coal, may cause even more severe global warming than petroleum has.

The United States needs to slam the brakes on fossil fuel consumption. As if arresting climate change weren't enough of a reason for immediate and strong conservation measures, the end of oil may just force upon Americans a reality we have ignored for far too long: We cannot go on like this, pedal to the metal, asleep at the wheel.

Erica Etelson is a Berkeley journalist, former environmental attorney and oil independence activist. Contact her at

Friday, August 24, 2007

Indonesia concerned over declining oil output

People's Daily Online

The Indonesian government expressed concern Friday over the continued decline in oil production in the last 10 years that could cause the budget to miss revenue target.

"The current production hovers around 900,000 barrels per day, and we have set a target of 1.03 million barrels per day for the 2008. Any loss of just 0.1 (percent) from the target would cost us one trillion rupiah (around 106.5 million U.S. dollars)," Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said at her office here.

The oil production target was slightly raised on hope of a significant production rise from the major Cepu oil block in East Java.

A decade ago, Indonesia enjoyed high oil output of 1.3 million barrels per day to become one of the world's major oil exporters, but has since seen production keeps falling due to natural depletion and lack of new investment in the sector.

Although Indonesia is closer to become a net oil importer, it retains membership in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Falls Church News-Press - The Peak Oil Crisis: Hurricanes and Meltdowns

Falls Church News-Press

By Tom Whipple

Earlier this week Hurricane Dean slammed into the Yucatan peninsula and crossed over into the Bay of Campeche where some 1.5 million of the 10 million barrels the U.S. imports every day are produced. While it is too early for a full damage assessment, at best a few days of production will be lost and possibly quite a bit more if any of the production platforms, pipeline systems and nitrogen injection facilities have been damaged.

This suggests that U.S. imports will be less than normal over the next few weeks. While some of these imports might be made up by increased shipments from other countries, the tight overall oil market suggests that this will be difficult.

Among the more interesting effects of Dean’s landfall was a major drop in the price of oil in New York. The world’s oil traders were so relieved Dean did not go up the Houston oil channel and figuring that the Yucatan peninsula would protect Mexico’s offshore production from serious damage, they drove down the price. One sure fallout from the Dean-induced lower prices will be to stifle any incentive for OPEC to increase production at its September 11 meeting. This of course sets the stage for a much tighter supply/demand situation this winter.

A surge in crude imports resulted in U.S. crude and product stockpiles increasing a bit last week. U.S. importers may be rushing to get ahead of the hurricane season which will likely slow imports into the Gulf and may disrupt production beyond what hurricane Dean did to Mexican production. Our gasoline stocks, however, dropped by an unusually large 5.7 million barrels, thus, putting our gasoline inventory well below normal.

If we don’t take a hurricane into the Gulf coast in the next two months, we should be o.k. If one should happen along however, almost any disruption in U.S. gasoline production is likely to result in shortages east of the Rockies. Unlike two years ago, it is unlikely that Europe can bail us out.

During the past week, the subprime-induced credit crunch raised increased concern in the peak oil community. As credit problems continue to spread around the world, there is speculation that the crunch may be growing beyond central banks’ power to control the situation. Outcomes being discussed range anywhere from temporary market “corrections” to a major meltdown of the global financial system.

From the peak oil perspective, the concern is that a slowing of world economic activity will result in diminished demand for oil, lower oil prices, and subsequently reduced investment in additional oil production. As more oil becomes available at lower prices, investment in alternative energy would likely drop and the whole process of transitioning to a post-oil world would be set back — possibly by years.

Oil, however, is so deeply ingrained in the world’s economic system that a business recession, unless it is a very severe one, is unlikely to cut demand as quickly as economic activity slows. Too much oil is now needed for life-sustaining functions such as food production, heating, and transportation. There is also so much economic momentum in economies such as China and India, that it is difficult to imagine outright reductions in oil consumption even during extreme economic hardships.

In such a situation where little new production is coming online, depletion of existing fields would soon result in rapid drops in world oil production so that shortages and higher oil prices soon would contribute to economic distress.

So there’s the news for the week: our gasoline stocks are so short that a hurricane hit is likely to result in shortages; world supplies are unlikely to increase enough this year to avoid much higher prices in the next six months; and some think we are seeing the beginning of the mother of all economic meltdowns.

Not much should happen before Labor Day, however, so we can all enjoy the rest of the driving season.

How to push the oil levers in the wrong direction

ASPO Italia

By Scritto da Ugo Bardi

By now, it should be clear to everybody that we are facing some problem with oil production. Facing a problem, the normal reaction is to do something about it. If crude oil is becoming scarce, the first reaction often is, "where can we find more of it?"

We find a good example of this reaction in a recent a paper by Tony Megg titled, “The third trillion barrels of oil: the three steps to finding them”. Megg recognizes that there is a problem even though he doesn't mention "peak oil". He says that we have already extracted approximately one trillion barrels of oil. Another trillion forms the remaining known reserves. But we can find more; a third trillion barrels. Megg says:

So where do we look for the third trillion?
I think there are three main areas:

- We can get more out of what we have already discovered.
- We can find more of what we have already got, and
- We can diversify the sources of supply by using different feedstocks.

What Tony Megg is telling us, basically, is “let’s not lose our time with vague theories such as peak oil. Instead, let’s be practical: what can we do to find more oil?” It sounds like a good idea; but is it, really? Actually, Megg may be providing us with a good example of "pushing the levers in the wrong direction". Seeking for more oil may not be the right answer to the problem

Let me explain with an example that goes back to long ago; to American whaling in 19th century. Whales, unlike crude oil, are a renewable resource but if they are hunted too fast they don’t have time to reproduce and behave as a non renewable resource. For this reason, the hunting of right whales and sperm whales in 19th cenyury is one of the best known cases of a Hubbert curve for a worldwide resource, as you see in the figure below (bardi 2005). The production of whale oil went up to a peak in 1845 then declined to nearly zero around the end of the century.

We have a contemporay account of those times written in 1878 by Alexander Starbuck in his “History of the American Whale Fisheries”. It is still fascinating for us to read of how people were reacting to a situation which is so similar to what we are facing now for crude oil.

Starbuck correctly attributed the decline of whaling to the “scarcity and shyness of whales, requiring longer and more expensive voyages”. But he lists also other causes, one of which is “extravagance in fitting out and refitting” of the whaling ships. Starbuck thinks that this is a cause of the decline of whaling, but we can better interpret it as an effect of it. Ship owners and captains, apparently, had taken an approach that we can summarize as: “let us not worry about vague theories about how many whales are left in the ocean. Instead, let’s be practical: what can we do to find more of them?” For this purpose, they outfitted their ships with the best equipment available, no matter how costly.

Needless to say, it didn’t work as planned. Those ships may have been very efficient if it was possible to exterminate right whales to the point that, according to some studies, only 50 females were left in the whole ocean. But, eventually, every increase in efficiency was more than offset by a decrease in the number of whales. More efficient whaling had only worsened the problem.

Obviously, the answer to the problem of the scarcity of whales was not to catch more whales. It was to catch less of them. That would have lowered costs and given a fair share of the catch to everyone. Keeping the number of whales captured to a sustainable level would also have given the whale stocks the time to reform. But that wasn’t understood at that time and the result was the complete destruction of the 19th century whaling industry. Whaling was to restart only later in the 20th century; when new techniques were developed for hunting different species of whales. The right whales, those mainly hunted in 19th century, never recovered from their losses.

The story of whaling in 19th century is a perfect example of how people tend to "push the levers in the wrong direction"; that is choose solutions that worsen the problem. It is such a common case that it has been recognized and studied as part of the field called “system dynamics”.

Jay Forrester, the creator of system dynamics, observed that “People know intuitively where leverage points are. Time after time I've done an analysis of a company, and I've figured out a leverage point. Then I've gone to the company and discovered that everyone is pushing it in the wrong direction!” There are many examples of this behavior that you can read in Donella Meadows’s paper “Leverage Points - Places To Intervene In A System.” Whalers of 19th century understood that the scarcity of whales was a leverage point of the whaling system. But they pushed the levers in the wrong direction; making whales even scarcer.

Now, let’s go back to crude oil. The problem we face is, under many respects, the same as that of whalers in 19th century. We all know that oil is getting scarcer and that for this reason it is becoming more expensive to find, extract and process. That is, clearly, a critical point of the system, one of these “leverage points” that can be acted on. What we see proposed most often, as in Tony Megg's paper, is to find ways to produce more oil. But, if we invest money into extracting/finding/creating more oil we’ll deplete the resources faster and, in the end, we’ll face a worse problem.

The opposite approach, that of pushing the lever in the good direction, is the oil protocol, proposed first by Colin Campbell. The oil protocoll calls for gradually reducing the amount of oil produced. Of course, unlike the case of whales, there is no “sustainable” level for the extraction of crude oil. But reducing the oil production will preserve the resource for a long time and will give us more time to switch to sustainable energy sources.

Unfortunately, Jay Forrester was right (as he was so often) when he said that people tend to push the levers of the system in the wrong direction. Of the two ways to push the leverage point of crude oil production; extract more or extract less, guess which one is more popular!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Forget biofuels - burn oil and plant forests instead

New Scientist

By Catherine Brahic

It sounds counterintuitive, but burning oil and planting forests to compensate is more environmentally friendly than burning biofuel. So say scientists who have calculated the difference in net emissions between using land to produce biofuel and the alternative: fuelling cars with gasoline and replanting forests on the land instead.

They recommend governments steer away from biofuel and focus on reforestation and maximising the efficiency of fossil fuels instead.

The reason is that producing biofuel is not a "green process". It requires tractors and fertilisers and land, all of which means burning fossil fuels to make "green" fuel. In the case of bioethanol produced from corn – an alternative to oil – "it's essentially a zero-sums game," says Ghislaine Kieffer, programme manager for Latin America at the International Energy Agency in Paris, France (see Complete carbon footprint of biofuel - or is it?).

What is more, environmentalists have expressed concerns that the growing political backing that biofuel is enjoying will mean forests will be chopped down to make room for biofuel crops such as maize and sugarcane. "When you do this, you immediately release between 100 and 200 tonnes of carbon [per hectare]," says Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust, UK, a conservation agency that seeks to preserve rainforests.
Century-long wait

Righelato and Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds, UK, calculated how long it would take to compensate for those initial emissions by burning biofuel instead of gasoline. The answer is between 50 and 100 years. "We cannot afford that, in terms of climate change," says Righelato.

The researchers also compared how much carbon would be stored by replanting forests with how much is saved by burning biofuel grown on the land instead of gasoline.

They found that reforestation would sequester between two and nine times as much carbon over 30 years than would be saved by burning biofuels instead of gasoline. "You get far more carbon sequestered by planting forests than you avoid emissions by producing biofuels on the same land," says Righelato.

He and Spracklen conclude that if the point of biofuels policies is to limit global warming, "policy makers may be better advised in the short term to focus on increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use, to conserve existing forests and savannahs, and to restore natural forest and grassland habitats on cropland that is not needed for food."

They do admit, however, that biofuels made from woody materials such as prairie grasses may have an advantage over reforestation – although it is difficult to say for now as such fuels are still in development (see Humble grasses may be the best source of biofuel).

Forests at high latitudes have been found to sequester less carbon than tropical forests (see Some forests may speed global warming). But Righelato says this does not affect his calculations as biofuel crops are not, by and large, grown in these areas.

Journal reference: Science (DOI:10.1126/science.1141361)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Net Energy -- A Useless, Misleading And Dangerous Metric, Says Expert


As oil becomes scarce, the world needs new transportation fuels. As new fuel options develop we need means of assessing which are most effective at replacing petroleum. So far many scientists have used a measure called 'net energy'.

However, Professor Bruce Dale from Michigan State University claims, "Net energy analysis is simple and has great intuitive appeal, but it is also dead wrong and dangerously misleading -- net energy must be eliminated from our discourse." Dale's perspective is published in the first edition of Biofuels, Bioproducts and Biorefining.

Instead, Dale recommends comparing fuels by assessing how much petroleum fuel each can replace, or by calculating how much CO2 each produces per km driven.

A fuel's 'net energy' is calculated by attempting to assess how much energy a new fuel supplies, and then subtracting the energy supplied by fossil fuels needed to create the new fuel. The calculation is often carried out in a way that leaves grain ethanol with a net energy of -29%, giving the impression that it uses more fossil fuels to produce it that the new fuel supplies. Dale claims that this figure is then used by opponents of biofuels to pour scorn on the new products.

The problem with net energy, says Dale, is that it makes an assumption that all sources of energy (oil, coal, gas etc) have equal value. "This assumption is completely wrong -- all energy sources are not equal -- one unit of energy from petrol is much more useful than the same amount of energy in coal...and that makes petrol much more valuable," says Dale.

For evidence, he points to the markets, where a unit of energy from gas, petrol and electricity are worth 3.5, 5 and 12 times as much as a unit of energy from coal, respectively.

"Clear thinking shows that we value the services that energy can perform, not the energy per se, so it would be better to compare fuels by the services that each provides...not on a straight energy basis...which is likely to be irrelevant and misleading," says Dale.

For example, biofuels could be rated on how much petroleum use they can displace or their greenhouse gas production compared with petroleum. His calculations indicate that every MJ of ethanol can displace 28 MJ of petroleum, in other words ethanol greatly extends our existing supplies of petroleum. Using corn ethanol provides an 18% reduction in greenhouse gasses compared with petrol, while fibre-produced ethanol gives a 88% reduction compared to petrol.

"As we embark on this brave new world of alternative fuels we need to develop metrics that provide proper and useful comparisons, rather than simply using analyses that are simple and intuitively appealing, but give either no meaningful information, or worse still, information that misleads us and misdirects our efforts to develop petroleum replacements," says Dale.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Consensus Emerges on Energy

By Gary Shapiro

In America's highly polarized political debate, a rare consensus is emerging among presidential candidates that America needs to stop using foreign oil and move on, instead, to other energy sources.

"Energy independence, I think, is the single most important thing that's going to face us in the next four or five years aside from the terrorist war on us," the candidate leading the Republicans in nationwide polls, Mayor Giuliani, has said.

Senator Clinton, who polls indicate is leading the Democratic field, describes her support of policies that would "increase our energy independence, create jobs, and provide cleaner, more reliable energy." Another Democratic contender, Senator Obama of Illinois, has said, "If we hope to strengthen our security and control our own foreign policy, we can offer no less of a commitment to energy independence" than the national effort to defeat the Soviets in space.

Mayor Bloomberg, a possible independent candidate for president, in a radio address said, "This constant dependence on oil is something that leaves this country vulnerable every day."

Politicians and advocates say that getting America off of imported foreign oil would have a foreign policy advantage by cutting the flow of funds to regimes such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela that are seen as anti-American, un-democratic, or supportive of terrorists. They say it would have environmental advantages by possibly reducing emissions that have been blamed for global warming. And there are populist political advantages in appearing to side with American consumers who are upset by gasoline prices that are sharply higher than they were a few years ago.

A goal of total American independence from foreign oil may be too ambitious. A professor of economics at Harvard University, Martin Feldstein, told The New York Sun by e-mail that America would be dependent on imported oil for the indefinite future. Mr. Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors during the Reagan administration and a participant in a recent Council on Foreign Relations on "National Security Consequences of U.S. Oil Dependency," said, "While we cannot eliminate oil imports, we can reduce the volume."

Even that would be a sign of a new political and economic landscape that is prompting old-line oil companies to re-allocate their resources and driving new investments in other energy technologies that all have their own drawbacks.

Left and Right ‘Strange Bedfellows':
Calls for energy independence have created a political alliance between some environmentalists on the left and anti-terror hawks on the right. This makes for "strange bedfellows," said the executive director of the Institute for the Analysis of Global security, Gal Luft.

A research analyst with New Energy Finance, Ethan Zindler, said that labels of Republican and Democrat are starting to mean less when it comes to energy.

The chair of the Set America Free Coalition, Ann Korin, said having the National Resources Defense Council in the same room as a former Republican presidential candidate known as a Christian Conservative, Gary Bauer, is "rather unusual." But evangelicals and conservatives are getting involved in a cause that once might have been left to Democratic-leaning groups such as the Sierra Club. The Evangelical Environmental Network, for example, has a project called "What Would Jesus Drive?"

A former director of Central Intelligence, R. James Woolsey Jr., who is known as a neoconservative, drives a hybrid car and touts plug-ins. A lecturer at University of Pennsylvania, Nadivah Greenberg, who is writing a book called "The Green and the Right: Environment in American Conservative Thought," anticipates that more conservatives — though presently "outliers" — would express a green sensibility in the coming years. She believes an enduring strand of conservative thought stressing stewardship and frugality exists that is compatible with environmentalism. Richard Nixon founded the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Theodore Roosevelt was an early conservationist. "It's a huge tent," she said.

Mr. Luft said that every year he has seen a stronger alliance of politicians on the right and left favoring energy independence. He said that although they agree on a menu of choices, "what is less clear is how much will be actually implemented." Mr. Luft said America's current dependence on foreign oil results in sending huge sums to countries such as Saudi Arabia, which end up funding radical Islam. "We end up paying for both sides of the war on terrorism," he said.

But the idea that reducing oil consumption helps national security has critics, too. A senior fellow at the Cato Institute, Jerry Taylor, said there was no correlation between oil revenue and terrorism. He said that the low price of oil during the 1990s was no barrier to the rise of Islamic terror. Somalia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan were not oil rich states, and besides, he said, the terrorist attacks on September 11 were only a "$400,000 operation."

How Much Oil is Left?:
One continuing eddy in the policy debate over America's oil dependency is the empirical question of how much oil actually remains in the earth. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Peter Huber, who co-authored the book called, "The Bottomless Well: The Twilight Of Fuel, The Virtue Of Waste, And Why We Will Never Run Out Of Energy," said if one includes tar sands, one will not run out of oil for centuries. "There is no shortage of buried hydrocarbons that can be refined into oil," he said.

A professor at the University of Albany, Pradeep Haldar, said the controversy is over not whether but when America will deplete its oil.

Large Oil Companies Take Notice:
The winds of change have affected even the big oil companies. Major oil companies such as ExxonMobil and BP (Once "British Petroleum," now, according to its advertising, "Beyond Petroleum") are showing increasing interest in alternative energy. A BP spokeswoman, Sarah Howell, said that BP had launched a company called BP Alternative Energy in November 2005. BP is investing $8 billion over ten years into low-carbon technologies like wind, solar, and hydrogen power, she said.

Asked what BP would do if oil runs out, she said this would be faced "eventually, someday" but this was the "very long term." She cited estimates that there were 60 or more years left of natural gas and 40 or more years of oil left, given today's technology. She said BP believed it was a good business decision to invest in alternative energy since customers wanted these products. She said the investment in alternative energy was an acknowledgment that they were able to address the issue of climate change.

The director of the center for business law and regulation at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, Jonathan Adler, said the major oil companies were transforming their rhetoric and marketing, not necessarily their practices or investments. A senior researcher at the Rand Corporation, James Bartis, said major oil companies were investing in alternative energy to stay on top of various options. He said these niche markets can also be profitable and that the companies are aware that governments may put in place new laws that fundamentally change the ranking of different energy options.

Mr. Haldar said there was no single solution for energy independence, but it would involve multiple approaches, including hydrogen, solar, and ethanol.

Although ethanol has support among many environmentalists, increased use of ethanol can create adverse consequences as well. An attorney and former deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy under President George H.W. Bush, Linda Stuntz, said one drawback is that it may cause farmers to remove land from conservation reserves, fertilizer the land and cultivate it. A founder of Riverkeeper, Robert Boyle, said that fertilizer runoff down the Mississippi — what Mark Twain called the colon of America — has created a dead zone of oxygen depletion in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mr. Taylor of the Cato Institute said that even if all the corn produced in America last year were dedicated to ethanol, it would reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by only 12%.

Another drawback is the shift in increased ethanol consumption in the past six months has sent corn prices upward. "There's more demand for the same amount of crop," said a professor of environmental economics at Pace University, Eugenie Bietry.

Solar Mr. Haldar of the University of Albany said if America does not invest in solar technology, the Chinese will be selling solar panels to America, and "we'll be shifting our energy supply from Saudi Arabia to China."

Mr. Adler of Case Western Reserve University said that solar had a lot of really useful applications but was never going to power a whole city like New York. One drawback is that solar energy, like wind energy, is intermittent and delivered only when the sun shines. But Mr. Haldar said that is why solar is good for addressing not base load demand but peak power demand needs of New York City, for example, where electricity usage follows air conditioning demand.

Mr. Bartis, of Rand, said that solar has great potential but currently was extremely expensive when compared to power generated from coal, natural gas, nuclear energy, wind or biomass. The director of Pace Law School's Energy Project, Fred Zalcman, said likewise that for now the major limitation for solar energy was economic: "The homeowner/ business owner has to make a relatively large up-front investment in the system to secure a longer-term stream of savings (avoided electric bills)." Mr. Bartis said there were downsides to every energy option that he knew of. He said that for example, the manufacture and eventual disposal of solar panels might involve releases of toxic materials.

Many academics are not particularly optimistic as to the prospect of nuclear power replacing oil. Mr. Adler said, "If we can't site windmills off Cape Cod, how are we going to site a nuclear plant?" He was referring Cape Wind, a proposed offshore wind farm six miles from the shore of Hyannis Port that environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and others have opposed.

Activists such as Susan Shapiro of Rockland Friends United for Sustainable Energy said the "No Nukes" movement is "stronger than ever." She opposes re-licensing Indian Point in Buchanan, N.Y. But the actor Paul Newman toured the plant in May and praised its safety.

Mr. Boyle, a founder of Riverkeeper, said he doubts nuclear plants are the wave of America's future. He said Three Mile Island and Chernobyl are etched into America's psyche. Others fear that nuclear plants remain an attractive target for terrorists.

But Mr. Huber of the Manhattan Institute said there is renewed interest in nuclear energy in England. He said if one wants to see unusual alliances, consider how nuclear power advocates have supporters such as Gaia theorist, James Lovelock, who advocates clean nuclear energy to halt global warming. Closer to home, a co-founder of Greenpeace, Patrick Moore, has teamed up a former Environmental Protection Agency director, Christine Todd Whitman to lead the Clean and Safe Energy Coalition, advocating nuclear power as a way to ensure clean air quality.

Looking Forward:
Regarding oil independence, Republicans and Democrats may be converging more, but regional differences will likely play a role in future debates about renewable energy. For example, farm states actively support ethanol, said the director of the Urban Energy Project at Columbia University's Center for Energy, Marine Transportation and Public Policy, Stephen Hammer.

Elected officials in the southeast tend not to favor bills supporting wind energy, because they have less of that resource in their home states. So while there is a consensus about reducing dependence on foreign oil, there is little agreement on exactly what to replace it with.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Peak Oil Is Officially Here, Says The Economist

By James West

Excerpt – Click to read entire article:

The world’s most respected journal of economics has now officially acknowledged the advent of peak oil, validating (finally!) what we’ve been saying for years.

In a July 19 article, the venerable Economist cut straight to the point:

“The world is consuming more oil than it is producing.”--The Economist, July 14-20 print edition.

Now there would appear to be a certain degree of confusion over exactly what is meant by “Peak Oil.”

According to

“In the context of models of the depletion of resources, notably Hubbert peak theory, peak oil is the date when the peak of the world’s petroleum (crude oil) production rate is reached. After this date the rate of production will by definition enter terminal decline. According to the Hubbert model, production will follow a roughly symmetrical bell-shaped curve.”

Some observers such as Kenneth S. Deffeyes, Matthew Simmons, and James Howard Kunstler believe that because of the high dependence of most modern industrial transport, agricultural and industrial systems on inexpensive oil, the post-peak production decline and possible resulting severe price increases will have negative implications for the global economy.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Why 'peak oil' may soon pique your interest Click for article


Do a Google search of the Web on "global warming" and it calls up more than 80 million references. Search for "peak oil" and the number exceeds 10 million.

In two years or so, world concern over crude oils supplies should be so great that a Google search on that subject probably will top that of global warming, predicts Matthew Simmons, chairman of Houston-based Simmons & Company International, an investment banking firm for the energy industry.

Peak oil refers to the time when production of crude oil in the world (or in a country or in an oil field) reaches its peak and starts to slide. It doesn't mean the world has run out of oil – only that the supply of oil isn't rising to meet growing demand. That change could be reflected in even higher prices, if the demand for oil doesn't stall or fall.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The End Of Cheap Food

By John James

It looks like the era of cheap food is over. The price of maize has doubled in a year, and wheat futures are at their highest in a decade. The food price index in India has risen 11%, and in Mexico in January there were riots after the price of corn flour went up fourfold. The floods in England and India have devastated crops. In nearly every country food prices are going up, and they are probably not going to come down again.

Before World War II, most families spent a third or more of their income on food, as the poor majority in developing countries still do. But after the war a series of radical changes, from mechanisation to the green revolution, raised agricultural productivity hugely and caused a long, steep fall in the price of food, to a tenth of many people’s income.

It will probably return to a quarter of a family's income within a decade, or higher, from four factors:

1) Demand as global population continues to grow and more people want to eat more meat. Early this month, in its annual assessment of farming trends, the UN predicted that in less than 10 years people in the developing countries will be eating 30% more beef, 50% more pig meat and 25% more poultry. With lot-feeding huge amounts of grain-growing land will move from human to animal consumption.

2) Global warming lowers crop yields: see the chart on the right. Christopher Field and David Lobell in Environmental Research Letters in March stated that for every 0.5°C temperature rise, crop yields fall between 3 and 5%. So 2°C hotter means a 12 to 20% fall in global food production just as the population is about to surge over the 7 billion mark.

3) Rising demand for biofuels replaces food production (see "Looming disaster", right), causing food price hikes that lead to social unrest, such as the recent riots in Mexico. This should be taken in context: a massive report by the major oil companies warns that oil supplies will peak within 8 years, if not sooner. It estimates that production from existing reserves would soon start declining by 3% pa even as world demand for oil is growing by 2% pa. In order to keep the driving public from facing reality politicians will take the easy road and legislate to use more land for biofuels.

4) Desertification, especially in the Sahara and Central Asia (see map below), is undermining food production for one third of humanity. Tree planting is not the answer as it puts more pressure on already-scarce water. Their food will have to be provided by just those breadbasket countries now turning to biofuels. “It creates a chain reaction that must lead to social turmoil”, Zafaar Adeel, author of the UN food report.

looming biofuels disaster

Biofuel production is pushing huge amounts of land out of food production. One sixth of the grain grown in the US this year will be "industrial corn" for ethanol. One third of US maize is now used for biofuel and there was last year a 48% increase in the amount of farmland devoted to biofuels. During that time hardly any new land was brought under the plough to replace the lost food production.

There is only a difference in scale in China, Indonesia and Brazil where primary forests are being cleared to plant energy crops. Yet, after fossil fuel use, deforestation is the largest single source of CO2.

The competition for water is likely to favour the biofuel producers as their crop, being subsidised, commands higher prices than corn or soya. Ethanol has roughly 70% the energy content of gasoline while costing 40% more to produce.

In Australia, if all our wheat and sugar output was diverted to ethanol it would supply less than 30% of our fuel needs. As these crops now feed 80 million people, what will they eat instead?

It is argued that Australia could increase its biofuel capacity by using marginal land, but Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, said: "A close examination of global biofuel experiences shows they are only viable with high levels of government support, and have at best a limited capacity to meet future energy needs."

The attraction of biofuels for politicians is obvious: they can claim they are doing something useful to combat global warming without demanding any sacrifices from business or the voters. For voters the attraction is that they can continue to drive their cars without a thought for the consequences. The attraction for business is that they can make lots of money out of biofuels, and be subsidised to do so.

A straight switch is happening from food to fuel. As oil prices rise - and Peak Oil guarantees they will - it pulls up the price of biofuels as well, so it becomes more attractive for farmers to switch from food to fuel.

Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute says: "The stage is now set for frontal competition for grain between the 800 million people who own automobiles, and the world's two billion poorest who will need it to survive."

The real answer is to consume less, drive less and to fund high-tech hybrid and electric cars so we dont panic for ethanol as oil production declines. Let's not forget that ethanol is NOT a renewable product: just consider the fuel and water required to produce and distribute it, and the clearing of the forests to grow it that is now releasing huge amounts of CO2.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Preparing for Collapse: Three Things You Can Do, A Book Review

The Daily Scare

By Carolyn Baker

Mick Winter, host of and, has written an extremely practical guide entitled Peak Oil Prep: Three Things You Can Do To Prepare For Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse. Before I launch into a review of this no-nonsense handbook of sustainability and survival, I need to address two things: First, Winter's book is not exclusively about Peak Oil and its consequences. Individuals who understand the daunting realities of climate change and global economic meltdown will find this handbook instructive because it offers suggestions for surviving in a world where utilities, services, and products that we now take for granted may not be available at all or where access to them may be greatly diminished.

Secondly, those readers who seem hell bent on confronting me with how 'deluded' and 'hoodwinked' I am for 'believing' in Peak Oil must understand that for me, Peak Oil is axiomatic to all of my writings and activism in the current milieu. However, I do not view it as a phenomenon unconnected with the other two issues Winter's book addresses because these three which I have in the past referred to as the Terminal Triangle, unequivocally travel together from my perspective. If readers 'need' me to disavow Peak Oil, they should not waste their time reading the contents of my site nor waste my time with their emails intent on forcing me to 'see the light.' The science is clear, the research has spoken: Peak Oil is a fact of the twenty-first century, and its prophets have now become historians. That said, I would not presume to argue which of the three aspects of the Terminal Triangle are more formidable, more lethal, more likely to annihilate Western civilization, if not the human species.

Peak Oil and climate chaos appear to be in a dead-heat (no pun intended) for ending the world as we know it, all the while playing out against the back drop of long-term, protracted economic catastrophe. All three influence and are influenced by each other at different times and in different ways, or as James Howard Kunstler might say, they are interdependent shitstorms. In this review, therefore, I will use 'collapse' as the umbrella term which encompasses Peak Oil, climate chaos, and global economic meltdown.

Winter offers some explanation of the Terminal Triangle in Preparing For Peak but for the most part, jumps right into survival techniques and introduces them with a brief mention of the issue of scapegoating, or as he writes, 'When the effects of Peak Oil are truly felt and the economy collapses, the result will be a very upset populace that will likely look around for a scapegoat; some person or group in which to blame everything.' Implicit throughout the book is the suggestion that collapse will happen suddenly' a notion with which I no longer concur.

When we imagine collapse, certain images leap to mind, such as a stock market crash, miles of glacier suddenly plummeting into the sea, or gasoline prices that spike to $10 a gallon overnight. As formidable as these images are, they are nothing less than ghastly if we imagine collapse occurring over a longer period of time. In other words, what I conceive as much more realistic and likely is death by a thousand cuts to middle and working-class individuals and families, to the ecosystem, and to hydrocarbon energy systems. Therefore, if Winter's hypothesis is accurate' that people in crisis look for scapegoats, it is likely that the creation of scapegoats will occur over a longer period of time and impact many more marginal groups. First, the protracted adversity may appear to be 'caused' by a particular ethnic group or by a particular nation, then when it becomes less clear that that group is the culprit, another group is chosen for scapegoating, and on and on ad infinitum. Unless individuals are informed on the deeper issues behind the Terminal Triangle, scapegoating will be very tempting' and very dangerous.

Early on in the book, Winter offers 'The Big Three' things that almost everyone can do: 1) Replace incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs, 2) Walk or bike instead of driving, 3) Plant a garden. While I applaud this practical, do-able formula for creating almost immediate change in one's own world, it hardly addresses the macrocosm of collapse, and it is there that individuals and families have less power to make significant changes.

While Preparing For Peak provides guidelines for re-locating inside or outside the U.S. and suggests action for changing the face of education, media, and reliance on the global economy by relocalizing on every level actions which individuals may or may not be able to significantly take, one of the most powerful and in my opinion, necessary, are Winterâ's tools for 'Meeting Together.' Whether living in a compact urban environment or in suburbia, the reader can benefit from Winter's suggestions for organizing one's neighborhood. I hasten to add that 'organizing' in this context is not about political organizing, but organizing logistically in terms of the eventualities of collapse. One's neighbors may be clueless about collapse and its causes, but one might suggest a neighborhood meeting to discuss disaster preparation or ways to explore getting group discounts and bulk purchases and in this way get phone lists and create a phone tree. Another excellent option is working with neighbors to create a community garden and setting up carpooling arrangements for those open to the idea. With ever-increasing gas prices, this should not be terribly difficult.

If a neighborhood is sufficiently organized, it can then work to change its zoning laws to mixed use so that more businesses can be incorporated into residences, and living units and telecommuting centers can be set up in shopping malls. Organized neighborhoods can also work to convert schools into community centers.

Preparing For Peak offers excellent suggestions for composting and gardening, as well as the recycling of everything. The author includes specific options for cooking, kinds of foods to eat and avoid, food storage, and beer and wine-making. Everything you could possibly want to know about energy conservation in every room of your house, cooling, lighting, heating, and power is addressed, as are issues of money and finance. I was particularly impressed with Winter's suggestions for bartering and creating barter networks with neighbors or friends. Indeed, the author provides several pages of possible items for barter and emphasizes that in the face of collapse, barter will become essential when innumerable items may be unavailable or so highly-priced as to render them beyond one's ability to purchase.

Also emphasized is the need to develop skills and a list of skills that might be essential post-collapse. Richard Heinberg often asks his audiences how many people know how to make shoes. No single individual can develop all the skills that he/she needs in a collapsed society, but everyone can develop one skill which is likely to be extremely valuable.

While the reader of Preparing For Peak is likely to know much about cutting expenses and getting out of debt, most are less familiar with the items on which we should spend money such as bicycles, seeds, fluorescent bulbs, classes and training that will increase our knowledge and skills. Additional suggestions include investing in local businesses and buying precious metals. Another issue on which we must educate ourselves is holistic health and techniques for relaxation and meditation.

In the light of the current scare around the safety of pet food, I was delighted to see in Preparing For Peak a recipe for homemade pet food (which my dog absolutely loves) and resources for healing pets naturally. And, speaking of animals, Winter suggests raising, if possible, small animals for food such as chickens for eggs and meat, and rabbits or goats.

The author concludes the book with a discussion of how Cuba survived Peak Oil and the ensuing crisis. Those who have not viewed 'The Power Of Community' documentary will glean from it not only historical information on Cuba's transformation in energy and food production, but are sure to be uplifted by the transformation of its population by the spirit of community that evolved from the crisis.

The section on Cuba is followed by an excellent collection of resources on Peak Oil. An extensive list on the other two parts of the Terminal Triangle climate change and economic collapse would be useful as well. Nevertheless, Winter has provided us with a superb manual containing the basics of preparation for a world which seems both inevitable and not that far in the future.

What feels equally urgent at this point in history is more writing on psychological and spiritual preparation for such a world. In my 2006 article Navigating The Collapse Of Civilization: A Spiritual Map I endeavored to put the issue on the table and received an overwhelmingly positive response from readers. Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson's documentary 'What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire' beautifully and poetically emphasizes the crisis of meaning and purpose that collapse presents and will present as it deepens.

From my perspective, anything we can do to build lifeboats for ourselves and our loved ones as we move closer to collapse is essential. Mick Winter's Peak Oil Prep is a powerful and practical guidebook for doing just that.