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Post-oil ...

This blog entry is basically a placeholder for a continuation of the (fascinating) discussion of the world of the late 21st century that has taken over the previous blog entry.

We're not running out of oil in the short term. However, demand for oil is growing faster than supply, which means the price of oil is becoming increasingly volatile. (And sooner or later, the accessible deposits are going to play out and the supply is actually going to start shrinking.)

We aren't dependent on oil for energy. However, oil has a huge advantage for us in that it is easily storable and transportable, and is very energy-dense: a really efficient electrical battery can store less than a twentieth of the energy locked up in an equivalent weight of gasoline.

So what the post oil world means to me is a huge restructuring of our transport infrastructure, and everything that depends on cheap land transportation — from suburban sprawl to big box retail stores and personal vehicles, everything is up for grabs.

What other structural changes are on the cards for the late 21st century?



Greg was wondering, whether the 500 comments were a record for this blog - no worries. The High Frontier: Redux has over 800 comments. ;-)

He wrote:The creeping, almost-unnoticed improvements in both PV and "artificial algae" methods of generating electricty. Sometime in the next 10 years (ish) everyone will finally notice this, and there will be a large switch."

The cost problem of PV is far from solved. A lot of the cost reduction there is down to a) Chinese producers getting into the business while ignoring environmental standards and b) falling demand leading to oversupply - which both make the cost reductions seem to be much greater than they truly are.

Other problems are the required area. If you wanted to provide Germany with electricity through currently available state-of-the-art PV cells, you would literally need to turn an area the size of Wales into something looking like this. IF you snap your fingers and invent a magical energy storage that is nearly 100% efficient.

And that's before you have energy to waste on synthetic fuels, heating, industrial processes (one of the very few articles where I disagree with the otherwise excellent Lowtech Magazine) and other stuff.

Of course, you can improve this a bit by sun tracking and you can get about twice the power density closer to the equator. Solar thermal is usually sun-tracking, has similar efficiency and removes part of the storage requirements - but it needs water as coolant. A lot of water. The Desertec demonstration plant Andasol needs 5l of cooling water per kWh. A golf course in arid areas (South Western USA) needs twice as much water per area - but a solar thermal plant the size of an 18-hole-golf-course (about 32ha) in Spain would create no more than 3 MW of power.

3GW? That's 500 18-hole-golf-courses in the desert.

Hence, solar thermal currently doesn't make sense. It only works well in areas where the weather doesn't block out the sun ... but those are exactly the kind of areas where you don't have the water it takes to run them. Not evaporating water to cool will severely impact efficiency (air cooling needs a lot of power). Desalinating and transporting sea water for that purpose has huge infrastructure, cost and efficiency implications as well that are being ignored by the proponents of those huge projects.

Also, did I mention that they calculate the cost per kWh at 3.5ct for the large desert projects? Andasol - should it live up to expectations and run for 25 years - will produce electricity for 27 ct/kWh. No miracles have happened since. In fact, Solar Millenium has recently canceled plans to build a solar thermal plant in California and will build a conventional PV plant instead.


I think that one effect will be that, as fuel prices move upwards, air transport will, once again, move back into the domain of something that only the very rich can afford.

That means an end to cheap tourism, and an end to most companies sending consultants around the world. International companies will become more and more reliant on telecommuting.

Tourism will return to being a luxury with most travelers going back to train travel and ships to get to their destination and exotic locales returning to once in a lifetime journeys for the average person.


With regards to the need for air conditioning in some parts of the world, esp the USA. Never was a technology better suited than solar PV to generate the electricity to run it. The time when you most need AC is when the sun is shining.


The personal car is a major problem, it can't continue to multiply at its present rate (it already has taken over the world). I suspect that after some loss-leading offers to wean us off petrol and into electric, the infrastructure will see some dismantling to deter older cars and eventually its replacement will be too expensive for joe average. I predict a return to the bicycle and inter-node public transport. This model would be without the glass domes over villages, towns and cities we saw in early sci-fi.

As for other changes, the health service will be linked to the lottery, not for funding but for treatment.


Thinking mainly of my own country, the United States: the death of the small rural town. A lot of people live in tiny rural communities that don't even support large agricultural projects.

Even moreso than American suburbs, these places are utterly dependent on people using huge amounts of gasoline to get around. What's more, they tend to be poorer than American suburbs, have less modern infrastructure, and even lower wages.

I don't really see how they can survive when American gas hits the price range it currently has in Europe.


PV prices are starting to follow the boom/bust cycle of semiconductor electronics in general. It's been that way for decades. This year its overcapacity. In two years it will be undercapacity and prices will stop falling for a year or so. More capacity will be added... and so on.

As for an area the size of Wales need to supply (say) Germany... how about an area the size of the desert regions of S Europe? And we don't need storage, unless there are plans to depend 100% on solar, which is insane. It just means that electricity prices will be far higher at night or on occasional cloudy days. This is ignoring altogether domestic PV, which even now is cost comparable to domestic grid prices in some parts of S Europe.

Then there is the fact that every other source of energy is only going to get more expensive, while PV continues to drop.


We have lots of ways to make stuff that's as energy-dense as oil (or reasonably close) without starting with oil. Biodiesel (preferably second-generation that doesn't use crops or land that could alternatively be used for food), assorted synthetic fuel processes, liquefied gas (recent technological advances mean that natural gas won't be running out any time soon), etc. They just happen to be a bit more expensive than digging oil up at present, but once we get into building serious infrastructure for one or more of them then they'll get cheaper. We're going to restructure where we get our energy-dense liquid fuels from, not everything that uses the energy-dense fuel.


Major resurgence of nuclear as a viable energy source. More smaller reactors, rather than One Big One.

Green energy continuing to gain - more windfarms, tidal barrages etc.

A return to "energy independence"- once a couple of countries have been held hostage to their energy supplier's demands (as Georgia was to Russia this/last year)- where countries generate the energy they need instead of importing it.

Potentially a lot more research into room-temp superconductors/gigaconductors, which would then also increase the use of battery-driven devices/vehicles etc.


I wonder about how plastic price will be effected by increasing cost of oil and then the knock on effects of changes in manufacturing and use of plastics


I think there will be an oil price squeeze over the next 15 years, but beyond that nothing much will change. I drive a car that does 60mpg. How much would I have to pay for fuel before I seriously could not afford to run it as I do now? I would guess Diesel would have to hit around $30 a gallon. And in case you are wondering, I do about 10,000 miles a year. So, unless peak oil means >$30 a gallon there will be no change at all to my automotive lifestyle.


I think that one effect will be that, as fuel prices move upwards, air transport will, once again, move back into the domain of something that only the very rich can afford.

Disagree. Modern airliners are astonishingly efficient, with fuel burn per passenger/Km somewhere between an efficient compact diesel automobile and a long-haul coach. The reason we think they're inefficient is that we use them for very-long-haul travel -- if we travelled 10,000km at a stretch by coach or automobile and got the fuel bill each time we'd consider them to be expensive, too.

Currently, fuel costs account for around a third of the operating cost of an airliner -- another third is human resources (the crew, including ground crew) and then depreciation/maintenance on the airframe. So you'd have to triple fuel prices before the cost of a ticket doubled ... which would merely take prices back up to late 1970s/early 1980s levels.


If transport is slow and/or expensive, the ones that stand to benefit the most are probably the big online retailers. From a logistics point of view, it makes sense to consolidate purchases and ship them in bulk even in today's markets; I can imagine that it will become crucial in the not so distant future. Contrary to popular belief, mom & pop shops most probably won't thrive, unless they specialize in locally produced goods.

The transport industry is the one that stands to lose the most - and thus most likely to innovate. One can argue that the trains of today already run on renewable power (or can be reasonably expected to do so when renewables are prevalent). That leaves the air and naval transport industries, which are already making baby steps in that direction - with kites attached to large freight vessels and zeppelins respectively.

Oh, and bikes. Lots and lots of bikes. Yes, I am in fact living in the Netherlands, how did you guess?


tp sez "The Desertec demonstration plant Andasol needs 5l of cooling water per kWh."

How much water do you think is required for current e-generation techniques?

This paper suggests 7.6 L/kwh, broken down as 1.8 for thermo-e and a whopping 68.0 for hydro-e.

Water consumption is a concern, but not the kill-shot.


In Germany, you need to install 10 GW of peak generating capacity in order to get 1 GW on average. If you wanted to supply 25% of the electricity by PV (about 20GW), you would need to install 200GW of peak generating capacity and you would HAVE TO USE IT. Peak demand in Germany is usually around 100GW.

Having more power available might spur increased demand, but it will inevitably mean increased waste of energy and it will need increased investments and lots of material and structures spoiling the environment as well.

Now add to this, that similar things are true for wind - with a ratio of 1:5 for on-shore wind and roughly 1:3 for off-shore. Supplying 20GW of wind energy for Germany on average needs 100GW of installed power being used whenever it is available. That includes 3:30 AM. (Holland had an industry supported by a lot of windmills. Those millers were one of the few groups allowed to work on Sundays and always kept odd hours whenever the wind was blowing. The Lowtech Magazine has an article on that topic.)

If Germany had those installations today, then it would have had to deal with something like a 250GW peak at noon from PV and wind alone - while still only getting about half the electricity (or less than 20% of the energy) from those two sources on average.

Germany has already run into a brickwall. It's just pretending it didn't hurt.


A thought about PVs.

If we, let's say, cover half of the Sahara desert with solar batteries, it shouldn't mean that this area is now useless for anything else.

What if we place the batteries on poles, several meters above the ground? Now we have an incredible area of Sahara desert SHADED. Basically, we created a NEW CLIMATE under the PVs.

So, what would Sahara desert (or some other desert) turn into if it would receive only 10-20% of sunlight it had before?


Bicycles are great if you live on relatively flat terrain (like Amsterdam). They aren't such an awesome solution when you live in a place like San Francisco.

That said, mopeds and motorbikes are very fuel efficient and well suited to hilly environs. You can't use them to transport groceries, but they're excellent for getting back and forth to work.


How about electric bicycles with energy recapture? You charge your battery while (by) going down and use the energy to go up.

Oh, and you can transport groceries with your bike. Just hang two packs of equal weight on both sides of your handle bar. It's not trivial, but possible - I do it all the time.


A lot of people are talking about the cost of travel, but I think one of the more interesting effects of more expensive personal travel would be the effect on the labour market and social reintegration.

At the moment, in areas in the UK where housing is very expensive, it's not uncommon for people who serve those who can afford to live in the expensive areas to live a long way out from those areas. Beyond the suburbs are the sink estates. This runs all the way from shop assistants and cleaners to nurses and teachers.

I live in a city (Cardiff) that grew in the 19th century when it became the world's major Coal port, and huge sprawls of working-class housing were built within easy walking distance of both the docks and the mansions of the wealthy. Cross a road and you can go from elegant townhouses to docker's terraces. The council ward I live in has some of the poorest streets in the city and some of the wealthier ones.

Would an increase in the cost of personal transit mean more integrated societies, where the rich once again begin living walking distance from the poor? The school run becoming unfeasible and middle class kids going to school with the kids of second- and third-generation benefit claimants?

Or would it mean more inequality, and even more people unable to afford the bus ticket to take them in to a minimum wage job?


I suspect some folks have a different definition of "groceries" than others.

I do 90% or more of my shopping on foot, with a backpack and a couple of shopping bags. When I get home, I have to lift everything up 64 steps to my front door. This puts a very different constraint on what I buy from, say, someone who drives to the supermarket in an SUV that is parked in a garage next to their chest freezer and the door to their kitchen. If I buy more than, say, 10kg of items on a single trip, then I know about it in the small of my back. Whereas somebody who has to drive an SUV 15 miles each way to WalMart would be nuts to buy less than 10Kg of produce -- that being close to the weight of gasoline they're burning.

Electrically-assisted bikes and small-engined mopeds or scooters are rather interesting energetically as they can easily give the owner an order of magnitude better fuel/power mileage than a car -- but unless you add a trailer they're not going to substantially increase cargo capacity over what you can carry on foot.


My parents live south of the Catskills, a region which was once a thriving agricultural area . . . and a hot vacation spot.

Families from NYC would take the train up and spend much of the summer there, usually in cheap vacation cottages. There were fancy resorts as well. (In fact, there are still a few left; they even book second-string hot talent.)

Cheap air travel and air conditioning meant vacationers instead traveled to Florida and the Caribbean and many other spots.

I'm sure that there are equivalent places all over the USA, and the world.

More expensive travel might mean these places resume their previous role.

* * *
The death of private cars? I doubt it, not unless things get really tight. Cars will get much smaller, and be used differently. Fewer hours-long commutes and holiday rambles. You'll use your electric or LNG car to get to the train station, and to haul groceries from a local mart.

Far-flung suburbs might dry up. Good riddance.


It's not going to magically become agriculturally productive.

Firstly, there's very little water (which is the core constraint on its fertility, as things stand; back during the Roman empire, what is today the Sahara was the breadbasket of the Mediterranean, before rainfall patterns changed and over-grazing/over-farming stripped the topsoil). Secondly, plants tend to need sunlight for photosynthesis.


Cool new thing:

Self-powering microbial hydrogen generator!


Of course it is not going to become agriculturally productive by itself. But the shade may help turn it. if the area is cooler, water that you bring there will evaporate more slowly.


Yeah, that's what jumped out at me reading the last thread, too. If you think American suburbs are unsustainable, peak oil is going to hit rural America like an asteroid.

I grew up in Western NY, which is basically identical to rural Alabama, except much colder. My high school's population was bussed in from a district that covered the majority of three counties, and wound up with a population about equal to one urban school. If you wanted groceries you were driving anywhere from 7 to 20 miles, depending on where you lived; if you wanted anything other than groceries, you were driving into the Buffalo suburbs, which was more like 60 miles.

Of course, it's also worth noting that peak oil wasn't really necessary to wreak economic devastation on this area and make it basically unliveable. If you think the "rust belt" economy was hard on cities like Buffalo and Baltimore, try taking a drive through the rural areas between them sometime.


I don't think it's a massive question of transportation of the energy - after all, the UK currently imports vast quantities of natural gas from Russia and its neighbours, mostly transported via pipeline. I don't see why a power cable would be more difficult than that.

Storage could be an issue, but over the years we've gotten better at producing batteries, so perhaps we can continue that trend.

The main problem is that as everyone's focusing on the energy aspect of oil (or natural gas) we're likely to forget about all the other things that oil is used for - from road surfacing to plastics to lubricants.


I agree with TP1024 about the water issue in desert solar, but I'm not sure that cooling is always the problem. The problem (at least in the short run) is that the mirrors need to be cleaned on a regular schedule, and the water used in getting the dust off evaporates. There's already a solution (the same one they used on the PV panels on the Mars rovers), but it hasn't been scaled up to industrial solar scales, and it requires rare earth elements.

Paving any large desert with solar isn't a good solution to peak oil, regardless. Some the problems are:
--water (for cleaning, cooling, whatever). Deserts are defined by not having much water
--scouring from sand and dust (deserts are windy, and I've actually seen plans to put solar plants on the downwind sides of large active dune systems that scour the paint off metal)
--building and maintaining roads into the deserts
--building and maintaining power infrastructure (powerlines out of the desert)
--Land ownership (the land near existing roads and powerlines is often owned by someone, and they want to get rich too. This pushes up land costs and pushes development into remote areas).
--even floods. This last is because big solar plants (especially solar thermal plants) only work in areas that are very close to flat. I've already seen a plan (fortunately killed) to build a solar thermal plant across the playa of a desert wash, where it would have been trashed by the next flash flood.

In sum: please don't use "we'll pave the Sahara/Mojave/Sonora/Atacama/Outback with PV and solve the problem" as a solution. Deserts are full of the sun-bleached remains of similar uninformed dreams.


Au contraire: battery tech is a major problem because (a) it hasn't developed much over the past century, and (b) the best batteries available today are altogether too close to being incendiary bombs for comfort. We're up against limits dictated by electrochemistry and physics here.


p-l @ 5
That soon?
Rural towns in USA dead in 10 years?

Dirk @ 6
(& others)
"An area the size of Wales" for PV production. AT PRESENT EFFICIENCIES. Suppose, quite realistically, that real improvements are made - then what?
Rememeber we ARE talking about change here, so it isn't "juyst" oil-prices that are going to change, especially if research is properly directed - a big "if" I know.

@ 9
I raised this in the previous thread, about oil as a chemical feedstock.
I remind you again of the appallingly dirty (at present) Fischer-Tropf process, using COAL as a feedstock.

Charlie @ 11
Agree - but there are also artificialities built in to air travel costs, especially for short haul.
Most years, I go to Germany for a long weekend.
I FLY, even though I would prefer train, because of the insane pricing structures.
Hopefully will switch to train in 2013, when London Amsterdam/Köln HS services start.
and @ 20
You'd be suprised (perhaps) how much you can stow in bicycle panniers, never mind on a moped-equivalent ??

It's not going to magically become agriculturally productive.

Actually "Becoming magically agriculturally productive" pretty much describes what the south of Spain has become thanks to the use of plastic to create inexpensive massive hothouses. Before that area was a desert fit only to film spaghetti westerns

I don't know that the Sahara itself can be made fertile but surely vast areas of coastal north Africa are a mirror image of the Almeria region.


I think you're right about that. It's worth noting, however, that since 2004 we have become a predominantly urban species; this trend is likely to accelerate, and is probably a positive adaptation to a situation in which dense, transportable energy sources are problematic.


5 years ago there was a mostly ignored story on the internet:,,2205500,00.html

"A duplicate version of the Smart fortwo has been produced by the Chinese company CMEC in the city of Suzhou and has already appeared in Hungary and Great Britain. Starting in 2007, it is to be sold for 4,200 euros ($5,250) under the name City Smart."

Top speed is 55 km/h range 100km. The article also indicates, that this is nothing special - there had been electric cars in China for a decade.

And something like this is probably going to be the future. The general properties of this car (and, I suspect, other electric cars in China) are very similar to a Ford T in the late 1910's. The price is still above the level of a 1925 Ford T which was at $240 per car - inflation adjusted $3000 in todays money. Range isn't much of an issue for most uses in properly urbanized areas. (China today is very different from 1920ies USA - which only had 106mio people at the time).

A new Ford T will arrive and people will embrace it.

Small, light, "slow" cars with moderate range can be build easily and cheaply. Both low weight and low speed improve the range of a given battery - which can be very small indeed. When you consider that the battery is a major cost factor of an electric car. Given a low enough price and available infrastructure they are a viable alternative to current gas guzzlers. Although they are an anathema for a lot of people who fell in love with their cars.

If you need a pick-up truck, you can pick it up when you need it (for rent). If you should need larger range, you'll can take a train (which is much cheaper than the massive investment a conventional car usually is) or perhaps you'll be able to get a small trailer with additional battery capacity or with a gas-guzzling generator to turn your car into a hybrid.

There is no other problem except for the human unwillingness to adapt.


Most years, I go to Germany for a long weekend.
I FLY, even though I would prefer train, because of the insane pricing structures.

Yup. $SPOUSE is still pissed off about them having cancelled Nightstar before the service ever hit the rails -- being able to go to bed on the train one evening in Edinburgh and wake up the next morning in Amsterdam would significantly cut my number of flight sectors!

(Alas, while they'll be running trains from London to AMS and parts east by 2013, I doubt they'll do a direct link-up with the Scotrail sleeper service. And consequently the through ticket price will be astronomical ...)


Which is why fuel synthesis may be the perfect companion to PV and wind energy. Or, indeed, any high energy industrial process from fertilizer to aluminium refining


For the last ten years or so I've been keeping an eye out for news of Black Silicon which has great potential for increasing the efficiency of PV solar cells.


As I noted in the previous thread, I won't be surprised if people start recolonizing the rust belt pretty soon. Land's cheap up there, the south is in the grip of some gnarly droughts and storms, and AC is only going to get more expensive. As is water.

I'm not sure what will happen to small rural towns, except to note that they were far more populous in the 19th Century, when there wasn't much oil around. Some areas (like the Dakotas) may well stay unpopulated, but so far as I know, the major thing forcing people out of rural America is the expansion of industrial agribusiness. When that system falters, you may see people buying farmland as an insurance policy, to grow their own food. Currently they're called hobby farms.

The reason I'm skeptical about industrial agribusiness is that it's not sustainable, and in the US it's currently propped up by massive subsidies from Washington and a web of state and federal laws that discourage other forms of agriculture. As with the Roman latifundias, I'm sure these big farms won't last in their current form. Personally I hope they aren't replaced by technofeudal agriculture. That is a possibility, unfortunately, especially if there are a lot of internal migrants in the US looking for any work at all.


First off - with long supply chains and just in time delivery, we have a very fragile global economy. Just ask Toyota. There will be a need to relocalise. Whether we'll be able to in time is another matter.

Secondly - we have a population doubling rate of just over 40 years at the moment although this is expected to lengthen. All these people need food. The green revolution of the '70s was possible due to massive inputs of fertiliser and pesticide. Both of which are made from, you guessed it, oil.

In an urban environment consider just how much food has to come in every day to keep things running. Carolyn Steel's book 'Hungry City' paints an interesting picture.


Fuel synthesis is a wasteful process and the use of fuel in either turbines, fuel cells or internal combustion engines wastes even more of its energy.

Without over-generalizing, you waste 65-85% of the energy you put into synthetic fuel if you are generating electricity (the former) or use it to fuel a car (the latter). No matter if it is hydrogen, methane or ammonia (as recently proposed) you want to generate - although the latter are necessarily less efficient than hydrogen (although they are more convenient).


PV efficiency - currently practical PV is around 15%.
I think it fair to assume that it could be pushed to 30% within 20 years ie halve the land area.


The slope of our improvement curve for ultracapacitors is a lot steeper than the one for batteries.

Is it a golden bullet? No, but it is another bullet.


Out of curiosity, where does the 2004 date come from?

Tracking rural population is pretty tricky stuff, at least in the US. Depending on how you differentiate between rural and urban/exurban/suburban, America's rural population is anywhere from a tiny fraction to half the country.

The Census Bureau uses a standard where anyone living in a metro area with more than 2,500 people is counted as "urban" - which strikes me as a pretty generous definition - and in the 2000 census that still left 21% of the population as "rural".


If PV energy is less than one third the price of oil it becomes worth it.


I guess maybe I'm thinking of the wrong type of battery - Lithium Ion is a vast improvement over Nickel Cadmium.

Either way, the point is that oil isn't just about energy.


On solar conversion efficiency:

The most efficient actually-available terrestrial PV systems I know of are made by Amonix. They are concentrating solar systems that use multijunction cells to achieve about 28% system-level conversion efficiency with 1000-fold sunlight concentration based on fresnel lenses. Unlike thermal concentrating solar they don't consume water to operate, but like thermal concentrating solar they need sunlight unfiltered by clouds to do their work. The siting is therefore more limited than conventional flat panels, but where they work they work really well.

The most efficient actually-available non-concentrating terrestrial systems I know of are made by SunPower. Their recently introduced E20 systems achieve slightly over 20% conversion efficiency. SunPower's systems are based on plain old silicon -- no exotic/rare materials needed. A couple of other companies have crossed the 20% threshold for silicon cells on a lab or pilot scale, so there should be comparable products from other manufacturers in a few years, but SunPower leads for now.

On solar land occupancy:

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory has estimated that there is enough open rooftop space to produce about 800 terawatt hours per year in the US, using 13.5% efficient solar cells. This is almost identical to present US electricity production via nuclear reactors and is equivalent to 20% of total US electricity consumption. If the electricity so produced were used in an electric vehicle fleet with an average efficiency like the Nissan Leaf (200 watt-hours per kilometer traveled), it would be more than enough to replace all the vehicle-kilometers traveled in the US in 2010. In the foreseeable future, it's more realistic to imagine displacing only fossil fuels used by passenger vehicles for trips under (e.g.) 30 kilometers, by a fleet that is largely PHEV rather than pure-electric. That's still a large fraction of total vehicle-kilometers traveled in the US, though I don't have exact numbers.

If you covered US rooftops with 20% efficient cells instead of 13.5% efficient cells, you could produce about 1200 terawatt hours that way, putting solar energy production well ahead of nuclear without occupying any formerly-empty land.

On intermittency:

It's estimated that intermittent, non-dispatchable renewable electricity sources (i.e. solar and wind) cannot exceed 20% of electric grid capacity before they make the grid unstable. This is already becoming a problem in parts of Hawaii, since expensive oil-generated grid electricity plus abundant sunlight have driven rapid PV adoption.

There are two ways to stabilize the grid for a higher fraction of renewables: energy storage and matching demand to supply (as opposed to the traditional model of matching supply to demand). Traditionally, utilities have charged most customers a fixed rate for electricity regardless of time of use or of the expense of the generating mix currently supplying the electricity. (This is not the case for large industrial users, who have often tailored production to get lower rates for off-peak electricity use.) Currently residential customers and small businesses can all turn on their air conditioners at 2:00 PM on a hot day and get charged the same rate as they would pay at 10:00 PM on a mild evening. It is expensive for utilities to satisfy these peak loads; they have to fire up additional generating capacity like natural gas peaking plants or buy electricity from elsewhere, at a cost premium of several times what it runs to satisfy a watt of demand at 10:00 PM.

The "smart grid" concept would provide even residential and small business users with near-real-time information about electric supply and marginal costs, and incorporate production-cost pricing into end-user costs. This could be integrated with appliance computer control or just manual decision making to shift some electric demand to periods of greater supply/lower cost. This smooths the demands on generating capacity and the grid. If people know (e.g.) that their electric car needs to be recharged before work on Monday, but it doesn't matter exactly when it happens, the charging station can be programmed to wait until the 2:00 AM winds pick up and drive turbines or the midday sun is producing a lot of electricity from the roof. Electric vehicle charging is a great match for intermittent renewables and the smart grid because it provides a lot of dispatchable demand that can be time-shifted with considerable flexibility.

Air conditioning is another good match, because there is a lot of predictive power available about anticipated demand and time/price curves. Short-term thermal storage is cheap and simple: if PV solar peaks at noon but cooling demands peak 2 hours later, just pre-cool a water thermal sink around noon with PV output to provide extra cooling later in the day.

Coming up: Rare elements, nitrogen fixation, renewable liquid fuels.


My understanding of Peak Oil is that it will entail the die-off of billions (because of the importance of fossil fuels to modern agriculture), the global collapse of civilization and a Dark Age that never ends. It's basically the end of the progressive human story. We will have failed our "one shot" (as Fred Hoyle called it) of becoming a spacefaring species and have nothing to look forward to but extinction. The most extreme version, Richard Duncan's "Olduvai Theory", suggests that this terminal collapse will begin in the next few years.


And since lignite is much cheaper than PV, it is obviously worthwhile burning first. That's not a viable argumentation.

You are ignoring the environmental impact of PV (and btw half of a huge area is still a huge area) - just because it is advertised as environmentally friendly doesn't mean that it is.


Agreed on the technology. The issue is still that we're not making more oil, coal, natural gas, or whatever. Energy supplies will continue to decline.

The critical thing here is timeframe. In the short run, we've got enormous efficiencies we can exploit. Hell, I rode in a 50 mpg car back in the 1980s, and I've driven electric cars from the 1990s. You're right: the technology exists.

We'll still continue to run out of energy, though. Critically, we're not going to have the resources to maintain infrastructure: roads, railways, power grids, telecommunications satellites, underground/undersea communications cables, and so forth.

In the longer term (50-100 years) energy supplies will continue to decline. One simplistic way to think of this is that the world will increasingly go steampunk, although I don't think it will be anything that simple.

This is what makes post-oil fascinating: it's going to involve a lot of change over the next century or two. Someone talking about technofeudalism isn't necessarily wrong, while someone talking about efficient cities is right. Rather, they're talking about different areas and different time periods.


Yeah - wasn't it the rise of the automobile that killed lots of these small towns, which once had a grocers, butchers, barbers, bar, restaurant, wholesaler, etc?

Density doesn't have to mean big city. Small, dense town, get everyone within a mile of each other, you can walk everywhere. Travel between towns via some sort of mass transit (probably bus, unless rail line running through for some other reason).

For a European model think of the "old towns" of lots of southern European towns, e.g stereotypical Spain or Italy. Generally got a high population density, delivered quite pleasantly. Totally livable, urban but not big city.

There does obviously have to be some meaningful economic activity somewhere, you can't all just survive taking in each others washing. As you say, though, huge agribusiness employing very few people may not be sustainable. Doesn't this imply food prices rising in our post-oil world? (Or we devoting hours to growing our own veg, which is the same thing, just time-cost, not money-cost)




Energy storage is a pressing question now. Charlie's comment on the similarities between batteries and bombs is founded in reality; any method to store lots of energy in a confined space (and I've heard some odd ones) carries a possibility of catastrophic failure. There may be nothing better than people learning that, yes, your celphone can get hot and melt if banged up enough.

Producing energy does not seem an insurmountable problem; if people wanted more power enough we could start building nuclear plants again. Moving and storing it in large scales may be tricky.


I had a conversation along these lines recently with a friend in the UAE, who gave me some interesting factoids.

1) Petroleum has an energy density orders of magnitude higher than anything else EXCEPT animal fat, but only if you metabolize the fat like an animal does.

2) Not as good as petroleum, but better than batteries, you can pump water into a high place. When you need energy, let the water run down, and use it to generate electricity. (for added efficiency, put some floaters in the water tower. When you need energy, let them rise to the surface)

3) Rather than making 10 square meters of solar paneling, make a single square meter under a 10 m2 lens.

4) Artificial photosynthesis (

And the famous quote from Sheikh Yamani: "The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones."

Has there been any resource in history that we've run out of, and lived poorer lives because of it?


The only reason everyone is going on about Li is the high energy density. For domestic PV and load leveling that is irrelevant. What is wanted is cheap, with a lifetime of tens of thousands of cycles. Maybe something based on Mg.

If most domestic properties had PV plus a battery that may well be enough to stabilize the grid far beyond the 20% solar input.


Not at all. This is what many leading peak oilers believe. For example Jay Hanson, one of the founders of the movement, talks all about this at Peak Oil is a rather dark subject full of scary Malthusian characters and ideas. It is known to drive some people to despair, ruin and even suicide. I went through this phase myself, but now I prefer to read about nano-fusion-biofuel technologies and watch Fox News. Drill baby drill! ;)


Honestly... I think we are already seeing signs of what "post oil" would look like.

Basically: when people socialize on electronic networks they do not need to hop in a car to visit their friends. And something similar can happen on consumer fronts...

there is enough open rooftop space to produce about 800 terawatt hours per year in the US, using 13.5% efficient solar cells

But think of all the plummeting rooftop panel technicians!

It does sound like a joke but didn't we mention the last time this was discussed rooftop solar was orders of magnitude more lethal in terms of accident related loss of life than almost everything else?


As Michael Greer points out, Armageddon comes in a variety of forms, but it all starts in the Book of Revelation, if you grew up in a Christian-background country.

While I don't discount the possibility of an apocalypse, you've got to remember that all such stories originate in myth and religion: Armageddon and Ragnarok, for example.

Apocalyptic thinking *feels* right, but if you follow that feeling, you have to be very careful that you're not blindly recapitulating what you learned in Sunday school and calling it a scientifically accurate future. All too often, it's selectively taking evidence to fit a preconceived shape that someone taught you long ago.

Also realize that Armageddon is comfortable: we go from our current lifestyles through a few years of tribulation, to life in heaven (we're the good guys, right?), while the Earth heals herself or something. The problem is that a flubbed apocalypse is a bloody mess. Look at the Khmer Rouge, or Maoist China, or Jonestown, or Rwanda.

A long decline scenario is much less appealing initially. It says that life will be increasingly harsh for the rest of our lives, our children will suffer more than we did, as will their children. Our descendents will probably think we were soft, lazy, careless, and stupid too, for wasting so much bounty, so even our memories will be dishonored. The good thing about it is that it's survivable. Our descendents may think we were stupid, but we'll have left them more than if we tried to destroy everything and failed.


No, we're not going to run out of energy. There is lots of it. It is just that there will be 3-6 billion people we'll have to share it with, who currently use marginal amounts of energy. (E.g.: Morocco has 40mio inhabitants and uses 20TWh of electricity per year. Germany has 80mio inhabitants and uses 600 TWh or electricity per year.)

This has interesting implications, because those countries will grow their economies in a world where energy is much more expensive and will make the necessary adjustments to use less energy in the first place. (Just like China actually selling electric cars on mass scale, whereas people in the old industrialized countries only talk about them.)

Just like developing countries developed a very different approach to stuff like mobile banking. You can transfer money with a mobile phone in any third world country you can think of, which is something that first world countries are still talking about in the same way in which they talk about rocket science. They don't understand that it is all very simple, but it is also very profitable not to tell them about that simplicity, lest they demand its implementation.

In 100 or 200 years, there will be history books talking about the same problems that Charlie has occasionally mentioned, that we are slaves of established infrastructure and social structures - and unless we realize which ones we could and should change, we might suffer the fate of the opponents of the kingdom of Qin faced in roughly 300BC.

Qin was the most backwards of the Chinese states, but it was quickest to introduce land reforms and other steps to modernize ... leaving the others behind and conquering them.


I disagree with both (a) the doom-n-gloom peak oilers and (b) the "drill, baby, drill" shills for the oil industry.

Put it another way, even if there's enough oil for us in the medium term -- out to 50 years -- we need to stop burning so much of the stuff (and coal! especially coal!) due to the climactic instability it's inducing.

But this doesn't mean the end of civilization. If anything, it'll mean a huge economic stimulus by way of the reconstruction and re-tooling we'll need to do along the way to replace our current infrastructure.

The really harsh problems will ensue if we hit a brick wall, with average fuel prices inflating in double-digit percentages for a decade -- but it's hard to see how that can happen to coal.


Mostly we use oil for pushing cars around, and then for pushing trucks and ships and jets around. breaks down US petroleum use.

7 billion barrels
=0.8 natural gas liquids, ethane and such, not clear what happens to these. Possibly cracked later into natural gas.
=6.2 billion finished petroleum products
3.3 gasoline
0.5 jet fuel
1.4 diesel and fuel oil
0.2 bunker fuel oil
0.2 feedstocks, e.g. rubbers and plastics
0.05 lubricants
0.1 coke
0.1 asphalt
0.2 still gas, used as refinery fuel and a feedstock

So there's 3.3+0.5+1.4+.0.2+0.1 = 5.5 billion barrels that we just burn outright, vs. 0.35 that we use for Making Stuff, plus 0.2 that might go both ways, 0.25 lost to my rounding if you're paying attention, and 0.8 unfinished liquids of unknown fate.

Note gasoline is more than half of all finished products, and well more than half of the stuff we burn; 3.3 vs. 2.2 for diesel + jet + heating. Even with the LNG and still gas it's 3.3 gasoline vs. 3.2 everything.

I would guess that oil cost is not a huge part of the cost of plastics, compared to the cost of transformation processes. Also, there are biomass or coal substitutes for feedstocks for those and asphalt -- chemical engineering is good at turning gunk into different gunk -- and substitutes like concrete for asphalt.

So yeah, we focus on the energy uses of oil because that's what we use almost all of it for, and the other uses have ready substitutes where Cheap Energy doesn't.


For those suggesting we can save energy from intermittent sources with a big battery:

Good luck.

(The discussion is pretty dismal, like anytime energy policy is discussed on internet).


The issue with coal is the same issue with tar sands: there's energy in them, but it has a low EROI, meaning it takes a lot of energy to get the energy out, especially with the lower grades of coal that we have left (we've been mining the good stuff for a long time already). Coal is also intrinsically less energy dense than oil, so you've got to transport more of the stuff. A coal-burning car won't work very well, for example.

While I agree that there are tremendous possibilities in the "re-" industries (repurposing, rebuilding, restoring, recycling), that money could have been used for something else, at least theoretically. It's like calling an earthquake an economic stimulus, because of the construction boom. Better, perhaps, to say that there will be large industrial shifts.


At the same time, I do think people are often a bit too quick to reject the possibility of utter catastrophe out of hand. In the 20th century there were multiple occasions where we really did come within a hair's breadth of a civilization-ending nuclear war. As a species, we've already dodge the apocalypse bullet repeatedly... but very, very narrowly.

I'll fess up that the Food Problem with peak oil scares the crap out of me. The tricky part is that we need a solution in place *before the problem starts*. If we wait until the oil supply really starts to pinch, and then try to come up with another agricultural solution, we're looking at a very real possibility - maybe even a probability - of seeing billions of people starve to death.

And beyond the obvious horror a scenario like that contains in and of itself, you run into the fact that nobody is going to sit back quietly and accept their role as one of the unlucky starvation victims. You're going to get bloody violence over who gets to be in the lucky "still have enough food to live" cohort.

Now, there may well be perfectly reasonable ways to avoid this... but so far nobody seems to be doing much about it, with peak oil already looming large on the horizon. When exactly was everyone going to suddenly start rebuilding our entire food infrastructure from the ground up so we're ready in advance?


I think the interesting story is one where peak oil is old news, the collapse and die off has happened, and parts of the world has climbed back up to present levels of technology, but much less population and much less even distribution of tech.

Preferably have the timeframe short enough where oldsters remember the current era, so no later then 2100

Peak oil is going to come along with global warming, also remember. A 3 meter sea levels is part of the story. Some cities are going to be under water, many will be flooded.

Across the world, there will be a lot of areas that are a mess and some areas that are doing quite well

Bad to be places
- densly populated areas
- low lying areas will
- Cold areas
- Landlocked areas
- Rural areas
- Dry areas

Better to be will be small urban areas with plenty of arable land and built in natural transportation systems. Pacific Northwest and Midwest in NA, Germany/France/Ukraine in EU, Brazil/Argentina in SA, South Africa, maybe maritime provinces in Canada

For tech base, I would see fission plants being the backbone, supplemented by wind/solar/hydro

For transportation, inside each civilized zone I would think trains, ships, some kind of electric motorcycle. Cars, planes would be a rariety. Time to travel interior to a civilzied zone would not be bad but crossing between would be more like a Victorian going to India.


Hence my suggestion of using Magnesium.
And run the same stats for car production - one per household? Ludicrous!


Yes I'm very familiar with the Archdruid's ideas. He's a smart guy, but he also believes that astrological gardening is a good idea, has an irrational hatred of everything invented since about 1900 and wants to create some kind of magical Tolkienesque civilization here on earth. In other words, the guy is a nut with an agenda. Greer also seems to think we can get to the Shire without passing through Mad Max, which I doubt. I don't see how you avoid apocalyptic conflicts in a Peak Oil world. In fact Jay Hanson, who predicted the Iraq invasion in the 90's, predicts nuclear war in the next 10-15 years!

Of course the fact that many leading peak oilers are nuts and civilization haters doesn't mean their predictions are wrong, but that's certainly what I'm counting on!


The "single big battery" is, of course, a dumb idea.

But. If you're going to put PV on the roofs of buildings, and acknowledge that replacing the whole US suburban housing stock with dense urban condos isn't going to happen overnight, what's wrong with using rooftop PV to charge (a) plug-in hybrids (needed by the unfortunate denizens of suburbia) and (b) to refrigerate a cold block of ice for aircon during hot weather?

That way we're talking about 50-100 million batteries, with on the order of 0.1-1 ton of plant per building (the size of a small chest freezer, given that lead is rather dense) rather than a monolithic lump of lead that weighs 1.6 billion tons.


One area we haven't touched on is particular regions. I'd like to pick on the desert southwest, post-peak.

I suspect, in the very long term, we're going to see a lot of dead cities littering the landscape. For example, Las Vegas won't entirely go away, but Phoenix might. Las Vegas (the meadows) was originally a stopping point on the trails west, because it had year-round water. If any bit of those aquifers is still available (and sorry, I don't know if this is the case or not), it might shrink down to a small railway town, surrounded by massive ruined casinos inhabited by treasure hunters and recyclers.

Los Angeles, San Diego, and the San Francisco Bay area will probably also shrink, with population loss disproportionally away from the coast (especially in desert suburbs) as people cluster closer to good water. There was a lot of good farmland in each of these areas, and if people figure out how to reclaim it, they can each support a few hundred thousand people, even using mostly local water sources. With access to the ocean (so long as you can dredge the ports), they will probably survive as port towns. They'll still have massive ruins lying around. If I were teaching my kids to survive a long decline, I'd figure out how to recycle suburbs into farmland.

The cities of Arizona, New Mexico, and west Texas will be in trouble, because they're livable due to AC and imported water (Texas is already in trouble). I suspect people will either die or migrate elsewhere (Oregon and Washington perhaps, or back towards the Mississippi).

Anyway, absent some big earthquakes, these scenarios will play out over the course of a century, so you can have fun imagining LA or SF as a decaying port town, surrounded by monuments of hubris and former glory, with orange groves growing in former condo units. If you like.


Several human societies have run out of wood, most noticeably Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui). They experienced population loss of 70%, lasting centuries.

Something similar on Greenland killed off the entire colony. Again, deforestation was a major cause.

So, yes, there are actual historical precedents for environmental depletion causing human societies to die off or be greatly diminished for long periods.


Those first two items are wrong

Petroleum does have very high energy density compared to batteries, but so do fats, oils, sugar, proteins, alcohols. And I don't think there's any special efficiency with animal use of fats. Anything made of C-C and C-H bonds is going to be within the same order of magnitude of energy density, and usually within a factor of 4. Low end if there's a bunch of O atoms diluting things, as with biological molecules, or if it's pure C like coal. High end for energy/kg is CH4 -- well, really high end is H2.

Gravitational potential energy is mgh, g=9.8 m/s^2. So one kilogram of water a kilometer high is 1*10*1000= 10 kilojoules per kilogram. That's actually worse than batteries, especially the good ones. And that's with a whole kilometer of head!

I don't really see how they can survive when American gas hits the price range it currently has in Europe.
Is there some reason to discount the return of horses?

When I was a kid, in a suburban part of NYC in the 1970s, my next-door neighbors had a horse. I remember them taking care of it, and I remember a side-effect was that our garden had plenty of free fertilizer.


One order of magnitude more accident-lethal than nuclear power. 100x less lethal than pollution deaths from fossil fuels.


And then we have tools like the Bagger 288 for getting at that lignite ...


First off, no carried battery will ever beat a consumed fuel for efficiency. On-board stored electric will not be the future of transportation. If our future is to be in electric transport it'll have to be beamed/wired/generated.

Next, I haven't seen ethanol or other bio-fuels mentioned much here. I'm well aware of the arguments against those fuels and specifically aware of the food-to-fuel substitution concern. One thing that many people fail to recognize about that particular concern is that we've only lived in a world where food and fuel were different things for the briefest period of human history. Up until the widespread uptake of machine power for farming in the 1930's and '40's in Iowa (a state with very high agricultural productivity), as an example, up to 35% of agricultural output was used to feed draft animals. One could easily envisage a rural fuel cycle in which wind- and solar-powered, grain- or manure-fed microstills produced biofuels sufficient to power the agricultural machinery and personal & commercial transportation needs of the local rural area. Such a fuel system wouldn't be capable of supporting our urban areas but it wouldn't need to.


Not clear if they got killed off as people or just left, and I thought a cooling climate (hurting both agriculture and trade) had more to do with decline.

When it comes to food I'm a lot less worried about peak oil than about disruptions to the water supply due to global warming climate change. Oil's not going to vanish overnight, we have lots of coal (probably), the use of oil for US passenger cars dwarfs all other uses. But drought is killing off Texas's cattle industry right now. Probably not permanently but the hit seems huge. We're not set up for "whoops, no rain for a while", we don't even have 3-year granaries or Strategic Food Reserves like you'd expect on planet where big volcanoes can dim the sun for up to 3 years.

Hmm, people have been talking about abandoning the Southwest due to loss of A/C. But A/C runs on electricity and the US gets virtually no electricity from oil; we use coal, followed by natural gas, nuclear, and hydropower. If we want to extend this to peak-fossil fuel, fine, but that's probably further out. The lack of cheap gasoline will force Phoenix to urbanize, not to give up the ghost entirely.


"Goodlife! I am goodlife!"


Forget climbing back to current levels of technology. I suggest you read Leonard Read's 'I, Pencil'. Matt Ridley has an additional take on this over at the TED Talks site.

The long and short of it is that today's level of specialisation requires a sufficiently large population to support it. Today less than 2% of the labour force in the West is devoted to agriculture. At the tail of the 19th century it was closer to 85%. Post peak, it will be so again. Our level of specialisation and hence technology will be commensurately lower.


Li-Air batteries have almost the same energy density.
Given the low conversion efficiency of ICE it makes Li-Air electric transport more efficient.


Quite the contrary. No chemical fuel will ever beat a battery for efficiency. A battery and electric motor can take electricity from the outlet and turn about 90% of the energy into kinetic energy driving the car.

Fuel up your car, and you'll be lucky to turn 25% of the stored energy into kinetic energy. Fuel cells are a bit better, getting about 30-35%.

However, nothing beats the good old overhead wire ...


> The "single big battery" is, of course, a dumb idea.

Obviously. But the total cost of these small batteries is still going to be comparable to the cost of one big battery, that is: comparable with total yearly GDP.

IMHO building power sources that are not intermittent is a much better idea.

> what's wrong with using rooftop PV to charge (a) plug-in hybrids

If you are ready to skip a week of work due to cloudy weather -- sure...

I do not like intermittent sources of energy. Not only they are more expensive then nuclear, but, well, intermittent.


San Fran in particular does have some substantial advantages - not just the port, which you mention (but maybe under-rate? don't forget just how much more important water transport will become once road transport gets more expensive), but it's rail infrastructure.

It's on the national rail network for bulk freight and its got a rail based mass-transit system to move people around, and into the city from the bay area.

The City of San Fran itself is also pretty high-density.

I don't know enough about the water situation of the surrounding area, but I'd have picked San Fran + the bay area as one of the better places to survive peak oil...


Horses aren't magical.

Firstly, they're labour-intensive -- they need feeding, grooming, stables need mucking out, even if they're not going to be ridden on a given day they need exercising, and so on. You can leave your car parked by the roadside and untended for weeks and it'll work when you turn the key. Do that to a horse and you won't get very far on the pile of bleached bones.

Secondly, they're grazing animals. They need land to feed off; or failing that, a lot of hay and some other grains that have to be grown somewhere.

Thirdly, they're not a magic animated motorbike. Horses are temperamental, require training before they can be ridden, require training of the rider before the rider can get in the saddle usefully, and they are of limited range; walking pace for a day, trotting or galloping for significantly less. Push a horse for fifty miles and you stand a good chance of injuring or killing it (although this depends on the terrain/road you're travelling, the pace you set, how often you pause to rest the animal, and so on).

As for carriages/traps/horse as prime mover, oh dear me ...

Many years ago I dated a farmer's daughter. Her dad's weekend hobby-that-paid-for-itself was providing horsedrawn carriages for weddings. The amount of work that goes into getting a fairly simple carriage hooked up behind a single animal is more at the readying a Cessna for take-off end of the spectrum than getting in your car and driving somewhere -- multiple horses in harness is a multi-person job and requires something the size of a farmyard or a stately home's front drive to set up. You know why rich folks' homes used to have semi-circular drives? It's because carriages don't come with a reverse gear.

(Also: ride comfort is somewhat lacking, they're cold as fuck in winter, and they don't go much faster than human walking pace ... unless something spooks the team, at which point you will be very lucky to survive, as $EX's dad was on one occasion when hit two plus one got panicked by a car and didn't stop until they'd scraped the trap off on a tree. Hint: when a couple of tons of horseflesh governed by a collection of brain cells the size of a hamster decides something is trying to eat it, all you can do is hang on and hope for a soft landing.)

Shorter version: if you can afford to employ a chauffeur today, you're a member of the class that will be able to afford a horse and carriage tomorrow. Alternatively, if your business requires a commercial vehicle and driver, it may be able to justify a horse. But just maintaining the capability is close to a full-time job, and the extras are far from trivial.


Granted, but the point was that it's not the whole story. To remove the energy dependency (by getting the energy elsewhere - solar power, wave power, forcing pixies onto treadmills, whatever) we have on oil is one challenge, and you've shown it's a huge dependency.

But suppose we do that. Can we stop producing oil? No, because it's used for a heck of a lot more than that. To stop producing oil without knockon effects, we'd have to figure out how to get the energy elsewhere, but we'd *also* have to figure out how to produce plastic-like substances using a different source than oil.

We can't forget that second set of dependencies, because some of them are really important. Medical supplies are wrapped in plastic for example to keep them sterile.

So to just concentrate on energy and forget everything else (even if energy is the biggest proportion of what we use oil for) is a recipe for failure.


Yes, but, we're talking lead-acid cells. We're not going to be replacing them annually; more likely, we'll be refurbishing them on a rolling basis after several years of use. The cost of that gigaton of lead is huge, but the remanufacturing cycle is going to cut the running costs relative to startup by at least an order of magnitude.

(I agree with you about the undesirability of intermittent energy sources. Unfortunately that means if we rule out fossil carbon, we're stuck with hydropower, geothermal, possibly some tidal, and nuclear.)


It's estimated that intermittent, non-dispatchable renewable electricity sources (i.e. solar and wind) cannot exceed 20% of electric grid capacity before they make the grid unstable.

This is the rankest kind of nonsense. We have this thing called the Internet, which can be used to send signals to solar and wind generation facilities. Messages might read, "Turn off the connection to all solar panels in sector 11 right now please." or "Stop all the windmills on the north side of the hill." In addition to the net, we have telephones, telegraph, shortwave and signal flags, not to mention ordinary scheduling and even manual lookup tables which might tell us: "Turn off 113 windmills if the temperature in Albuquerque is less than 93 degrees at 3:00 pm on a Thursday."

And before some smart-ass asks me how to stop a windmill, there exists a well-known solution called a clutch. Failing that, the circuit can be interrupted. Gently, of course.


I think you're unduly pessimistic about substitutes for oil in plastics.

Firstly, use of oil for polymer production doesn't directly contribute to climate change. Secondly, the quantity used (see comment #59 up-thread) is about two orders of magnitude less than the amount we burn. So the plastics industry is liable to remain viable long after oil is too expensive to burn as fuel.

Thirdly, I'm about 103% certain that biotechnology will deliver alternative sources of polymer feedstock as of, oh, probably a few years ago. I expect us to have replacements for all current polymers pretty much whenever it costs less to grow them in fermentation vessels than to crack them in a refinery.


How about car park solar panels, after the Google model? You get shade for the cars, power to charge them (if they're electric or plug-in hybrids) and a peak energy correlated with the demand for air conditioning.
Plug-in hybrids help as energy stores too - when the demand spikes, they can sell energy back to the grid.

As Vinod Khosla is fond of pointing out, without solar or nuclear generation, electric cars are just substituting coal for oil. Of course he is a big investor in algae-derived crude oil replacements, that use the existing refineries and distribution.

Saying good batteries are like incendiary bombs is of course also true of petrol tanks; that is what that kind fo energy density means.


I was in Antwerp last week and saw a very interesting type of bicycle: it had a whacking big storage compartment (like a wheelbarrow) at the front of the bike, above the front wheel. You could pack some serious freight in there (I saw two children in one of them). Its advantage over a trailer is that it's integrated into the bike already.

ALSO @ 29 & 33:
Actually, there is a limited high-speed service to Germany and the Netherlands already if you're coming from the UK.
London-Brussels via Eurostar, and then on to a high-speed connection to Amsterdam (Thalys) or Cologne (Thalys or ICE).
If you book in advance, are prepared to buy a non-refundable ticket and travel early in the morning, the price is not exorbitant (though it doesn't compare with Ryanair or easyJet): London to northern Germany would cost 230-280 Euro in this model.
The problem is that you'd be travelling with two different systems, so you'd have trouble if something goes wrong with one of your trains. And it doesn't really help people coming from Scotland.

I've seen the policy process from the inside, and although it's not a pretty sight, it does strangely leave me optimistic. If there is enough political will to do something, things can happen really fast. That suggests that a series of opportunities are going to arise once the political will is strong enough to deal with the consequences of rising fuel prices etc (and it will be strong enough in time: have a poor perception of politicians if you like, but they are seldom stupid). Some people will get really rich and society will adapt.
As a specific prediction, I expect that city planners will gain hugely in prestige, because it's going to a crucial element in a significantly-post-peak-oil society.


Sure, but at this point things become almost a zero-sum game. Build an extra windmill and you will have an extra windmill to turn off when the wind is blowing. Build more solar cells, and you will have to turn off even more windmills when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing.

Germany has reached that point 4 years ago. Since then capacity of wind power has risen 25%, but generation remained constant. (2010 even had 10% less energy generated by wind than 2007.)


San Fran has two problems, not counting earthquakes.

1. The Bay is very shallow (average depth ~12 feet), due in large part to siltation caused by hydraulic mining upstream in the 19th Century. It needs to be dredged to remain a viable port, just as it has been for most of the last century. This is only a problem when you see the number of dead Roman towns where their ports silted in.

2. San Fran's water currently comes from Hetch Hetchy near Yosemite, via a pipeline across the San Joaquin valley. That's not terribly stable. There's more water in the East Bay right along the Hayward Fault...

San Diego has similar issues, as does Los Angeles. In all cases, I think the areas will see population declines, but they will remain settled at some level. Seattle and Vancouver may become the queens of the west coast in centuries to come.


On rare elements:

There are basically 8 elements that you may have heard about as supply-limited and crucial to the future of renewable energy and associated technologies. They are lithium, gallium, indium, tellurium, lanthanum, cerium, neodymium, and dysprosium. The last 4 elements are lumped together as "rare earths" but the heavy rare earth dysprosium is much less abundant than the light rare earths lanthanum, cerium, and neodymium. Sometimes gallium, indium, and tellurium are also mistakenly called "rare earths" in mainstream press stories; rare earths are not particularly rare and are just called such due to a quirk of chemical history.

The 3 elements that look like they may have serious supply issues are indium, tellurium, and dysprosium.

On rare earths:

Rare earth deposits that include dysprosium are rarer than those containing the light rare earths, and are found disproportionately in ion-exchanged Chinese clays. Even after non-Chinese producers resume rare earth production China may retain serious pricing power and production limits over dysprosium.

The other 3 rare earth elements of interest are not that rare. Neodymium, used in powerful permanent magnets (hence some motor and generator designs as well as hard disks and audio speakers), is about 3 times as abundant as lead. Lanthanum is about the same. Cerium is nearly twice as abundant as lanthanum, making it comparable in abundance to copper or zinc. Cerium and lanthanum (as well as neodymium) go into nickel metal hydride batteries like that used in the Prius. The Mountain Pass mine that's being restarted in California will produce these light rare earths. Other non-Chinese mines initiating or resuming production in the next few years will do the same. Expect light rare earth prices to decline in this decade as China's near-monopoly is broken.

Dysprosium has one very special role: keeping neodymium magnets working at higher temperatures. It is only a minor component, but a very expensive one. Heat resistant magnets are not important to audio speakers or hard disks. They are important to large permanent magnet generators (as in wind turbines) and powerful permanent magnet motors (as in large industrial machinery or electric vehicles). Both electric vehicles and wind turbines can be made without permanent magnets, hence no neodymium or dysprosium, and there are upcoming designs for wind turbine generators that maintain lower internal temperatures and hence can use neodymium magnets without dysprosium.

On gallium and indium:

Gallium and indium are chemically related to aluminum. Both are recovered as byproducts of other mineral production processes rather than mined in their own right. Gallium is fairly abundant, more so than lead or tin. It is found in relatively small concentrations in bauxite (the oxide ore used to produce aluminum) and is recovered from bauxite purification waste products. Most bauxite plants currently do not recover gallium. If they did, production rates could be increased several-fold. There are also large quantities of gallium left in the millions of tons of waste "red mud" byproduct left behind by bauxite production in the past 100 years. Gallium is used in some solar cell designs (such as the multi-junction cells used by Amonix) and also some solid-state transformers based on gallium nitride.

Indium is much rarer than gallium, about as rare as silver. It is mostly recovered as a byproduct from certain zinc ores. Its largest market at present is not in renewable energy but in producing flat-panel displays: it is used to make the transparent electrode substance indium-tin oxide. Indium has been a hopeful for several years now in making thin-film CIGS (copper indium gallium selenide) solar cells. CIGS has remained a hopeful, so far. CIGS producers are making cells that are more expensive than the cheapest silicon cells and less efficient than the most efficient silicon cells, all while relying on a material with limited supply and high prices. The recently-defunct Solyndra was one of the larger CIGS companies.

On tellurium:

Tellurium is a one-trick pony as far as renewable energy is concerned, but it's a good trick. Thin film cadmium telluride solar cells, most notably produced by First Solar, have only modest conversion efficiences (~11%) but the manufacturing cost per watt is lower than any competing technology: currently well under $1 per peak watt. Cadmium telluride PV, CdTe, is what CIGS wishes it could be.

Tellurium is currently recovered as a byproduct of copper refining, though it's rumored that First Solar is seeking richer deposits that could be exploited more directly. It is about as rare as gold, though not as expensive. Demand was very small until CdTe went commercial. Soon PV will be consuming more than half of the world's tellurium production, and if ways to expand production can't be found then CdTe manufacturing will never produce more than a few gigawatts of cells per year, though quite profitable cells they would be.

On lithium:

Lithium is another good one-trick pony. People want it for batteries. They didn't look for it much until recently. Beware papers even a few years old warning of impending lithium exhaustion; much has been discovered recently. Chile is the world leader by far in terms of exploitable resources.

A Chevy Volt needs about 20 kg of lithium carbonate primary input to make its batteries. Known reserves of lithium (13 million metric tons as carbonate as of 2011 according to USGS) could therefore make about 650 million hybrid or electric vehicles with Volt-sized batteries. This is enough to replace all passenger vehicles currently on the road. Lithium is recyclable, so fleet turnover does not require large inputs of virgin lithium.

As noted above under rare earths, not all electric vehicles use lithium batteries. The Prius uses nickel metal hydride. Some lower-price, lower-performance vehicles even use simple lead-acid batteries. Sodium, which is chemically similar to lithium and practically unlimited in abundance, can be used to make sodium-ion batteries that operate similarly. Energy density is not as good as with lithium but battery lifetime may be even better; unfortunately, none are yet commercially available.


> Messages might read, "Turn off the connection to all solar panels in sector 11 right now please."

This of course means that there is a lot of time when a very expensive asset is not producing anything. You are still paying interest on a loan, but not making any money to repay it. Which also means that you have massively overbuild your infrastructure so that it will produce enough energy at any time. Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study ( ) published a few reports, it looks like wind system covering all of Eastern US has many few weeks intervals when wind farms produce something like 5% of rated capacity. This means that if you count on wind producing something like 1GW, you have to build 20GW of capacity, with turbines stopped most of the time.

An example of wind turbines perfomance during latest Texas heat wave:

There is a reason why wind capacity credit is something like dismal 0.08.


Actually, there is a limited high-speed service to Germany and the Netherlands already if you're coming from the UK.
London-Brussels via Eurostar,

I don't live in London.

In fact, I live 600Km north of London. Getting to the continent via Eurostar therefore involves (a) a 4-5 hour train journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London Euston, (b) a happy fun 15 minute walk down Euston Road, with luggage in tow, (c) customs/immigration and then a 2+ hour train journey from London St Pancras to Paris or Brussels or wherever.

Note that an open off-peak return ticket from EDI to London costs more than a first-class return flight to the European hub of my choice. And that's before you add the Eurostar ticket on top, doubling the cost.

Even with a non-refundable booking it's going to take 7-9 hours and a whole lot more money to get from where I live to anywhere in continental Europe by train, compared to the 3-4 hours (including security, boarding, and baggage claim) that flying takes.

(This is why I was bitching and moaning about the cancelled Nightstar service earlier -- the sleeper rail service from Oop North to Europe that was cancelled before launch.)


I don't think there's much to figure out. Gasification, Fischer-Tropsch. We can turn anything organic into syngas and syngas into petrochemicals. These are commercial processes, not lab. We can turn CO2 and H2 into stuff too: Sabatier, Bosch, reverse water gas shift reactions, for CH4, C, or CO. Not counting plastics that can be made directly from sugars or plant oils. Bulk chemistry is pretty versatile and mature; as long as you don't need biological or nanotech precision, probably simplest to assume we can turn anything into anything.

What the economics will be, vs. going back to paper or ceramic or jute for some things, I have no idea. But I think concerns about ocean pollution are a bigger threat to plastic bags than a lack of oil with which to make them.


> How about car park solar panels, after the Google model?

The last time I did calculations something like Nissan Leaf would have to spend couple of weeks parked at such car park (assuming it has area of solar batteries to itself not much bigger then area taken by car in a normal car park) to get charged.

This is California in summer, not London in winter.


Thing about petrol is that it's completely inert by itself. Gasoline has a great energy density *when burned in an oxygen atmosphere*. In effect, it's cheating; if you included the oxidizer, as rockets and explosives have to do, it's about 5x less dense, though it's still about 10x denser than a lithium battery (which seems pretty embarrassing for something based on the lightest metal...) By itself, petrol can burn if ignited, but it can't go boom. A cubic meter of gasoline isn't a giant bomb, it's a big lump of gasoline that will have to spill or burn out in order to reach oxygen.

Most batteries (air batteries exist but aren't common), OTOH, are self-contained energy sources, like a rocket. Or a bomb. Or a flywheel...


Speaking of New Mexico, I think you're ignoring the fact that the Rio Grande runs down the middle. Albuquerque, the largest city in the state, relies on renewable water supplies *other* than the RG (which is largely used for agriculture via a system of centiries-old irrigation canals called acequias) that, even factoring in worsening drought, will suffice for projected population growth for a few more decades at least even without factoring in improvements in reclamation and treatment.

As for AC, as mentioned elsewhere in the thread, solar PV rather neatly produces the most power when AC demand is highest, so this is also largely a known-to-be-solvable problem, especially with improved insulation.

Bottom line: Although many smaller towns throughout New Mexico will dry up and blow away, that isn't going to happen to all of them, and certainly not to the major cities, although I do expect their area to shrink.


There are, as usual, a couple of problems here.

One is the EROI on many of these processes. We may well go to Syngas, but our economics will have to be in the neighborhood of WW2 Germany to make this viable.

The other problem is homogeneity of feedstocks. In theory, we could mine landfills for both methane and biodiesel. In practice, the gas coming out of landfills is so heterogeneous (containing large amounts of water vapor, NOx, SOx, and other contaminants) that it often costs more to refine it into methane than you could make from it. The same problem shows up in turning organic waste into biodiesel. It works great when there's only one feedstock (like those turkey carcasses feeding one pilot plant), but when you're getting everything from diapers to grass cuttings to painted wood and sewage sludge, it gets very inefficient.

Organic processes (e.g. old-fashioned fermentation) work somewhat better with heterogeneous feedstocks, but they tend to be an order of magnitude slower than the chemical processes you mentioned. That means they work better in places where you've got things like a lot of cheap land, perhaps some sunlight, and water.

The bottom line is not bio is better, it's that there are going to be a lot of niche fuel, power, and plastic industries springing up. For example, Ken MacLeod's idea of Scotland becoming a biotech powerhouse based on its brewery infrastructure isn't impossible, just as San Diego may come to rely on big algae farms in the nearby Imperial Valley, while Minneapolis becomes the hub of wind turbine manufacturing for the upper Midwest and Brazil gets into the ethanol derivatives game big-time.


One other interesting point we haven't touched on. Times of crisis appear to be a fertile ground for new religions. Old myths break down, and people look for better stories to help them live their lives.

Right now, our two big myths seem to be Progress and Apocalypse (now playing out in a political theater near you, if you're in the US). Apocalypse is certainly rooted in Christian theology, whether it's wearing scientific camouflage or not. Similarly, progress can be seen as "all the good people go to heaven in the future" transformed into good science and policy.

Failed progress can be catastrophic (see Mao, Pol Pot,etc), and I'm pretty sure that failed apocalypses are also bad, though perhaps less spectacular in recent history.

The point is that we're living in a time when our governing myths are failing. Christianity came to the fore during the decline of the Roman Empire, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to look at the beliefs on the fringes of our current civilization to see what the Next Big Thing might be.

It might be atheism, if they can come up with a good mythical story of how to live a meaningful, good life during a decline and start missions to convert the masses. It could be some new sect of Buddhism. Or a reimagining of Christianity or Islam. Or something out of the African diaspora. Or even evangelical druidry, unlikely though this seems. Most likely, there will not even be one winner.

Since this topic grew out of Charlie's blue-sky research for another SF novel down the line, I'd say that religion and belief are at least as important as technology, when thinking about post-oil. In this regard, Frank Herbert and his Butlerian Jihad is at least as good a model as A Canticle for Leibowitz.


Fair enough - you know a lot more about San Fran than I do.

Considering the proposal I put - that pop density + water suitable for freight movement + railways (both freight and mass transit) = good place post peak-oil then I'd tentatively suggest London and its hinterland as well suited for this energy shortage future?

Already deep water port in the estuary, potential for freight movement up the rest of the river for miles, high public transport use, decent density. Rail to a huge surrounding catchment area (which might end up also used to move freight out of town as well as people in). None of the water supply problems of San Fran.

This goes for many old European cities - it's not a coincidence so many are built on navigable rivers. (navigable by what though? London can get container ships in as far as Tilbury in the estuary I think? which must be an advantage)

Of course global warming, with a sense of irony, may yet eventually inundate all the coastal examples of otherwise excellent post-peak oil cities....


Or a reimagining of Christianity or Islam.

It seems to me that the particular strain of dispensationalist millenarianism cross-bred with spiritual warfare and dominionism that the likes of [certain current and past US presidential and vice-presidential candidates I shall not name] espouse is a very good candidate for a successor religion; it's called "Christianity" by its followers, but would be almost unrecognizable (and doctrinally incompatible) to any Christian theologian from before 1820 or thereabouts.

Alternatively, the LDS have potential. Keeping a year's canned supplies in the cellar isn't exactly a bad survival strategy under the circumstances.

But I'm also interested in the idea of syncretistic or synergistic religions. There is something very weird -- to a westerner's eye -- about the way you find Shinto shrines inside the grounds of Buddhist temples or monasteries in Japan, for example: to our way of thought these would seem to be competing, mutually exclusive religions -- but in practice, they're not, and you find them not merely coexisting but cosying up all over the place.


NB: This topic has racked up 100 comments in 4 hours and 12 minutes!

I need to work, eat, and sleep some of the time. I'm probably going offline in an hour and will stay that way until I wake up tomorrow.


On the energy storage front, i have high hopes that Isentropic's gravel batteries will work:


SF has water issues though. Also the Bay Area in general is hit pretty hard by sea level rise, though SF not so much. The sea level rise might help water transportation in the long run though, might possible to dredge a navigable waterway all the way to sacremento


The SF bay is shallow on average but quite there is a deep channel that mirrors an ancient river. It's this channel that the shipping follows. Still needs to be dredged, but hey 3 meters more ocean will actually help that at least


The one problem I have with the "let's go nuclear" plan is that it seems that we're swapping one non-renewable resource for another. I'd hate to exchange Peak Oil for Peak Uranium.

That said, I don't know how much energy we can get from our reserves. If nuclear power can supply our needs for the next thousand years then maybe my worries are misplaced.

I'm sure one of the smart folks around here has the numbers and might be willing to share them.


Here's something for you to wake up to then, Charlie.

If I understand it properly, Shinto and Buddhism in Japan were united by Kukai, a Buddhist, under the rubric of Ryobu shinto in the 8th Century.

Christian syncretism flows both ways, from Christianity adopting holidays (such as Christmas) that made it easier for them to convert pagans, and pagans (especially in the African diaspora religions such as Voudoun and Candomble) adopting a superficial Christianity to cover their practices. This is a different process.

I don't know enough about Islam, but my impression is that the Sufist branch of Islam seems to be the most syncretic and outreaching, which may be why they get bombed so frequently in Pakistan. Still, in Kurdistan and elsewhere (the Yazidis, for example), there are some very interesting syncretic cults that mix bits of Islam and possibly even Sumerian beliefs into local systems that still hang around in the mountains.

As you noted, 22nd Century Christianity might not be recognizable to someone from the 19th Century. I'm not sure what will happen with LDS, the Roman Catholics, and other global groups, but I think it hinges on the question of whether you can imagine a black pope, a black President of LDS, or a black Archbishop of Canterbury. African and Latin American Christianity is very active right now, but if European and American-based churches can't incorporate this activism, the big churches may fall dramatically.


WW2 Germany... or South Africa still, or Malaysia, or Qatar, (see Wikipedia for F-T) or how town gas was made for lights before we started mining oil and gas. And I wasn't talking about F-T for making fuels, just for plastic feedstocks.

Waste gasification seems able to cope with a lot of heterogeneity. Somewhat more expensive but doesn't seem prohibitively so.

There's also all the plastic *in* landfills that can be mined for recycled feedstock.

Like I said, the economics of some things may shift, but I don't think we'll have much trouble making plastics where we need them, and this is a minor problem compared to petrol for all those cars, or coal+global warming for electricity.


Estimates for nuclear power range from a few decades (use of U-235 at the exact current price) to many millennia (U-235 at 10x the price, which wouldn't matter much to power cost). Reprocessing and use of breeder reactors for U-238/plutonium can multiply that by 70. Multiply by 4 or 5 if thorium is used as well. I've seen an estimate up to billions of years, based on what's in the crust, that can be eroded out and filtered from seawater.


The one problem I have with the "let's go nuclear" plan is that it seems that we're swapping one non-renewable resource for another. I'd hate to exchange Peak Oil for Peak Uranium.

Not going to happen. We have known reserves of Uranium for 90-odd years ... but that's because prospecting stopped in the 1950s after identified reserves exceeded any reasonable requirement. You can extract the stuff from seawater. And that's assuming you don't start reprocessing used fuel rods to recycle them to get the remaining 90% of the energy out of them!

No, we have existing stockpiles good for around 500 years of current usage, without firing up fast breeders to turn the U238 stockpile (which is 500 times as abundant as U235) into Pu239, which works great as fuel for the aforementioned fast breeders.

TL;DR: existing, known uranium deposits are enough, with reprocessing and eventually a fast breeder program, to provide 100% of our current electricity for about 500 years. Or more.


So long as we can get the nuclear plants built near water, that is...


Charlie, there are some good UK+Eurostar deals through the "Seat61" website, including ways to get oddly cheap British tickets if you are travelling onwards. Or else you could just get the sleeper bit out of the way in UK and then shift to the euro-train, although Embra's not quite far enough away from London to make this optimal. The other problem is, as mentioned earlier, the cost. The other day I checked out taking the family by train to Prague: BOTE calculations suggested that it would be cheaper, if a lot less fun, to drive, even factoring in the cost of buying a car. And I would then have a car.

Planes, like ships, are pretty damn close to their maximum practical efficiency already. So any increase in fuel prices is going to move pretty directly onto the ticket price. After that, to get more efficient you need airships, or crazy rotating tether catapult tech. The next step with ships would be adding _very_ big kites to them: or reverting to sail in fun ways like wingsails or Flettner rotors. If you want hyper-efficient land travel options, then Lowtechmagazine remains a constant source of inspiration. My favourite is the canal barge drawn by an electric loco which itself is powered via pantograph from an overhead line. How baroque is that?

Cars, though, are not nearly as efficient as thay can be: we pay for using cars as social signalling devices rather than transport. Unless this ends soon (we stop being primates?) SUVs won't go away, but they will get rarer, and expensive petrol is likely to produce lighter and more optimised vehicles.

As for wind power, there's a guy from Caltech named Dabiri who has just found that if you put counter-rotating vertial axis turbines together, you can increase their power by an order of magnitude over horizontal axis turbines. This might yet save the world. Power storage is a done deal, given a few mountains at the end of a HVDC line (North Sea Interconnecter, yay!).

We've been talking about electricity, but we should have been talking about heating, which is a rather large chunk of energy consumption. Solar PV is sub-optimal in the UK, but solar thermal is a no-brainer. And I suspect that we're going to see a lot more heat pumps, especially airsource heat pumps on new build, as the price of gas goes north faster than the price of electricity. Countries that rely on tanker-transported fuel oil to heat their houses in snowy winters are not going to do very well, which is probably yet another reason to avoid upstate New York.

Plus point: I get the impression that the majority of participants in this discussion have read _Without Hot Air_. This is a good thing.


Planes, like ships, are pretty damn close to their maximum practical efficiency already. So any increase in fuel prices is going to move pretty directly onto the ticket price.

Yes. But fuel is currently a small fraction of the ticket price. And you might want to look into the effect of free flight and point-to-point operations replacing hub-and-spoke -- if handled properly, it'll reduce the average number of sectors flown per passenger movement, and probably the number of miles per movement as well.

(The hardware for aviation is highly efficient and unlikely to progress much further, but the way operations are scheduled is another matter entirely.)


What comes after oil is an interesting question...if you look at the development of the internal combustion engine it was a theoretical possibility a good 150yrs or more before it came into practical use (around 1860); Given that I don't think another 150 years of oil use is out of the question given known reserves, current efficiencies and alternatives, what is out there today that isn't practical yet but might be?

I'd bet on bio-engineered/chemically derived oil substitutes myself. They are already a lot closer to being practical than batteries are and will need less tweaking. Batteries really need some quantum leaps of transmission and materials technology to actually replace internal combustion engines entirely.

Synthetic replacements for oil also have a whole lot of advantages in terms of compatibility and ease of transition. If the synthetics stay expensive (and possibly even if they don't); I suspect you'll see a whole lot of pure electric, hybrid and natural gas vehicles especially for short haul/urban use.


Fair point re scheduling. I'd expect spot markets in routing to replace schedules in many places as well. Hmm . . I think I read about that in an SF story once. You might also change the air travel game with this:
Or failing that, get a good story out of one.


The Beeb has an article on using bugs/fresh water/sea water to extract electricity and hydrogen. I'm guessing that the biodegradable organic matter referred to would be of the brown stinky variety.


Interesting that you have a different experience than I do.

My chief source of information is a relative involved in waste disposal from the techno/bureaucratic side. This relative works in a region that has some complex and fairly dire waste disposal needs. What I was hearing was that the waste gas from landfills was better treated as a pollutant, since it would cost so much to treat it. Ditto with the landfilled plastics. The relative receives new proposals every month (blue-sky to already working elsewhere) for ways to recycle, reuse, or ship elsewhere. Most of the proposals haven't been scaled up, a few won't work at all, and only a small minority are ready for prime time. For example, there's some really innovative landfill mining going on in Korea right now, but it's unclear when (or whether) that technology could be used in the US.

This month's example was a guy who developed a business recycling carpet. Carpet fibers are generally high quality nylon, so they can be shaved off and reused easily, but the backing is polypropylene with cement (the calcium carbonate kind). He'd figured out a way to recycle most of the backing to get to 95% recycling efficiency. He was looking for permission to install a conversion plant to burn the last 5% to power his factory. Hopefully he got that permission. That's just one of a myriad of recycling processes and small businesses that need to come into being in the coming decades.

The one thing I can fairly confidently state is that, if it were that easy to recycle the stuff in or coming off landfills in the US, I'm pretty sure someone would be doing it already. Right now, the good projects seem to be small scale, like the carpet recycler. Otherwise, if you want efficient garbage recycling, you need to look at Tijuana or other developing cities. Thousands of of people live at dumps picking through trash, and that's still the most efficient recycling system known.


And that's not all it does!

Warning: possible causality violation.

You did that on purpose, didn't you?


We haven't talked much about computers.

Here's my question for a post-oil world 50-100 years out: silicon, graphene, hypothetical biocomputer, or abacus and slide-rule? How about infrastructure? Will we still have the web, or will it be a jury-rigged system of independent cell phone towers and shortwave radio?

This is as much a question about infrastructure and manufacturing as it is about the technology itself. I'm really trying to figure out what will survive best as infrastructure degrades.

I'll admit that my prediction for a cell phone in the 50-100 year range is one that's attached to a bicycle. This sounds silly, until you think about the generator attached to the back wheel. When you want to make a call, you prop the back wheel up and crank up a call. When done, you go back to using the bike for whatever you were using it for. It's a lot easier than trying to hand crank and talk at the same time, especially when you realize how loud most hand cranked generators are right now...


"Today less than 2% of the labour force in the West is devoted to agriculture. At the tail of the 19th century it was closer to 85%. Post peak, it will be so again. Our level of specialisation and hence technology will be commensurately lower."

Well, that will at least solve the problem of how to employ all the people who sat at the back of the classroom disrupting the lessons for everyone else.


Well, I admit I'm drawing mostly from Wikipedia and other articles. But we may also be talking about different things. Mining methane from landfills not being economical in comparison to natural gas is not the same as not being economical at all. One is "it's still cheaper to get this stuff from the ground", the other is "it would take more energy to treat the gas than you'd get from burning it". And even that would be beside the point if you were seeking methane for chemical purposes rather than power ones.

Any new process has to face the competition of a massive industry, with economies of scale and contract networks and implicit or explicit subsidies, based on sucking stuff out of the ground. Not thriving in that environment is not the same as not being doable.

Like I said, F-T is commercial, not pipe-dream: South Africa's SASOL, Qatar, elsewhere. Makes sense in those environments, with lots of coal or natural gas. And they're making fuel oil. So I'm absolutely confident that "running out of oil" will not mean "we can't make plastics anymore". We'll be able to make oil, we'll be able to make plastics. Whether we'll *want* to make as many plastics, I don't know, but it's not going to a matter of simply losing the capability or having to figure out a new one; we already have alternatives lined up.


Phone power is low enough that you could crank beforehand. I imagine that it will get lower as the software gets smarter. I suspect that we're going to know a lot more about the care and feeding of lead-acid batteries of various kinds.


Suburbs will become slums as the cost of heat and transportation goes far enough up. Someday. But new housing codes and public transportation should put that far into the future.
The end of oil is a long way off, no matter what you may want to think. Venezuela has almost as much oil as the rest of the worlds known oil. For dumb political reasons, like saving american bankers and Texas oil prices, the USA has been hard at work keeping it off the market. As the price goes up, more will come to the market. American big oil has been exporting oil and gasoline all along.


Tijuana recycling: well, energy efficient; expensive in labor. For them, labor is cheap and energy and engineering are expensive or rare.

Gasification links:

Maybe it's oversold. But I can see how it'd be viable yet not used for being uncompetitive. Energy: historically cheap, and doing this to waste isn't necessary very positive. Landfill: US land has been cheap and simple. This takes capital costs. Recycling: raw organics from the farm or mines or wells has been cheap, so why bother?

But, when the wells and mines run dry and out, turning to the landfills and farms can be more attractive. Something has to be only moderately more expensive to not be used much today.

a cell phone in the 50-100 year range is one that's attached to a bicycle. This sounds silly, until you think about the generator attached to the back wheel.

God I hope not. How about a flexible wrist brazalet with either solar or kinetic based charging? My thinking is, Moore's law isn't always about packing more processing power in the same space, you can also pack the same processing power with increasingly less energy requirements. In 100 years time I expect an equivalent of the phone I have now to be a lot smaller and easier to charge.

When push comes to shove, people are going to become a lot less picky about nuclear, they'll take Mr. Burns before they accept having to buy a donkey.


> When you want to make a call, you prop the back wheel up and crank up a call.

If you have to crank a generator before making a call, you are not going to have a cell phone. You need factories to produce them and factories can not ran on electricity generated by hand cranking. Therefore existence of cell phones implies availability of relatively cheap electricity at least in some places on Earth. Most people would be willing to move to such places from the places where electricity is not available.



Venezuela claims 297 billion barrels of proven reserves

World oil consumption is 85 million barrels / year

Thus Venezuela can supply the world with oil for 3 years

Even if you believe the 652 billion of unproven and possibly extractable reserves, that will buy you 7.67 years

Math, it is a wonderful thing

It might be atheism, if they can come up with a good mythical story of how to live a meaningful, good life

I guess we could whip something up with Carl Sagan as our prophet.


@119 Not really

We've genetically engineered much better crops now. Even if we went back to the middle ages, we'd still need a lower percentage of agricultural workers then previously


The "single big battery" is, of course, a dumb idea.

Are you sure? I don't see why there should be a problem constructing a large battery using widely available elements. Lead-acid is just the technology that won.


Re: bio-derived plastics.

There are several on the market and at reasonable-scale production already. PET made from plant-derived ethylene glycol (and from PET we can have polyester) as well as bio-derived HDPE and LDPE made from plant-material.

There's a lot of developments and potential new suppliers and soon we may have to use carbon-14 dating to confirm that these 'green' plastic being offered for sale is from plant material.

A wide-range of biopolymers also exist, though at present their recycling incompatibility with traditional (mineral derived) polymers have presented barriers to market (alongside unacceptable costs for many applications in a competitive marketplace).

It will be interesting to see if bio-derived polymer suffers the same issues as biofuels, that of diverting agricultural activity away from growing food to producing feedstock for polymer production. Global demand for polymers is much smaller than for fuels, and you can work with food-crop residues if you have too.

Cost still an issue, perhaps GM to improve yield is one way to move forward?

My retirement dream is to manufacture polymers from large-scale seaweed harvest, with the added benefit of (admittedly quite low) carbon capture - more GM required to deal with salt levels on that one, but I have a trade name already - HDPSea.


Actually, for a majority of cities in the California, land is very expensive, and new landfill sites are either non-existent, far away, or beset with problems. If you like, I can give you some examples, since I've grew up next to one landfill and one canyon over from another site that went undeveloped for some very good reasons.

Recycling is wonderful. The reason that it doesn't work better is that there's a highly volatile world market (led by Chinese recyclers in most fields), there isn't a good market for large chunks of the waste stream (like recycled mixed paper), and often, recycling efforts are political rather than economic, so they don't take the market into account when they're active. For example, much of the paper collected on a recycling drive may get landfilled, because the spot market for mixed paper is too low to pay the shipping charge to get it to the recycler.

Finally, there's the real problem of waste stream contamination. While I think we're past the days where someone flushing their unused antibiotics could take out a sewer plant, there are quite a few ways to make a recycling stream a lot less valuable, and most of them involve simple carelessness or stupidity.

Plasma arc waste disposal has the contamination issue in spades. If you're burning waste without metal contamination, it's wonderful. However, all it takes is a few batteries or something similar to turn all the ash in the plasma chamber into Class 1 hazardous waste, which jacks up the disposal fee quite a lot. You also have to make quite sure that the chimney scrubbers don't accidentally send that contaminated ash into the air, since your plant will almost certainly be in an urban area. All conversion technologies (trash to energy) have some form of this problem. They would be much cheaper if only they could guarantee an uncontaminated waste stream going in.

I'd also note that if you've got a cure for such stupidity, don't call me. Rather, talk to a business attorney, because you could get filthy rich by solving this problem. Most proposals for handling the trash of big cities founder on it, because the proposals only work if they can get a predictable trash stream in, and that's the one thing the cities can't provide.


A city can't provide a predictable waste stream . . . but perhaps a new religion laden with taboos could. "Put nicads in the bin and THIS will happen to you in the afterlife! And to all your friends, who failed to stop you from putting them in the bin." Might work.


Isn't the issue not straight productivity, but transporting food to people?

The other issue about farming is that it's not just crop production. That's what big agribusiness has focused on, and the externalities have been enormous (pollution, population relocation, arguably obesity, terraforming of Iowa, etc). Farming can also restore productivity to land, get carbon back in soil, provide multiple income streams, help build community, and so forth, depending on how many people are involved and what they're doing on their farms.

No one's figured out how to build or run an industrial-scale sustainable farm (yet). To date, it appears that sustainability works best on the small-farm scale, because you need a higher ratio of skilled farmer per acre farmed than get with industry.

While I'm not sure that we'll get 85% of people back on the land post-oil, I wouldn't be surprised if we got well north of 50% in 100 years. It's a classic solution that we know works, especially if you're downsizing national infrastructure at the same time.


As might a $1000 fine every time you get caught putting NiCads in the wrong bin


The Church of the Recycler Redeemed? Sounds great! Sign me up!


I'm not thinking about Redemption. More about Avoiding Certain and Painful Damnation. With an unhealthy dose of collective responsibility to really keep the bins clean. The Holy Office of the Binquisition would be involved somewhere...


There is one additional upside to horses: You can eat them if you're hungry enough. I recommend cooking them long and slow with lots of veggies.


..and as we know, no one expects the Spanish Binquistion.

Yeah, I think I better take a break too.


Hence my saying that my comment "doesn't really help people coming from Scotland." Rail is clearly not a realistic option for you.

I was at a conference in Edinburgh several years ago that was sponsored by a train company, so my onward journey from London was free, and first class. If my ticket had been made of gold it would still have been worth less than the fantasy number of Pounds that ticket would have cost.
Having said that, the Eurostar isn't necessarily as expensive as you seem to think. Starting price for an advance-purchase return trip (London-Brussels) is 79 Pounds or 88 Euro. (though if you need to travel spontaneously, you're paying fantasy money)

Isn't there an overnight ferry from Rosyth to Zeebrugge? Not much fun in winter, though, I'd have thought.

To return to a more post-oil discussion...
@ 111,
You say, "we pay for using cars as social signalling devices rather than transport". This is clearly still true in some parts of the world. But a combination of wealth, new technologies and high fuel prices may be changing that. In Europe, for example, small cars are clearly on the rise - even Volkswagen has felt impelled to launch a small car to compete in this segment (the Up, due end-2011). And for young urban people, cars are increasingly not the social signalling devices they once were. I recall a recent discussion in the German media about how personal electronic devices (Apple chief amongst them) were, for 'the youth', replacing cars in signalling social status (and in finding the technology cool). Such people are moving to car-sharing for when they need a car, rather than outright ownership. Good public transport also helps. But I think this is where cities are heading, so I'm optimistic that the psychological element of car-ownership will recede somewhat.


If you live in a City like London, owning a car is a massive indulgence.

Here's my question for a post-oil world 50-100 years out: silicon, graphene, hypothetical biocomputer, or abacus and slide-rule? How about infrastructure? Will we still have the web, or will it be a jury-rigged system of independent cell phone towers and shortwave radio?

This is as much a question about infrastructure and manufacturing as it is about the technology itself. I'm really trying to figure out what will survive best as infrastructure degrades.

I'll admit that my prediction for a cell phone in the 50-100 year range is one that's attached to a bicycle...

Computer technology: either silicon or something better. Bio-computing probably doesn't fall under "something better" except for very specialized problems where the inconvenience of very slow and messy computers is compensated by the massive parallelism available.

I'm guessing that we will still have the web. Cellular data service takes up less physical resources than wired service, and it's easier to protect against looters (should it come to that) than long copper wires.

Computer and communication technology is related to oil in only a tertiary way. The main energetic input is electricity, both for manufacturing and for operation.

Battery-constrained mobile devices have driven very impressive and ongoing efficiency improvements in communication and computation over the past decade. It takes about 5 watt-hours per day for a powerful smartphone, or about the same to run a simple feature phone for a week*. For comparison, the average American household uses about 30000 watt-hours of electricity per day at present. On the list of things that people are going to abandon as energy becomes more expensive, computers and communications are a strong contender for dead last. This is doubly true when you consider the enabling effects of computers and communications: they can enable the smart grid, predict weather for renewable energy planning and optimization, reduce vehicle travel through remote observation and telecommuting, enable more efficient use of fertilizers, replace herbicides with mechanical weeding, and drive automated manufacturing of LED lights, PV panels, and wind turbines.

I don't think that phone bicycle chargers will be particularly common. The amount of energy needed is easily available from a small PV panel, and PV doesn't have any moving parts to maintain. But if you already have an electric bike with regenerative breaking... well, sure, why not also give it a micro power sharing connector to charge a phone or other small gadget?

*YMMV, particularly if you talk for 3 hours a day or watch movies on your phone. But even at maximum work load, a smart phone draws less than 2 watts.


OK, one thing that's perennially brought up for post-peak oil and steampunk, is lighter-than-air craft. I'm asking in ignorance here, would they be a viable means of transportation in a post-peak scenario? Specifically in terms of their construction, lift gas, maintenance and enough weather forecasting to keep them safe. Any insights from the peanut gallery?

OK other things - could genetic engineering hack together something that could efficiently produce biofuels? How much infrastructure would be needed to handle something like this? A possible source comes from

Folks have already mentioned cargo bikes (re the thing in Amsterdam) so that's a good bit. But also, what about dog carts? Train the beast up and its multi-use - home security, companion, garbage disposal and grunt labor.

Return to regional varietals in agriculture. Right now, it favors mono-culture, but with increases in transport cost, could heirloom breeds and new varietals become popular?

Sailing. I used to do this for a hobby, so color me interested. The Wind Up Girl and Shipbreaker touch on this with the airfoil/kite sails so the ships can catch high altitude winds, but there's also high efficiency sails, etc. And while I think they're neat and have a lot of gosh wow, I doubt they'll compete with the first thorium reactor powered container ships.

And something about plastics... Can't remember it now. Maybe later.


My intuition from the rural dwellers I know is they'll pack it in and try to somehow (re)join the urban workforce before they'll adopt horses. I think it would be great if the horse came back, though it wouldn't do much for those little organic farms that sell their produce to high-end restaurants in the nearest city (which is rarely in horse-distance).

Of course, food distribution will probably change in a lot of ways as fuel prices go up, so who's to say?


i think there will certainly be a Web but will there be a World Wide Web? The transoceanic cables are pretty vulnerable and if large parts of the planet are still collapsed, running cable across the barbarian hinterlands could be entertaining.

You can always link via satellites but the bandwidth would be low...


Ah. Got it. What are the odds on room temperature super conductors? If they could be brought on line, they'd reduce a lot of transmission loss, but they may also solve the battery problem with the use of superconducting loops.


Your numbers imply enough oil for 3000 years.
The 85 million is barrels per day, which comes out to 30 billion barrels a year. So 10 years, or 20+ if you believe the resource numbers.


Recycling: Japan seems to get its citizens to separate their waste a lot, without being a new religion. Though if one goes by "way of life" rather than "belief in the supernatural" definitions, simply being Japanese may be its own religion.


@ 105
But "peak Uranium" BUYS YOU TIME
SOmewhere between 50-100 years.
And provided you keep remembering that all it is doing is buying you time, you can work on longer-term solutions.

heteromeles @ 133
See my earlier post on restructuring around allotment-use....


Satellite bandwidth need not be low. Latency will be high, at least until we upgrade the speed of light.


@146 Math, it's a wonderful thing. (-:

Of course all that new oil is somewhat offset by the depletion of existing fields

Still I expect us to bump along the top of the peak for awhile yet


Airships are good at moving hydrogen around, and they're probably the most durable aircraft available (thinking about the WW2 blimp they destruct-tested by flying through a blizzard. It survived). I'm not sure why I keep seeing "niche market" on airships, but it could be because they don't fly well into the wind. A manned version of the sky snake might work. Or not. At least, it's really cool to imagine.

As for bioengineering fuel crops, we've already got a really good one called sugar cane. The problem is that it doesn't grow in most of the US, and for some reason (possibly associated with the politics of the sugar industry over the last 500 years), it seems...fraught as a fuel source.

As for dog carts...why not? That's what chow dogs were bred for, AFAIK. They were a food source too (hence the name). Not terribly efficient in any of the roles, but another niche that could be filled.

As for diversity in agriculture, that's sort of underlying all the criticism of current industrial agriculture. As optimized, industrial ag is breath-taking both in its political efficiency and in its brittleness. Unfortunately, the US right now is in about the same position as 1840s Ireland with respect to food security. Given one bad growing season and a outbreak of something like corn blight or wheat rust, we could see a famine. We just don't have alternative crops ready to go, nor do we have the food reserves. This is one place where I wholeheartedly agree with the Mormons about keeping emergency supplies.


Absolutely Greg. My abject apologies for not citing your post. Personally, I wish I had 10x30m, but I make due with my few square meters.

For those contemplating what post-oil urban agriculture might look like, I think Havana has some interesting examples (

152: argued against airships. Not much faster than a train, much less efficient; not much more efficient than a plane, if at all, while being much slower. They're much better than a plane at just hovering in place, but if you want to move there's all that air to push aside with your big air bubble, while not carrying all that much.

The funny vertical axis units simplify to energy/(distance*weight)
which I think helps us see that there's thus no niche even for transoceanic transportation. If you're going 3000 miles across the Atlantic, a plane and an airship will move a given mass while taking the same amount of energy -- and the plane will do so 5x faster.

*looks carefully* Okay, a 747 will use twice as much energy as a "large classical airship" while moving 6-7 times faster. So there's probably *some* energy price point at which taking the airship makes sense despite the longer journey. OTOH the MD-90 is comparable to the airship, so why not just take that instead?

They might have some future niche, like helicopters (also expensive) do, but it's not obvious what. And for most purposes, if you can lay rail or even road, ground vehicles will be nearly as fast or faster while much more efficient, while if you can't planes will use as much fuel but be much faster. Not much point to the airship for simply getting around. Aerial sightseeing, maybe, and expect to pay for it.


On nitrogen fixation:

The Haber-Bosch process catalytically combines hydrogen gas with nitrogen gas from the atmosphere to produce ammonia. Ammonia can then be oxidized to produce nitric acid. From this key, ammonia, we derive the panoply of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers: urea, ammonium nitrate, anhydrous ammonia, aqueous ammonia, sodium/potassium/calcium nitrate. The nitric acid is also key to industrial and military explosives and propellants: Haber-Bosch allowed Germany to fight World War I long after its Chilean nitrate imports had been blockaded. It later was a major component of the Green Revolution. It is still a key element of agriculture.

The hydrogen for Haber-Bosch has been produced many ways: chemically from coal, oil, and natural gas, or electrolytically from water. The electrolytic hydrogen has the favorable property of process simplicity and high purity, so it does not need cleanup to avoid catalyst poisoning, but the disadvantage of relatively high price. Ammonia production is currently dominated by plants located near inexpensive, large deposits of natural gas. This is a way to profitably use natural gas that was formerly wasted by flaring because it was stranded far from markets: ammonia is a much higher-value and easily transported product than the natural gas it was sourced from.

There is a stranded energy issue with renewables, too. The world's windiest areas are not conveniently co-located with large demand centers. Getting the electricity to end users from those places requires expensive and/or environmentally detrimental transmission line construction. Even now, when all American wind farms are grid-tied, a lot of energy is wasted at times when transmission lines are full or reachable users don't have sufficient demand. This is a problem that can be partly solved (as I've mentioned earlier) by smart grids plus dispatchable loads like EV-charging and time shifting air conditioner use. Part also might be solved by moving ammonia production to the stranded energy source, as has already happened with natural gas. 25 million megawatt hours of wind energy were wasted in the US in 2010 because transmission line capacity or end-user demand was insufficient at time of generation. That's enough electricity to electrolytically produce hydrogen for over 2 million tons of ammonia -- about 14% of total US consumption, and that just from wind industry cast-offs.

It is unlikely that electrolytic plants can tap anywhere close to that much currently-wasted wind energy, mostly because few wind farms are run badly enough to give the electrolytic plant a usefully high capacity factor. It is more likely that electrolytic plants would pay market rates for electricity or perhaps deliberately tap remote windy areas that can't be grid tied but can ship ammonia.

At 10 cents per kilowatt hour, a metric ton of electrolytic anhydrous ammonia would cost $1400 ($1200 of that paying for electricity). This is more than twice the current price of $590, but actually less than the $2187 (inflation-adjusted) that an American farmer would pay for the same nitrogen input in 1955. Even if we have to make nitrogen fertilizer without fossil fuels, it's going to be a return to the mid 20th century in terms of prices rather than to the 19th century.


Note that the target market for the sky snake is surveillance and communication platforms. Hanging in the air for days or weeks or longer. Basically a mobile (or controllably *not* mobile) balloon. Useful -- but not transportation.


At the scale of mega-trends, let's look back. In the Nineteenth Century, we solved the sewage problem, making cities far more viable. We also solved the energy problem, replacing human & animal labour with coal. Bingo, huge growth. In the Twentieth Century, we solved the transport problem, oil lets us move people and goods to anywhere we like. We also solved the communication problem, with radio, television, and the net.

The Twenty-First? The changes will be as big and as unpredictable and not what we are talking about here.

It's not about energy. While some people here are complaining about renewables, the rest of the world is just getting on with rolling them out at a massive scale. Yes, intermittency, higher cost, rare earths, ... whatever. If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed that all of these are solved problems. It's also not about oil. There are 150 years of proven coal reserves right now and coal-to-liquid fuel is a mature technology, Sasol in South Africa has been making billions of gallons. We still have enough fossil fuel to keep on going, as before, at not very much higher cost. And hell, if we really need more energy, there's nukes. Yes there's higher prices, safety problems, and the risk of proliferation, but if there was ever the chance of the lights going out, then most people would be hammering on the door for more generation.

There's lots more energy out there. The problem, of course, is the damage to the climate from the carbon emissions, but to be blunt, that's mostly going to end up killing people who are poor, brown, and haven't been born yet. Judging from the progress the world has made in addressing climate change (approximately none), it seems like those people don't count.

So, the structural change is not a technological one. I think it will be an economic one. It will be the rise of the global middle class. In the last twenty-five years, we've seen a billion people rise up out of poverty in China and India. In the next fifty, I think we'll see another two billion people rise up from Asia and Africa. This rise will run straight into the damage that the West has done to the climate and to the biosphere and they're going to be pissed off with us.


Sorry to have to tell you d brown, but Chavez has been talking total ******* with regard to Venezuela's oil. Are you surprised, looking at his track record?

He's been aided by the USGS and very positive viewpoints on the difference between technically recoverable and economically recoverable.

In the end the key question is not how much black stuff is in the ground, but how fast you can produce real oil products to the market, and at what cost. Practical reality is the talk is of kilobarrels of production per day, not megabarrels. That's puts it in the 'also ran' category, unless they absolutely poured money into it - and even then they wouldn't match the fall off elsewhere, even in the same country. And that is if they could neuter Chavez. As it is, the production rate of Venezuela is falling...

Not all oil is equal, and the stuff in the ground isn't nearly as important as the speed you can get it out.


Doing some work in the field, so here goes on bioreplacement of petroleum. In short, glucose--> ethanol/butanol is the most direct fuel route. We have something like 400 years of experience with this cycle. I know the USAF has bugs that will eat the same and excrete hydrogen. I've read of some that can produce lactic acid which is used as a feed stock for low density plastics. The next least expensive route is starch --> sugar --> product. Starch is a really good candidate for being broken down into its component sugars because of its amorphous structure. Worst-best option is cellulose -> sugar --> product. The structure of cellulose and the inclusion of lignins (which hydrolyse into things other than glucose) make it harder to break down. However, from a food offset, cellulose like sugar cane bagasse or grasses is probably the best trade.

The short course is that cellulose, in cost of pre-treatment and enzymes cost $0.55/finished gallon of ethanol before you get to the cost of doing anything. People are looking into breeding yeast strains that metabolize lignin product sugars like xylose, and there is a ton of research on enzyme efficiency, better pretreatment methods, and process integration, but I reckon that the price of gas would have to hit (and stay at) about $6/gallon before taxes for cellulostic ethanol to be effective. And by that time, refineries would have adjusted their product to be producing a whole crapload more gas/diesel per bbl crude than they are now.

As of a couple of years ago, it was almost impossible to make photosynthetic biolipids on a truly industrial scale. Basically, your algae layer is limited by sunlight diffusion to be about 10 cm deep. You can try pumping through helical pipes and such, but you run into limiting factors very quickly. One place where such a process would reach maximum efficiency is at a water-treatment plant co-located with a fossil fuel plant. Algae would significantly clean graywater and pumping CO2 at pressure would also make them grow faster. (You get some pH issues here, but we know how to buffer biological solutions.) Also, your "waste" product from the transesterfication process is glycerol, which is also used at water treatment plants.

Neither of these are going to take over for oil. What would be nice is using these technologies where they could be effective and make more efficient use of the waste streams of other processes (sugar harvesting or power generation and water treatment).


Just to reiterate, its a question of scale and rates. Many of the 'solutions' here become neutered because we are starting just too damn late.

I have to disagree with mein host's statement "We're not running out of oil in the short term". We have been on a production plateau for the past 6 years now, at a time when prices have risen from less than $30 to more than $100 and stayed there. But still we don't see production spikes, even with big money to be made. Nope, the production peak is now. While tomorrow won't have no oil, it will have less - and that's nearly as bad for economies built on growth.

I said at the tail end of the original thread, a good planning assumption is 7 years for going from the status quo to little/no fuel for private transport. It got politely ignored, so maybe I should justify why I say that:

Currently we produce about 86mbpd of oil and similar. That doesn't take into account that some of that is used to produce it, so the usable energy content is actually lower (and falling).

Of that, roughly half is exported. Now, in a post peak world an exporting nation isn't going to cut internal consumption as it cuts exports. The pain will fall mainly on exports.

Of the oil exported, roughly half goes to private vehicles, etc. and the rest to other industrial, farming, and cargo purposes. Again, if you have a sensible government and available oil is decreasing, they aren't going to sacrifice industry so that Jimmy can get to football practice. So the rationing will hit domestic usages disproportionately.

The geological rate of decline on existing fields is about 6%, after infill drilling and the usual EoR efforts. Although new fields are being developed, we are well past the maximum discovery peak and these fields left tend to be smaller, harder and more money/energy intensive to exploit, and last less time. It's a red queen race.

So take a post peak decline rate of 4%, double that decline rate for available exports, and double it again for rationing by governments. Do the maths with those figures, and you find the fuel available for your tank hits 0 in about 7-8 years. Worse, its an accelerating downward curve, in percentage terms, for the driver.

Obviously its not even as simple as that. The US produces about 6Mbpd itself, so that would still be available to offset industrial usage, slowing the effective decline rate for them. At the same time, post peak we can expect exporting nations to hoard/extend their production (cutting exports faster) and we can expect resource wars and terrorism cutting chunks out of production for years at a time.

Therefore, particularly for Europe, its sensible to plan on the basis of 7 years. You might get a bit more, which would be a bonus, but if you planned for 15 years and only got 5? It gives the right level of urgency to the issue.

If Japan can produce the steel for 3 reactors a year, that's 21 new reactors, worldwide, before your car is totally immobile. The Chevy Volt took 5 years to get to market, in small numbers.

As I said, it's ALL about scale and rates...


Diesel-punk flat TVs and cellphones? Plutonium-powered notebooks? I find this Back to the Future commercial oddly fitting the thread...


The need to turn stuff off as demand changes is true to some extent for all forms of electricity generation. I don't know whether your particular numbers happen because windpower is "experimental" and treated as the power supply of last resort, or whether you may have fallen afoul of someone else's cherry picked statistic. Certainly when I drive out to Palm Springs on a summer afternoon the windmills are all turning, but I don't know what the actual percentage of power they provide is.

A few things are obvious, as I've driven past Palm Springs for more than twenty years now:

1.) The windmills can be turned on and off. There is no worry at all that the Palm Springs windmills will overload the grid.

2.) They have been steadily adding windmills for at least twenty years, and they clearly repair windmills that have stopped working - this seems to say that the windmills out there are not running at a loss.

3.) They have thousands of windmills and are clearly generating enormous amounts of power.

All this without looking up a thing.


@158 given we are on a production plateau, there is no way of knowing when the decline actually begins or how fast it will take

it could be two years or it could be twenty

The oildrum people have beat this one to death, there is simply no way of knowing which scenario we are in until the decline actually commences

There is reason to believe though that the longer the plateau the steeper the decline


On a global per capita basis, we've had peak oil since 1982.


On renewable liquid fuels:

This is the worst news. Renewable liquid fuels are pretty expensive and limited, at least compared to the rate at which Americans have enjoyed consuming them for the last 50 years or so. Places where land is cheap and the climate is right might make a tidy profit off of sugar cane or even switchgrass. But there's too little land per capita for this to be a general solution, especially when you consider the extra inputs that would be needed in most places (irrigation and fertilization).

Even oil-from-algae as envisioned by its fondest proponents doesn't look great. Even if you can keep the algae from being gobbled up by predators, and even if you automate the tending and processing, you're basically running a very low efficiency solar energy system. You pay a large efficiency/space premium to get liquid fuel instead of electricity. This premium will be paid one way or another for aircraft and other critical uses, but don't expect to keep driving your Expedition to the grocery store. Maintaining current US motor fuel consumption with algal oil, even with fairly generous assumptions, requires you to basically convert the entire surface of Texas to algae ponds and their associated infrastructure. It makes the photovoltaic "pave a huge chunk of Nevada desert with solar cells" solution look positively lilliputian.

In my opinion one of the most promising renewable-liquids approaches is to apply the big hammer of Fischer-Tropsch synthesis to biomass waste products from forestry, agriculture, and municipal collection. F-T synthesis and related technologies take a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen called synthesis gas or syngas and use it to produce diesel fuel, gasoline, alcohols, aldehydes, ketones, organic acids -- practically the whole spectrum of gaseous and fluid chemicals containing H, C, and O. The F-T products can be used in turn to produce any chemical products formerly derived directly or indirectly from oil: solvents, dyes, plastics, explosives, propellants, fragrances, flavors, drugs, and pesticides.

The syngas can be produced from steam plus any reduced carbon source: coal, natural gas, oil (but you'd be a fool), even lignocellulose. It has been in large commercial scale use in coal-rich, oil-poor South Africa for decades*. It is far less picky about inputs than biotechnological approaches which typically need to pre-treat lignocellulose with steam and/or acids, plus coddle living organisms or enzymes with mild and narrow conditions (narrow temperature range, careful pH control, can't allow products to accumulate too much or they inhibit/kill producer organisms). Throughput is also higher because it's a high temperature process with correspondingly faster chemical kinetics. You might even split the difference between biology and physics by enriching the feed-gas with electrolytic hydrogen, so that less of the input carbon goes to CO2 instead of products**.

The dark cloud of the silver lining is that biomass inputs are still in relatively short supply. They're more abundant, less expensive, and more energetically sensible than turning corn into ethanol, but they'd still replace only a minor part of the motor fuel once sourced from oil. If you try to expand beyond cheap waste products and actually farm biomass for F-T, you run into basically the same efficiency/space problems mentioned above with algae. It's better thought of as a way to get valuable chemicals rather than fuels. Essentially we're witnessing the transition of liquid fuels from a class of especially cheap chemicals to just plain chemicals.

If you are wearing your super-happy make believe cap, absurdly cheap electricity could make F-T fuels both cheap and essentially unlimited in supply. You'd strip CO2 out of the atmosphere and react it with electrolytic hydrogen to form the synthesis gas. When you burned the fuel made from synthesis gas you'd be replenishing the atmosphere with CO2 for the next cycle -- neither solving global warming nor contributing to it. But I don't see absurdly cheap electricity on the horizon.

*And in fact this is something that will probably spread more widely as oil constraints become more obvious, but it's ugly. It still can't replace more than a modest fraction of current oil production and it about doubles the carbon footprint of automobile transportation.

**If you want a hydrogen-rich feed gas in the ratios you'd need to produce (e.g.) pentane, traditionally some of the carbon monoxide must be sacrificed as CO2 via the water gas shift reaction to make the extra hydrogen: H2O + CO -> CO2 + H2. Producing the hydrogen externally reduces the sacrifice.


There's the practical view and the internet view. The latter is quite straightforward: now that we have passed Peak X, the planet's total supply of X will drop to zero, causing the utter collapse of civilization - some time about next Thursday afternoon.

You may insert any X you wish.


I don't actually think peak oil is that worrying, but as someone employed cleaning up 100 year old Gas Manufacturing Plants ( not a cheap process) and who has recently got dragged into the clean ups involved into the 100 year old legacy clean ups from Thorium Gas Mantle manufacture and the 60 year old Manhattan Project, the question I would ask is... What are the unseen costs that we are not anticipating.... I have no idea but one potential consequence of some of the technologies discussed is the spread of bacteria who are very good at breaking down (whatever critical thing we need) I know there are some SF/thrillers discussing this problem but I seem to have missed reading them
Interesting thread, lets break the record



Biosources: at 7 billion people, Earth offers 2 hectares or under 5 acres of land area per person. At 9 billion people, 1.6 hectares. And that's counting all land, desert mountains glaciers jungle etc.

For the US, more like 3.2 hectares per person. That's counting Alaska.

You may find this reassuring or alarming.


... "What other structural changes are on the cards for the late twenty-first century?"

Changes to the global population structure are probably going to change things in unexpected ways. Naïvely one might expect that an older population means a greater obsession with health, safety, and security. Insurance companies and gated-community developers will make out like bandits. Adventure tourism may well die away. As OGH pointed out a few blogs back, there'll be a massive rise in dementia and other age-related degenerative diseases.

If the UN's latest (medium scenario) population projections are anywhere near correct, and climate change plays out as predicted, with massive drying over most of Africa, we're going to see a Malthusian catastrophe in Africa (bigger than the Somali one playing now), while the rest of the world carries on as normal. I don't know whether the resulting "donor fatigue" will lead to a hardening of ethnic tensions and general grumpiness in international relations.

Economic structures: scarcity is a relative concept. If natural resources remain scarce, then other things will become more abundant. Therefore their prices will tend to fall. The main "other thing" is labour: the price of labour (wages) will tend to fall and income will tend to accrue to owners of capital. We may decouple income from work for most people.

For the remaining workers, the people who have highly paid jobs will be staying in them to more and more advanced ages. The log-jam in corporate (and academic!) promotion pathways will either produce a huge surge in entrepreneurship, or a turning away from the game, as seems to be happening in Japan. There could be a great split in society between workers and 'universal basic income" recipients.


Climate change and resource wars are real wild cards...


Natural gas can be made into a liquid like gasoline, only better. Back in the first so called gas shortage I read it would cost 17 cents a gallon to make. Including the natural gas. But that was then. The oil companies own most of the natural gas.
As for making heat with natural gas its long been know that it can be burned with up to %40 water. Burn the gas so rich it its full of fumes. Then use some of the heat to make steam. Run the mix into a catalyst and burn the H2, OX and Hydro-Carbons that come out. There are a lot of good jet motors that can no longer be used in planes. Gear them to generators, run them on steam gas and you have a lot of fast cheap power with little pollution.
I don't remember how much it was from the 70's, but a lot of oil in the US is used by trains. They have electric motors for power. I read back then that converting them to full electric would cut oil use so much that OPEC world cave in, as would Texas.
MarketWatch)- LONDON -"Venezuela's crude oil proven reserves surpassed those of Saudi Arabia in 2010, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its annual statistical bulletin."...
'''"Venezuela's PROVEN crude oil reserves reached 296.5 billion barrels in 2010, up 40.4% on the year and higher than Saudi Arabia's 264.5 billion barrels, OPEC said...". It's know they have a lot of un-proven oil.
"...The data broadly confirm Venezuela's statements that it had reached this level of reserves in January. OPEC normally relies on its members' assessments for statistical data...."
"...Venezuela's statistics have long been a controversial topic in oil circles, though disagreements on the matter have recently eased. The International Energy Agency last month said it revised the method used to calculate the country's oil-production figures, bringing the agency's estimates closer to those of Caracas."


Natural gas can be made into a liquid like gasoline, only better. Back in the first so called gas shortage I read it would cost 17 cents a gallon to make. Including the natural gas. But that was then. The oil companies own most of the natural gas.
As for making heat with natural gas its long been know that it can be burned with up to %40 water. Burn the gas so rich it its full of fumes. Then use some of the heat to make steam. Run the mix into a catalyst and burn the H2, OX and Hydro-Carbons that come out. There are a lot of good jet motors that can no longer be used in planes. Gear them to generators, run them on steam gas and you have a lot of fast cheap power with little pollution.
I don't remember how much it was from the 70's, but a lot of oil in the US is used by trains. They have electric motors for power. I read back then that converting them to full electric would cut oil use so much that OPEC world cave in, as would Texas.
MarketWatch)- LONDON -"Venezuela's crude oil proven reserves surpassed those of Saudi Arabia in 2010, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said in its annual statistical bulletin."...
'''"Venezuela's PROVEN crude oil reserves reached 296.5 billion barrels in 2010, up 40.4% on the year and higher than Saudi Arabia's 264.5 billion barrels, OPEC said...". It's know they have a lot of un-proven oil.
"...The data broadly confirm Venezuela's statements that it had reached this level of reserves in January. OPEC normally relies on its members' assessments for statistical data...."
"...Venezuela's statistics have long been a controversial topic in oil circles, though disagreements on the matter have recently eased. The International Energy Agency last month said it revised the method used to calculate the country's oil-production figures, bringing the agency's estimates closer to those of Caracas."



Don't forget, with an ageing, pensioner-headed workforce the pension funds will be have to be paying out bigtime. In consequence the money available to be gambled/invested in stock markets, bonds, etc. will decrease - reducing the money available for investment, etc.

A deflationary spiral is expected by these people:


yes we believe there is oil in Venezuela to keep the plates spinning for another ten years or so. Assuming that the existing oil fields don't accelerate decline

Natural gas is useful but there is not enough of it, it's got it's own supply issues


The other thing about natural gas is you don't have to make it into a liquid, you can just run cars off it as-is i think. It's actually a pretty good hope that the shale natural gas expectations will pan out and deliver us enough NG to get us through to renewable and fusion

However that does not make a very good scifi story...


Only one problem with Venezuela keeping the plates spinning - their production has been declining, year on year.

Now in part that is due to the deathwish of Chavez, but its also because the 'reserves' are pretty much a fiction, and those that aren't cannot be extracted quickly.

It suits Chavez to inflate his reserves, keeps him in power and suits his ego. It suits OPEC to go along with it, since it inflates their collective reserve numbers. It also suits IEA, since even though they have had to revise their predicted production numbers significantly over the past decade, they are desperately trying to keep their curve on an upward trend to keep the US happy.

Facts on the ground however, are the Venezuela production numbers look like:


Rise of global middle class would be big. Climate and energy might slow them down, but spread of technology should help at least the survivors somewhat, and even getting to say Chile levels would be a huge improvement for China, let alone India.

But structural changes? In your own words, perhaps "solving the labor problem". The Singularity and its Cognitive Revolution relatives do lurk in the wings; even if "hard takeoff" fantasies or even fully human-level AI don't quite make it, I think we can safely expect some uncertain but large increase in the abilities of automation.

Even if Moore's Law as such stalls out -- which is a likely change -- we can still see improvements in computation/dollar, this time from amortized fab costs over long lifetimes rather than replacing them every few years with Progress!, and exploring the space of massive parallelism, perhaps with slower but cheaper and cooler chips (a la the brain; very slow, very energy efficient).

Of course for the vast majority of us who *are* the labor, this 'solution' is problematic, without a redistribution of capital or income rights. Perhaps authoritarian governments on the cusp of development will find it easier to let a lot of their people die off in favor of machines than spend the effort of raising them up to be superfluous anyway.


More on economics: investment.

Things will not be as they were. Over the last 400 years, with a rising population, investment in new capital has been above the amount needed to replace existing buildings, equipment, and structures (roads, ports, etc.).

Towards the end of the century, when China, India, and South America have got near OECD levels of per capita income, investment could slip below replacement levels. If the market is not growing, and efficiency keeps improving, we'll need fewer capital goods in order to get the same services from them. For example, to replace $1000 of existing building might require only $900 of new building.

If investors take the efficiency trend into account when planning investments, they may undershoot - thinking that they'll be selling less, they try to get a few years ahead of the game by under-investing in replacements. We could see our capital stock of buildings, structures, and equipment getting older and older.

Where will the money go instead? I don't know. Speculation?


I'd like to see peak stupidity, but I guess it is a renewable.


I think one thing that will happen post-oil is that sick people like me will get placed in something like a giant nursing home. We'll have fewer choices and see fewer people -- other than the employees who may live on the project property -- so we aren't allowed to use oil. (My old primary doctor has moved to rounding all the floors that our HMO uses in hospitals, nursing homes, and rehad places.)


Without having read any comments yet I have seen the future. I just watched "Things to Come". Basically if engineers take over and rule the world in a benevolent socialistic semi-dictatorhip all the world's problems will be dealt with in a fair and equitable manner.


Said engineers will of course be white English speaker.


Energy & transportation: wind, airships, rail.

PVs for telecomm, information technology, and transport. PVs along road right-of-ways.

Passive and hybrid solar energy systems for buildings.


Nothing new here, yet, but here is something new: a new spirituality, of which the current crop of new age and atheism material is only the harbinger.


LEWIS L SMITH - "Peak oil" is an economic concept, not a physical one. Physically most oil in a field gets left in the ground. A world average is probably around 70%. (it costs to much for them. so it is not pumped.)

To project the coming peak in the world production of crude oil, one should have the following information about each of the world's principle oil fields ---

[1] Historic - oil pumped, additives, gas and water injected.

[2] Current - data for some 15 parameters.

[3] Future - probable shape of the production decline curve, probable results of exploration and development projects under way in the field and elsewhere, probable impact of new E&D technologies.

Most of the people who have this kind of information, have it only for their own country, and almost none of them are talking. Some consultants claim to have such information for more than one country, but persons who are clients of at least two of these consultants say that they don't agree on either the peak year or the rate of decline. Also projecting decline curves is tricky. There are at least four different patterns which a field can follow, and sometimes a field "switches curves" in the middle of the decline.

By and large, the people who are talking are retirees [whose access to current information is uncertain] , people with "axes to grind" and/or people who work from published data. [The latter is the largest group of all]

The use of published data in the oil industry is fraught with peril. Most current data is not very accurate, and most accurate data is not very current. But some important historical data is inaccurate too, such as monthly Saudi production of crude oil. Indeed on several occasions, the OPEC Secretariat has complained publicly that its members lie to it. Also the figures for some countries' reserves are highly suspicious, even at the aggregate level. Last but not least, the principle sources of published data sometimes copy from one another, so circularity is always a threat. . .

Moreover, pinpointing the peak year for world crude production is not very important. The important thing is the shape of the aggregate decline curve.


And before some smart-ass asks me how to stop a windmill, there exists a well-known solution called a clutch.

I suspect feathering the blades is more common. A clutch on a modern windmill would be a huge device and replacing it a bear.

By feathering I mean turning the blades so that the wind causes no rotation of the windmill.


LPG for vehicles has been around for a long time, and the practical engineering problems are settled. Engines are built to cope with lead-free fuel, with the features such as hardened valve seats.

But it has the same infrastructure problem as any other new fuel. Finding places to fill up is still hard. It might be practical for a local transport company, who can re-fill at the depot.

Electric cars have the same problem now, infamously depicted in Top Gear, with much squealing from the car manufacturers about how the production team had deliberately driven in circles about Lincoln, running the batteries down. But that doesn't change the re-charging problem which was being shown.

Whatever the answer is, the experience of LPG suggests that the market is poor at arranging a transition. It's going to need somewhat heavy-handed government action to put the infrastructure in place.


About Shinto and Buddhism.
My experience in Japan (and what I've read of Japanese history and literature) makes it sound like the two religions usually niche-partition by taking charge of different aspects of spiritual life. Shinto has more to say about birth, marriage, seasonal holidays, and daily rituals (like protective charms for cars). Buddhism has more to say about death and the afterlife, morality, philosophy, and history. Of course, the two religions haven't always coexisted so peacefully (like during the Greater Japanese Empire, where the Shinto-supported emperor suppressed the non-native Buddhism).

I've always imagined the religious situation in Japan as what the British Isles might have evolved into, if not for the central authority of the Church of Rome (and the fact that the Korea Strait is 170 km wider than the Strait of Dover).

On the other hand, religions of the Book tend to frown on this sort of symbiosis. They more often go for syncretism (what pagan gods? We're Christians just like you! Now pass the sacrificial lamb and fertility eggs). I suppose a Japan-like system might evolve in the west if one of the religious didn't call itself a religion (I go to Church on Sunday and Life Counseling on Tuesday).


Cars, though, are not nearly as efficient as thay can be: we pay for using cars as social signalling devices rather than transport. Unless this ends soon (we stop being primates?) SUVs won't go away, but they will get rarer, and expensive petrol is likely to produce lighter and more optimised vehicles.

Hmmm. Yes I know some people who drive SUVs for no apparent reason but I have mine as a left over from kids in high school. Plus I do my own home repairs/upgrades and having a vehicle which can pull 4000+ pounds is useful. But then again most of my driving during the week is occasional 15 miles trips to a client. Not a daily commute. And since it is 15 years old it does need to be replaced soon with something a little smaller and with much better fuel millage.


Well, that will at least solve the problem of how to employ all the people who sat at the back of the classroom disrupting the lessons for everyone else.

So future Jobs, Woz, Gates, etc... have to become farmers?


For dumb political reasons, like saving american bankers and Texas oil prices, the USA has been hard at work keeping it off the market. As the price goes up, more will come to the market. American big oil has been exporting oil and gasoline all along.

Venezuelan oil is off most of the world's markets for a simple technical reason. Oil has to be refined. And refineries are designed based on the makeup of the oil they expect to get. And changing one to match to a oil that is not very close in make up costs a lot of money.

Venezuelan oil has been described as road tar flavored with a lot of sulfur. Most of the refineries in the world cannot process it. Most of those that can are located in, guess where, Venezuela and the southern coast of the USA.

So no matter how much oil they have IN the ground, there are not many places that can deal with it when it is out of the ground. And it is very expensive to build new refineries that will deal with it.


It suits Chavez to inflate his reserves, keeps him in power and suits his ego.

Of course pricing it in country at under $.10 US per gallon helps keep him in power also. But it doesn't do much for extending the life of their reserves.


O read somewhere. though it totally escapes me where, that post-oil dependancy, the largest problem is not going to be fuel. The largest problem is likely to be lubricants.

After all, all those bearings, axles and moving parts all over the world are all going to use a lubricant of some kind. Without oil, how do we make them? I know that its possible to make artificial lubricants but I always assumed that they are partly oil based. My father informed me that many years ago motor racing oils were in fact Caster Oil (from which Castrol derives its name).

Just a rather random thought.


Misc comments.

AC does more than cool. It also removes humidity. Not as big a deal in Texas and Arizona. But in the southeast US, it can be cloudy for days and the temp be above 85. Nothing like a night when the temp and humidity are both 95 at 3 AM. Solar doesn't help as much in these cases.

Bikes for groceries and just getting around don't help much with 2 kids and shopping for a family of 4 or 5. And older kids in sports like lacross, well that 60 pounds of equipment you haul around just doesn't work well on a bike or with walking.

Coal. Here in the US we're going to be using it for a few hundred years or so. Give or take. We just have too much of it too close to the surface.


I live in Shanghai, by some measures the world's largest city. If you're looking for what the first world will look like in the 21st Century, look here. Transport infrastructure is particularly interesting. On the one hand, we have unsustainable traffic insanity, and on the other we have very interesting developments in personal transport.

Social pressures on young men to have a car and a home before marriage have raised the number of automobiles to absurd levels. The cost of a license plate is somewhere around GBP 7000, a car about double that (more if it's imported - China has huge import taxes on foreign cars, even if they are assembled locally). Petrol isn't cheap and parking is a nightmare. Everyone hates it.

Sanity arrives in the form of taxis, e-bikes, and LPG motorbikes. The taxis are all natural gas powered. Chinese colleagues of mine say they use "town gas", which is mostly created through sewage capture. Natural gas also powers the millions of motorbikes, which makes them stink-and-smoke free. Electric bikes are everywhere. Quiet, swift, nimble, clean, and inexpensive, you can't walk ten feet without one zooming in front of you. Most people take out the batteries and recharge them at home overnight, but most bike shops have coin-operated chargers that take about a half hour to give you enough juice to keep running your errands.

Parking for e-bikes and LPG motorbikes (and the rapidly disappearing bicycle) can be found on every sidewalk. People unable to use a bicycle can use an e-bike. Even less athletic people can be found on the LPG motorbikes. Elderly people get around on special three-wheeled electric tricycles.

Motorcycles are strictly limited in the city by the government, so they only exist as cheap and illegal taxis.

The downside of all the affordable personal transportation in Shanghai is the anarchic and frankly dangerous street traffic. Not a week goes by without me witnessing a traffic accident. Mostly, though, it works!


A thought about PVs.
If we, let's say, cover half of the Sahara desert with solar batteries, it shouldn't mean that this area is now useless for anything else.

Some of us on the left side of the Atlantic might take issue with terra forming of the Sahara like that. There is a close relationship between weather over the Sahara and hurricanes in the Atlantic. And covering up that much of the desert will likely change things. In ways we don't know. It might make it hotter with all those dark PVs. Or cooler depending on the final color and reflectiveness. But changing the hurricane pattern in the middle Atlantic would be dangerous to say the least. All that energy has to go somewhere. And that's what hurricanes do. They re-distribute the heat in our part of the world. I'm not sure I'd want to trade fewer hurricanes for 100 times as many tornadoes. Or for a colder climate. And if the number of hurricanes here goes up, what's going on somewhere else?


Well, I don't know what the rest of the world is like, but here in Australia we have a streak of hypocrisy running through the environmental movement. Less-polluting, non-fossil energy sources are considered ideal, including hydro-electric generation. Unless you actually attempt to build a hydro-electric plant on a real river or lake - that's EVIL (cos of the environmental change, not necessarily damage, caused by it).

I can certainly see a change there - once we abandon centralised energy production, and go to local sources, it will become normal to see small-scale plants dotting rivers (near each town or city). We will have little choice, and those who protest the sanctity of nature will be ignored or shouted down as they do to others today.

Haven't read all the comments yet (almost 200 when I started reading), so apologies if this has been mentioned: I don't know what the huge energy corporations will be doing, but I'm certain plenty of small ones will spring up to deal with localised supply.


As for carriages/traps/horse as prime mover, oh dear me ...

Charlie didn't even talk about the amounts of manure in large cities 100 years ago.

Here's an article about it and the basic subject of this thread from a conservative point of view.

One reason that automobiles became so popular so fast was they eliminated the "horse problem".

One take off from the article was that in the later 1800s this was a big issue with no foreseeable solution. But as the economics of horses got worse and worse people started thinking outside of the box.

I've heard it said that Henry Ford, when asked why he didn't ask his customers what they wanted replied that in about 1900 they would have answered they wanted a better horse.


The Bay is very shallow (average depth ~12 feet), due in large part to siltation

One problem with dredging major harbors is the, shall we say, interesting stuff entombed in the silt. The first 150 years of the industrial revolution were not kind to river bottoms in the US and I suspect other major rivers and harbors.


On Japanese religions: The co-existence of Shinto and Buddhism may well be more related to "state subsidies" than specific doctrine (unless you count the willingness of Buddhism to adapt to different ideas and the local environment as doctrinal). The early role of Buddhism was not to provide salvation to the masses, but to provide ritual services to the state and the emperor, supplementing those provided by the Shinto priests. Later on, the use of temples for family registration to fix the peasants in their places in the Edo period cemented this relationship from a different angle. There was an attempt to separate the two at the turn of the 20th century associated with the introduction of an artificial "State Shinto", which was to be a "pure Japanese" religion focused on worshipping the Emperor, buddhism being "foreign". (I'd say the American occupation forcing the Emperor to abdicate his godhood was in effect more about the dismantling of State Shinto and less related to the original version.)

Sophisticated doctrinal arguments regarding the relationship between Shinto gods (kami) and buddhas appeared quite a bit after the original appearance of Buddhism in Japan, argued quite a bit both ways. While Japanese Buddhism has various highly developed doctrinal directions, their relationship to the practical monastery rituals and especially folk religion tends to be somewhat woolly. Of course, woolliness in the practical application of religion can be quite conducive to a peaceful society, as opposed to fundamentalism.

On Japan and recycling: Burning waste (often labeled as "recycling" alongside direct reuse of materials) is, as has been mentioned, a major avenue of waste disposal. My understanding is that the waste stream purity issues are handled with two major mechanisms, a) unified labeling conventions and use of packaging materials and b) enforcement of standards at multiple levels.

Unified packaging is probably helped by a strongly local production (or at least local packaging/branding) focused internal market. All food packaging has a clearly visible label indicating the recycling category. Care has been taken to make packaging consist of only one or two easily separable material types, all of which are recyclable (including "burnable"). With the exception of glass, aluminium, PET bottles (labels and corks are separated into burnable garbage while the bottles are recycled otherwise) and cardboard cartons, most packages are either paper and plastic which goes into "burnable" (in Tokyo; other places have more comprehensive separation regimes). Tinfoil freshness seals common in Europe (which would go into "non-burnable garbage") and such are rarely seen.

As for enforcement, the lowest level is social pressure and neighborhood associations. This means that your neighborhood nice old ladies may well go through your garbage, which is to be placed on curbside (in a well-visible location, in transparent bags or in open boxes for most collection types) on specified days. No hiding huge black bags in back-alley dumpsters, that is. There may also be some checking at the collection centers and recycling/burning plants. Violators may be given the evil eye directly by aforementioned old ladies or pressure may be applied through your landlord by the neighborhood association.

Some fliers from Yokohama (no idea why they are in my apartment) warn that you may be fined for violating garbage separation policies. The fliers from the local (Tokyo) district don't say this, so I'm not sure whether it applies here.

Also, slight contamination may simply be ignored and be buried in the artificial islands being built from the ashes, like so many nagging problems in this country. However, since most material types are picked up directly from the curb, the "can't be bothered to drop stuff off at the recycling center" problem is much alleviated.

In about two weeks I have collected about three UK shopping bags worth of burnable garbage and bottles/cans total and something like two items in the "non-burnable" trashcan. The recent natural disaster has resulted in a quite strong "must save resources" meme and significantly less garbage seems to accrue. Especially notable is that if you already carry a bag and buy one or two items, the salesperson will ask whether you'd like a separate bag instead of automatically handing you one.


Jay @ 68
Which is why "Drill, baby, drill!" is exactly the wrong answer.
That IS the Easter Island "solution".
Fortunately, enough people can see this one coming, and are proposing a whole myriad of alternatives to get around the problem.

We must beware of hair-shirted so-called "environmentalists" who are actually nasty little puritans under another name.
As opposed to real environmentalists. There is a distiction, deliberately blurred by right-wing oligarchs and feudalists.
Let's face it wind power is NOT enough, and never will be (look closely at Denmark)
Solar is good, and getting better, but isn't enough on its' own.
Multiple mini-hydro seems to be being ignored, I can't imagine why, given the number of watermills there used to be .....
Nuclear will be a very necessary part of the mix, for baseload supply.
Tidal, especially if REALLY BIG (10m+ diam) Fully-SUBMERGED (and + 10m down-to the top of the structure) turbines are used in places like the Channel, Severn, North Channel. Forth etc will also do well for base-load, since at any one time, only one of them will be at slack tide, and in some of those places, there's a permanent current, anyway.
Note the spread.
There is/will be no "Magic bullet" we will need several overlapping methods of power-generation - as, in fact we have now. Just that the mix will be different.
The BBC link referred to previously about an admittedly experimental algae-cell that produces hydrogen ( HERE IS THE LINK AGAIN ) is a very promising development, as are advances in various forms of solar power.
As Oil gets more expensive, more people are going to be putting more money and directed effort into solutions to this problem.
Provide the big oil companies and vile things like the Kochs are not allowed to derail the process, I don't actually think there is going to be a problem.
As always, it's the politicians who can fuck up, becaue the Engineers and Scientists are working on it, if they are allowed to.

@ 153
On Nitrogen fixation
Which is why we MUST AT ALL COSTS be able to continue to generate electricity - see proposals above.
As you say fixed Nitrogen -> Ammonia ->Nitrates and fertilisers and many other products.
Continued electricity generation from other sources is the vital key which must not be lost.

Jez Weston @ 155
Climate Change, unless addressed will kill a lot of people who are emphatically NOT: poor, brown, and haven't been born yet
Think the Netherlands, and Denmark and the East coasts of the UK and the USA and China, come to that.
See my bit above on not letting big oil and the Kochs loose.

Ian Smith @ 158
Just because Japan is presently (possibly) the only place that rolls steel for nuclear reactor housings, does not men that it will remain so.
We used to be able to do this, we have the plans, and the experts are not yet dead.
If we really HAD to, we could start again... expensive, but not as expensive as doing without.
Remember that wonderful museum-peice at the Sheffield industrial museum, the "Don Valley Engine" - firsty job: rolling plates for HMS Dreadnaught last job, rolling plates for 1st-generation nuke-plants in the UK.
and @ 171
Pensioners - like me, you mean?
Who supplement his pension by working for a passenger-survey organisation, and doing stage/film/tv/advertising "extra" work on the side?
Keeps me in beer-money at least!

Damien RS @ 175
So, I foresee a lot of part-time working, especially by the MORE intelligant, who diversify their individual portfolios.
Like me - I really have no idea how I managed a full-time job, now I'm "retired", and juggling home maintenance, allotment-keeping, keeping fit by dancing, and my part-time employments mentioned above.
Erm .....

Ian Aitken @ 189
Have always been more expensive than oil-fuel.
Other, vegetable sources exist, and as anyone who has ever been to or past a vintage car/motorbike event will testify - the smell of "Castrol R" is unique.
So, relatively small plantations for lubricants will be necessary, utilising those veg that produce the right feedstocks: Jojoba bean, Ricis communis, Soya, etc is the way to go.
Again, the processes are known, just not used much - now/yet.

David L
Well, Britain and Germany still have huge coal-reserves close to the surface, but we are not digging that much of it out.
Why not?
It's filthy, that's why. And expensive in labour, telechiric mining having been abandoned too soon, before the chip-revolution took off.


Lubricants are even easier than plastics. Plant oils will often serve, and petrol oils can be synthesized. Lubricants from oil are about 1% of US oil usage, vs. the 5% used for industrial feedstock (plastics) and asphalt.

The peak oil problem is a problem of cheap energy becoming not cheap. The other uses are minor noise at best.


Re: batteries

One of the interesting policies in the Netherlands has been the differentiated tariff for electrical power, which is significantly cheaper at night. From what I understand, the reason is nuclear - you can't just tell the fission process to take a break after 10 PM, when the large industrial consumers shut down for the night and the small and numerous private consumers turn off their plasmas and tuck in. Anyway, some ingenious folks in the warehousing business decided to use this opportunity to their advantage, by cooling their giant freezers an additional -5 degrees (Celsius) during the night and allowing them to thaw back to -40 during the day. This not only allowed them to save a bundle on electricity costs, but also helped regulate the national power grid; the net effect is not unlike that of a slow giant capacitor.

Maybe the battery we're looking for is nothing more than that cold, cold cellar. Attach a Stirling engine and you have a power generator, albeit one constrained by the Carnot cycle.


*looks carefully* Okay, a 747 will use twice as much energy as a "large classical airship" while moving 6-7 times faster. So there's probably *some* energy price point at which taking the airship makes sense despite the longer journey.

What you're forgetting is that the 747 only takes 8 hours to make the journey, so you can cram the passengers in like cattle. Whereas the airship takes 2-3 days to make the crossing, so you've got to provide full recliners or bunk beds and carry four or five times as much food. Lest we forget, the Hindenberg came with bedrooms, promenade decks, and a grand piano in the lounge (made of aluminium, natch). My money is on the 747 still being more energy-efficient than even a modern economy-class airship simply because it will be loaded more efficiently.


To add to my previous posting on Japan and religion in the light of comments that appeared while I was writing…

At the risk of invoking the Japanese exceptionalism beloved by many locals, I'd say that the local brand of religiosity may be difficult to export to Christendom en masse. In contrast to faith-based or denominational religion, for the majoirty I'd see (especially contemporary, but also medieval) "belief" here being closer to "hedging my bets" rather than an intense, lifelong faith in a well-defined mystical being. Throwing a coin and a prayer to the local kami certainly can't reduce my chances in the upcoming test/marriage proposal/job application, can it? Similarly, reciting the occasional "nami Amida Butsu" probably can't reduce my chances of making it to the Pure Land. Indeed, the word for "religion" (shūkyō) is in itself a neologism that many probably associate with Christianity rather than visiting a shrine.

On the contrary, intense faith, whether in Christianity or some flavor of Buddhism has generally appeared in times of crisis and oppression. Both Christianity and the folk-oriented flavors of Buddhism (such as Nichiren-shuu and Jōdō Shinshuu) were religious movements that rose with the oppression of peasantry, famine etc. and were associated with persecution by TPTB.

While visitors still flock to Shinto temples, much of traditional Buddhism has undergone ossification similar to Christianity in various West European countries. Many Buddhist temples currently appear to be little more than glorified funeral parlors or sightseeing spots. (Interestingly, some younger priests have established bars or unofficial temples in certain "bad" parts of town for having "life counseling" type discussions–often to the ire of the traditional establishment, though not without a traditional precedent (see Ikkyū, Vimalakirti Sutra).)

As in the historical precedent, the more intense faiths are populated by the troubled and the persecuted; this includes Christianity, some of the more firebrand flavors of traditional Buddhism and the "new religions" (which include a local flavor of Scientology and various Christian/Buddhist/Shinto/Hindu/yoga/etc-influenced groups). A further worsening of the economy or more natural catastropher may see these groups gaining further adherents.

(Sorry for the topic drift, I'm currently stuck home due to typhoon #15 hitting Tokyo at full force and must concentrate on rambling.)


I guess an airship could be more efficient by using trade-winds. Hydrogen filled airships can simply stay afloat and drift without using any power. (Unlike Helium filled ones where you don't want to dump the expensive gas to shed buoyancy.)

If time is not too much of an issue and crew is either minimal or non-existent, that could be a viable scenario - despite the Hindenburg-derived hydrogen-phobia.


Britain and Germany still have huge coal-reserves close to the surface, but we are not digging that much of it out. Why not? It's filthy, that's why. And expensive in labour,

In the US it is also filthy. But out west and some places in the east it is cheap to get at if you don't mind shaving off miles of earth. And that's what is being done. And has been done for a while. When I would drive between college and home back in the 70s there was a 2 hour stretch where you were basically going through a monster strip mine with a few town scattered about. At night you could see the Paridise steam plant and at times one or two of the big shovels from the parkway. In the winter and the daytime much of it looked like the moon.

I don't have any facts on this but I suspect there are very few underground mines being started anymore in the US except to get at the hard stuff used in steel production.

As to robotics, well in general there are very few "miner" in these large scale strip mining operations relative to the tonnage produced. Especially out west.


If the UN's latest (medium scenario) population projections are anywhere near correct, and climate change plays out as predicted, with massive drying over most of Africa, we're going to see a Malthusian catastrophe in Africa (bigger than the Somali one playing now), while the rest of the world carries on as normal.

I suspect the UN population projections don't take into account the African economic boom, though. With an average of 6% economic growth per annum, two decades will make significant changes; if we see an upswing in growth to the 9-11% typical of developing countries making the Great Leap Forward (India and China in the past two decades) then by the time the mid-term scenario rolls around, large chunks of Africa will have urbanized, industrialized, and developed sufficiently that they may be able to afford large scale geoengineering for climate change mitigation -- and they'll be as motivated to do so as the USA and USSR were to spend on nukes during the cold war, if not more so.

Also note that an arid, hot sub-saharan Africa is nevertheless potentially very energy-rich if we're looking at a future dominated by cheap photovoltaic energy.

And the one thing I will stake my reputation on is that catalysis technologies -- currently dominated by exotic transition metals or barely-modified biological systems -- is going to get ahead by leaps and bounds. For example: we're used to enzyme systems being limited in efficiency by thermal breaking of hydrogen bonds which wreck the tertiary structure of the polypeptides we use as catalysts. If there's one thing nanotechnology will provide, it's better backbones for polymers with active sites. I'd be very surprised if by 2050 we don't have artificial designer "enzymes" built around non-natural peptides or other structures that are good for catalysis right up to water's boiling point, and several orders of magnitude more efficient than anything nature has provided so far.


Larry Niven's "Known Space" stories have no polyethylene because of bacteria adapting to an abundant supply in landfills, there may be other examples.


Retirement age is going to go up. Bet on it.

The current retirement age bracket (55-65 years old) in most of the western world dates back to the late 19th/early 20th century. A worker toiling in a factory during the Bismarckian second reich would be pretty broken by 65; indeed, 65 was picked as the state pension age in the UK at a time when adult male life expectancy was around 67 years (and the vast majority would be dead by 75).

In contrast, my parents are 82 and 87 and have both outlived the oldest members of their parents' generation by more than a decade. It's not that maximum life expectancy is going up; merely that more of us are nearing it.

Based on current government plans, retirement age for my cohort will be 67. Personally, I expect them to raise it to 70 or higher before I reach it.


Yes, but will the age rise before the demographic bulge gets there? Last time I looked, it wouldn't.


It seems to me that whilst we have many potential technologies to solve Peak Oil, there is one area which has only been addressed in passing. The big problem will be the Political willingness to address the problems. Will democratically elected politicians be willing to take actions which will only come to fruition after they have left office? Will we see a rise in authoritarian/totalitarian regimes which can force change? What about a return to monarchies, where the future of the House may dictate solving the problems of Peak oil? Can anyone think of alternatives,-global socialism, large scale anarchist/green societies?


Here's a little data to inform your speculations:

US Energy flow Diagram


Bikes for groceries and just getting around don't help much with 2 kids and shopping for a family of 4 or 5. And older kids in sports like lacross, well that 60 pounds of equipment you haul around just doesn't work well on a bike or with walking.

You're assuming social patterns don't change to match the available transport tech. Out with lacrosse (30 kilos of protective gear); in with soccer (a stout pair of boots). Out with weekly grocery shopping by SUV; in with daily food shopping by bike (for a seventh the quantity on each trip). Out with dad/mom's taxi service; in with bikes for everyone aged over 8.


If time is not too much of an issue and crew is either minimal or non-existent, that could be a viable scenario - despite the Hindenburg-derived hydrogen-phobia.

Hydrogen doesn't burn unless you mix it with oxygen (or air).

The Hindenberg was originally designed to use both helium and hydrogen. Each of its gas cells contained a smaller, inner cell; this was to contain hydrogen, while the outer cell contained helium and would act as a blanket -- the theory was, if oxygen leaked in it would be confined to the outer (He) cell where it would be non-reactive. Of course, the USA scuppered this plan so eventually the airship flew with both inner and outer cells full of H2.

However, a similar scheme could work if you fill the outer cell with pure nitrogen. N2, at 28 daltons, is slightly lighter than air -- not enough for serious lift, but at least it's not ballast -- and it would serve to act as a barrier between the inner H2 lift cell and the surrounding oxygenated atmosphere.

So it should be possible to make airships that have the lift benefits of H2 while being substantially less inflammable than one would expect (even before we consider the questionable wisdom of painting the Hindenberg with rocket fuel -- nitrocellulose dope loaded with aluminium powder).


Airships, like sailing ships before them, were replaced because they're not as efficient as they look in total cost.

Some old wooden ships have lasted a very long time, but that's at least partly because they were constructed by chopping down swathes of hundred year old oak trees. It's not sustainable.

Modern sailing ships are metal and plastic and very nearly as expensive to build as a ship with an engine on it. Over its working life it will haul only a tenth as much cargo or people because the average speed is lower, it can't move without the right wind, etc. What you save on fuel you lose on total life costs.

Same for airships: big flying things made of metal and plastic, within the same order of magnitude investment to build as an airliner but carrying over its working life an order of magnitude less stuff.

Old tech isn't always as ecologically friendly or less resource intensive as we think.


People who physically labor for employment don't tend to live as long, so raising retirement ages has a nasty class aspect. Been a long time since I expected the future to be pretty anyway.


Not such a problem if you're using them for airfreight.

On the other hand, for trans-oceanic, what's the fuel efficiency of large ekranoplans? Your 747 is not as fuel efficient as it could be mainly because it's crowding mach 1 (it is more economically efficient though), but drop cruise speed to a small fraction, and your air resistance drops radically. A 100 knot cruise is fast enough for a lot of what goes by air freight, and perhaps quick enough for many passengers.


Yeah: I'm shafted, because I'm a Generation X forerunner. (My elder siblings are in their fifties, and their cousins are (or would be) in their sixties; I was late to the boomer buffet or early to the X-er left-overs, take your pick.)


The losses in your proposed power station - freezer - Stirling Cycle engine - generator loop would make Baby Jesus cry.

Really efficient bulk electricity storage tops out with supercapacitors (95% plus) but they're eye-wateringly expensive to produce in quantity. Next down the curve would be electrochemical batteries (85% to 90%); I don't think the charge-discharge losses vary much due to the electrochemistry so lead-acid would be about as good as sodium-sulphur or exotic Li-poly designs assuming they are suitably rated for the charge and discharge levels expected. They don't need to be light and compact since they're not in a vehicle or a laptop so lead-acid has a distinct price and recyclability edge on some of the other candidates.

Further down we get to things like flywheels (70%-80%) as long as they are only expected to store large quantities of energy for a day or two. They're expensive to build though which is why the king of energy storage is pumped-hydro at about 65-70% energy return on input. Water is cheap, free basically and the major constraint for pumped-hydro systems is geography to situate the high and low reservoirs close enough to each other that the connecting pipeworks are kept short to reduce frictional losses and cheap to build. Pumped hydro does have its own problems; it's not modular and can't necessarily be situated close to the generators or even the distribution systems meaning more losses over the grid and more cost to connect them in the first place.


I think you are barking up the wrong tree. Retirement ages are merely a problem of outdated pension schemes being incompatible with our current economic structures.

The question is whether or not our societies will figure out ways to either find employment for the masses of marginally, uselessly or fully unemployed or other scalable ways besides what we call "employment" to transfer those tokens to people that they need to engage in the process of exchanging goods and services, which are currently treated like religious items that only certain members of the religious classes, that dominate their transfer, may create.

No, really. Our relationship to money is religious and we have to get enlightened about the way it works.

They are tokens - no more and no less. When a system of tokens gets screwed up, because tokens are lost or get copied or don't circulate they way it was intended to make the system work, you replace the tokens, you change the rules, you tell people to redistribute the tokens among themselves for their mutual benefit.

Whether or not we get enlightened enough that money is no different and implement changes for the benefit of the system as a whole, will determine most of the economic outcome and what influence demographic change will have on economic activity. Right now, that influence is incredibly dominated by lack of able-bodied and able-minded people below 60 years of age being usefully employed - not by the demographic lack of them.


IIRC, a big Ekranoplan has substantially better fuel efficiency than an airliner. Trouble is, it has to fly down among the weather (read: wave-tops), and we don't have a lot of expertise in building them yet -- the Russians had some, but that was 25-30 years ago and gold-plated military kit.

If the Pentagon ever coughs for something like the Boeing Pelican ULTRA or the Beriev Be-2500 Neptun we might get somewhere ... but note the Beriev say the anticipated development costs of the Neptun are on the order of $10-15Bn, so roughly double that of the Airbus A-380 or the Boeing 787. Because: new technology and unexplored design envelope.

I will admit that something that can haul a thousand tons of cargo at 240 knots, with takeoff thrust comparable to an An-225 but four of the six engines idled in cruise flight, is clearly teh sexxy. But whether it's the way forward for trans-oceanic travel is another matter.


Herself is currently muttering nasty things about politicians because she's in that year-or-two cohort whose retirement age is being raised two years, at short notice.

(Me, I'm saying nothing. I'm likely to be working the best part of a decade later than her anyway.)


People who physically labor for employment don't tend to live as long, so raising retirement ages has a nasty class aspect.

I've seen stats for the US where it seems retirement into doing nothing active leads to an early death.

There's a study of IBMer's showing the most common cause of death was retirement. I've sent an email asking where I can find this study to link here.

In my family on my father's side going back 5 generations most of them lived into their 70s and 80s with hard work all their life. Farmers with no retirement. My grandfather lived to 97. He would have likely lived longer but when he broke his hip at age 92 he refused to to physical therapy because it would have taken too long. He was out mending a fence when he broke his hip jumping out of the way of a truck someone left out of gear. My father died at 75 from lung cancer due to a WWII free cig smoking habit. Just before he lost the ability to walk he spend his summer timbering and fencing a spring, installing a lift pump and building an 8 zone irrigation system for his 3 acre yard. One of his brothers died in his 70s afters 60 years of full time farming. The other brother is still kicking at 85. The last one standing is terribly overweight but very active outside of his job and after retirement.

I think a reasonable amount of life long physical labor seems to have good results. But I don't count 40 years shoveling coal by hand a reasonable amount.


I think you're seeing survivor bias.


No, really. Our relationship to money is religious and we have to get enlightened about the way it works.

Probably more magical than religious, as it is personal power not moral salvation that is promised. But the cult of Juno Moneta never really went away.

One of the themes of the Laundry novels is imaging the supernatural premises that would be needed for mundane things like CCTV, nuclear bombers and the invasion of Iraq to make logical sense.

So Bob needs to be forwarded to the Treasury, where he finds out what money is really made from. Of course, that is about to run out, and the long-term project to develop alternative sources has been sabotaged under mysterious circumstances.

Hilarious consequences ensue.


"Climate Change, unless addressed will kill a lot of people who are emphatically NOT: poor, brown, and haven't been born yet"

It's the "addressed" part that's important. Denmark and the Netherlands have the money and the institutional capacity to deal with rising seas and more droughts and floods. They are rich enough and organised enough to address the hazards due to climate change. If they want, then no-one in Denmark need die due to climate change. Not one.

If you're in whichever low-lying third world country of your choice, then there's no money, no resources, and much less organisational capacity. Surviving a normal year is hard enough, so when an extreme weather event comes along, lots of people die.

Hence I'm claiming that climate change is a direct problem for people who are mostly poor, brown, and not born yet.

(Of course, no-one needed to die in the US due to Hurricane Katrina, but that just goes to show that far too many Americans would rather let other Americans die needlessly than support anything that looks to them like socialism, or even simple compassion.)


but that just goes to show that far too many Americans would rather let other Americans die needlessly than support anything that looks to them like socialism, or even simple compassion.

Katrina was a total mess at all levels. But to blame the US population for ALL deaths there is a big stretch. Even for more than a minority of the deaths. Local government (not R by any stretch) did many things wrong in the lead up to that event. Then the locals and the feds botched the aftermath. Pro or anti-socialism was not the issue for people refusing to leave when they were told "you will be underwater if you stay".


You're assuming social patterns don't change to match the available transport tech. Out with lacrosse (30 kilos of protective gear); in with soccer (a stout pair of boots). etc...

Yes. 50 years from now things will change. But I have to wonder about how school issues in the US will change. There's this sacred cow over here of school busing for diversity. I live in the 10th largest school district in the US. This has become huge as we spend $20 to $35 million per year on busing. (It's hard to split out how much is due to diversity issues.)

Current upstart (think local tea party lite) school board is trying to break the busing plans and go to local schools. Not neighborhood schools but at least schools in your area. Big fights. Lawsuits. Name calling. Whatever. But it turns out the pro busing side has no stats on student results that can correlate to busing. Arrrrg.

And none of the arguments talk directly about energy costs. And not really indirectly. Because anyone bringing it up would be called a racist pig. But I can tell you that the last year of my son in high school with a 28 mile round trip to school for football, band, lacross, etc... and gas at $4.50/gal was a hard year. $10 would have been a real killer. And we had friends with longer drives.

My point is we (USA) have our heads in the sand (or up our butts depending on your point of view.) We talk about diversity busing to help out poor kids in schools but have not data for or against. We don't want to pay more in taxes but refuse to talk about the cost of said busing.

Personally I expect the US to fall off the cliff before we get serious about the long term rising cost of oil.


AndrewD @ 207
You asked about the technical means being available, but the politicians screweing it - I already mentioned this 10 posts earlier.
The US and some rightwing sectors here are the principal "villains" here.
Some don't care, and some don't believe it, because they don't want to.
GW-denial ls strongly linked to this refusal-trope.

Robt Sneddon @ 215
Really efficient bulk electricity storage tops out with supercapacitors (95% plus) but they're eye-wateringly expensive to produce in quantity
Now, yes, but production costs do appear to be falling. These things are relatively new.....

DavidL @ 219 & Charlie @ 220
No & Yes
Paricularly in the past, with poor healthcare and no safety culture, maybe. Labourers tended to die younger. Poor diet for "Lower classes" wouldn't have helped, either.
Contrariwise, an awful lot of people become institutionalised in their work, have no outside interests, and keel over within a couple of years of retirement. One of my uncles was one such.
Once upon a time, I used to work for a big multinational, who ran a good pension scheme, and some of us wondered why it WAS so good. So we looked at the retirees' deaths as logged in the company news-sheet.
Oops! As they say - BIG peak of deaths within 2-3 years of retirement, followed by a very long tail. The latter being those who hadn't been institutionalised by the Great Yellow Jelly.


I think you're probably right about aviation designs being pretty efficient but I think there is still some significant nibbling away at some of the efficiencies.

My nephew is working on a thing that he thinks will make jet turbines about 1% more efficient. That's not a huge improvement but a few innovations like that begin to offset increases in fuel costs. As the price of fuel goes up it becomes more worthwhile to invest in research and each fraction of a per cent taken out of the volume of fuel is worth an increasing dollar amount.

Generally I think aeroplanes will be the last form of transport to not get liquid fuel. I think people will be prepared to pay quite a bit more for air travel where there is no substitute. So I think reduced air travel between, say Edinburgh and London but not between Edinburgh and New York or London and Sydney.



Post-carbon life in the late 21st century is a topic crying out for some good story-telling. War stories about the conflicts spawned by resources, emigration and class warfare; societies who remained pre-industrial (the Amish come to mind) and who now are coming into prominence; new careers that arise, such as biodiversity engineer and landfill miner; juxtapositions of high- and low-technologies, such as a battery researcher who also helps tend an urban garden; the reshaping of cities, governance and the resurgence of regionalism. Have we gone back into space? Do environmentalism and evangelical Christianity fuse into Gaia-worship? Historical arcs such as the Olduvai Gorge are seductive but terribly unimaginative. Most of the environmentally-themed stories I've read recently (which were placed in the 22nd and 23rd centuries) invoke a post-crash story arc, but there's no reason that the transition to post-oil, post-carbon, what-have-you, won't be more gradual, with a a bunch of hard landings along the way.


Checking the Wikipedia page, I am amused to see that the base material for super-capacitors is currently said to be coconut shells.

It's a shame they don't have a better energy/weight ratio though - if they had a decent energy density as well as their efficiency and high-speed charge/discharge abilities, they'd be no-brainers.


Synthetic fuel from nuclear.
Assuming 3GW thermal with a conversion efficiency of about 30%.

Corresponds to about 30L of oil per second, a barrel every 6 second, 600 barrels per hour, 14,000 barrels per day, around 5 million barrels per year.

Right now oil is hovering around $100 per barrel, so our nuke synthesis plant is producing $500m per year of income.

Question: What price does oil have to hit before such a tech becomes monstrously attractive for investors?



Compressed (not liquid) Natural Gas can be used instead of gasoline (but not diesel) on any car. You only need the gas cylinder, a fuel switch and, in the case your car uses a carburetor, an inyector. Bear in mind that the car can continue using gasoline if needed. I used to have a car fitted like that and autonomy on a single gas charge was 120 Km. Contrary to what is sometimes said, the system is quite safe. The cylinder is sturdy and comes equipped with a shock safety block. To put it bluntly, any collision violent enough to damage the cylinder is not one you were going to survive anyway.


To stop a windmill we can always count on Don Quixote, as XKCD shows

@ 183

Not really. In Argentina widespread adoption of CNG happened in the course of 5 years, with almost no government action. The government only legislated approved equipment and installation processes and excempted CNG of the gas tax. Price diferentials did the rest and it snowballed from there. Of course, you can't start anywhere but a major city with lots of taxi cabs is a good starting point, as you have a market of heavy users that can be flexible on the location of the refill stations.


My post was more about hacking the grid. The giant freezer story shows one el-cheapo way of regulating the power flow, something quite necessary when you're relying on intermittent sources.

The Sterling engine was an afterthought lacking context, regrettably. And the context is this: having residential (renewable) power sources without either a smart grid to accommodate them or means to store intermittent power or both is a waste of time and resources. Cheap, convenient and inefficient residential storage might still be the way to go.

That being said, the really hard problem is, as our host also pointed out, having a high-density energy storage medium (or unit) that fits into a form of transport compatible with our current road network. Wish I had the answer to that :)


Marilee, I think you've given me an idea. If I'm correct, you're still intelligent, and capable of concentrating to do "brain work" for several hours a day. OTOH you're not capable of, say, crop picking.

Maybe we need to see a future where people who can do physical labour are expected to do so, and those who can't find themselves doing the desk jobs?


Most of the peek oil commentary is painfully illiterate in economics. Oil has been declining in economic importance wrt the rest of the economy for decades (compare the shock of the 70s oil crisis to the jump in oil prices today) by the time we start running low everyone will have forgotten there was a fuss.

Someone above mentioned Easter Island running out of wood - what most people aren't aware is that we also went through peek wood in Europe with most of the slower growing hardwoods harvested before the end of the 19th century - the RN was busy scouring the globe for timber suitable for masts - but economies moved on, technology adapted and no one remembers it.


the really hard problem is, as our host also pointed out, having a high-density energy storage medium (or unit) that fits into a form of transport compatible with our current road network. Wish I had the answer to that :)

Try trolley buses.

It's probably cheaper to string overhead cables above a main road or motorway than it is to turn said road into a railway (even for light rail). Trolley buses can run on the existing road surface, but with overhead power distribution they don't need lots of charging points. Add a guided busway system to motorways and segregate the lanes and you can probably run them at high speed -- up to 100mph. It's not as efficient as steel-wheel-on-rail, but is more flexible and more compatible with our existing road infrastructure (so cheaper to roll out).


"Peek" oil? There's a Sally Rand joke in there somewhere. ;)
Seriously, I think you're on the right track, we'll muddle through with a mix of economizing and new tech. All bets are off if we get practical fusion, casimir energy or miracle energy storage. Oh, and low-carbon, no-carbon energy is a very good thing regardless of AGW, strip-mining is ugly.


And today it's trivial to add storage (battery / flywheel) to trolleybuses so they can run off the wire around obstructions if necessary, something that first-gen trolleybuses lacked.


Preaching to the choir here mate. I'm not a fan of light rail systems (like Embra's so-called "trams", but am a fan of the trolley bus.

If a TB breaks down, you pull its pickup down, and the cantenary is clear for the next service. A tram is stuck until you get a recovery unit to it.

People say that TBs are inflexible for major roadworks; guess what, so is light rail!

TBs ride better (better primary suspension, before considering the secondary suspension, em pneumatic tyres).

TBs have better braking (same logic as better ride applies here).


And @234,

Actually a lot of the geologists, engineers etc. tend to think that economists are painfully illiterate in thermodynamics and real physical limits, etc.

A favourite laugh is the economists' idea that rises in price will magically create new resource, or that substitution will fix all problems.

Our society is very dependent on liquid fossil fuels for its operation. All possible replacements seem to be both expensive, and difficult to scale quickly. Data on exactly what is going to happen is poor, but the shape of the interconnections is such that most people who examine the subject come away aware that there is a significant, very near term, problem - at the very least.

Two final points. First, all civilisations to date have failed in the end, and often spectacularly. And second, dodging the bullet x times tells you nothing about your ability to do it again this time. After all, russian roulette is a game where you only ever fail once.


I think there are signs some Lessons Have Been Learned from Katrina. Here in Noo Yawk we just had the tail end of Irene go over (downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm just as it hit). Here the authorities issued evacuation orders and withdrew transit services ahead of the event, and whilst there has been some grumbling that maybe they over-reacted a bit, the consensus is broadly that the preparations paid off.

It was the flooding from heavy rain to the north of the city, especially further upstate, that caused the most disruption. My commuter rail service into the city (Metro-North Hudson line) was suspended like all other public transport, and suffered extensive flooding and landslips onto the line in at least three places on the Sunday. Basic service was resumed Monday afternoon and a normal service Tuesday. I can't see Network Rail recovering that fast.

(Actually one Metro-North line on the other side of the Hudson is still out, and probably will be for a few months, but that was because of a dam collapse further up river that caused several hundred feet of trackbed to be washed out - I'm willing to give the MTA a pass on that one.)



There's been half a dozen substitutions for oil mentioned already in this thread as the price of oil rises they'll become more attractive. From this side of the adaptation it looks hard but from the other side it'll look natural, we'll use a different mixture of transport and have to restructure our economies but that's not unusual or insurmountable. If you'd told someone in 17th century England the hardwood was going to run out he'd also predict mass starvation and the end of international travel.

Final points - All civilizations have failed? Quite apart from those still existent there's quite a number that failed as a result of external interference, so I'm not sure if they provide much of a lesson for us currently. Second, sure sooner or later the doomsayers are going to be right but they've been wrong far more constantly than they've been right and civilization is hardly Russian roulette.


Thinking about it, I'd say first ignore any use of oil that can be replaced with current technology at the same price with the same feature.. For example, fuel oil: Unless oil prices jump up extremely rapidly, prices should force a gradual conversion over to non-petroleum based heating solutions. Either another fossil fuel or heat-pumps.

And from a rather Eurocentric civilization perspective, I think we can stop worry about food in the Western world. Yes, it takes petroleum to produce. But the West tends to eat a lot of food on a higher trophic level than is strictly required. We feed perfectly good food (grains) to creatures, which inefficiently convert it to another food (meat). Reduce the amount of meat being produced, and the amount of usable food agriculture produces increases. Petroleum may affect what the West is putting on their plate, but I don't see less calories being on that plate.

But current transportation relies heavily on petroleum. There's not a lot of great alternatives right now, especially for typical American reliance on roadways. This is going to hurt, and it'll hurt in ways that are a little counter-intuitive.

For example, a lot of long-distance transport should be fine if the price of oil goes up. A freight train can move a ton of goods 435 miles. A massive cargo-container ship is more efficient. A semi tractor-trailer is less efficient, but still can move enough in bulk that a modest increase in shipping fees can cover a large fuel cost increase.

So shipping things across country may cost a little more, but not enough to make a big impact on our lives. Long distances between population centers is not going to be an issue.

Large cities will also have the advantage of supporting dense populations that encourages foot and mass transit. I'd expect to see more non-conventional buses (hybrids, nat'l gas, electric?) as well as light rail lines driven by electricity, but at the end of the day, it's still basically the same mass transit you took before. Expect more users, and more routes being put into place. But nothing earth-shattering.

The problem will be the suburbs, especially in places like America. The sprawl is intense, the population density is a lot lower, and the living patterns assume having a personal vehicle. This is where it depends on what we can develop for future technology and how soon that happens: Maybe we develop the Car 2.0, with the same range, features, and abilities of our current gasoline-burners, but runs on something else. Or maybe we hit a wall in development and we're stuck with vehicles similar to what we have now. I'm not that pessimistic, I think our technology is at the point to produce an automobile with enough range to make some of the suburbs viable (inner suburbs directly viable, while some of the outer suburbs with the ability to develop rail or shuttles to them might survive, with daily commuters driving their short-range vehicles to the station, then riding mass transit in). But if we don't produce "Car 2.0", some of the suburbs, as well as the exurbs, might not have the population density to support a mass transit station, or regular, frequent routes when needed. I'd expect property values to fall in the least densely populated and farthest suburbs. Property values will rise in residential areas next to work places. There will be knock-off effects as well. If more people are using mass transit, more people will be walking outside. Areas with extremely cold or otherwise unpleasant climates are going to lose some population to areas with nicer climates.


The stopped windmills I see out by Palm Springs don't appear to be feathered, but that might be my level of knowledge showing. The big point is that the technology exists to stop a moving windmill - clutch, brakes, feathering, whatever. It's a fairly simple mechanical problem.


So, the need for Car 2.0, modified infrastructures, new energy sources, nuclear reactors, renewables, PV, fuel synthesis...

That sounds less like doom and more like an economic boom the like of which the world has not yet seen.


I can't comment in detail, but windmills are sometimes stopped for maintenance rather than just to reduce the energy generated.

If they're the "big" (100 feet or more) units, they have variable pitch blades, primarily to get the generator turning at a more or less constant spped for a range of wind speeds, but yes that would let you stop them by feathering the blades, then use a dog to lock them stationary.


There is/will be no "Magic bullet" we will need several overlapping methods of power-generation - as, in fact we have now. Just that the mix will be different.

BING! BING! BING! We have a winner. The oil-using monoculture of our current transportation platforms scares me a lot more than the idea of peak oil. I fully agree, (assuming that we can develop a form of nuclear power without a Fukushima-like failure mode.)


There have been a number of statements on this thread and its predecessor about "we have enough $foo to last $X years" where $X is long enough that everyone can feel relieved and stop worrying.

Frequently these cite various impeccable sources.

About equally as frequently they omit the rider "at $year consumption levels." That ignores the effect of growth.

Suppose consumption grows at 5% a year? Doesn't sound like much does it? But it means consumption doubles about every 14 years... Time for a quick refresher on the properties of exponential functions:

(Relatively quick -- that's about 70 minutes in total.)

Growth is not the panacea, despite what just about every politician will say when questioned about the economy. Growth is the trap. Irrational belief that "growth is always good" is the problem.

Nothing can grow exponentially for ever. Eventually growth will level out and ultimately drop. The only choice we have is does that happen catastrophically, or through a painful but bearable process?

In much the same way as the potential for nuclear annihilation informed much of the Sci Fi of the 1960's and 70's, I think this question of the choice between voluntary pain or involuntary catastrophe is going to influence most thoughtful SF writing for the next several decades.


Word. Per your Wikipedia article you and I are eleven months apart. The demographics completely suck.


(sorry if this has been already covered)

"The main problem is that as everyone's focusing on the energy aspect of oil (or natural gas) we're likely to forget about all the other things that oil is used for - from road surfacing to plastics to lubricants. "

That will add to the crunch, because there will be other things which compete for scarcer petroleum.

Return to regional varietals in agriculture. Right now, it favors mono-culture, but with increases in transport cost, could heirloom breeds and new varietals become popular?

Yes. I'm placing a reasonably large bet (in terms of time and effort) on that being true. A reinforcing trend is climate change, which I think will increase the demand for varieties adapted to shifting microclimates.


The builder who is presently replacing the old tiling on sections of my roof that he didn't replace when he extended my house a couple of years ago - at which time he did most of the bricklaying and all of the plastering because he enjoys plastering - is 72 and his brother and work partner 'the kid ' is 65 and has had a triple heart by-pass op. Of course my builders do draw U.K. state pension but as far as I know they have no other pension provision and spend their income as fast as they earn it...there is presently a one week delay in roofing and fence building whilst 'the kid ' is on holiday in Cyprus.

I suspect that the real soon now the period in which people like me could take early retirement through ill health on a modest pension is going to be regarded as being a weird aberration born of the special social conditions of the 20th century.


I'm with hetermeles on rural towns, at least in decent ag areas. I live in a rural area where labor-intensive organic ag is growing strongly (I hesitate to say like weeds...)

So far, yeah, everybody drives everywhere, but the small towns are also growing again now, and they could easily support walk-bike-horse-something-else transportation, with food from the surrounding and interspersed fields.

In other words, they would not be worse off with the end of cheap oil, and could become havens.


The bigger lessons here for the economists are:

1. Energy Density, and

2. Energy Return on Investment

Yes, these have been talked about before, but anyone commenting after around 225 seems to have ignored those posts.

Energy Density: oil has one of the best energy densities (watts per weight) as a fuel. Yes, radioactives can have more energy, but there's the weight of all that shielding and controls. Anyway, the critical point is that you can't swap out coal for oil, or natural gas for oil, or hydrogen for oil, or batteries for oil, without a massive weight increase. None of us want to drive a coal-burning car, because you'd have to have a tender in the back to hold the coal, which is >6 times less energy dense than oil (think 90-150 gallon coal tank on car).

Energy Return on Investment (EROI): How many calories in to get a calorie out. Oil is cheap right now for two reasons: one is that you poke an (increasingly long) pipe in the ground and it comes gushing out, and it's easy to refine, and more importantly, we've got a century's worth of paid-for infrastructure that makes it cheap. More importantly, that infrastructure is (for the most part) young and functional.

EROI is critical, because you need to get more than one calorie out for every calorie you put in. Otherwise, you're losing energy from the system. Yes, this is a system-wide measure, so you have to include all the energy costs of the infrastructure.

Any technology that requires totally new infrastructure (e.g. hydrogen) has an enormous energy debt to pay off before it starts running civilization, and this hurts their EROI. Of the viable oil substitutes, solar, wind, and nuclear all have substantial infrastructure ENERGY costs that have to be paid off before they start powering civilization (building plants and the power grid to balance wildly fluctuating inputs). In a fantasy world, we would have paid these costs back when oil was cheap, say in the 1980s. As we all know, that didn't happen.

These two factors enormously complicate the Econ 101 argument about adoption of substitutes. The substitutes we have to oil all have less energy density and lower EROIs than oil has. Society is going to have to pay the costs of switching as oil runs out and that's what makes this discussion interesting.


My views on post-Peak Oil is based on the assumption that Peak Oil translates into a somewhat more expensive transport system and a somewhat more rigid transport system.

I don’t think we’ll see a huge gap between the amount of energy we can provide and the amount of energy we want to consume. There is ample fuel for fission reactors for generations and generation. We currently use energy very inefficiently. It’s how handy the form the energy comes in and how much it costs to transform the energy into a more palatable form.

With plenty of energy in one form we can produce all of what we get from oil. The cost of particular ways of life might change relative to the average and more or fewer people might decide it is worth their while living those lifestyles. People happy to live in cities, in zero carbon homes within walking distance of their work and families will be relatively up on the deal. Those wanting to live in antique houses a long way from other people will be relatively down on the deal. We may find that the cost of food and energy as a proportion of income goes up and we have less income to spend on stuff. I’m not sure this is a wholly bad thing. I don’t think we’ll see a massive energy shortage or food shortage destabilsing those parts of the world that are already politically stable.

I think we’ll see denser urban living and within that much more sharing of transport in the form of mass transit systems, car pools and shared bike schemes. I don’t necessarily think this means that we’ll all be living in mega-cities. Stromness in Orkney is quite dense with most houses being terraces rather than detached bungalows for example.

Also, more ecologically inspired industrial set ups by which I mean industrial hubs where waste products or energy from one process are used as inputs for a neighbour’s process. I think we’ll see energy intensive industries located near each other and close to places where you can build nuclear power plants or where renewable energy is abundent. (Iceland might do well out of this).

I think we’ll see an ongoing tension between products, services and technologies that are aimed at trying to keep things more or less how they are (principally private car usage and patterns of work and shopping) and keeping the cost from going too high and providing similar benefits cheaper but which require a change in the way we live, work and commute (mass transit lifestyle). I think the question – is it worth building a couple of nuclear power stations to provide liquid fuel for our SUV’s or shall we just have the one and a really good tram system is one that can only really be answered by the individuals or groups of individuals affected and their priorities will vary and so too their willingness and abilty to pay for the lifestyle they would like.

We’ll need to get much, much better at planning in large groups and this has interesting political implications.


3.3 gasoline
0.5 jet fuel
1.4 diesel and fuel oil

This is my point on the other thread. Nothing on a farm runs on gasoline and less on jet fuel (well, unless you're a very prosperous farmer with interesting tastes), and trucking runs on diesel. Everything in that sector is in the "diesel" bucket. So is all the shipping, all the rail that isn't electrified, all the construction machinery, all the backup generator sets, all the main battle tanks. Fortunately, diesel and fuel oil are easier to produce synthetically from x-to-liquids, biofuels, direct synthesis, whatever and a lot of that stuff is *easier*.

Frex, a tractor doesn't need a 350 mile range between fillups and a forklift doesn't need to beat the GMFord Ramcharger Sexbot from 0-60 and a truck doesn't need a top speed of 150 mph.

"Car expectations" are kinda interesting in themselves because they're so weirdly demanding. It may be that part of the solution is changing what people consider to constitute a "car". The good news is that cars, more than almost any other consumer product, are enormously planned by the great Fordist bureaucracies of Detroit and Wolfsburg, and what we think of as a car and therefore demand is basically defined by the car-makers themselves.

Traditionally, nobody ever had a bigger bonus in the ad business than the guy with the car industry account. This is why, as Bruce Sterling pointed out, the bankruptcy of Detroit in 2008 nearly dragged the US TV networks down with it...


Yes, that's been already covered. Such uses are a small fraction of what oil is used for and have much easier substitutes.


The problem isn't confined to intermittent renewables generating power when we don't want it - they also stubbornly refuse to generate power when we do want it. As a result, wind power (and a few other renewables, to a lesser extent) is right down at the bottom of the dispatch chain for the National Grid. We need to keep the other 80% of fossil-fuel plant around to run load-following, since it's the most flexible we have. It isn't a problem now, and it'll only become a problem if wind generation wants to push past the 20% and become a significant contributor. This is all in the EWEA and IPCC's reports if you don't believe me.

There's a couple of solutions to this instability; bigger or smarter grids, for instance. Germany and Denmark can have huge wind installations because they're part of the Europe-wide grid and can smooth out local weather trends across a large subcontinent, borrowing and paying back juice as they need to. The other option is energy storage, on a vast scale. Distributed storage (your electric car charges when power's cheap and sells it back when it isn't) might help but it'd be easier to run large-scale systems. Nation-sized batteries and flywheels are far too expensive, and pumped hydro requires a lot of geoengineering and the right terrain, but there are strategies out there; compressed air energy storage, for instance, is about as cheap as pumped hydro but could use solution-mined salt-domes or undersea pressure vessels.

The biggest obstacle to wind power making it big, right now, is the easy ride it's getting. The UK govt agrees to buy all renewable power generated at market price + $fixed_bonus, where $fixed_bonus seems to average out at about twice the market rate. If the bonus was instead a percentage of market rate, it would suddenly become vastly useful for the renewables companies to be able to store and control their output...


"The Bay is very shallow (average depth ~12 feet), due in large part to siltation caused by hydraulic mining upstream in the 19th Century. It needs to be dredged to remain a viable port, just as it has been for most of the last century. This is only a problem when you see the number of dead Roman towns where their ports silted in."

If we don't have the (economically practical) ability to dredge a port city, then we haven't hit just trouble, we will be in economic collapse and free-fall.

all those bearings, axles and moving parts all over the world are all going to use a lubricant of some kind. Without oil, how do we make them?


We know how to make very low friction surfaces that don't require lubricants. They're currently expensive, but last forever if you keep them from being contaminated with anything abrasive (which isn't too hard if you're talking about precision bearing surfaces with no gap). If there is a shift to products (or parts) that are meant to last a lot longer, we'll see production of these materials increase and the prices drop.


Most of what I've seen says light rail has better rides. Smoother, and also no swerving. Some large fraction of the population seems more sensitive to motion sickness, and will enjoy a rail ride more than a bus with its minor swerves of motion and traffic and big swerves to stops and back.

You can make buses more train-like -- power wires, guided busways, exclusive busways, in-road stations -- but the more features you add on, the more of the initial cost advantage you spend away.

Buses are cheaper to start up but have higher lifetime costs, damaging the roads and buses more, compared to rail and rolling stock.


"Venezuela claims 297 billion barrels of proven reserves

World oil consumption is 85 million barrels / year

Thus Venezuela can supply the world with oil for 3 years

Even if you believe the 652 billion of unproven and possibly extractable reserves, that will buy you 7.67 years

Math, it is a wonderful thing"

Yes, but you have to watch your 'billions' and 'millions'.

However, a similar scheme could work if you fill the outer cell with pure nitrogen.

This works even better if we use cheap sensors to detect the leak. Under those circumstances you can make the outer nitrogen 'blanket' much thinner.


Stromness in Orkney is quite dense with most houses being terraces rather than detached bungalows for example.
True, but Stromness is also a very specialised town plan to deal with regular Gale to Violent Storm conditions coming off the sea.


"Airships are good at moving hydrogen around, and they're probably the most durable aircraft available "

I really doubt it. Last I heard, thunderstorms were a big problem. And they're lousy for moving hydrogen. If you packed it into cylinders, it'd be far easier to move.


OTOH pretty much everyone I know who gets some form of motion sickness gets it when they can't see out of the vehicle in their direction of travel. What do light and heavy rail vehicles have in common? I'd go with solid-ended passenger cars.

The trolleybus concept pretty much disposes of all the "train-like" features except the overhead wires. As I already observed, it takes under a minute to "clear the line" of a "dead tb"; you need a specialised rescue vehicle to shift light rail stock.

Oh and I think you'll find that rail stock damages railways more than buses do. Also that you need to dig up the roadway periodically to renew the rails, even if the seal is in good order, and that embedded rails in seal cause accidents for road traffic, paricularly falls for cyclists if they're trying to turn and crossing a wet rail.


As I noted above, the Romans lost a bunch of their ports to siltation, and since they weren't stupid either, I tend to think it can be a problem.

For our society, the biggest problem is where we put contaminated sediments, since there are typically a lot of them. Dumping them in the water is a bad idea, since that crap typically ends up in food fish and on beaches, and so you have to get the sediments out without draining toxic water into the water, then truck the sediments to a toxic waste dump with the capacity to take your dredge spoils.

With regard to the SF Bay, there are a few issues with what's in the sediments, particularly in the South Bay, where back in the 1950s they sandblasted the paint off the ships that were moored at Bikini atoll, and all that very interesting (and possibly radioactive) debris went into the Bay. Since no one screams about radioactivity as they dredge the Bay now, I'll assume that this problem is less dire than it first appeared to be. However, the South Bay does receive runoff from Silicon Valley, and the entire Valley was a superfund cleanup site the last time I looked.

The Ports of Los Angeles and San Diego have similar problems. LA has a huge deposit of DDT bound up in sediments just off Palos Verdes (among other issues), and San Diego Bay has decades worth of toxic crap bound in the sediments, courtesy of the major military presence there since World War 2. In all cases, dredging is usually preceded by a fair amount of chemical analysis and environmental planning, so that the contamination is contained rather than spread.

Yes, you can dredge them more cheaply, but only at the price of poisoning your citizens. The bigger point is that of the three (SF, LA, SD), only LA has a natural deep-water port. Both SF and SD have to be dredged periodically to keep them working.


"Based on current government plans, retirement age for my cohort will be 67. Personally, I expect them to raise it to 70 or higher before I reach it."

The trick is that age discrimination starts at 40, at least in the USA. Which means somebody has to go 30 years when they are considered second-class workers, or worse. That period will cover probably four recessions (and the way things are going, at least one financial collapse and slo-mo depression).


Another fun topic: money, economics, and valuables. Not that I'm an economist.

Here's the problem, oversimplified: over the last century or more, we've specialized in taking natural resources (everything from time to wood), and turning them into money. Right now, it appears that we've got waaaay too much money around, and most of it is concentrated in a relatively few hands.

So what's the future of money? Well, like most small mammals, I look at the predators, in this case Goldman Sachs. They've got a warehouse full of aluminum. Resource prices are skyrocketing all over. That's where a lot of the money is going, it seems.

In one way, this is a good thing: we're taking our wealth out of the non-existent money (it's really just data in computers, for the most part), and investing it back into the real world. Of course, that drives up the cost of things. However, if things get too expensive, poor people riot, so there's this crazy dance of keeping your wealth in things like food and resources, while not getting killed for ruining the lives of others.

If we want to get to sustainable, we're going to have to invest most of that money we racked up into solving the problems of the world, so I expect prices to jump.

If money becomes so valueless that we get into a deflationary spiral, we'll probably see long-lasting investments in real things, as people get their wealth out of money and into something else. People may plant forests, if the trees hold their value better than the bank. Or build cathedral-equivalents (as they did the last time money had an effective negative interest-rate). On the down side, we'll see hoarding and rampant speculation.

But that's just a sketch. What do others see as the future of money?


That was said sarcastically, I'd add. Having hydrogen haul its own weight isn't entirely a bad thing.

The original question was whether the steampunk airship vision was viable. While I personally like the image of serpentine airships writhing in the wind, it's fairly obvious that the only real use for such things (assuming an airship can fly into the wind with some efficiency) is a) long-term, quiet, unmanned station-keeping (which is what the US military is developing them for), b) station-keeping over public events, c) possibly hauling freight to undeveloped or disaster areas, areas that are too far for helicopters and too crappy to build a plane runway, and d) possibly for some aerial crane-type operations that we currently use helicopters for. In other words, airships work great for fantasy worlds where their infrastructure is developed de novo, but in our future, it's unlikely that we'll lose all our runways in the next 100 years.

As for the report on blimp survivability, go read The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed. The damn blimp flew through a blizzard *under the clouds*. It was tethered but had a motor, and when they got it down after the storm, the prop blades were round clubs of ice. No aircraft could do that. The point of an airship is that lift doesn't depend on motors, and so long as the lift bags remain intact, it doesn't fall out of the sky. Remember also that if they hadn't painted the Hindenburg with something very similar to thermite, it wouldn't have burned as it did.


"People who physically labor for employment don't tend to live as long, so raising retirement ages has a nasty class aspect. Been a long time since I expected the future to be pretty anyway."

Krugman covered this (a saying which is broadly applicable). Life expectancy at age 65 has increased far less than 'life expectancy', which measures from birth. The propaganda being passed around using 'life expectancy' is deceptive.

The biggest problem is *employability*, and that's not been fixed much at all. As I've said above, trying getting a new job at age 45 - or 55 - let alone age 65.

And having watched my parents age, I have no illusions about the ability of somebody to really hold down a job after age 70, due to mental decline. And that's where I noticed it for sure.


Regarding trolleybuses: I think electric buses with battery swap will be better. You don't need to hang any wires, get full flexibility, much less swaps per person compared to private cars, and there is no risk of users contaminating the battery. Pure win.



[Coming in late, got hit by the DNS glitch and a lot to read.]

Horses aren't magical.

Even ignoring the safety aspects and the hassle factor, in the UK horses are 2-3 orders of magnitude less efficient at converting sunlight (via plant matter of course) into useful work than solar PV charged electric vans. Over a 10 year working lifetime it takes about 33 m^2 of land under PV to get the equivalent energy to build and run an electric van, against 5400 m^2 to raise, feed and use a horse.

[Charlie: if you consider this to be spam feel free to remove all following text and please accept my apologies.]

The calculations to back this up are in section 8.6 of this book

[Full disclosure: written by my partner as a complement to Mackay's Sustainable Energy.]


"Do environmentalism and evangelical Christianity fuse into Gaia-worship?"

In the USA at least, the majority of Evangelicals are right-wing (IIRC, Bush took 50% of white self-described evangelicals in 2000, and 75% in 2004).

IMHO they'd be more likely to go for some sort of apocalyptic End Times deal.


Employability problem of elder people will be solved the same way employability problem of women and minorities was solved - by enacting and enforcing anti-discrimination laws. As more people age, collective political power of the aged will grow.


It occurs to me that you don't actually need a supply of purified water for solar energy cooling at all; all you need is some cold water to sink the heat into. Therefore, a huge floating solar energy farm build on equatorial deep ocean would seem to be as good a solution as any, since deep ocean is as good a heat-sink as any you'll find.


Cities will get more dense, and the cost of real estate in the downtown cores will go up. Those nations and regions that set long term energy policy (NOT most of the USA unfortunately) will do better economically than those that don't.

I think Scalzi's Metatropolis hit on some pretty solid predictions for what would happen to Detroit and other similarly sprawled cities. I already refer to the outer ring of empty office buildings and exurbs in my area as the Slumps.

The United State's military is already facing massive cutbacks, and will have to tighten the belt even more. They're exempt from energy limits, and most military equipment is shockingly inefficient. Cost concerns will further reduce, or maybe even eliminate the use of manned aircraft for many military functions. Overseas adventures like Iraq and Afghanistan will get even more stupidly expensive, which is saying something.

I think the food problem, long term, will shake out as a population crash. Mostly, or more probably entirely, in Third World nations that lack the infrastructure, and are dependant on foreign aid to support their populations. It takes a lot of petroleum to keep the agricultural yields as high as they are, and a lot more to ship to starving nations. When push comes to shove, even the most devout supporter of famine victims in Africa will choose to feed their own families.

People in wealthier nations will get thinner. The cost of driving everywhere will get expensive enough that people will walk further than they used to for errands like shopping.


"I suspect that the real soon now the period in which people like me could take early retirement through ill health on a modest pension is going to be regarded as being a weird aberration born of the special social conditions of the 20th century."

Or, a bit longer down the road, an inexplicable thing for sociologists, historians and political scientists to explain - how a middle class allowed radical tax reductions on the rich while simultaneously allowing massive social alterations (many via government policy) to redistribute wealth upwards.


Floating solar farm also solves the problem of cleaning the panels - lots of water around.

However: Rust. Barnacles. Storms.


"As I noted above, the Romans lost a bunch of their ports to siltation, and since they weren't stupid either, I tend to think it can be a problem. "

Yes, and the Romans never developed adequate air forces to deal with barbarian incursions, nor powered boats to move goods on the Med better, and what's really puzzling is that they didn't build a network of railroads. They'd have been good at that.


Hi Doctor D,

Unlike the other poster, you've got some valid points. (The idea that solar or wind can't be shut off when needed is obviously some lobbyists talking point.) Solar is not perfectly reliable. Nights and cloudy days do take their toll, and there are similar issues with wind.

You points about putting wind on a smarter grid and incentives which are better devised are both good.

The simple fact of the matter is that the Palm Springs windmills work because they are in a geographically perfect environment - a 15-20 mile-wide valley between two fairly large mountain ranges where even the tiniest breeze can be amplified into a real wind. That's not true of many, many places.

Unfortunately, there are no perfect solutions. We're running out of oil (and there are those pesky greenhouse gases to consider,) coal really pollutes, solar only works during the day, hydro messes up the ecology, and current nuclear tech has multiple ugly failure modes.

At this point I'd settle for a solution that didn't pollute too badly that could work for the next fifty years, combined with a good long-term plan.


I suspect that the renting of telepresence bots may become more profitable if oil prices undergo a serious zoom: if you have to do a lecture tour in europe and all of the sudden airplane tickets cost four times as much as they usually do, it will probably seem a lot more reasonable to let some local company rent you time on a remote control coat-rack with speakers and a webcam.


This doesn't answer the bomb problem, but there are signs that "super-capacitors" may replace batteries, eventually. These would have fast charge-discharge cycles. (So, in a way, they are more like bombs.) But they should survive multiple charge-discharge cycles better than batteries, and should have much less requirement for exotic materials. Like Lithium. What their theoretical limits are is less clear than for batteries.

The weak point of supercapacitors is that they require fabrication at the nano-scale. This is currently just a bit expensive. There isn't, however, any obvious reason why this can't become cheaper. When touch sensitive LCDs are being made on rollable plastic materials about a meter by a meter, fabrication technology seems good enough.

The question that hasn't been mentioned (well, which I don't recall being mentioned) is how long they will hold a charge.


Actually, there are envangelical environmentalists. They have issues with mainstream environmentalists over some of the non-Christian things us lefties preach. However, we all agree that taking care of the Earth is a good thing, however mandated.

There's actually a good lesson here. Until the early 90s in the US, many conservationists I knew were politically moderate republicans. They believed that conservative meant conservation, too. They suffered quite a lot under the neo-con revolution led by Gingrich. Some of them are still reluctant republicans, others became democrats. To me, one of the most detestable things that came out of 90s US politics was pigeon-holing all conservation issues in the left (as in to the left of Nixon).

Still, it's not all politics. Even today, it's possible to have a really interesting talk about conservation with a very conservative landowner (such as a rancher). So long as you avoid divisive issues and focus on loving and taking care of the land for future generations, you can actually get along with them just fine. What pisses them off is the idea of government taking their land and bureaucrats then screwing it up. I happen to agree with them on that problem.


A deflationary spiral makes money more valuable, which makes people hold onto it, which slows down economic activity and makes the remaining money even more valuable. Great Depression time. Deflation has a negative inflation rate.

Inflation is money losing value. The US should be so lucky as to have some, right now.


Well, one thing seems clear to me: cars really HAVE to go. Switch a percentage of the already existing oil-devouring-monstrosities for electric cars (and, as such, to be used only on short commutes)and substitute the rest for an acually effective public transportation system. Every minute I waste at a traffic jam is a minute I spend seething at the stupidity of living in a small city (less than 1 million habitants)that is completely car-dependant (so even those of us that do not participate in the mass delusion of the personal car have to take busses and get screwed by the idiots that can afford to have 3-4 cars per household).

Oh, and before we get all doom & gloom about Peak Oil, would it not be sensible to presume that, as the stuff gets more expensive and harder to get, we'll adopt alternatives and reduce waste (think of all the oil that gets waste transporting dumb fucks in big cities that can't be bothered to use public transportation).

The state of car-dependency most of the world has reached dumbfound me. Those of you in the USA could tell me if the myth perpetrated by pop-culture that middle class parents often gift their sixteen year old offsprings A FREAKING CAR? I can't believe such mass lunacy - giving a perfectly healthy young'un, completely capable of hiding a bike or walking or taking a bus, what is essentially a very very expensive weapon (teenagers are dumb. I was, a short time ago, one of those. I think I might not be alive today had I or my close friends had access to cars at such young ages).




Um, not quite. A deflationary spiral means effectively a negative interest rate. Money gets sucked out of your bank account every month, so you want to spend it as fast as possible on things that either gain value or lose their value less fast.

Things get interesting in deflation. On the one hand, it plays havoc with investments. On the other, it gets money moving fast, because no one wants to hold onto it for any longer than they actually have to.

In the past, we've had the equivalent of deflation with (for example) medieval silver coins, which were only good for a year. The kings would tax by charging a price for trading in your old (worthless) coins for new acceptable coins. During this time, a lot of cathedrals were built, because it made more sense to pour money into something that would make money through pilgrims, rather than holding onto metal that could suddenly become worthless.

It isn't always that fun. The last country to do a currency switch was North Korea. They suddenly switched their currency, and wiped out a whole class of small merchants, whose bank accounts were suddenly worthless.

Inflation and deflation are bad. It's unclear to me which one is worse, but I am pretty sure that money is less valuable than it used to be, relative to things.


My understanding is that super-capacitors are currently not very energy dense. For the same energy, you need a lot more weight.

(They apparently also lose charge quicker than batteries.)

What they're very good for is that they're very power-dense: you can charge and discharge one very quickly. This means that for something like a Formula 1 racing car, it's worth devoting a chunk of your allowed weight into something that helps you brake into corners and then shoves that power back on the way out.

For a short distance town car, that low energy density may be OK: you cover a dozen kilometres, say, and then spend a few minutes recharging. For something like a taxi, they might be ideal, if you supply charging points at the taxi ranks.


Taking a step back

Given that you believe that peak oil is occurring there basically three groups of scenarios, each with their own issues

1: A scientific solution will be found: By this I mean we will discover/invent some method to solve the problem that is currently not possible. Fusion. Magic algae.

2; An engineering solution will be widely implemented in the necessary time frame: That we will successfully productionalize and scale current alternate methods. This is where all the debate around natural gas, solar, fission takes place

3: Neither of the above happen, a crash / die off will occur

The scientific solution is hard to predict. However it is important to remember that even if some major technical breakthrough occurs, we are still in just cascading down to option 2:. The solution still needs to become feasible and be widely implemented

The engineering challenges are hard to predict, due to difficulties in predicting the steepness of the slope with regards to oil production decline. If the decline is swift enough, we may lack necessary energy and more importantly social stability to be able to implement a solution in time. This is one of the places where the reactive nature of capitalism really bites you, until oil becomes expensive enough, it's hard for the alternatives to get traction. Once oil becomes expensive enough, we are in decline.

The collapse scenarios are often written about (Kunster's World Made By Hand) etc but the interesting thing is they all seem to think such a collapse will be permanent and that mankind will reach a steady state and give up on technological development.

This might be true if we collapsed all the way back to the stone age. It is hard for me to imagine a collapse pre 19th century technology, since the tech at that level can be built and maintained locally and the resource that powers it is still relatively abundant (coal, railorads, etc).

Once you've reached steady state at that level, you immediately start climbing up the pole again, and probably do so relatively quickly (thought likely more sustainably with less reliance on oil) since many of the tools and knowledge is still around. I mean it only took 100 years to go from 19th to 20th century the first time, and that was when we did not know what we were doing...

I think a collapse is certainly possible, however the steady state theory is wish fulfillment on the aprt of people that don't like technology much and long for a simpler life



Well, steampunk is teh Uld Geezrz thing, so hop on that train at the beginning, and cash in!


The High Frontier: Redux has over 800 comments

<meta>This thread plus its parent now totals over 800, and no end in sight.</meta>


On the other hand, all of the electricity you get from a capacitor is useful, while for a battery, you can only use a range of it (when it gets too low, it's just not useful).

I read an interview, a few years ago, with one of BMW's researchers, and he was excited about ultracapacitors because they didn't have to completely match a battery, they only had to match the useful parts of a battery. And that was a much easier goal.

Of course, nobody's come out with a car that uses an ultracapacitor instead of a battery, so that doesn't seem to be panning out yet 8-).


"Um, not quite. A deflationary spiral means effectively a negative interest rate. Money gets sucked out of your bank account every month, so you want to spend it as fast as possible on things that either gain value or lose their value less fast. "

That's exactly 100% the opposite. In a deflationary economy, goods become cheaper, so you in effect have money *added* to your account each month, and waiting to buy becomes (in general) better.


It makes me glad to see so much relatively optimistic intelligent discussion about all the options for survival here. But my gut keeps telling me, for all those Sterling lovers out there, that we are having this talk on a terrace in Timbuktu.


Yes, families that can afford it often give 16yos a car, and if not that then access to the family car. A gifted car is likely used, either bought as such or passed on while the parent buys a new car, but still.

The situation might be mass lunacy, but the individual decision is rational; for much of the US as built, the alternatives of bike/walk/bus are not viable (or for the bus, do not exist.) Quite likely the teen had been getting around via the parent driving them where they had to go, so the car-gift means freedom for both teenager and parent.


That's a good step back, but I think you may have missed something.

It *appears* that you're assuming either a steady state of what we've got now (more or less), or a crash (things break down, people dies) as a step down to a lower level.

My understanding about the peak oil concept is that it's highly unlikely that things can keep going at the level they are now, no matter how efficient we get at providing them. We've already overshot, in other words.

The question is how we're going down, and the technical, sociopolitical, and economic challenges are basically to make our glide-path as long and painless as possible.

To me, the thing that makes this bearable are the studies that show that human happiness isn't really related to how much stuff we have, once our basic needs are met. Indeed, too much stuff is a cause of problems, rather than a solution.

The irony here is that failure means a crash, but success prolongs the "pain," so long as we see diminished expectations about material wealth as pain.

For someone like Charlie, who's looking for something to write, this is a great source of conflict and drama. For those of us who probably will have to live through this as we get older, it's just one damn thing after another, and a great character building exercise, as Calvin's father used to tell him in the comics.


On energy density:

There is indeed a huge gap between chemical fuels and everything else. The gap between gasoline and coal is smaller than you imagine; dry bituminous coal burns to yield 24-35 megajoules per kilogram. Gasoline yields 43-47 megajoules per kilogram. At best gasoline is twice the gravimetric energy density of coal; coal can beat it on a volumetric basis. We use liquid fuels in cars not because of superior energy density but because coal is a hard-to-handle solid and so is a substantial part of its combustion waste.


I mentioned earlier that Amonix has the most efficient terrestrial PV systems that I know of. According to a 2006 report from Brookhaven laboratory, their systems also have the highest EROI of any actual PV systems I've seen published: 23:1, using a cradle-to-grave life cycle analysis and assuming 30 years operation. If they're correct, that means you repay the energy debt of each system in about 16 months. You don't have a huge up-front energy debt that hangs around for a decade. If you Google "amonix eroi" you'll find the Oil Drum article I cribbed that data point from; I'm not linking directly because it leaves my comments held in moderation.

There have been a huge number of wind EROI studies with different results; I'm going to go with a 2006 Oil Drum meta-analysis that showed an average of 18.1:1 for operational wind systems. I would expect this value to rise over time, because larger, newer turbines generally have higher EROI, since there are better wind flows at higher altitudes. But 18.1:1 is already quite respectable, better than domestic oil production in the US for example (currently running between 11:1 and 18:1). With an assumed 20 year lifetime per turbine, wind power also pays off its energy debt quickly, in about 13 months.

But you highlighted an important point about system boundaries. If you have to build new transmission lines or new storage facilities to accommodate additional wind or solar, that should be incorporated into the EROI balance sheet too. The EROI of new energy production is a step function of a lot of installation-specific things layered on top of the fundamental energy production technology. Piggyback on existing transmission lines and you have one EROI that you can get just looking at the turbine figures above; expand the wind farm to add that Nth turbine where you need a transmission upgrade too, and suddenly the EROI of the whole farm dips. Solar might have a small EROI boost here: solar scales down nicely to deliver electricity right from your rooftop with no transmission burden, wind not so much.


All peak oil says is that we are runnig out of oil. There is nothing in it that mandates a crash

Overshoot is more a discussion about general economic depletion, and whether the current human population is sustainable. That is a bigger conversation then just peak oil. Even if you take that as true, all it mandates is a massive population decrease, not a permanent "going down" as a species

I actual think the "long slow glidepath" like Kunstler propagates is so amazingly unlikely a scenario that I did not put it on the list. It's pure fantasy.


I think you've got to make it a bit more complex:

A population overshoot only matters if all the organisms are identical in their consumption pattern. That's not true for humans. Those of us commenting on the blog are all using way more than Ali Al Average Bangladeshi is. While yes, I think the population in the 21st Century will be lower than it is now, that's not the only concern.

While I think it's your choice to avoid looking at a long decline, that means you've bought into the current Progress OR Apocalypse scenario. Either we get to keep our stuff in some for, or it all goes to hell, and it's not worth considering any other alternatives.

Do realize that most of what we're talking about here are the alternatives to this screwed-up dichotomy. I haven't read Kunstler, but I suspect "The Long Decline" is similar, with perhaps a better ending point.

Think of it as a problem vs. predicament. Problems have solutions, predicaments have to be lived with. Progress vs. Apocalypse is a problem-based viewpoint: either we solve the problems or civilization dies.

The long decline is a predicament-based scenario. It says that there are long-term and decreasing limits that we're going to have to learn to live with. If we fail to solve the myriad problems we face, it gets worse faster, if we succeed, it gets worse slower. But it's going to get worse regardless. How bad and how fast are what we can control.

The other thing we can control is our attitudes. Currently regard material wealth as the only yardstick worth measuring things by. If we adopt other metrics (such as Bhutan's Gross National Happiness), we may actually make gains, even as our material wealth vanishes.

As with aging and death, the future's a predicament, and there's no apparent solution that will allow us to turn it into a problem that we can get out of.


I can get dreadfully travel sick in road vehicles, cars are the worst, then coaches, then buses. I rarely get sick in trains or trams. It's stop-start traffic that affects me the most.


Best of all possible worlds: A trolleybus with auxiliary battery power like they have in Vancouver:

The only problem I have with a trolleybus, as opposed to a metro or "light" rail is that it's possible for a mediocre driver to jerk the bus to a start and jerk it to a stop, like all (and I mean ALL) bus drivers in Ottawa do. Metros and "light" rail are too heavy and/or they have electronic controls to prevent a jerk start or stop.


>>>>it's possible for a mediocre driver to jerk the bus to a start and jerk it to a stop, like all (and I mean ALL) bus drivers in Ottawa do

I fell your pain, bro. Israeli here, all our drivers think they are fighter pilots or something.


[quote]Those of you in the USA could tell me if the myth perpetrated by pop-culture that middle class parents often gift their sixteen year old offsprings A FREAKING CAR? I can't believe such mass lunacy - giving a perfectly healthy young'un, completely capable of hiding a bike or walking or taking a bus,[/quote]

What bus?

I got my license and car at 16, in 1976. My siblings all got theirs at 16 as well. We were an ordinary middle-class family.

We'd all had bicycles, but they were only useful for visiting someone in the local neighborhood. Bicycling to any other place - any store, the library, school etc. - involved using the highway for 5 miles or so until you got near the center of town. While technically legal, wasn't a very smart thing to do if you wanted to stay alive, or at least unhospitalized.

About 7 miles away from where we lived was a gas station that also doubled as the bus depot. As I remember, Greyhound made a morning-to-afternoon round trip to the capitol on Tuesdays, and Continental made a round trip on Thursdays.

While growing up we lived in towns in five different states in the USA; most of them were similar to here.

Note we actually lived *in* a town. Many of our friends lived in rural areas where things were a lot further away.

According to the latest US census, more people live in the cities than in the country now. But that still leaves at least 150 million of us where there has never been any other infrastructure than the automobile, nor is there ever likely to be any due to the lower population density. I frequently travel through places that have no cellular coverage, and occasionally through places that have no radio that the car can pick up. Until five years ago - bear in mind I live in one of the larger cities in my state - the only internet access in my area was dialup, and I never saw a throughput of over 14,400 bps.

From my point of view, these are small prices to pay for not having to live in the kind of urban hives some people seem to expect we should want to live in.


"Wealth" will be increasingly defined as small or zero mass information technology items. Once you have food, clothing, housing and basic medical care then the rest can be infotech. And such an information economy can effectively expand forever. OTOH, buying tons of heavily engineered high energy consuming mass is going to be deprecated.


Bikes are OK if you live in a country with nice weather, flat geography and dry roads like the US or the UK. I don't and most of the world doesn't.

I think that hybrid trolleybuses and hybrid trolley cars/taxis are the solution for the rest of us. We can't ride bikes on ice (about six months of the year), cause our groceries would break at the first fall. And there would be many falls. They can't ride bikes in African monsoon rains (and the months of mud coming with them) either. You have no idea how lucky, how exceptional you are, weather wise in the UK and the US, and in that tiny, exceptional part of Canada called lower BC.

Or maybe we could ride genetically improved donkeys. My step brother managed a UN program to introduce donkeys in African countries where bikes and motorbikes made no sense most of the year because of the rain season.


Hang on - giving everyone gardens to grow serious veg in isn't going to get you the density to deliver effective public transport.

Even 60 years ago, car ownership a fraction of what it is now, Britain was largely urbanised. Even a hundred years ago with no cars there were more people working agriculture but also huge cities.

The lesson of the last two centuries has been that you get higher output from people if they specialise, and this long pre-dates the use of oil.

Not sure why the lack of oil means that we should all spend several hours a day growing veg? Surely we'll get more veg if specialist market gardeners grow veg while we do whatever we specialise in? (I appreciate that we'll need more veg growers than now and some of our other specialisms may change).

Or do you think we got a problem with total food production in our post-oil world? (in which case build even denser, put people in super-dense cities and release the land for farming)


That sort of car-based lifestyle might have been feasible in the 70s, but - unless some revolutionary tech comes to life - will not be in the medium-to-long term future. Even if the Peak Oil scenario wasn't a possibility, the whole "trashing the planet's climate" thing would make it a necessity to cut down as much carbon emissions as possible.

And, about the urban hive comment, to each his own, I guess: I can't imagine living in a place where the closest grocery shop or pharmacy is not within walking distance.


Back in 2000, 21% of Americans were 'rural'. 58% lived in urban >200,000 people, 10% >50,000, 9% >5000, 2% >2,500 people.

As noted by others, sheer population size is fairly independent of density; you can have a small town or village where all the buildings are near each other. Mallaig at 800, or Portree on Skye at 2500, are eminently walkable. How dense what the US Census considers "urban clusters" are, I don't know.

There are 3 hectares of US land for every American. That's including all the desert, mountains, and Alaska. You should be grateful to all of us willing to live in cities; if nothing else (and there's a lot else, economically) we give you the luxury of living on good land without close neighbors.

Of course, AFAIK most of human history has been dense tribes or villages, even if those units were themselves small and spaced out between each other. The totally isolated farmhouse seems something of an aberration.


>>>And, about the urban hive comment, to each his own, I guess: I can't imagine living in a place where the closest grocery shop or pharmacy is not within walking distance.

And I don't understand what's so great about living in your own house that is worth so much sacrifice. I mean, yes, private house and a piece of land is good. But not when you are in the middle of nowhere.

Everything in that sector is in the "diesel" bucket. So is all the shipping, all the rail that isn't electrified, all the construction machinery, all the backup generator sets, all the main battle tanks.

Actually the Abrams runs on jet fuel apparently. Not exclusively though, I think.


I have not been able to imagine a long decline scenario that does not accelerate rather quickly into at least a partial crash. If nothing else, the resource wars that will be sparked are likely to go nuclear at some point.

Perhaps you can though?

In order for a long decline to be possible there would need to exist some extremely competent and world spanning autocratic regime to keep the people from eating eachother and burning down the cities.

Humanity is not a "go quietly into that good night" kind of operation. Look at Greece as an example of how they react when you ask them to decrease their standard of living

That does not mean that the crash is a permanent one, or that we do not end up in a ecologically friendly steady stat eventually, however a smooth, long downward slope is unlikely as it implies a large degree of order. A more chaotic zig zag is much more likely.


I second the vote for trolley buses. I'm about to get on one, as I do every day, coz I live in Wellington, NZ. They're quieter and smoother than diesel.

The ones here run on renewable power, from hydro and wind.

We already have zero-carbon public transport, or rather we have the technology to deliver this, just as we have had for about a hundred years. My original home town, Reading in the UK, had electric trolley buses up until the 1960s, as did SF and pretty much everywhere else.

The problem with them isn't the technology, it's the politics (as usual).


I recommend cooking them long and slow with lots of veggies.

I take it you're not a meat lover, or else you just haven't eaten much horse meat or lived long in a country where eating horse meat is traditional. In places where eating horse meat is not taboo, there are plenty of people who prefer the taste of horse meet over beef. Nutritionally it is a better match for human dietary requirements than most other meats, too (better than beef, chicken, pork, or mutton; comparable to goat meat). Note that I'm not saying you shouldn't eat your veggies to get a balanced diet. It's just such a terrible waste to use a good cut of meat (and the vegetables!) in a cooking method designed to redeem a poor cut.


"Those of you in the USA could tell me if the myth perpetrated by pop-culture that middle class parents often gift their sixteen year old offsprings A FREAKING CAR? I can't believe such mass lunacy - giving a perfectly healthy young'un, completely capable of hiding a bike or walking or taking a bus"


1) A mile or more walk to anything which isn't another block of housing.

2) Frequent long gaps between those blocks of housing.

3) *No sidewalks bridging those gaps*. You end up walking/biking on the shoulder of a road, with 100+ KPH traffic. And that's not counting bridges, which only have a token walkway.

4) ************No BUS*************
************AT All*************


"Look at Greece as an example of how they react when you ask them to decrease their standard of living"

IMHO, a lot of that is because most people are (a) clearly being screwed over to bail out the elites and (b) a lot now have nothing - there appears to be a very large number of permanently unemployed youth. And a very large number of permanently unemployed young men is a recipe for disaster.


Boy you've all been busy.
Big structural changes 2190.
World population down to under 5 billion. Area of land used for agriculture/food production reduced by 99%. 95% of all food produced local in highly efficient market gardens using GM crops and biochemical protein factories producing delicious artificial meat. No body uses a kitchen in their own home any more they eat out at one of the very many local restaurants/market stalls or use the extremely efficient communal kitchen. Advanced smart thermal insulation materials reduce energy consumption for the average household to 0.001% of current level.
Farmland re purposed as managed parks and wilderness. 95% or all building materials, food and energy produced within 20Km of consumption. On average People work 4 months in local community, 4 months in parks and wilderness 4 month at leisure.
Planet wide major efforts - participation by election and lottery into build viable off-planet ecologies that can travel the solar system eating dust and asteroids to sustain themselves.
Research on early versions used for the rehabilitation of criminals suggest populations of said ecologies would form a distinct species within two generations.
Of course most of this (not the off-planet stuff) was proposed by Kropotkin in Fields, Factories and Workshops,_Factories_and_Workshops
Circa 1912 I reckon another 80 years we might get there.


long-term, quiet, unmanned station-keeping ... is exactly what we're going to need for communications relays if we accidentally trigger a Kessler cascade in low earth orbit. The equivalent of a comsat orbiting over a big city at 70,000 feet -- using a solar-powered (or beamed-from-ground-level microwave powered) dirigible for station keeping could well turn out to be a cheaper solution to long range backhaul than laying trans-oceanic cables, too.


Charlie, please. Kessler Syndrome is in the same category as Nuclear Winter.


I can't believe such mass lunacy - giving a perfectly healthy young'un, completely capable of hiding a bike or walking or taking a bus, what is essentially a very very expensive weapon

Never visited the US, have you?

There are very large chunks of the place -- most of it, outside of the dense urban cores of the larger, older cities -- where there is no pavement to walk alongside the roads, where there is no public transport (or maybe a bus every three hours that will take you to a bus station where you can wait another three hours for a bus to wherever you're going) and where the nearest grocery store is 15 miles away. And where the weather hits extremes in winter or summer such that cycling or walking isn't an option unless you enjoy hypothermia or heatstroke.

That's not to say that the US couldn't be better designed for non-automobile transport, but unfortunately that's not the case. The suburban parents who buy their 16 year olds a car are actually buying themselves some blessed relief from having to run the weans everywhere whenever they want to go out -- because without a car you might as well be trapped.


Some prices right now for complete PV systems, retail:

"The residential index is based upon a standard 2 kilowatt peak system, roof retrofit mount. It is connected to the electricity grid and has battery backup to allow it to operate during times of electricity downtime. It is therefore also suitable as an index for off-grid residential uses."

$0.30 per kWh in sunny climates.
My domestic electricity right now costs around $0.23
Guess which price is falling and which is rising.



Moreover, in a deflationary spiral, if your business needs to take on debt in order to expand, the amount of money in circulation dwindles over time so you have to cut the price of your products, but the interest rate on the capital never drops below 0% -- so the cost of borrowing money rises.

Deflation is not inflation with a negative sign in front of the percentage mark. It's an entirely different phenomenon, highly toxic to any economy, and one that we are (alas) probably going to get a whole lot more familiar with in the coming years.


Anyone done any simulations on the Kessler cascade?


$0.30/kwh amortized over the expected lifetime of the panels.

Installed is several dollars per kw. (In my case, it was about US$6/kw. Break-even point is expected to be around six years, and the predicted lifetime of the panels is around 25 years. The inverter will need to be replaced every few years, resulting in a periodic high-price bump.)


Depends on how you define output. The point about Havana is that they've taken quite a few vacant lots (including, I think, ones where the homes fell apart) and turned them into gardens, for food and herbal medicine.

Cuba's an interesting example, not because I'm particularly enamored of the politics either way, but because it's a recent example what happens when scarcity bites down hard on an industrialized nation. Russia's probably an even better example, but I don't know as much about their gardens.

In my short adult life, I've seen a couple of careers I'd thought were pretty stable dry up, and as I get older, I'm a less desirable worker too, so I don't expect the trend to go away. The lesson I've learned is to cultivate several skills, so that when Plan F falls apart, you're already working on G, H, and I. Cultivating a garden works. It gives you food AND exercise simultaneously (or possibly medicine, depending on what you're growing). When your job disappears and prices skyrocket, it's a reasonable fallback.



"In order to achieve a revolutionary increase in density of energy storage, Professor Tang and her team, in collaboration with Professor Lu-Chang Qin of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in the United States, have designed and developed a graphene-based composite structure, in which graphene is used as the base material of the capacitor electrodes and carbon nanotubes (CNT) are inserted between the graphene sheets. In this structure graphene offers a far larger specific surface area (2630 m2/g) than the conventional materials and the CNTs function as spacers as well as conducting paths to enable adsorption of a larger quantity of electrolyte ions on the graphene surface. With this graphene-CNT composite as the capacitor electrodes, Professor Tang has obtained a high energy density of 62.8 Wh/kg and output power density of 58.5 kW/kg using organic electrolyte. By using an ionic liquid as the electrolyte, they have achieved an energy density of 155.6 Wh/kg, which is comparable to that of nickel metal hydride batteries."



"The low-temperature process now developed by Tiwari and Co. not only yielded an 18.7%-efficiency cell on polymer foils but also another record efficiency of 17.7% on steel foil without any diffusion oxide or nitride barrier layer commonly used in high-temperature processes. Both efficiencies were independently certified by the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) in Freiburg, Germany. "We have thus shown that this low-temperature process is also applicable on low-cost metal foils such as aluminum or Mild-steel, achieving comparably high-efficiency cells and indicating a severe cost reduction potential with this technology", said Tiwari.
Scientists at FLISOM, a start-up company, and Empa have been collaborating to further develop low-temperature processing, and FLISOM is scaling up the technology for roll-to-roll manufacturing of monolithically interconnected solar modules and commercializing the technology."


Horses aren't magical.

And anyone who's worked around them knows the pollution they cause. My granddad used to talk about how wonderful cars and diesel buses were, because when he was a boy London's streets were quite deep in horse droppings.


more on Peak oil at 181: LEWIS L SMITH - ""Peak oil" is an economic concept, not a physical one. Physically most oil in a field gets left in the ground. A world average is probably around 70%." New drilling is subsidized by the taxpayers here. Its cheaper to drill new wells than to pump out all the oil. Cap the well and move on, the oil is still owed by the oil company. And will be used as best for the owners.
Natural gas can be made into a liquid like gasoline, only better. Back in the first so called gas shortage I read it would cost 17 cents a gallon to make. Including the natural gas. That was then. The oil companies own most of the natural gas. Till President Carter stopped them, natural gas was burned off as waste. Outside of America and England it still is.
Natural gas is not a great fuel for road use. The amount of energy in fuel can be judged by weight. Natural gas is lighter than air. One reason diesel gets better mpg is because its heaver, with more energy than gasoline. Natural gas has about 1/4 the power in a IC motor next to gasoline. To travel far, a heavy tank filled at around 3000 pounds per inch must be used. They are not allowed in many places. Liquid Natural gas is used just like gasoline. But its cleaner.


Good point on airships as aerial relays. Perhaps the US military is thinking along the same lines?

On a related note, I did think it's interesting when the Marine Corps opened a LEED Gold certified enlisted barracks last week. Given the political climate right now, I won't be surprised if the US military doesn't turn out to be a big driver of green innovation for the next few years.


Bikes are OK if you live in a country with nice weather, flat geography and dry roads like the US or the UK. I don't and most of the world doesn't.

I don't know how much of the US you've visited but most of it is definitely NOT flat. Chicago, Boston, etc... have bulldozed much of their urban area into flat, Dallas is just plain flat, and Florida is, well, not very high, but most of the US is hilly outside of those and a few plains and mid west states. Where I live in central North Carolina isn't like San Francisco or Pittsburgh but riding a bike is for those with well muscled legs. I've lived in 5 different areas of the US and none of them could be considered flat.


Comsats and DBS satellites sit in a Clarke orbit, not in low earth orbit where the possibility of a Kessler cascade is high. Up there they are under no threat from collisions with debris, spent boosters etc.

The GPS, Glonass and the future Galileo satellites are in 12-hour orbits and similarly safe from debris. The only orbital assets really at risk are manned flights and the ISS plus a lot of lower-orbiting Earth observation satellites and most if not all of the spook assets. The Hubble, although not in a high orbit is still mostly above the orbital volume at risk. The one comsat family that is in serious danger are the Iridiums and that's because they have to fly in a very low orbit to communicate with the system's handheld phones and ground stations.


At what point does getting through the debris field to a higher orbit start to be a real risk?


[A] very large number of permanently unemployed [people] is a recipe for disaster.

I'm in the USA, where the median real wage has been flat for 30 years and the housing bubble may have been the only reason we didn't have 10+% unemployment for the entire decade after the dot-com crash. This isn't just a problem for Greece.

Economists like to talk about new jobs magically materializing to compensate for jobs made redundant by capital (automation, efficiency, etc) but it's starting to look like there just plain isn't anything left that robots can't do better than unskilled humans. The higher-skill your job is, the less your job is at risk of being automated/efficiencied/outsourced, but by the same token, the global economy needs fewer of you. And I can't say that this is a bad thing! Philosophically, nobody should have to lift heavy objects all day to put food on the table. But when there are no jobs left for anyone who isn't a creative genius, and there's far more creative geniuses than positions for them to fill, well, with probability one, you're fucked.

... If we do run out of cheap energy, this becomes a non-issue, but if we manage to avoid that crisis, this seems like the crisis waiting in the wings. Worldwide.


Given the political climate right now, I won't be surprised if the US military doesn't turn out to be a big driver of green innovation for the next few years.

A big reason is in the US government institutions don't have to deal with accounting issues such as depreciation, amortization, and quarterly reporting.


I believe it when I see it. There have been far too many such claims to take them serious anymore. The fact of the matter is, that there has been some progress in reducing cost, very little progress in improving performance of solar cells - despite tens of billion of Euros having been invested in the industry.

If it's soo good, then they should simply go ahead and produce those inexpensive solar cells and stop just talking about them - because talk has been and will always be a lot cheaper than solar cells.


Those of you in the USA could tell me if the myth perpetrated by pop-culture that middle class parents often gift their sixteen year old offsprings A FREAKING CAR? I can't believe such mass lunacy - giving a perfectly healthy young'un, completely capable of hiding a bike or walking or taking a bus,

As others have mentioned things in the US outside of a few major urban areas are SPREAD OUT. Add to that the current 30 to 40 year old fad of busing kids all over creation in the name of diversity to give everyone an equal opportunity at education and you wind up with ,amy kids going to school way too far away to consider walking anything you'd do except in a dire emergency. And even then it would still be a stupid idea. My kids both went to a middle school 8 miles from my house and my son to a high school 12 miles away.

One thing I see happening in the US is that many of the political choices made (or forced on us by the courts) will hit a wall as energy costs go up. The concept of busing in the US started when gas was basically free. It will be interesting times when a judge demands that a school system spend 1/2 or more of it's budget driving kids around to ensure a better education instead of spending most of that money on things like teachers and books.


Just to be clear. We didn't give our kids a car. They had to buy them. We co-signed the loan and covered the insurance bump (mountain) but they had to make the payments. And unlike me, neither got their license at 16. One at 18 and the other at 19 for practical reasons. But many of our friends kids got their licenses and a car of some sort at 16 or 17.

I on the other hand was taken to my road test by my dad the first day it was possible after I turned 16. At the time his second job was building new houses one at a time as the prime contractor/owner. He desperately needed a gofor. I was it.


There's practically no risk to vehicles transiting the problem orbits. Satellites and other items that fly in the same orbits for months or years raise the chances of damaging collisions and the threatened cascade of debris but the lower they are the smaller the volume they sweep out each orbit and hence the higher risk. A GPS satellite sweeps a path that's about 380,000 kilometres long each orbit compared to the ISS or a Keyhole spy satellite which sweeps out an path about 43,000 km long each orbit.

Space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space, listen...


Yes. I know space is big. Been a fan of space things since the early 60s. But a better version of my question is how many LEO collisions would be needed before the chances of a launch incident get to greater than 1 in 100? Anyone done the math/simulations. And yes I know there would be a lot of assumptions in any such calculation.

As it is now I figure we could handle 10 to 100 times as much debris as we have now and still plan launches to be reasonably safe. But where is the cutoff? 1000 times as much debris? 100,000 times as much?


Even that's making things too difficult. The battery lives in the basement, not on the roof. (Electricity moves easily.) So it's weight is unimportant.

I doubt, however, that we'll stick with lead over the long term. I don't know what will replace it, but I expect something to. Clearly not Lithium. That's only needed for extremely dense and light power.

The fact is, most researchers have been looking for a better battery for a laptop or mobile phone than for something that's better at durable, with weight not particularly important. So for now lead is it, with not much competition. When it becomes important, competition will appear. (Well, for now it's also "Lead it cheap", which is hard to beat. This won't be true forever, however. I expect something based around Iron, Silicon, or Carbon to be the eventual battery for this purpose...probably with important significant impurities carefully distributed. Note that maximal power density isn't important, and may not be desirable. ("Batteries are too much like bombs.") When you're talking about a house battery, durability becomes really important. A 30 year life would not be an unreasonable desire. And if your size is such that you need to underlay the floor of an entire room, that's practically trivial by comparison.


I'm not always intelligent -- I have what's called Late Effect of Stroke, and sometimes that just makes me really stupid. But yes, I can't walk on grass (the ground below is uneven), much less pick crops.


I'm from the Catskills area, though in the Roundout Valley rather than the Catskills proper. (Between Accord and Kerhonkson; or, slightly larger scale, between Kingston and Ellenville.) Spent part of my childhood (in the 1950s) in a bungalow colony.

Population has been growing. Some people move there because housing is much cheaper than in NYC (about the same housing prices as Minneapolis....) According to a New York Times story a while back, some move there because the area has acquired a reputation for being gay-friendly. (Oddly enough, this was not true in the 1950s.) And: Ulster County has a long-established arty town: Woodstock. Woodstock rents are becoming high enough that people are instead opening gallaries in places like Accord.


"Suburbs will become slums as the cost of heat and transportation goes far enough up. Someday."

In the Twin Cities, and in a number of other US urban areas, some inner suburbs are already slums.


Much of that is due to people with kids wanting something bigger than 1000 to 1200 SF with a < 1/4 acre yard. The expansive burbs of the 50s became the tiny houses of the 60s and 70s.


Would you not agree that many had no means of of transport out of the path of destruction. Working poor and below were struggling to survive with no support on any level.


OK, getting back to the exam question; what structural changes are on the cards, and how do we make it through in one piece?

Firstly, as I've been banging on; time and scale limits things such that most of the ideas above aren't practical. You have to buy time, and you need to do it with what you've got.

Stage 1
You have to accept that nothing significant is going to happen till people realise peak oil is real, and the peak has past. Realisation will probably hit the markets first, moving to politicians shortly after all hell has broken lose.

You have to immediately go to a quasi war footing.
You have 7 years to undertake massive societal and system change - we only know of one political structure that has the scope to act massively in that timeframe.
You immediately act to ration and exclude certain fuel usage. Long cross country trips are out, as are joyrides, etc. You also implement ride sharing for commuting - a minimum of two occupants in a vehicle at first. Kids going to school don't go by car.
You aim to get a 25% drop in usage essentially overnight, whilst enabling society to still function. This is to give you some breathing room and stop you haemorrhaging cash as the price rises. You build and fill large scale strategic reserves.
At the same time you implement building of light public transport vehicles, and the factories to build them (if you are the UK). You change the zoning rules so as to emphasise walkable/bikeable environments, and planning to as to emphasise insulation and efficiency. Anyone who whines about the 'aesthetic look' is sacked on the spot.
You support usage of oil in key industries, offsetting the price rises so the financial models can still operate.
Financial markets are heavily regulated, with anyone acting against the public good and attempting to profit from the upheaval being carted off to jail.
Stage 2

You bear down on continued private fuel usage. Ride sharing is now 3 minimum for commuting and both short and long distance usage is taxed. Public transport is enhanced, particularly the long distance items with large scale, swift building activities. Shopping is now online, with trucks delivering to suburban homes regularly, out of town supermarkets are re-purposed. Nuclear power stations are built, quick, to a common design - as are oil alternatives like coal2gas and ethanol. Electric bikes are supported and subsidised for all, minus the limiters they have today.

Key industrial and food activities that have been outsourced around the world are recreated in country in a form that can be scaled quickly. It's not cargo transport that's the worry, but countries collapsing.
All the good ideas mentioned above are sifted and those that look good have money poured into them. They won't pay off for years, but now is the time to push them.
Stage 3

Most of the private transport uses of oil have been pushed out. Commuting for work is taxed, and only with a full car. Other uses are very rare, car ownership is more burden than benefit. Focus turns to implementing changes in industry to cut oil usage.

The rate in decline of available oil will be accelerating, so plans made from the start of the 'war' need to go into operation swiftly. Coal2Gas, synthoil and ethanol production will begin to ramp up to fulfil these industrial needs, only.
Manufacturing of necessary items 'in country' will ramp up, replacing international trade on a priority basis.
Stage 4

Do all the above correctly and you end up using little oil, mostly synthetically created, and with resilience where possible from international trade issues. Congratulations.

The above process is likely to be taken up and find success in only a few places. In the US the political stalemate with prevent swift action, and the bias against rationing will further limit the scale of action. The UK is better placed, but dependent on food imports that would need to be addressed. Australia is probably best placed, concentrated in the cities with resources and food production to spare - but with large distances that might prove insurmountable if they don't sort cargo rail fast.

The world that results owes more to the 1900s than the 2000s. You will live and work in a small geographic area, with much less travel outside that region. Government controlled services will be more the norm and much of society will be online. High density living will grow over time as the benefits of physical location are reasserted.

In all likelihood much less than half of all countries will survive the transition, even broken up. Population will probably drop 2-3 billion as people are unwilling to carry the useless and wars, disease, and particularly starvation, take their toll.


Dead on. I work with some people who work on the cutting edge of machine learning. As far as I can tell, there are two major conceptual breakthroughs that need to happen (visual object recognition & tactile feedback to movement control) before the game is up for skilled human labor. After that, any job that doesn't require unpredictable social interactions (i.e., education, medicine, childcare, therapy, soldiering, prostitution, animal husbandry & law) or innovation (designers, artists, some engineers) will be doable by a robot. The only limit on automation will be whether the human is cheaper than the robot. I give humans a 15-year future in manufacturing, and maybe 25 in fast food.

So where does that leave us? We'll have all the productivity we need, but none of the jobs. We could either have a welfare state on an unprecedented scale, or we could force 90+% of the population into subsistence agriculture. I have little doubt what Europe and South America will choose, but I'm not so sure about the US.


Much of that is due to people with kids wanting something bigger than 1000 to 1200 SF with a less than 1/4 acre yard. The nice burbs of the 50s (relative to the previous 30 years) became the tiny tract house of the 60s. And with real incomes rising greatly in the US due to the still lingering aftermath of WWII on the rest of the world people moved up.

And Charlie's comments about cheap US housing a month or so back do apply to much of what was build in the decade or two after WWII. Demand was high and the were built fast and cheap.


The concern in San Francisco should be water. This becomes less significant if the suburbs disappear, but it doesn't disappear. That water pipeline is based on a connection to the Sierra. And it requires pumping and maintenance. Nothing that's a significant problem as long as the state government is sensible and can maintain order. It was, after all, built in the 1800's. But still worrisome. And if the snowpack in the Sierra's goes away... (Possibly unlikely, as that would require significant regional warming...or drastic rainfall changes. OTOH...)

The rail lines haven't seen proper maintenance in decades. I presume that this could be remedied quickly, if there were motivation. It's the supplying of the motivation that I'm dubious about. The companies are politically powerful, and unwilling to invest.


Here's a bit of a jaded view of the US love of autos:

I quit all sports at age of 14 to join the work force so I could have enough to buy my first car ('71 Camaro + loads of speeding tickets) by the time I was 15 1/2. My mom would pick me up from school and drive me to work and pick me up at 8pm. I've now had so many jobs I can't count - and this was in small town America so the age to work didn't matter.

There are trailer parks throughout the US with more cars than trailers. Many cars worth more than the trailers.

Cars are a horrible investment.

If you drive a new auto off a lot, it is immediately worth a fraction of what it was worth before it was driven off the lot.

Cars are money holes.

Cars in 70% of the US are absolutely necessary.

This means everywhere outside of a major city.
Most major US cities are not built to support their population.

In many cities it is nearly impossible to find a grocer that carries fresh vegetables.

You have to drive to survive.

Speaking as someone who today rarely uses an auto, I will predict that Personal Transportation (AUTO) will dominate unless there is a Frightening Global Major Upheaval, the US will demand the use of and make grand concessions for - their auto.

My parents told me when I was 13, if you want a car you have to pay for it.
I gave up pitching in baseball, free safety in football, and was prepped to start wrestling - all to gather money for a car. It was that important.

A car in America is freedom - it is access to streets and freeways and cities and states for everyone - including the working poor.

A construction worker or an electrician or an HVAC tech doesn't just need tools, they need a car - or better yet - a truck, which is a better investment and hold it's worth much more than a car.

A car is life to most within the US - it is worked for and fought for and lived for and I wonder what will happen if that is threatened in any serious manner.


Would you not agree that many had no means of of transport out of the path of destruction. Working poor and below were struggling to survive with no support on any level.

They were offered transport out. They were told staying was a very bad thing. And yet they stayed. After Hugo, Fran, Floyd, and a few others in NC over the previous 10 years I could tell this was going to be bad. But I also knew that many would not leave. We had the same issues here but in areas with much lower populations.

There are the defiant ones who no one can tell them what to do.

There are the elderly who are mentally incapable of making the decision to leave. This one I've since come to really appreciate more after dealing with my mother and mother in law as they age. Many older people can't get out of their routine no matter how bad the routine will become. You literally have to drag them out the door. And in the US that's legally difficult to do without a court proceeding for each individual involved.

And yes there are the poor. They split into at least two camps. There are some who ignore the warning and assistance until it is too late. In many cases they don't believe it will be that bad until help has left. And the other group who believe they must stay to protect their property. And a subset of this group who feel the warnings are a conspiracy to get them to leave so their stuff can be taken.

Now I'm not from N.O. But I have relatives and have know people in all of the above camps. And in the US you basically can't make someone leave an area by edict. When you hear of a mandatory evacuation, the work is a strong suggestion that basically means the police and EMS will not be around for a while, not a enforceable law.

And in the few days after Bush wanted to bring in supplies but the governor of Louisiana said no, the people needed to leave. She finally changed her mind after two or three days. Personally I felt that Bush should have gone on TV and said the feds are going in with or without being asked and dared Congress to impeach him for it. But he didn't do that.

My two neighbors work for engineering firms that do disaster planning and coordination for state agencies. They have spent most of the years since Katrina working along the Gulf coast coordinating efforts to clean up and re-build. Per them people in FL, AL, and MS all want to just get it done and move on. People in LA and especially N.O. seem to have an attitude of "whatever" once they got food and a roof.

But back to the point of Charlie's post. I'm firmly convinced that if sea levels rise much at all and peak oil does occur that N.O. and much of the last 200 miles of the Mississippi river will be abandoned. It should have been after Katrina but there was too much industry (oil related) for that to happen then. 10, 20, 50 years from now, things may be different enough for it to happen.


@347 and you have to do all that while the sea levels are rising, your weather is changing, some of your breadbaskets are turning into deserts and your cities are flooding. And probably while fighting resource wars one several fronts.

Take Australia for example

Australia doesn't seem to actually get rain anymore except for el Nino years. They are having a hard time keeping their farming running even without peak oil.

It's not just peak oil. It's peak oil, global warming and population overshoot all at the same time. Gonna be an entertaining century...


2 things
1- I would love to see a Stross work on the demographic problem, and its possible catastrophic ends.. I'm aware of various studies done on tipping points where taxation levels, wealth discrepancies, or other macro-econ factors lead almost inevitably to revolt/revolution etc. While the Rule34 series references deflation and economic disasters, what if things really came to a head. What if the new generation (as selfish or more-so than the current), in a continuation of modern trends, end up in a situation where demographics look something like 10% educated/skilled employed (modern white-collar&middle-class equivalents), 30% uneducated/unemployed/underemployed, 60% retired on full pension/benefits/free meds when medicine evolves to common life expectancy of 120/140 years old etc...

maybe its Holy Fire and its too soon to be rewritten - but I would really enjoy your take on the whole thing - this is true horror to me - you could definitely keep people up at night making them aware of the possibilities....

2 - the unstable/renewable power problem is not a factor of 'can't turn off' but a factor of can't-turn-on'... it doesn't matter how many solar panels or windmills you build (and how inefficiently they run on average) - when you need electricity you can't turn the wind on, or the cloud-cover off. this is why you need 50-75% good old fashioned reliable nuke/coal/etc energy... we don't yet have power over Gaia.....


Also - the number of kids that get a new-nice-car at 16 is a vast minority from the upper class.... the same uppity snobs you'll find causing traffic problems with BMW's and Mercedes in any city that has rich people with teenage children....

Most (including myself) get the old family car that has trade-in value or 'real' value in the $500-$2500 range... and as indicated above - whether rural or suburban - a significant percentage of Americans live in an 'individual transportation required' situation.

Also as mentioned above, if the family doesn't have an extra car, most teens will work themselves to death to buy a crappy car ($1200) put HUGE speakers in it ($1500) then add a car alarm to protect the sound system ($300) because kids are dumb and have too much disposable income when they are still sponging off the parental units.....

regardless - rural America will survive because farms are important, somebody has to grow all the grain and corn to feed all the cows who's remnants turn into McDonalds sawdust patties...


The point is that we're living in a time when our governing myths are failing. Christianity came to the fore during the decline of the Roman Empire, and I think it's perfectly reasonable to look at the beliefs on the fringes of our current civilization to see what the Next Big Thing might be.

Using the Roman model you mentioned, that would mean a once-fringe religion gaining acceptance as political leaders from that religion move up the ranks and gain more power. In the Us, we're already seeing that with the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). There's serious talk of Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee, which would make him the first Mormon presidential Candidate in history.

And if that's not fringe enough for you,there's always Scientology.


Not sure if this point has been made, but if we are to transition from oil to other energy sources, it needs to be made while oil/coal/gas are still relatively cheap and accessible. I seem to recall in a couple of other Charlie's Diary threads this has been discussed. Without the easy access to fossil fuels, it makes any subsequent industrialisation attempt by a post-collapse human civilisation (or non-human...otters? bears? will there be a subsequent 'uplift' to sentience if man were no longer around? Is it an ecological niche that demands filling or a fluke?) very difficult.

Paolo Bacigalupi's "Windup Girl" series is an example of a civilisation where carbon fuels have been exhausted. He uses the idea of springs which are used to store manually generated energy (from genetically engineered mastodons). Older ideas (might have been early William Gibson?) are where a flywheel is used as a 'battery' to store rotational energy, and tapped to generate momentum.

Australia is another country, like the US, with a widely dispersed population. Public transport outside of the urban conglomerates (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth) is virtually non-existant. Cars are a must-have, otherwise you're trapped. Most small towns no longer have the basic facilities/services (banks, supermarkets, petrol stations) to service the local population - they have to go to regional centres. This accelerates the move towards centralisation - large regional centres, with a hinterland of dying or dead towns/villages.

A lack of cheap/accessible transport - i.e. cars - might mean a return to a more village/communal living. Combine this with access to the internet/advanced communication systems, might see a reverse in centralisation and a 'hollowing out' of regional and major urban environments.

Additionally, centralisation (combined with favourable tax conditions) has lead to a MASSIVE increase in the cost of housing. Australia has the least affordable housing - in proportion to GDP - of any OECD nation. We never experienced the GFC in Australia, so housing remains very expensive and beyond most people's reach. A move towards decentralisation would mean a major realignment in housing prices.


It sounds, then, as if you believe President Bush paid attention to the catastrophe and had offered the full support of the govt to the impoverished. If that is the case, we must agree to disagree.

You list the poor as being stubborn or unwilling to leave. It costs a lot of money and transport (auto) to leave every time there is a notice. Money and auto they do not have. I believe you do not understand working poor.

I interviewed, for a documentary, a burlesque performer from N.O. who claimed to have performed alongside Gypsy Rose Lee. She survived Katrina and her story was brutal. Sure she was told to evacuate. But how?

I may be misreading your posts, and for that I apologize, but I continue to ask, as a unified society, how many rapes must we avert our eye from, and how many dead and dying must we walk over? And if that wasn't Katrina, what was?

We pay a price to live in an educated society and for that I want support against such things as hurricaines and earthquakes, among others.

I want more out of our government and happy to pay for it.

And as I say, agree to disagree.


How does not having cars reverse centralization? Cars hollow out the cities, for suburbs; no cars would reverse that. And encourage densification everywhere, which in low population areas would mean walkable villages instead of spread out houses, and in cities would mean public transit cities.

Haven't read it but from all I've heard the Windup Girl has lots of problems. Magically energy dense springs. Which are used in a silly way anyway; instead of feeding the mastodon to step on a spring you could burn the food in a steam engine (or with gasification, gas turbine) for the same efficiency. A mysterious lack of nuclear or solar power. Awesome genetic engineering despite this low power, expensive-shipping, world...


Turns out that there is so much natural gas in Lancashire that the UK can single-handedly destroy the ozone layer a 1000 times over. Pay up world or you'll get a clogging.
Charlie - you realise by the time they have extracted all that gas Yorkshire will have slammed into Wales and Edinburgh will be on the wash - your rail travel time to Europe will be halved. everyone's a winner.


Ride-sharing. Yep. The first thirty cars I saw on the way here had only one person in. That's got to change.

Public transport has to improve - later today I'm taking a 60 mile train journey that involves two and a half hours on trains and half an hour waiting on platforms. Or for a fifth of the cost I could get a set of buses that take at least twice as long, but will at least give me a good chance of having somewhere to sit.

Many trains, I'm supposed to count myself lucky if I get to sit on the floor outside the toilet door. I'm not made of money, so I won't pay the "1st class" premium for a near-identical seat. If I pre-book a seat there's a good chance the train'll be too crowded to reach it, if I get there I'll have to evict one member of a possibly hostile group and spend the journey in their company - if things turn nasty there's very little chance of anyone coming to my aid. It'll either be intolerably noisy, or I'll be in a "quiet" carriage, not out of choice but because it's the only place I could fit, and will be unable to use a phone for the duration.

Most of the time it's a very nasty experience. Occasionally you get a "spirit of the blitz" cameraderie - I remember one journey in the company of a bunch of Deepcut graduates and a bottle of single malt that went rather well.

There's a lot of slack in domestic power consumption - I use a lot less electricity than my girlfriend as about all I use is one low-energy lightbulb, a small kettle, a laptop, microwave, shower and an occasional guitar amp. I shop more often than daily, on foot - shops are about 100 feet away. I've a mate in Notting Hill who doesn't even have a kettle as you can buy tea from the shop in the ground floor of his building for 50p.

Nothing to add about the difficulty of such a lifestyle for those in the US etc. It's gonna be tough, either for them or for those who'll subsidise that lifestyle.

There's been some talk about biotech - is anyone working on biological motors for personal transport? I suppose there's no incentive to spend billions on making a new mule, but it's a thought.


@ 351
Who was it that killed Roger Rabbit?

Nigel @ 359
Link's broken
Try Here - thou shouldst find 'll work!
I note that extracting it will/may involve "fracking" though, which has serious environmental hazards involved, unless done very carefully.


Greg, Thanks for fixing the link.
I think there are a whole raft of downsides to this news but the potential earnings are so great I can't see responsible constraint and due diligence surviving more than a micro second or two before its all snouts in the trough and the last one in's a sissy.


In fact, I live 600Km north of London. Getting to the continent via Eurostar therefore involves (a) a 4-5 hour train journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London Euston, (b) a happy fun 15 minute walk down Euston Road, with luggage in tow, (c) customs/immigration and then a 2+ hour train journey from London St Pancras to Paris or Brussels or wherever.

This is slightly confusing. The train from Edinburgh to London doesn't go to Euston. It goes to Kings Cross, which is not 15 minutes walk from St Pancras, but right next to it - essentially they're the same station.


The US military is very strongly into green tech. They may not be sure that peak oil is coming or here already, but they have to plan some of their equipment procurement cycles on a 30 or even 60 year basis -- think carriers -- and the army have just had their noses rubbed in a peak oil scenario in the shape of Afghanistan (about the size of Texas but with no highways, no gas stations, and what roads there are tend to run along the bottom of valleys, the better for ambushers to shoot down at the convoys before melting into the mountains).

A CVN that is having its keel laid today will theoretically be in service until 2070. An APC being specced up today will be manufactured through 2020 and in service until 2040-2050 or beyond. And neither a CVN nor an APC can work without a sophisticated logistics train to feed it fuel, ammunition, and spare parts (not to mention trained operators).

Unlike Congress, the DoD doesn't have the luxury of ignoring resource depletion; and this is already affecting procurement decisions (such as the decision to go nuclear with a whole bunch of naval hardware that was formerly oil-burning, to look into synthetic oil -- possibly produced via nukes -- for fuelling aircraft and vehicles in the field, and so on).


It sounds, then, as if you believe President Bush paid attention to the catastrophe and had offered the full support of the govt to the impoverished. If that is the case, we must agree to disagree.

Full and needed support. No. As I've said around here before all levels of government failed in Katrina. And that includes both D's and R's. I said what I thought Bush should have done and didn't do. Putting himself in line for impeachment would have been a big deal and he should have done it.

You list the poor as being stubborn or unwilling to leave. It costs a lot of money and transport (auto) to leave every time there is a notice. Money and auto they do not have. I believe you do not understand working poor.
I interviewed, for a documentary, a burlesque performer from N.O. who claimed to have performed alongside Gypsy Rose Lee. She survived Katrina and her story was brutal. Sure she was told to evacuate. But how?

They were busing people out if they asked. Now maybe the process was flawed but they were evacuating people who couldn't get out on their own. But when a police car drives down a street saying people need to get out and if you need help flag us down. Multiple times. And people stay put. What should be done? And if you're an invalid without a phone, who has been taking care of you prior to this. Find them and smack them about.

I may be misreading your posts, and for that I apologize, but I continue to ask, as a unified society, how many rapes must we avert our eye from, and how many dead and dying must we walk over? And if that wasn't Katrina, what was?

Katrina was a total mess. But much of it was made worse due to self inflicted at all levels. Everyone in the Super Dome was offered a bus ticket out of town to shelters in other cities but they didn't want to leave until it was too late. After words the feds wanted to come in with supplies but were told no by the governor for 2 or 3 days. And when the feds did come in they didn't have enough of anything to deal with the situation. And the N.O. police basically ran for the hills. Is that "my" fault?

NC went through a spat of 10 or more hurricanes starting with Hugo. Hugo, Fran, and Floyd were a train wreak compared to a big rain storm but no where near Katrina. But we had the same issues. People ignored the warnings, rode it out or got killed, and then wanted to know why things were so bad. But it wasn't as big of a story as it was no where near as bad as Katrina as most of the damage was in the relatively thinly populated areas of NC and SC. But we had, especially with Floyd, entire towns under water for days. And people demanded to rebuild the towns in the same place next to the river. With Fran most of my neighbors had no power and trees in the streets for a week. But in my neighborhood at least, many of us got out and cleaned up paths so people could get out and get supplies.

My point is that since, for example, NC basically had no hurricanes of impact for 40 years and there was very little institutional memory of what that meant. So people just mostly didn't worry about it. Both the general public and the government.

N.O. was similar. When I was there on a business trip back around 1980 in Gulfport the local businesses had a lot of two story buildings. First floor was for things that could be lost. Important stuff was all on the 2nd floors. Camile was still a strong memory. Apparently 25 years later it had become a distant memory. But it was easy to see that when the next big one hit the total lack of hills and high ground was going to make things very bad.

But back to your questions about how society should deal with this? How do we get politicians to plan for events that might occur every 20 to 30 years? Do we start imposing martial law on warnings so we can literally drag people from their homes?

As to me not understanding the working poor my brother married into a family of rural Ky coal miners. The extended family values is that staying in abject poverty at "home" is preferable to a decent life away from home. Not a concept I can really wrap my head around but it is there and very prevalent amongst many of the poor.

If sea levels start to rise, the well off will move out. The poor will mostly stay in place even if offered a way out until they are underwater or dragged from their homes. My opinion. And I'm very much talking about the poor in the US. I have no idea how the poor interact with society in Europe or most of the rest of the developed world. In places like India or Bangladesh things are different as there's no majority middle class to pay for these changes for the poor.

And personally after growing up where the Mississippi, Ohio, Cumberland, and Tennessee rivers all come together I don't live at the bottom of hills or next to creeks or water of much of any kind. I saw way too many things underwater for that to appeal to me.


"If Japan can produce the steel for 3 reactors a year, that's 21 new reactors, worldwide, before your car is totally immobile. The Chevy Volt took 5 years to get to market, in small numbers."

The source for this seems to be an article from Bloomburgh published in 2008:

The article says: "Each year the Tokyo-based company can turn out just four of the steel forgings that contain the radioactivity in a nuclear reactor."

So thats 4, not 3.

It also says: "Even after it doubles capacity in the next two years, there won't be enough production to meet building plans. "

So we're up to 8, not 3.

And "Rivals are working to break the Japan Steel stranglehold, including South Korea's Doosan Heavy Industries & Construction Co. and Japan Casting & Forging Corp., a joint venture of Nippon Steel Corp. and Mitsubishi Steel Manufacturing Co. "

Japan Steel estimated it would take a rival 5 years to get up to steam, but they would say that, wouldn't they. Also:

"Doosan Makes First Shipment of AP1000® Nuclear Reactor Vessel to Sanmen Power Plant in China"

So the limit is now Japan Steel's production, whatever that is today, plus Doosan, plus?

Oh, here's a reference from 2009:

"The very heavy forging capacity in operation today is in Japan (Japan Steel Works), China (China First Heavy Industries and China Erzhong) and Russia (OMZ Izhora).

New capacity is being built by JSW and JCFC in Japan, Shanghai Electric Group (SEC) and subsidiaries in China, and in South Korea (Doosan), France (Le Creusot), Czech Rep (Pilsen) and Russia (OMZ Izhora and ZiO-Podolsk).

New capacity is planned in UK (Sheffield Forgemasters) and India (Larsen & Toubro, Bharat Heavy Electricals, Bharat Forge Ltd). In China the Harbin Boiler Co. and SEC subsidiary SENPE are increasing capacity. "

So what's the limit on production today? Tomorrow?


I'm not talking about the cascade itself - it seems pretty logical idea. I'm talking about the perceived danger of it.

Yes, we might end up witl lots of debris in NEO, but it will be increasingly small debris. Easy to protect from, easy to clean, with orbits degrading fast. We might end up with having to build heavier rockets to launch heavier satellites (with better protection from impacts), but I would view that as a positive development. We need heavier rockets anyway.

We won't end up cut off from space.


I too was confused. However, it does seem that there is a branch of the West Coast Main Line that continues on and terminates at Waverley. It might be that it is quicker or cheaper for C&F to take that branch, and trog along the Euston Road, than to take the East Coast Main Line.


I have way too many older relatives and friends who've suffered from strokes and late effects etc to be anything other than sympathetic. {Marilee}

For that very reason though, I can still be cautiously optomistic, in that I know that unless you stopped improving at least 2 years ago, you probably are still recovering, albeit slowly.


>1: A scientific solution will be found: By this I mean we will discover/invent some method to solve the problem that is currently not possible. Fusion. Magic algae.

>2; An engineering solution will be widely implemented in the necessary time frame: That we will successfully productionalize and scale current alternate methods. This is where all the debate around natural gas, solar, fission takes place

>3: Neither of the above happen, a crash / die off will occur

3. Won't occur world wide. Once it starts suitable 'Hard Men' will arise and push 2. through - by force arms if necessary.


In principle your plan sounds as if it should work.

In practice, I think you picked the wrong organizational level of abstraction.

Economies these days revolve around cities, not nations -- and cities exist within a matrix of inter-state (inter-national) commerce. Cutting off dependencies on import/export exchange is going to be horrendously damaging to the local, not just global, economy as everyone pulls their horns in; moreover, some cities will flourish (those with dense urban population cores and ports and the odd nuclear power station) while others will fade.

You mention the UK. I don't think the UK could do it, in isolation; our population is around 20% higher than it was during WW2, even with green belt policies a lot of former farmland has been built on, and we don't have the natural resources we had back then. Even during WW2, with imports having to run the gauntlet of U-boats, we didn't have the resources to be totally self-sufficient in food.

A better plan would be to coordinate such an economic shift so that those countries sharing easy transport links (read: sea lanes) could specialize. The greenhouses of the Netherlands are effectively so close to Scotland (600 miles away) that the flower shop across the road from me gets fresh tulip deliveries every morning, from a truck that rolls onto a ferry the evening before. Why exclude imports when they're potentially very cheap? What can the UK supply to .NL in return for the produce of those huge Dutch greenhouses?

Autarky probably isn't achievable and isn't desirable anyway. However, localism is something we can aim for. And localism is relative; it'd be a huge improvement if we were shipping in exotic vegetables from the Netherlands rather than flying them in from Chile.


Ok, it's not strictly true of Charlie, by normal services from Waverley. Can we let it stand though, since it would be more or less true of me if I was visiting my mother, and of several other people whom I'm surprised aren't regular contributors here?


Yes, we might end up witl lots of debris in NEO, but it will be increasingly small debris. Easy to protect from, easy to clean, with orbits degrading fast. We might end up with having to build heavier rockets to launch heavier satellites (with better protection from impacts),

Isn't the equation KE = 1/2 M*V*V. 10,000 MPH squared is a big number. Just how much armor do you think is need to survive an impact from a small nut or bolt at those speeds?

And of course armor means more fuel which means more fuel which .... and also might mean more stuff re-entering and hitting the ground.

OK so the rocket will be moving most likely in a somewhat similar direction most of the time but that can still gives you a delta V between the bodies of multiple thousands of miles per hour. The shuttles had to have windows replaced not rarely due to microscopic impacts that left visible craters. And one of the reasons for the huge program cost was the extensive inspection of the airframe for impacts after each flight.

As to easy to clean, this I got to hear.


regardless - rural America will survive because farms are important, somebody has to grow all the grain and corn to feed all the cows who's remnants turn into McDonalds sawdust patties...

Ya think?

(TL;DR: vat-grown meat should in principle cut greenhouse emissions by up to 96% compared to producing the same mass of meat via conventional agriculture: "The process would require between 7% and 45% less energy than the same volume of conventionally produced meat such as pork, beef, or lamb, and could be engineered to use only 1% of the land and 4% of the water associated with conventional meat.")

Unless folks are going to massively increase their meat intake, it looks to me like a lot of that land is going to either be used for producing something else ... or be redundant, or un-farmable (once climate change turns the US grain belt to arid semi-desert).


it'd be a huge improvement if we were shipping in exotic vegetables from the Netherlands rather than flying them in from Chile.

So the UK gets grapes from Chile? I figured North America was about the limit. I was taken aback when I saw them in a store about 10 years ago.

Of course I do enjoy strawberries all summer long. That would definitely go away.


Actually Charlie, just about all military forces are into green tech, but resource depletion is only one of the reasons.

The main one is the logistic chain and the degree to which fuel is critical in it. IIRC the stat is for ever gallon of fuel at the front in Afghanistan, 40 gets used to get it there, much of which in turn has to be positioned...

Thus being efficient AND having tech that can generate fuel onsite are key enabling technologies for the future. If you can halve usage at the front, even if its expensive in fixed asset costs, the pay off is immense in utility.

The ideal would be brigades that were entirely self-sufficient for a tour of duty - think nuclear subs. It also then changes the concept of war, doctrine, etc.



Australia NEVER got (lots of) rain except during La Nina, its just that nobody would admit it - until about 40 years ago there was this unshakeable belief that anywhere could be farmed (profitably) with enough effort and irrigation - it was just like good old England but red...

We can indeed grow crops pretty much anywhere, as long as we are willing to do serious engineering work (generally moving water about) and are clever about nutrients (very poor soil). But just you mention in public the concept of using rivers for such things, let alone diverting them...

Our major watercourse, the Murray River, is pretty much an artifact of engineering in the 50s and 60s (dams, locks, weirs, and a diverted river). Without all this we could not feed ourselves (its length is home to essentially Australia's food bowl). Before that it was a piddly trickle that routinely dried up half-way through summer (my father is old enough to recall it happening). When it wasn't flooding hugely...

These days our youth are indoctrinated to think a) that the Murray River's current state is natural, b) that engineering of that sort is actually evil (yes, environmentalism has taken on a religious hue here), c) that the water in it must be "saved" from farming, and d) that it is desirable for water to flow unused into the sea, because this is the sole purpose for rivers.

All this is going to have to go out the window in the coming decades - we will have no choice but to turn back to river engineering and large-scale irrigation projects. Unless we just give up on agriculture and rely entirely on mining and tourism and hope to buy all our food from overseas. And also hope that they didn't also make that choice...


Ok general answers:-

1) Trolleybuses. Accepted that some people do get car/bus sick, as long as they'll accept that others get train/plane sick instead.
Ref the comments about light rail braking more smoothly, exactly what makes you think that the same control technologies can't be applied to an electric road vehicle? In particular, why wouldn't you, given that we're likely to fit these vehicles with regenerative motors since we're doing the whole job to reduce the global energy budget?

2) Batteries. Barring a quantum leap breakthrough in the life of an accumulator subjected to a deep drain/fast charge cycle, I think we're stuck with about the present "100 miles drive, 16 hours recharge cycle", which would mean me needing to recharge $electric_car about every 4 days in regular commuting use, and it only just having the range to get me between here and my Mum's house if we fit car ferries with slow chargers. If we don't fit the ferry with chargers, it comes up 20 miles short, and either way comes up 3 hours longer door to door than my diesel does. Ok, there is a way around that, if I am prepared to accept 1 carry-on and one hold bag (I don't mean air travel; I'm describing the weight and volume I can move. Presently, by car, I'll take the equivalent of 2 suitcases one way, and 4 the other most trips).


This news relieves me of one short-term selfish dilemma; what to do about the fact that my flat's central heating system runs on gas. (Of the variety that comes in pipes from that nice Mr Putin's back lot.) Especially as everyone here in Scotland is shuffling nervously and laying in supplies in case we have a third horrendous winter in a row.

Hmm. If fracking in Lancashire can provide that much natural gas, then the political implications are quite enormous; change some valves and the pipes that currently ship gas west from Russia to Europe can in principle ship British gas east ... and it's possible to run automobiles on bottled gas. Not brilliantly (it's much less energy dense than petroleum: you're going to lose your boot space to gas tanks) but it's workable, and as an after-market conversion.

Suddenly the 10-30 year prognosis for the UK looks, if not rosy, then at least survivable.

The longer term effects of widespread fracking on the climate are another matter ...


This is slightly confusing. The train from Edinburgh to London doesn't go to Euston. It goes to Kings Cross, which is not 15 minutes walk from St Pancras, but right next to it - essentially they're the same station.

Whoops, still in sleeper mode; the Scotrail Sleeper service runs to/from Euston, the regular ECML trains run to the festering shite-hole that is King's Cross.



I chose nations because it's at that level you can create laws, and because you need a certain scale to make certain things happen with a certain level of variety.

While I agree with you that independence is practically impossible for somewhere like the UK, the aim of moving everything you can towards that aim gives you added resilience. You can never be certain which components of our society are key cards in the house of cards. Therefore you need to do as much as you can, to reduce risk. Unless you can be sure that country A is always going to survive, which in this scenario is a difficult thing to say.

It's not just food, but everything else, particularly high tech - which finds it's tendrils everywhere.

It also gets you local employment in those industries, again increasing your independence and making sure there aren't unemployed roaming around.

If the pre-peak world has been a case of globalisation, the post-peak has to be localisation, and with it resilience.


Actually, the current rate-limiting factor appears to be the Rt. Hon. Mr George Osborne, Privy Councillor and Member of Parliament, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and his endurance in office, as it's only his determination to keep his coalition partner Nick Clegg terrified about his prospects of re-election that keeps Forgemasters from installing an £80m hydraulic press specifically to make reactor vessels. The plant is in Clegg's constituency.

The question is whether that domme catches up with him before we run out of oil. What is the emoticon for that feeling?


Yes, my local branch of M&S sells Chilean grapes all year round. My wife has a thing for asparagus, but refuses to buy it out of (European) season; it's available year round from points Down Under. (She was overjoyed recently to have discovered a local organic farm who force-grow the stuff in a greenhouse as late as September.)


TBF Charlie, it's more that no-one else, not even me, ever got into Embra-London Sleeper mode.


My local shops down the end of the supply chain sell Chilean grapes all year round. I rather enjoy them, and the non-distilled spirit in which they are delivered! ;-)


exactly what makes you think that the same control technologies can't be applied to an electric road vehicle?

The applicable word there is 'road'. It's filled with other vehicles that don't get on with the acceleration/deceleration profiles that makes sense for rail. If you can get those other road users to accept it, then fine - and that might well be dedicated lanes, or tram tracks, depending on vehicle type.

The other reason for rail vehicles to have gentle starting and stopping is the low friction between wheel and rail: there's not enough grip to do otherwise. This is why trams usually have some form of integration with traffic light systems. Trying to get a steel-wheel vehicle to do a sudden stop for an unexpected red is a little more tricky than for a bus.


KX a festering pit? A few years back, definitely, but the redevelopment they've done with St Pancras has really changed it. These days I'd take it over Euston.


There are a couple of solutions to the electric car range problem.

One is the replaceable standardized battery pack. While it would work, I'm not optimistic that it'll happen -- competing manufacturers love incompatible standards, and the infrastructure costs of fitting charging station to handle multiple battery types would be enormous.

Another, probably easier, is the idea of a ferry trailer. You use your electric car as an electric car for short haul commuting, but if you want to go a long way without stopping you rent a trailer with a generator pack on board, and plug it in via your car's tow bar, thus effectively turning it into a hybrid. Yes, gas is expensive; but you only use it as a prime energy source for specific journeys. Alternatively? Fill the trailer with batteries, just as some laptops come with extra-life cells that clip on the bottom when needed.

There's also a niche for plug-in hybrids -- basically an electric car with an on-board generator -- but presumably that's for the relatively few vehicles where the regular usage pattern frequently (but not always) exceeds the range of the on-board battery.


Also, I think it is fair to point out that Mr. Smith's plan is pretty much the ideal-type of a Big High Modernist Plan for Engineers to Save The World, and it has been noted here before that this is actually another berserk mid-century ideology with a bad record, just one that never got to be in charge to the same extent the others did and therefore didn't accumulate quite the same pile o'skulls.


Back during the mid-late nineties I was doing weekly commutes from Embra to London (contract work for Demon Internet, mostly). The Scotrail Sleeper was most useful. Until Railtrack fucked the track maintenance so badly that trying to sleep was an exercise in masochism ...


Are you saying that (1) an electric road vehicle can't be forced to do gentle service stops? Or that (2) a steel on steel rail vehicle can't be stopped with a noticable jerk?

I can't see why (1) can't be done, and can assure you that (2) happens.


I was being tactful.

If the Smith plan was actually tried, I think we'd see a national State of Emergency within a month as the fuel protesters started blockading refineries and demanding cheap gas. And things would only go downhill from there: how many ways are there to game such a system? And how fast can the combined brains of the internet find them?


The rebuild of King's Cross Station is coming this winter, by the way. Much of the new structure is already standing. At last that horrible green thing hanging off the front of the superb neo-early English/proto-modern arches is going to be eliminated. Not least because it was given temporary planning permission in 1972, which has now run out, so it's been a illegal building for a couple of years.


I've seen onions from New Zealand in the supermarket 50 metres behind me. There isn't anywhere farming food that's further away from the UK than that.

I suspect in that case though that there was a large surplus in the NZ harvest, that a large shipment of that surplus was dispatched on spec to us (by sea), and that it worked its way through the commodities markets and into Tesco rather than Tesco actively sourcing them from NZ.


At least we'd have an excuse to shoot Tories. I'd happily give up the car I don't have for that.

If Mods and Rockers were an epi-phenomenon of a social democratic nation with high wages and relatively flat career structures and a surplus of young men, are hipsters the same sort of thing, but with no career prospects (i.e. indie/DIY aesthetic) and high oil prices (bikes, organic fetish, infovorism)?


Also relates to #392 and #395 - In the same timescale I was travelling Glasgow-Euston overnight regularly.

My big criticism of the Euston concourse would be the almost total lack of seating. OTOH the "train shed" (and I'm not sure that's not dignifying it to an extent it doesn't deserve) was a dingy, oily hole that you wanted out of ASAP or sooner.


(1) - when you're in mixed traffic, you either need to respond at the same sort of starting/stopping profile as the rest of the traffic stream, or get the rest of the traffic stream to match your profile. In cities with trams on the streets, the tram is sufficiently big and the locals sufficiently used to it (excepting where they're new: see the Dublin Luas!) that the tram dictates.

(2) - the rail vehicle certainly can jerk if you try hard enough. But on the whole, it's ability to do so on start-up is limited by the traction, and they try to avoid locking the wheels during braking because that puts flats on them.

Yes, you probably could use some of the technology from rail on the road. When you get to TBs, you're looking at a more integrated infrastructure than normal road buses (especially buses in a deregulated area), and I suspect that would help too.


Smaller they might be, but _fast_, some of them probably much faster than before (I'm no physicist but I guess multiple collisions would result in some fragments acquiring higher speeds)

But the main problem is, any device able to vaporize swiftly small fragments of metal flying towards you at very high relative speeds seems awfully like a weapon in orbit...


I think the idea of standardised battery packs might sell to the manufactuers. It relieves them of the responsibility for designing battery packs and pick-ups, for manufacturing, warranty costs and disposal of battery packs. You see where this is going, right?

Ferry trailers might make sense, but we need someone to actually produce some to find out what the practicalities are.

Plug-in hybrids sort of exist. I think GM do one in the USA, and the Honda Pious sort of is, but it is out-performed (for any value) by diesels under 15YO in real-World driving for trips over about 15 miles and not in urban or heavily congested (traffic speed under 15 mph for at least 30 minutes) driving. OTOH, now that PSA and VAG are taking an interest in that type of vehicle we may see vehicles which can better full diesels in real-World conditions.


Ah yes, but I take it you hadn't discovered the Head of Steam?

The Head of Steam was a GBG grade real ale pub with 4-8 hand pumps on tap most of the time, and food. It was right outside Euston station, on the concrete concourse at the side of the bus interchange. An excellent wee boozer to hit on a Friday night after finishing a week's work: dine, drink, then at Last Orders (don't stay too late!) you could amble out of the pub and five minutes later be boarding the Scotrail Sleeper, which departed around the time the pub closed. Which had a lounge car with a bar that only closed when the last drinker went to bed (being Scottish).

So: a pleasant after-work drink with pub food, then into a somewhat rattly bed, then to wake up with a ten minute walk downhill to arrive home by 8am on a Saturday morning!

You could do it in reverse, too: drink in the Halfway House on a Sunday night, then go down Fleshmarket Close, in through the side entrance of Waverley, and straight onto the platform for the sleeper train. Which would arrive in Euston around 7:15am on Monday -- with a shower in the sleeper lounge area before heading off to work on the tube.

That's how to do long-distance commuting ...!

The Head of Steam is now the Doric Arch (under new management) although the Halfway House is still the same. Alas, the price of rail travel has gone up faster than inflation, and the ride quality is much worse than it was in the 90s -- bad enough that last time I rode the sleeper, a couple of years ago, I was nearly thrown out of bed three times. Sleeper services only work if the track is properly maintained and the price is competitive with a budget airline ticket plus a night in a budget hotel ...


We've started travelling to Ireland using SeaRail, because it's the cheapest option (way cheaper than the total cost for the cheapest possible flight), it's a damned sight less tiring than driving, and it's also less hassle than flying.

That takes us through KX and Euston, and the KX/St Pancras complex — though not yet finished — is now so much nicer than Euston. The Midland Hotel in particular is a real pleasure to walk past, now it's been turned from a moldering pile back into what is should be.


1) A bus is already big/heavy enough that it's usually difficult or impossible to move away with a jerk, and I can out-accelerate most "service bus" (as distinct from the higher powered motorway and touring coach) types when "short-shifting". Also, they already "don't conform to traffic" in terms of where they stop. Jerky gearchanging and stopping for junctions with HC buses are as much the result of bad driving as anything intrisic to "matching traffic patterns". With an electic motor, we just eliminated the gearbox, and hence jerky gearchanging.

2) You don't have to lock up in order to impose a perceptible jerk; that's down to the rate of change of acceleration rate.


Um, NZ butter has been going to Europe for over a century. There are minimal subsidies to NZ farmers, and significant subsidies to EU farmers. There is less energy used in producing it in NZ and shipping it over than producing it in Europe.
This article claims that NZ onions can be supplied out-of-season more carbon efficiently than from the UK.


Ah, I was typically finishing about 2PM, with a non-exchangable on the 5:30 train, and wanted to arrive back in Glasgow reasonably sober, despite having a few jars on the train!


Another encouragement for new battery tech, sulfation, which slows the activity of older batteries. Old battery plates can go to a smelter for recovery, but it's a dirty job, just sending dirty jobs out where you can't see the smokestacks doesn't seem to be viable in the long term.


Fairy nuff, let's hear yours!

Remember, this is a war footing (lots of lost civil liberties), and yes it's a least worst, rather than best, option. However I'm always open to hearing solutions that answer the exam question, particularly in the timescales.


Indeed, butter and cheese and meat. To see staple vegetables, which are somewhat lower value per kg, was a development I wasn't expecting.

And what I really wasn't expecting was that this was well into the season here, and yet there were NZ onions and not English ones grown a dozen miles away.


A quarter century ago, I actually wrote software to control the conveyors and furnaces in a battery re-smelter. (Enthoven's in Derbyshire.) It was a pretty clean place considering. But then an appreciable proportion of the entire plant cost had gone into bag filters to make sure the fumes from the furnaces were cooled and anything they could persuade to condense would condense where they could be filtered out of the air.

(The site is in a National Park, near Matlock Bath. Since the site has been producing lead since the days when the Romans were there, they've been able to continue. It's just that these days, the raw material comes in by truck rather than out of the ground.)


Aye, there is a reason for the density but the density doesn't make Stromness an unpleasant place to live.


But the west coast line to Edinburgh goes via Glasgow and Motherwell which adds a good hour to the journey. The east coast line is much faster.


Cool! About 32 years ago I worked in a battery factory, operated an oxide mill weekends and the other three days usually remelted bent grids. That plant has long since gone to Mexico, where it can poison people we don't know.


Not tried it, but I've heard good things about the Euston Tap which is apparently inside the abandoned gatehouse in front of the station.


Ah well, only the mediocre answer exam questions. The ambitious dispute the questions' assumptions.


I think you'll find Capt Kirk cheated, when you strip away the post-rationalisation.


I would expect so. It seems in this case that it was the WCML sleeper being used (in which case time is less important). And the British railway system being what it is, it's not impossible for fare structures to make it sensible to go WCML rather than ECML.


Charlie @ 382
King's Cross is in the middle of a much-needed upgrade and rebuild.
The main train-shed is magnificent, but the surrounding facilities were crap.
They're FINALLY doing something about it
and very fine it will look, when done.

Note - they are about to start on the pit that is Euston ....


"regardless - rural America will survive because farms are important, somebody has to grow all the grain and corn to feed all the cows who's remnants turn into McDonalds sawdust patties... "

'Rural America' could well mean massive, highly mechanized operations run by large corporations, with relatively few employees (save a peak times).

Or, in other words, what's been happening for decades.


'Out with lacrosse (30 kilos of protective gear); in with soccer (a stout pair of boots). '

Not even that, the majority of that lacrosse gear does not need to go home, lockers at the pitch/single van for away games.

I've been skimming the comments thread, it's interesting to see how little is about reducing energy use by change of behaviour (which charlie is clearly talking about in this comment). There is alot of 'technology will mean i can do what i do today by reducing the energy required/coming up with new source of energy'.

As energy prices rise we will see people re-evaluate their use and they WILL find that they do not miss it as much as they expect. I for instance have been told more times than i can count that I will 'need' to drive as some point in my life (i live approx 1hr commute from my work so it's not that i have it easy). I've also been told that having young children will mean i 'need' a tumble dryer (sorry americans, can't remember your name for that) nope, kids are 2 and 4 and all the time i've had them i've lived in two of the wettest parts of the uk.

Take an average home:

Remove the iron.
Remove the tumble dryer.
Fit a smart meter.
Get and AA+ efficiency fridge freezer (that the meter can turn off for a few mins*)
Walk the kids to school.
Get the gorceries delivered **
Telecommute if appropriate/public transport if not ***
Fit condensing combi boiler
Super insulate the house
Paint the roof white (if in hot place)

Now how much has the energy have you just saved?

* because the real problem with wind is not the wind NOT blowing - that's pretty predictable and you can bring up the gas turbines easily - the real problem is when the wind blows too hard and your wind farm goes from 100% to 0% in a couple of seconds. If you can switch off all the fridges with that amount of notice you have enough time to bring up the replacement WITHOUT having to have it as spinning reserve.

** Because bringing 20 homes of groceries in a van is alot more efficient than 20 trips to the shop.

*** With decent video conferencing/virtual office this will be significantly more of an option for people. Look at the sort of stuff cisco does today and speculate on what you could do with super fast home broadband etc. Public transport improves as soon as it is used more. Routes get closer together, regularity increases.

In other words peoples presonal energy demand is probably ALOT more elastic than THEY think


"Are you saying that (1) an electric road vehicle can't be forced to do gentle service stops? Or that (2) a steel on steel rail vehicle can't be stopped with a noticable jerk?"

(1) was referring to the fact that a vehicle in traffic has to make stops as needed to avoid collisions; rail traffic is scheduled to avoid that need.


I didn't know it had anything to do with Kirk, but it worked for me at least.


Nice list, for the few who can do it. Tough luck for the rest?


Energy efficiency is almost irrelevant, especially when the cost of fuel as a fraction of total flight costs is so low. The amortization of the capital cost of the aircraft is what matters. Hence the careful balancing of more fuel efficient aircraft against their higher capital cost.

In addition, airships require much more complex ground handling and their "schedules" are highly susceptible to weather conditions.

The only mission airships are useful for is sustained loitering with heavy leads, a small niche market.


"In the USA at least, the majority of Evangelicals are right-wing (IIRC, Bush took 50% of white self-described evangelicals in 2000, and 75% in 2004)."

No argument here, but keep in mind the charge was to speculate what kinds of structural changes could happen 70-80 years from now. Evangelicals in the US were more progressive in past generations and could be in the future. White Evangelicals are contracting demographically and will need to ally themselves with other groups in the future to maintain some sort of influence. There has emerged a "Christian stewardship" movement with environmentalist leanings - conceptually at odds with Old Testament injunctions - but still emerging. The environmentalist community could eventually come to the conclusion that it needs a religion hack to start its social revolution (I'm thinking back to Lynn White's essay proposing nominating St. Francis as the patron saint of ecologists). The fusion isn't beyond the realm of speculation.


Extreme thermophilic bacteria already live at the boiling point of water.

While that offers a starting point, I absolutely agree that synthetic, unnatural enzymes will be a significant business in the C21st. We're seeing the technological components being put in place already. I give it 5 years and the first enzymes using new amino acids and functioning in novel conditions will be hitting the market.


I'm not claiming that Stromness is unpleasant. Would you claim that it is anything other than archetecturally unusual, even amongst Scottish Highlands and Islands ports, though?

Or that what is pleasant when built from stone with walls at least 12" thick, could become "unpleasantly noisy" if replicated in breezeblock and plasterboard(US cinderblock and drywall I think)?


> assuming that we can develop a form of nuclear power without a Fukushima-like failure mode

Depending on what you mean by that, it's either already done or probably impossible.

Technically, any sufficiently recent nuclear reactor is designed to be convection-cooled in case of emergency. And I think sufficiently recent is around less than 20-30 years old or so (Fukushima-Daiichi was established between 1970 and 1979). So the power loss issue isn't a catastrophic scenario in these. So, from a technical point of view the fukushima-like failure mode is already taken care of.

If, on the other hand, you mean the other half of the failure, the political ones, which include:
- quasi-impossibility to build new plants, making it way easier to just prolong the life of way-too-old ones
- the organized opposition to moving nuclear material around, making reprocessing extremely hard and ending up with spend bars stored in not-so-good conditions at the plants
- the policy of cost-cutting above anything else
- the takeover of control positions by politically-connected, technically incompetent drones (that's Chernobyl for you)
- all the fun with regulatory capture, privatization effects, etc

then no, I don't think anyone has a solution.



I'm going to guess that you've never travelled by train, or in a road vehicle driven by someone half-way competent as a driver. I make no pretence of being an actually good driver, but I've had people who are nervous passengers literally go to sleep whilst I'm driving them.


Uh, what's the connection between natural gas and ozone?

200 trillion cubic feet is 5.7 trillion cubic meters, which would be about 3% of the world's proven reserves; UK would displace Nigeria for 8th. Note we're comparing a company's claim of a resource extractable via a controversial process to proven reserves.

It''s a nice bonus for the UK, but not world changing. If it panned out it has enough energy to supply the world's power for about 5 months.

(6e12 m3 * .7 kg/m3 * 5e7 J/kg = 2e20 J; world energy use 5e20 J.)

Would supply the UK for 40 years, I'd guess. Used only for the stuff we use natural gas for, somewhat longer.


I generally find trains and well-driven cars and buses not jerky. Electric buses have amazing jerk potential: high available power, and lower mass without a fuel tank and with simple motors instead of engine. The buses in Bloomington Indiana did too, despite not being electric.

I see some people do get motion sick on trains, though I get the impression it's less common than in other vehicles. I had a friend who couldn't read in cars or buses, but was fine on streetcars.


Walk the kids to school.
Not possible in much of the US for a variety of reasons. And the politics of the situations at this time mean things would have to nearly collapse before the changes occur. And this ties into the lacross equipment issues. Busing for diversity is the issue here for larger school systems. And for the smaller ones, one high school for a 20 mile radius circle makes a lot of this hard.

Get the gorceries delivered **
Maybe. But the produce and fresh meats and such picked out but the drones at the market would turn many people off. Many of us WANT to pick out the food we eat.

Telecommute if appropriate/public transport if not ***
Works for some jobs for not for many. Oh, and it does for mine about 40% of the time but for many others, ah, no.

Super insulate the house
Paint the roof white (if in hot place)

Somewhat reasonable ideas if they can be done but in many cases it would be cheaper to tear down the house. Which isn't going to happen. In the US many of us live in places where we get enjoy changing seasons. The last 12 months here included 20s F and over 100 F multiple days for each. It's a common debate amongst architects as to which extreme do you plan against. Fighting the cold usually wins when there is a conflict. And with existing housing stock you have to work with what you've got to a large degree.

But saying just everyone adopt your life or mine is a non starter unless the brick wall you're about to run into is obviously imminent. And since many of the things you advocate are things that much of the population in the US ran away from after WWII, well you have a hard sell that requires more than "just do this and all will be better". Because to the average person it seems worse. At least from where they sit in the short run.

To really do what you say will require folks to abandon their lifestyle and homes and that just isn't going to happen without a big fight. And I say abandon because if the point is to make population centers denser then there will be no one to buy up your old house. And walking away from $100K to $1mil or more is not something most folks will do.

Maybe it will come to this but many will have to literally hit the brick wall before they do ti.


Clearly some of the entries on my list are easier to do than others and today you're correct many of these things are only done by people who can do them. However i'd point out that in a 'peak oil' scenario all this stuff would probably SAVE money over a short time and there is very little reason why people can't do these things (not immediately, but as purchases are forced by things breaking). How long do you think 'no tumble dryer' takes to pay for itself today? (BTW no time at all if you don't buy one in the first place). No Iron (free), will suits be acceptable buisiness wear once the air con required to make wearing one comfortable doubles in price (look at the Japan, the one place where i'm expected to wear a suit, even they have 'no tie/jacket' days to cut down on Air Con).

But my overall point remains - and I think you reinforce it - people think they CAN'T do stuff - but in a disaster scenario all bets are off and having being forced by economics to make changes people will find they use less energy with minimal quality of life degradation - and reduce the price increases at the same time for those who do have no choice.


I would call that a wangchungler...or a (tumble) dryer. I think both are in current American usage.


Try figuring out how to go on a "war" footing in a country that's financially (if not politically) bankrupt, and you'll start to see the problem. Also, let's look at the non-war "wars." One commentator wished the US would start a war on beautiful women, because anything that the US starts a war on (drugs, alcohol, poverty) seems to get cheaper and better. The US record for War on Anything is that it benefits the companies involved, doesn't solve the problem, and sets up an ecosystem of bureaucracy and industry where it's difficult to dismantle the parts that don't work.

Personally, I put a lot of faith in local adaptations. That's why examples from Cuba and Russia are instructive. What do intelligent people do when their government falls apart and infrastructure crumbles? They opt out, get way more efficient, apply their skills, and make do.

You don't plan that sort of response. At best, you garden it, seeding the community with enough essential skills and creative and self-sufficient types who can both organize at different levels and both teach the skills and provide examples for the people around them.

Regional and national responses are possible, but only when we have smart leaders who can get things done. Right now, those people seem to be either in tragically short supply, or hamstrung by wealthy interests who aren't interested in (or capable of) actually governing themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-government. indeed, I've got a lot of respect for some of my local pols, because I've seen them in action, and I couldn't do their jobs. Moreover, democratic government appears to be way more effective than, say, feuding clans/gangs in organizing large groups of people (as witnessed, say, in Somalia), and things like public health are way cheaper than doctors keeping people healthy day to day.

The thing is, I wouldn't count on government to save me. It's great when it works, but adaptation to post-oil probably will work best when the people are adapting on their own and government is enabling them, rather than telling them what to do from some central plan.


And the British military are taking global warming very seriously - not really fuel related, but related to what's going to happen/is happening as we use the fuel we've got. One obvious result is that greater temperatures lead to greater fuel consumption.

Long URL, links to 488kb pdf file written 2007



Of course, people who want to do these things probably do most/many of them already and it will take BIG changes to force behaviour. And it's really had to force the change (banning lightbulbs is hard enough!!).

"Get the gorceries delivered **
Maybe. But the produce and fresh meats and such picked out but the drones at the market would turn many people off. Many of us WANT to pick out the food we eat."

Yes, until someone makes a deliver at home service that cost slightly more that gives you produce at your standard regardless. You already trust relatively low paid people to choose your food you if you ever eat in (most) restaurants.

"Walk the kids to school.
Not possible in much of the US for a variety of reasons. And the politics of the situations at this time mean things would have to nearly collapse before the changes occur. And this ties into the lacross equipment issues. Busing for diversity is the issue here for larger school systems. And for the smaller ones, one high school for a 20 mile radius circle makes a lot of this hard."

I should have said 'don't individually drive'. Bus would come into my list.

I'm really not saying here 'everybody adopt my lifestyle' - aside from anything else as a fairly affuluent member of a western society for EVERYONE to do so would be a total disaster. What i am saying is that there are highly likely to be a bunch of things suitable to your personal and community circumstances that can be done to significantly reduce energy consumption with minimal pain and minimal upfront cost that WILL happen as oil peaks and these WILL be a relatively pain free part of the solution. I also happen to think that many of those things (whatever they are) are the more interesting ones in terms of a sci-fi blog becuase they require you to question and overcome assumptions.

SO that's my list - what WOULD be appropriate for the average american suburban community if done as a whole with 'peak oil' as the stick forcing fast change?


we got rid of our tumble dryer.. bloody pointless things..
if its warm/ blowy outside the wind does it for free,
if its cold out, you've got the central heating on,, and the drying rack does it for free,

wasnt there something about the usians said about 'washing lines ...flag of poverty'?


Or you can build or buy one of these.


Agreed, with the note that the wind does it better, freshens it more and whitens whites more than any washing powder ever developed once you've shifted "deep soil".


You have the floor space for a drying rack? I don't.



You don't need floorspace for a drying rack; you can get A-frame ones that stand on the bathtub and fold flat when not in use. If you don't have a bathtub, you can get wall- or ceiling mounted ones, or racks that will hook over your doors or central heating radiators.


Government could help a lot with a fee-and-dividend carbon tax, to raise fossil energy prices and incentive to save while providing the means to pay the price and avoid economic disruption.

I'd much prefer that to heavy-handed things like banning incandescent bulbs. They're inefficient, but they also give light differently in ways some people care about. "Right-wing" critiques occasionally have merit; better to account for costs properly than have a legislature making national purchasing decisions about individual level items. (Also see water prices vs. mandatory low-flow toilets.)

(Light bulb inefficiency: I heard of some place that discovered their new, efficient, cool LED traffic lights built up ice in the winter that had to be cleared off. The old lights had been self-cleaning. Oops.)


What's if it's rainy out, or cool and not windy? Too cool to dry quickly, but not cold enough to have heating on. (Doesn't much UK housing lack central heating?)


I line dry, weather permitting. When the day comes that Home Owners Associations aren't allowed to punish folks for clothes lines, I'll believe government's serious about energy conservation.


Most UK housing has central heating -- it's aircon that's a rarity. However, many homes (including expensive ones) have no significant outdoor yard/garden space, and it tends to rain here quite a bit. Moreover, the weather is variable from hour to hour (and a bit unpredictable). Stick your washing out when it's sunny, go to work, and it can easily piss down for ten minutes in the early afternoon and be dry and sunny again by the time you get home.

Finally, remember the average age of the UK housing stock is 75 years. Many homes (mine, for example) were built without indoor bathrooms (or even indoor plumbing); it was a retrofit. My bathroom is quite nice, considering it started life in the early 20th century as a corner walled off the kitchen ... but it's windowless, ventilated via an electric fan. That's hardly ideal for drying clothes, and it's quite a normal design for a Scottish tenement. New-build homes have features like bathrooms with windows and parking space for cars, of course, but a huge chunk of the existing property market doesn't.


we got rid of our tumble dryer.. bloody pointless things..
if its warm/ blowy outside the wind does it for free,
if its cold out, you've got the central heating on,, and the drying rack does it for free,

I used to hang the washing up too when we lived in South Africa and also thought a dryer is a dumb idea, but now I remember how long it took to go into the yard and hang it all up and then take it all down and compare it with just grabbing the whole lot from the washing machine and plonking it into the dryer 1ft away.

Dryers do have major ergonomic advantages.


Optimism hit over at the RBC.


Oh right.

I spent 3 months last year traveling Europe. Mostly London and Scotland, plus Paris, Amsterdam, and Madrid.

Most of your domestic tumble dryers *are* bloody useless, or at least seemed broken from my POV. Especially the ones that pretended to be built into the washing machine. Tumble for hours without actually draining the water. I think I was 0 for 3, two in London and one in Edinburgh. Maybe 1 for 4, I must have gotten laundry done somehow on my first pass through Edinburgh, but on the second I ended up using the hair dryer on my clothes.

The one laundromat in Glasgow worked fine, though. Proper American-style machinery, that was.

I've been told Australia has problems here too. I suspect faux environmentalism at work, like low-flow toilets that fail to flush turds. "Let's mandate low-resource using equipment without checking whether they can actually get the job done!"

Most of my laundry ended up being done on a daily basis: soak in the shower while I shower, get hung to dry; one shirt and a pair of underwear work where whole loads won't.

Oh, and one drying rack in Madrid, with the space to put it and the dry climate to use it effectively.


Ironically, it is possible that chilean asparagus is more energy efficient then asparagus grown in glasshouse:,1


Dealing with deflation is relatively straightforward for any sovereign authority which issues its own currency. As it can expand the monetary base and thereby create inflation sufficient to avoid debt deflation (the situation where the return on holding cash exceeds the return on investment).


I believe the traditional thing was to hang the laundry across the living room ...

... of course, that was before central heating, so the fire in the living room made it the only place warm enough to dry the laundry.


"Uh, what's the connection between natural gas and ozone?"

Natural gas is a hydrocarbon and was responsible for about 20% of CO emission 2000 - 2004 it promotes an increase in ozone and ground level and a decrease in the stratosphere course it also contributes to the greenhouse effect which might be more damaging. But really it was a throw away line - I was just bemoaning the prospect of more caution being thrown to the wind.

The reserves mentioned are for Lancashire not the UK. Lancashire is a fair sized county but it ain't Texas. Yorkshire won't let them get away with having the biggest anything for long.


Definitely a case of chacun à son goût. I live in the U.S. suburbs*, and I'm pretty sure I'd still live there even if getting around meant peddling my bicycle (or electric motorcycle with sidecar) a couple of miles to the nearest bus stop. I might be forced to live in a dense urban area some day, but I can't imagine why I'd want to.

Why not? Well, we're on a dead end street with only three houses, so it's very quiet (oh, the horror of the dreaded suburban cul-de-sac). Land is inexpensive, so lots are typically a couple of acres (plenty of scope for gardening). I absolutely love that my kids think it is perfectly unremarkable that our neighbors include coyotes, deer, wild turkeys, and barred owls. The small fry in our garden ranges from 5 ft rat snakes to 6-inch spotted salamanders. I can't imagine giving that up just to be closer to the grocery store.

*by "suburban," I mean 15 minutes drive from the center of a city of about 225,000. We're also 10 minutes from a world-class university with medical center. The closest supermarket is 5 miles away. My daily commute is 20 miles, one way. Takes about 25-30 minutes.


" Remove the tumble dryer." !!!!! ??? You will Remove my Tumble Drier from my 'Cold Dead Hands ! "


I'm going to jinx these two threads by noting that, collectively, "Post-Oil" and "Because I'm a glutton for punishment" have reached posting #1001.

Erm, congrats Charlie. Hope there's something useful in here.

There's possibly something symbolic about Post #1000:

" Remove the tumble dryer." !!!!! ??? You will Remove my Tumble Drier from my 'Cold Dead Hands ! "


Yep, as I wrote before, americans would rather invent fusion power than change their life style...


Tumble Dryers

It seems that many of them in Europe don't work very well. And over here in the US the latest thing for energy efficiency and just being "cool and hip" are Euro style washer dryers. I wonder if what we're being sold over here is really the same thing as what you have over there.

Anyway. Drying without one. 4 people in a house and all work. For us that means 3 to 4 complete sets of clothes per day to wash and dry. Not counting towels, floor mats, etc... And the 2 dogs add to the load. Do some yard work or similar and add another load or two. And while you have kids old enough to participate in sports or just plain outdoor play, formal or not, add another few loads a day. I'd have to turn over most of my non sleeping space to clothes drying to keep up.

Now here and in a non trivial portion of the US the humidity much of the time isn't on the dry side of things. And at times you can feel like you're on a swim just walking to the car. (Every had your eye glasses fog up by just walking outside?) And for me and many around me the trees have no interest in cooperating with letting your clothes stay clean while drying. Pine sap, needles, bird and squirrel crap, and that 4 week period each spring when you get that nice green dust on anything outside for more than a few minutes.

Now maybe the new norm is I don't have a yard, my kids don't have jobs, it becomes OK again to go to work in the same clothes on alternate days, etc...

But just saying "dry them on a rack or line outside" is ignoring the reason tumble dryers in the US became so popular in the 50s and 60s.


I put a pair of on pantyhose on the pipe coming out of the tumble dryer in the winter. They get the waste lint and the house gets moist, hot air when its needed. Don't use on gas dryers, but you knew that. Over here there are dump values to divert it in to the house.
Have you noted that many yelling about going green are the same ones who drag out the lawyers when someone wants to put up wind power or dams. On the news yesterday was doing good for fish by ripping out a old working power dam. Power from something else was taking its place. Power from what? And in Kansas and the East Coast, a long battle over wind power ruining the view.


One issue with tumble driers is that if you over-fill them, they lose efficiency drastically. And standard Euro-sized domestic units are smaller than standard US units. So easier to over-fill.

Another issue is that there are a couple of different types; condensing driers (which are slow but relatively efficient) and plain hot air driers that just heat air and blast it through the tumbling clothes. The later can be rather faster, if you don't mind the huge electricity bill: AIUI, domestic electricity supplies cost around 3-4 times as much in Germany or the Netherlands as in the US, so guess which variety of drier is preferred?

Washer-driers, in my experience work ... as long as you remember to load it for the drier cycle, i.e. only half a full wash-load at a time. I've got a high efficiency Miele washer-drier and, as long as I remember that rule, it works quietly and efficiently. Overload it, though, and the drying time doubles or triples.


Well I think they *have* invented fusion power, but wiser minds than mine think they haven't. (I mean LIFE, at Livermore. Disclaimer - I'm related to one of the main players, and friends of a sort with others, and I'm most definitely not a physicist so my opinion doesn't really count for much).


And standard Euro-sized domestic units are smaller than standard US units.

We call those "apartment sized".

I think both my washer and dryer are 7 cubit ft. Largest I could get in the standard width. 27" I think. So we can keep up with about 2 loads a day on average. But it would take a lot of room and time to hang up and wait for such to dry.

Venting dryers indoors has fallen out of favor as mold issues have become known. Your unit is what "hewn from rock" unlike most of our wooden framed things over hear. :)

Our more recent dryers are much better about being efficient with the heat but I know I still raise the out door temp when running it. At least the modern units make it hard to not use the auto dry detectors. My mother never did trust them and just ran every load for 90 minutes. :(


Actually, as I think has been mentioned, *gas* dryers are common here in the US, at least in areas urban enough to have a gas supply. When we moved I flatly refused to believe that such a thing existed, let alone was safe and normal, so we ordered an electric dryer. On delivery we discovered it needed a 240v supply and there wasn't one in the basement. There was a gas pipe though, situated right where the dryer would go, so back to Home Depot we went...


I worked at LLNL on NIF for a couple years, doing data stuff for them.

I don't think anyone there, even Ed Moses would claim they are very close at all to a real engineering facility or practical power generation


In the western US, line drying has some distinct disadvantages. It's often dry and windy. While that translates into quick and efficient clothes drying, it also means keeping an eye out for dust clouds or losing your shorts to >40mph winds.


Is anyone else thinking "if they are arguing about whether or not to give up clothes dryers, they really haven't grasped the problem?"



You kind of point up why I think the US will collapse through squabbling and failing to move far or fast enough. That entitlement/hated of government meme will strike hard.

While localisation is good, localisation as you describe it devolves into tribalism which devolves into groups of small size, squabbling between each other. Those groups don't have the scale to support the society we enjoy, so it slips back to 1950s standard, then 1900s, then 1850s, then 1800s....

And by war footing, I mean single concentrated focus and an emphasis on getting it done, now. Even if you have to shoot some people. Frankly a poor financial position is immaterial, or even slight beneficial to such action (cf Shock Doctrine).


But that's exactly what he's saying. So's AWE, IoP, TLA... And apparently the money's there.

"An entire LIFE plant will be smaller than NIF and yet produce enough energy to power a city the size of San Francisco.” - Ed Moses

“We transformed a design that looked like an incremental adaptation of NIF into a commercially viable power plant,” - Mike Dunne.

"Independent analyses of target production factories show that mass production techniques should yield costs of $0.20 to $0.30 per target... a five- to seven-year technology development program, followed by a demonstration power plant generating about 400 megawatts of electricity. This plant, which could be operational by the mid-2020s".. above from the main LIFE website

"It will work.. that's a ten year vision .. It's something we have to do..". Peter Knight


If we can get cheap electricity without CO2 output - and that's a whole other question that I don't propose to address in this posting - then it may be possible to have a electric private transport system.


If the main roads (dual carriageways / divided highways) have the overhead power supply (which you pay for as part of your road tax), then cars with trolley-style overhead hookups and batteries comparable with those in modern electric cars (Li-Ion or NiMH) then that will cover most driving. You can run on the battery as far as the main road, then switch to the trolley mode powered from the overhead, and recharge the battery as you drive, then go back to the battery for the local run to your destination.

There aren't many long journeys that don't involve a lot of miles on main roads. Also, the assumption that the cars will have internal batteries means that the overhead power is much simpler and cheaper to set up - you can just leave a gap when going under a bridge or around a roundabout or other places where the overhead grid will be expensive to provide complete coverage.


What an immensely long thread. All I have the time to say is, note there's a similarly useful all night bar on the sleeper to Penzance, so it's not just a Scottish sleeper thing. And the ride is acceptable, and you get loads more free washing kit. Pubs round Paddington aren't nearly so good, though.


I do know all about the Shock Doctrine, and I think it can be demonstrated how well it worked in Iraq and Afghanistan (/sarcasm). Right now, the shock doctrine standard operating procedure for anyone trying to profiteer by ramming a bunch of favorable rules through when everyone is too stressed out by something to notice what happened or protest too much. Moreover, it's been misused so much in the last few decades that people are getting wise to it.

Charlie or anyone else in the UK can better talk about how well a war footing worked with a bad economy, possibly with some history about how Britain lost most of its empire shortly thereafter. And they didn't have a choice either, unlike the US in a post-oil fix.

However, if you want to rack up an impressive skull count and have people hating your name for generations, what you propose will, at least, go down in history.


Truth-checking question for the experts: If the US got its fossil fuel per capita use down to European levels, we'd be a net oil exporter, not importer.

I find that hard to believe. Perhaps it's outdated? Anyone know?

However, if it's true, there's stop #1 in the glide down off the post-oil peak. The New Conservation movement, which will cut US oil use in half...

When fuel costs get to the level where we can't even afford that, then it's time for the next round of cuts...


It might be time to dredge back up some of those sixties dreams of a space based high tech future. While PVs themselves are heavy and difficult to loft into orbit something which might work better is a mylar inflatable skin, configured as a parabolic reflector. Get it's spin right (no easy task admittedly) and put one end of a heat exchanger at the focus of the parabola, with the other end stuck in permanent shadow on the array's dark side.

Big problem would be deploying enough surface area to make the heat exchange large enough to produce significant amounts of power. Some form of deployable copper or gold film might work, though unfolding that kind of structure in vacuum is a problem all it's own (putting a slight positive charge on it might help - have to think about it more).

I seem to recall seeing somewhere a picturesque view of farmland with a microwave receiver antennae spread across it. Over deep ocean might be a more publicly acceptable place to put the receiving mesh - all you really need is a regular grid of wires and the ocean seems to be not a bad place to put that sort of macrostructure (people would also probably be more sanguine about you shooting microwave lasers at the deep ocean, rather than one of their primary food production areas).

We have a chunk of the technologies needed to actually get something like this flying, it just requires eye wateringly vast amounts of investment to clear a few significant technical hurdles. Nuclear is off the table for the moment, so something like this might be the only way forward for use to supply our civilizations growing energy needs over the next century.


As I said, least worst. The pile of skulls is likely to go to those that don't move far and fast....

As far as US consumption, in rough figures, if the US cut it per capita consumption to that of the UK, it could just about be self-sufficient, provided you count all the unconventional, biofuel, etc. sources. Probably not an exporter though.

Mind, that's with not being able to find good current per capita numbers.


Is anyone else thinking "if they are arguing about whether or not to give up clothes dryers, they really haven't grasped the problem?"

I'm one of those but yes I do grasp the problem. But Typical Joe consumer is not going to buy the argument of just give up this modern conveinence and you will not really miss it. That's my point in all of this. There has to be a very good reason. And in the US things like Climate Change have been presented very badly. Starting off with Al Gore as a spokesman. That one detail right off the bat put about 1/3 of the population into an "I don't believe it mode". Al Gore was a terrible choice to appeal to the masses no matter how accurate his message might be.

One point I've tried to make about the US and all of this is we have many political decisions that have been made over the last fifty years that are now sacred cows which make many of the changes that seem obvious to non USA people or many people without children incredibly difficult. How we do schools is much more about conservative/liberal/racial/economic populist theories than about what works. In this debate about peak oil to really impact things we have to go back to something that looks like neighborhood schools. But that isn't going to happen without come incredible fights. Many opposed would say no way no matter what oil/gas costs. But how we do schools impacts daily energy consumption in the US hugely. From getting kids to and from, after school events, parental involvement, etc... It affects the vehicle types we buy and how we schedule our lives. If most everyone is out of the house from sun up to dusk for work, school, and activities all over the area, well guess what. That almost forces us to buy CLOTHES DRYERS. Hanging out the wash at 9 PM and bringing it in the next night at the same time is a non starter.

My point is there are a lot of connected dots here. Moving one of them requires cutting anywhere from 10 to 20 connections or moving a few hundred other dots at the same time.

I could also go on about zoning and building codes where it is almost impossible to build new or renovate to live over a business unless the business is converting lead into gold at zero cost.

And new high rise housing costs real serious money. Which is why the poor live in the old crap. The old crap is grandfathered in or not officially on the books as renting while the new costs way more than they will ever be able to afford.

We have met the enemy and the enemy is us.


They have not even really gotten NIF to work yet, and they are promising an engineering facillity in 5-7 years

Ed's heart is in the right place but he will say whatever he needs to, to get his funding.

Not that I am against it mind, it's just 20 years is probably more realistic then 7


20 years is probably more realistic then 7

And has been since I visited LLNL in 82.


According to a May 25 report,

U.S. dependence on imported oil fell below 50 percent in 2010 for the first time in more than a decade, thanks in part to the weak economy and more fuel efficient vehicles, the Energy Department said on Wednesday.

The department's Energy Information Administration said it expected the moderating trend in U.S. oil-import dependency to continue through the next decade due to improvements in energy efficiency and even higher fuel economy standards.

Imports of crude and petroleum products accounted for 49.3 percent of U.S. oil demand last year, down from the recent high of 60.3 percent in 2005. It also marked the first time since 1997 that America's foreign oil addiction fell under the 50 percent threshold.

Increased domestic production of ethanol and other biofuels that are blended with gasoline and consumer purchases of more fuel efficient vehicles also slashed the need for oil imports, according to the EIA.

Crude oil production, especially in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, increased by 334,000 barrels per day (bpd) between 2005 and 2010, which also cut into foreign oil purchases.

U.S. demand for gasoline, jet fuel, heating oil and other petroleum products that were processed from crude oil dropped by 1.7 million bpd to 19.1 million bpd in 2010 from 20.8 million bpd in 2005.

At the same time, U.S. exports of petroleum products more than doubled to a record 2.3 million bpd last year from 1.1 million bpd in 2005.

"Nowhere have U.S. product exports increased more than in the Americas, including Mexico, Canada, Central and South America and the Caribbean, thanks to economic and population growth and inadequate refining capacity in those countries," the EIA said.

As a result, U.S. net imports of refined petroleum products fell last year to their lowest level since 1973, when the government began collecting such data.

Also, according to NationMaster, as of 2007 the following European nations used half the oil per capita (or less) that the US uses:

United Kingdom

So yes, if the United States used oil like Western Europe, it would be a net exporter of oil again for a while. It would also eliminate slightly more than half of the US trade deficit: the total trade deficit in 2010 was $498 billion, and $252 billion of that was for petroleum product imports.


United Kingdom

So yes, if the United States used oil like Western Europe,

Of course a big part of us doing this would require us to to start acting like about 20 separate countries like the EU. I know Texas alone is bigger than Germany. Likely France also.

If we all stay in our home state or region, yes then our energy needs will go way down.

Again, it's a situation that requires enormous changes in technology or attitudes of the population or both. And a message of "eat your liver it's good for you" will not create said change.

Says he who's off on his third weekend trip 5 hours away due to a relative who would not move out when they had the chance now we're (the family) stuck with a townhouse that will not sell and has to be fixed up to rent. And whose wife commutes from North Carolina to Texas weekly via air flights.


Well, for anyone who thinking it was impossible to avoid a crash when oil gets expensive, there's theoretical evidence that the US could produce its own oil supply, at least for a few years.

As someone else noted, the first thing we should be doing in the US is getting as efficient as possible with energy.

However, as David L., noted, this gets hard, when good chunks of our life currently depend on "conveniences" such as fast food and dryers. Conversely, the cost of raising a child to 18 is currently estimated at ~$225,000, up from ~$160,000 in 2000, so I'd suggest that some massive societal changes are due pretty soon, regardless.

Nonetheless, spiking costs like that mean either people will be having a lot fewer kids, or kids are going to have a lot more chores and unstructured play time soon.

Still, it's nice to see that we've got a lot of room for improvement. Perhaps the next few years will be a replay of the late 1970s?


Hm, David, I think it's time to dust off the stories from the 20s and 30s, just to give a sense of perspective.

One grandmother worked for a bit as a schoolteacher in Idaho in the 1920s (after visiting the Grand Canyon in a Model T), before going back to Chicago to teach at a private school. There, when the crash of 1929 hit, she got paid in IOUs (the parents weren't paying either) until the school finally shut down. Her boyfriend (my grandfather) had a good engineering job, but he split his salary (50% pay, full time work) with another engineer who was married with children, just so that everyone could put some food on the table. Finally, my grandmother and grandfather got married to support my grandmother, who never did get to cash in those IOUs.

None of these people were born in Illinois, nor did they go to college there.

Couple points here: it was (and is) possible to move around even with a much more inconvenience, and our people have been doing it for a long time. The other thing is that we've got it pretty damn easy right now, and there's a lot we can give up and still live a decent life.

But you're right, I have to remind myself of that, often enough.


Like some countries in Western Europe... the Nordics are between 50 and 100+% of US use, as are Spain, Greece, and the Netherlands. Netherlands is at 59 vs. US 69. Some countries use oil for electricity generation a lot more than the US does, but the Dutch don't seem to be one of them. So much for all those bicycles...

I think France is comparable in area to Texas. Both it and Germany have a lot more people than Texas. But Europeans move around Europe quite a fair bit these days, you know; they also seem to take vacations to the other side of the planet rather often. I don't think "behave like 20 countries" is accurate. But when they do move around, it's more likely to be by train, or secondarily plane, and trains are vastly more efficient than cars. Often faster, too.


But I feel and it may be a mistaken feeling that Germans tend to look for work in Germany, the French in France, etc... Especially when you get out of the fields like IT. But here factory workers will migrate several states when a new plant opens and they can get a job. This is especially true in heavy construction. You might have a high crane operator who calls Indiana home living in a cheap apartment in Raleigh while working on a 6 month project. I suspect that in the EU that kind of movement mostly stays within a country.

But again, I can be wrong.


"The long and short of it is that today's level of specialisation requires a sufficiently large population to support it. Today less than 2% of the labour force in the West is devoted to agriculture. At the tail of the 19th century it was closer to 85%. Post peak, it will be so again. Our level of specialisation and hence technology will be commensurately lower."

Aren't you are arguing against yourself? If only 2% are required for food production, then vastly more are available for specialization than at a 85% rate.

The "post peak" remark isn't supported, unless you meant to tell me how some random TED talk (sometimes worthwhile, sometimes drivel, *always* a time-sink, and you make no compelling argument for why that would be a good use of my time) supported it. So it's just a statement, and I have to regard it as highly suspect. I seriously doubt that the agricultural knowledge gained between 1900 and 2000 would be lost. The demand to retain it, and build on it, would be immense. Nor is it all dependent on high-energy techniques.

Yes, the ratio would change, and it seems likely that distribution costs would become far more important. How cities and other communities were sited and layed out would change. There would very probably be large population declines, and enough woe to go around.

But I don't see what I regard as *useful* specializations declining. The sad fact is that in many countries, there are large numbers of people who are effectively surplus to the economy. Their skills weren't required, they were downsized, and they may never work again. How many nail-salon workers does society really require? I'm not trying to be some uber-technologist, and deny that art, ideas, and beauty for their own sake, have no value. This would be a silly venue for that!

Over long horizons, and through difficult times, real value tends to be appreciated and conserved. That's one of the things that civilizations do. Specialist Lady Gaga might not be found worthy of support, while specialist Charlie Stross might. Or, unfortunately, the reverse. But I regard that as unlikely.

Peak oil reducing us to a global feudal society? No. That's the plot of a SciFi novel which would require considerable suspension of disbelief. Civilization is now well beyond the regional Assyrians, Greeks, Han, etc. It's global, and knowledge is now very hard to kill. A rack of dense storage can be powered by a village hydro-plant, and there will be plenty of spares drives around after something catastrophic.

I don't believe anything can amount to much more than a single-generation setback. A blip on a long-term chart. Short of a dinosaur-killer sort of thing, anyway, in which case there will be no charts. Whether that long-term chart will result in a world I'd like to inhabit is a whole other question, of course. If most people here have their way, we'll all be 'properly urbanized', and I am not a termite.


At two hectares of Earth land per person, I think you can have cities or nature, but not both. If you grouped Americans into families of four, and spaced them evenly throughout the US, the families would be 400 meters apart, each having a 200 meter radius circle to themselves. And that's with our 3 hectares per person; the globe would be more crowded.


Are you including the oil that goes into other imports? Raw crude is a pretty emotive subject, especially to alot of americans, but for peak oil/climate change/etc discussions it's doesn't matter where you use it. I've read in the past (probably a george monbiot article, in the guardian but referenced on his website, and therfore likely to be interesting and opinionated) that if you take into account 'offshoring' of manufature us western consumers have in no way kept Co2 emmisions to 1990 levels.


I presume from the mention of Paddington that you mean London-Penzance? There's a sleeper from Glasgow to Penzance too.


OTOH someone who moves from, say, Texas to California doesn't have to deal with speaking a new language for work and socially, and with a significantly different cuisine.


I have two problems with that

- First of all, it's not happening; since the start of the crisis governments have expanded the monetary base like there is no tomorrow and the inflation many predicted has failed to appear, much less the hyperinflation some expected. As Paul Krugman said very recently these days people keep money simply for its role as a store of value, and in consequence conventional monetary policy doesn’t work anymore.

- Second, even if things worked like that and increasing the monetary base did automatically create inflation, it doesn't follow that governments could do it to avoid deflation. Perhaps they could, but deflation doesn't hurt everyone equally. The more money one has, the more one can benefit from deflation, and as populations have got older in the developed world, more and more persons have got money saved. Sociology is pushing democratic countries towards deflationary or "zero inflation" policies and I would expect that trend to become stronger in the future, even when such policies become dangerous.

Note: By "people with money" I don't mean rich people. I mean people with money as opposed to people that have the same wealth but invested in assets, houses, businesses, cars, etc, etc. If you have money, you benefit from deflation because you can buy more things with it. On the other hand if you have 'things' you lose: they are worth less and less money and you find extremely difficult to sell them because with each passing day money becomes more valuable... and knowing that everyone delays buying anything.


Dear Charlie,

Have you ever considered putting some kind of reply/upvote system on your comments section? It would really help 'casual' readers of your blog like myself to find the gems quicker.

Grüße aus Berlin, Mo.


I hope you'll forgive me for saying that this isn't compatible with previous reports on the prospects for laser-ignited fusion power. And that NIF is basically about being able to test thermonuclear weapon configurations without actually making a mushroom cloud (or a big hole in the ground) contra the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. And that AWE, the British "corporation" buying into this, is better known as the Atomic Weapons Establishment, and also have a keen interest in knowing whether the gadgets they build for a living will go "bang" on demand.

Previous write-ups of NIF that I've seen in places like SciAm suggest that the targets they're using cost around $0.25 million a shot, and the cycle time between test shots is around 2-3 months, but might be cut to as little as 10 hours if they were in a real hurry. (As opposed to the 100 shots/minute you need to run an actual power reactor ...)


Charlie or anyone else in the UK can better talk about how well a war footing worked with a bad economy, possibly with some history about how Britain lost most of its empire shortly thereafter. And they didn't have a choice either, unlike the US in a post-oil fix.


The question wrt. the UK during 1939-45 is, "did they jump or were they pushed"? Because a chunk of the responsibility for the loss of the British empire can be laid directly at the door of one Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was not as unilaterally pro-British (prior to December 7th, 1941) as many seem to believe; there was very much a policy of making the British pay through the nose for lend-lease, and indeed the UK didn't finish paying off its war debts to the USA until around 2003, if I remember correctly. Selling off India was just part of the price. Obviously Winston Churchill seemed to think it was worth it, and in view of the alternative, I think he was right. (Also: imperialism? Not cool.)

But back to the present. While we don't have the social cohesion over here that the UK exhibited in the 1940s, I'm not sure that a full-on global energy crisis and collapse of the current way of life would cause British society to fragment. The shock doctrine has indeed been cynically misused, but if there's a genuine global crisis and a national strategy that's clearly aimed at keeping the lifeboat afloat -- yes, complete with ration books and 103% marginal income tax rates on top earners -- it might just be possible to get it past by packaging it as a return to the Blitz Spirit.

If we could find some leaders with the courage to pitch in, of course. (See: 103% income tax on the rich, and ration books for all, above.) I'm not convinced that any of the current crop of politicians have what it takes.


I find that hard to believe. Perhaps it's outdated? Anyone know?

I don't find it hard to believe.

I probably spend about an average of a month a year in the USA. Everything is supersized (except in a few metropolitan city centres which are too dense to cram everything in). Vehicles are supersized -- the average car or SUV is bigger than the equivalent in the UK or mainland Europe. Roads are supersized. McMansions are supersized. Take-away food portions are supersized. Domestic refrigerators and freezers are supersized. Washing machines are supersized. (That 27" standard unit? Standard in the EU is 51cm, or 20".)

A large part of this is infrastructure sprawl. If you rely on automobiles to get to the shops, the shops have got to have car parks -- in fact, car parking availability limits their revenue stream by enforcing a hard cap on the number of customers they can accommodate. And car parking takes up a lot of space. Sure you can go multi-story, but that's ferociously expensive compared with paving a couple of acres of flat ground and painting lines on it. So shops are spaced further apart, warehouses and factories are spaced further apart. And as it makes sense to minimize the number of vehicle movements, the items that you buy at the shops and warehouses are bigger. If you get a huge freezer, you need only do the family food shopping once a week or once a month, and will the trunk of your SUV or the load bed of your pick-up. And because everything is so spaced out, you have to commute a long distance to and from work.

The restaurant portion size arms race is another issue entirely.

(I reckon if you could wave a magic wand and suck all the car parks out of a typical north American city, closing in all the gaps between buildings, it'd shrink by over 50% in area. Narrow the roads by 50% at the same time, and you'd have something that would almost be habitable with electric-assist bicycles and trolley buses. Almost.)

But the general point is, everything is predicated on two problematic assumptions: that ground transportation is cheap to operate, and that land is freely available at the margins.

You could start to turn it around if the states implemented a strict British-style "green belt" policy around cities -- placing enormous obstacles in the way of developers trying to build out beyond a certain distance from city centres, so that it becomes cheaper to redevelop brown field sites than to colonize new green field sites. Add a land tax on car parks pitched high enough to encourage construction of multi-storey units, with tax breaks for converting existing car park land into something else (dwellings or light industrial/retail units), or for building multi-storey concrete structures that can be re-purposed as non-car-parks at a future date (ducting in place for domestic gas/electricity supplies, partitions pre-planned for turning them into condos or vertical farms or something).

Give folks a tax break for installing false ceilings no higher than 2.5 metres in their homes, and filling the void space above with foam insulation. In fact, property tax breaks for insulation all round.

There are going to be huge migrations as bits of North America turn brown and dry out over the next century. The current system whereby every municipality lives or dies on the basis of its own taxpayers is unsustainable -- it leads to positive feedback induced crashes if too many people leave. So there is a massive need for federal-level redistributive funding for local state and city governments, to cushion the crashes. (How you sell this to taxpayers is a tough question, but "paying now to ensure that a bunch of homeless refugees with guns don't camp out in your yard next year" might be a good start.)

I could go on.


I'm not convinced that any of the current crop of politicians have what it takes.

Here hear.

'Possible' doesn't mean I practically think any of the current crop have the guts to carry through a workable plan. One reason I think Obama is good for the US is that I think he, maybe, does have what it would take. However he'd have to be much more hard nosed about it, and shoot a few teabaggers.

Cameroon, not so much. Boris without the buffoon.


Of course a big part of us doing this would require us to to start acting like about 20 separate countries like the EU. I know Texas alone is bigger than Germany. Likely France also.

If we all stay in our home state or region, yes then our energy needs will go way down.

Ahem: if I recall the figures correctly, your typical American drives 15,000 miles a year. Your typical Brit drives 12,000 miles a year. We also -- I hate to break it to you -- fly a lot; your typical British holidaymaker spends a week on a beach in Spain or Greece every year, and a lot of us visit your side of the pond as well.

(And now you've given me a craving for a liver and bacon fry-up ...)


Conversely, the cost of raising a child to 18 is currently estimated at ~$225,000, up from ~$160,000 in 2000, so I'd suggest that some massive societal changes are due pretty soon, regardless.

There are several bubbles in the US economy right now (and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the developed world):

* Higher education costs (they've risen by around 700% in the past 20 years)

* The requirement to have a sheepskin to wave under the nose of prospective employers (credentialism) which means demand has risen at the same time as price

* Healthcare for the elderly (they live long enough to contract exotic chronic ailments which cost more to treat)

* Treatment of previously-rapidly-fatal diseases (cancer, stroke, or heart attack): these used to be something that either killed you, or you recovered from aided by bed rest and sod-all else. These days, many formerly-fatal cases are survivable, but require exotic and horrendously expensive treatments, and the pharmaceutical industry has discovered that most people will pay literally anything for an extra two weeks' of life when they're terminal

* The Homeland Security industry: the TSA is a $100Bn/year agency and there's probably another $250Bn/year going into pointless security

* The war on drugs and the penal warehousing industry: do I need to expand on this one?

* The Department of Defense: yes, they get to play with cool toys, but those toys are mind-numbingly expensive and not very efficient. The requirement for them is also mostly a side-effect of the State Department career track to senior office, which appears to require a Short Victorious War on the resume of candidates for SecState: fewer toys and fewer overseas invasions wouldn't necessarily put the USA at any greater risk of invasion than it is today, i.e. none whatsoever

* Corporate outsourcing: it might make superficial sense for corporations to focus on the product they sell and outsource everything else -- for example, what used to be the post room, or the staff canteen, or IT tech support -- but if you do that, you end up paying your subcontractor's profit margin. In the very short term it increases profitability, but in the long term it damages corporate viability and more importantly hollows out the wage-earning capacity of the middle class, whose spending power the non-governmental sector of the economy depends on

The smallest of these bubbles probably costs the US economy $100Bn a year (or generates $100Bn a year of periperal activity -- take your pick as to how you define "value").


Damn, me too. And I have to wait till this evening before I can cook one.

Liver is one of those foods that is wonderfully cheap because so many people turn their noses up at it.

It can be interesting to note how some foods come and go in popularity and/or price. Oysters used to be cheap - now they're a luxury. Salmon has gone through phases too: a couple of centuries ago, apprentices in London were up in arms about having to eat it so much, yet in the 1980s fresh salmon was a definite luxury. Now, it's cheap again.


A side-effect of the modern economy is that some sectors are naturally deflating. Consumer electronics doesn't just get better; it gets cheaper year by year. Cars ... yes, a 1910 Model T Ford would, at today's inflation-adjusted prices, cost around $3000. Modern cars most more than that. Modern cars also have luxury items like windscreen wipers, indicator lights, adjustable seats, and the ability to go faster than 30mph. When my father got his first car -- after WW2, although it was a pre-war model: manufacturing had been suspended for the duration -- the heater was a high-cost luxury extra. (In the UK! With cold, wet winters!) In fact, the spec level of a typical cheap modern saloon car today vastly exceeds a 1910 Rolls Royce in every dimension except leg-room, quantity of leather and French-polished walnut, and snob appeal.



This blog is not a democracy, it's a benign dictatorship.


Does Damien actually imagine everyone in London is walking around in damp clothes?


Sorry, but you're off by one and a half decades. The 1925 model of the Ford T would cost $3000 today or $240 back then.

The 1910 model cost something like $800 or almost $20,000 in todays money. Other cars were a matter of enthusiasts only and sold for $2000-$3000 at the time. ($50,000-$75,000)

There are parallels with electric cars in the stagnant (aka developed) countries, which are currently in the region of those latter cars. The question is whether or not prices will come down to the level of electric cars in the developing (thus non-stagnant) countries - which are on the order of $5000 in China.


It can be interesting to note how some foods come and go in popularity and/or price.
Well, there are Victorian age servant's contracts in the Glasgow archives which state things like "$servant shall not be fed salmon more than twice a week". And, of course, this was in an age when all salmon in Scotland was line caught wild fish.


I deliberately delayed saying anything on the subject until you'd had your tuppence.

I've posted on other sites that generate the sort of traffic you can, and had "like post" or "rate post" controls, and they were a complete PITA!! We could be talking in terms of whole minutes to load a page, and loading it every time you used a control or made a comment, with using a "reply" control reloading the page wice!


One of my principles for keeping this blog running is to use as few bits of visual cruft as possible. Another is to use static HTML everywhere except when the alternative is unavoidable. So there's a snippet of javascript when you post a comment or log in, and a CGI script that gets called to rebuild the page each time a comment is successfully posted ... but otherwise, it's just plain old-fashioned HTML.

Which is why a crufty dual-core 2.4GHz Athlon box was able to keep up, more or less, when it got half a million unexpected unique visitors in 24 hours last year. (I had to disable/unpublish all comments on that single thread -- they were coming in at a hundred an hour, and the page load size was hitting a megabyte each time a new visitor arrived -- but other than that, it stood up fine.)

Adding "rank this comment" buttons would inv