Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Greatest Nature Essay Ever

by Brian Doyle

Published in the November/December 2008 issue of Orion magazine

. . .would begin with an image so startling and lovely and wondrous that you would stop riffling through the rest of the mail, take your jacket off, sit down at the table, adjust your spectacles, tell the dog to lie down, tell the kids to make their own sandwiches for heavenssake, that’s why god gave you hands, and read straight through the piece, marveling that you had indeed seen or smelled or heard exactly that, but never quite articulated it that way, or seen or heard it articulated that way, and you think, man, this is why I read nature essays, to be startled and moved like that, wow.

The next two paragraphs would smoothly and gently move you into a story, seemingly a small story, a light tale, easily accessed, something personal but not self-indulgent or self-absorbed on the writer’s part, just sort of a cheerful nutty everyday story maybe starring an elk or a mink or a child, but then there would suddenly be a sharp sentence where the dagger enters your heart and the essay spins on a dime like a skater, and you are plunged into waaay deeper water, you didn’t see it coming at all, and you actually shiver, your whole body shimmers, and much later, maybe when you are in bed with someone you love and you are trying to evade his or her icy feet, you think, my god, stories do have roaring power, stories are the most crucial and necessary food, how come we never hardly say that out loud?

The next three paragraphs then walk inexorably toward a line of explosive Conclusions on the horizon like inky alps. Probably the sentences get shorter, more staccato. Terser. Blunter. Shards of sentences. But there’s no opinion or commentary, just one line fitting into another, each one making plain inarguable sense, a goat or even a senator could easily understand the sentences and their implications, and there’s no shouting, no persuasion, no eloquent pirouetting, no pronouncements and accusations, no sermons or homilies, just calm clean clear statements one after another, fitting together like people holding hands.

Then an odd paragraph, this is a most unusual and peculiar essay, for right here where you would normally expect those alpine Conclusions, some Advice, some Stern Instructions & Directions, there’s only the quiet murmur of the writer tiptoeing back to the story he or she was telling you in the second and third paragraphs. The story slips back into view gently, a little shy, holding its hat, nothing melodramatic, in fact it offers a few gnomic questions without answers, and then it gently slides away off the page and off the stage, it almost evanesces or dissolves, and it’s only later after you have read the essay three times with mounting amazement that you see quite how the writer managed the stagecraft there, but that’s the stuff of another essay for another time.

And finally the last paragraph. It turns out that the perfect nature essay is quite short, it’s a lean taut thing, an arrow and not a cannon, and here at the end there’s a flash of humor, and a hint or tone or subtext of sadness, a touch of rue, you can’t quite put your finger on it but it’s there, a dark thread in the fabric, and there’s also a shot of espresso hope, hope against all odds and sense, but rivetingly there’s no call to arms, no clarion brassy trumpet blast, no website to which you are directed, no hint that you, yes you, should be ashamed of how much water you use or the car you drive or the fact that you just turned the thermostat up to seventy, or that you actually have not voted in the past two elections despite what you told the kids and the goat. Nor is there a rimshot ending, a bang, a last twist of the dagger. Oddly, sweetly, the essay just ends with a feeling eerily like a warm hand brushed against your cheek, and you sit there, near tears, smiling, and then you stand up. Changed.

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Zombie Economics

By James Howard Kunstler for ClusterFuck Nation

Though Citicorp is deemed too big to fail, it's hardly reassuring to know that it's been allowed to sink its fangs into the Mother Zombie that the US Treasury has become and sucked out a multi-billion dollar dose of embalming fluid so it can go on pretending to be a bank for a while longer. I employ this somewhat clunky metaphor to point out that the US Government is no more solvent than the financial zombies it is keeping on walking-dead support. And so this serial mummery of weekend bailout schemes is as much of a fraud and a swindle as the algorithm-derived-securities shenanigans that induced the disease of bank zombification in the first place. The main question it raises is whether, eventually, the creation of evermore zombified US dollars will exceed the amount of previously-created US dollars now vanishing into oblivion through compressive debt deflation.

My guess, given the usual time-lag factor, is that the super-inflation snap-back will occur six to eighteen months from now. And the main result of all this will be our inability to buy the imported oil that comprises two-thirds of the oil we require to keep WalMart and Walt Disney World running. At some point, then, in the early months of the Obama administration, we'll learn that "change" is not a set of mere lifestyle choices but a wrenching transition away from all our familiar and comfortable habits into a stark and rigorous new economic landscape.

The credit economy is dead and the dead credit residue of that dead economy is going where dead things go. It came into the world as "money" and it is going out of this world as a death-dealing disease, and we're not going to get over this disease until we stop generating additional zombie money out of no productive activity whatsoever. The campaign to sustain the unsustainable is, besides war, the greatest pitfall this society can stumble into. It represents a squandering of our remaining scant resources and can only produce the kind of extreme political disappointment that wrecks nations and leads to major conflicts between them. I don't know how much Mr. Obama buys into the current adopt-a-zombie program -- his Treasury designee Timothy Geithner was apparently in on this weekend's Citicorp deal -- but the President would be wise to steer clear of whatever the walking dead in the Bush corner are still up to.

All the activities based on getting something-for-nothing are dead or dying now, in particular buying houses and cars on credit and so it should not be a surprise that the two major victims are the housing and car industries. Notice, by the way, that these are the two major ingredients of an economy based on building suburban sprawl. That's over, too. We're done building it and the stuff we've already built is destined to loose both money value and usefulness as the wrenching transition goes forward.

All this obviously begs the question: what kind of economy are we going to live in if the old one is toast? Well, it's also pretty obvious that it will have to be based on activities productively aimed at keeping human beings alive in an ecology that has a future. Once you grasp this, you will see that there is no reason to despair and more than enough for all of us to do, so we can recover from the zombie nation disease and get on with the next chapter of American history -- and I sure hope that Mr. Obama will get with the new program.

To be specific about this new economy, we're going to have to make things again, and raise things out of the earth, locally, and trade these things for money of some kind that we earn through our own productive activities. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is optional. The only other option is to go through a violent sociopolitical convulsion. We ought to know from prior examples in world history that this is not a desirable experience. So, to avoid that, we really have to put our shoulders to the wheel and get to work on things that matter, and do it at a scale that is consistent with what the world really has to offer right now, especially in terms of available energy.

In my view -- and I know this is controversial -- a much larger proportion of the US population will have to be employed in growing the food we eat. There are many ways of arranging this, some more fair than others, and I hope the better angels of our nature steer us in the direction of fairness and justice. The prospects of a devalued dollar imply that we very shortly will not be able to get the all the oil-and-gas based "inputs" that have made petro-agriculture possible the past century. The consequences of this are so unthinkable that we have not been thinking about it. And, of course, the further implications of current land-use allocation, and the property ownership issues entailed, suggests formidable difficulties in re-arranging the farming sector. The sooner we face all this, the better.

As the fiesta of "globalism" (Tom Friedman-style) draws to a close -- another consequence of currency problems -- we'll have to figure out how to make things in this country again. We will not be manufacturing things at the scale, or in the manner, we were used to in, say, 1962. We'll have to do it far more modestly, using much more meager amounts of energy than we did in the past. My guess is that we will get the electricity for doing this mostly from water. It may actually be too late -- from a remaining capital resources point-of-view -- to ramp up a new phase of the nuclear power industry (and there are plenty of arguments from the practical and economic to the ethical against it). But we have to hold a public discussion about it, if only to clear the air and get on with other things, namely the new activities of But I would hasten to warn readers (again!) that we'll probably have to do these things more modestly too (don't count on giant wind "farms"), and that we are liable to be disappointed by what they can actually provide for us (don't expect to run WalMart on wind, solar, algae-fuels, etc).

In any case, we're not going back to a "consumer" economy. We're heading into a hard work economy in which people derive their pleasures and gratification more traditionally -- mainly through the company of their fellow human beings (which is saying a lot, for those of you who have forgotten what that's about). Our current investments in "education" -- i.e. training people to become marketing executives for chain stores -- will delude Americans for a while about what kind of work is really available. But before long, the younger adults will realize that there are enormous opportunities for them in a new and very different economy. We will still have commerce -- even if it's not the K-Mart blue-light-special variety -- and the coming generation will have to rebuild all the local, multi-layered networks of commercial inter-dependency that were destroyed by the rise of the chain stores. In short, get ready for local business. It will surely be part-and-parcel of our local food-growing and manufacturing activities.

I hate to keep harping on this -- but since nobody else is really talking about it, at least in the organs of public discussion, the job is left to me -- we have to get cracking on the revival of the railroad system in this country, if we expect to remain a united country. This is such a no-brainer that the absence of any talk about it is a prime symptom of the zombie disease that has eaten away our brains. Automobiles (the way we use them) and airplanes are utterly dependent on liquid hydrocarbon fuels, and you can be certain we'll have trouble getting them. You can run trains by other means -- electricity being state-of-the-art in those parts of the world that do it most successfully. I know that California just voted to create a high-speed rail link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It's an optimistic sign, but it shows more than a little techno-grandiose over-reach. High speed rail would require a mega-expensive re-do of the tracks. We need to scale our ambitions for this more realistically. California (and every other region of America) would benefit much more from normal-speed trains running every hour on the hour on tracks that already exist than from a mega-expensive, grandiose sci-fi program that might not get built for ten years. The dregs of the Big Three automakers can and should be reorganized to produce the rolling stock for a revived railroad system.

Even amidst the financial carnage underway right now, the public is enjoying a respite from high-priced gasoline, but it is due to be short-lived. As I've already said, we are in danger not just of oil prices going way back up again, but of losing access to our supplies from the exporting countries. In other words, we're just as likely to face shortages as high prices, and soon. Oil shortages are certain to produce a political freak-out here unless we get our heads screwed on right -- and this means that Mr. Obama had better prepare quickly for a comprehensive action plan in the face of such an emergency (which has to include a robust public information initiative).

In the meantime, Mr. Obama must dissociate himself from all activities aimed at the care-and-feeding of zombies. Mr. Obama is correct that there is one president and one government at a time, and since this is the case in reality, he must avoid being contaminated by the choices they make as their clock ticks out. Obviously, world markets might be more disturbed if Mr. Obama were to step up and actively contradict everything that is being done to cultivate zombies right now. He is in a very delicate position. But being a man of intelligence and sensibility, he may successfully navigate this rough passage.

That this melt-down is building straight into the Christmas holidays is one of those accidents of history that leaves one reeling in wonder and nausea. The cable networks better be prepared to bombard the public with round-the-clock showings of It's A Wonderful Life, because they're going to need all the moral support they can get as zombies stalk through the silent night, holy night.

Friday, November 21, 2008

"What is the most beautiful thing I can do?"

Money and the Crisis of Civilization

Charles Eisenstein

Suppose you give me a million dollars with the instructions, "Invest this profitably, and I'll pay you well." I'm a sharp dresser -- why not? So I go out onto the street and hand out stacks of bills to random passers-by. Ten thousand dollars each. In return, each scribbles out an IOU for $20,000, payable in five years. I come back to you and say, "Look at these IOUs! I have generated a 20% annual return on your investment." You are very pleased, and pay me an enormous commission.

Now I've got a big stack of IOUs, so I use these "assets" as collateral to borrow even more money, which I lend out to even more people, or sell them to others like myself who do the same. I also buy insurance to cover me in case the borrowers default -- and I pay for it with those self-same IOUs! Round and round it goes, each new loan becoming somebody's asset on which to borrow yet more money. We all rake in huge commissions and bonuses, as the total face value of all the assets we've created from that initial million dollars is now fifty times that.

Then one day, the first batch of IOUs comes due. But guess what? The person who scribbled his name on the IOU can't pay me back right now. In fact, lots of the borrowers can't. I try to hush this embarrassing fact up as long as possible, but pretty soon you get suspicious. You want your million dollars back -- in cash. I try to sell the IOUs and their derivatives that I hold, but everyone else is suspicious too, and no one buys them. The insurance company tries to cover my losses, but it can only do so by selling the IOUs I gave it!

So finally, the government steps in and buys the IOUs, bails out the insurance company and everyone else holding the IOUs and the derivatives stacked on them. Their total value is way more than a million dollars now. I and my fellow entrepreneurs retire with our lucre. Everyone else pays for it.

This is the first level of what has happened in the financial industry over the past decade. It is a huge transfer of wealth to the financial elite, to be funded by US taxpayers, foreign corporations and governments, and ultimately the foreign workers who subsidize US debt indirectly via the lower purchasing power of their wages. However, to see the current crisis as merely the result of a big con is to miss its true significance.

I think we all sense that we are nearing the end of an era. On the most superficial level, it is the era of unregulated casino-style financial manipulation that is ending. But the current efforts of the political elites to fix the crisis at this level will only reveal its deeper dimensions. In fact, the crisis goes "all the way to the bottom." It arises from the very nature of money and property in the world today, and it will persist and continue to intensify until money itself is transformed. A process centuries in the making is in its final stages of unfoldment.

Money as we know it today has crisis and collapse built into its basic design. That is because money seeks interest, bears interest, and indeed is born of interest.

Read the rest...

Green slime fuel farms in Colorado

Colorado Company to Take Algae-Based Fuel to the Next Level

AlgaeSolix’s prototype bioreactor harvests oil from algae. A planned production plant in southwest Colorado will be similar to this operation, though significantly larger in scale. (Photo: Solix)

A Colorado company will break ground early next year on an algae farm that is intended to produce thousands of gallons of substitutes for gasoline and diesel at a rate per acre far higher than current biofuel projects.

Solix Biofuels, of Fort Collins, said on Monday that it had raised $15.5 million in capital and would begin with a five-acre plot to produce “biocrude.’’ That will in turn be shipped to an oil refinery in place of crude oil, according to Douglas R. Henston, the company chief executive.

Investors include the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, on whose reservation, near Durango, the farm will be located; the Valero Energy Corporation, the refinery operator; and Infield Capital, an investment fund.

Algae has held special appeal for renewable energy researchers — and some investors — because the organism readily converts sunlight and carbon dioxide into a hydrocarbon fuel, producing an oil that can harvested for use as biodiesel. And the more CO2 present, the faster the algae grows. That holds the promise of cleaner-burning fuels that simultaneously scrub CO2 from the atmosphere during their production.

Algae can also regenerate at a remarkable rate, doubling its volume in a matter of hours under the right conditions, and yielding far more of its body weight in oil than any biofuel feed stock currently in use.

Solix has already achieved production of 1,500 gallons an acre per year at a test plot in Fort Collins, and the company is expecting yields of 2,500 to 3,000 gallons an acre per year, said Mr. Henston.

In contrast, soybeans, the main source of biodiesel used in this country, yields 50 to 70 gallons per acre.

But creating the right conditions for algae to serve as a biofuel feed stock at commercial scale remains an expensive proposition. Carbon dioxide needs to be pumped in from outside sources to induce the kind of rapid growth needed to make the process economically feasible. Water temperatures, too, need to be carefully controlled.

Solix uses a “photo-bioreactor system” to overcome these hurdles. These consist of long, narrow, sealed containers, immersed in water, into which carbon dioxide — harvested from a nearby natural gas well — and organic nutrients are circulated. Algae take hydrogen atoms from the water and carbon atoms from the carbon dioxide, to produce a hydrocarbon liquid, which is then recovered by centrifuge or solvent extraction.

The algae strain to be used in Colorado is a fresh-water variety, but other varieties, including marine algae, can be used, Mr. Henston said, because the system is “species agnostic.’’

The Competence Project: How to Get Competent, and What You Get If You Do

Sharon November 20th, 2008

Ok, there was a lot of enthusiasm for my first post on my new project - people seemed to think I was starting a challenge. That hadn’t occurred to me, but heck, I’m for it - a new challenge it is. I challenge each of you to pick some area of your skill set that’s kind of weak and strengthen it. And when you feel like you’ve gotten competent, well, pick a new skill.

In the other thread, Dewey had the best idea (thanks Dewey!) - I’m going hand out official “Competence Project Merit Badges” (and hope various scouting organizations won’t sue me ;-)) to people who meet their goals. So post your first project, and I’ll have periodic threads in which people can be awarded their merit badges for whatever skill set you are trying to gain. Merit badges are completely virtual, of course, but if someone wants to make up a spiffy visual that people can add to their blog, I’m all for it.

Several people asked how they should go about learning their skill set, and I have a few suggestions for resources. I’m sure the rest of you have some good ideas as well.

1. Apprentice yourself to someone - this is by far the very best way to learn a skill, and it can save you an awful lot of trial and error. Got a neighbor who is going hunting, fixing his roof or crocheting a sweater? Why not ask if you can help out/get some lessons from them. Barter is a great tool here.

2. Take a class. Local adult education courses often cover things like this - check out their offerings. And stores that sell craft or specialty items often have classes as well - for example, Home Depot offers regular courses, knitting and quilting shops have knitting and quilting classes, etc… Just make sure that the class you are getting works with the skill set you are trying to gain - for example, if you want to learn woodworking with hand tools, make sure that you are getting a class that teaches this.

2. Use internet video - this isn’t an option for me or the rest of the world afflicted with dial up, but it is awfully nice for those who can take advantage. That way, you can actually see how to take your radio apart, or how the purl stitch works.

3. Visit your local library and take out books designed for children. Kids books have to cut the extraneous stuff out, and offer extremely clear language and direct instructions. I finally learned how to knit by using Melanie Falick’s excellent children’s book on the subject, _Kids Knitting_ and I’ve often found books for kids and teens clearer than those for adults.

4. Find comprehensive book sources - besides the ubiquitous “Dummies” series (which varies a lot in quality), Reader’s Digest has an excellent series of how-to books that cover a wide range of skills including _The Complete Do-It Yourself Manual_ (which a builder friend noted would allow you to pretty much build a house from scratch with), _Practical Encyclopedia of Crafts_ and _Skills and Tools_. I’m also partial to Gene Logsdon’s _Practical Skills_ book.

5. Specialize, specialize. I’m a big fan of the personal library if you have space. I find it really useful to have books (or material printed from the internet - never know when the service will go down, computer will be fried or the power will be out) that give detailed information and allow you to get more advanced. Honestly, we’re not all going to get really good at a lot of these things - most of us will have pretty basic skills. Still, I think if you have the money (and these are the sorts of books that often show up quite cheaply on the internet, and frequently at yard sales) it is good to have specialized books for skills you might want or need to invest some energy in. So, for example, I think that while a general crafts book will probably teach you to knit or purl, you might want a sock knitting book, or a mitten book if you knit a lot of them. Basic woodworking stuff in the above books will get you fairly far, but if you dream of building outdoor structures, picking a book that focuses on building tools for farm and garden would be good. I find it is easiest to push myself to pick up a skill if I’m doing something I really want to do - so if you can’t bear the thought of sewing the traditional pair of pajama pants as a first project, it might be worth investing in a book that will teach you to make something you really do want to make.

Ok, everyone sign up for their first merit badge project, and in a week or two, we’ll all update each other on how it is going. My first project? I’ve got a toilet that needs replacing. Let’s just say that the replacement toilet has been sitting next to the defective toilet for a very, very long time.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Learning to Stand Up - Regrowing a National Spine

Power to, for, of and by the people.....add your voice!!!!

The Backbone Campaign is a grassroots effort to embolden citizens and elected officials to stand up for progressive values. We are expanding the political dialogue by providing creative tools for citizens and the progressive movement. The backbone symbolizes an interlocking agenda, a coalition, and the personal courage necessary to fight for a future worthy of our children.

With this platform, we declare our commitment to common cause and our desire for clear commitments from our elected officials. This platform is founded in a shared vision of a sustainable and just economy with respect for the environment, human rights, and a culture of peace. It is grounded in the values of the United States Constitution, and Bill of Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Earth Charter. Our platform is a bold, uncompromised position on the most fundamental questions of our democracy.

Please feel free to participate in the building of this document, whether that is by making comments on both the listing of issues and the issues themselves.

This Platform tool has evolved over the past year based on input from many people. We're working to improve it all the time.

This is a living document, the contents of which will evolve. We hope the spirit of common cause will guide us toward establishing a foundation built from our ability to agree, rather than our penchant for argument.

A Living Economy Emerges from the Dying Economy

Hearing BALLE founder Judy Wicks recently in Bloomington, IN was a real inspiration. You owe it to your neighborhood, town, city, region, state to learn more and get involved. BALLE will be an important group helping Americans relocalize their cultures and economies.

A Living Economy

The primary purpose of a true market economy is not to make money for the rich and powerful. When Adam Smith conceptualized the idea of the market economy in his classic The Wealth of Nations, he had in mind economies that allocate human and material resources justly and sustainably to meet the self-defined needs of people and community.

When enterprises are locally rooted, human-scale, owned by stakeholders, and held accountable to the rule of law by democratically elected governments, there is a natural incentive for all concerned to take human and community needs and interests into account. When income and ownership are equitably distributed, justice is served and political democracy is strong. When needs are met locally by locally owned enterprises, people have greater control over their lives, money is recycled in the community rather than leaking off into the global financial casino, jobs are more secure, economies are more stable, and there are the means and the incentives to protect the environment and to build the relationships of mutual trust and responsibility that are the foundation of community.

Our quality of life would be stunningly different if we based economic decisions on life values rather than purely financial values—a natural choice if owners had to live with the non-financial consequences of their decisions.

Full-cost pricing of energy, materials, and land use could expose the real inefficiencies of factory farming, conventional construction, and urban sprawl and make life-serving alternatives comparatively cost-effective.

Awakening majority

The ideal of a living economy might seem an impossible dream, except for the fact that so many of its elements are already in place. There are millions of for- and not-for-profit enterprises and public initiatives around the world aligned with the values and organizational principles of living economies. They include local independent businesses of all sorts, from bookstores to bakeries, community banks to independent media outlets. Indeed, independent, human-scale businesses are by far the majority of all businesses, provide most jobs, create nearly all new jobs, and are the source of most innovation.

So how do we get from a few million living enterprises that are struggling to survive at the fringes of the current global economy to a healthy planetary system of thriving living economies? The answer is, “We grow it into being.”

A system that no longer serves can be displaced only by a more powerful system. According to Margaret Wheatley, “This means that the work of change is to start over, to organize new local efforts, connect them to each other, and know that their values and practices can emerge as something even stronger.”

Making it happen

Those interested in helping to grow a living economy in their own community might start with a few simple questions. What do local people and businesses regularly buy that is or could be supplied locally by socially and environmentally responsible independent enterprises? Which existing local businesses are trying to practice living economy values? In what sectors are they clustered? Are there collaborative efforts aligned with living economy values already underway? The answers will point to promising opportunities.

Food is often a logical place to start. Everyone needs and cares about food, and food can be grown almost everywhere, is freshest and most wholesome when local, and is our most intimate connection to the land.

Countless local living economy initiatives are being launched all across North America and around the world. The greater the number and diversity of such initiatives, the more rapidly the web of an emergent planetary system of local living economies can grow, and the more readily each of us can redirect our life energy toward living economies in our shopping, employment, and investment choices. Through our individual and collective choices, we can grow into being the economic institutions, relationships, and culture of a just, sustainable, and compassionate world of living economies that work for all.

Adapted from "Economies for Life," by David Korten, YES! Magazine, Fall 2002.

The Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, or BALLE, is the world’s fastest growing network of sustainable businesses committed to building local economies and transforming the community economic development field. BALLE is comprised of nearly 60 local networks of independent businesses in a variety of locales across the US and Canada, and represents more than 20,000 entrepreneurs

BALLE believes that local, independent businesses are among our most potent change agents, uniquely prepared to take on the challenges of the twenty-first century with a nimbleness, sense of place, and relationship-based approach others lack. They are more than employers and profit-makers; they are neighbors, community builders and the starting point for social innovation, aligning commerce with the common good and bringing transparency, accountability, and a caring human face to the marketplace.

BALLE believes in the power of bottom-up, networked change. In the age of the Internet and social networking and the emergence of “glocalism” as a new form of social consciousness, we believe that never before have communities possessed as much power to determine their futures as they do today and in ways that are good for people, places and the planet.

By catalyzing and connecting local business networks dedicated to Living Economy principles, we are movement builders, growing an ever-expanding constituency for sustainable businesses and sustainable communities, from Main Street to the world.

By strengthening these networks, we are field leaders, deepening our understanding of community economic development frameworks and practices while experimenting with innovations aimed at building thriving local economies.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Collapse - Coming to a Country Near (VERY near) You

The Five Stages of Collapse

by Dmitry Orlov

Hello, everyone! The talk you are about to hear is the result of a lengthy process on my part. My specialty is in thinking about and, unfortunately, predicting collapse. My method is based on comparison: I watched the Soviet Union collapse, and, since I am also familiar with the details of the situation in the United States, I can make comparisons between these two failed superpowers.

I was born and grew up in Russia, and I traveled back to Russia repeatedly between the late 80s and mid-90s. This allowed me to gain a solid understanding of the dynamics of the collapse process as it unfolded there. By the mid-90s it was quite clear to me that the US was headed in the same general direction. But I couldn't yet tell how long the process would take, so I sat back and watched.

I am an engineer, and so I naturally tended to look for physical explanations for this process, as opposed to economic, political, or cultural ones. It turns out that one could come up with a very good explanation for the Soviet collapse by following energy flows. What happened in the late 80s is that Russian oil production hit an all-time peak. This coincided with new oil provinces coming on stream in the West - the North Sea in the UK and Norway, and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska - and this suddenly made oil very cheap on the world markets. Soviet revenues plummeted, but their appetite for imported goods remained unchanged, and so they sank deeper and deeper into debt. What doomed them in the end was not even so much the level of debt, but their inability to take on further debt even faster. Once international lenders balked at making further loans, it was game over.

What is happening to the United States now is broadly similar, with certain polarities reversed. The US is an oil importer, burning up 25% of the world's production, and importing over two-thirds of that. Back in mid-90s, when I first started trying to guess the timing of the US collapse, the arrival of the global peak in oil production was scheduled for around the turn of the century. It turned out that the estimate was off by almost a decade, but that is actually fairly accurate as far as such big predictions go. So here it is the high price of oil that is putting the brakes on further debt expansion. As higher oil prices trigger a recession, the economy starts shrinking, and a shrinking economy cannot sustain an ever-expanding level of debt. At some point the ability to finance oil imports will be lost, and that will be the tipping point, after which nothing will ever be the same.

This is not to say that I am a believer in some sort of energy determinism. If the US were to cut its energy consumption by an order of magnitude, it would still be consuming a staggeringly huge amount, but an energy crisis would be averted. But then this country, as we are used to thinking of it, would no longer exist. Oil is what powers this economy. In turn, it is this oil-based economy that makes it possible to maintain and expand an extravagant level of debt. So, a drastic cut in oil consumption would cause a financial collapse (as opposed to the other way around). A few more stages of collapse would follow, which we will discuss next. So, you could see this outlandish appetite for imported oil as a cultural failing, but it is not one that can be undone without causing a great deal of damage. If you like, you can call it "ontological determinism": it has to be what it is, until it is no more.

I don't mean to imply that every part of the country will suddenly undergo a spontaneous existence failure, reverting to an uninhabited wilderness. I agree with John-Michael Greer that the myth of the Apocalypse is not the least bit helpful in coming to terms with the situation. The Soviet experience is very helpful here, because it shows us not only that life goes on, but exactly how it goes on. But I am quite certain that no amount of cultural transformation will help us save various key aspects of this culture: car society, suburban living, big box stores, corporate-run government, global empire, or runaway finance.

On the other hand, I am quite convinced that nothing short of a profound cultural transformation will allow any significant number of us to keep roofs over our heads, and food on our tables. I also believe that the sooner we start letting go of our maladaptive cultural baggage, the more of a chance we will stand. A few years ago, my attitude was to just keep watching events unfold, and keep this collapse thing as some sort of macabre hobby. But the course of events is certainly speeding up, and now my feeling is that the worst we can do is pretend that everything will be fine and simply run out the clock on our current living arrangement, with nothing to replace it once it all starts shutting down.

Now, getting back to my own personal progress in working through these questions, in 2005 I wrote an article called "Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century". Initially, I wanted to publish it on a web site run by Dale Alan Pfeiffer, but, to my surprise, it ended up on From The Wilderness, a much more popular site run by Michael Ruppert, and, to my further astonishment, Mike even paid me for it.

And ever since then, I've been asked the same question, repeatedly: "When? When is the collapse going to occur?" Being a little bit clever, I always decline to give a specific answer, because, you see, as soon as you get one specific prediction wrong, there goes your entire reputation. One reasonable way of thinking about the timing is to say that collapse can occur at different times for different people. You may never quite know that collapse has happened, but you will know that it has happened to you personally, or to your family, or to your town. The big picture may not come together until much later, thanks to the efforts of historians. Individually, we may never know what hit us, and, as a group, we may never agree on any one answer. Look at the collapse of the USSR: some people are still arguing over why exactly it happened.

But sometimes the picture is clearer than we would like. In January of 2008, I published an article on "The Five Stages of Collapse," in which I defined the five stages, and then bravely stated that we are in the midst of a financial collapse. And ten months later it doesn't seem that I went too far out on a limb this time. If the US government has to lend banks over 200 billion dollars a day just to keep the whole system from imploding, then the term "crisis" probably doesn't do justice to the situation. To keep this game going, the US government has to be able to sell the debt it is taking on, and what do you think the chances are that the world at large will be snapping up trillions of dollars of new debt, knowing that it is being used to prop up a shrinking economy? And if the debt can't be sold, then it has to be monetized, by printing money. And that will trigger hyperinflation. So, let's not quibble, and let us call what's happening what it looks like: "financial collapse".

So here are the five stages as I defined them almost a year ago. The little check-mark next to "financial collapse" is there to remind us that we are not here to quibble or equivocate, because Stage 1 is pretty far along. Stages 2 and 3 - commercial and political collapse, are driven by financial collapse, and will overlap each other. Right now, it is unclear which one is farther along. On the one hand, there are signs that global shipping is grinding to a halt, and that big box retailers are in for a very bad time, with many stores likely to close following a disastrous Christmas season. On the other hand, states are already experiencing massive budget shortfalls, laying off state workers, cutting back on programs, and are starting to beg the federal government for bail-out money.

Even though the various stages of collapse drive each other in a variety of ways, I think that it makes sense to keep them apart conceptually. This is because their effects on our daily life are quite different. Whatever constructive ways we may find of dodging these effects are also going to be different. Lastly, some stages of collapse seem unavoidable, while others may be avoided if we put up enough of a fight.

Financial collapse seems to be particularly painful if you happen to have a lot of money. On the other hand, I run across people all the time, who feel that "Nothing's happened yet." These are mostly younger, relatively successful people, who have little or no savings, and still have good paying jobs, or unemployment insurance that hasn't run out yet. Their daily lives aren't much affected by the turmoil on the financial markets, and they don't believe that anything different is happening beyond the usual economic ups and downs.

Commercial collapse is much more obvious, and observing it doesn't entail opening envelopes and examining columns of figures. It is painful to most people, and life-threatening to some. When store shelves are stripped bare of necessities and remain that way for weeks at a time, panic sets in. In most places, this requires some sort of emergency response, to make sure that people are not deprived of food, shelter, medicine, and that some measure of security and public order is maintained. People who know what's coming can prepare to sit out the worst of it.

Political collapse is more painful yet, because it is directly life-threatening to many people. The breakdown of public order would be particularly dangerous in the US, because of the large number of social problems that have been swept under the carpet over the years. Americans, more than most other people, need to be defended from each other at all times. I think that I would prefer martial law over complete and utter mayhem and lawlessness, though I admit that both are very poor choices.

Social and cultural collapse seem to have already occurred in many parts of the country to a large extent. What social activity remains seems to be anchored to transitory activities like work, shopping, and sports. Religion is perhaps the largest exception, and many communities are organized around churches. But in places where society and culture remain intact, I believe that social and cultural collapse is avoidable, and that this is where we must really dig in our heels. Also, I think it is very important that we learn to see our surroundings for what they have become. In many places, it feels as if there just isn't that much left that's worth trying to save. If all the culture we see is commercial culture, and all the society we see is consumer society, then the best we can do is walk away from it, and look for other people who are ready to do the same.

There is nothing particularly deep or magical about the five stages I chose, except that they seem convenient. They correspond to the commonly distinguished aspects of everyday reality. Each stage of collapse also corresponds to a certain set of beliefs in the status quo, that is about to go by the wayside.

It is always an impressive thing to observe when reality shifts. One moment, a certain idea is seen as preposterous, and the next moment it's being treated as conventional wisdom. There seems to be a psychological mechanism involved, where nobody wants to be seen as the last fool to finally get the picture. Everybody starts pretending that they've thought that way all along, or at least for a little while, for fear of appearing foolish. It is always awkward to ask people what caused them to suddenly change their minds, because with the fear of looking foolish comes a certain loss of dignity.

The most compelling example of lots of minds suddenly going "snap" is, to my mind, the sudden demise of the USSR. It happened with Boris Yeltsin standing atop a tank, and being asked the question: "But what will become of the Soviet Union?" And his answer, pronounced with maximum gravitas was: "Henceforth I shall only refer to it as the FORMER Soviet Union." And that was that. After that, whoever still believed in the Soviet Union appeared as not just foolish, but actually crazy. For a while, there were a lot of crazy old people parading around with portraits of Lenin and Stalin. Their minds were too old to go "snap".

Here in the US, we are yet to experience any of the really major, earth-shattering realizations, the ones that look preposterous immediately before and completely obvious immediately after they occur. We have had minor tremors, mostly relating to financial assumptions. Is real estate a good investment. Will private retirement allow you to retire? Will the government bail us all out? All the major realizations are yet to come, or, as my die-hard Yuppie friends keep telling me, "Nothing's happened yet."

But by the time something does happen, it will have been too late for us to start planning for it happening. It doesn't seem all that worthwhile for us to sit around waiting for the happy event of everybody else feeling foolish all at the same time. Arrogant though that may seem, we may be better off accepting their foolishness before they do, and keeping a safe distance ahead of the prevailing opinion.

Because if we do that, we may yet succeed in finding ways to cope. We may learn to dodge financial collapse by learning to live without needing much money. We may create alternative living arrangements and informal production and distribution networks for all the necessities before commercial collapse occurs. We may organize into self-governing communities that can provide for their own security during political collapse. And all of these steps put together may put us in a position to safeguard society and culture.

Or we can just wait until everyone starts agreeing with us, because we wouldn't want them to look foolish.

Read the rest of this brilliant talk from the 5th Annual Peak Oil and Community Solutions Conference

Must Watch

New York Times Special Edition Video News Release - Nov. 12, 2008 from H Schweppes on Vimeo.

All the News We Hope to Read - Pranksters Strike Again


Published on Wednesday, November 12, 2008 by The Guardian/UK
Pranksters Distribute Fake New York Times Declaring 'Iraq War Over'
The Yes Men identified as the team behind the joke pages

by Ed Pilkington

The US defense department yesterday declared the end of the Iraq war and the immediate withdrawal of all troops, prompting an admission from Condoleeza Rice that the Bush administration knew all along that Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, according to the New York Times.

On second thought, that introductory paragraph needs a little clarification. The New York Times proper didn't report the end of the Iraq war. But a spoof 14-page "special edition" of the newspaper, circulating free on the streets of Manhattan today, did carry those items. It was printed in a form that was so high quality and technically accurate that many New Yorkers were nonplussed, backed up by an entire "New York Times" website that equally faithfully mimicked the original.

Dated July 4 2009, and boasting the front-page motto: "All the news we hope to print" in a twist on the daily's famous phrase "All the news that's fit to print", the fake paper looks forward to the day the war ends, and envisages a chain of events that would be manna from heaven for American liberals.

In one story, ExxonMobil is taken into public ownership. In another, evangelical churches, the backbone of the Bush-supporting Christian right, open the doors of their mega-churches to Iraqi refugees.

The organizers of the high-quality and evidently expensive satire have cloaked themselves deliberately in a layer of mystery. They are connected at least to some degree to a group of activists calling themselves the Yes Men, a left-wing group that seeks to expose what it claims to be the "nastiness of powerful evildoers" through sophisticated pranks.

When the Guardian contacted the Yes Men, it received a swift response from a spokesman for the New York Times spoof going by the name of Wilfred Sassoon. He said that the Yes Men had helped with distribution, but that the paper itself had been produced by a number of anonymous writers from various New York dailies, including a couple from the New York Times itself.

"The idea behind it was to get people to exercise their imaginations," "Sassoon" said. "We have just elected a new president, and we have for the first time in eight years a chance to see real change happen. But it won't happen unless we keep the pressure up on politicians to do what they were elected to do."

The project, he said, had taken about six months and had been funded by a large number of small donors.

A main target of the prank is clearly the New York Times itself. The spoof contains an editorial apologizing for the paper's "botched reporting" of the run-up to the Iraq invasion, and a column from Thomas Friedman in which he declares that he has repented of his earlier backing of the war and decided never again to write for this or any other paper.

The New York Times said it was "in the process of finding out more" about its imitation. That, at least, could be taken at face value.

To visit the site, click here.

For the full pdf version of the Edition, click here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Demand Fuel Efficient Cars & Trains from the Big 3 Automakers

Subject: We need real solutions to fight climate change.

Dear Friends,

Global climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation. What we do (or don't do) affects not only our nation, but the world. You might thank that, with a new president poised to take office, we're in a great position to take serious action to address climate change. Unfortunately, a grizzled legislator named John Dingell, known as the "Congressman from General Motors," is standing in our way.

The most important pieces of legislation addressing climate change must pass through the House Energy and Commerce Committee. As chair of that committee, Congressman Dingell has exerted his power time and again to kill bills that could roll back global warming. Dingell has lined his campaign war chest with millions of dollars of contributions from electric, oil and coal companies. His wife (and potential successor to his Congressional seat) is a senior executive at General Motors. What's more, until recently, he wouldn't even admit that climate change was a real threat.

I just signed a petition calling on my member of Congress to vote for Congressman Henry Waxman (a staunch environmentalist) to replace Dingell as the Energy and Commerce Chair -- I hope you will too.

Please have a look and take action.

Keith Johnson

Change Your Fuel - Change the World

Just watched the trailer for this film. Looking forward to the rest...

In theaters: November 14, 2008
Record high oil prices, global warming, and an insatiable demand for energy: these issues will be the catalyst for heated debates and positive change for many years to come. 2008 Sundance award-winning film FUEL exposes shocking connections between the auto industry, the oil industry and the government, while exploring alternative energies such as solar, wind, electricity and non-food-based biofuels. Josh Tickell and his Veggie Van take us on the road as we discover the pros and cons of biofuels, how America’s addiction to oil is destroying the U.S. economy and how green energy can save us, but only if we act now.

As the media begins to "get" the film, we're beginning to receive questions that are far more diverse. The connection between our national addiction to oil and our failing economy is becoming clearer by the day. (I was disheartened to see Circuit City is closing over 100 stores - right before the holiday season - ouch!) And now, with yet another bailout for automakers on the table, we see another issue covered in FUEL - how to restart America's dying auto industry. My personal feeling is the $25 billion would be better spent with new companies that are already producing green cars. GM's 40 mile per charge VOLT is a joke, especially when independent car companies already have 120 mile per charge vehicles on their production lines. Why subsidize the fossil car companies? They've destroyed their home city Detroit, they've kept innovation out of the marketplace through monopolistic activity and they have displayed a lack of leadership and a consistent distaste for progressive ideas that cut the use of FUEL. We go to Detroit in the movie FUEL - once people see what's really going on with these car companies - I think they'll agree that the big 3 should be giving the American public $25 billion back - not the other way around.

Director:Josh Tickell
Cast:Barbara Boxer, Sir Richard Branson, Sheryl Crow, Larry David, Laurie David, Larry Hagman, Woody Harrelson

New Sharon Astyk Book!!!

A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis On American Soil

by Sharon Astyk

Once we could fill our grocery carts with cheap and plentiful food, but not anymore. Cheap food has gone the way of cheap oil. Climate change is already reducing crop yields worldwide. The cost of flying in food from far away and shipping it across the country in refrigerated trucks is rapidly becoming unviable. Cars and cows increasingly devour grain harvests, sending prices skyrocketing. More Americans than ever before require food stamps and food pantries just to get by, and a worldwide food crisis is unfolding, overseas and in our kitchens.

We can keep hunger from stalking our families, but doing so will require a fundamental shift in our approach to field and table. A Nation of Farmers examines the limits and dangers of the globalized food system and shows how returning to the basics is our best hope. The book includes in-depth guidelines for:

  • Creating resilient local food systems
  • Growing, cooking, and eating sustainably and naturally
  • Becoming part of the solution to the food crisis

The book argues that we need to make self-provisioning, once the most ordinary of human activities, central to our lives. The results will be better food, better health, better security, and freedom from corporations that don’t have our interests at heart.

This is critical reading for anyone who eats and cares about high-quality food.

Sharon Astyk farms in New York, and is the author of Depletion and Abundance.

Aaron Newton is a sustainable systems land planner in North Carolina, and is the founding editor of Groovy Green.

Do-It-Yourself Microbiological fuel cells from dirt?

Basic Science with an Applied Product

Geobacter species are of interest because of their novel electron transfer capabilities, impact on the natural environment and their application to the bioremediation of contaminated environments and harvesting electricity from waste organic matter. The first Geobacter species (initially designated strain GS-15) was isolated from the Potomac River, just down stream from Washington D.C. in 1987. This organism, known as Geobacter metallireducens,

G. metallireducens [larger image]
© 2005 eye of science
was the first organism found to oxidize organic compounds to carbon dioxide with iron oxides as the electron acceptor. In other words, Geobacter metallireducens gains its energy by using iron oxides (a rust-like mineral) in the same way that humans use oxygen. As outlined in the publication links, Geobacter metallireducens and other Geobacter species that have subsequently been isolated provide a model for important iron transformations on modern earth and may explain geological phenomena, such as the massive accumulation of magnetite in ancient iron formations.

Geobacter species are also of interest because of their role in environmental restoration. For example, Geobacter species can destroy petroleum contaminants in polluted groundwater by oxidizing these compounds to harmless carbon dioxide. As understanding of the functioning of Geobacter species has improved it has been possible to use this information to modify environmental conditions in order to accelerate the rate of contaminant degradation. As outlined under the Bioremediation link, Geobacter species are also useful for removing radioactive metal contaminants from groundwater.

Geobacter species also have the ability to transfer electrons onto the surface of electrodes. As outlined under the Microbial Fuel Cell link, this has made it possible to design novel microbial fuel cells which can efficiently convert waste organic matter to electricity.

As outlined under the Genomics and Systems Biology link, the genomes of several Geobacter species have been sequenced and are being incorporated into a computer model that can predict Geobacter metabolism under different environmental conditions. This systems biology approach is greatly accelerating the understanding of how Geobacter species function and the optimization of bioremediation and energy harvesting applications.

[The following found at 12 Degrees of Freedom]

“You can just literally make energy from dirt”

Buckminster Fuller often talked about the difference between making money and making sense. Focusing exclusively on the former leads us down the road of over-consumption, environmental degradation, loss of biodiversity, social injustice and the global climate change.

Fuller practices something he called Comprehensive Anticipatory Design Science. Simply put he sought to solve problems of human life support by observing Nature and developing technologies based on her design strategy of "doing more with less".

Some of the best discoveries emerging from this process will not make the discoverer rich, but will make the world a better place for everyone.

Last year I was visiting the University of Massachusetts in Amherst and met Professor Derek Lovely. He was working with a bacteria known as Geobacter that possess electron transfer abilities capable of generating electricity in soils. I thought this was a very exciting concept, but had forgotten about it until I came across the following article. (GW)

For Africa, ‘Energy From Dirt’

START-UP companies around the world are looking at Africa — where 74 percent of the population lives without electricity — as a test market for new, off-the-grid lighting technologies.

Many of these efforts involve wind or solar power. But one group in Cambridge, Mass., is working to develop fuel cells made from the bacteria that occur in soil or waste.

“You can just literally make energy from dirt,” said Aviva Presser, a graduate student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “And there’s a lot of dirt in Africa.”

Ms. Presser is one of the founders of Lebone Solutions, which is being financed by a $200,000 World Bank grant and private investments. Lebone’s idea is a microbial fuel cell, a battery that makes a small amount of energy out of materials like manure, graphite cloth and soil, which are common to African households.

But Lebone — which means “light stick” in the Sotho language — does not just want to make the batteries and sell them to African consumers. The group hopes that eventually, as the technology becomes more refined, each household will be able to build a battery at a one-time cost of no more than $15.

“Africans are very, very creative,” said Hugo Van Vuuren, a Lebone founder. “It’s very entrepreneurial, just not in the way we traditionally define entrepreneurial.”

Mr. Van Vuuren, who is from Pretoria, South Africa, and who graduated from Harvard last year with a degree in economics, likened the simplicity of the battery to “the potato experiment that most of us did in high school class,” a two-step reaction that produces a simple charge.

But the bacteria in a microbial fuel cell produce electrons while doing what they naturally are supposed to do: metabolize organic waste, like dead leaves or grass or compost, for energy. The electrons then stick to an electrode, like a piece of graphite, and the chemical reaction that follows creates a small charge sufficient to power a small lamp or cellphone.

“It can be made by people with minimal training,” Ms. Presser said. “It doesn’t take a massive investment.”

The founders of the Lebone team were classmates at Harvard, and looking at sustainable lighting technologies for Africa was their class project. Last summer, they took the technology to Leguruki, a village in Tanzania, to see how the batteries work in households. For three hours each night, six families used batteries made of manure, graphite cloth and buckets, and a copper wire to conduct the current to a circuit board.

While in Leguruki, Mr. Van Vuuren said, the group learned as much about the people who used the batteries as the batteries themselves.

“People walk an hour or more a day to the local high schools to get their phones charged for two or three days,” he said, noting that the phones were sources of light as well as communication devices. The batteries are also used to power radios, Mr. Van Vuuren said, as important a medium of communication in Africa as the cellphone.

“Ideally, they would like to have a refrigerator,” Mr. Van Vuuren said. “But right now, their key need is a cellphone.”

Mr. Van Vuuren and several of his fellow Lebone researchers know the challenges of Africa personally, which he credits for the group’s commitment to focusing on Africa first.

“We are a group of Africans that have had the privilege of a first-rate education,” he said. “There are very few people who have insights into both. We lived through it.”

The group is expanding the refined prototypes into Namibia, where, over the next two years, it will examine how more easily available materials, like chicken wire, will create electricity. Mr. Van Vuuren said his group wanted to test the microbial cell batteries in African settings before bringing them to the American market.

Eventually, Lebone wants to create a new business model for energy distribution in Africa, helping to funnel fuel cells and other technologies tested in Africa to distributors there, rather than reducing developed technologies to meet African needs.

“If you work within those constraints, you can create something that works in the developed and developing world,” Mr. Van Vuuren said. “There’s no reason that people need to A: starve, or B: can’t read at night.”
Bug Powered Batteries interview w/ Derek Lovely, researcher.

Tell YOUR Peak Oil Blues story.....

Are you 'coping' or 'freaking out' about Peak Oil?

What's a 'normal' reaction to learning about a post-oil world?

Fear? Anxiety? Shock? Depression?

No one really knows.

Many people say preparation is "90% mental," but how do you separate out what's "mental preparation" from what's just "acting mental?"

At Peak Oil Blues we explore what we've learned about various emotional reactions.

The goal of Peak Oil Blues is to help you build the kind of world you want to live in. Sanely.

[I just added them to the blogroll. KJ]

New Books in Pc Activist Catalog

Now we need a book about farming and gardening responses to climate change.

Extreme Weather Hits Home
Protecting Your Buildings from Climate Change
By John C. Banta
256pp, 2007, $23

We know how to prepare our homes for each seasonal change, but do we know how to prepare for climate change? Violent weather events like floods, tornadoes, ice storms and hurricanes only tell part of the story. Climate change is frequently more subtle but its effects on our homes and properties can still be devastating.

Nearly 50 percent of North America has a potential for structural damage from shifting moisture in expansive clay soils; a condition that is already costing billions of dollars each year. Humidity is projected to increase, trapping moisture in wall cavities and resulting in deterioration. As the climate changes and moisture levels adjust, there are a number of proactive steps that can be taken to prevent or lessen expensive repairs.

Extreme Weather is the only book of its kind that shows how to protect your home or business from climate change, by focusing on the following areas:

* Risk and causal assessment, due to region and soil
* Extreme weather’s rapid and slow effects
* Site, foundation, wall, and roof considerations and modifications
* Insurance options
* Anticipated changes for the United States, Canada and Mexico

Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty:
A Guidebook on Peak Oil and Global Warming for Local Governments

by Daniel Lerch 2007, 113pp, $28

Post Carbon Cities: Planning for Energy and Climate Uncertainty is a guidebook on peak oil and global warming for people who work with and for local governments in the United States and Canada. It provides a sober look at how these phenomena are quickly creating new uncertainties and vulnerabilities for cities of all sizes, and explains what local decision-makers can do to address these challenges.

Post Carbon Cities fills an important gap in the resources currently available to local government decision-makers on planning for the changing global energy and climate context of the 21st century.

"How will we cope with a future of energy scarcity? As a policy maker I look to other communities for inspiration and ideas, but there's been a lack of information on what local governments are doing to adapt to Peak Oil. Post Carbon Cities fills this gap: herein lies the roadmap plotted by the cities that are leading the way. Enthusiastically recommended!"
Dave Rollo, City Council President, Blooomington, Indiana

"Post Carbon Cities is an exceptionally clear and comprehensive call-to-action to those who actually work in the trenches of city governance. We don't have any more time to waste getting ready for an energy-scarcer future, and for those who remain dazed and confused, this book is an excellent place to start."
--James Howard Kunstler, author of The Long Emergency and The Geography of Nowhere

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Oilfields in rapid decline....11 more years?

"Nine Percent"

By Richard Heinberg for the Post Carbon Institute

The Financial Times has leaked the results of the International Energy Agency's long-awaited study of the depletion profiles of the world's 400 largest oilfields, indicating that, "Without extra investment to raise production, the natural annual rate of output decline is 9.1 per cent."

This is a stunning figure.

Considering regular crude oil only, this means that 6.825 million barrels a day of new production capacity must come on line each year just to keep up with the aggregate natural decline rate in existing oilfields. That's a new Saudi Arabia every 18 months.

The Financial Times story goes on:

"The findings suggest the world will struggle to produce enough oil to make up for steep declines in existing fields, such as those in the North Sea, Russia and Alaska, and meet long-term demand. The effort will become even more acute as [oil] prices fall and investment decisions are delayed."

This is putting it mildly. Investment capital is being vaporized almost daily in a global deflationary bonfire of unprecedented ferocity. Oil production projects are being mothballed left and right.

Inter alia, the IEA takes the requisite swat at "peak oil theorists," who, the agency somehow still believes, are saying that the world is "running out of oil." Of course that's NOT what peak oil theorists say, but a correct summation of their position would have to be followed with a statement to the effect that, "Our research supports their position," which would be just too embarrassing.

Sadly, the IEA feels it must pull its punch even further. With adequate investment in new small oilfields and unconventional sources like tarsands, it insists, the world can still achieve higher levels of production. In other words, if the $12 trillion that vanished from the world stock markets last week were invested in new tarsands projects, then theoretically a few more years of total oil production growth could be eked out (not growth in net energy production, mind you, but in the gross—and I do mean gross—production of exotic, very expensive stuff that it's physically possible to run your car on, assuming you could afford to do so).

Of course, any realistic assessment either of the likelihood of that level of investment appearing, or of the ability of new projects to really produce a sufficient rate of flow regardless of the size of the cash infusion, would end merely in a hearty belly-laugh.

Evidently peeved about being scooped on its planned November 12 press conference roll-out of the study, the IEA has disavowed the Financial Times story. But if nine percent is even close to being the final figure, then it's absolutely clear: July 2008 was the all-time peak in world oil production. Don't expect anyone at the IEA to officially admit that fact until 2025 or so. But among those who pay attention to the evidence and the terms of the debate, further ink need not be spilled in speculation.

Peak oil is history.