Peak oil - The end of america as we know it?

I have only recently stumbled across SEB, but the vast majority of what I have read here leads me to believe that there are some bright, thoughtful, reasonable people about.

I recently stumbled across a documentary called The End of Suburbia. Although I thought the beginning and end were a bit silly, the core message throughout it is that we are all going to be quite screwed here in the very near future due to sever lack of natural gas and oil and no longer having the infrastructure as a country to support ourselves. I would like to think that it is tinfoil hat material, but my gut reaction was that the statements made are truth and I have just never added the the facts up…

Digging about on the net for information on ‘peak oil’, ‘end of suburbia’, and other things noted in the documentary, I am fairly convinced that we are in fact going to be up the creek without a paddle here sooner rather than later… and our government and media both seem to be purposefully ignoring this.

Anywise, I only figured I would submit this to see if any among you have read much on this or have any insights into this situation. With almost everything in our current living styles being heavily reliant on oil, it looks like anyone who is not filthy rich is destined to be dirt poor and fighting just to get food in the not to distant future.

Am I missing something? Or just gullible? I would like the latter to be proven… but am thinking this is not the case. The more I search the net, the more information I find supporting peak oil in the very near future.
(hopefully I am going about submitting this correctly)

77 thoughts on “Peak oil - The end of america as we know it?

  1. It’s not exactly a secret that natural resources are running low. It’s never in the news is probably because no-one cares, how many people want to know that they wont be able to get any petrol in a couple of decades (max) when they could be finding out about dirty secrets of celebs and politicians!

    Meh, we’ll just wind up switching to nuclear power in about ten years and then run everything we can off of electricity.

    Then when the uranium is gone and large portions of our country’s are occupied by untouchable power stations, we will eventually realise that we are quite screwed.

    On the bright side impending doom does wonders for research.

  2. Ahhhh Hubbert’s peak. Have read extensively on the subject and follow the markets daily. A bit scary to think about especially with a billion people in China and thier demand growing at about a 30% clip each year. If anyone is interested Kenneth S. Deffeyes has written a couple books on the subject, I just finished reading Beyond Oil, some very technical reading but well worth it.

  3. rest assured that we’ll die naturally before any adequate action is taken toward a positive, green future.

    “only when the last tree has died and the last river has been poisoned and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we can’t eat money.”
    – cree proverb.

  4. A special issue of Scientific American, Crossroads for planet Earth just hit the stands and I am starting to wade through it.  It’s a broad-spectrum, comprehensive look at this and many other resource and population issues.

  5. Yes, we are going to run out of oil and natural gas sooner rather than later. 

    Will we really go all nuclear powered electric?  Don’t know. 

    However, I am thinking that someway, somehow when the human condition forces the human population to get creative… we will produce alternatives to meet our needs. 

    Now how soon?  How many suffer in the process?  How GREEN friendly will some of those alternatives be along the path of our planet’s and this species’ survival?  I dunno.

  6. Recommended reading

    James Howard Kunstler:

    Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America’s Man-Made Landscape

    Home from Nowhere: Remaking our everyday world for the 21st Century

    and

    The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of the Oil Age, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-first Century

    and visit his blog at…

    http://jameshowardkunstler.typepad.com/clusterfuck_nation/

    It’s called, appropriately, Clusterfuck Nation.

  7. I have been reading about peak oil for the last couple of years.  Of course, reaching the Hubbert Peak (if we haven’t already), doesn’t mean the oil is gone, just that it becomes more and more scarce and expensive.  The thing to keep in mind about petroleum is that it is not just for energy.  There is a wide range of uses in everyday life from synthetic textiles to plastics to tar for roads.  The biggest hit that industrialized nations will take is certainly on the “cheap energy” front.  From what I have read, none of the alternative fuels that we are working with is anywhere near ready to fully supply our energy demands, let alone at the same or nearly same cost.  Many of the studies on nuclear energy don’t even bother to add in the costs of constructing a nuclear plant- they just use operational cost figures!  All of these issues won’t affect just the US, but any “modern” industrialized nation- Japan, the European nations, Australia, Canada, China, etc…  Those least affected will be the traditional hunting/gathering societies, then the subsistence farmers, and finally the other mostly agrarian societies.  While this does mean the end of our current lifestyles, it is not all bad.  It certainly won’t mean the end of mankind (unless the fools in power or terrorists start launching nuclear warheads) and it takes about 5o years for greenhouse gases to begin equalizing, so that’s “good” from a global warming standpoint.  Should be an interesting century.

  8. I am of the belief that all the alternatives we need for petroleum have already been developed, but there’s just too many important people making too much money in petroleum, and pressure to stick with fossil fuels. (I like a good conspiracy… they can cure HIV and cancer too, I’ll bet, if you can pay)

    I remember seeing a story about mountains of used tires, some of them burning out of control, and how they pollute the enviornment when there are really so many good uses for them. The biggest one was as an aggregate in asphalt. Seems if you grind up old tires and mix them into the blacktop for a highway, that highway will last many many years more without a single pothole, and the rubber from the tires makes the road quieter to drive on, and less abrasive, saving your car’s tires. But, we cant have all those road laborers out of work, we cant have all the asphalt companies sitting around waiting decades for a road to need patching, and who’ll need all the tar it takes to make a road if the road lasts so long… petroleum not being used at alarming rates? Can’t have that.

    The world is SO not driven by what the public really needs. It’s driven by what the wallets of those in charge really need.

    ND

  9. Now might be a reeeeally good time for everyone to learn how to grow their own vegetables and get a bicycle.

    Inspiration:  it never hurts to read “Walden” (Henry David Thoreau) again.  Another more recent book is “Better Off:  Flipping the Switch on Technology” by Eric Brende.  Brende is an MIT graduate; some of what he writes you have to take with a grain of salt, usually when he’s playing amateur psychologist/sociologist and draws some bemusing conclusions, but otherwise his book makes for a good read.

    I haven’t turned into a tree-huggin’ hippie living in a log cabin, but since reading those two books I’ve made some lifestyle changes and found I am just as happy (if not happier) doing with less. 

    I’m probably preaching to the choir here, but I really think part of the problem is we are just not used to thinking where things like food, power, fuel, clothing, etc. come from beyond the obvious answers like “farm”, “power plant”, “factory”, and where they end up when we’re through with them.  As long as we can get what we want (or think we want) when we want it, and as long as we don’t have to think about it when it’s gone, who cares about the toll on the environment, the political impact, or the social impact? 

    I agree with NurseDaddy … if someone discovered the cure for AIDS, and let’s say it was something inanely simple and cheap, the drug companies who make the drug cocktails and such would go apeshit and suppress it—all driven by a lust for money and materialism.

    Sorry to ramble so.

    —Joe

  10. (offtopic)If you go to Kunstler’s site, be sure to see the Eyesore of the month – very entertaining.

    I doubt that drug companies could suppress a cheap cure for AIDS.  More likely curing AIDS is a devilishly complicated problem and they have not solved it yet.  They’re happy to profit from it and they may have execs who are that evil, but the likelihood of keeping any secret is divided by the number of people who know it.  All it would take is one blogging research assistant.(/offtopic)

    As for going back to a log cabin and raising our own food, forget it.  The agrarian model supported a billion or two people in constant danger of starvation and disease.  The industrial model has been supporting 6+ bn people, some in similar danger.  Suppose the world’s economy goes south, the industrial model fails, and you own 40 acres and a mule.  You build a cabin and raise your own food.  Starving people will just leave you alone?

    Better we focus our efforts on a good transition through the bottleneck.

  11. Some shorter term thoughts on oil. (1) I recall reading that the alternative fuels don’t become economically feasible until oil reaches about $70 per barrel, which we are approaching. (If I don’t take too long with this post.) (2) In constant $s, oil gasoline prices haven’t reached the levels that we saw in the oil shocks of 70s and early 80s. Nor have we seen any of the inflation of that era. (3) Our behavior vis-avis did change as a result of that period of shortages, overall consumption went down.

    A special issue of Scientific American, Crossroads for planet Earth just hit the stands and I am starting to wade through it.  It’s a broad-spectrum, comprehensive look at this and many other resource and population issues.

    I’ll have to check that out. (As if my worry closet isn’t full enough.)

    Water is one of the things that doesn’t receive a lot of MSM attention in this country. Fortune Magazine contends that, as a business opportunity, water will be the oil of the 21st century. Last February CBC News ran a special called Water for profit how multinationals are taking control of a public resource.

  12. I doubt that drug companies could suppress a cheap cure for AIDS.

    I was just being facetious here.

    As for going back to a log cabin and raising our own food, forget it … Starving people will just leave you alone?

    I meant everyone should consider being more self-sufficient.  Obviously this isn’t going to happen, so if the infrastructure collapsed and it was just little ol’ me was living happily in my log cabin, I guess I’d either be murdered for my food or I’d have to get me a rifle.  And since I’m not keen on getting a rifle, I guess I’ll just have to die.  Or pull a Zardoz and bliss out behind the periphery shield of Vortex Four while the starving masses watched from the other side.  wink

    —Joe

  13. Friggin’ optimists. grin

    I’ve been watching this for several years, and thinking my own private thoughts about what might happen.

    The best models I can see aren’t the friendly, blithe, “Well, we’ll just do something else, won’t we, old chaps? Carry on, no worries! The soaring human spirit and all, what what?

  14. Gee Hank. That was a thought-provoking post.

    I’m saddened by the fact that these types of scenarios will likely happen in my 3 1/2 year old’s lifetime. Poor boy. Poor innocent boy. I remember sitting in the back seat of my mom’s ‘68 Olds land yacht, wondering what odd and even meant, and why we were sitting in a long line blocks away from the gas station. But nobody ever said we’d run out.

    There is so much wrong with the way things are going, and so little the average citizen can do about it. There are so few people who take the time to hang up their cell phones, park their DVD mind numbing system equipped SUV, turn off the constant barrage of advertisments, and give any of it any thought. And some of those that do look for ways to profit from it. Remember when all the lights went out that afternoon in August? There was one local gas station owner who had his pumps running; he had a generator keeping him in business. So he jacked his gas prices upwards of 4 bucks a gallon because he was the only station open for miles around. Many people do not go there anymore because of what he did, even if it means that they have to drive a few miles further to fill up. He’d be the one to kill you over a loaf of bread, I’d bet.

    Sad. Really friggin sad. 🙁

    ND

  15. Hank Fox,

    I’mn only going to rise up and agree with you. I’ve been researching Peak Oil for some time now and I lost track of how many papers on the subject I’ve read. No alternative energy source or combination of sources is going to replace oil. We’re more or less screwed.
        I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m stocking up on cheap clothing, 20 year shelf life foods and other essentials while I can.

  16. Hank, the oil is not going to just pick a day and run out.  It will get scarce and more expensive, and when it does, people will start making money on conservation and alternatives.  Also, as oil becomes more expensive, demand will fall and people will change their consumption habits.

    Even some oil companies see this coming and have begun to work on alternatives.  The nation of Dubai is preparing for the post-oil economy too.  Smart A-rabbs; they’re thinking ahead.

    Imagine you were in the photographic film industry.  You could be like Agfa and go broke, or you could be like Kodak and go digital.  Do it too soon and you go broke; do it too late and you go broke.  Same idea – not the soaring human spirit but the almighty buck.

    Cause for worry?  Sure; ask the tens of thousands of out-of-work Kodak film-division employees.  Similar disruption throughout the economy, whith some rather agonizing brown stuff hitting the fan.

    I agree things are going to get bad and a lot of people will die.  Probably not billions of people.  Odds the US will still be #1 when things open back up again, close to zero.  A pity, didn’t have to be that way.  Credit the Shrub.

    Occasionally I hear someone worrying about the human race going extinct.  NOT likely.  I do worry about my kids and grandkids though.

  17. Water is one of the things that doesn’t receive a lot of MSM attention in this country. Fortune Magazine contends that, as a business opportunity, water will be the oil of the 21st century. Last February CBC News ran a special called Water for profit how multinationals are taking control of a public resource.

    The sooner that market forces “take control of a public resource”, the sooner that appropriate price signals from the market can encourage conservation. Things which are scarce should cost more. China has virtually free water and power—not coincidentally, China is exceptionally wasteful of these resources. Per unit of energy, the U.S. is five times more productive than China. We do more with less, in part because we have to buy most of our resources at market prices.

  18. Let me preface this with the fact that for the first time in my life, I feel like I am wearing a tinfoil hat.

    That being said, after reading more and more on peak oil and the current state of politics around the world from sites such as fromthewilderness.com, dieoff.org, lifeaftertheoilcrash.net, etc, the more I am starting to think that things here in the us (and around the world) are going to get very bad, very quickly.

    I would like to think that this will not take place overnight (e.g. prices will rise over time), but if our greedy leaders decide to antagonize the rest of the modern world over the remaining oil supply, we could find ourselves cut off from trade with a worthless dollar almost overnight…and we no longer have the infrastructure to support ourselves.

    This is probably too bleak of a picture for most people to wrap their heads around, and obviously one of the worst case scenarios…but a likely one in my mind with our current leadership.

    Even if bush and company do not hose us all completely and we actually have 2-5 years, if everyone saw the big picture tomorrow we would still be hard pressed to support half of our population by then (speaking food here, not shelter, energy, etc).

    Yes, some state this cannot happen for 15-30 years…but those stating such do not seem to have any evidence or numbers to base their claims off of while those stating doom and gloom in the near future do.

    One thing that makes this even harsher than it would otherwise be is that there do not seem to be any good answers. At best, it seems like those who can prepare food wise and weather their environment might be ok…but that could just be my lack of faith in my fellow man shining through.

    On an up note, it does look like there are groups working on making self sustaining communities out there and as mentioned above, one could just head out and start a homestead if one has the knowledge to do so.

    Just from what I have been able to dig up in the last 24 hours, I have to say that I think Hank Fox is correct in this. I hope not, but I have always preferred facts and reason to hope…and all the facts and reason I have seen point to the worst coming sooner rather than later.

    Well, I guess now that I have things a bit straighter in my head, all that is left is research and preparation. I will be more than happy to look the fool on this one, but in the mean time I am not going to hope things will just work out when the information out there states otherwise and I have a wife and two daughters to take care of (3yrs and 8mo).

    And how to approach friends and family with this kind of news? “Gee mom, the world as we know it is going to end within a year or two…possibly as soon as a few months from now if Bush really screws things up…”

    I guess maybe I will just send them all a copy of the end of suburbia and some links to websites and ask what they think…much else and they are going to think me stark raving mad.

    I don’t expect many (if any) of them to believe this is coming, but it would be so much easier for a group of people to setup a small, sustainable community than it will be for individual people.

    What a nightmare…

  19. I’m with DOF on this one. I don’t think things are going to go to hell in a hand basket overnight, though I do think things are likely to get pretty bad for awhile until we get our heads out of the sand. I can’t help but think of the big panic and rampant doomsday scenarios that were flying all over the place about Y2K, and we all know how much of a non-event that ended up being.

    Obviously not everyone is ignoring the problem and, as DOF pointed out, some folks are already planning ahead in anticipation that these problems will get worse in the not so distant future. After all there’s certain to be a good profit margin for anyone who manages to come up with a reasonable—or even semi-reasonable—alternative once the shit starts to really hit the fan.

  20. Me and my father have been reading up on this ever since I was 12 and we have come to one inescapable conclusion on the destiny of mankind – if the oil crash doesn’t get us, the next super-virus will. Either way, at least 50% of the world’s population is going to die. Sure, it seems like a bleak estimate, but look at it this way: less people = less resources nessesary to spread among them.

    I may be flowing in the same vein of pessemism as hank fox on this one, but this is how I see the near future playing out…

    10-20 years: Gas and oil become more scarce and eventually dry up, provoking world war 3 over what little remains.

    20-50 years: After the main civilization crash, its gonna be a ‘mad max’ society (use your imaginations).

    50-100 years: If humanity is STILL alive after the long anarchy society (and the plagues that come with it), we’re gonna be down to about 3 billion people on the globe (and thats a GENEROUS estimate). By this time, all the oil on the planet is gone and so is most of the ammunition (since the factories that made them shut down and were raided 50 years ago), and hopefully, somewhere along the line, humanity will figure out some way to stop shoving their thumbs up their collective asses and figure out a way to cooperate and rebuild society from the ground up…hopefully a better society than this.

    Yes, I am well aware i sound like a pessemistic prick by saying this, but to me, this just seems like the next logical step for humanity, given its current situation and the probability of a voluntary mass change.

    Oh, and just on a side note, my Dad bet me dollars to donuts that China will emerge as the next ‘big power’ after the U.S, simply because they have sheer force of numbers (half the world’s population).

    Anyway, thats just my $0.02. Your view on humanity’s future may vary.

  21. All this ‘crash’ and ‘doomsday’ business seems, at least in the developed nations, to be a pretty rash estimate.

    As said before, the decline of oil will be a gradual thing (that doesn’t make a few stock market panics impossible). New energies WILL be developed or developed ones will become commercially viable. Hydrogen HAS been proven to be a worthy option, but the infrastructure is devilishly complicated, more difficult to erect than the oil infrastructure (and oil-buring cars are simpler than hydrogen fuel-cars as well). So its only gonna be built once it really becomes necessary. Maybe we will have a decade or two where we all drive around in public transport or in small duel-efficient cars that still cost an arm and a leg to maintain. But things will go on.

    As a small aside – while I concur that biofuels probably aren’t the solution (I heard that you’d have to plant half of Brazil – 50 % of ALL of Brazil! – with those crops to get 10% of the worlds demand, though I may get the figures wrong), growing biofuel use will not make the world go more hungry. We already HAVE enough food in this world. The poor sods in Africa just cannot afford it. Here in Europe we have a way too big agriculture output, and are paying/subsidizing farmers to leave fields fallow, and to destroy produce.

    But back to the oil peak: I think the really dangerous result may be a showdown between industrial nations. Namely between the US and China. As said before in post above, China is going to need more and more oil, and its factories demand more and more ressources.

    This may eventually lead to a reverse Pearl Harbor situation (taken to the extreme). China, much closer to most of the worlds oil and raw materials, may try to gain control of them – via economic or military means. The US, feeling itself threatened of being choked off (I can already hear the politicans: ‘The Chinese are stealing our oil! They are strangling the (remaining) US industry!). THAT could be the real flashpoint of the 21st century. And the more hard-hit by oil-shortages, the more desperate the players will be…

    If we are lucky, all we will get are a few periods of deep economic depression. If we are not, a conflict between nuclear-armed nations.

  22. I’ve always been of the mind that a shift of allegiance amongst the Saudis and/or OPEC towards the East, away from the West (or, worse, against just America, alone) would trigger a PeakOil-esque scenario.  It would have Depression Era changes to the US economy.

    Today, however, we’ve managed to install an fail-safe against such a disaster.

    In this new era, an alQaeda backed coup in Saudi Arabia would certainly trigger the scenario described by PeakOil.  Or, a few small nukes in key Persian Gulf ports would do the same.  These plausible events could trigger a PeakOil scenarion, but only if the US were unable to secure the Arabian Penn. oil fields as the chaos unfolded.  Fortunately, we now have the capability in this region to do so in a matter of days, with a degree of force not politically possible in the Iraq War.  While this would disrupt the amount of oil available on the wider open world market, America and her close allies would have enough energy to R&D ourselves out of this liability in a about decade.  And, motivated we would be.

    American/Western ingenuity, spurred by a military timb-bomb, would hopefully rise to the challenge, if American’s have not become too soft and bitter.

    rob@egoz.org

  23. Ingolfson, I haven’t studied up on hydrogen, but here’s what I think I know:

    Oil comes out of the ground. The concentrated energy it represents was laid down millions of years ago, and it takes a tiny fraction of its energy to extract it.

    Hydrogen comes from water. The water’s practically free, but to extract the hydrogen from it takes MORE energy than the extracted hydrogen contains.

    In other words, and speaking loosely/metaphorically (I have no idea of the precise cost of oil or hydrogen extraction), to get a barrel of oil, you might have to spend 10 percent of it on extraction.

    But to get a “barrel” of hydrogen, you’d have to spend TWO barrels of it—or more—on extraction. Which means all of the energy in hydrogen has to come from somewhere else.

    Oil is a SOURCE of energy, hydrogen is an energy SINK. 

    Hydrogen is only a form of energy transmission … and the energy carried in it is obtained from some other source.

    Think of hydrogen as a sort of pipeline that carries energy from one place to another, but it’s a very leaky pipeline that loses (due to the cost of extraction) well over half of the original energy.

  24. Many future predictions, both optimistic and pessimistic, are based on the assumption that society must continue in its current form, with rampant consumerism, so-called creature comforts, willful ignorance, planned obsolescence, corporate greed, and a sense of empire and entitlement. 

    In general, scientists and political experts have been warning over the years about this and that, and nobody pays them any heed (or the media won’t give them adequate coverage because it might depress too many viewers), and then when something awful happens … “Oh, this is terrible?  How could this have happened?  Woe is us!  We’re so surprised.”

    There is so much wrong with the way things are going, and so little the average citizen can do about it.

    It’s not that there’s so little the average citizen can do about it; it’s that there’s so little the average citizen is willing to do about it.  I try to live green, I try to be aware of “the issues” and act accordingly, but also try to live and let live and not be one of those annoying people who preaches at everyone (“Why don’t you use cloth diapers?!  Don’t you know that potato chip bag will sit in a landfill for a hundred years?!”)—maybe I should be a bit more outspoken.  But I think most people really don’t care, and I’ve done the Don Quixote thing enough—I guess I don’t care enough either.  It’s discouraging—esp after the last election.

    “Oh…oh, gosh…you know, I’m not much on speeches, but it’s so gratifying to leave you wallowing in the mess you’ve made.  You’re screwed, thank you, bye.”

    —Joe

  25. Have those noting that this is unlikely to come even semi-soon (or be nearly as bad as it seems to me) taken a hard look at the information out there (including which information is based on numbers/studies and which information is not)?

    I am not saying you are wrong, but am wondering if you could point me towards information that would lead to such conclusions as I am not finding it from anywhere other than places simply taking false information and basing their estimations on it.

    I am not saying the world is ending, lets all freak out, but rather that it might be prudent to keep up on things and (if it seems rational to you) to try and take some preparative steps?

    I realize it sounds crazy. I mean, here I sit in my McMansion out the the suburbs of north seattle with my wife and kids finishing up breakfast as I type this. Soon, I will be heading out to earn more money for rich people that pay themselves my yearly salary every 2 weeks. Not a ripple of unrest on the surface, no information pointing to anything so drastic coming as all of the brain dead media keeps telling people to “buy buy buy” and makes no mention that hard times might be not too far off.

    Taken with this picture, this could not possibly be true. However, the utter silence pertaining to these things speaks quite loudly in my mind…though the most I can do is:
    a) Start stocking up on foods
    b) Start stocking up on books that might be needed
    c) Finish paying off debt (almost there finally)
    d) Sell our house
    e) Attempt to get what will be needed to build a house that supplies its own energy and start a garden. (Amazingly, this can be done for less than I paid for the house we are in now…)

    If things do not go south for a while, then I might be able to get all of this done in time.

    If things do not go south at all, then I guess I will have plenty of canned and dried foods for a while, but be out nothing otherwise.

    If things go south extremely soon, then at least I will not have to start out with people coming and trying to kick us out of our house or fighting over food.

    Anywise, I will be quite glad if all the work coming is unnecessary…but even more glad if things really kick off fast and I am already a bit prepared for it.

  26. I’ve read up on it here and there as I’ve come across articles about it and I’m not saying that it isn’t possible that it may all come to pass as described. I am skeptical about how soon and how bad it’ll actually be only because of past experiences with things such as Y2K which was A) much more likely to be an overnight disaster and B) ended up being dealt with surprisingly well considering all the folks running around saying there was no way we’d ever get all the systems fixed before the end of 1999.

    If it were to happen tomorrow there’s no question we’d all be royally screwed, but it doesn’t appear likely that this will be the case. The one advantage to a looming disaster is that as it becomes more apparent more people start paying attention to it and trying to figure out how to avert it. This is a good thing and there’s definitely value in discussing the worst-case scenarios such as we are here to help spread the awareness.

    Should you start stocking up on non-perishables and learning how to build a solar power generator? Well, that’s up to you. As Religion points out there’s certainly no harm in doing so if it makes you feel better and if nothing happens it’s not like you’re not still better off for having done so. Personally, my primary concern right now is just finding a full-time job so I can have an income that might make preparing for such a disaster possible in the first place. But that’s just me. grin

  27. I remember sitting in the back seat of my mom’s ‘68 Olds land yacht, wondering what odd and even meant, and why we were sitting in a long line blocks away from the gas station. But nobody ever said we’d run out.

    Remember when all the lights went out that afternoon in August? There was one local gas station owner who had his pumps running; he had a generator keeping him in business. So he jacked his gas prices upwards of 4 bucks a gallon because he was the only station open for miles around. Many people do not go there anymore because of what he did, even if it means that they have to drive a few miles further to fill up. He’d be the one to kill you over a loaf of bread, I’d bet.

    Well, which is it?

    You don’t seem to like long lines.  I’m with you there: queueing is a tremendous waste of time.  Those long lines in 1973 were the result of price controls.  During the OPEC embargo, the government would not allow the price of gasoline to accurately convey the cost of gasoline.  Price controls artificially limited the price people paid for fuel, thus there was no incentive for people to limit their consumption.  Once price controls were removed, the lines for gas disappeared.

    But then you turn around and complain about the guy who charges more for gas when all the other filling stations are closed.  Without those high prices, people would have no incentive to self-ration, and once again you’d have cars lined up for a mile to buy gas.  Pretty soon he’d run out, then no one would be able to buy gas at any price.  How would that help anyone?

    Look at it another way: This was the only gas station owner with enough foresight to buy and maintain a generator, thereby ensuring his customers would still have access to fuel if the power failed.  Why shouldn’t he be rewarded with huge profits?  Instead, you think he should be punished and his competitors rewarded.  What exactly are we rewarding his competitors for?  When the lights turned off, they just shut their doors and went home.

  28. This is an excellent discussion and it is so good to read some rational thought.

    There was something slipped by that I wanted to comment on.  The production of hydrocarbon fuels is more expensive than the refining process.  However, the drilling, refining, and transportation process is not free energy either it is just that the infrastructure is in place.  Synthetic hydrocarbons are produced using water and electricity, as was mentioned the water is abundant, but what about the power.  The reason you do not have a solar panel or a wind turbine in your back yard is not that it is more expensive to produce energy that way.  The challenge is saving the energy available when you need it.  Our current batteries are hugely expensive and not very efficient.

    I know of a recent community experiment that was cancelled because cooperative energy (a neighbourhood community of solar and wind power generation) produced more energy than was needed and if the program was expanded it would mean the power company would not be able to justify running all of the existing power plants, and would put in jeopardy plans for additional plants.  To be fair the problem was also over production during off peak times and under production during peak times.

    The real potential for synthetic hydrocarbons is production during off-peak hours (hydroelectric dams are capable of producing the same amount of power regardless of the demand).  So by producing the same amount of power all the time and using the surplus to produce synthetic hydrocarbons you can now make fuel for “free

  29. Oil is a SOURCE of energy, hydrogen is an energy SINK. 

    Hydrogen is only a form of energy transmission … and the energy carried in it is obtained from some other source.

    Hank Fox, you’re totally correct. I didn’t want to imply differently, though to someone unaware of the background, I probably was.

    That’s actually a major part of what I meant with ‘complicated’. Most scenarios envision gigantic solar farms to harvest the sun’s energy, and then turning water into hydrogen to be shipped, a little like the tankers of today.

    Obviously this needs immense investment in some of the sunnier countries of Earth. Photovoltaic (unlikely, the efficiency is still to low, the construction price to high) or more likely – mirror-focussed solar steam turbine – methods would then provide the energy.

    The technical methods of converting water to hydrogen have been developed since some time, and are bound to become more efficient as (if) this technology matures.

    The big advantage is that it does not need a total revolution in the style of our economy. Sure, you need major adaptions/new engines to burn hydrogen in your car, but it works (and is zero-emission as well!). Hydrogen-powered planes exists as working prototypes as well.

    I mean, electric cars would already solve our problems to a big degree. They are more ‘fuel’-efficient, can be immensely powerful (electrical SUV with 500 hp, anyone? No problem, engine-wise) but ‘batteries’ are still the main drawback. As long as there’s no breakthrough in electrical energy storage, electric cars will remain a sideshow. The kind of sideshow hydrogen cars would not need to be in, once there’s a network of fueling stations.

    On a final note: if you store large amounts of food, beware of telling anyone – you’re likely to get murdered for it, or be shot as a hoarder if the going really gets THAT tough. Pleasant idea, huh wink

  30. On a final note: if you store large amounts of food, beware of telling anyone – you’re likely to get murdered for it, or be shot as a hoarder if the going really gets THAT tough. Pleasant idea, huh

    I was the safety warden for my office at my last job.  Each year the wardens of the building had to attend a special class to make sure we knew all the safety procedures.  The guy conducting the class (from the fire department, I believe) asked, “Does anyone here have an earthquake kit in their office?”  I proudly raised my hand—nobody else did.  “So, tell us what’s in your earthquake kit.”  Thinking I was being given a chance to show off my preparedness, I went into detail about what there was and how much per person, etc.  “You forgot to mention a gun.”  I asked why I needed a gun.  “You’ve just told the entire building where the food is.  You’ll have to shoot them.”  All the wardens, me included, laughed, thinking he was making a joke, but he just gave me this sad “I pity you.” look.  Sheesh! 

    Soooo … everyone here at SEB … forget what I said about storing food.  I was just kidding.  I’m terribly unprepared!  I don’t even know what I’m going to do about dinner tonight!  grin

  31. When I was a kid one of my friends had an elaborate fallout shelter in the back yard.  His parents were not aware that we used it as a play fort… or that we ate most of the rations over a couple year period oh oh

  32. Daryl, et al,

    I talked about my experience in the 70’s as a way to illustrate innocence of the age. It was not about the lines. It was about the way an 8 year old perceived the situation, and the grownups never thought the world would run out of gas. The stations did.

    I talked about the station owner with the generator because of the nature of the beast who, in a crisis situation, gouged his neighbors, fellow townsfolk, long-time customers, rather than approach each of them and ask “how much do you have left in your tank? I’m only dispensing 10 gallons per customer”. Have you seen “It’s a Wonderful Life”. Remember the run on the bank, the ensuing run on the savings & loan, remember the dispensing of enough money to get by with until the crisis was over? That’s what I would have done if I owned that gas station. Because when the power does come back on, you want your long standing customers to come back. Sure, he should be rewarded for his forsight in buying a generator, but not by gouging. Raising prices did not strike myself and many others as a way to ration fuel. It served to say that when a crisis hits, he would be the first one to screw you for profit. If he’d been reasonable about it myself and maybe the rest of the people I know that don’t patronize him anymore would have rewarded him by staying a customer. I’d have rewarded him by continuing to go into his shop to buy whatever convenience items he had even though its cheaper elsewhere. When you are part of a community, you think about relationships. It gets nasty when a crisis hits, and its apparent now how nasty this guy could get. If it were me, I’d have sold ten gallons at a time to people who had less than half a tank until my tanks were empty, sell them all my flashlights and batteries, bottled water, snacks and such from my quicky mart, gone home with a fat wallet and a good conscience… and probably a stronger customer base. But, you cant please all the people all of the time and if I were stopping to ask each motorist how much gas they had I’d likely have people yelling at me. I guess it’s every man for himself when the going gets tough.

    This is not what the post was originally about, but the point I was trying to make went along with the discussion of how people treat other people when the shit hits the fan.

    I see people fight over parking spots at Wal-Mart that are closer to the store when the rest of the lot has plenty of space. Nobody around here even bothers to stop at stop signs anymore. Right on Red after a stop? Yeah, right. They keep rolling their big fat SUVs right out into the intersection when the light is green for you. I guess in this world, you’re right, Daryl. To people like this it would probably be less offensive to Just quadrupile the price of gas and let whoever is willing to pay pull in for a fill-up, instead of telling them what they can and cannot have…  there’s no reasoning with these lunatics.

    Silly idealist that I am, I guess I’m going to have to start stocking up on fuel, food, water, and ammo. And I’m not gonna share it with anyone or tell anyone where it is.

    ND

  33. Does it have to be a cataclysm? Yes, it seems probable that Earth can’t support 6 (or the expected 9) billion people. Maybe our planet’s carrying capacity is one billion.

    But the problem may take care of itself.

    Population decline has already started, gradually, but only in those countries where the market economy forces people to meet the cost of their livelihood and allows the emergence of incentives (the hated “comfort” and “wealth”) encouraging people to forego reproduction.

    Populations are veritably crashing in Japan and Korea, two industrialized “rich” nations which now have a per-woman birthrate approaching 1.0 instead of the 2.0 (or so) necessary to maintain the current population. Demographers will even tell you that China’s is tapering off too. All of Europe is experiencing the baby bust and declining populations are expected there too. America’s population is growing, but only because of immigration—if we didn’t attract migrants (legal or illegal) the United States’ native-born population’s sub-replacement fertility would have our population declining too.

  34. I talked about the station owner with the generator because of the nature of the beast who, in a crisis situation, gouged his neighbors, fellow townsfolk, long-time customers, rather than approach each of them and ask “how much do you have left in your tank? I’m only dispensing 10 gallons per customer

  35. Brenden Carr, you are right about populations leveling off and even declining in some areas.  We tend to think current trends will always continue without being affected by other forces.  I call this the “tailfins effect” after 1950’s MAD magazine comics that were set in the distant future.  Everything was styled like the ‘50’s only more so, extrapolating comtemporary trends to absurdity.  1950’s cars had tailfins, therefore future cars would have bigger tailfins and so forth.  (OK, a flying car with huge tailfins would be really cool)

    By the way, everyone, I am really enjoying digging into that special issue of Scientific American I mentioned earlier.  It is stuffed full of information about energy, food, species diversity, poverty, economics, invention, foreign policy and aid, and action plans.  I think I’ll buy another copy just to mark up. 

    The issue is loosly structured around Edward O Wilson’s idea that humanity is headed for a bottleneck and, while there’s plenty to worry about there, it also lays out scenarios for emerging from the bottleneck into a better world.

    I’d like to lock each of the world’s leaders in solitary confinement with a copy and not let them come out until they could pass a test on the material.  Of course, some leaders might be a quicker study than others.  We would not be hearing from our president for a while.

    On another note, our county in Illinois is getting ready to build a gigantic wind farm. I am rather pumped about it.  (A glacial moraine juse SouthEast of here is one of the most consistently windy spots in the country) As carbon fuels become less tenable, those megawatts will start to look pretty nifty. In the long run, we’ll need a smart grid to handle energy from lots of different sources.

  36. I am skeptical about how soon and how bad it’ll actually be only because of past experiences with things such as Y2K which was A) much more likely to be an overnight disaster and B) ended up being dealt with surprisingly well considering all the folks running around saying there was no way we’d ever get all the systems fixed before the end of 1999.

    I am a skeptic about pretty much everything, but there are some major differences between this and y2k.

    y2k was known about well in advance by everyone.

    Those most likely to be effected (banks and financial institutions) had both the means and the time to make sure there would be no (or minimal) problems.

    While there could have been problems (banks going broke, some of the more well off losing money loaned out, etc.), they could never have been as bad as those from an energy crisis will be.

    Personally, everything I can see with even a shred of evidence behind it points to our leaders just trying to gut the country as much as possible with the expectation that they will be able to leave when things finally go south.

    I believe that those who might want to tell people and try to get things started are either too scared of the public response, too scared of losing their power, or to scared of being dubbed a traitor and locked away forever (or killed). (not that I think there are many left in power that give a damn about more than some combination of money and power)

    Anywise, back to some less tinfoil hat type thoughts…

    Some basic, fairly easy to get preparation:
    * A firearm with plenty of ammunition (protection and hunting)
    * A good knife and sharpening stone (great all around utility device)
    * A hatchet and flint (or other reliable fire creating device)
    * A good book (or more) on local flora and fauna with information on what is and is not edible.
    * Information on where to get good water if need be (or purification devices that do not require electricity if in an area without good water)
    * What extra canned foods one can get ones hands on.

    I truly hope it never comes to needing such, but that seems like the absolute basics to me that most people should be able to afford. Maybe others have some ideas on good, cheap things that can help a lot if it comes to such.

    Myself, I am trying not to think too much about what I believe is coming…and instead trying to focus on what I think needs to be done and getting it done as quickly as I can.

    Of course, after deciding on a course, I realized that even if this is all a chicken little scenario, I will still be much happier than I am now. I guess I have just been too long in the big city and never realized just how much I miss the country, how much I hate sitting in traffic, and how much I hate spending my days doing random tasks that end up making others filthy rich while barely keeping me up with inflation.

    I grew up out in the country…it is time for me to return there regardless of what the future holds.

  37. Nunyabiz: I watched the videos at freespeech.org and I want that time back. That fuckface professor at the “New College” wants us all to go back to subsistence farming and wearing clothes made from sackcloth—rather, he wants all of us, except him, to scratch our living out of the earth. That’s the common thread of the liberal intelligentsia—a lot of prescriptions on how the hoi polloi should submit to their rule. None of them actually want to be one of the ruled.

    Got news for ya, perfesser: In the days of subsistence farming there were a lot fewer tenured faculty positions. Additionally, that shirt he was wearing looked a lot like it came from Nordstrom’s. Guess it’s sackcloth for the rest of us, though.

  38. obviously you didn’t understand a single word spoken in the video.

    you must be a Republican.

  39. If he’d been reasonable about it myself and maybe the rest of the people I know that don’t patronize him anymore would have rewarded him by staying a customer. I’d have rewarded him by continuing to go into his shop to buy whatever convenience items he had even though its cheaper elsewhere.

    Well, right or wrong, greedy or foresighted, this guy has apparently lost a lot of customers and community respect—so doesn’t this amount to “punishment”?

    I see people fight over parking spots at Wal-Mart that are closer to the store when the rest of the lot has plenty of space.

    You think that’s bad?  Did anyone see the news yesterday about the laptop riot?  “…someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.”  Geez.  But this one takes the cake: 

    Jesse Sandler said he was one of the people pushing forward, using a folding chair he had brought with him to beat back people who tried to cut in front of him.  ‘They were getting in front of me and I was there a lot earlier than them, so I thought that it was just,’’ he said.

    So he thought it was okay to beat people with a chair because they cut in front of him (so he says).  Look at the picture in the article.  I can’t believe it—they’re like animals.  This isn’t even for food or survival!  I don’t care how unbelievably cheap those laptops were.  But hey, people were beating each other up over Cabbage Patch Dolls, a fucking toy for crying out loud.  For Christmas presents. 

    —Joe 🙁

  40. DOF: By the way, everyone, I am really enjoying digging into that special issue of Scientific American I mentioned earlier.  It is stuffed full of information about energy, food, species diversity, poverty, economics, invention, foreign policy and aid, and action plans. I think I’ll buy another copy just to mark up.

    Thank you for the picture. The September Special Issue, Our Ever Changing Earth available locally at Barnes and Noble didn’t match what you described in your earlier post. I did find Crossroads for Planet Earth on line at Scientific American Digital. Now I don’t have to ask about the title.

  41. Great debate going on here.
    I wanted to correct the person who said that Y2k was known well in advance. So was peak oil.
    This is nothing new.
    Hubbert correctly predicted peak oil in the U.S. back in the 60’s and also predicted peak oil for the world back then. His prediction was for the peak to happen around 2000 – 2003.
    Deffeyes since has reworked the numbers and came up with 2005.
    Officially declaring Thanksgiving day 2005 as the peak.
    Also, I believe that the proton fuel cells being developed by Ballard Power look very promising and are not fuel “sinks”
    I don’t think we are heading for a Mad Max society. Yet I do think we are behind on the proverbial eight ball when it comes to implementing alternatives.
    People will adjust there driving habits etc. to adapt. I for one, ride my motorcycle as often as possible.
    You keep hearing about the high gas prices now, wait till the winter hits and your not only paying $2.50 + for gas but $2.00 for heating oil…double what it was this time last year..
    It will start to wake up a lot of people.

  42. VerneR: The September Special Issue, Our Ever Changing Earth available locally at Barnes and Noble didn’t match what you described in your earlier post.

    ??? I had to go back and see if I’d spaced out and typed the wrong title (not unusual for me), but now I’m confused.  Could the magazine at B&N have been the New Scientist September special report on climate change?

    Anyway, glad the picture was useful

  43. Oh, wow – SciAm did do two special issues in the same month with “Earth” in the title.  I can just imagine that conversation… “Hey!  Let’s confuse the hell out of our readers this year!” (link to Ever-changing Earth issue) 

    Well I see one is a “Special Issue” (the ‘Earth at the crossroads’ one) and the other is a “Special Edition.”  They’ve been taking naming lessons from Microsoft (“No, you started Internet Explorer.  I wanted you to start Windows Explorer!”)

    (/off-topic)

  44. You think that’s bad?  Did anyone see the news yesterday about the laptop riot? “…someone in a car tried to drive his way through the crowd.

  45. Ken: Also, I believe that the proton fuel cells being developed by Ballard Power look very promising and are not fuel “sinks

  46. That is fine as far as power plants and the electric grid is concerned however has little to do with anything else, somehow I dont see us all driving around in Nuclear powered cars.

    Personally I think Hydrogen is a bad choice overall, too many problems.

    But current vehicles even big rig diesels can be easily and cheaply converted to Biomass fuels which are renewable, cleaner, and can even use for the most part the current infrastructure we already have across the country to deliver & dispense it. Would also give farmers a solid money crop so we can stop subsidizing them for growing nothing.

    I think a perfect choice from what I can tell for near future, feasible energy source for transportation is a Biomass/Electric Hybrid.
    Get 60+ MPG of Chicken fat which is something this country produces plenty of as a waste product sounds like a good option to burn.

  47. Daryl: The sooner that market forces “take control of a public resource”, the sooner that appropriate price signals from the market can encourage conservation. Things which are scarce should cost more. China has virtually free water and power—not coincidentally, China is exceptionally wasteful of these resources. Per unit of energy, the U.S. is five times more productive than China. We do more with less, in part because we have to buy most of our resources at market prices.

    I certainly don’t disagree with the statement “scare things should cost more”. What bothers me is the part about market forces always being the answer. In principle companies dealing in, say, petroleum and coal (should) compete in a competitive market. However, many economists consider utilities to be natural monopolies and not subject to the same market pressures. The traditional compromise that we have reached here is to allow private ownership, but to oversee rate increases. We have had at least one bad experience—Enron and CA—when we departed radically from that model. Also, after last summer’s outage, there has been some justified concern about the reliability of the electrical grid in my part of the Midwest, no one is responsible for that part of the service.

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