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April 22, 2013

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Considering how fossil-fuels drive the developed world's economy and lifestyles, it's understandable why this is such an emotional and contentious subject. The clarity of your deconstruction of the issue is impressive, and welcome.

The Archdruid has a few things to say about this subject that might also be helpful to "the gallery," coming at it from the angle of the psychology of "bubble economics:"

An Aside To My Readers

Haha, it looks like the wording of my last post triggered the spam filter. Doesn't surprise me, it did read like fake sycophancy, terminating with a link. Can you restore it?

Meanwhile, more cheer.

(I hope this parenthetical aside following the link distracts the spam filter.)

Interesting article Petro.

I have an Arizona analogy for Americans and the bubbles that end up surprising them.

There are people who go hiking in the canyons of Arizona during the monsoon season. They camp near a cute little creek where there are trees which have debris deposited about 30 feet up in their branches. Even though they are sitting in sunlight, a cloud burst is occurring 30 miles upstream. When they drown or if lucky, they are stranded, they say they were caught completely off guard.

The collapse of the bubble surprised them.

If you're a long time Arizonan, you can see, very clearly, all the signs they missed.

The same is true with the bubbles. All the signs are there. Most of the American public is blind to those signs.

No, seriously, why do you hate Arizona?

How did you arrive at that conclusion???

The same is true with the bubbles. All the signs are there. Most of the American public is blind to those signs.

"But this one is different!"

"You don't understand Real Estate!"

Yup, it's been the same since the (17th century?) tulip bubble, when you could eventually trade a bulb for a mansion.

I'm sure I've mentioned it before, but I remember being glared at by the dilettantes of real estate in the pub as I mocked the conversion of apartment complexes into "luxury condos" back in the peak of that disaster. My own apartment was purchased out from under me by a speculator at the time.

Rougue you convinced me. I'm moving to sustainable Seattle before the hordes arrive.

More seriously, are there any timelines or benchmarks for climate change tipping points?

Speaking of bubbles, the FED' s QE policy has provided hot money to REITs to buy massive numbers of single residences in Phoenix.

Don't believe the booster cheer that the housing value increases are the result of new residents to the area.

It is FED hot money which will evaporate no later than when negative real interest rates become positive. No doubt not before the unsuspecting retail buyer is sucked back into the real estate scam.


I'm not comfortable making strong assertions on this topic, but I can play devil's advocate a little to see what alternative views might yield.

The dramatic upward trend in oil prices since 2005 has another explanation:

"The 'inflation hedging' meme gradually gained traction and a new breed of Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and structured investment products were created to invest in commodities. In 2005 Shell entered quite transparently into a relationship with ETF Securities which enabled them to cut out as middlemen both investment banks and the futures market casinos, and with them the substantial rent both collect.

"Other investment banks also started to offer similar products and a bandwagon began to roll. From 2005 to 2008 we therefore saw an increasing flood of dollars into the oil market, and this was accompanied by the most shameless, and often completely misleading hype, and led to a bubble in the price."

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/01/chris-cook-naked-oil.html

As for Mr. Talton's statement: "Oil prices never collapsed commensurate with the degree of the financial crisis in 2008-2009..."

What do you call "commensurate"?

"The price spiked to $147 per barrel and then declined over several months all the way to $35 per barrel or so as many of the index fund investors pulled their money out of the market in late 2008 and joined a stampede to the safety of US Treasury Bills."

Seems commensurate to me.

Oil prices are far more volatile than they once were. I believe that growth in Chinese and other developing countries' demand for oil has put upward pressure on oil prices, but I believe that speculators have piggybacked on top of this and resulted in much of the increased price volatility. The real question is not whether, but how much of the persistent increase in price has resulted from speculation versus an increase in world demand.

"Goldman Sachs believes that each million barrels of speculation in the oil futures market adds about 10 cents to the price of a barrel of oil..."

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertlenzner/2012/02/27/speculation-in-crude-oil-adds-23-39-to-the-price-per-barrel/

In February 2012 when that article was written, the author used this to calculate that speculation added $23.39 to the price of a barrel of oil.

But back then "managed" NYMEX oil contracts had a much lower volume. Speculators just kept piling on. (Sorry, I am having trouble finding hard, up to date, specific figures, but everything I have seen so far suggests that total investor held oil contracts have risen since then.)

I'll make some additional points separately so as not to make this comment encyclopedic.

The same Oil Drum link which shows a 25 percent decline in oil production by the five major oil companies, also says that world crude oil production is up 4 percent since 2004 (specifically, in 2011). The fact that production increases were small from 2007 through 2011 is not surprising, given a world recession and slowed growth since.

The 2011 cut-off point contributes to misunderstandings, since growth was far weaker then. The Oil Drum article adds this about 2012:

"In 2012, worldwide production appears to have increased significantly, firstly thanks to the boom in shale oil in the United States; full detailed information is not yet available (to follow)."

That would be handy. It might also give greater context to the current discussion. So would projections into 2013 and beyond.

The fact that petroleum liquids (rather than crude oil per se) account for a major portion of petroleum output is important. However, the fact that (some of) these are not useful for refining into automobile gasoline is perhaps less relevant: they can substitute for crude oil in OTHER processes, thus indirectly reducing the demand on crude supplies by gasoline refiners. Another way to say this is that energy is fungible.

Increasing gas mileage by auto fleets in the United States and elsewhere in the developed world will help, but will be offset by increased fleets in China and elsewhere.

Note that 2/3 of U.S. crude oil consumed is used for transportation fuels.

My bet is on synthetic gasoline and other fuels to reduce demand for crude oil by gasoline and jet fuel refiners, among others. This is not science-fiction. Here's a Princeton engineering and chemistry team:

"The United States could eliminate the need for crude oil by using a combination of coal, natural gas and non-food crops to make synthetic fuel, a team of Princeton researchers has found."

Details and cost estimates here:

http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S35/39/49I49/index.xml?section=topstories

Good article. The current "norm" certainly puts to rest the old idea that we needed to keep the price of fuel low, doesn't it? Every time the idea of gas taxes has come up, the conversation has been shut down with the "gas taxes are inflationary and won't have the desired effect anyway" argument. I doubt we'll ever see gas dip below $3/ gallon again, and yet the economy seems to function regardless. Let's face it - of all the factors affecting the recovery, the price of gas doesn't get much mention. A few years ago we were freaking out when the price topped $4 across the country. My guess is that within a few years the price will never drop below $4 and we will all adjust accordingly. Of course this also means that unless draconian taxes are imposed, taxation won't diminish demand much. Maybe fuel taxes should be increased with the extra revenue going to make public transportation more viable. Unfortunately nothing is really possible until we make elections publicly financed. What the oil industry has done to the climate change debate has underscored that fact.

There are parallel arguments about the supply of oil products and the political inability of nations to marshal enough will both to prevent environmental catastrophe and economic collapse. The tipping point is, apparently, not fixed. We can move separately through decreasing supply and increasing human ingenuity. But what we can't do is infinitely bend the curve of technological progress ever higher in order to meet "rising expectations". There's no reason to assume anything as a given, of course. Our experience here in Phoenix may be prologue: we are getting poorer and we are learning to adapt. But we're not changing this city's habits of denial.

James Howard Kunstler, who is "allergic to conspiracy theories", postulates a complete collapse of suburbia because the supply chains are simply too expensive to support it much longer. And not just at some vague date in the future, but very soon. The problem with his idea is that you can't completely command a long view from a bunker. Yes, the world and this nation are changing rapidly. No, it doesn't necessarily mean the end is nigh so much as things are moving faster than we can see. What this could mean is that some global command-and-control structure will have to emerge if we're going to stop the worst destabilizing impacts.

In terms of climate change, we don't have any time to waste. And yet there is no urgency. There's urgency for a stupid act of terrorism in Boston. There's urgency for runaway inflation if we don't cut Social Security now. And there's even a bit of urgency about housing prices falling again. But the one existential threat that looms above all others gets little respect. We can speculate about the human brain and how it evolved to meet immediate rather than long-term threats, of course. Or we can look at our situation with dry concern: yes, things are difficult but we always managed to do something. Is this threat somehow different?

Anytime you have this amount of uncertainty coupled with this amount of change, the human mind will simply go numb. This is our danger: not being able to manage a global threat with reason and resolve because we're convinced of a cornucopian rainbow or the unreality of the environment itself. Humans can behave brilliantly under duress. What we can't do is function optimally when the neuronal circuitry is so overloaded that we simply have to shut off the sirens. That's what we've done for now. Our survival as a species may depend on learning to live with the unbearable noise of distress.

The methane (apparently a significantly more dangerous greenhouse gas in terms of trapping solar heat) releases up north due to thawing make me tend to think that we've stumbled over the tipping point no matter what we do at this point about our fossil-fuel economy. That's not to say that we couldn't make things significantly worse by mindlessly continuing, but I think we've missed our window.

Odd things are happening to the planet due to climate change. One thing that appears to be happening is rather unexpected - apparently the Antarctic is adding ice because the melting elsewhere is sending "fresher" water down that way, which freezes at higher temperature. There is no indication at this point, I don't think, that it will be enough to offset the increasing dark areas in the Arctic which is causing increased absorption of solar heat.

Also, while it is clear that many of the species that the current ecosystem has allowed to flourish are finished, this fecund planet has a pretty good track record of throwing up new life to mortar in the gaps left by past extinctions - however long the gap in time it may take to repopulate for later epochs in Her history.

At this point I have serious doubts about the complete extinction of human species - we will be seriously culled but, as soleri points out, we do operate rather well under immediate duress, and the skills we've displayed in inhabiting nearly every inhospitable clime on the globe will surely continue. But I'm sure we're in for some serious disruption and dislocation, at the very least.

Due to this, Modern Man will be dealt a serious blow, of course - the ascent of techno-industrial progress is clearly going to be irrevocably interrupted. I'm sure the gauntlet of technology will be taken up once again at some point in the mid- to far-future, but will surely not exhibit the same giddy recklessness that has marked the last few centuries.

Until that time, I'm certain that we, as a species, have a rather long period of what can be called the new Dark Ages ahead of us.

One important question about the "high cost" energy future is exactly what high cost means and what affect this will have.

As noted, transportation fuels account for 2/3 of oil consumed by the United States.

Here are some comments worth repeating:

Since the energy cost question (in particular, the cost of gasoline) is central to Rogue Columnist and the Kunstlerian models it offers more than a passing nod to, it's worthwhile to examine that question in greater detail.

As noted above, the inflation-adjusted per gallon cost of gasoline isn't the only factor determining driving costs today; there is also increased fuel economy. Let's "do the math".

The average mileage of the U.S. passenger car fleet in the 1950s was about 15 miles per gallon.

http://epb.lbl.gov/homepages/rick_diamond/LBNL55011-trends.pdf

Largely because of the nation's first fuel economy law, enacted in 1975 and phased in through the 1980s, the U.S. car fleet average mileage increased to about 25 miles per gallon as of 2010.

http://www.pewenvironment.org/uploadedFiles/PEG/Publications/Fact_Sheet/History%20of%20Fuel%20Economy.pdf

Note that these are CAR fleet averages, which I offer to make historical comparisons as close as possible. There are far more SUVs and light trucks on the road today than in the 1950s, so current total U.S. vehicle fleet averages are lower than 25 mpg. If more households switched from SUVs and large pickup trucks to (say) something the size of a 2011 Honda Civic (combined city/highway 29 mpg) or the 2011 Honda Civic Hybrid (combined city/highway 41 mpg) today's fleet mileage would be higher.

http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bymodel/2011_Honda_Civic.shtml

The cost of gasoline per mile driven = the cost per gallon / miles per gallon.

The average annual cost per gallon in inflation-adjusted dollars in the 1950s was about $2.50, and today about $3.50.

http://inflationdata.com/inflation/images/charts/Oil/Gasoline_inflation_chart.htm

Gas cost per mile 1950s: $2.50 / 15 = 16.66 cents per mile.

Gas cost per mile now: $3.50 / 25 = 14 cents per mile.

So, gasoline is actually cheaper now when the combination of inflation adjusted gas prices and increased fuel economy are considered together.

Using simple algebra, the cost of gasoline necessary for per mile gas costs to equal those of the 1950s can be determined:

X = 25 times 16.66
X = $4.17 per gallon

If the U.S. non-commercial vehicle fleet had average fuel economy equal to the Honda Civic Hybrid (a realistic premise if future technological advances in fuel economy, combined with consumer shifts toward smaller vehicles, are assumed), gasoline would need to cost $6.83 per gallon (in today's dollars -- more in nominal future dollars due to inflation) to be equivalent in cost to the 1950s.

This certainly doesn't sound like we're going to Kunstlerian hell in a handbasket.

How expensive would oil need to be to support a gasoline price of $6.83 in current dollars?

According to one source, as of February 2012 crude oil prices made up 72 percent of gasoline prices (the rest depends on refinery and distribution costs, corporate profits, and federal taxes).

http://useconomy.about.com/od/supply/p/oil_gas_prices.htm

Since one barrel of oil equals 42 U.S. gallons, we can derive a simple algebraic equation to determine oil price based upon this model:

Gasoline price per gallon times 0.72 = oil price per barrel / 42
(Gasoline price per gallon times 0.72) times 42 = oil price per barrel

Setting gasoline price at $6.83 we obtain an oil price per barrel of $206.53 so evidently we have a bit of wiggle room before the price of gasoline catches up to 1950s gasoline cost per mile, given perfectly reasonable, currently technically possible increases in fleet mileage.

Objections?

Some additional notes about the Goldman Sachs speculation premium on oil:

Goldman was one of the first banks to predict $100 oil last decade, in March 2005 when prices were closer to $50 a barrel.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/4399537.stm

The Goldman Sachs speculation premium was outlined in a research note dated March 21, 2011:

http://www.energianews.com/newsletter/files/80e9ebe0ff67bd94432a4031ee17c2b9.pdf

Reuters reported April 12, 2011:

Using Goldman's 8- to 10-cent estimates and data on speculators' positions from the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, Reuters calculated that as of last Tuesday, the total speculative premium in U.S. crude oil was between $21.40 and $26.75 a barrel, or about a fifth of last Tuesday's price. The UK's Financial Services Authority (FSA) does not publish trader data on Brent.

Goldman Sachs disputed the Reuters calculation on speculative premium. The bank clarified that the 8- to 10-cent estimate it provided is only meant to reflect the impact of incremental barrels added -- or sold -- by speculators in relation to defined events over a given time period. It was not meant to be applied to the total number of speculative positions held as these tend to vary across various CFTC measures of net speculative positions.

However, the same article notes that Goldman Sachs was "calling for a nearly $20 fall in Brent crude oil, saying speculators had pushed ahead of fundamentals" at a time when it was trading for $121 per barrel, or about 1/6 of the value of a barrel

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/04/12/us-goldman-brent-recommendation-idUSTRE73B3EN20110412

On February 24, 2012, Bart Chilton, Commissioner of the U.S. Commodities Futures Trading Commission, released the following in Speeches and Testimony:

"In my remarks last year, I listed numerous academic studies, reports, and citations supporting the contention that speculators have some effect on commodity prices. I did so because some had expressed—with unwarranted confidence—that no evidence even existed.

"...These “speculative premium” figures are based on managed money positions reported in the CFTC’s Commitment of Trader reports. There are numerous ways of interpreting these numbers; some may think the speculative figures should indeed be higher (and here’s why—we didn’t include in these figures speculative activity of commercials), and some may argue that they are lower. In any event, given the breadth, depth, and overall trending of these figures, there can be no doubt that speculative activity does indeed have some effect on commodity pricing. I sure hope I’m not saying the same thing this time next year."

http://www.cftc.gov/PressRoom/SpeechesTestimony/chiltonstatement022412

The Goldman Sachs report was dated 2011. Total speculative oil positions have actually increased since then. One might therefore conclude that the speculative premium plays a larger role in oil prices; even more so now that oil is much lower, at $88 per barrel. Prices remain higher than they should despite considerable economic weakness in China and Europe.

P.S. Those two paragraphs from Reuters should have quotation marks.

No objections per se, Emil, but while we may be experiencing better per/mile efficiency, cost- & energy-wise, we have a bigger population and we're using more.

"Peak oil" is intimately tied up with demand.

It's all about the trauma of the dynamic between lowered standards of living and de-population, really.

Incidentally, all thinking is magical. Mr. Talton thinks of a story idea; writes and sells a novel; uses the proceeds to buy food, wine, music or art. Now his idea is something concrete that he can control and enjoy. If he had summoned a genie to fetch the viands, the end result would be the same.

Instead of a wand, he uses a pen. He employs an "incantation" (cover letter of proposal) to summon "spirits" (agents and editors), as surely as Prospero.

Someone else thinks of a new idea, that exists nowhere, called an "aquaduct". Soon, Rome has running water on tap. Magic.

Straight talk about serious problems may be useful even when it's gloomy if it points out things that need to be fixed and motivates the creation and implementation of solutions. It needn't provide solutions itself, but it shouldn't actively discourage them by suggesting that all is lost.

Doomsday dogmas (not much in evidence at Rogue despite the occasional flirtation) are gloomy but not straight: they assume as a premise (rather than prove as a conclusion) that potentially catastrophic problems are unsolvable. By creating a debilitating sense of helplessness they discourage constructive thinking and action.

That is magical thinking too, but a kind of black magic, since it tries to put people's minds into a dark, cramped box and tries to chain their wills to that of the Black Magician, who then uses his influence to divert them into unproductive fantasies about post-apocalyptic vegetable gardening.

Even the Unibomber went into town for supplies. Not one person in 10,000 has the skill set to live off the land for any length of time; and good luck finding and staking a claim to that land in a post-legal, might-makes-right setting.

Civilization already visited that phase: it was called feudalism, and most of the population were serfs. The elite consisted of local strongmen and their enforcers. Step out of line, the Man comes and takes you away. Paranoia as a psychological weapon of political control. A few "examples" intimidates the bulk of the population. That's leverage. Plenty of potato vodka to forget their troubles at night so they can get up and do it all again tomorrow. The alternative is to run away and starve or die of exposure to the elements since your mud hut (or cabin if you're lucky) will be seized or razed.

Soleri wrote: "We can move separately through decreasing supply and increasing human ingenuity. But what we can't do is infinitely bend the curve of technological progress ever higher in order to meet rising expectations."

There are three major problems facing civilization at the moment: (1) peak oil; (2) global climate change; (3) future freshwater supplies.

I don't see oil in general or transportation fuel in particular as an example of a problem beyond ingenuity. During the 20th century with materials science in its infancy, we saw the replacement of previously indispensable natural products such as rubber with synthesized equivalents; the development of plastics and other polymers, now so common as to go unnoticed; synthetic fabrics like nylon and polyester; and countless other artificial substitutes.

As the Princeton news release I linked to above suggests, large-scale synthesization of gasoline and other transportation fuels is a matter of when, not if. Since 2/3 of U.S. crude oil consumption is used for transportation fuels, the replacement of those fuels with synthetics solves 2/3 of the U.S. oil problem. The solution is transferable to other developed (and major developing) nations.

As for global climate change, nearly all CO2 emissions come from burning fossil fuels, and most of that comes from power utilities (e.g., coal-fired electrical plants) and transportation fuels (e.g., motor vehicle exhaust).

The Princeton release asserts that replacing transportation fuels with carbon-neutral (or decreased-carbon footprint) synfuels would cut CO2 emissions by 50 percent. That's a huge step forward in stopping and reversing climate change.

If the CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants could also be harnessed as production inputs to the synfuel manufacturing process, abundant and cheap coal would suddenly become a comparatively green source of electricity.

Stopping and reversing climate change may also restore precipitation to normal levels, which will ameliorate freshwater supply problems as well as reducing the incidence of floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, and droughts that will damage cropland and farming as well as urban areas.

Already, we see three interlinked problems and one potential practical solution (or major step forward). The primary barrier is not lack of ingenuity, but lack of political will. Woe-is-me ideologies that preach gloom and doom will not compel a faster transition to synfuels.

Another potential solution to the freshwater problem lies in abundant oceanwater together with the existing technology of desalinization: but this is not currently practical because of the electrical energy required to separate freshwater from salt and the resulting expense.

That expense can be addressed with cheap electricity, provided that the government builds and runs the solar power plant on a non-profit basis, subsidizing the project by incorporating into the unit price of electricity only the cost of operating the plant, rather than trying to recover the cost of building it, with a profit, on an investor's timescale, as would be the case with the private sector (that's why solar is comparatively expensive currently).

Desalinization is a project that needn't be run 24/7, so the drawbacks of solar (night and cloudy days) needn't be a problem, since freshwater can be made when the sun is available and stored for later distribution, either centrally or at distribution hubs. The same solar plant can also power the pumps necessary to move the water. This is a political problem, not an engineering problem.

Solar energy can potentially replace both coal-fired and gas-powered electrical power plants: the sun is powerful and inexhaustible over its long life. The problem is that solar only works when the sun is shining, whereas civilization needs reliable, consistent electrical power on tap both at night and on cloudy days. Hospitals can't stop operating just because the weather is bad or the sun sets.

So, the obvious problem is the storage problem: there has to be a way to store electrical power, so that solar energy can be saved and drawn upon even when the sun isn't shining. That's definitely a problem for "ingenuity" to solve; but there is no a priori reason to assume that it is unsolvable, particularly over an additional period of decades.

Currently, most research into electrical power storage involves batteries. However, any reversible, controllable, fairly energy-efficient process would serve this function. Batteries tend to require lots of metal and are bulky, heavy, and often environmentally toxic.

My notion -- and I admit it is just a vague idea -- is to use semi-conductors to store energy as a reversible state-change: these would function less like batteries and more like very low leakage capacitors. Each element would store only a small charge, but large numbers of these elements combined into an array would be sufficient to power a house or a building using stored solar electricity. The power needed to maintain the state change would only be the power used to keep a "gate" closed on each element. Fantasy? Sure is. Magical? Let's hope so!

"Synthetic fuels would be an easy fit for the transportation system because they could be used directly in automobile engines and are almost identical to fuels refined from crude oil. That sets them apart from currently available biofuels, such as ethanol, which have to be mixed with gas or require special engines."

"..."The goal is to produce sufficient fuel and also to cut CO2 emissions, or the equivalent, by 50 percent," said Floudas, the Stephen C. Macaleer '63 Professor in Engineering and Applied Science. "The question was not only can it be done, but also can it be done in an economically attractive way. The answer is affirmative in both cases."

http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S35/39/49I49/index.xml?section=topstories

Petro, I think that the population problem will be solved once we get a world population of educated persons with a good standard of living. They will quickly understand that their personal standard of living may be reduced over their lifetime by unchecked population growth, and that conversely, low population growth policies will actually mean more for them rather than less.

Right now the biggest population increases (as a percentage of existing population) are expected in poor, semi-literate areas of the world where large rural populations depend on manual labor in farming.

Automation will be a big help but only if income deriving from it is more socialized than it is now. If 1000 persons get their income from a widget producing machine, adding more to the local population only means reducing the size of their slice of the income pie.

It then becomes in their immediate personal interest to "keep it in the family" by preventing uncontrolled procreation. The only means to do this in a democratic society is to make effective birth control drugs widely available and affordable and to offer, when necessary, some economic incentive for their use.

Another point: high gas prices (compared to the U.S.) didn't spell the end of economic growth in powerhouse European economies, so why would they do so if the U.S. sees higher prices in future? Here's world data from 2005, back when economies were booming along:

http://money.cnn.com/pf/features/lists/global_gasprices/

Note the $6.27 in Norway, $5.57 in Germany, $5.79 in Britain (UK), $4.74 in Switzerland, and so forth. Those prices would be higher if adjusted for inflation over the past eight years, even without market adjustments. The list doesn't show the United States, but the average U.S. price was $2.30 in 2005.

P.S. Most of the difference in gas prices on the world list reflects differences in fuel taxes (or in the case of cheap gas, subsidies).

Emil, I'll point out that Europe has had high gas prices for a long time. They help fund their excellent mass transit and passenger rail service. Needless to say, in this country, low gas prices tend to result in only one thing: more freeways. When gas prices reach $6 or $7 per gallon here, the pain will be immense because there are really no options for most people except to do less recreational driving. On the margins, some people will take the bus or light rail if it exists, but you might be talking, at most, 5% of the population.

Behold right-wing genius: creating a nation so dependent on fossil fuels and an unsustainable suburban lifestyle that any spike in prices will damage both individual budgets and national prosperity.

Good point Soleri. For public transit use, Switzerland is head and shoulders above them all. Germany is second: however, note that even in Germany only about 8.5 percent of all trips use bus or rail (compared to America's roughly 2 percent). See Figure 5:

http://policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/PublicTransport_TRV_2012_BuehlerPucher_FINAL.pdf

Figure 2 shows about 12 percent of all German trips as being public transport, but this is based on survey data that isn't fully comparable. Figure 5 shows the author's calculations based on national transport agencies' data in Germany and the United States with an attempt at full comparability.

Figure 3 shows that roughly 16 percent of Germans use public transit as a main means of getting to work, compared to 5 percent in the United States.

Right you are, soleri, but that dose of bitter medicine is one I wouldn't mind seeing shoved down our throats :). I'm not sure there're many good times ahead under the circumstances and, anyway, it shouldn't hurt for more than a generation.

That's an interesting inflation-of-definition for "magical thinking" you've come up with there, Emil. I would trim that back a bit and say that expecting an idea to become an thing, without considering the resources required, is magical thinking. "Idea = Aquaduct" is a stretch.

(Speaking of which, in a followup comment you stated, without apparent irony, that "ingenuity" was involved in replacing "indispensable" - by that I assume you mean "depletable," as well - with synthesized substitutes. I say "without irony" because nearly everything you listed was synthesized from fossil fuels!

I will return to that comment shortly, but first...)


I don't know if you were necessarily addressing my opinions when you evoked the "black magic" of "doomday dogmas," but since it I think it's reasonable for someone to read me that way, I'm going to go with it and respond.

I have no interest in being a "bummer" to people and to turn their thoughts to dark places. And frankly, once the bullshit assumptions that accompany magical thinking are cobwebbed-away, there is ample room for optimism and the discovery of the natural joys of life. Until then, I can't help it when the adolescent grouses about the horror of his life because he simply must go clean up his room once and for all.

(I am most emphatically not directing this admittedly florid rhetoric at you, either, Emil. You raise a great point that should be answered, and I am enjoying the discussion.)

I will admit that I do wish to throw some water on the urge towards "constructive thinking and action," as I think that for far too long we have put the cart before the horse (or perhaps have overemphasized the wrong horse - heh) when it comes to human action. I ask only that we consider more carefully the consequences of our schemes of "good intentions." For a quick and simple example - we nearly universally laud the "wonder" of the pyramids as some sort of monument to greatness, to progress, to human spirit, whereas I only see a dark temple of cruelty and exploitation, rendered all the blacker by our stubborn praise of the thing. For me, it is the perfect metaphor for what human beings consider "achievement," even now in the modern age.

Such careful consideration might bear the kind of population awareness that you expressed some hope for here.

Finally, a few words about energy, solar and otherwise, as succinctly as I can.

I'm going to stipulate that the storage problem is solvable - in spite of the troubling issues raised by the harvesting of the rare elements involved in current technologies.

I like to point out that the "unharnessed" solar energy that bombards us now is actually being "used" for something by the Earth's ecosphere. This ranges from the movement of the atmosphere and the waters to the activation of life. I'm perfectly fine with harvesting this, as long as do so with the "careful consideration" I've mentioned already. I firmly believe that we're quite as capable of "sun-starving" the Earth for our feckless transportation and artificial environment desires as we have shown to be in the unearthing of Ancient Sunlight.

But let's lay that aside, shall we? Let's go "Full Metal Jetson's" here and imagine that we can capture some of that actually wasted sunlight that streams completely by our planet into the voids of space, and could beam that down to a collector-generator to provide free power for all. Or maybe some awesome zero-point energy converter like the one they were squabbling over in The Avengers.

At the end of the day, the laws of physics still win - heat will be added. Without the "careful consideration" thing going on, we would surely just cook the planet. Or at least go through the same crap we're going through now - edging up to some tipping point only to back away after much damage is done, to sit through yet another epochal Age of Healing.

Thankfully, I think that last hypothetical is out of our reach, though the techno-adulants might disagree.

Petro, I was not talking about you or (offhand) any Rogue participants when I joked about doomsday dogmas. I was thinking of some of the better known "kiss your ass goodbye" doomster bloggers.

I don't see how collecting sunlight from ground-based photovoltaic cells in barren areas can take away solar energy from natural processes elsewhere. The sun puts out an unbelievable amount of energy every single second: equivalent to a trillion one megaton nuclear bombs.

Resource planning begins with ideas too. So does materials science, engineering, and everything else we have, including the political activism which can strongly influence domestic and international policy in world changing ways. Ideas also affect the mind considering them. Everything follows from thought: all thinking is "magical".

Doomsterism is a kind of "mind parasite" that causes disaffection, mental myopia, and a debilitating lack of hope. It saps the will and is therefore a kind of black magic.

Thanks, Emil. I completely agree with your take on that sort of doomsterism.

I see also that you are using the word "magical" in its historically proper sense, so once again I agree. This practical, essentially Druidic, view of magic differs from the popular, vulgar one - which is the one I was associating with.

As for the solar - that looks like a lot of energy, so there may indeed a significant amount that could be safely "harvested." I don't know for sure one way or the other, but I would like to keep in mind that a baked Sahara has considerable effect on the weather. (Also, I recently watched a documentary that showed how the dust from the African deserts blows across the ocean and fertilizes the Amazon forest. A lot of solar energy is involved in this process, I'd imagine.)


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