Open Discussion about Site – December 3, 2010

What should I be writing about? Are there things I should be doing differently? I thought I would ask early on, and perhaps get some input.

I plan to write some kinds of articles of the types I often do–overview articles, and articles talking about the relationship between energy and the financial system, and articles analyzing particular issues that come up, like rapidly rising oil prices. Sometimes it is interesting to come at questions a totally different way. For example, in Honda’s “Racing Against Time” series, I looked at different challenges the auto industry is facing, and responses to these challenges. If readers have particular suggestions, I would like to hear them. Also, if there are folks interested in doing guest posts, I would consider the idea.

The Oil Drum’s new approach to accepting articles makes it difficult to run articles that follow very closely on current events. Today, I expect to run Heading Out’s (Dave Summer’s) post about some of the challenges that the UK is facing with respect to energy right now. Let me know if you like reading this kind of thing.

One thing I like to do is write posts that bring interesting academic papers to readers–trying to make the results understandable to a lay audience. If folks have particular suggestions as to academic papers relating to our current predicament that they think are relevant, let me know. Sometimes the original author will write an introductory post, but sometimes I need to write something, and have the author review it.

I have been trying to bring articles to readers about some of the general issues surrounding our predicament, like food and population. If you have suggestions, either as to interesting topics or as to good authors, let me know.

Another type of article relates to how we respond to the issues we are facing. I am not sure how many of these I will do, but if there are particular questions of interest, I would be interested in hearing them.

Way the Site is Set Up

I have been experimenting with this WordPress “Theme”. It is fairly flexible. One thing I have listed at the top in the sidebar is various categories of posts. I can make indented subcategories as well, once I have enough posts. For examples, under “Alternatives to Oil,” I could list such categories as “Coal,” “Natural Gas,” “Wind,” and “Solar”.

Another thing that is flexible is categories across the top. I was experimenting with this. I started a “glossary” (which only goes to “B”), and I put up a tab for Peak Oil Announcements. Any thoughts as to what you would like to see?

There are various settings I can choose for comments. Are these working OK?

Frequency

At this point, I am not quite certain. I am thinking more or less five days a week, perhaps less over the holidays.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to inadequate supply.
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25 Responses to Open Discussion about Site – December 3, 2010

  1. majorian says:

    The biggest problem with TOD which I suggest you avoid is their adherence to certain tenuous doctrines and ‘memes’, such as ethanolophobia, EROI, HL, reporting statistics, even money-energy theories. These narrow the conversation considerably IMO.
    I would suggest that a lot more space be devoted to mitigation based on what we can do now–electric cars seem to be moving big time to fill a perceived gap, the real reduction in oil, electricity use, new unconventional oil developments and expanding unconventional natural gas supplies(real or exaggerated?).

    The focus should be on mitigation methods and how we are faring.
    Also I don’t think climate change is in any way off-the-table.

  2. Richard Ha says:

    In Hawaii ,we are like the canary in the coal mine, that is why I have been attracted to your writings. I like that your background was as an actuary — assessing risk. And that your writing is easy for the lay person to understand. It is important that we go in with our eyes wide open as we try to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil with the abundant resources we have available here in Hawaii. I would like to see more stuff than less, this allows me to pick and choose the stuff that is relevant to our situation.
    I am following you. How closely I follow The Oil Drum will depend on how relevant it is for us here on the ground.

  3. Joe Clarkson says:

    I live just up the Hamakua Coast from Richard Ha, so maybe it isn’t too much of a surprise that I second his comments. I too want clear presentations of what we are learning about the kinds of risks that the future holds. I also would like to see more about what we can do as individuals and communities to mitigate those risks. Richard and I live in rural Hawaii, so we start out with many fewer risks than most (we don’t need heat or AC and gardens grow year-round), but practical steps that we can use to wean ourselves from fossil fuels will always be useful. Evaluations of steps that others have already taken would be very interesting.

    Such practical steps also bring up the Peak Oil PR controversy. While gloom and doom over the demise of fossil fueled industrial civilization may be realistic, it has some psychological drawbacks as a means of preparing the “newly aware” for the future. But most folks find “increasing one’s self sufficiency” a positive and reasonable strategy anytime, and especially if the future is uncertain. I don’t think that Our Finite World needs to become another Mother Earth News or Home Power, but more stories about practical steps to take to increase household self-sufficiency, especially for city folks, would be valuable for many.

    • I know Sharon Astyk talked about people in cities around the world (in the “global south”) raising 20% of their meat and 20% of their produce within the cities. I was surprised at this, but I suppose it can be done. If people start planting small gardens, then, as the need arises, perhaps more areas (for example, parks and public areas within “subdivisions”) can be planted as well.

  4. Keith Akers says:

    I appreciate your past articles on “financial implications” and “planning for the future” and I’d read more. It would be interesting to deal with policy alternatives, if that’s something you’d want to write about. Also “news” type stuff, e. g. comments on what the Federal Reserve, the IEA, the EIA, or Congress is up to, would be interesting and would make it look current.

    I am not real fond of the “rating of comments” feature — I’m not sure if this is something you have control over. When this was tried on TOD it sometimes turned into rating wars, because a “yes” or “no” can mean different things. “No” can mean “this comment is inappropriate” or it can mean “the comment is appropriate, but I don’t agree.” But I appreciate that it really adds to the quality of a blog if the comments are high quality. I don’t know how to do this other than moderate the comments, which is sometimes difficult and may be more work than it’s worth.

    One specific thing, have you seen the book “A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, and How to Save It” by Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed — ? It would be interesting to get your review of this. I found the book intriguing but also pretty “heavy” so I’m not sure what to make of it. So maybe book reviews of books like this would be useful.

    • I can easily turn the “rating of comments” feature off. It was kind of an experiment to see how it worked.

      Jeff Vail did a review of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization, and How to Save It. You might take a look at that. But you are right–book reviews can be helpful.

  5. Joe Clarkson says:

    Thank you for turning off the comment ratings!

  6. There are many layers to the problems facing the world: from financial, wealth inequalities, disequilbria in terms of trade and debt to environmental degradation to loss of species, to resource depletion (oil in particular) to overpopulation.

    The problem is to set up a layering of these problems, so that we can see each in the perspective of all the others. For example, population growth places strains on resources and energy, but recessions mitigate somewhat those strains. Similarly, present trade imbalances (cheap labor, etc) threaten deflation, but the cost of energy is inflationary.

    We need a way of seeing all of these things as they work with or against one another. We could adopt a mechanistic world view…a kind of Rube Goldberg machine…or we could adopt an organice metaphor….

    You have clarity…can you design a website that can do the above?

    Stormy

    • The different forces tend to produce oscillation before they lead to collapse.Thus we had a big oil price rise, a big drop, and the rise again. I think we can expect to see another price rise, before there are some financial impacts, and another big price drop. The financial impacts may be debt defaults.

      I think population is in some ways similar. It can be expect to rise, and then as forces build up, something will go wrong (perhaps an epidemic we are not prepared for, or widespread food shortages), and population will fall. Eventually it will begin to rise again.

      This is the way physical forces work, so I expect it is the way for the stresses we are seeing now. Unfortunately, I am afraid we can see where this is leading.

      It seems to me that eventually we will drop back to a much simpler system that does not depend on all of our fossil fuel inputs.

  7. RobM says:

    A couple suggestions:

    1) There’s a gap calling for someone to fill it. Many people are trying to understand how the world actually works. Unfortunately discussions are often tainted with politics, conspiracies, emotions, etc. We really could use a series of articles explaining how and why things actually work, with perhaps some commentary on what needs to change in a negative growth post peak world. For example: i) why do we use debt based fiat currency? ii) what kind of currency will work in a post peak world? iii) what would really have happened if we did not bail out the TBTF banks? iv) is the fed really incompetent or did they intentionally blow bubbles to keep growth going when net energy prevented growth?

    2) The only concrete and possibly viable “solution” to our predicament I’ve seen that might prevent massive hardship and death is Jay Hansen’s America 2.0. Unfortunately his proposal is abrasive and acidic thus turning off most audiences before they grasp the significance of his proposal. Someone needs to translate his ideas into something acceptable for consumption by more people.

  8. RobM says:

    Is there an option you can turn on to permit editing of comments?

    • I can edit or delete any comment, but I haven’t run across an option that allows the writer to edit his or her comments. If someone is aware of a WordPress option I am overlooking, let me know.

      I would suggest:
      (1) Write a second comment, correcting the first, or
      (2) Send me an e-mail (which I may not get to right away.)

  9. Joe Clarkson says:

    All of human culture is the sum of the actions of individual humans and all of us are individually prisoners of our culture. We were all socialized in the context of our family and community members behaving in certain ways, the ways of our culture. The only way to change our culture is to change our behavior as individuals and have that change spread widely.

    That is not hard to do in small ways, but for very significant transformations there is a very fine line between one’s becoming the avant garde of cultural change and being marginalized as unacceptably deviant. For a whole society to transition to America 2.0, or whatever comes after our fossil fueled culture, will require extreme behavioral changes that somehow spread rapidly throughout society. It will be like suddenly having the Amish lifestyle sweep through our whole nation as rapidly as a hula hoop fad. Though one can hope, it is not very likely at all.

    It seems to me that the best one can do is prepare one’s self, family and community for a very rocky future and for the rapid onset of dramatic behavioral (cultural) change, all within the context of a society that is trying harder and harder to stay just like it is. A hard winter is coming to this St Matthew Island we call Earth. Who among us will be one of the 42 reindeer left? Only those who are very prepared and also very very lucky.

    Our Finite World should help us squint through the murk of the future to see what is coming. It should also help us learn what we need to know to maximize the number of our descendants who will be not only lucky enough to survive, but also thrive in that future. Many web sites, including this one, help us see what’s coming, but very few have much to tell us about what to do tomorrow morning. A site that does will be providing a very great service.

    • RobM says:

      There are good sites trying to provide advice on what to do. For example, Chris Martenson, Sharon Astyk, John Michael Greer, and Transition Towns.

      • Joe Clarkson says:

        Thank you RobM for your suggestions. Of course Sharon Astyk was a featured post here on December 2. I like John Michael Greer’s general analysis, but haven’t seen all that much specific practicality from him and perhaps I haven’t dug deep enough into Transition Towns’ site, but it still seems pretty general. I was nicely surprised by what I found on ChrisMartenson.com, especially regarding personal finances. I had seen his posts on the Energy Bulletin, but somehow never ran across his personal site. Once again, thanks.

  10. step back says:

    When I try to step back and view the historical demographics of the human labor pool, I see a large percentage of the population working the land shortly after the end of the hunter gatherer phase.

    Then there is this mass migration (actually an expulsion) out of the farms and into the cities. Hollywood makes it sound as if the expulsion were a good thing because all these young kids were bored out of their minds on the farm.

    Be that as it may, the oil=automobile=suburbia=finance splurge starts by luck just at the same as the dispossessed ag workers come to the city.

    Mechanization and automation keeps siphoning off more and more job opportunities from the dispossessed ag workers, but they don’t see it because it’s happening incrementally; one thin slice at a time. And besides, why worry? The GE Carousel of Progress promises A Beautiful Tomorrow coming our way from just around the bend.

    Globalization accelerates the siphoning away of the job opportunities from the dispossessed ag workers as the 21st Century arrives. Now it’s a “flat and hot and crowded” world that is actually tilted towards sliding all these dispossessed people off the edge of the flat Earth and into the garbage bin of allegedly, “lazy foodstamp collecting bums” who don’t deserve to live any more. Cut off their unemployment benefits and let them die, some say. They are the undeserving (undeserving to live anymore) they say.

    One small step at a time. That’s how we got here.

    But if we step back and see the overall trend it becomes clearer. We got to where we are today because the “owners” of land and mechanization and automation and finance have been continuously squeezing the system towards having fewer jobs and less and less well paid labor and concentrated wealth. Of course, they call it by a different name: efficiency. And they have a special mind-bending language for perpetuating the process. They call it “economics”.

    If you are an ardent follower of the economics religion then by now you probably view me as a raging lunatic who simply “doesn’t understand”. Tisk tisk. Get the butter knife and slide him off the dinner plate please. And so it goes.

    • I think that is a pretty good assessment of the situation.

      And now, you can’t just go back and start all over again. All of the people working the land had some very specific skills, and tools (appropriate for the technology) had been developed. Customs were also adapted to the way the people lived then. So some very big changes would be needed, even to go backward.

      • step back says:

        you can’t just go back and start all over again

        No we can’t.

        On the other hand, we see a lot of hand wringing about “creating jobs” and yet no one knows how this magical event happens, why the world seems to have turned upside down and how we can turn it right side up again.

        The thing that comes to mind when we talk about jobs and wealth re-distribution is the fable story of The Little Red Hen

        The morale of that farm animal fable was that everyone has to contribute if they want to share in the booty. That sounds fair and square.

        Except this is how the Red Hen fable would run today:

        After a number of years, the Not-so-Little-anymore Red Hen owned the whole farm (concentration of wealth).

        One day, she announced she was starting a new seed venture.

        May I please help in the venture?” asked the pig.
        May I please be included in the venture?” begged the mouse.
        Can you please also employ me in the venture?” whinnied the horse.

        No,” said the Red Hen, “that would not be efficient and maximizing of my CEO profit sharing plan.

        I have discovered that I, me and myself can do much better if we offshore the tasks and if we utilize high productivity automation and mechanization.” And that is what she did.

        But then without employment how will we go on?” asked the pig, the mouse and the horse.

        That is your problem, not mine,” replied the Growing Ever Larger Red Hen. “Nowhere in our code of conduct does it say that I have to be my brethren’s keeper. Ours is a system of to-each his-own, dog eats dog, and the heck with the others. It was fair then and it is fair and balanced now. Nothing has changed.

        The End.

  11. Don Millman says:

    I would like to see an article where Gail lists her ten favorite books relevant to this website. Then in comments, perhaps readers of this list could list their three favorite books, ones that were not on Gail’s list.

    The winter is a good time to read a lot.

  12. wotfigo says:

    I agree with Stormy & RobM above.
    We need a blog site that pulls all the tech & academic views on societal structure wrt collapse into the one site. These include Oil Depletion (The Oil Drum), Financial (The Automatic Earth), Thermodynamics (Tim Garrett), complexity (Tainter), social (Orlov) etc
    The recent Oil Drum decision not to involve that site with future scenarios of the results of oil depletion gives Gail a tremendous opportunity to expand her views into a coherent science based approach to possible (in my view, probable) rapid decline in civilization.
    It is interesting that Stoneleigh at The Automatic Earth was a past editor of the Oil Drum (Canada) & also could not find a forum there to express her (financial) views on collapse. TAE is mandatory reading IMO.
    Pull it all together Gail. There is a need for this site.

  13. Kitegal says:

    Gail,

    The things you were writing about in the past and the way you presented your thoughts were one of the impressive and important parts of the oildrum, for me at least. I would be very interested to read more write-ups like you did in the past.
    A different side of the story I would like to hear about – is more solution oriented, but not the “same old same old” like grow your own food and get solar roofs. No. There is certainly more. I have not seen yet a lot of thoughts along the lines of how our current achievements especially around knowledge, technology, a web-based society, education, creativity may help to evolve and shape new paradigms which ultimately increase our “productivity” enough to compensate for the productivity we are losing by decreasing cheap oil/capita – which was our old productivity booster.

    So – for example. Obviously the future will be “distributed-collaborative”. Today everything is central (I don’t know how to express that better)….we drive to an office building or a factory to go to work, we drive to the mall to shop, food is produced in large areas and transported from there out into the world – this is not sustainable. And how necessary really is such a model in these days? It is often more a habit and a state of mind that we work in an office – but we can work from home in many jobs, technology allows that nowadays beautifully (I and my colleagues do this since many years). Think about it – do we really need to commute? Many don’t, believe me, between email, intranet, webmeetings, smart-phones, videochats…why do you need to be physically present?

    Mankind has learned a lot. We know how to generate electricity, and there is much more than just solar, wind, oil, gas, nuclear, ….there is biomass (all varieties, including cellulose ethanol) and the geothermal energy, there are energy sources like wood-gas and even gyms generating their own electricity from biking classes. I want to hear about tools which would be helpful in a distributed lifestyle, like for example the Sterling engine (DeKa) development might be and there are certainly plenty more.

    We do also know now a lot about how to grow food organically on a pretty large scale with quite reliable harvests. It is not the medieval times any more as it was pre-oil. We are post-oil but we gained a lot of knowledge which we can put into work even more, many do it already. I want to hear more about that side of the story. Look at the impact of hi-tech to create new energy by also saving and restructuring our society. Do we really need mega-farms and ranches? Rather not I would say….can we migrate and how to a society in which large cities are no more but smaller communities, creating their food, their energy, but connected with the whole world and still working globally?

    Last but not least – maybe I sound a bit too “rosy” in my vision above but I would like to see facts which support or dismiss and invite to discussions.

    Cheers! – Sylvia

  14. RobM says:

    I forgot to mention. Please invite Jason Bradford and Nate Hagens to visit on a regular basis. They always have interesting integrative things to say. Jason in particular should be a role model for all of us.

  15. Pops says:

    I’ll add my vote for a focus on “non-denominational” ways of doing the transition on a personal or community level.

    The web is replete with sites pushing their own particular brand of transition, as well as sites not necessarily “aware” but very deep in specialized knowledge and experience. But there is no impartial overview site for people feeling their way forward. One that understands energy depletion and also understands there is no one, right way to cope. Not everyone is going to be a farmer or gardener, or is able to roll their own wind power or move to an intentional community or spark a Great Unleashing.

    One of your strengths I think, is the ability to address various ideas with an open mind, I think that is what is needed.

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