The issues we are confronted with today seem to be a subset of the issues foretold in the book Limits to Growth back in 1972. At some point, the economy cannot continue to grow as rapidly as it did in the past. It appears to me that the most immediate limit we are hitting today is inadequate low-priced oil, but there are other limits lurking not far away–inadequate fresh water and excessive pollution, for example. When the economy cannot grow as fast, or actually starts declining, recession sets in. Governments start having debt problems. Financial markets start behaving strangely.
This issue is a difficult one to talk about, because there really is no good solution. I have talked to a couple of groups recently (one a church group; one a peak oil group), about this issue. This is a copy of the presentation I used (Bumping up against the Growth Ceiling (PDF) or Bumping up against the Growth Ceiling (PowerPoint)). In this post, I will discuss my presentation.
The world is finite. We know that, logically, the amount of any resource extracted from the world’s crust cannot continue to increase year-after-year, forever. But most of us have never thought about the idea that economic growth might eventually stop because of limits we hit.
It seems to me that the financial problems we are reaching today reflect a fundamental mismatch. We have a financial system that requires growth. At the same time, world oil supply has stopped rising enough to keep oil prices down. This mismatch threatens to put a cap on economic growth, especially for large users of oil such as the United States and many European countries.
Let me start by describing why our economy needs economic growth.
Europe has used coal for about 450 years, according to Tony Wrigley. The use of coal helped reduce the amount of firewood needed (cream-colored area), and thus helped prevent deforestation. The use of coal also led to economic growth, because its energy could be put to many uses. According to Wrigley’s analysis, wind and water never produced a large share of the total energy supply.
In recent years, oil and natural gas have been added to the energy mix. All of these fossil fuels have helped increase the amount of food produced and the quantity of manufacturing done, and thus, economic growth.
The fact that we have had fossil fuel driven economic growth for such a long time–at least 450 years–has helped create the belief that economic growth is the natural state of affairs. It is easy to believe that it will always continue.
Our financial system today depends on the use of debt, and the repayment of that debt with interest. We don’t usually think of it, but in a growing economy, it is much easier to repay debt with interest than in a declining economy, because, on average, things are getting better over time. This is easiest to see for an organization like the government that funds its borrowing with taxes. These taxes tend to rise when the economy is growing, making it easier to repay debt and the interest on that debt.
The same principle works for other individuals and businesses. If an economy is growing, a person is more likely to be able to keep his job, to get a new job if he is laid off, and to get promotions, so it is easier to repay loans and the interest on those loans.
Of course, the reverse is true in a shrinking economy, or even a level economy. The loan plus interest leaves the borrower with less money left over for other things, so is more difficult to repay.
Reinhart and Rogoff wrote a well-known academic paper, and made the observation quoted in Slide 8, apparently not understanding why this relationship existed. It seems to illustrate the relationship that a person would expect, based on Slides 6 and 7.
Economic growth provides many types of benefits. If the economy is growing, people have jobs, and many are getting raises. People can afford to buy bigger homes, so home prices tend to rise. The stock market tends to rise, because companies are making increasingly large amounts of money, and people believe that they will continue to make more money in the future. The number of people employed tends to rise, because of rising demand for goods and services.
Governments find that taxes rise, even without raising tax rates, because citizens are prospering. Charitable organizations, like churches, see rising contributions.
With the use of fossil fuels, it was possible to greatly increase food production. Population grew in the same time period that fuel use grew. World population is now about 7 billion, compared to about 450 million in 1500 . Thus, population is now more than 10 times as high as it was in 1500.
In this slide, I show a few of uses of oil. Oil is especially important for growing and transporting food. Thus, its use helps explain the recent population rise.
Thee unfavorable outcomes shown on slide 12 are just the reverse of the favorable outcomes mentioned earlier, when there was adequate economic growth. We recognize them as problems we have seen during recent recession.
Next I would like to talk about how limited oil supply is constricting economic growth.
On this slide, I divide world oil production into two parts–oil produced by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and oil produced by Non-OPEC countries. OPEC countries claim to have plenty of spare capacity, but it is hard to see that such capacity actually exists from their actions. Neither OPEC or Non-OPEC production has increased very much since 2005, even when prices spiked very high in 2008. OPEC cut back production somewhat when oil prices dropped, but that is more or less expected, because at a low price, some extraction may no longer be profitable.
Readers should be aware that statements made by OPEC countries are not audited. When US oil companies were involved in the Middle East prior to 1980, oil reserves were much lower than today. After state-owned oil companies took over, there was competition to raise reported reserves. Some of these increases may be simple exaggerations; others may be correct, if a person includes oil that can be produced at a dribble a year, over many, many years. But we are likely kidding ourselves if we think the high reserves indicate spare capacity, or likely higher production in the future.
Also, statements about OPEC raising oil production aren’t necessarily very truthful. If they do raise production, it may only be to cover rising internal consumption, with virtually no impact on exports.
We often read that there is a huge amount of oil available, in the oil sands in Canada or in the oil shale in Colorado, for example. The problem is that not all oil is equivalent. Some oil is a liquid, and is easy to extract. Other oil is not a liquid, or is in very inconvenient locations. Our problem is that a lot of the easy-to-extract, cheap-to-extract oil from the top of the triangle was extracted first, and is now gone. What is left is mostly oil that is much harder to extract. As an example, some oil is very “heavy” and oil companies may need to use steam to heat the oil, and then collect the dribbles of melted oil.
To elaborate a bit further on why we can’t get the oil out, one problem is that quite a bit of the cheap oil has been extracted, and expensive oil (which we have plenty of) seems to cause recession. Economist James Hamilton has shown that 10 out of 11 of the most recent recessions occurred in conjunction with oil price spikes. (We will talk a more later about why high oil prices tend to cause recession.)
In order to justify extracting the very expensive-to-extract oil, companies need very high prices for a long time, so that they have reasonable confidence that prices will be sufficiently high when the oil is extracted and ready to sell. But oil prices don’t seem to stay high long enough–high oil prices seem to lead to recession, and recession brings them back down again.
I might mention, too, that there is a theoretical upper bound for prices. Just as you wouldn’t use more than one barrel of oil to extract a barrel of oil, at some point, the resources that go into extracting the oil become too high, relative to the benefit to be obtained from using that oil. If this happens, there is no point in extracting the oil–it makes more sense to leave it in the ground. For some of the oil resources, we may be approaching the too-expensive-to-extract limit.
The fact that world oil production is more or less on a plateau is not entirely unexpected. In many countries, oil production has risen, reached a peak or plateau, and then begun declining. If the world is the sum of production of individual countries, the world might also eventually get to a peak or plateau.
For the United States – 48 states (blue on Slide 17), oil production suddenly started declining in 1971, after hitting a peak in 1970. When we realized that there was a problem, we quickly got to work on extracting oil from other areas. We ramped up production in Alaska in the late 1970s (red “layer” on the map), and added a pipeline so that the oil could be transported better. The amount of oil obtained from Alaska has now dropped to less than half of its peak amount.
Eventually, we started drilling in the area designated as “Federal offshore,” mostly in the Gulf of Mexico (light green layer on graph). The oil from the Federal Offshore area is still increasing, but no one expects that it will bring us back up to the 1970 level of peak production. Last year’s oil spill occurred in the Federal offshore area.
The decline in US oil production had been predicted in advance, although oil companies did not believe the forecasts. M. King Hubbert had predicted in 1956 that oil production in the United States would peak between 1965 and 1970. In the same paper, he also predicted that world oil production would reach a peak around the year 2000.
Hyman Rickover, a four star admiral in the US Navy, gave a speech in 1957 in which he explained the importance of oil, and talked about the fact that oil supplies were expected to run short around 2000, and natural gas and coal not too much later. Because of the likely shortfall, he said the nation should conserve its resources and should tell its children about the upcoming problem, so that planning could be made for the difficult transition away from fossil fuels. Needless to say, schools have not taught much about this problem.
On Slide 18, I show oil production of two areas that were brought on-line after it became clear that US oil production was falling shortly after 1970. The top graph shows European crude oil, which is mostly oil from the North Sea. Its production was on a plateau from 1996 to 2001, but is now declining.
The bottom graph shows Mexican crude oil production. It was ramped up quickly after it became clear that US crude oil production was declining. The graph indicates that since 2004, Mexican oil production has been declining as well.
With all of these areas experiencing declining production, it is not surprising that world oil production has been close to flat. There theoretically is non-liquid oil that could be steamed out, and very deep oil that could be extracted at great cost, but all of this would require huge expense, long lead-times, and assurance that oil prices would be high at the time the oil was finally extracted.
Having flat (or close to flat) world oil production wouldn’t be a major problem, if world demand for oil weren’t rising. But what is happening is that countries like China and India are using a greater percentage of the available oil. Oil exporters are also using more, because their populations are growing rapidly. When these countries use more, this leaves less oil for the United States and other “developed” nations to consume.
I’d like to talk a little now about what happens when an economy doesn’t have enough inexpensive oil.
One thing that tends to happen when oil prices rise is that food prices tend to rise as well. This occurs mostly because oil is used in food production and transport. The fact that food and fuel prices rise at the same time causes a double problem for consumers, since food and fuel for commuting are both necessities. As a result, consumers tend to cut back on discretionary expenditures when oil prices rise.
Higher food prices can have other impacts as well. If people’s incomes haven’t risen and the increase in food price is severe, or if many are unemployed, there may be riots, and governments may be overthrown. We have already seen this in the Middle East and North Africa. If governments cut back on programs for the poor, as in London, this may further raise the potential for riots.
The graph shows that there tends to be a tie between world economic growth and growth in oil use. The tie may be less close after 2005, because of greater coal use in recent years.
Slide 23 shows the steps I see that lead from rising oil prices to recession. I might add that when discretionary spending drops–such as fewer trips to restaurants–employers tend to lay off workers. The fact that these workers have been laid off further adds to the cutback in the purchase of discretionary goods and further adds to debt defaults.
If many people are laid off from work, governments start finding themselves with increasing financial problems for several reasons:
- Lower taxes collected, because fewer people are working
- Higher expenditures, because there are more unemployed people
- Need for stimulus funds, to try to increase employment
- Need for funds to bail out banks and insurance companies
What seems to happen when there is a shortage of cheap oil is that the whole economy tends to shrink. The way I think of it is similar to making a batch of cookies. If a baker finds that he has a recipe that calls for four cups of flour, but he only has three, he needs to make a smaller batch. When he does this, he uses less of his other ingredients as well – sugar, eggs, shortening, and chocolate chips. If he had planned to use a whole bag of chocolate chips, he may only need to use part of a bag.
The economy seems to work in a similar fashion. If oil is too high-priced, the economy shifts to a mode of operation that uses less oil, but also employs fewer workers, uses less steel and copper, and uses less electricity. We call it recession.
Now I’d like to talk a little about what happens after an economy starts hitting the ceiling with respect to economic growth.
One thing that seems to happen is that oil prices seem to keep spiking.
The last recession ran from December 2007 to June 2009. This period started while oil prices were rising, before they hit a peak in July 2008, and ended after prices had collapsed and were again on the upswing.
We are now in the midst of another oil price (and food price) spike. We don’t know for certain that we are headed into a recession, but evidence is starting to point in that direction. Reported economic growth has been less than 1% in the first half of 2011. Given the past history of recessions being associated with oil price spikes, we shouldn’t be surprised if this spike leads to recession in the not too distant future.
Another thing that seems to happen as we start hitting limits is that private debt (blue on Slide 27) starts to decline. This is related to what I said on Slides 6 and 7 about the need for economic growth in order for debt to work out well. If oil prices are high, and recessionary forces are starting to hit, people don’t want to take out loans to expand their businesses, because it doesn’t look like there will be enough sales to support the expansion. Workers don’t want to move up to new bigger homes, partly because they haven’t gotten raises recently, and partly because future prospects don’t look all that good. Some credit card consumers find their cards cut off, because they have failed to make required payments.
Government debt (in red) tends to increase rapidly, but not rapidly enough to keep total debt rising the way it was prior to hitting growth limits. (Government debt in red is added to the private debt in blue, to produce the total debt.)
Government debt grows for a couple of reasons. First, tax revenues tend not to rise as rapidly, or to actually fall, because of higher unemployment rates. Second, government expenditures are higher, both for programs to help the unemployed, and for stimulus programs. This combination leads to the type of debt limit crisis that we recently experienced. Many European governments are experiencing similar difficulties.
We can’t know precisely how things will turn out, or exactly what the time frame will be. But at least some estimates are that things will turn out very badly. The shape of the graph shown in Slide 28 is sometimes called “Overshoot and Collapse.”
The problem we have is that the world’s population has grown to 7 billion people. If we substantially cut back on oil (or on fossil fuels in general), there is a question as to whether we will have enough food and water to support the 7 billion people alive today. If we had very many fewer people, we would have much less of a problem.
Some of the particular problems we are running into now relate to government debt, and inability to fund government programs for the unemployed at reasonable tax rates. It is not clear how these can be resolved. It is virtually impossible to raise tax rates enough to cover the cost of currently promised benefits, especially if unemployment rates rise even higher in the future. At the same time, cutting benefits can lead to riots–or even the overthrow of governments.
At this point, alternatives look like they will be too little, too late.
The closest substitute for oil is biofuels, but the ethanol we use today tends to use a huge amount of our corn crop, with very little ethanol yield. In 2011, ethanol is expected to use a little more than half of America’s corn crop. The energy content of a tank of ethanol is equivalent to the amount of food needed to feed a small person for a year. And of course, using a large amount of corn for ethanol tends to keep food prices up.
Most of the mitigations we hear about are electric–wind, and solar photovoltaic, and geothermal, and biogas. One problem with electric mitigations is that they don’t directly fix our oil shortage problem. The cars you and I drive today don’t run on electricity; they run on gasoline or diesel fuel.
Another problem with electricity mitigations is that they tend to produce only a small quantity of electricity. The layer I show as renewables includes all of the “new renewables” I listed above, plus wood scraps and sawdust, which are sometimes burned for electricity. The renewables line is getting thicker, but its growth is almost matched by the shrinkage in hydroelectric over the years. So in total, we aren’t getting very far, very quickly.
Also, I should point out that even if an alternate source of energy is called “renewable,” it doesn’t really mean that it could be maintained for very long, without the use of fossil fuels. Our electricity transmission wires are maintained using trucks and helicopters that use oil-based fuels. Wind turbines (and replacement parts for repairing wind turbines) are shipped using oil-based fuels. It requires fossil fuels to make solar panels.
Another issue is that alternative fuels are often expensive. If high-priced oil is leading to recession, it is difficult to see how even higher-priced alternatives will fix the situation.
Let me conclude by talking a little about where we go from here.
It seems to me that we have to take one day at a time. Worrying about tomorrow doesn’t do a lot of good.
I think we can probably expect another recession and more layoffs. The recession will probably be severe, because governments are in worse financial condition than they were last time around, and will tend to contribute to the recessionary problems, rather than offset them with stimulus funds.
It seems as if there is the possibility of a cutback of government programs. If this happens, there may be people who are hungry, and in need of assistance. There may even be riots.
If a bad recession occurs, almost every business, charity, and church congregation will be in similar circumstances. If sales or donations decrease, they will need to choose between laying off staff or defaulting on debt. Banks and insurance companies are likely to be faced with a large number of debt defaults. It is not clear that these debt defaults will necessarily result in evictions–it wouldn’t work for banks to own a large number of houses, and have people out on the streets.
It seems to me that we should do what we can do today, and not wait until sometime in the future, when the world situation may not be as good. My husband and I took a trip to China in May, figuring that our opportunity might not be as good in a few years.
We should also count our blessings. We live today with luxuries that even kings did not have a few hundred years ago. Life expectancies a few hundred years ago were only 30 to 40 years. Many readers have already lived longer than could be expected, not too long ago.
There is no real solution to our predicament. Even if a cheap liquid fuel could be found in abundance tomorrow, at most what it would do would be move the problem down the road a little way. Population would continue to grow. Pollution would become a greater and greater issue. We would have more problems with fresh water. We would likely come to another limit, in not too many years.
What should we do individually? One possible remedy is to keep some water and food on hand, in case of temporary unavailability. This can work for a short time, but it is really not feasible to store, say, 20 years worth of food and water.
I think that we should plan as if electricity may someday may not be available, or may be available only intermittently, because all of the various systems (financial, oil, electricity) are closely connected, so a disruption in one system may affect other systems. It is good to plan for windows that open, and non-electrical approaches for key business functions.
Gardening sounds like a good idea, and it is. But I don’t think we can count on a garden to save us, if there are starving people near by. In some sense, we really need a solution for everyone, but with 7 billion people in the world, this is difficult to do.
I would not count on paper investments, because of the potential for a large number of debt defaults. If governments are in poor condition, their guarantee of bank accounts and pension plans means less than it did in the past.
High population is clearly an issue. It would be great to be able to fix this problem through smaller family sizes, but doing so is not as easy as it sounds. If there is economic decline in the future, birth control may become less available and governments may not be able to continue to fund their retirement programs. These changes may lead to families having more children, rather than fewer.
I don’t know that any of us have the right answer as to what to do. The best we can do is pool our thoughts. Those who believe in a higher power may want to seek guidance from above, as well. But there are clearly no easy answers.
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Gail, I am interested in how people in your churched received this. It looks like an awful lot to take in at once. So I suspect that there was substantial need just to digest the basic ideas and basic emotional reactions. But what interests me more is whether this lead to much theological reflection or if this will take much more time to surface.
Essentially you are telling an apocalyptic story, an end of an empire or age beyond which it is very hard to see what will be. “Apocalypse” in its most common use refers to a catastrophic destruction, an “end of the world.” But in biblical Greek and Christian theology, apocalypse actually means a revealing, specifically of the Kingdom, the New Creation. It is also a revelation of the unreality of the present reality, such that the believing community can persevere in the present world with some detachment, being more firmly convinced of a kingdom reality that lies just beyond the illusion of the present order. For example, my favorite apocalyptic passage comes from 1 John 2:15-17: “Do not love the world [i.e., the present political, economic, and social order, as distinct from the physical creation, the earth or natural environment] or the things in the the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world–the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches–come not from the Father but from the world. And the world and its desires are passing away, but those who do the will of God live forever.” Such an apocalyptic vision, in my estimation, energizes faith, if cultivated not to devolve into a kind of helpless fatalism or escapist fanaticism. It adds clarity and urgency to claiming what is truly valuable and enduring. What is of highest value is not gold or cash, guns, privilege or power, but the very doing of the will of God, of loving as Christ loves, as dwelling peacefully within the good creation. This is not unlike what we discover as we face our own mortality, when we learn to number each day as precious, to love those around us unreservedly, to value goodness above the desires and vanity of worldly pursuits. As death approaches we may yet come to learn what matters most. But it is important to keep in mind that there is a New Heaven and New Earth ahead.
I would like to put an accent on the creativity and vital imagination God has vested us with. This imagination and creativity will add shape to things to come. I want my young daughter and her generation to face these challenges with hope and energy. I do not believe it is for us to say that anything is too little or too late. That merely reflects our attachment to the way things are, not the way things are yet to be. This summer my family and I spent a few day in the mountain. At one point we saw a man flying around in a kind of parasail. He had jumped off the mountain with a glider made only of fabric and cords, no motor, no metal tubing. The wind had lifted him well above the mountain. I was on the mountain, but had to look up to see him! He circle around for more than an hour, hollering out every now and then in shear delight. I actually don’t know how long he spent in the air because we left the mountain before he came down. I point this out because it had never entered into my imagination that someone could fly with just a few yards of fabric.
Today there are whole new pathways in biofuels that no one imagined as recently as in 2007. New critters are springing from the human mind, things I doubt even the Almighty Creator gave much thought to. For example, a strain of E. Coli has been engineered to photosynthesize and produce oil, but because E. Coli has no evolutionary use for photosynthesis or this oil, the oil just floats to the top of the water. Should we count on this strange little life form to replicate the past for us? No, and why would we even want that? It’s promise is for a future yet to be invented.
“This world and its desire are passing away…”
Perhaps my grandchildren will never fly in a noisy 747, but it’s not for me to know all the ways in which they will know how to fly, technologically or in any other way. I can show my daughter the way to the mountain. Where she goes from there I may never know, but I hope she flies.
You will have to remember that the group who comes to talks like this are self-selected, so do not represent an average cross-section. Quite a few had been talking to me about this issue for quite a while, so were not starting at the beginning. I would expect that everyone had a college degree, and most had advanced degrees.
There were a lot of questions, and pretty much everyone stayed around for an hour afterward, discussing some of the issues over coffee and cookies. One woman in her early 70s came up to me and said she had been afraid the talk would be over her head, but said she felt she could understand pretty much all of it.
Since I gave the talk, I have been asked to give the talk to a college class who have limited background (this will be interesting), and an adapted version of the talk to a nuclear energy group. I will also be answering questions for another college class, who is being assigned the talk as reading material.
Clearly we don’t know exactly what is ahead. I would have more confidence in new inventions, if the scale up time were not so long, and the costs so huge.
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i thought it through far enough to realize that negative interest ought to be termed “disinterest” 😉
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For anyone who does not thoroughly understand why our economy needs growth, check out a YouTube presentation, “money as debt”.
The beginning is somewhat conspiratorial, but it was very eye-opening for me. It is not so much the economy as the monetary system that requires continual growth, – the two will have to be decoupled, and a new monetary system put in place, because of peak oil,- IMO.
This is a link to one Money as Debt video, which is 47 minutes.
These is also a 20 minute version.
It explains a fair amount about our strange financial system.
Ty, Gail. I really need to learn how to do that.
Has anyone mentioned the idea of negative interest rates to you? It seems to me like it’s a way for the stakeholders in this game to remain in power for a fairly minimal amount of disinvestment, allow BAU for the longest amount of time, with the least disruptions.
Basically, they could print enough funny money to cover their own losses, but decrease loan payback enough to stay in line with a shrinking economy. Have you heard of any other (peaceful) suggestions?
Ack. Worked through some ramifications of that. People might not go for that. Once the bankers leveraged their own money… It would be pretty ugly what they would stand to gain.
Bankers always get the sweetest deals.
I haven’t thought through the way that would work in practice, except I know insurance rates would have to be quite a bit higher.
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I drive 50 miles a day to/from work in an older Ford Festiva. For those of you that do a fair amount of driving and want to do your part to save on fuel consumption and the environment, you need to check out a product that, when added to gas or diesel, will increase your fuel economy into the double digits while slashing exhaust emissions. Its called Mach3 Super Eco Fuel Saver and it is a SAE proven product that really works. Its made in California. The inventor (now deceased) figured out how to burn more of the fuel our engines don’t burn (which is why we have catalytic converters…to oxidize or “burn” the unburnt fuel). You can buy bottles (as I do) from the site:
Does it really work? Go to the Canadian web site and read the customer comments:
My Festiva went from 37 to 42MPG, combined city/highway using the A/C. Try it. You’ll never go without it once you see what it does for you. It’s added almost another 50 miles to my tank of gas. We all know that carbon based fuels will be around for awhile. This stuff can help all of us.
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Some people travel long distances to get to work, It costs at least 25c a mile to run a car (used high gas mileage model in which the owner does most of the work and cruisesjunk yards for used parts. In general for most drivers the costs are between 50 to 80 cents a mile. People that drive 80 miles round trip to work are spending about 50 bucks a day or 250 bucks a week. $6.25 an hour plus income tax and social securtiy cost can easily bump this up to $7.50 an hour. If one values their free time away from cars and highways and traffic jams then the additional costs of the long commute may not pay relative to eventually finding or closer job or moving closer to work. Additionaly since ancient sunilight is by definition limited and the resources to build cars and the infrastructure are too people should defer to simpler less complex answers. One additional observation: many of the costs associated with enery and material use become socialized so personal cost is not total cost and some people value resources for for future generations of humans but their voices are drowned out.As it is the USA about 4% of the worlds polulation is consuming about 25% of the energy. In some states, CA is a good example the marginal cost of a new driver is about $15,000 a year (infrasructure annd accidents).
Amen, I’ve been searching for two straight years for a job closer to home, so far with no luck. I mean in an ideal world I would live in the same building where I have my office, and I’d be all for that. In the real world and our suffering economy (which will only be getting worse), it’s very hard to find a job near where you live. For a household with only one person working, you can move closer to where you work, but for a household with two working parents it may take a long time to find jobs near enough to one another that you can both commute without driving to work.
In the late 70’s and early 80’s I lived in Lynn Ma car free. I used a mountain bike with baskets for hauling groceries. I also had a pack. One time I hauled home a 50 pound vice in my pack from Building 19. I prefered to ride at nignt as there were more then a few drivers who thought it was sporting to try to hit a cyclist, as we were very very rare. I went to work year round with my trusty bike. The job did not pay enough to support a car and in addition I prefered to use less fossil fuels as I thought there were planetary sink limits and that they were in limited supply….
A comprehensive and comprehensible presentation. Good job, Gail!
One idea for the section on ‘Where do we go from here?”:
Look out for and take care of each other. Our personal part of the world may become a more dangerous place to live in than we are accustomed to. We are probably going to need each other’s help to get through this in one piece. Neighbors are important and necessary resources, under times of stress. That’s what the ‘local mindset’ is really all about.
There is a balance in our society between competition and cooperation. Each strategy has advantages and disadvantages, depending on circumstances. I suggest that we are going to see a lot more of the former but actually need a lot more of the latter. Just consider what’s going on in Congress right now!
“Look out for each other” is a good point. It is closely related to something else I had thought about putting in, but forgot to–“Move close to family.” Very often, grandparents are across the country from their children and grandchildren. Moving close together, or even into an “in-law” apartment, may make things better in the long run.
We can look out for others besides family, too. There are friends to look out for and programs for local people, like food co-ops and even schools.
You look out for and take care of each other by destroying those who will compete with you (and those you are taking care of) for that which is scarce. Period.
What is going in Congress now is no different from what went on there just 9 months ago, for a duration of 2 years prior to that, when one party had an overwhelming dominance in majority and could have passed any taxes they wanted. And the GOP promised FY2011 slashes of real, actual 100 billion in spending cuts during the 2010 campaign and got 3B.
They cut, with an axe, double digit percentages in entitlement spending, double digit percentages in non defense discretionary spending AND about 6% in DoD spending NOW, in FY2012, or we are at full scale, global, nuclear war within 3 years, with 15% US population casualty count.
I don’t think that we really can make things work on our own, so we have to look out for one another. But I suppose that could lead to different groups fighting each other for scarce resources–one group against another. I don’t really see international war as much of a problem as war with the people in the next town upstream,
Great to read, in the more recent comments, nothing whatsoever about religion as the enemy of the human condition. This from somebody who was an atheist for many decades, and now goes to church religiously. I refuse to apologize for either my previous Atheism or my present Christianity.
Bicycling and walking are entirely different. I have always passionately believed in both. And that lads should court their lasses with (inter alia) singing serenades (worked for me).
I didn’t saw it would be easy, but I think it will be necessary, because as this post and many others have pointed out, there is no magic bullet that will suddenly make cars sustainable.
Some of it is cultural, and that will be hard to change, but what the American dream meant to different generations did and has changed. Houses are bigger, cars are bigger, everything is bigger. We have to start being okay with smaller. There is actually an interesting and growing movement called the small, or tiny house movement. A number of blogs are written by people passionately showing how a fulling life doesn’t require a lot of living space or a lot of stuff. If we built smaller housing and closer together, it wouldn’t require as much income for basic housing. The average house size has really ballooned since the 70’s.
Some of the economic hurdles you speak of, like cost of living being too high in urban cores relative to income, are in many ways artificially inflated by zoning policies and government mandates that complicate infill development, and put a straight jacket on allowing urban development to meet demand and suppress prices. Things like parking minimums often require a developments by law to spend millions of dollars to build large parking garages that often never get fully utilized and induce more driving in areas that should be less car oriented. Frankly some suburban areas are going to be difficult, but many, especially the ones that were created as trolly line suburbs originally, with efficient mass transit to job centers can be retrofitted to be more transit oriented. We have overbuilt on houses too big and too far away to the neglect of development that would bring down cost of living in urban areas, but that is starting to reverse as most new construction is going to multifamily units closer existing development instead of speculative green field construction built on the drive till you qualify model.
As for drawbacks to cycling, snow storms doesn’t seem to deter bicycling in cities with nice cycling infrastructure like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where bike paths have higher priority for snow plowing than many streets. Adapting cycling to different weather just means having the right clothes to be comfortable and the right tires. Fortunately where I live the weather is absolutely golden for cycling, but it doesn’t have to be ideal weather to still bike. Concerning travel time, many of my trips are faster on a bike than driving, because I’m immune to traffic congestion and don’t have to circle round and round for parking.
Mixing transit and bicycling can really extend range and options. I think one of our priority shifts has to be to stop wasting billions on more freeways and interchanges, focus on improving transit, and improving bicycling connections to those transit nodes. With expanding bike capacity on trains, or placing bike share systems at transit stations, you can get rid of many of the “last mile” problems with train to bus transfers that add a lot of delay.
Such changes are difficult culturally and politically, but the status quo is unsustainable, and if we count on someone unknown power source to keep all the cars running indefinitely, we are setting ourselves up to crash really hard. A lot of people from generation already get that these kinds of changes need to happen, and I know more and more people giving up driving, or driving very little. A few more bikes show up around the office every year, growing slowly but steadily.
As I’ve gotten more into bicycling in the past several years, how far and how fast I can go with less effort has increased dramatically. I can’t count on oil lasting forever, or that some amazing replacement will be found, but I can count on knowing as long as I can survive with food to eat, I can ride a bike to get around. It won’t work for everyone in every situation, but millions of people already live in places where at least some trips can be reasonably biked. Even if it’s just replacing some errands, or riding a bike or transit to work once a week, every time a car trip is replaced with bike trip, drops our fuel dependance. The sooner we get used to doing it now, and making it more viable and culturally acceptable, the better off we will be when there is little choice in the matter later.
I completely agree with your thoughts and promise to vote for your appointment to Secretary of Transportation. Everything you suggest is feasible – however, the problem is the problem itself. Until there is some critical mass of people recognizing the danger of our current dependency on a depleting energy supply, we simply don’t seem motivated to set realistic transportation goals and experiment with low-energy ways to move people/goods around.
It is pretty clear that a multi-mode transportation system based upon walking, biking, human powered vehicles, neighborhood electric vehicles, jitney cabs (see book Plan C), buses, trains, etc could mitigate many of our impending fossil fuel issues and buy us some time for larger scale measures (like humane population reduction programs). None of this is rocket science or requires any technological discoveries – we could easily start implementation today. But, we won’t, because we (collectively) don’t see the necessity to change our behavior regarding our car culture. Our current culture is deeply connected to the idea that a powerful personal automobile is essential for well-being. Much of our economy is beholden to this idea and most political forces are loath to challenge this mindset.
I’ve been a bicycle activist and advocate for over 40 years – since returning to cycling in my 30s. Promoting infrastructure and laws favoring pedestrians and cyclists is an uphill battle. Many political forces are even hostile to spending any public dollars in this direction. We even see cases of federal dollars being rejected because of ideological opposition to facilitating cycling. Here in WI, our Governor turned down some $800 million for railroad development and seriously cut any funds for cycling (which precludes matching funds) – he strongly favors road development for cars.
As you suggest, the average person could easily travel by bike for many miles a day in a variety of weather conditions. It just takes the right training and equipment. Modern bikes are absolute marvels of efficiency. I’m in my 70s, with more than my fair share of aliments, and have no problem with riding 50 miles (I have even older friends that put me to shame). I don’t think the average person has a very realistic idea of how easy it is to use a modern bike/trike with the proper amount of conditioning. And yet, I’m seldom able to convert motorists to cyclists. I’ve often gotten a person enthusiastic about cycling only to see them become totally discouraged the first time they try to navigate a trip to the local shopping area. Near death experiences tend to dampen enthusiasm.
Also, don’t be surprised if you get criticized for promoting bicycling – there is a faction within the Peak Oil community that views cycling as another “off-topic” subject that is irrelevant and “contributes nothing”. Like you, I think that the basic concepts of personal transportation that prevail in the western countries need to be challenged. I think about how the beliefs regarding smoking have changed over the years – and the serious opposition to those changes. Our car culture runs very deep in our psyche, but it is not beyond reproach. Remains to be seen if we can change quickly enough.
I think progress on making bicycling accepted as legitimate transportation in the U.S. has been very slow over the years, but is really picking up steam just in the past few years. New York City is adding bike lanes all over the place, and a legal challenge to one of them was recently struck down. San Fransisco is adding bike lanes all over, Chicago, and even L.A. is committing to adding 40 miles of bike lanes a year moving forward. In Santa Monica, adjacent to L.A., where I live, I have helped in pushing our new bike master plan to be more ambitious, and political support is already aligned to adopt the plan. Even places I wouldn’t think of as being leaders for such efforts, like Fort Worth Texas, are adopting ambitious bike plans.
Speaking of Los Angeles, a city mostly associated with driving, is undergoing a reset back to it’s 1920 transit oriented roots. Rail line extensions retracing places that used to have rail are expanding every year, and the county was willing to tax itself with 2/3 majority support in order to fund these expansions, ensuring local funding support.
Out of necessity, I strong believe electric rail systems for covering distance, and bicycling for solving the last mile issues of mass transit, is the best hope we have for retaining a mobile society in the face of coming fuel constraints.
Gary, I admire your enthusiasm and optimism. I’ve not seen that much progress around here. We need more people like you to keep “pushing our new bike master plan to be more ambitious”.
I feel that knowing how serious the problems we face are, and how many decades of life left I have, that I have to be optimistic that radical change & adaption is possible or I would just shoot myself now and be over with it.
I’ve been trying to follow a lot of the peak oil discussion over the past year or so, and while I am quite alarmed about the dire implications for society, I have been a little disappointed to see so little discussion of the vital role of bicycling and public transportation in reducing fuel consumption while preserving mobility in our economy.
It seems there is always talk about fueling cars with something else, and lamenting nothing else will be a good enough substitute for oil for running all the cars. Well yes, but we wouldn’t need so many cars running in the first place if we improved transit service, focused construction on closer living, made safer bike routes and walked and biked more.
If we all rode bikes and transit in the city, or even just substantially increased mode share, it would free up tremendous amounts of fuel that could be focused on keeping farm and rural production going.
As a local bike advocate in my city (Santa Monica, CA), I think there needs to be greater overlap with the peak oil crowd and advocates for bicycling, transit and new urbanist land use principles. Bio fuel in a car is wastes a lot of energy, I use bio fuel to feed me, and then ride my bike to work, which is more efficient than even walking.
The transportation fuel problem is most severe when it comes to commercial transportation — trucking, shipping, construction equipment, etc. — since those are the systems where there’s not a clear alternative. What seems to be the most likely solution to me is choking down trade to the point where anything that can possibly be produced locally is produced locally, and the rest is put on trains running biodiesel or electric trains. Do we go back to sailing cargo ships?
We need to transition more trucking to freight rail, which can carry many more tons on less fuel. Even if oil is in fact peaked, it is not running out tomorrow, and we have a lot of fat that can be trimmed that is just plain wasteful. If rail handled nearly all intercity freight movement, and trucking were mostly scaled down to within city transport, with more electric and hybrid trucks, I believe it is feasible to dramatically reduce fuel consumption of moving goods, which is already much more efficient than the way we move people.
Concerning things like shipping and freight, those are fairly efficient systems, and while they do require oil with few viable alternatives available, if we got rid of all the unnecessary fuel burning for basic commuting in cities, it frees up resources to keep essential systems (like agriculture) running longer and buys time to transition those more difficult fuel dependent systems. If metro and suburban commuters were not burning gas just to get to work and pick up a carton of milk from the store, it would shift the whole landscape of how we use oil, and hopefully give us the extra time we would need to more fully transition to the whole supply chain being sustainable.
I don’t think there is such thing as any easy solution, but transportation is critically dependent on oil, more than any other sector of our economy, and large swaths of that is pure waste. So many car trips are less than 5 miles, and even less than 2 miles, entirely realistic distances on a bike. I’m convinced that while bicycling won’t solve everything, significantly upping urban travel mode share to bicycling will have to be a big part of the solution. For personal transport, nothing else comes close as far as efficiency. I’m doing what I can locally by pushing for my city to adopt what is shaping up to be an ambitious bike master plan, but this really needs to be happening everywhere, and any new construction must focus on infill development and keeping travel distances more human in scale.
The problem is that requires more than just a change in transportation habits, but a change in culture entirely. I agree that bicycles are one of the better post-carbon urban transportation methods, but the problem is even in urban centers there are a lot of drawbacks for people who are accustomed to driving. It takes longer to get places, you’re unable to avoid the elements (winter cold, summer rain storms, etc.), many people may need to change clothes if they cycle to work, etc.
There are other problems too. For example, I drive about 40 miles each way every day to work, because after about 10 months of unemployment the only job I was able to find was in a neighboring city. If I were to switch to using public transportation and commuter rail, it would take me about 2 hours commuting each way, instead of the 45 minutes it takes driving. Obviously the better solution is to work in the city where you live, but that would mean either I turned down my first job opportunity in 10 months or my wife quit her job so we could relocate. This is the type of culturally entrenched behavior that you’re going to have trouble undoing. Also, average salaries in urban centers are often insufficient to pay for a family to live anywhere but the suburbs. How do you recommend remedying that kind of problem?
I expect people will find themselves sharing a home with another family (friends, relatives) or living in a fairly small apartment, to try to make ends meet. The “family members with jobs in different locations” problem is a common one. Some may end up staying M-F in an apartment (probably with others) in the city, and commuting only on week-ends.
Regarding “Even if oil is in fact peaked, it is not running out tomorrow”:
I don’t think it is the geology that is determining the down slope. Geology sets an upper limit for how much oil we can get out, that is all. It is the financial and political situation that will determine the down slope. There is nothing guaranteeing that the oil that we could get out today, with an intact financial and political system, we will able to extract in the future, if things substantially fall apart. So the down slope may be much quicker than most people expect.
I don’t see biodiesel ever playing much of a role. Too expensive, and too many problems (gels in cold weather). I doubt electric rail will happen either–too expensive to implement now. If it didn’t make sense before, it likely won’t be affordable now.
It seems like we will eventually have to go back to sailing cargo ships, plus lots of barges. I don’t think much will be transported long distance.
Averaged out, freight rail can carry about a ton of weight 400 miles with 1 gallon of diesel fuel. If things got really tight, I think we would see total death of long haul trucking, but unless all of society fell apart, freight rail in some form will still be operating for a while. If it became necessary fuel could be rationed to give greater priority to freight rail travel in the face of extreme shortages. At the end of the day moving food from farm to city will have to be given preference over the commuter who feels transit and bicycling is too inconvenient for their liking.
“At the end of the day moving food from farm to city will have to be given preference over the commuter who feels transit and bicycling is too inconvenient for their liking.”
I mean at the *end* of the day, the whole idea of large urban centers may need to disappear, so that each town or “city” can be sustained by the farms immediately around that city. But in the near-term, I’m not sure the best choice is encouraging people to cycle on dangerous roadways, as you have done in these comments. On a narrow winding road, there is absolutely no safe way to cycle — when I’m going 40 mph and come around a bend to find a bicycle in my lane doing 15mph, it’s a serious safety hazard for me, the cyclist, and oncoming traffic, and you won’t convince me there’s any way to avoid that unless I stop driving the speed limit on the highway.
Also, for me, public transit and bicycling wouldn’t be merely inconvenient, it would be entirely unfeasible. If I spent 4 hours each day commuting, plus the 11 hours I’m expected to spend at the office, that leaves me only nine hours to eat, sleep, and get ready for work the next morning. While that might be *possible*, it would be absolutely miserable. I am sure there are countless other people in my same situation, for whom public transport simply is not an option without quitting their jobs (which in this economy would be just plain stupid).
When I talk about bicycling & transit I am talking mostly for people w/ typical commutes, but of course it always seems to upset people who live incredibly far from work. 2 hour drive puts you in category of what is usually called extreme commuters when defining trip times.
In the L.A. metro region where I live 90% of commuters drive, but the average commute is actually within 5 miles, which can easily be biked and is not unreasonable in bus travel time. Half the US opopulation lives in metro regions now, & most of those people are easily bikable distance to at least some destinations.
As for driving around bends, it is the legal obligation of the driver to slow for the conditions, regardless of signage. Most cyclists know on winding roads to hug the right uphill, and downhill a cyclist is moving about as fast a car and positions to the center for visibility. If you are unwilling to share the road with bicyclists while driving (bicyclists have the right to ride any road except prohibited freeways w/ viable alternative routes), than to be perfectly frank, you are put of the problem.
Not everywhere has a bike lane ( but I am always fighting for more of them), but I ride where ever I wish to go. I don’t own a car, I sold it even though I could afford to drive, so it’s all bike & public transit for me. I know more & more people making that choice all the time, & many more will need to in the future.
My commute is 45 minutes driving each way, but would take 2 hours each way if I were to combine biking and public transportation.
My point was that there are many roads where cycling is simply unsafe, and it really angers me that people like you insist on riding your bicycle on those roads out of some principle. I’m not going to slow down to 20mph every time I take a turn on every road in the world, on the off-chance that someone is crazy enough to ride a bicycle there. Yes, you have every right to risk your life by riding your bicycle where it’s stupid to do so. And yes, I know I have to share the road with you if that’s your inclination. I’m just saying there’s a place for bicycles and there are places where maybe it’s not the best idea. You’re part of the problem by encouraging people to cycle where it’s not the best idea.
Okay, so you can believe mining in outer space will save us, but somehow take offense at simple solutions like bicycling.
Part of my point is whether you ride a bike and take transit or not, because you feel is is too impractical for you living situation, there are millions and millions of Americans living in situations where it is not only feasible but easy to ride or bike or take transit, but they don’t. The number of cars trips under 2 miles is pretty staggering to me.
I also have a lot of personal friends that travel the entire country completely on bicycle, and out away from cities there sometimes are not the best roads for riding a bike, but it is often the only access to an area. Given a choice between a road easy and pleasant to ride and one that isn’t, nearly any cyclist will choose the path of least resistance, but in many places there are no alternative options to reach certain areas. I have done several long distance trips on side roads, like San Fransisco to Los Angeles. Knowing there are drivers like you out there scares me a little, but I will not be intimidated out of my freedom to travel.
About the slowing for turns, it’s not just about the chance of someone riding a bike, there are often road debris, rock slides, or fallen trees on rural and windy roads. Traffic fatalities are the number one cause of death for anyone under 30, but one of the biggest chunks of that number is single vehicle collisions where a driver kills them self running into stationary objects or running off the road.
I’m still in my 20’s, I will be living to see much of what ever world energy mess is heading for us. I do everything I can to shrink my dependance on oil, and riding a bike is efficient and cost effective way to do that, but I still want to travel and explore what’s out there, and value my mobility and right to travel very highly.
Either we plan more routes with bicycle travel in mind, or we end up with more bicyclists competing for space on roads drivers would rather not see cyclists, but whether you like it or not, more people will be turning to bicycling travel, whether for recreation or daily commuting, and cyclists have a right to that road access.
Gary & Wappledoo,
Although I completely agree with Gary, I also understand Wappledoo when he says (and I agree):
However it is the next part of his comment that we should dwell upon:
Here we have our current culture and transportation paradigm pitting two well-meaning folks against each other. Given our current mindset this is a no-win argument for both parties. Until there is some kind of broad agreement about the need to significantly change our public roadway systems/laws, I don’t encourage anyone to become a martyr to the cause. Personally, I now take far fewer risks in deciding where to bike or not. My compromise was to buy a very small and fuel efficient car for travel in heavy traffic areas (although I still manage about 4,000 miles per year on my bike). I consider owning any car (other than a NEV) to be an undesirable compromise – but, tilting at windmills is not my thing either.
Until we see measures like a national 35 mph top speed limit with mandatory governors; one side of the expressway restricted to mass transit; realistic taxes on pollution/GHG; entire streets restricted to bikes and very low energy vehicles; parking lots converted to parks; many roadways abandoned; laws that give priority to cyclists, etc – then Wappledoo has a valid point. And, I don’t realistically expect to see any of these measures until we “step over corpuses in the street”. I also don’t know if the urgency to do these things will arise in 5 years or 25 years – eventually, I’d bet it will.
In this respect, sailing is just low-tech (which usually means the most feasable) wind energy.
It seems like it would butt heads with the limited-time loan financial scenario though.
Probably wouldl be a function of a cargo’s value and how well it “keeps”.
I think the problem with boom and bust, is when it is bust you can’t move things around very well, even ideas. My town which used to do 1000 permits/yr is now doing 10/yr for new housing, when i goto the town supervisors and say that we need to rezone the business route + 4 blocks for 4 story multi-family housing, because that is where all the mass transit and stores are, they are agog. “No, that is single family on 1/8 an acre, and there are plenty of lots available 5 miles in that direction….” (that would be five miles from any business, service, or school). Even if they could be persuaded to make the change, who would build the multifamily? That is going to take a lot of money/energy to do.
I biked year round for two years in Albany, NY, it is a little different than Santa Monica, but even where I live today it is hard to see major biking happening on these winding fairly dangers roads. I bought a cargo bike and bike trailer, my goal next year 2012 is to start grocery shopping, etc, during times when I know there is light traffic. If you notice me missing next year, you’ll know what happened.
Towns and cities that get it will survive, and ones that don’t, and want to hold onto their archaic zoning laws drafted in a time of great abundance, they will die off as people move elsewhere. I don’t see anyway around it.
If you haven’t already, I recommend looking up training from League of American Bicycling on how to ride a bike safely in traffic. Their methods are taught assuming bike infrastructure is non existent, and it has served me well riding all over, including out in areas more hostile to the cyclist.
I agree bicycles are a good idea, especially if a city is set up with bicycle lanes. Where I live, roads are hilly, narrow, and don’t have bicycle lanes, which makes the situation difficult.
Transit would be a good idea, but at this point, all levels of government are broke. I have a had time seeing it happen. We would do well to keep what we have. Setting up car pools would be more doable, IMO.
One of several reasons governments are broke is infrastructure maintenance liabilities in suburban developments that don’t generate enough tax revenue to sustain infrastructure beyond the first few life cycles. Much of this infrastructure is wide roads and highways to support car travel to remote low value places. If we cut the subsidies to keep unviable developments afloat, we would have more resources for transit improvement in the areas where ridership would be high.
But partly what appeals to me about bicycling, is that it has few dependencies. We have the infrastructure we already need for bikes, all that extra width on roads engineered for greater speed than is necessary. A few buckets of paint is all it takes to make bicycling a more attractive option in many places.
They are beginning to understand the infrastructure maintenance, and there is some selective abandonment. What is apalling to me in the past and future stimulus discussions is the continual building of it.
Connected to this is the detroit-disease of replacing 75mph ICE vehicles with 75mph lithium based products. Start designing and shipping LEV/NEV+ vehicles that go 35mph and use lead acid batteries and the roads that are marked 35mph will be a lot safer for bicycles. I have a Polaris LEV which goes about 30mph and uses lead acid batteries, i charge it with solar panels. It is illegal to drive it on the roads of PA. You can imagine my commitment to compliance at my remote farm surrounded my Amish running horse and buggies.
There will be no bicycles.
There will be no electricity.
I had a power outtage this week. OFF at 0900, ON at 1500. Why did that happen — meaning, the ON part? Trucks. Repair trucks.
They got where they needed to be over a 30 mile radius (perhaps several places) after a lightning store and fixed what needed fixing with spare parts made 1500 miles away.
And so shall it be with bicycles.
You all do realize that the calculations of 2300 calories/day go out the window when you burn more of them? The calories/acre calculation is consumption depended. The oxen have to plant more, much more.
Have a look at the future here from year 1900ish:
The Amish were mentioned above – How does Gail (and others) think they will make out after we run out of cheap fossil fuels?
The Amish of Pennsylvania which I’m most familiar with have been using propane extensively for lighting and cooking, many of the regional Bishops allow DC lighting so there is now extensive ongoing investments in PV and DC lighting. (I met a young Amish businessman who had completed the 8th grade – the norm – and then went onto Stevens Institute of Technology for two years for a tech associates degree, very impressive).
The biggest problem that I see the Amish having is that they use GMO crops with extensive herbicides and pesticides. They may have extensive experience in animal husbandry, but all that animal power is dead if/when that has a hiccup.
I am guessing the Amish will be affected less than the rest of us, but will still be affected. I found this little study of three Amish farms, saying that they planted a variety of crops, often used open pollinated varieties, and used manure for fertilizer. To the extent they can keep the things going that they are doing, they will do better than the rest of us.
The reason I expect they will be affected is they still depend on our oil based system for quite a lot of things–roads, and stores, and goods delivered to stores. They don’t make their own clothes or shoes, and I expect that they don’t grow a fair amount of their food. Even if they can food, they need to buy the jars and lids somewhere. The financial system they use is the same one we do, also. They probably don’t have much debt, but they depend on banks for keeping their money, and banks for keeping the grocery store in operation.
If there are hungry people nearby, I expect they will have problems of thefts of their crops and animals.
In some ways they are like people who now adopt alternative lifestyles, except they have been doing it for a long time, so have it “down pat”. It protects them somewhat, but not if everything else falls apart.
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All the politicians inflaming the passions of their respective bases is not helping this situations one bit. You can bet your last silver dime that this is only setting us up to see worse civil unrest and class warfare in the future. The irony here is that they are ALL wrong in their own respective ways. I for one am ready for this world to change from this hopeless corrupt system we currently have in place. Sadly, that likely means a lot of dead people.
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Chill. Your comment seems too much like the late-night dorm-room bull sessions I remember from back in the 1950’s (back when dinosaurs meandered up and down I-94). Atheism, Communism, race, and which Big Ten team would go to the Rose Bowl. (In short order, I started spending my evenings more interestingly, pursuing and being pursued by the allegedly fairer gender.)
There is too much polarization these days, particularly on matters relating to anything and everything environmental. Kinda like, you gotta be leftist-secular to be environmental, and if you are conservative-religious you gotta be anti-environmental. This is no help. And referring to religious concepts as «mythologies — dangerous mythologies», unfortunately, comes across as insolent and contemptuous. You know, and I do not, whether such was your intent. You are a capable enough wordsmith to express yourself in a more civil manner.
I fail to see how belief in an afterlife — or in incarnation, transmigration, etc. — interferes with the ability to objectively consider resource depletion, sustainability, or any other such matters. If you feel otherwise, go ahead. I am sure there are blogs that welcome such commentary, the internet-age equivalent of those late-night dorm-room bull sessions I of long ago.
Meanwhile, I too am a «Dave» — I prefer «David» — and am a bicyclist. (Not into racing, just long-distance riding and touring.) But this is not the place to discuss such bicycling, either.
I replied above before seeing this response, but I agree completely that reinforcing stereotypes and polarization is a bad thing. I am a conservative-secular person, and I would hope that people of all beliefs and political ideologies are capable of realizing that resource depletion is a problem. Well maybe not someone who believes that the end-days are nigh and God will save the faithful from the Earth, since there’s not much benefit in conserving resources if the Earth will be destroyed and the faithful will be whisked off elsewhere regardless. But with the exception of a few extremists, I don’t see any reason a person’s political or religious beliefs can prevent them from accepting the gravity of the situation facing our species.
Isn’t it curious that those things of meaningful significance have always, are and will forever continue to be meaningful? When the last drop of oil is combusted and the artificial lights flicker out, somewhere a man will put his arm around the shoulder of his love, pull her close and whisper how life couldn’t possibly be any better than it is at that perfect instant as they gaze at the setting sun from some mountain top.
That bliss is also part of our karma and our only purpose is to enjoy it.
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Gail, David Collins, Larry Shultz,
Gail, I recall you mentioned your favorable experience, early on in life, with a church in St Cloud, MN. I grew up in northern MN in a very religious community and I have no such fond memories. So, I’ll concede that we come with some pre-dispositions regarding the subject. However, pre-dispositions are not a valid reason for one’s belief systems. I contend that religious beliefs embody both elements of practical wisdom and a great deal of mythology – dangerous mythologies that now far outweigh the benefits. The mythology of salvation in an afterlife (Lutheran included) thwarts our most urgent need to recognize that planet Earth is the only dwelling place for humans and all the other species we depend upon for survival of our gene pool. The mythology that only humans have a “soul” and deserve preeminence leads to a profound degree of hubris, distain and apathy for the rest of our biosphere. The mythologies of various “chosen peoples” and “sacred” text have supported countless wars and atrocities. Religious myths are intimately intertwined with our evolution and therefore very deeply seated. The challenge is to recognize the anachronistic nature of these myths and to consciously-deliberately move on to worldviews that might actually allow for our survival as a species.
David, you said that comments about religion are “off-topic and contributes nothing.” I disagree. I think that Peak Oil, Peak Everything and the Limits to Growth have no promise of being mitigated until humanity refutes the mythologies of the supernatural and addresses the realities of life on planet Earth. The fundamental concept of faith-based belief systems is extremely on-topic and a healthy challenge could provide the most significant contribution imaginable. Please understand that I’ve little hope for this transformation occurring in any timely fashion. Although it is encouraging to see the steady growth in the percentage of non-believers, the old guard will flog the religious horse in ever more desperate attempts to preserve their belief systems – one need look no further than the Rick Perry presidential fiasco. On the other hand, if enough of us keep sounding the alarm, perhaps we can make a tiny difference.
Gail, you said “If churches can help people live together peaceably in difficult times, it seems like this in itself is an important role.” First of all, the daily murder and mayhem perpetrated around the world by feuding religious factions makes the “peaceably” word a bit hard to appreciate. However, if we look at some idealized church based community in the US Midwest and then conclude this is an admirable model – I would beg to differ. In another comment, Larry Shultz points out all of the really important issues that church leaders to do NOT address. This is not a trivial point. This is a grievous act of moral omission with devastating consequences for humanity and the planet. Even at a very local level I fail to appreciate the “peaceably” idea. Driving through most any mid-west town demonstrates the divisiveness of conflicting belief systems – how much better could a community be served if these were simple community centers that were focused on real world problems. In a dooms day survival scenario it remains to be seen what role churches will actually play. Mad Max biker gangs might also be considered support groups. A better alternative would be to avoid this scenario and I doubt churches will be helpful in this regard.
Many people on forums like this immediately react to any criticism of religion as it being irrelevant and unconstructive – the implication being that the person performing the criticism has some kind of unrelated agenda – an agenda that is perceived as unwarranted and unappreciated. Perhaps this reaction is evidence of how indoctrinated we are against questioning the foundations of our culture. On this forum and others we lament the unlikelihood of meaningful change in the collective behavior of humans as it relates to our own long-term survival – and then we move on with the question hanging open. Why should we be afraid to challenge our most “sacred” beliefs”? Here in the US, we are quick to poke fun at the “sacred cows” of other cultures – what about our own? Peak Oil versus Salvation – not unrelated.
The broad Christian meta-narrative includes more than the “after-life”, including “tending the garden”, and lots of interesting laws in the Mitzvah about taking care of the environment from not cutting down trees, to not harming the bird/mother while eating her eggs. Secondly there are Christian movements such as the ana-baptists (think mennonites, Amish, brethern) who teach that the Kingdom of God is now AND in the future which has some significance in what we do now. Max Weber long ago wrote that the marriage of a specific movement (Calvinism) in Christianity was what made the economics change and grow so dramatically within capitalism.
As for religion kills, that was all settled in the Treaty of Westphalia, many centuries ago, when it was determined that States would create wars, not religions, and that has worked out so well. In fact in the 20th century if not even today atheists did a great job of killing a lot of people, read the “Black Book of Communism” written by two university of Paris profs for numbers.
I would posit that it is in the character of man that there is desire for sin/crime against man/creation/biosphere, infused by whatever is useful as platform to justify the required actions.
I am not sure I have a good answer. Belief systems tend to go with a whole culture, and the amount of energy that those cultures have available. Usually, they include a lot of good values–taking care of the earth, doing to others what you would have them do to you (or a lower version of this), and so on. They are not constant. Religions are changing, as not pastors come in and reinterpret past writing, and new people come in and claim to have divine inspiration (or be a god).
I am not sure we really have the power to change religions if we want to.
I agree with your points that it’s difficult to find a good answer and the limited ability to cause change. I also appreciate the fact that you did not vilify me. I think you know that I greatly appreciate your work and your skill in dealing with a wide range of ideas. I’m sure you agree that it’s not necessary to agree on everything to have a useful discussion – often to the contrary.
I apologize to those folks who felt compelled to respond to my comment with words like nasty, hateful, nihilists, selfishness, arrogance, elitism, insolent, contemptuous, etc – my only intent was to engage in a discussion of ideas. I try to be very cautious about making any personal insults or judgments just because someone disagrees with my viewpoint. However, the backlash was not surprising as it seems to be almost impossible to broach this subject dispassionately. And, I admit that my own choice of words may have something to do with the responses – hard to be subtle about religion (but, maybe I should work on that!).
Although it is difficult for me to accept the argument that some religious institutions are making a positive contribution to the global issues facing our planet, I do hope that debates like this encourage more movement in that direction. Perhaps the irritant value of people like me can be compensated somewhat by the increased awareness of the more positive roles that religious organizations can play.
I remain convinced that the issues associated with PO and Limits to Growth in general can only be mitigated once we begin the transition to fundamental cultural changes. Gail, as you said “Belief systems tend to go with a whole culture” – nothing is more fundamental to belief and culture than religion. My only intent is to spark a bit of critical thinking about this important area. Never-the-less, I’ve now contributed my thoughts on this subject and don’t intend to clutter up your excellent blog with more of the same.
Sometimes it takes a strongly worded comment to get people’s attention. If we make changes to a new way of getting our food and basics of life, things will have to change in many ways, including the culture and perhaps religious beliefs. Historically, changes have taken place slowly and incrementally. On the way back down, changes will have to be much quicker. It is hard to see how we will adapt quickly enough.
These are good points, though one should not forget that Gail made this presentation to a church community, who were open to it and, if I know a liberal church, will discuss it extensively together and ponder it privately at great length. Many religious people are primarily ethical, are open minded and curious, are amazing thinkers without ever resorting to “the bible says…” – many religious communities are excellent places to learn critical thinking, in addition to compassion and generosity. One should also not forget the ever reasonable and hugely popular Dali Lama and his encouraging lower birth rates, better environmental stewardship and a less acquisitive life. Religious communities come in all the colors of a rainbow, and in a changing world, I have to think that many will do good. Though I would never argue with a good community center!
Gail – many thanks – have you considered packaging this talk so that other people may give it? It is a comprehensive primer and, as with all your work, is clear and easily understood. It could be a great benefit to many small communities.
Here here, I agree. Packaged to be given by others, I was thinking the same. I’d like to give this at my church (I’m conservative, religious, sustainable preservationist), and to the Transitions Committee I’m on (all liberal, ir-religious, sustainable preservationists).
I thought that with linking to the talk itself, and writing up much of what I said, other people could give it. If they just want to explain it to a few friends, maybe looking at the PDF version together is easiest. If they want to give the talk to a larger group, I have given a link to my Power Point. They might want to change the front of the presentation to something like (“By Gail Tverberg, presented by John Doe.”
Just to make it easier on people to know what they should do to not step on your toes, I would recommend placing a Creative Commons Attribution License logo on the Power Point, so that people know they can reuse it as long as they attribute it to you. See this for more info on the options for Creative Commons licenses: http://creativecommons.org/choose/
Gail, can you share the citation on hydropower declines matching renewable increases? That is new to me.
It would be interesting to look at the changes in both geographic distribution as well as “use of generation”. A decline in Washington State hydropower for aluminum smelting for Pennsylvania farming is actually a great trade.
I tend to look at the PV and sub 10kw wind generation as I did the transition into the Internet from the previous (proprietary) communication methods, it added significant more reliability.
Regarding the hydropower declines and renewable increases, the observation is really mine, relating to the electricity sector, based on putting together graphs of the pieces, using EIA data such as this exhibit. http://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/annual/pdf/sec10_3.pdf The linked exhibit has biofuels, as well, which is of course not electricity. Or look at Generation by Source from the Electricity Data page . As a percentage of total electricity production or consumption, renewables including hydroelectric have been pretty much flat.
Fascinating, this requires a paper and presentation all of itself! By continent or by country if you can gather the data. I’m always interested in best practice, so it would be interesting to know who is holding steady in hydro and growing in renewables.
Yes Population is a difficult subject and the world’s population is currently growing at about 80 million people a year. What the author of the book was pointing out was that even though the U.S. has a replacement level birth rate, we are artificially growing our population due to the high level of immigration being allowed. Between 1922 and 1965 the U.S. had more or less replacement levels of immigration. The immigration laws were changed in 1965 to allow far more people than prior with our current levels of legal immigration being 1 to 2 million per year and that’s not even addressing the levels of illegal immigration currently being experienced. This is an emotional and touchy issue for some but I do feel it needs to be addressed if we want to make the coming resource shortages a little less harsh. Thank you for writing on these issues as I value your insight.
One of the things that has always amazed me when reading about resource depletion and especially overpopulation is that the issue is almost always talked about in a global fashion and rarely about the need to attack it locally. This is especially true for left leaning environmental types as addressed in a new book by conservationist Dave Foreman:
Population is a difficult subject. Back in the 1960s and the early 1970s, there was a lot of publicity about population growing too rapidly. People paid attention, and the birth rate per 1000 population dropped from 25.7 in 1957, to 17.8 in 1967, to 14.8 in 1975. The latest birth rate on this display is 2009, at 13.8.
When birth rates are close to replacement levels, it is hard to make an argument that they should be lower, unless you can show that some dire thing will happen if population will stay its current level. I think that is why people don’t talk about it now.
Thank you Gail.
I think the western public is beginning to understand the situation even if we don’t quite consciously tie it to oil and resource extraction in general. Our leaders don’t seem to intuit the situation quite yet however, it seems they are on the same page as the Chamber of Commerce types seen nightly on the financial news, at least according to their talking points.
Hopefully they are right and sustainability and green shoots are just around the corner.
BTW, here is a paper from ’09 on the updated Limits to Growth model:
Finally, I won’t put down religion but I will point out the fact that 40% of Americans believe that the universe and of course, humans, appeared fully formed less than 10,000 years ago. I think that is an important factoid to remember in considering what our response might be to evidence relating to such things as the end of growth, peak oil, GW, etc.
My own view is that the current version of the Limits to Growth model has a lot of deficiencies. For one thing, the demand model is not right–it doesn’t consider how much people have to pay for goods and services. For another, the model does not consider the role of the financial system at all (which is part of the reason the demand model is wrong). I think the model makes things look better for longer, than they really are.
The people I have talked to so far are probably self-selected not to be in the group that believes that the universe was formed less than 10,000 years ago. I am supposed to give a similar talk to a university class in a couple of weeks, and that might be different. The area where I live is heavily Baptist, and they are generally of the “less than 10,000 year ago” belief. But the students did sign up for a course related to peak oil and limited resources, so I expect that there will be some self-selection there as well.
Using a common sense approach, although not necessarily a popular one, the best course of action could be for all humans to develop the same habits as the Amish. I am pretty sure that the majority of Americans could not come together long enough to build a house from scratch (no home depot delivery), nor could they grow their own food (animals included), and I’m pretty sure that going for a ride in a hand built, hand forged buggy would be beyond them. I can’t say that ALL would have a problem with it, but the majority would fail or swoon in horror at having to get dirty, do without makeup, and soooo many would faint without their daily television programs. The Amish take care of their own and the planet far better than most. I would say it’s a marvelous accomplishment, be it for religious reasons or for self preservation. Not only are they eco friendly, but they are economically sound.
There are many major points in this essay/presentation, which presents a coherent set of concepts in condensed, sensible form. Perhaps the major one is that growth-as-natural has become a fundamental, unquestioned part of our society’s Weltanschauung — for at least the past couple of centuries or so. And this poses perhaps the biggest obstacle to dealing with the limits imposed by the finiteness of resources.
In the biography of John Adams by David McCullough, I read of Adam’s trip across the Atlantic during the Revolutionary War. In the course of one horrid storm, he stayed in the cabin with his son John Quincy, passing the time by teaching the kid some basic fundamentals of Differential Calculus. So Adams Sr. and Jr. were well aware of calculus, and should have been aware of the limits on exponential growth in a finite environment. But both remained blissfully unconcerned, both working for continued exponential growth, of economy, of population, etc. although they never evinced any awareness of it in such terms.
Considering that neither Adams was even remotely challenged regarding intellectual horsepower, and that they were amazingly open-minded and original thinkers, does not bode well for fundamental change in our society’s Weltanschauung.
Separately, I would appreciate an end to putting down religion. It is off-topic and contributes nothing.
My solution is for us to focus our resources (while we still have them) on colonizing space, with a clear mandate that we must find a way to reduce growth and live sustainably before we inhabit the entire solar system. If we dedicated a few hundred billion dollars per year of global resources to putting a significant human presence in space, we could start tapping the vast resources of our solar system to fuel our growth until we find a way to live sustainably.
I am afraid the energy cost of tapping resources from other planets (and even farther out) would be way too high to work.
I don’t think the issue is tapping resources from other planets to supply Earth — maybe some space-based solar power arrays in Earth orbit for electricity, but not much more than that — the real goal is to capture near-Earth asteroids for precious rare-Earth metals (which many are rich in), which could be used for batteries and solar panels, as well as just giving people a place to explore and inhabit beyond the planet.
If we can get significant populations of miners, explorers, farmers, and energy harvesters living in space (not on other planets, but on the moon, asteroids, and man-made structures), you can begin to harness the mind-boggling amount of energy our sun puts out, which dwarfs the energy capacity of any Earth-bound civilization.
The problem is it would take significant dedicated resources over a matter of a few decades to really start to develop self-sufficient small-scale habitations in space, and it seems unlikely that will happen. But if it did happen, I think that’s the best potential the human race has for long-term survival. If we don’t do that soon, the energy constraints will become so great that I fear we will never manage to colonize space. Which means we get wiped out the next time there’s a global catastrophe caused by a collision or supervolcano.
You’re missing Gail’s point about energy costs. Getting a spacecraft from here to the asteroids and back (with a cargo) would take so much energy as to make the transport of even very valuable raw materials economically unfeasible. Unfortunately, that’s just about baked into the physics.
No, I understand her point, but I take issue with it. Energy costs are big for launching stuff from Earth every time you want to explore an asteroid or the Moon, but if you start building infrastructure in space and having human beings living in space, you only have the cost of reentering the final product, which has a very low energy cost. Also, energy is cheap once you’re in space if you have solar panels and something for propellant (pretty much any liquid or gas should work).
The key is to stop thinking about space transportation costs as including a launch component every time you are trying to mine an asteroid. You just launch the miners and equipment once, and then they are long-term inhabitants of space, and the mining equipment doesn’t come back down again. A simple solar sail or low-power ion drive can be used to bring your block of finished product into a decaying orbit, and you just need some minimal shielding and a parachute to bring down the (unmanned) block of rare earth metals.
Most importantly, the goal would be to start making products in space *to be used in space*. Encourage people to emigrate to space and live and work there, rather than go on a mission and return to Earth afterward. If that’s the mentality, the energy costs are a lot more one-off, and a lot less daunting.
You need an awfully lot of things on the ground to be working right (electricity, financial, roads, government, education, etc.) to be working well, to support a big space endeavor, so it doesn’t look like it would have a long life, if launched.
Also, if governments are not making ends meet, they certainly won’t put any money toward a large space platform and other infrastructure. I don’t see private industry funding this kind of thing either.
I think the goal would be to bill it as a way to escape the stagnant, dying planetary society and forge out and make something new and better again. If you can get people to pay enough for that opportunity per seat, you can pay for a lot of the initial costs. The more quickly you can get an economy going that’s relatively independent of Earth the better, though — probably a good 50 years to really extricate itself from our decay. I mean sure you’re leaving behind a lot of great people and only taking people who are either wealthy enough to pay a boatload or a high risk-taker willing to do dangerous work, but it seems like a way to create an offshoot of human civilization that may be able to rejuvenate Earth again at some point down the line.
Obviously the costs are high, and the risks are high, and it’s not the sort of thing with a high chance of success. But I think you’re too quick to discount the possibility that it could succeed, and the potential benefits if it does succeed.
This may be our only moment in the sun to leave the planet, or It may have passed. The sun will die out so humans will die out by then or before unless we can leave this solar system (unless some other extra terrestrial civilization helps us which I view as very unlikely).
We have about a maximum 30 year oil supply so you can forget deep exploration of the universe. If energy were cheap like the early space program, it would be easy, but for now forget it.
Look to 2013 – 2015 as the dramatic esclation price point starting in the energy industry and huge problems developing because of it..
I think everyone is missing the real point. Space colonization, at least for the foreseeable future, will not allow us to transcend our terrestrial limits. What it does do is force us to learn how to live within even more extreme limits than are present on this planet. When you are on Mars and shipping something from Earth costs $25,000 a pound and takes 6 months, you are going to develop very robust, self-sufficient life support systems. Those technologies which will make life possible on another planet will make life even more abundant on this one.
We don’t even need to actually move to get started. Just the inspiration of working towards colonizing new worlds can be sufficient to develop the technology.
jd, your point is valid. 🙂
First in a long line of space colonization effort related points that I’ve ever seen.
I just can’t believe we can survive the inhospitable reaches of cold space when we bumble about so bad that we seemingly work towards the ruination of the near-ideal mother earth. blahdee blahdee blah.
Do you remember Kubrick’s movie: “2001 – A Space Odyssey.”? This movie was released in 1968 and made predictions about 2001. Among the items depicted were;
1. Commercial Space shuttles to and from earth.
2. An orbiting international space station with floorspace equal to a massive hotel.
3. Shuttles to the moon.
4. An enormous underground moon base.
You get the picture. And what do we see in 2011? Absolutely none of these things, merely an abandoned shuttle program, a bunch of small satellites and an orbiting space station the size of a small caravan. The reason? ENERGY (or lack thereof) exactly as Gail says.
In the past major religious leaders and their followers have been on the side of expanding population and were aligned with the political system to support most wars, The default religious position has been the 4 horseman as the earth and its carrying capacity is finite and nature culls to carrying capacity. The carrying capacity added by ancient sunlight will wane by definition. Religions have said little about topsoil loss or aquifer depletion (and done even less) so the eventual decline in food production per capita is the default position as diseases and wars have yet to stop the worlds population from increasing. About 75 million a year are currently added to our numbers. Anothere default position is a greenhouse world as religions in general have yet to say much (or do even less) about the buildup of greenhouse gases, This also implies decline in food production per capita. Pray ins at gas pumps will not create any more energy captured from ancient sunlight nor will pray ins at grocery stores create any more food as the default position lowers net primary planetary productivity proving the correctness of the 4 horseman “theory”.
Warren Buffet was on Charlie Rose – 60 minute streaming video available. He seems to have no concept of Limits to Growth. It is difficult for me to believe that he doesn’t really know what is going on http://www.charlierose.com/schedule/?date=2011/8/15
Denial is a popular response. Even quite a few “peak oil” folks can only think of our problem in terms of something that might be fixed with the next version of nuclear, or better efficiency.
A few years ago Warren Buffet invested in Rail Roads because of there efficiency. I think he gets it !
And, what “higher power” is that? http://www.venganza.org/
I have yet to hear of a mega church shaman encourage smaller families. Clearly, there is no solution at all until humans are able to move beyond irrational beliefs in the existence of a supernatural dimension to our existence – beliefs that suck all of our energy and creativity away from finding a way to live in harmony with nature on this planet.
It may be of some comfort to believe that a community of like-minded believers will provide shelter-in-the-storm – like a song fest on the Titanic.
My church talk was in a Lutheran church. My words there were actually somewhat different.
There are several different branches of Lutheran. The background I am from is the liberal end–not everything is literally true. The Bible is a collection of writings (or written down versions of oral traditions), written by different people for different purposes. The Lutheran Church doesn’t usually take strong stands on things, other than a need to help the poor, and to forgive one another. There isn’t an issue with smaller family sizes.
If churches can help people live together peaceably in difficult times, it seems like this in itself is an important role.
Thank you for this report. I appreciate that you presented it to your church. I try to get this information into my church and do and I hope in doing so that we somewhat more psychologically prepared when we feel more effects of these limits. I do think churches will (or can be) useful institutions. I am a Presbyterian minister (also liberal) and I have been following Peak Oil and the Oil Drum for some time.
Good luck with your project. I know several people have made the comment that churches can be useful institutions for passing around information, and also for supporting one another.
I have cousins and uncles who are/were pastors. My sister Lois Tverberg writes religious books.
Please don’t take the mega-churches as representative, last time i looked the average Christian church in the US was 125 people or so. What gets talked about at the Sunday afternoon pot luck, let alone the pulpit is pretty diverse. Population control was an issue discussed beginning in the 60’s in the United Methodist Church as an example.
You have a right to your opinions but boy are they nasty and hateful towards religion and the religious. I view religion as a group of decent people banding together to protect ourselves from nihilists like you. You will always lose because religion is about unity and not selfishness as you seem to be an advocate of.
I don’t necessarily agree with the tone or specific points made by Bicycle Dave, but I also don’t think it’s fair to say that us non-believers will “always lose” — the massive growth of self-identified secularly-minded people over the last century or so shows we are slowly winning over the hearts and minds of the world. People should be good and decent to one another for the sake of goodness and decency, not because some religious leader or religious text tells them to be good and decent.
Please don’t view Bicycle Dave as representative of the non-religious, any more than you want us to think of mega-church ministers as representative of the religious. The vast majority of non-believers are just decent people who don’t think it makes sense to have our beliefs about morality dictated by other people who are claiming those mandates come from some higher power.
I am not terribly religious although raised to be somewhat so. Frankly, I think the anti-religious people are as much of a religion as the religious and equally annoying and nuts. I will say that, having lived in areas that are more “liberal” (NYC, L.A. and S.F.) my entire adult life that I think I can make the assumption that contain the most atheists in the U.S. I have seen no evidence of decency or morality among any of these people. They treat each other terribly. They ignore their neighbors. They run down kids and grandmas so they can get to Starbucks faster than if you had got in their way. Sorry, but whether it’s lack of religion, modern “liberalism”, or just a complete degeneration of our decency values not tied to any of this…I see a lot of evidence that the religious, in say Oklahoma, are much better people than the non-religious in the areas I’ve lived that I listed above. Smugness, arrogance, elitism, and sometimes wealth don’t make up for decency, politeness, and values that push you and your community forward instead of backwards. I think you either have to have grown up in these areas and around these people to think this is normal or are just in denial.
And as a reminder: Churches have historically been at the forefront of most “progressive” movements. Of course, I think many of them feel as though some of these more recent movements have become contrary to the values they believe are important but I have no interest in opening up a whole other can of worms here.
I know that church members tend to have longer life expectancies–but I think part of that is selection. People who are high on drugs all of the time, or drunk, tend not to be church members. There are good things to be said for sitting down once a week, talking about how to live better, singing some songs together, making some friends, and drinking a little coffee together.
She’s just reporting the facts, not a nihilist coming after you, you paranoid idiot. How is she an advocate of selfishness?
Dave, I couldn’t agree with you more. I just wish I would have wrote it.
Always insightful … Thank you for sharing this.