The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports


1. How much natural gas is the United States currently extracting?

(a) Barely enough to meet its own needs
(b) Enough to allow lots of exports
(c) Enough to allow a bit of exports
(d) The United States is a natural gas importer

Answer: (d) The United States is a natural gas importer, and has been for many years. The EIA is forecasting that by 2017, we will finally be able to meet our own natural gas needs.

Figure 1. US Natural Gas recent history and forecast, based on EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release Overview

Figure 1. US Natural Gas recent history and forecast, based on EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release Overview

In fact, this last year, with a cold winter, we have had a problem with excessively drawing down amounts in storage.

Figure 2. US EIA's chart showing natural gas in storage, compared to the five year average, from Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report.

Figure 2. US EIA’s chart showing natural gas in storage, compared to the five year average, from Weekly Natural Gas Storage Report.

There is even discussion that at the low level in storage and current rates of production, it may not be possible to fully replace the natural gas in storage before next fall.

2. How much natural gas is the United States talking about exporting?

(a) A tiny amount, less than 5% of what it is currently producing.
(b) About 20% of what it is currently producing.
(c) About 40% of what it is currently producing.
(d) Over 60% of what it is currently producing.

The correct answer is (d) Over 60% what it is currently producing. If we look at the applications for natural gas exports found on the Energy.Gov website, we find that applications for exports total 42 billion cubic feet a day, most of which has already been approved.* This compares to US 2013 natural gas production of 67 billion cubic feet a day. In fact, if companies applying for exports build the facilities in, say, 3 years, and little additional natural gas production is ramped up, we could be left with less than half of current natural gas production for our own use.

*This is my calculation of the sum, equal to 38.51 billion cubic feet a day for Free Trade Association applications (and combined applications), and 3.25 for Non-Free Trade applications.

3. How much are the United States’ own natural gas needs projected to grow by 2030?

a. No growth
b. 12%
c. 50%
d. 150%

If we believe the US Energy Information Administration, US natural gas needs are expected to grow by only 12% between 2013 and 2030 (answer (b)). By 2040, natural gas consumption is expected to be 23% higher than in 2013. This is a little surprising for several reasons. For one, we are talking about scaling back coal use for making electricity, and we use almost as much coal as natural gas. Natural gas is an alternative to coal for this purpose.

Furthermore, the EIA expects US oil production to start dropping by 2020 (Figure 3, below), so logically we might want to use natural gas as a transportation fuel too.

Figure 3. US Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release Oil Forecast for the United States.

Figure 3. US Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release Oil Forecast for the United States.

We currently use more oil than natural gas, so this change could in theory lead to a 100% or more increase in natural gas use.

Many nuclear plants we now have in service will need to be replaced in the next 20 years. If we substitute natural gas in this area as well, it would further send US natural gas usage up. So the EIA’s forecast of US natural gas needs definitely seem on the “light” side.

4. How does natural gas’s production growth fit in with the growth of other US fuels according to the EIA?

(a) Natural gas is the only fuel showing much growth
(b) Renewables grow by a lot more than natural gas
(c) All fuels are growing

The answer is (a). Natural gas is the only fuel showing much growth in production between now and 2040.

Figure 4 below shows the EIA’s figure from its Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release showing expected production of all types of fuels.

Figure 4. Forecast US Energy Production by source, from US EIA's Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release.

Figure 4. Forecast US Energy Production by source, from US EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2014 Early Release.

Natural gas is pretty much the only growth area, growing from 31% of total energy production in 2012 to 38% of total US energy production in 2040. Renewables are expected to grow from 11% to 12% of total US energy production (probably because the majority is hydroelectric, and this doesn’t grow much). All of the others fuels, including oil, are expected to shrink as percentages of total energy production between 2012 and 2040.

5. What is the projected path of natural gas prices:

(a) Growing slowly
(b) Ramping up quickly
(c) It depends on who you ask

It depends on who you ask: Answer (c). According to the EIA, natural gas prices are expected to remain quite low. The EIA provides a forecast of natural gas prices for electricity producers, from which we can estimate expected wellhead prices (Figure 5).

Figure 5. EIA Forecast of Natural Gas prices for electricity use from AEO 2014 Advance Release, together with my forecast of corresponding wellhead prices. (2011 and 2012 are actual amounts, not forecasts.)

Figure 5. EIA Forecast of Natural Gas prices for electricity use from AEO 2014 Advance Release, together with my forecast of corresponding wellhead prices. (2011 and 2012 are actual amounts, not forecasts.)

In this forecast, wellhead prices remain below $5.00 until 2028. Electricity companies look at these low price forecasts and assume that they should plan on ramping up electricity production from natural gas.

The catch–and the reason for all of the natural gas exports–is that most shale gas producers cannot produce natural gas at recent price levels. They need much higher price levels in order to make money on natural gas. We see one article after another on this subject: From Oil and Gas Journal; from Bloomberg; from the Financial Times. The Wall Street Journal quoted Exxon’s Rex Tillerson as saying, “We are all losing our shirts today. We’re making no money. It’s all in the red.”

Why all of the natural gas exports, if we don’t have very much natural gas, and the shale gas portion (which is the only portion with much potential for growth) is so unprofitable? The reason for all of the exports is too pump up the prices shale gas producers can get for their gas. This comes partly by engineering higher US prices (by shipping an excessive portion overseas) and partly by trying to take advantage of higher prices in Europe and Japan.

Figure 6. Comparison of natural gas prices based on World Bank "Pink Sheet" data. Also includes Pink Sheet world oil price on similar basis.

Figure 6. Comparison of natural gas prices based on World Bank “Pink Sheet” data. Also includes Pink Sheet world oil price on similar basis.

There are several catches in all of this. Dumping huge amounts of natural gas on world export markets is likely to sink the selling price of natural gas overseas, just as dumping shale gas on US markets sank US natural gas prices here (and misled some people, by making it look as if shale gas production is cheap). The amount of natural gas export capacity that is in the approval process is huge: 42 billion cubic feet per day. The European Union imports only about 30 billion cubic feet a day from all sources. This amount hasn’t increased since 2005, even though EU natural gas production has dropped. Japan’s imports amounted to 12 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day in 2012; China’s amounted to about 4 billion cubic feet. So in theory, if we try hard enough, there might be a place for the 42 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to go–but it would take a huge amount of effort.

There are other issues involved, as well. The countries that are importing huge amounts of high-priced natural gas are not doing well financially. They aren’t going to be able to afford to import a whole lot more high-priced natural gas. In fact, a big part of the reason that they are not doing well financially is because they are paying so much for imported natural gas (and oil).

If the US has to pay these high prices for natural gas (even if we produce it ourselves), we won’t be doing very well financially either. In particular, companies who manufacture goods with electricity from high-priced natural gas will find that the goods they make are not competitive with goods made with cheaper fuels (coal, nuclear, or hydroelectric) in the world marketplace. This is a problem, whether the country produces the high-priced natural gas itself or imports it. So the issue is not an imported fuel problem; it is a high-priced fuel problem.

Another issue is that with shale gas, we are the high cost producer. There is a lot of natural gas production around the world, particularly in the Middle East, that is cheaper. If we add our high cost of shale gas to the high cost of shipping LNG long-distance across the Atlantic or Pacific, we will most definitely be the high cost producer. Other producers with lower costs (even local shale gas producers) can undercut our prices. So at best those shipping LNG overseas are likely to make mediocre profits.

And there would seem to be great temptation to stir up trouble, to encourage Europe to buy our natural gas exports, rather than Russia’s. Of course, our ability to provide this natural gas is not entirely clear. It makes a good story, with lots of “ifs” involved: “If we can really extract this natural gas. If the price can really go up and stay up. If you can wait long enough.” The story makes the US look more rich and powerful than it really is. We can even pretend to offer help to the Ukraine.

Perhaps the best outcome would be if virtually none of this natural gas export capacity ever gets built–approval or no approval. If it is really possible to get the natural gas out, we need it here instead. Or leave it in the ground.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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581 Responses to The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports

  1. The Reagan lawsuit is back. The lawyer is asking for a billion dollars. The initial suit was dismissed by a judge in San Diego. The biology of cancer – especially doubling time considerations – is such that it would not be possible for the claimed dozens of cancers to have become manifest in this short period of time.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail

    Relative to the point you make about the extinction of the large herbivores. Arguably, the most important thing is to keep the ecological niche healthy. For an example, see:

    You will find this passage just below the picture of the Barbados rams:
    ‘In the early 1990’s I added goats and hair sheep to my livestock inventory. They are compliments to the cattle when it comes to using all the bounty Nature was offering. The sheep and goats work well together and mesh nicely with the cattle. In many respects this was another way to cooperate with Nature’s plan in that all these animals are grazers but they harvest different plants at different times. It is a substitution of cattle for bison and goats and sheep for deer, antelope, elk, or moose. Now I could mimic on a small scale what Nature does on a larger scale.
    The goats and sheep can be very effective at controlling or eliminating certain unwanted vegetation if you put them to work at the right time. Now another ’bring in the chemicals’ problem is pretty much solved and you have a possible cash crop instead of a check drawn on your bank account. What better reason to get off the ‘modern chemical’ train!’

    Through selection of and stocking certain mixes of domesticated animals, Luane Todd is able to mimic wild Nature and get the most value from photosynthesis. She also boosts photosynthesis by building topsoil and recycling nutrients. Now you can wish fervently that the extinct large herbivores would come back and replace the humans and their domesticated animals…but that isn’t likely to happen. It would be a world quite a bit less hospitable to humans. Domestication has its virtues. I argue that appreciating what CAN be done, and what people like Luane HAVE DONE is more important than fretting about the extinction of the large herbivores.

    My longer argument goes something like this:
    1. Regeneration and sustainability should be our number one priority. ‘Feeding X billion people’ is a ‘nice to have’, but should not warp policy. The best documented large scale implementation of such a policy that I know about was Edo Japan. The forests were managed sustainably, and the human harvest was limited to the surplus. Farm families could have as many children as they could support…no more.

    And since we have degraded soils, we need regeneration of the fertility that was once there. Luane’s story shows how this can be done in the rocky Ozarks.
    2. Being ‘sustainable’ doesn’t mean being ‘static’. Bejan’s Constructal Principle says that a free system will evolve toward greater flow rates. That happened in Edo Japan. Productivity and population did grow, up to a limit, as better forestry and agricultural practices were adopted. The government promoted better agricultural practices. Luane’s system evolved toward greater flow rates as she fine-tuned. She also discusses the fine-tuning she never got around to but wishes she had done. In Edo, an innovation would occur and the government would put out a pamphlet. Now, Gabe Brown in North Dakota invents a better mousetrap and people learn about it at the Quivira convention or the videos from the Quivira convention and Gabe’s field days and so forth. The Ozarks are not North Dakota, so local adaptation is always necessary, but new ideas sometimes work really well and can be widely copied.
    3. Can we get some idea about the amount of land required for sustainability? Bejan warns us that ‘your answers are only as good as the assumptions underlying your questions’. The land which is required to be sustainable is not the same with stone age tools as it is with metal tools as it is with wheeled transport as it is with motorized transport. The land which is required to be sustainable is not the same if you have peaceful neighbors as it is with rapacious neighbors. Deserts aren’t like river deltas. Semi-tropical is not like arctic. Etc., etc.

    Nevertheless, I think we can get some ideas by looking at particular examples.
    a. Edo Japan supported around 35 million people with no fossil fuels and virtually no imported resources. The population increased significantly as the wars of the preceding period were extinguished and better forestry and agricultural practices were adopted. Then the population stabilized.
    b. Zaytuna farm is Geoff Lawton’s place in sub-tropical Australia. Geoff’s tenure is now a dozen years, and the transformation from ‘ho-hum’ to ‘spectacular’ has been well documented.
    Zaytuna, by my rough calculation, is providing almost all of the food eaten by 30 equivalent full time people (many of them students who come and go). That works out to around 2 acres per person. As you can see, there is always work to be done (the seedlings need to be transplanted, etc.), but this comes about as close to a Garden of Eden as we are likely to find in a world short of fossil fuels. If you look at before and after pictures of Zaytuna, you get the impression of sort of average land…it’s not northern Iowa but neither is it the Mojave Desert. You will also see that Geoff makes good use of off-grid solar PV. So, while no electric lines come into the farm, there are several small scale stand alone systems which use electricity generated by the sun on equipment bought from the industrial world.

    I think we can say that 2 average acres, plus 11 years of permaculture regeneration, plus some technology from the industrial world, gives us a very low energy input system with no chemical inputs which doesn’t require backbreaking, constant work. There is enough Nature to feed the soul.
    c. F.H. King visited eastern Asia early in the 20th century. The farming was basically done without fossil fuels or phosphate rock. Nutrients were recycled with a great deal of human labor. For example, latrines in cities were emptied by farmers, who hauled the manure to their fields by hand. There were extensive systems of canals (particularly in eastern China) which facilitated transportation and also deposited annually a load of fresh soil from the high elevations in the west. The farmers dug the new soil out of the canals by hand and used it as compost on their fields. With the recycling plus the harvest of the silt from floodwaters, the farmers were sustainable for ‘forty centuries’. But King frequently notes the backbreaking work. King also notes the urban poor, who lived in abject poverty. I think the conclusion is that China had overshot its ability to carry population in anything like what we would call a ‘civilized’ style.

    I don’t know how many flat, lowland acres it took to feed a person, but the productivity that King found was very much higher than it was in the United States.
    d. If we look at King’s work and the work of people like John Jeavons, and even the Iowa State study, we can conclude that increased productivity per acre can be achieved through increased input of human labor. Humans are able, as the story of Luane demonstrates, to design such that nutrient cycles move faster and the products of photosynthesis are tuned to benefit humans. Humans can also greatly improve the water cycle in the soil so that photosynthesis is not limited by water shortage.

    It seems to me that the question ‘how hard are you willing to work?’ is more fundamental than ‘what is the minimum acreage that will support a human?’. If we are willing to work like Chinese peasants circa 1900, then less land is required. If we want to be a ‘lazy gardener’, as Geoff Lawton sometimes says, then we need more land, less intensively managed. The peasants in Edo Japan faced this tradeoff. They could have more children, but they would have to work harder to feed them. While such questions generally cannot be answered by logic and mathematics, humans are actually quite good at making such trade-offs. The trade-offs that the Edo peasants made resulted in a stable population which supported multi-generational families and a healthy culture.

    So long as growing food is the occupation of a tiny specialist group of people, I think it will be very hard for families to make the trade-offs that were made in Edo. Perhaps a way to visualize what might happen is to look at the Japanese movie from 1954, Twenty Four Eyes. It is the story of a newly minted female teacher as she assumes her post in a very small village. She is described by the villagers as a ‘modern woman’ because she rides a bicycle (for 50 minutes) to get to the school from her native village and because she has (sewn herself) a western style outfit. There is a rural bus, but most people walk most places. The village is on the Inland Sea, so there are lots of human powered boats. But there are also steamships with tourists. Paper walls open directly to the outdoors in people’s houses. And, perhaps interesting to readers of this blog, the plot is about the dashed hopes that she saw as the 24 eyes of her 12 first grade students met her for the first time. Militarism became dominant in Japan, wars in Asia, the anti-communist pact with Germany, WWII, the indoctrination of the young with the determination to ‘die for the emperor’, the death of her husband in combat, hunger as a contributor to the death of her daughter, her partial estrangemet from her son over the military issue…these are the sorts of things that we all need to be thinking about.

    In the movie, a very poor man is finding it hard to find work in 1930s Japan. His daughter is going to school and studying with our heroine. The mother has a baby, which is not welcome because they have so little money. The girl wants an aluminum bento box because that is what the other girls have. She is ashamed of her straw box. The father tells the girl to skip school and stay home with her mother, to help with the new baby. The mother tells the girl to go to school, but to come home promptly after school. The girl is walking home when she sees people carrying her mother to the hospital where she dies. The father remarks that the baby will soon die also, lacking mother’s milk. The father says it is ‘better for the baby because we are so poor’. We should also note, as Luane would note today, that it isn’t so much a shortage of food in total as a mal-distribution of food.

    Don Stewart

  3. Pingback: L’assurdità delle esportazioni del gas naturale statunitense , gli USA potrebbero, in merito, esportare stupidità una risorsa di cui hanno surplus , in inglese |

  4. sheilach2 says:

    The navy has just announced that they have found a way to convert sea water into fuel. No, it wasn’t publish on April 1. Take a look at this story & lets get some better minds than mine pick it apart.

    • Paul says:

      Isn’t that fantastic! Alas, we are saved! I knew they’d fix this at the last minute.

      I bet there will be a great movie — Tom Hanks should star as the hero

    • Jan Steinman says:

      Doesn’t say much, except that they get CO2 and hydrogen from the seawater. Seemed to be a lot of hand-waving and not much meat.

      We’ve long been able to get hydrogen and oxygen out of seawater, using electrolysis. But it isn’t an energy “source,” but rather an energy “carrier,” like a battery. You still need to put more energy into it (in the form of electricity) than you get out of it.

    • This is the Navy version of the story:

      The comments I have heard say that they are overlooking a lot of major costs involved. One comment I have heard:

      Even if the Navy’s present nuclear-powered ships can produce a whole lot more power than is needed to operate those ships, they are *not* built with production facilities to carry out the processes described, *nor* are they built with storage tanks for the liquid hydrocarbon fuel that is supposedly going to be produced. So what the NRL must be talking about, it seems to me, is a wholly new type of nuclear-powered Fuel-Production-And-Storage ship.

      I see the costs of this plan (both the dollar costs and the energy costs) escalating like a very bad joke indeed.

      It is easy to make claims about possibilities, when the groups involved have not really worked out the real-live feasibility of the project. This is when the costs become apparent–in fact, the ability to do the claimed transformation at all.

    • timl2k11 says:

      The story you link to is both vague and misleading. There is no hydrogen in seawater except for the atoms contained into H2O. Neither H2O nor CO2 are sources of energy. To create hydrogen from seawater you use electrolysis which takes energy. To create fuel from CO2 and hydrogen (just like plants do) you need even more energy. If we needed synthetic crude or gasoline we can create it with large inputs of energy, but we don’t have that.

    • Interguru says:

      Slashdot has a good set of comments.

      In short it uses electricity, which nuclear powered ships have plenty of, to make aviation fuel. If it is practical it will decrease needs for ships at sea to get more fuel. As a further stretch, it will allow solar power and windmills off the grid to produce gasoline. Stay tuned.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “it will allow solar power and windmills off the grid to produce gasoline”

        The report Gail liked cited “C6-C12″ hydrocarbons,” which is a bit heavy for gasoline. (Gasoline is mostly hexane, C6H14, with some heavier fractions included to prevent knock.)

        But that could simply be because they’ve tuned the process to produce jet and diesel fuel, and perhaps the process could be tweaked to produce lighter fractions.

        • That is an interesting point and made me think. What if the process to convert sea water into gasoline or diesel fuel does work and can be made fairly efficient. Then, all the solar and wind power, instead of being hooked to the grid, would be used to produce liquid fuels. Then, one might actually be able to produce wind turbines and solar panels using this fuel. The question in my mind though is would it scale up and actually work in the real world. Would the units produce enough liquid fuels in their lifetimes to rebuild/repair themselves and have enough spare capacity to power civilization at the same time. My first impression is to say no especially if the intent is to support business as usual.

  5. Paul says:

    US military warns oil output may dip causing massive shortages by 2015

    • Shortfall could reach 10m barrels a day, report says
    • Cost of crude oil is predicted to top $100 a barrel

    The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.

    The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command, comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel.

    “By 2012, surplus oil production capacity could entirely disappear, and as early as 2015, the shortfall in output could reach nearly 10 million barrels per day,” says the report, which has a foreword by a senior commander, General James N Mattis.

    It adds: “While it is difficult to predict precisely what economic, political, and strategic effects such a shortfall might produce, it surely would reduce the prospects for growth in both the developing and developed worlds. Such an economic slowdown would exacerbate other unresolved tensions, push fragile and failing states further down the path toward collapse, and perhaps have serious economic impact on both China and India.”

    The US military says its views cannot be taken as US government policy but admits they are meant to provide the Joint Forces with “an intellectual foundation upon which we will construct the concept to guide out future force developments.”

    The warning is the latest in a series from around the world that has turned peak oil – the moment when demand exceeds supply – from a distant threat to a more immediate risk.

    The Wicks Review on UK energy policy published last summer effectively dismissed fears but Lord Hunt, the British energy minister, met concerned industrialists two weeks ago in a sign that it is rapidly changing its mind on the seriousness of the issue.

    The Paris-based International Energy Agency remains confident that there is no short-term risk of oil shortages but privately some senior officials have admitted there is considerable disagreement internally about this upbeat stance.

    Future fuel supplies are of acute importance to the US army because it is believed to be the biggest single user of petrol in the world. BP chief executive, Tony Hayward, said recently that there was little chance of crude from the carbon-heavy Canadian tar sands being banned in America because the US military like to have local supplies rather than rely on the politically unstable Middle East.

    But there are signs that the US Department of Energy might also be changing its stance on peak oil. In a recent interview with French newspaper, Le Monde, Glen Sweetnam, main oil adviser to the Obama administration, admitted that “a chance exists that we may experience a decline” of world liquid fuels production between 2011 and 2015 if the investment was not forthcoming.

    Lionel Badal, a post-graduate student at Kings College, London, who has been researching peak oil theories, said the review by the American military moves the debate on.

    “It’s surprising to see that the US Army, unlike the US Department of Energy, publicly warns of major oil shortages in the near-term. Now it could be interesting to know on which study the information is based on,” he said.

    “The Energy Information Administration (of the department of energy) has been saying for years that Peak Oil was “decades away”. In light of the report from the US Joint Forces Command, is the EIA still confident of its previous highly optimistic conclusions?”

    The Joint Operating Environment report paints a bleak picture of what can happen on occasions when there is serious economic upheaval. “One should not forget that the Great Depression spawned a number of totalitarian regimes that sought economic prosperity for their nations by ruthless conquest,” it points out.

    • Christian says:

      Peak oil is here, it’s done.

      Does somebody knows where could be found the original military report?

  6. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All (Apologies to Jan Steinman)
    Since the notion that ‘without industrial nitrogen we will all die’ continues to surface here, I want your indulgence to approach the question from a broad, fundamental perspective.

    Adrian Bejan, in Design in Nature, describes on page 20 how Simon Conway Morris, the British paleontologist, has stated that ‘evolution shows an eerie predictability’. The biologist J. Scott Turner notes ‘a peculiar harmony of structure and function in the devices organisms contrive to accomplish things’. Turner argues that natural selection cannot fully explain this because ‘it is contingent on the past but with no view of the future, and with certainly no purposefulness or intelligence guiding the process’. Religious minded people may be anxious to adopt ‘intelligent design’ by the deity of their choice at this point. Bejan takes a different tack, and formulates the Constructal Law: Given freedom, flow systems will generate better and better configurations to flow more easily. And, as it turns out, the tree structure is an excellent way to move a resource from many points to a single point. Which accounts for the resemblance between lightning bolts, trees, and lungs.

    Bejan arrived at his Constructal Law after listening to a lecture by Ilya Prigogine in 1995. Prigogine stated that the resemblance between a river system and the design of the human lung is purely coincidental. Bejan, who was a physicist working in the field of thermodynamics (he is the author of textbooks on the subject) reacted against the notion that there was no connection between river systems and lungs, and, on the flight back to the US, wrote down his constructal law. Initially, he left out the words ‘given freedom’, but later saw that freedom is an essential if the natural tendency is to work. In an interview on the student broadcast system at Duke, he said that ‘tyrannical deans’ can prevent the system from working in universities. Bejan is a Rumanian by birth, and saw the bad effects of unfreedom there in the 1950s and 60s.

    Bejan sees the Constructal Law as a ‘first principle’, such as the conservation of energy law in thermodynamics. That is, it is not explained by something else…it is just the way Nature works. And it works for both what we consider ‘non-living’ systems such as river systems and for what we consider ‘living’ systems such as lungs or economies or human ideas. In fact, he gives the word ‘life’ a physics definition when he says that life is present when a system is evolving in such a way as to facilitate flow. When Bejan studies a tree, he asks ‘what is flowing?’ A major flow in a tree, for example, is water which is carried from the soil high into the leaves, where it is used for photosynthesis.

    What does this have to do with industrially produced nitrogen?

    Let’s try to get a vision of what a free flowing agricultural system which is constantly evolving might look like. What is it we really want out of agriculture? I submit the following list:

    1. Agricultural research funding would come from a source which had the best interests of the biosphere, including humans, at heart. (As opposed to corporations which define the questions which get research funding, and government which are captive to the corporations.)
    2. The food produced provides adequate (but not surplus) calories and the information which optimizes gene expression and immune function. (As opposed to industrial food.)
    3. Plants and animals are treated with respect. (As opposed to monocropping and confined animal feeding operations.)
    4. The system is closed, producing no pollution, soil erosion, or climate changing by-products. (As opposed to industrial agriculture)
    5. The system provides meaningful and challenging work for humans. (As opposed to systems which drive human labor out of agriculture.)
    6. The system provides opportunities for humans to exercise their social animal instincts. (As opposed to atomized consumers and laborers.)
    7. The system minimizes friction. Nutrient cycling flows are rapid. Energy (photosynthesis, chemical, animal, gravity, solar heating, and fossil fuels) and rainwater are used efficiently by design. (Versus using energy to produce synthetic nitrogen which is mostly wasted to produce food, much of which is wasted. Phosphates used inefficiently, washing rapidly into oceans. Fossil water pumped from great depths.)
    8. The system promotes biodiversity. (As opposed to monocropping and fencerow to fencerow.)
    9. Governments will facilitate the changes needed. (Rather than throw sand in the gears.)

    If this sounds like a big challenge, I agree that it is. I suspect Jan Steinman could talk about each one of those elements at his farm, however. I am pretty sure he hasn’t solved all the problems, but the Constructal Law only requires that he be evolving in the right direction. Similarly, I suspect that the author of this post yesterday could talk about each of those elements:

    I believe that if we are going to get anywhere, we have to ask the right questions. Corporations have zero incentive to ask the right questions, so the agricultural colleges do not study them. If you are going to find solutions, you have to look at the examples from people who have actually done something useful.

    Don Stewart

  7. ordinaryjoe says:

    A 7 minute presentation of Unit 3s condition using TEPCOs “roadmap” released in January by nuclear engineer Arnie Gundersen of Fairewinds.

    My understanding (not in video)is a R7 or better earthquake will collapse unit 3 and
    1; expose all unit 3 spent fuel to atmosphere
    2;end all cleanup efforts at Fukushima due to radiation levels.

    What is the probability of a R7 earthquake occurring prior to the technology needed to remove the spent fuel from unit 3 being conceptualized, designed, created, debugged, and implemented?

    • As a retired radiologist who has studied The LNT (Linear No-Threshold) hypothesis and competing models off and on for more than 50 years, my own opinion – I stress opinion – is that Arnie Gundersen is a quack. Leslie Corrice is a better source of information.

      • Also note that if one does random thyroid needle biopsies, false positives may be encountered. Atypical cells seen microscopically can be a surrogate for cancer but do not necessarily indicate that the cells will undergo unrestrained growth or result in metastasis. There is a similar well publicized problem involving PSA testing and unnecessary prostate surgery.
        For some other opinions about Arnie Gundersen see:

        • Jan Steinman says:

          You don’t play fair.

          What do we get when we google “Robert Wilson quack?”

          • You might find
            I am glad that the actual article does not show as in retrospect, I believe that I did insert some quackery.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              I don’t even see the abstract.

              Care to summarize? The title is fascinating…

            • The article Medicine Minerals and Malthus was a survey of minerals used in medicine -lead, copper, iodine etc with an emphasis on recycling of silver. At that time it was not clear that supplies of silver would be sufficient to coat the growing numbers of large silver-rich double coated x-ray films, This problem has become moot with the unexpected development of computers and digital radiography.

        • The April 11, 2014 commentary by Leslie Corrice is about Arnie Gundersen and “hot particles”

          • Jan Steinman says:

            “Hot particles are produced by nuclear weapon detonations, and do not come from nuclear power plant accident releases.”

            First sentence, and I’m rolling on the floor laughing!

            He’s saying that an explosion in a lonely desert produces “hot particles,” but an explosion inside a nuclear plant near a populated area does not?

            Leslie Corrice is no more knowledgeable about such things than those he criticizes, and is very clearly a biased source of information.

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “As a retired radiologist who has studied The LNT (Linear No-Threshold) hypothesis and competing models off and on for more than 50 years, my own opinion – I stress opinion – is that Arnie Gundersen is a quack. Leslie Corrice is a better source of information.”

        I’m not sure what you’re trying to assert. That Gundersen is a “quack” because he touts the LNT model?

        If so, he’s in good company, and you should add the US National Cancer Institute to your list of “quacks,” as they have carefully validated the LNT model, if only for I-131 from atmospheric weapons testing.

        As for Les Corrice, he has his point-of-view, just as Gundersen does — and it’s the point-of-view of a blue-collar worker from within the nuclear industry. (Well, he does have a Masters Degree… in philosophy. 🙂

        If you don’t like Gundersen, there are dozens of others, from paediatrician Helen Caldicott to epidemiologist Ernest Sternglass to medical physics professor John Goffman. I’ll take their opinion over that of a retired nuclear plant operator.

        Personally, I don’t think the human track record for managing such things is very good. Before fossil sunlight, we couldn’t even keep from cutting down all the trees and wearing out the soil wherever we went. The fossil sunlight came along, and we patted ourselves on the back and congratulated ourselves on how clever we were and on all the progress we had made… as if we hadn’t dug up and pumped up all that progress…

        I can’t see adding the layers of complexity needed for nuclear power as a reasonable way to get off this fossil sunlight high. The “precautionary principle” should apply.

        • I am aware that LNT has been formalized by bureaucratic fiat. There is more to Gunderson than LNT. The latest is something called a “hot particle”? Then there is all of the alarmism on cancer inducing radiation falling on the US. Caldicott seems to believe that we don’t need nuclear or coal or oil. She claims to have proof that BAU can continue with alternatives. I am skeptical. Many years ago I had dinner and drinks with Sterngalss at a Roentgen Ray Society meeting in Atlanta. I wanted to talk about the statistical methods he used in Nevada. He wanted to talk about the holocaust which seemed to be an obsession. I talked to the late John Gofman on three occasions. The first time was at a dinner after he debated Henry Fenech who at that time was director of the UCSB nuclear engineering department, later disbanded. UCSB once had a reactor. In his book Gofman seemed perplexed about the low incidence of cancer in areas with high background.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            Okay, it’s settled then. Only experts you agree with are allowed.

            For the rest of us, it’s probably copacetic to look at the range of opinions, the expertise of the opiners, and pick something somewhere in the middle, which is still way more than nuclear proponents would have us believe.

            BTW: I’m amazed that a retired radiologist didn’t know that a “hot particle” is a term-of-art for radioactive contamination lodged in living tissue.

            • True, I had not looked up his so called “hot particle” . Evidence for LNT versus hormesis and other models is buried in a sea of noise. One cannot say that LNT has been proven. Near the zero point there is virtually no available evidence to show a convex, concave, straight or other curve. I do not believe that one with a scientific orientation should pick something “in the middle”. I am perfectly willing to admit that I don’t know all of the answers. I did in the past find Gofman and Caldicott to be formidable. Gunderson and particularly Sternglass less so.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            As a retired radiologist, you probably didn’t have to deal with radioactive contamination very often, so here’s an update on “hot particles.

            • Thank you.
              — I practiced nuclear medicine but was always careful to avoid spills. Nor do I ever recall dropping a radium needle. I was occasionally involved with practice for contamination and nuclear war scenarios.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Most of the concerns of the Gundersens, Caldicotts, etc. are about nuclear contamination, not radiation, per se.

              When a nuke melted near me in ’66, we had all sorts of strange animals born: kittens with two heads, “jelly goats” that had formed no bones, and a puppy that had to be put down because it had a huge fistula behind the umbilical, with its guts spilling out.

              Of course, official word was “There was no radiation released, and the public was never in any danger.” But less than ten years later, the father of buddy died of leukemia in his early 50s. He was an engineer at the plant during the melt-down.

              I know, all anecdotal, but it does make one wonder.

              That’s the whole problem with nuclear hazards: cause and effect are widespread in time, and virtually impossible to prove. Of course, that is not a “problem” at all if you are promoting such things; it’s a benefit!

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        Do you believe the statements in the video 1; Tepcos own report shows 50 tons of wreckage on top of the spent fuel in unit 3 2; The radiation is lethal so robotic technology that does not exist will be required to remove the spent fuel. to be Quackery? Did you watch the video to see if you agree or disagree with the specific issues or is your disdain for Arnie such that it was not worth your effort? I am open to your discussion of these issues.

        All I could find in a search on Leslie Corrice is her endorsement of a (self created?) theory “Hiroshima Syndrome” that basicly accuses anyone concerned with nuclear safety as being crazy. What are her credentials that she is a more credible source than Arnie? She is not a nuclear engineer, a high school teacher is this correct? Her sole contribution to the nuclear hazard discussion seems to be blogging there is no risk and presenting her “hiroshima syndrome” idea?

        Your response is a a fairly common one to posts informing about nuclear danger- a citation of position of knowledge and authority- and then attacking the source of the information without addressing the issues. I see this repeated over and over on blogs. The recent FOI release of NRC meetings shows this as one of their “talking point” strategies- to accent generalities that imply safety,and to never discuss specific technical issues or practices.

        • Paul says:

          I am quite amused at how the MSM has actually attempted to convince us that a little cesium and the other byproducts of nuclear meltdown are actually good for us — in small doses of course — almost like vitamins.

          For anyone who thinks Fukushima is not one of the worst disasters in history — one that continues to spew tonnes of radioactive water into the ocean and air — you might want to watch this:

          Ex-Japanese PM on How Fukushima Meltdown was Worse Than Chernobyl & Why He Now Opposes Nuclear Power

          • If Japan abandons all nuclear reactors might that worsen their peak oil and economic problems?
            –My impression is that the MSM has touted the dangers of low level radiation far more often than the theory of radiation hormesis. Hormesis was discussed in the Health Physics Journal as far back as 1980. T.D. Luckey wrote two books on hormesis. Both were massive tomes with more than 1,000 references. The late Bernard Cohen, a Pittsburgh physics professor wrote many articles on the effects of low level radiation, especially radon. Edward Calabrese garnered recent publicity with a discussion of Hermann Muller and the origin of LNT. For a comparison of Chernobyl and atmospheric testing see

            • Interguru says:

              I was going to comment on hormesis but you did it better than I could. At the low radiation levels we are talking about, there is no way we can test this hypothesis on people because we would need a sample side of millions, and there is no ethical way to test anyway. (Would you volunteer?).

            • Yes. My first x-ray job was a “volunteer” x-ray trainee in 1948, using relatively primitive equipment. I worked as an x-ray technician while in medical school, then spent 40+ years as a radiologist. Also volunteered for some radiation experiments. My health is far better than average.

            • Interguru says:

              My father-in-law worked with Fermi on the first nuclear reactor under Stagg Field in Chicago. Radiation safety standards were so weak as to be virtually non-existent. He died of intrusive brain cancer in 1976.

              I myself was radiated by x-ray machines in shoe stores. They were a gimmick to check if the shoe fit. Every time I passed a shoe store I would run in, put my feet into the machine and wiggle my toes. See Wikipedia Straight Dope here

              adiation surveys showed that American machines delivered an average of 13 roentgen (R) (roughly 0.1 sievert (Sv) of equivalent dose in modern units) to the customer’s feet during a typical 20 second viewing, with one capable of delivering 116 R (~1 Sv) in 20 seconds

              I also had a number of full body fluoroscopies when I was eight. At 72 I have had no effects from this.

            • i too had shoe store fluoroscopy. Also x-ray therapy for acne. My parents both died of metastatic cancer. They had no occupational exposure.Anecdotal evidence is fun but usually worthless. There is an old joke in medicine: “In my series of one case!”

            • Interguru says:

              Has anyone done a study on those who worked on the first reactor?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Has anyone done a study on those who worked on the first reactor?”

              I’m not aware of any. For one thing, it would be too small a population, because the dose-response deviation is very high. LD-50 doesn’t tell you much without the shape of the curve!

              Also, the first nuclear workers were fairly casual about exposure, and didn’t have good measurements.

              Some of the best studies of acute radiation affects come from Hiroshima survivors. The best studies of radioactive contamination affects come from US atmospheric nuclear weapons testing.

              Another anecdote: John Wayne could well have been a victim of nuclear contamination. He was in Utah downwind of the test range, filming The Conquerer, when a test was conducted. It was so hot that it immediately killed sheep in the area. Nearly half the cast and crew of that movie have since gotten cancer, with nearly a quarter — including the main stars and director — dying of it.

              But that’s the beauty of nuclear contamination — from the contaminator’s point-of-view: no one can prove anything.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “At the low radiation levels we are talking about, there is no way we can test this hypothesis on people because we would need a sample side of millions, and there is no ethical way to test anyway.”

              The US National Cancer Institute concludes from low-level radiation during atmospheric nuclear testing that the “linear, no-threshold” model describes the observed affects of low-level I-131 very well, and they reject hormesis.

              They even have an on-line calculator. If you are “of a certain age,” fill in where you lived and what sort of milk you drank (multiple entries possible) during atmospheric nuclear weapons testing, and they will tell you your increased risk of thyroid cancer over your lifetime.

              Living several thousand kilometres away from the test sites (Michigan) at the time, I find that my lifetime risk of cancer due to I-131 from atmospheric nuclear weapons testing is nearly doubled. They think my county average over all the testing was 1.4 rads, which is what I think Robert would call a “lost in the noise” dose.

              Also, people have been posting anecdotal stories: “I drank liquid plutonium for 75 years, and I’m doing fine!” 🙂 That’s another of the problems associated with radiation; the dose-affect deviation is very high. It seems to have very high affect on the very young and the very old.

            • It is true that the bureaucracies have accepted LNT for decades. It is probably their safest course. Yes 1.4 rads would be difficult to study against normal controls. But I suspect that quite a few patients receive around 1.4 rads during their hospital stay. (Being an old timer I remain more comfortable with rads vs. the new terminology 14 mSv). CAT scan exposures are currently a hot topic. The following addresses both the controversy and the statistical problem (noise) involving your 14 mSv.

        • Yes, I watched the video. I have seen reports from Fairwinds in the past. I try to live by the dictum – which some have attributed to Feynman – that: “The first duty of a true scientist is to prove himself wrong” In no way do I claim the expertise to evaluate the detail in this video. I accept the 50 tons and the lethality of the local radiation. To the best of my knowledge there have been no reports of acute radiation illness or deaths involving workers at Fukushima. That does not prove their absence. The earthquake was clearly a great disaster. The tsunami killed many thousands. I suspect that more died or suffered harm from the forced evacuations.
          –Leslie Corrice is male. Three times a week he publishes news items and commentary about Fukushima. These include updates on problems involving fuel rods.

          • ordinaryjoe says:

            Thank you for your answers and explanations. I respect your commitment to the dictum you mentioned in essence a commitment to truth. Could you link Leslies newsletters or is he on line?
            My search only turned up responses by him on blogs. If Corrice is seeking truth from a unbiased scientific dictum also I would like to see his work. I also tend towards strong opinions on subjects I have decades of practical experience with however I am also more than happy to explain the basis for those opinions. The blog responses I saw from Corrice that my search on the web turned up did not give me the impression of someone explaining a informed viewpoint. His use of the term “Hiroshima Syndrome” did not foster the impression of a unbiased truth seeker. Is Leslie a psychologist as well as a high school teacher? Why not just simply explain your premise rather than imply all that disagree crazy?
            No one would consider cumalitive poisons safe to ingest. Those poisons do not kill immediatly. Anyone that lodges a five or ten microgram hot particle from, fukushima, or from WIPP in the sticky tissue of their lungs is not going to keel over and die but that particle will kill them. Can I prove that? No, Can I prove that low amounts of strychnine ingested over a decade will kill you. No. But it will.
            The difference between radiation and radioactive waste are clear. A five microgram particle of plutonium is not the same as sunlight. A light bulb is not the same as the light. Usually when blogging about nuclear waste somone will appear, declare radiation levels safe and bring the subject away from nuclear waste. I find that very suspicious,. I find that to be contrary to seeking the truth of the situation.
            Nuclear waste is being leaked, and these leaks are ending up in our neighborhoods, our communities, our cities, our forests. I didnt poop on their front porch but they poop on ours and call us crazy when confronted. They say its safe. They dont have my permission to contaminate my community with nuclear waste regardless whether its safer or not. Its like a rapist that says I dont have AIDS, scouts honor, so your crazy not to like rape.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              Well put!

              It drives me absolutely nuts when people start conflating radiation with radioactive contamination. A granite counter top is not the same as I-131 incorporated into your thyroid. A banana is not the same as radiocaesium incorporated into your muscle tissue. Living in Denver or so-many airline flights is not the same as strontium-90 incorporated into your bones!

              There are also statistically-significant, non-cancerous maladies correlated with radioactivity. Especially sudden infant death. After Fukushima went off, the infant death rate in British Columbia more than doubled, to a rate not seen since days of atmospheric nuclear weapons testing. The provincial coroner scratched her head and chalked it off to poor parenting practices.

            • The latest Fukushima news.. I note that he is now posting twice weekly, Monday and Thursday
              –Do you use energy? Are you concerned about potential energy deprivation? Or about the waste from fossil fuels? Or the waste generated during the manufacture of solar panels?
              –It is true that there have been several recorded deaths from plutonium poisoning.
              –I do not particularly like his term “Hiroshima Syndrome” But his explanation is reasonable.
              –I have never declared that low level ionizing radiation in definitely safe. I have on occasion compared the evidence for LNT with that for other models. Unfortunately the evidence is buried in a sea of noise

            • #1 Physics 101. Ionizing radiation is ionizing radiation whether is comes from “radiation” (assuming that one is referring to “ionizing radiation” and not to longer wave length “non-ionizing radiation” such as radio waves and visible light) – or from the gamma rays, Beta particles and Alpha particles emitted by radioactive waste. Obviously there can be dosage differences depending on circumstances. My greatest occupation exposure was probably not from x-rays or radionuclides but likely from radium which emits a highly energetic photon capable of penetrating ordinary lead aprons.

              #2 Infant mortality. “…claims are critically flawed – if not deliberate mistruths”

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Ionizing radiation is ionizing radiation whether is comes from “radiation” … or from the gamma rays, Beta particles and Alpha particles emitted by radioactive waste.”

              I’m not sure what you mean by this.

              The different sorts of radiation cited have very different affects.

              “Absorbed dose” calculations attempt to correct for this, but with internal contamination, there is a huge difference between an alpha emitter (lots of damage from massive helium nuclei, but stopped in a short distance) and gamma radiation (small damage from very light photons, but capable of travelling through thick materials).

              At least that’s my understanding, from decades of amateur study. I’ve had a strong personal interest ever since a nuclear plant tried to kill me when I was 11 years old!

              (Radium-226, the most common isotope, is an alpha emitter, not a gamma emitter. Was it some other isotope that dosed you with gamma rays, Robert?)

            • The effects still result from ionization. Radiation dosimetry is difficult. The radiation physicists understand it better than most radiologists. A one rad x-ray exposure at 120 KV will give a far higher absorbed dose than the same exposure at 80 KV. At 30 KV absorbed dose would be minimal. Attempts to solve the Alpha and Beta problems have used a multiplier to convert rads to rems. It was never easy or perfectly accurate. I would be far more concerned if I were to receive 8,000 rads external radiation to treat a cancer vs absorbing a few alpha particles. As ionizing radiation, both would liberate electrons.
              —-Radium decay emits alpha, beta and gamma, partially through daughter products.The low intensity radium therapy that I used early in my career if now obsolete. It has been replaced with more effective and far safer modalities.

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “Do you use energy? Are you concerned about potential energy deprivation?”

              Yes I use energy. A better question would be do you consume anything since energy is used in everything. My consumption paradigm tends towards the design- I justify consumption for materials for projects. I still purchase quite a bit of the food I consume. Most (developed world) would consider my energy use quite pauper like. I heat one room to 68F in the winter- That room is super insulated- I keep the rest of the house above freezing. I own several gas combustion vehicles. I write down all the things I need that I cant haul on my bike and I drive once or twice a month. I drink no alcohol and I consume no meat. My cat gets meat. What reduction in my level of consumption do I need to achieve that will stop the production of nuclear waste? Are my hands dirty? -which is what you imply, that if I consume I have collusion with nuclear waste. Yes I consume.


              “Or about the waste from fossil fuels? Or the waste generated during the manufacture of solar panels?”

              Here you also imply collusion and that I am uneducated or/and hypocritical.


              Am I a self righteous hypocritical idiot? Its rather hard to be objective about these self judgments. If you are arguing that these qualities are endemic to our species I agree without reservation, and I am a human.

              The questions you pose imply that our energy use is mandatory- no conservation possible. It will be either this or that- lessor evil argument. Perhaps you are right and our species insatiable appetite for energy will be continued without regard to the future. It seems obvious to me that considering the cost of mining, manufacturing a nuclear facility, closing and decontaminating a nuclear facility, and storing nuclear waste for time periods over hundreds of thousands of years that nuclear energies EROI is negative in the extreme. There is no plan to accommodate the containment of the nuclear waste in a world sans fossil fuels. Our species population will decline with or without nuclear energy.. Our consumption will decline with or without nuclear energy. There are very tough times ahead and common sense dictates we prepare. The future will be left with the work of containing nuclear waste for 100s of thousand of years. Our species now are incapable of using and containing nuclear energy safely. To expect the future generations to be able to do so absent fossil fuels for several hundred thousand years is insane. No human civilization has lasted more than a thousand years but we have created a hazard that must have energy input for hundreds of thousands of years or it is released. The only sane path is to stop production of nuclear waste and contain it to the best of our technological abilities now prior to the inevitable consumption of every last molecule of fossil fuel that gets above ground.

          • Jan Steinman says:

            “To the best of my knowledge there have been no reports of acute radiation illness or deaths involving workers at Fukushima.”

            “Acute radiation illness” is not the danger. The danger is chronic radiation sickness, brought on from ingested contamination. See Janet Sherman’s meta-analysis of non-English papers on Chernobyl, published by the New York Academy of Science.

            And yes, before you bring it up, that book has been roundly criticized by The Usual Suspects. Most of the criticism is of the form, “You can’t prove 900,000+ early deaths will happen.” But no one disputes the fact that life within the evacuation zone has changed dramatically.

            • There were several dozen deaths from acute radiation sickness at Chernobyl. I remain surprised that none have been reported from Fukushima. I have seen no proof of a coverup.
              –You are correct, Janette Sherman has been criticized. An e-mail a while back indicated that she was having health problems. She has also had an interest in harmful chemicals.

  8. Anybody interested should catch up on the BBC radio programme on climate change, Professor Julia Slingo, head of the UK met office—telling it like it is

    • VPK says:

      It is obvious we as a society plan to do nothing meaningful regarding climate change.
      Already scientists are already starting dropping the 2 degree line and adopting when 3-4 degree increase happens. Funny, how time passes so fast! Back in 1990 we could still realistically have a 2 degree limit. Now, with China, India?
      Does one really believe in 2015 the nations of the world will have a Climate treaty with teeth in it? Does anyone really believe the US Senate will pass one? My God, the President can not even stop a pipeline from being built!

  9. Stefeun says:

    By Nafeez Ahmed: Leaked IPCC climate plan to worsen global warming – ecologists
    Critics say bioenergy, carbon capture, among draft report’s ‘false solutions’ to sustain business as usual economics

    Talking about “Biofuels with carbon capture”!! sounds crazy to me; just wonder what the final EROEI can be!
    Policy makers sometimes seem to be totally confused or at least miss the big picture, or …?

    • A person wonders what in the world these folks are thinking. It wasn’t more than a week or two ago that the UN came out with its statement, Biofuels do more harm than good.

      • Stefeun says:

        Yes Gail,
        and this has been well known for years, see e.g. this 2008 report:

        Beyond the crime that destroying rainforest is, the report states that instead of reducing GHG emissions, switch to biofuels first increase them and requires decades just to be at zero net (400+ years in the case of peatland rainforest converted into palm biodiesel!!!):
        “Converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce food crop–based biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a “biofuel carbon debt” by releasing 17 to 420 times more CO2 than the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions that these biofuels would provide by displacing fossil fuels.”

        For the US, not much better:
        “By using a worldwide agricultural model to estimate emissions from land-use change, we found that corn-based ethanol, instead of producing a 20% savings, nearly doubles greenhouse emissions over 30 years and increases greenhouse gases for 167 years. Biofuels from switchgrass, if grown on U.S. corn lands, increase emissions by 50%.”

        The only acceptable biofuel, from this point of view, is prairie biomass ethanol from abandoned or marginal cropland, the report says.

        • Thanks for the reference. Biofuels are a problem, not a solution.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “The only acceptable biofuel, from this point of view, is prairie biomass ethanol from abandoned or marginal cropland…”

          I remain a fan of biodiesel made from waste vegetable oil, although the entire west vegoil stream is no more than a few percent of the total diesel stream, so it’s certainly no magic bullet.

          Once it’s been through a fryer, it’s fair game, no?

          • Stefeun says:

            I also think it’s better to use the used oil from fryers in engines rather than throw away.
            Won’t change the deal, for sure.
            In France, seems that some farmers are doing it, but I’m not sure if it’s allowed even for in-house use. Under no circumstances on the roads anyway.
            Risk of health issues and absence of taxes, they say; which one do you think prevails?

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Health issues” may be the story, but “taxes” are the reason.

              I made a couple thousand litres of biodiesel from waste oil, but then the price of diesel got so high that collectors started paying restaurants for it, rather than charging them to haul it away.

          • The amount of energy taken to gather such fuel so that it can be reused is high relative to what can be reused. And obviously it will deplete, as we have less extra to use in fryers.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              I agree that used cooking oil is not a sustainable resource.

              But it was trivial and inexpensive to pick it up and transport to my processor. I was making 120 litres a week, collecting from four area restaurants. That was about ten times my needs, and I sold, er, “distributed” the rest to local diesel vehicle owners for a “voluntary contribution,” suggested the current pump price of petro-diesel.

              Without including anything for my labour, I found I could make it for about 80 cents a litre, at a time when diesel was selling for about $1.25.

              The process takes a long clock time, but relatively little contact time, so I could fit it in with other farm duties.

              Unfortunately, I cheaped-out, and used $0.30/ft tubing when I should have used $3/foot tubing, and the processor needs a few hundred dollars of rehabilitation in order to run again. Vegetable oil and methanol degrades cheap plastic and natural rubber over time.

            • The cost of maintenance and proper supplies somehow needs to be factored in as well. Also, your time involved in these. It is OK while it works.

  10. Christian says:

    @ yt75

    Left you some feedback at the previous page, but mislocated

  11. Quitollis says:

    Wise words from eek a mouse. An irrational and unsustainable “liberal” society built on nonsense capitalist and egalitarian principles, and the degradation of the environment and the ensuing loss of species. The ancient Indo-European philosophers taught the need of a rational sustainable society thousands of years ago. I don’t think that Jesus got the drift of the parable with his supernatural rubbish. “Take heed my brothers, take heed.” Otherwise we are likely to go the same way. The rate of extinction has gone exponential in Britain. We always live in the long term and we either live as if we live in the long term or we forever live in a short term mess — perhaps a basic premise of eco ethics? We need to practice eugenics and the control of the human population as to its quantity and its quality. I know, basic stuff.

    England’s animals and plants have been going extinct at a rate of more than two species per year for the past two centuries, wildlife experts revealed as they published a list of our lost flora and fauna.
    A total of 421 beasts, birds, bugs and plants have disappeared from the English countryside in the last 200 years, the Species Recovery Trust claimed.
    Well-known creatures such as the wildcat, the Great Auk and the large tortoiseshell butterfly are all named on a list of wildlife which has died out since 1814.
    Other lost species include ants, bees, beetles, dragonflies, fish, fleas, fungi, whales, moths, shrimps, spiders and wasps.
    The Lost Life Project is the first public online database about all 421 recently extinct species.

    The world is currently experiencing the sixth mass extinction event, with species disappearing as a result of habitat loss, intensification of agriculture and pollution, as well as other human activities, those behind the project claim.

    Mr Price added: “If we continue to allow these extinctions to occur, this country will soon be bereft of the biodiversity that remains.
    Even the Christian propagandists (lol) have picked up on this track. Notice the tsunami images (lol).

    • The latest extinction event seems to have started with hunter-gatherers. It doesn’t take much in the way of technology to wipe out large animals. When we added farming, we really ramped up the rate of causing extinction. I first wrote about the issue in this post.

      • Quitollis says:

        Thanks Gail, good points. I take on board that the loss of species has been going on for a long time even if industrialism has accelerated the loss. As you say, perhaps we will have less of an eco boot print after the human population bottle necks when industrial collapses. In the meantime it is good stuff that we are reintroducing species onto the island.

  12. andrey says:

    Something is missing in this analysis all right. The claim is that US imports NG when most of the producers are struggling with low prices…So imports are at even lower prices? because otherwise, local prices would have to match those that are payed for imported NG. Where from US gets to import NG that is even cheaper than produced locally? Canada, Mexico, Qatar? Aren’t they better off exporting NG to the East? Or is it the matter of infrastructure that should be build in order to get US NG to the places that currently is getting the important gas that will make local gas mor expensive?

    • The US and Canada are connected by pipelines that pretty much assume the two countries are all one big country. Canada’s natural gas production is in the West, and its pipes flow southward to the US. Changing consumption in the short term is very difficult–few ramp up their natural gas consumption when prices are low, except for perhaps electricity producers, if they have a choice between coal and natural gas. If natural gas is cheaper than coal they will switch (and they will switch back, if it goes up even a bit). Canada’s exports have been declining with recent lower prices. The US is also exporting natural gas toward the East side of Canada by way of Niagara Falls, because Canada doesn’t have good supplies there.

      Transport of natural gas is a huge problem. Building pipelines is expensive and time-consuming. LNG has similar problems.

      • andrey says:

        Thanks for the prompt answer Gail. So the only place that US imports a gas from is Canada. It’s doing cheaply because it’s cheap in US, Canada doesn’t have infrastructure to sell it to other places and with all this US, at current prices, will be able to get all the gas it needs annually by 2017. Also , if we see Canada and US as a one entity, Canada has huge amount of oil, that will be enough for both. Transport is a problem, geopolitics too..there are some…but calling the idea of export an absurd is far fetches IMHO.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “if we see Canada and US as a one entity, Canada has huge amount of oil, that will be enough for both.”

          Hmmm… a great number of us north of the 49th don’t quite see us “as one entity.”

          And Canada doesn’t really have “enough for both.” The entire reason Canada exports to the US is because our population is 1/10th as much. If the US lost 90% of its people, it could be an energy exporter, too! In fact, under NAFTA, we have to send a certain proportion of our fossil sunlight to the US, even if Canadians are shivering in the dark as a result.

          People talk about the tar sands as though you simply go there and scoop it up and send it south so you Mercans can burn it. Tar sands oil is probably only about 3:1 ERoEI, which some think is below the level needed to sustain civilization.

          If you haven’t noticed, both the Harper Government (the nation formerly known as “Canada”) and the BC Government have been pushing hard for export facilities. They are tired of being a US natural resource colony. There already is substantial oil going to China via the Kinder-Morgan pipeline, which is going to be twinned, despite public opposition.

          So be careful about making assumptions about your northern neighbour. As global warming progresses, Canada sees itself as an emerging world power, inconveniently located next to a declining world power. I fully expect to see Putin-like antics toward Canada when things in the US start to get really tight.

          • andrey says:

            Well, for a disclosure I must say that live in Israel 🙂 Another one would be that I’m an ethnic russian and was born in Moscow, SU in 1974 🙂 Comparing to the treat I get coming to Eastern Europe (Baltics, Poland, Chech), your tension with your neighbor would seem like a dispute of who were there first in the line to get a cup of coffee at Starbucks 🙂 I’ve been in Canada multiple times (marvelous place) , though I pretty much enjoyed US too 🙂
            Please note that ANY autocratic establishment sees and claims in the media US as an enemy. Being raised the way we were in SU we just can’t think otherwise :(..Unfortunately, watching national TV channels in Russia feels like nostalgia 🙁 SU neighbors payed dear for being SU neighbors. I surely hope that being a US neighbor is much, MUCH safer. Canada as a energy super power? Go for it guys. Iran, Russia, Venezuela in this role are so much less safe for the entire world that I truly hope we won’t get there :(.
            3:1 tar sand is a very , very poor metric. That’s not good enough obviously. But it means that you should burn 1 barrel of oil to extract 3. reserves are estimated to be 180 billion. US extracts almost 10 by burning 18. Canada probably don’t need to import oil at all. Oil is expensive? The answer would alternatives, energy efficiency, technology, using nat gas, renewable. Use your energy to ramp up local production with the technologies (that you friendly neighbor got or will get) and frankly you are not much behind. Lately there was an article that Saudi Arabia energy minister said that they need to halt energy subsidies because it’s intolerable that people leaving for 2 months vacations leave the AC on 🙂 Yes, it’s a warm country, but you can start thinking of energy efficiency. You also have Mexico as a neighbor and they got some energy there (I’m sure those guys got some flaws too :). Make no mistake, by finishing with supporting ethnic Russians in the neighbor states, Russia will come to help ethnic Russians in Canada. And the only thing currently that can help you avoid this is your not so perfect neighbor 🙂 By the way, the most fierce reaction by far on Crimea annexation came from Canada 🙂

            • Paul says:

              I think Harper has already agreed to make Canada the 51st state of America – which means Canada is also effectively ruled by Israel too.

            • I am not sure whether 3:1 is the right EROI, but the reason why it is possible for a 3:1 EROI to work financially is because EROI does not measure differences in energy quality well. Oil sands use cheap natural gas to make oil, so it makes financial sense to use quite a bit of natural gas. But EROI doesn’t consider the fact that natural gas is cheap relative to oil, so the ratio looks bad.

              EROI calculations can suggest that it makes sense to exchange expensive oil to make intermittent renewables as well. Energy quality is terribly important. I am not convinced that EROI handles it well. It is sort of a black box that gives a different number than price as a metric. Timing (including debt requirements) and human energy are also disregarded in the metric, as are energy costs beyond the wellhead.

        • There is nothing that says oil reserves can be extracted in any reasonable time frame, sufficient to keep the US economy from collapsing. We certainly don’t have infrastructure in place to deliver Canadian oil that fast either.

  13. Jan Steinman says:

    One thing to think about: natgas is essential for the production of nitrogen fertilizer. Natgas goes up, so does the price of food.

    It is possible to produce nitrogen fertilizer using electrolysis of water, but it is very expensive, compared to natgas.

    • VPK says:

      That is an excellent point! A while ago I read a book on the history of this event. You are correct without this technique world food production as it is now is impossible.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear VPK
        Here is a reply to the Iowa State study by Davis, et. al., which measured dollar productivity plus factors such as purchased inputs and pollution over a decade or so.
        scroll down to ‘non specialists need to be careful’

        I am a non-specialist, so you should beward of anything I say. What the comment seems to say is that ‘if you fail to grow only corn and beans, you will get less corn and beans’. That is like saying that if we don’t pack the world with people standing shoulder to shoulder, we won’t be able to have as many people on the Earth.

        First, the corn and beans are the inputs to the industrial food system, which promotes disease, waste, pollution, and addiction. So why would any rational person want to maximize that?

        Second, the authors carefully track the financial outcome. They show that a farmer who wants to can do this without financial penalty…today. The result will still be a lot of corn and beans which support the industrial food system, but a far more benign influence on the land. with much less dependence on external inputs.

        Third, it seems to me that the real question is ‘how much food can we produce with sustainable farming and gardening methods?’ In other words, you first use the knife to sort the ‘sustainable’ from the ‘nonsustainable’. Then you try to optimize within the ‘sustainable’ methods. Few researchers want to tackle this question.

        If you read this post yesterday
        then you know that there is a lot of ferment in the ‘sustainable’ or ‘regenerative’ farming community. The farmer who authored this thinks that we simply have a distribution problem, not a primary production problem. Others will identify transition problems (have to teach old farmers new tricks, have to break up giant farms into smaller units, have to move people from Houston to Arkansas, etc.)

        My opinion is that saying ‘without synthetic nitrogen we will all starve’ shuts down the brain circuits. We need to be looking at our options when synthetic nitrogen and phosphate rock go away, as they surely will. You can either say that ‘our current system will collapse’ or you can say ‘we will have to evolve our farming and gardening systems into something sustainable’. I prefer the latter formulation…it is conducive to thinking and acting.

        Don Stewart

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “saying ‘without synthetic nitrogen we will all starve’ shuts down the brain circuits.”

          Isn’t this a bit dramatic? I didn’t say that; I said that food prices are going to track natgas prices.

          I’m personally involved in “evolving our farming and gardening systems into something sustainable,” but I see no sign that the larger industrial food system is also doing so. In fact, the industrial food system seems to be headed the other direction, with more energy-dependent complexity, rather than less.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Jan
            I’m not accusing you of anything. I think the basic assumption on this blog is that both oil and natural gas will be disappearing, not just increasing in price. Anyone who agrees with that assumption is then looking at a very dire situation in terms of food supply using your logic (unless they have made other provisions).

            I also agree that the system is barrelling ahead at increasing speed toward what appears to me to be disaster.

            Don Stewart

            • MJ says:

              Seems to me since the majority here in the United States are farmers…..well, of grass and such, they best write a cook book on how to prepare it for consumption.
              The world is looking down the pipe of severe climate change (even if we stop with zero emissions at once, which we won’t) and a onward projection of population growth and demands that go along with it (United Nations project an increase of Air Conditioning by a factor of 30 times due to both). This pie in the sky belief that the ship will turn course in time for a material effect because people will “change” and wake up in time is simply not realistic

        • I think “sustainable” has various gradations. If humans could live by hunting and gathering, and didn’t over hunt any of the meat species and didn’t overeat any of the plant species, then perhaps we would have a “truly sustainable” system. As far as I can tell, we never had such a system–or if we did, it didn’t last for long, because we reproduced so much. There are various gradations going up from there. The current industrial system is clearly pretty bad. We can improve on it, and perhaps make it sustainable for a longer period. But it will always be a struggle to do what nature does “naturally”.

          We are dealing with a tendency toward maximum entropy production, which is pretty much opposite to our view of sustainability. Nature’s usual plan seems to be to allow crashes, and start over. Such outcomes don’t fit with our idea of how the world should work.

    • In China, coal is used to produce nitrogen fertilizer. In fact, they are exporting such fertilizer. I would guess that if the price of natural gas goes up, more coal basis nitrogen fertilizer will be used.

      This Seeking Alpha article claims that fear of cheap Chinese nitrogen fertilizer is affecting plans for plants used natural gas.

  14. edpell says:

    Here is an article that says by 2020 PV on a global basis will break even in terms of energy provided versus energy consumed in its production. That is net zero contribution to society by 2020.

    • I would be willing to bet that the analysis is not considering the full cost of the system, including energy balancing. The results would be much worse on that basis.

  15. Pingback: The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports | Bill Totten's Weblog

  16. timl2k11 says:

    Interesting graph:
    It shows (assuming a 2% growth rate in oil consumption) that even if one assumes there is twice as much oil as Colin Campbell estimated (with a peak having occurred in 2010) that only pushes the peak 14 years out. Harper (Harper who? I’m not sure graph doesn’t say) assumed 50% more economically recoverable reserves than Campbell which only pushes peak out 5 years (2015).

  17. timl2k11 says:

    More on the infrasability of Natural Gas storage and transport:

    The market has spoken. Natural gas is a pain in the… [another source of natural gas?]

  18. ordinaryjoe says:

    “Stand up on your hind legs and howl”

  19. Christian says:

    So, it seems physicists are increasingly addressing biologic and societal systems with a thermodynamic approach. Does a human (or just animal?) body really spend 10K times energy than the sun? Huge. It seems to back the assumption of evolution as the history of competing dissipative structures, at least to the extent modern structures are far more dissipative -wasteful, could we say. Don’t get at all the math, but it sounds real to me too. May be this is the Big Answer…

    Wonder what kind of collapse foresee the theory, could any trait be identified. For instance: downsizing, fragmentation or vaporization? Wonder also what does it says about information and the knowledge side upon this very moment in History.

    • Stefeun says:

      Here’s a link to the curve W/kg dissipated by several structures:
      NB: the “W” here is the “production of free energy”, exactly.

      • Christian says:

        C’est vraiment incroyable Steph! It’s all there. No way for evolution to go another little step upwards? Just some new stuff to burn… A quemar todo, Xabier! It’s amazing such amazing amounts of energy in the universe and we got almost nothing of it…
        Another physicist on the same path:

        • Stefeun says:

          I was finishing a detailed comment for you, but it vanished before I could post it! :/
          So, a shorter one:
          The idea is not new; L.Botzmann himself said in 1886 that “Life is a struggle for entropy”

          The big step now is that recent works tend to prove it by “hard” science, thus establishing a formal link between physics and biology.
          In bulk, works on dissipative structures, mechanical statistics, self-organized criticality and MEP (Max. Entropy Production) by I.Prigogine, E.T. Jaynes, R.Dewar, Per Bak, …
          And the difference between inert and living matter would be only the ability to replicate the information (as described by R.Dawkins), thus making it possible to dissipate more energy by more structures.

          F.Roddier’s particularity is that he’s putting all that together (also refers to many other people from various discipines such as F.Soddy, Lotka, Odum, Tainter,…) to see how it applies to ecology, economy, sociology, … (almost until everydays life).

        • Thanks! It sounds like Jeremy England is looking at life organizing from other molecules. It doesn’t sound like he has gotten as far as economies.

          • Stefeun says:

            For direct link energy/economy, you can have a look at Tim Garrett’s publications,
            especially this graph with linear correlation primary energy Vs global wealth, giving a constant value of 7,1 mW/$.

            Can’t find Garret’s graph (maybe you’ll be able, digging into ), but here’s a quote from quite complex report ( ):
            ” These rather general thermodynamic results can be expressed in purely economic terms because there appears to be a fixed link between global rates of primary energy consumption and a very general expres- sion of human wealth: 𝜆 = 7.1 ± 0.1 Watts of primary energy consumption is required to sustain each $1000 of civilization value, adjusting for inflation to the year 2005″.

            You can see a graph on top of page 3 (54) of this simpler document, but the values are not reported:

            Jean-Marc Jancovici (French engineer) has come to a very close conclusion; see 4th graph of this post:

            Pour Christian, une présentation en version française 😉
            (la courbe en question se trouve page 9)

            PS: JM Jancovici is pro-nuclear (or at least used to be), he thinks it’s the only solution to avoid/delay the collapse. Some may not agree with such conclusions, that can be discussed, but his opinion should in no case question the rest of his work, which is à mon avis highly valuable.
            Having said this, to have a chance that nukes save BAU, we should have started yers ago to build lots of new plants (T.Garret says somewhere 1 new plant per day…), and that won’t be done because too expensive (let alone other issues, security, …). This discussion is therefore groundless.

            • Perhaps you were thinking of the chart on this page:

              I have corresponded a fair amount with Tim Garrett. He is of the view that as long as we have lots of reserves, we will burn them–his area is climate change. My understanding is that he is talking about accumulated wealth (rather than GDP) increasing at the same rate as energy use.

              JM Jancovici is definitely talking about GDP–and that is something I have talked about as well.

            • Stefeun says:

              I’m not skilled enough in economics to turn my mind around the difference between wealth and GDP in this case.
              However, I suspect T.Garrett to talk about GDP when he states “wealth” (what made me doubt is that he speaks of “sustain a positive real GDP” in the document you link to).
              Anyhow, the energy is used to fuel the economy through production, and cannot be directly accounted as capital; so I fear that “wealth” is not appropriate in this case.
              It’s production-of-wealth that is, i.e. GDP.
              Maybe I’m totally mistaken; if so, nevermind!
              Best Regards

            • At the link I provided previously ( What Garrett says under the chart is “The above plot shows a very measure of global wealth (not GDP) and energy consumption.”

              He then goes on to explain:

              Note that the comparison here is not between energy consumption and the global gross domestic product (GDP), as has been erroneously claimed in published criticisms of this work; GDP has units of currency per time. Wealth has units of currency. GDP and wealth are not at all the same thing.

              What real (inflation-adjusted) GDP can be tied to, however, is the rate of change in how fast civilization as a whole is consuming energy, through the same constant of 9.7 ± 0.3 milliwatts per inflation-adjusted 1990 dollar. This is illustrated in the figure above. Real, inflation adjusted GDP is tied to how fast energy consumption is growing through the constant λ. Inflation-adjusted wealth is tied to our current power production capacity through the same constant λ. Both wealth and Energy consumption grow at the same rate η, where the rate is in % per year.

              So, at global scales, and over longer timescales, we must continue long-term growth of our capacity to consume primary energy reserves in order to sustain a positive real GDP. If consumption becomes too difficult, due to reserve depletion or accelerating environmental disasters (for example from accelerating carbon dioxide emissions), all our efforts to produce growth will be more than offset by inflation and decay. Energy consumption will continue. It may even be higher than it is today. But if energy consumption rates decline then global civilization will enter a phase of collapse.

              What I usually talk about is GDP growth being tied to growth in Energy consumption. I think that may be what Garrett probably means, but the section quoted could be read to mean that he is talking about the absolute level of world GDP being tied to growth in world GDP.

              We talk about accumulated wealth, but decay is going on at the same time. (It is not clear to me how Garrett has defined wealth–does this take into account depreciation?) If we don’t keep adding GDP greater than the amount needed to offset decline, accumulated wealth will decline. Energy is needed both to offset the decay and to add new goods and services. There are technology changes, changes in GDP definition and mix, and diminishing returns in extracting minerals all going on at the same time. Quite a bit of GDP goes into services that don’t really add to wealth–another issue.

            • Stefeun says:

              Thanks Gail,
              but I’m not sure your dteailed answer was worth your time…
              I still suspect a confusion in the words; maybe my definitions are wrong, but this is how I see it:
              – GDP is the amount of wealth produced over 1 year
              – growth is the variation of GDP of year n / year (n-1), in percentage,
              – total wealth is the addition of all GDPs since the beginning.
              If you make a graph representing GDP for each year (the curve), the growth would be the derivative (the direction at a given point), and the total wealth the integral (the area underneath the curve).

              Then of course one should consider inflation, depreciation, GDP definition/mix and other manipulations to make the figures look better, but as you say, these are other issues.

              In my view, GDP can only be positive, but growth can be negative. This is in fact what T.Garret is meaning in the end (despite his confusion GDP-growth, if I’m right).
              The important point is that there’s a high correlation between amounts of energy consumed and level of the economy.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “GDP is the amount of wealth produced over 1 year”

              I disagree that “wealth” has anything to do with “GDP,” as currently defined.

              What if a hurricane destroys your house, you get the insurance payment, and you re-build. The GDP goes up by the cost of re-building your house, but are you any wealthier?

            • Stefeun says:

              Bonjour Jan,

              I understand wealth as being the result of production.
              This wealth is then consumed (food,…) or converted into capital (such as your house). In this view, capital is nothing else than former production; it acts as a positive feedback loop in the actual production process, not as an input (this view seems to be coherent with LTG report).
              The destruction of your house is a depreciation of the capital, but doesn’t impact directly the GDP (you might choose not to rebuild it).
              Then you have the insurance issue, that I’d see as an interest rate based on wider capital (many houses have an insurance contract, but only yours was destroyed). On this point I’m not sure at all; Gail could certainly explain much better.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              My point is that “wealth” is viewed as a positive thing, whereas “GDP” is any expenditure.

              A hurricane causes GDP to go up. So does a tornado. So does a nuclear plant melt-down. But arguably, any of these would cause a decrease in “wealth.”

      • Christian says:

        This seems to be the top research line. May be this kind of work could do better than strictly “energy issue” oriented one?

      • Thanks! Any idea where this chart is from originally” Eric Chisson 2001, we are told.

        One thing I hadn’t focused on previously is the order of the various sources of energy dissipation, and how the more recent sources provide the greatest energy dissipation. Human economies come after humans as individuals.

    • I am sure that the energy calculation include direct and indirect energy use–that used to make and power what we use (roads, cars, houses, factories, electricity, and airplanes) but converted relative to our mass as humans. An awfully lot of what is use is far-removed from where we actually live–say, operating server farms, keeping the Internet operating.

  20. Stefeun says:

    Hello Gail and others,
    back to the gas topic, with an overview of European situation and alternatives to imports from Russia (source: O.Berruyer’s blog Diacrisis, in French).

    Europe Has Several Possible Replacements For Russian Gas But All Are Risky, Expensive And Will Take Years To Develop (Meagan Clark, International Business Times, March 27)

    and direct link to the report cited in the post: Europe’s Energy Security: Options and Challenges to Natural Gas Supply Diversification (Congressional Research Service, Aug.20, 2013)

    I have not sufficient background to say if relevant or not (even if seems rather optimistic to me), but it looks like LNG imports from US is not the first option, and -if ever possible at expected levels- would likely impact the whole market (price levels and their link to oil price).
    From the report:
    Possible U.S. LNG Exports: Pricing Not Volumes May Be Key
    Proposed U.S. LNG export projects, if all were constructed today, would make the United States the largest LNG exporter. The proposed projects are at various stages in the regulatory approval process, with only one under construction. Nevertheless, analysts have already begun speculating on what a significant increase in U.S. LNG exports would mean to natural gas markets, especially to European markets. Any volumes of LNG from the United States would benefit the market, including Europe, by offering a new supplier to consumers. For parts of Europe, especially the Baltic region and Central Europe, where the United States enjoys strong and friendly relations, any decision to export U.S. LNG to that region would be welcomed as a potential offset to their dependence on Russian gas.
    However, the bigger effect of U.S. entry into global LNG sales may be on pricing rather than supplies. The United States is one of the few countries that does not link its natural gas price to the price of oil and therefore may add to the pressure to delink the two commodities. Most natural gas sold in the world, by pipeline or as LNG, is sold under long-term contracts and indexed to the price of oil. Historically, the two commodities competed more directly in markets than they do today.

    Sorry for being a bit late with this comment; hope you can gather info/data you don’t already have.
    Very best regards.

    • Thanks for the links. There is quite a bit of gas in the world. The problem is getting it to consumers at reasonable prices, especially if some of the big sources of supply look likely to decline. A lot of the gas is currently “stranded” — too expensive to get out and transport to where it can be used.

      I hadn’t seen the Congressional Research Report. They make an attempt at analyzing all kinds of issues.

  21. timl2k11 says:

    Here’s $50 billion dollars of stranded investment money in oil and gas, (the dollar amount of stranded reserves likely 10x greater):

  22. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Those Worried About Food

    I strongly recommend this memoir and article by a housewife who left Houston looking for safety and a better evironment for bringing up children and became a grass farmer in Arkansas. There is an enormous amount of practical wisdom here. Don Stewart

    To entice you, here are a few quotes:

    There seems to be an institutional bias that says the man in the field doesn’t qualify as an expert because his input is not replicated research results; it is only observational. The problem with replicating results for validation purposes is that Nature never exactly replicates conditions from season to season let alone from year to year. So long as Nature is in charge of conditions there can be no absolute replication to conform to research protocols.

    people are hungry because there is no money to buy food, not because there is a shortage of food

    The food companies have put a great deal of effort into making all the world’s people dependent on them for survival.

    Do the chemical/fertilizer companies really want us to know that we can do quite well without them?

    What other business needs more people to do the work than the alternative food production does. It is a system by definition designed to be implemented by many people in many places at the same time.

  23. Pingback: Another Week of Global Warming News, April 6, 2014 – A Few Things Ill Considered

  24. Pingback: Comentario a 'La oportunidad que España no puede dejar pasar', El País, Madrid - Armando Bronca

  25. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Gail, you may find the above linked interview in the 2nd half of the video interesting between Max Kaiser and Jim Rickards. Rickards wrote a book titled, ‘The Death of Money’. I haven’t read it yet, but what he talks about in the interview is how the US and EU can use QE but also the IMF can also do the same using SDR’s. He said the Fed & EU are pretty close to being tapped out on their balance sheets regarding QE, however the IMF has a clean balance sheet so can intervene before civil unrest begins to take place by printing money to inject into the world economy.

    I did not know about the IMF’s capability to QE, so found that interesting, but also, Rickards seems quite knowledgable about the current financial situation having done work for the defense industry as a consultant. One thing he predicted 5 years before it began was the purchasing by Russia and China of gold. If I get a chance to read his book I’ll report back with a brief book report.

    • Stefeun says:

      @ Robert: thanks once more.
      The -most interesting- link at bottom of this page doesn’t work from Google translation; here’s direct link to the original pdf:

      I understand that some of us can be bothered with this scientific stuff, but IMHO this approach fully fits in with purpose of this blog, which is taking a step back to try to get the whole picture, understand better our world and society, and the deep trends we have to deal with; and it seems to be very connected with availability of energy.

      F.Roddier’s theory tells us -if I dare to take very harsh shortcut (and provided that my interpretation is correct)- that any structure, from galaxies to molecules and from virus to human economy, tends to self-organize itself in order to dissipate as much energy as possible.
      From this point of view, life is only a better way to replicate information and thus increase energy consumption. An example: per unit of mass (per kg), a human being consume 10,000 times more energy than the sun (yes yes, ten thousand times!!).

      In the end of the day, it could mean that we humans, and our societal organisation, as well as all other existing structures, are only the result of an energy flow. The form of structures depending on environmental context.
      It also means that when energy flow reduces, the most complex structures collapse, and evolution starts over again, but from a lower level, i.e. from simpler and smaller structures (see also “strategies” r, K in evolution of the species).
      In other words, it would mean that we are “designed” to burn everything we can as fast as possible, until our environment can’t withstand it any longer.
      If some of us are clever enough to slow down, others will take in charge burning of the surplus energy.

      • xabier says:

        It’s curious to observe that, psychologically, ‘burning through stuff’ feels immensely satisfying to most human beings: historically, we can see that those who have been able to do so, have done it – 300 years and earlier, the aristocracy and bourgeoisie in the towns; since the invention of mass industrialism and consumerism, as many of us as possible.

        People don’t act like this just because wicked bankers encourage them too….

        The only counter-forces to this have been the (globally-distributed more or less) mystical traditions which emphasize renunciation and reduction (but perhaps compensate with spiritual ‘highs’, or insights, whichever interpretation we choose).

        Invariably, these movements do not last for long – see the history of the Franciscans in Europe who started building great churches almost as soon as St Francis was stiff and cold.

        So, programmed to self-destruct?

        • xabier says:

          After all, St Francis did kill himself through his rather extreme practices……..

        • Lizzy says:

          Xabier, I think you’re right. I also think a lot of the “America wants to xxx” is unbelievable. A mon avis, conspiracy theories often are. We’re just people, just creatures, doing what we can, when we can, trying to get by, trying to live a good life. Okay, maybe sometimes World Leaders have different visions and want to Change the World because they are Right (think Tony Blair) and want power, but usually this wears off.
          I read things like this “So if you were China what would you do? “, well, stuffed if I know.
          If I were a banker or politician or general owed money or seeing a chance to make money, that’s a different matter. We are competitive.
          BTW, by “good life” I don’t mean virtuous, I mean long and safe.

      • edpell says:

        With the thorium reactors we will be able to go from 1KW/person to 10KW/person in the developed world. Flying cars, weekend trips to orbital hotels, colonies on Mars, asteroids and O’Neil cylinders, 10^18 flops computers, continuous real time communications with friends and family, local green house food, genetically engineered meat grown in house, 100% information transparency everyone knows everyone’s business just like a small town.

        Yes, the whole r versus K is a discussion that most are unwilling to have, but needs to happen.

        • Interguru says:

          I just read the paper Causal Entropic Forces ( My physics is too rusty and my mind is too slowed by time to be able to follow the mathematics beyond the first page. However Physical Review Letters, where it is published, is very prestigious and well refereed. This means that the paper is at least plausible if not correct.

          In a sense it just confirms what we already know about complex self-organizing systems ( such as hurricanes), in the same way as brain scans showing that the area of the brain that controls judgement is not fully developed in teenagers only confirms what we know; teenagers are often reckless.

          The paper may be the basis for the “Fourth Law of Thermodynamics” encompassing many actions including human social behavior.

          From the paper

          In condensed matter physics, our results suggest a novel means for driving physical systems toward self-organized criticality . In particle theory, they suggest a natural generalization of entropic gravity . In econophysics, they suggest a novel physical definition for wealth based on causal entropy In cosmology, they suggest a path entropy-based refinement to current horizon entropy-based anthropic selection principles that might better cope with black hole horizons . Finally, in biophysics, they suggest new physical measures for the behavioral adaptiveness and sophistication of systems ranging from biomolecular con- figurations to planetary ecosystems .

          bolding mine.

      • I think you are right about your interpretation. The results are disturbing: “If some of us are clever enough to slow down, others will take in charge burning of the surplus energy.” This is big reason for the failure of climate policies. Even substituting high cost energy for low doesn’t work well in practice.

        With respect to the publication you linked to, a letter called “Causal Entropic Forces.” It seems to provide a mathematical model of how such a causal entropic force would work in a classical mechanical system. The authors also provide some simple examples that show the emergence of complex behaviors in situations where there was sufficient forcing energy available and a sufficiently long time horizon. They state:

        In conclusion, we have explicitly proposed a novel physical connection between adaptive behavior and entropy maximization, based on a causal generalization of entropic forces. We have examined in detail the effect of such causal entropic forces for the general case of a classical mechanical system partially connected to a heat reservoir, and for the specific cases of a variety of simple example systems. We found that some of these systems exhibited sophisticated spontaneous behaviors associated with the human ‘‘cognitive niche,’’ including tool use and social cooperation, suggesting a potentially general thermodynamic model of adaptive behavior as a nonequilibrium process in open systems.

        In the abstract, they state,”Our results suggest a potentially general thermodynamic model of adaptive behavior as a non equilibrium process in open systems.”

    • Thanks! Readers who are proficient in French may want to purchase this book.

  26. Greg Welch says:

    Hi Gail,

    Wow, didn’t you write a few years back there could be scenarios where natgas could be $2 in 2020…and scenarios in which it sells for $10?

    Sounds like you’re turning towards the higher number.

    Agree that US natgas should be used locally given the cost of transport. If it costs $6 to get natgas out of the ground and it costs $6 to send it overseas, then the efficiency – if dollars are related to energy – just got cut in half. Looks like the oil companies are going to get their wish and we will export some natgas rather than use it to replace imported oil (which also has high direct and indirect costs) and cannibalize sales at the gas pump.

    Seems like the natgas export price would be capped at US HH prices plus cost of transport and processing – so not sure how US prices would go ballistic. Having a larger market makes pricing more stable – esp. if these export contracts have some flexibility – like only have 70% of their volumes pre-sold.

    You indicated US had the most expensive LNG for export. While more expensive than the ME, there is a lot of supply from Canada and Australia that will be even higher cost. Part of this is due to the extensive infrustructure in place in the US – including LNG terminals that have been built and now being converted from import to export facilities at a much lower costs than starting from scratch.

    You are definitely right on about the population issue. Mums the word from just about every major ‘environmental’ organizations. Immigration, birth control….issues don’t help with the fund raising so they prefer to ignore the fundamental equation of our impact being a function of consumption level x population x technology. (Ehrlich and Holdren’s Impact relationship)

    • The issue with high priced natural gas is that people can’t really afford to buy very much of it. Also, products made with it aren’t competitive against products made with cheaper fuels, particularly coal and hydroelectric–often nuclear as well.

      US prices could spike if fixed contracts are made to sell LNG made from US natural gas, leaving the US with too little natural gas to supply households, industry and electricity providers. Spiking would most likely come in the winter, when demand is highest. Electric providers would switch to coal, to the extent it is available. In theory, though, a person might expect that having better export capability would lead to an evening-out of natural gas prices in Europe, the US, and Japan. In such a situation, US prices would still be lower, if the cost of production is lower, and there is a high cost of shipping overseas.

      You are right about being able to convert import facilities to export facilities at fairly low cost. (I hadn’t realized how easily it could be done.) There still will be a need for a large fleet of sips to carry the LNG across the ocean though. If the amount of exports/imports is being ramped up, I would expect that such ships might be one of the bottlenecks. Also, new buyers might need LNG import facilities.

  27. Paul says:

    Was having lunch with a mate who was a partner in a global engineering firm — discussion turned to the economy.

    I expounded my theory that the money madness that started in 2001 (interest rates dropped – cash pumped out > housing bubble) was related to oil going from $12 in 98 to $38 — that was a growth killer and the easy money was an attempt to offset the impact of expensive energy on growth.

    His firm was big in the oil and gas industry and did a lot of work in Texas…. the comments above reminded him of a period not long after this when oil went to $50 — he recalls that there was heavy pressure to pump more oil — to accelerate everything (his firm had never been so busy) — the purpose was not to take advantage of the higher prices — his recollection was that they had a mandate to get us much oil out of the ground as possible to try to control the spike in oil prices.

    Tie this together with the Iraq invasion around the same time and it gives a picture of desperation to get as much oil onto the market as fast as possible to delay peak oil.

    Of course this has not worked because supply flatlined in 2005.

    I think this information reinforces the fact that we are almost certainly in the 8th inning of this game — all means possible have been exercised to try to increase supply – and failed — now we are resorting to financial tricks — which of course are failing…

    The laws of physics and nature will win out in the end.

    • VPK says:

      Thanks Paul for your account and if correct it will be a “surprise’ to most of the American public that has been brainwashed to the thought of “energy independence” resurgence of domestic sources. I do not know how times I’ve seen that infocommercial with the Slim trim tall well spoken Lady telling us about the PROVEN “safe” technology that will enable it to happen.
      Yes, I agree it will happen sooner than we all can imagine. When it does the “Big Brother” spin machine will be out in all force.

    • xabier says:

      ‘Financial tricks’: for my part, I’m praying that the rabbit continues to appear from the hat every time the magician reaches in….for a little while longer at least!

      • Paul says:

        I was watching the Jim Rickards interview on RT that someone posted — towards the end he says ‘don’t underestimate the ability of governments/central banks to stop the collapse from hitting’

        I must say – I am amazed we have made it this far considering the financial tricks started around 2001.

        I think the consensus in the peak oil community has been that a financial calamity related to the toxic side effects of printing trillions of dollars at zirp (of course caused by expensive energy but not recognized as such) – would be what topples civilization.

        But if governments insist on doing everything and anything to prop up the financial system could the above mentioned theory be wrong?

        Is it possible to keep the financial system running for many years yet with more and more gimmicks and lies?

        And will the tipping point not be financial rather will it be a point where the production of oil drops off so precipitously that demand far outstrips supply and money printing becomes irrelevant – and ineffective.

        i.e. Do we collapse when the physical supply of oil is simply not sufficient — the price of oil goes through the roof — and everything unravels?

        • Lizzy says:

          I wonder, Paul. I’ve been following the whole Crimea/Russia v the West, and the potential of the USD losing its reserve currency status. That could be a huge shock to the system that western oil-poor countries would fine hard to simply by-pass.

          • VPK says:

            Read 10 years ago somewhere that China was planning for the United States NOT to be a world power any longer by the year 2050.
            By their actions their plan is proceeding as planned.
            Just read that the military in leaving BILLIONS of dollars behind in the Middle East as it winds down its presence there. Just add that to the trillions.
            History is repeating itself, the British found it could no longer afford to be a world power and the United States will do the same.

        • gerryhiles says:

          @ Paul

          I clicked on an email link to your comment that things had gone financially wrong since 2001, but I’ve ended up here and off topic. Never mind:

          How about 1971 when the “petro-dollar” got forced into existence as the only allowed global currency by arrangement with Saudi Arabia, in exchange for military protection.

          Have you forgotten the wars on Libya and Iraq, since 1986 and 1991 respectively, or even going back to 1953 and the overthrow of the democratically leader of Iran/the installation of the dictatorial Shah, who did the bidding of Western oil companies.

          I suspect that every finance and corporate mogul has always known that exponential growth is not possible in a finite world, though I doubt that they have truly reckoned with the chaos they are unleashing, as peak/easy everything is imploding.

        • It seems like there can be a number of things hitting at once, or setting off one another. For one thing, we now need a networked global system. If we convince ourselves that we can “go it alone” without Russia (and Iran), we are likely to find ourselves badly mistaken. Cutting Russia out means not enough oil and gas exports for the rest of the world–we are in terrible shape as a result.

          If you remember, the original Limits to Growth analysis was really an analysis of amounts of resources, not the financial system at all. It was the fact that so many physical resources were needed to keep the system going that left inadequate resources to fuel economic growth. So whether or not the financial system fails, we have a problem.

          I think governments failing are going to be a big part of the problem. Part of the problem is with oil exporters. As their exports stagnate and oil prices don’t rise enough, they do not collect enough revenue to keep government programs operating. We end up with problems in Egypt, Syria, Venezuela, Ecuador, and many other countries. Right now, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are unhappy with each other.

          Part of the problem is with oil importers that cannot collect enough taxes. That may be part of the issue as well–but perhaps covered up by financial programs for a while.

    • Even with trying to get as much out as possible, oil supply has flattened. And of course, now we are hearing that there is a lot of acreage up for sale because oil companies are not doing well at actually extracting oil at current prices. That combination is likely to eventually lead to oil production falling.

  28. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All Who Worry About Food

    This will recommend that you purchase Anni Kelsey’s book Edible Perennial Gardening: Growing Successful Polycultures in Small Spaces. Her book is recommended by lots of people, including Eric Toensmeier of Miracle Lot fame.

    Anni Kelsey lives in Britain. About a decade ago, she set out to see how much she could grow with a perennial polyculture. That is, lots of different plants, not planted in neat rows and not tilled annually and not fertilized and not treated with herbicides or pesticides, growing in the space that a typical homeowner might have. What you see here is the results of a part time gardener experimenting and paying attention. Her work is informed by permaculture principles, but also takes ideas from lots of different traditions. It is specific to Britain. She includes analyses of her results during the past few years of extreme weather in Britain. Her polycultures have not escaped unscathed, but have performed considerably better than annual gardens.

    I could write several thousand words trying to convey some of the practical advice the book distills, but I will just say that, if you are a temperate zone, well-watered climate, homeowner with some space that can be gardened, and if you are thinking that the ability to grow some green leaves and also some calorie crops is a good idea, then This is the Book For You.

    Don Stewart

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear All
      I said ‘homeowner’, but she also has excellent advice for those gardening allotments or community gardens. If you think about it, minimizing trips to your allotment or community garden. She gives you advice on plant selection which will let you do that.

      Don Stewart

    • xabier says:

      Thanks Don, sounds perfect for this Spaniard exiled to clay soils and grey skies.

      • Lizzy says:

        Xabier, and perfect for a kiwi stuck (by a mortage) in the UK, dreaming of blue skies, good summers and hokey-pokey icecream…

        • xabier says:


          Trust you have been enjoying the air pollution too?! Although it seems that Spain is in fact the most ‘dieselized’ country in the EU (70%) and therefore even more dangerous to health. Thank God the chorizo and paella rice lifeline is functioning fine……

    • VPK says:

      Thanks, Don for the recommendation. I am placing an order to purchase a copy. Looked at the table of contents and is very worth while reading.

  29. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    I want to suggest a way of thinking about Iran and Urkraine and Cuba and Russia and China. Bear with me a moment while I suggest a premise.

    As I mentioned separately, Dr. Ricardo Salvador from the Union of Concerned Scientists spoke here a few evening ago about The Future of Food. One of his points was that food has not gotten less expensive in the US over the last 70 years. The amount of money we spend on food, adjusted for inflation, has not changed significantly. What has changed is the composition of the food industry’s costs. Where the payments to farmers once loomed large in a food companies income statement, marketing is now the largest expense. Where the medical costs for dealing with chronic disease (mostly a result of the food we eat) were once perhaps 3 percent of our GDP, they are now around 15 percent of our GDP. Arguably, we have become worse off in terms of food.

    Yet Salvador pointed out that, if you have a car and some money, you can have virtually any food you want, anytime you want it, prepared any way you want it, without regard to season and with no labor on your part.

    So what is being provided by the food industry is largely the feeding of a Dream. If we look at the caribou imported to Aleutian islands during WWII, and then abandoned to eat all the lichen they wanted without fear of any predation at all, we might expect that this whole exercise will end in collapse. You would get pretty much the same analysis if you looked at consumer goods in general.

    What keeps the ‘Food Dream’ functional? I suggest it is the very things that the Peak Oil people, David Korowicz in terms of supply chains, Gail in terms of how it is held together by financial fraud, the multiple writers who explain how the food companies have learned to make the most addictive substances on Earth, and Charles Hugh Smith’s explanations of how the system concentrates money and power in a very few hands. In short, the Dream is implemented by a system that is fragile.

    Iran, Cuba, Russia, and China are threats to the system. Iran was making noises about selling its oil outside the petrodollar system, and was promptly labeled as ‘the Axis of Evil’. Cuba was excluded from the global financial system, did not collapse, but neither did it thrive, and its people are not expecting the ‘dream’ to arrive on their shores any time soon. Russia is a threat because it is the largest exporter of oil and gas on Earth, and its production is not under the control of the US government. China is a threat because it has accumulated lots of money and has become a wobbly but indispensable component of the global production and marketing system, and because it has scores to settle from the shabby treatment it has received in the past.

    The goal of the US government is simply to have the Dream become the sole social and economic force on the planet. The US dollar and US banks will be the grease which keeps the Dream providing the poisons to the masses. The US government will skim plenty of money to fund the revolving door with US corporations. The ratio of promises to real wealth will continue its exponential climb.

    The weapons that the US government has to keep everyone in line are specifically those weaknesses identified by the Peak Oilers, Korowicz, Gail, the scholars of addiction, and the concentration of wealth and power.

    If the US government controls whatever oil is left, it can ration it to favored groups. So long as the US dollar reigns supreme, the US government can print money at will to get whatever it wants from anywhere in the world. So long as supply lines are fragile, the US government can manipulate the financial system to disrupt supplies to any group it wants to punish. So long as the populace is addicted, the US government need not fear that some local government is going to start preaching about austerity and the joys of the simple life. So long as a few very wealthy people in Russia have invested money in expensive McDonald’s franchises, the US government can shut down those franchises and send powerful messages to the wealthy. If Europe gets out of line, the Federal Reserve simply shuts off the money to their banks.

    Why do I think this way? First, consider that ‘nation building’ is completely out of favor in Washington. If the US ever did have a committment to ‘peace and democracy’, it has long ago faded. When Franklin Roosevelt had the chance, in the spring of 1945, to install a friendly king in Saudi Arabia, ousting the British, he took that opportunity. Churchill tried and failed to reverse the move. Selecting and installing a monarch who is wedded to the petrodollar has paid a lot bigger dividends than trying to ‘build democracy’ anywhere. Second, consider Cuba. Why does the US continue to persecute Cuba? The only answer I can offer is that Cuba is different, and, as I described above, the US cannot stand anyone who is outside the Dream. Third, consider Iran. The US doesn’t care if Viet Nam builds a nuclear reactor, but I submit that there is no plan for a nuke that Iran can offer which will get US acceptance unless Iran gives up the idea of selling their oil for something other than dollars. The US may also require that the International Oil Companies take over from the national oil company.

    Looking at Russia and it’s actions in Ukraine. Russia has done two things specifically:
    1. It has stopped selling gas at a discount to Ukraine.
    2. Russia has accepted the petition of Crimea to rejoin Russia (in line with the UN Charter of ‘self-determination’)
    Russia has also made it known that Ukrainian notions of ‘nuking all the Russian speakers’ will be met by force.

    Do you for a moment imagine that Obama is willing to risk nuclear war to prevent any of those Russian actions? If this were a dispute between Nicaragua and Guatemala, you would never hear anything about it. What makes it different is Russia’s control of the oil and gas, and their obvious knowledge that they need to untangle themselves from the web of power that I described earlier. If the US permits either Russia or China and perhaps Iran to leave the web, then US power falls precipitously. The dire prophecies of the Peak Oilers, Korowicz, Gail, Smith, and Greer would have to become a daily concern in Washington. The Deep State might implode like the Roman Empire. I think it’s all about keeping the Dream alive and firmly under the control of Washington.

    Interestingly, I think it is quite possible that oil production can fall, real standards of living decline, and yet the Dream still govern the world. If you add food costs and the increase in medical expenses for chronic disease, you get a pretty sad picture. Yet I doubt you could convince more than one person in a thousand that following that particular Dream has been a disaster. The US government is now firmly in charge of the statistics and the Main Stream Media and happy stories of one flavor or another are going to dominate discussion.

    Don Stewart

    • Interguru says:

      Just a thought. In the 1990s the Soviet Union collapsed. Suddenly Cuba lost it’s subsides, food shortages developed. A near famine ensued. Cuba switched to sustainable agriculture. Lo and Behold, with the combination of sustainable agriculture and (forced) dietary reduction, the population’s health improved.

      Cuba has a long tradition of public health and cardiovascular research, and the researchers — from Spain, Cuba and the U.S. — were able to examine detailed data about body mass changes and diabetes cases between 1980 and 2010. The results, published in the British Medical Journal, show that during the crisis the average Cuban lost up to 11 pounds, and the country saw a rapid decline in death rates from diabetes and coronary heart disease.

      more here

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Interguru
        A similar thing happened in the Netherlands during the famine in the winter of1944-45. Fatal heart attacks dropped substantially.

        There has been some recent research into the archives in Scandanavia correlating epigenetic influences on children who were in the womb during famines compared to those who were in the womb during times of plenty.

        If you look at the evidence, it seems to indicate that we do best when we are moderately hungry. For example, if you have to go out and work a little for your food, you will not be likely to overeat. You will balance eating and working.

        Likewise with the caribou eating the lichen. With no predators on the island, the caribou became 30 percent fatter than their cousins on the mainland, where the wolves lived. Finally, the caribou exhausted the lichen and the population crashed as the fat, sick caribou died. With predators, the caribou would eat until their hunger pangs were sated and then move on somewhere safer.

        I believe something similar happened when wolves were reintroduced into Yellowstone. The elk stopped overgrazing the river valleys. They come down, eat, and go back to the higher country. The vegetation along the rivers now flourishes, where before it was quite degraded.

        Don Stewart

        • Hi Don,
          We’d love to get in touch with you. Tracking your agri related posts.

          Check out our charter, we’d appreciate some feedback.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Agritech
            Thanks for thinking of me.

            I think I will decline the offer. Let me explain. I am fundamentally a gardener who also spent a few years working part time on a small farm. I retired from the farm on my 73rd birthday, when the stoop labor got to be too much for me. I am also very interested in food and health issues.

            I have no formal educational qualifications in any of those fields, and I have never made a living in any of those fields.

            I was recently invited to participate in a steering committee working on a seminiar about food and climate change. I declined. I told them that professional farmers are rightfully suspicious of amateurs who come in and start pontificating about how things ought to work. I gave them some money and they did just fine without me.

            I participate in this forum because I think that, whatever mistakes I may make, they are probably offset by my having a perspective which is quite different from the typical ‘food is just oil’ mentality. I try my best to get people to look through the rhetoric and think about the possibilities we actually have in front of us. But I wouldn’t want to try this trick with professional farmers…they would pretty quickly figure out that I wasn’t one of them.

            Don Stewart

            • VPK says:

              I found your posts of most interest and value. I understand how you feel too.

            • xabier says:


              ‘Amateur’ used to be a term of praise: keep them coming please.

            • Hi Don,
              Thanks for your response. It’s your humility along with your opinions that attract, not so much ego, titles and the rest. It was once said more the knowledge lesser the ego, more ego lesser the knowledge and this remains so.

              In the same way we find Gail’s platform, posts incredibly insightful and engaging, we scour the planet monitoring humble voices the world over on a subject matter vital to people’s lives. We’re not actually based in America, we take a global view.

              Just so you know, we’re developing an “international” platform that provides a voice for all who wish to be involved. Given over half the world’s food is produced by smallholder farmers, we’d be a little foolish to just listen to the “professional or institutional farmers” out there.

              Everyone has a voice and everyone deserves to be heard given the magnitude of the changes we face.

              This is our mandate.

      • The article goes on to say that the people have now more than gained the weight back–their weight is now 20 pounds higher than it was in 1980. The weight loss took place between 1980 and 1996. The problems were not permanently fixed. Somehow, they are now worse off than they were to begin with, since they had only lost an average of 11 pounds.

        The weight problem is very widespread.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      As individuals humans seem more often than not to repeat learned behavior and patterns long after the behavior benefits the individual. Learning and change are discarded for systems. We consider ourselves logical but our choices are invariably emotional. Why? In the case of the individual for some reason we find this painful. Ruiz in the four agreements writes about our domestication and the common dream. Our efforts to seek truth and make appropriate changes in our individual and collective behaviors will determine our fate. Ruiz postulates – heaven or hell your choice- we are very comfortable with hell.

      On the surface your assessment above would seem to be spot on. Perhaps the government is unable to discard behavior as that is what the collective “dream” (Ruiz) allows. Perhaps it is Kabuki theatre designed to maintain a structure of control. As cognitive dissonance grows some outlet must be provided. The vast majority of residents of the USA also are very strongly attached to the collective dream, picking one variation or another. Only now is the understanding of exponential growth starting to be understood by a few on any sort of emotional level. Accepting the rather simple and obvious truth that no species can grow exponentially on a finite planet is not compatible with what all the flavors of dreams provide ;ethical consumption. At first the understanding of exponential growth is painful but then the experience changes as the cognitive dissonance falls away. I try to enjoy each day to the fullest.

      The writings of Korzybski have great bearing on this IMHO. Our inabilty to see the limitations of our defining achievement as a species; language, specifically our refusal to see that language is a map of a thing not the thing itself. Korzybski refered to this as “unsane”. I think this unsanity is demonstrated in the subset languages of government, wall street, and corporate employment. The subset languages of the USA collective dream are distributed via media, the subset that causes the least pain via cognitive dissonant pain selected by the indiviual as truth The ultimate unsanity practiced is to swallow the acronyms and structure of a language whole without any effort to see if the tool represents reality and that the effects of the tool are healthy.

      These are the obstacles that our species face in coming to terms with our relationship with the planet. These obstacles are not insignificant.

      “How can 2+2=5, it can not, 2+2=4”
      “Sometimes it does sometimes it does not Winston, the road to sanity is difficult, but in the end you shall be sane”
      Orwell 1984

    • The United States would certainly like to keep its dream alive and dominant in the world. The strange myths we are hearing about oil and gas are part of this dream. I am sure that the US government would like to keep things going the current way so that it can be the dominant power. The question is how low can things stick together, before the problems with the “Dream” start to become evident. The story cannot be kept together indefinitely.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        “The story cannot be kept together indefinitely.” Thats the advantages of a conflict. If your in oceania all of the problems are due to eurasia. If you are in eurasia all of the problems are because of oceania. This requires that oceania and eurasia are in agreement that neither has any interest in a full out conflict where the world is destroyed with nukes; kabuki theatre- but the dream is real, control is maintained and people take whatever they are given. Lots of drama lots of hatred.

        Or if there is no agreement to avoid all out nuclear conflict and the governments are truly snarling over the last of the resources each of their dreams where they are the righteous one, a strong possibility exists that we will actually engage in WWIII.

        As a individual your birthright is to choose your dream. I choose a dream of seeking balance with nature, being content with what I have, And trying to make do with the resources I have. I will be poor. I may die early due to lack of modern medicine. Im ok with that. It is without a doubt true that many feel fearful at the loss of a collective dream. Whether they choose to use their birthright to dream as they wish or continue to dream the collective dream is the great question of our time. Yes there are limits. Yes there is physics. All of the collective dreams take those as a base the supposition being only that dream is the real dream, but it just a dream. There is the physical universe. There is humans dreaming. Our unsanity lies in our inability to differentiate. This is not in conflict with the great information distributed on this blog about our species situation. I choose not to participate in the collective dream. I invite others to do so also. What is our desire , what is our essence as a species; the hell of materialistic consumption, or the paradise of balance? Paul asked the other day on this blog “what if everyone just walked away” and I replied with sarcasm but he was right. No conflict. No drama. No hatred. Just walk away.

  30. Hartley Schultz says:

    Hello once again Gail,
    I wonder if you are as shocked as I am over this latest revelation!
    “McDonald’s quits Crimea as fears of trade clash grow, politician urges fast food chain to shut all Russian outlets”

    In the article, McDonald’s said the suspension of financial and banking services forced the closure of their restaurants in Crimea. There is also concern that economic sanctions could force the closure of McDonalds Russian restaurants, due to boycotts, and calls for McDonald’s to pull out of Russia. This would affect profitability and put McDonalds into a global recession or even depression. Do you think that McDonalds a global benchmark: what’s bad for McDonalds is bad for the world?

    The article also says that “The Ukrainian government said it was looking at alternatives including buying gas from western neighbours, an option that would mean reversing flows in transcontinental pipelines”. I know you touched on this matter before. I would like to know: Is this feasible and what are the implications?

    Kind regards

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      “The Ukrainian government said it was looking at alternatives including buying gas from western neighbors…Is this feasible and what are the implications?”

      If the title of the article by Gail is, ‘The Absurdity of US natural gas exports’, then how would that be possible?

    • Hartley Schultz says:

      Hello once again Gail
      I should have put in the link in my above comments Its a rather dense article as you can see. Are they right that help is just around the corner, despite the US situation, as you have described it. I am quite dizzy today, so I couldn’t get my mind around the article.
      Kind regards

      • It is a good article, but in the end, they come to the view that Europe (and the US) can exert considerable leverage against Russia if they choose too, by isolating Russia financially. What the authors don’t realize is that we now live in an interdependent world. Pushing Russia down is not a good idea–it is much too likely to pull many others with it. We definitely need Russia’s oil exports on the world market, and probably its gas exports as well. We don’t really have the option of getting along without Russia. Globalization has already gone too far–we can’t undo it without real problems.

    • The way I see it, the West has more to lose by making Russia angry than Russia has to lose. The West doesn’t really have the natural gas to reverse the pipelines–it just talks big. Europe needs Russia’s natural gas. It needs Russia on its side. Russia can sell the natural gas to China, in time. Russia can also upset the Petrodollar balance.

      I haven’t looked into MacDonald’s situation very much. They have more stores in Russia than I would expect–this article says it has 245 restaurants that serve around 950,000 customers daily with the help of its 25,000 employees. It sounds like they have a disproportionate share of the fast food market there. Restaurant meals there are expensive in Russia. MacDonald’s may provide an option that “works” for people who would like to eat out, but can’t afford the usual high prices. I would expect Russia could find an alternative to MacDonald’s more easily that MacDonald’s could replace the profits it earns in Russia.

  31. Paul says:

    Russia prepares to attack the petrodollar

    The US dollar’s position as the base currency for global energy trading gives the US a number of unfair advantages. It seems that Moscow is ready to take those advantages away.
    Read more:

    Read more:

    • Interguru says:

      Russia is a 2nd rate regional petro-state which cannot even begin to threaten the dollar, even with China’s help. . They have an impressive nuclear arsenal, but that does not give them economic clout, just as Pakistan’s and North Korea’s bombs give them no clout.

      • xabier says:

        Yes, it’s an interesting situation.

        The great power of Russia once she modernised in the 18thc was due to her large population – which meant a huge army – and immense natural resources -agriculture, timber, etc.

        Today, she is, as you say a petro-state, with a shrinking population and poor public health, hankering after exerting the dominance she once enjoyed in the old sphere of influence, but really quite vulnerable to energy market volatility.

        Fascinating times to live in…

        • Paul says:

          Russia does not have to defeat the US militarily to destroy the US — all Russia has to do is sell oil in a currency other than USD and that is the end of American empire. Because if Russia does this nobody will fear the bully and others will quickly trade in non USD.

          Others including apparently Gaddafi tried to do this — and we know what happened to him.

          A slight difference here — Russia and China are armed to the teeth and cannot be pushed over.

          2008: I think it was Kyle Bass – someone prominent – said ‘it’s like there’s this big fat bastard that the world is slaving away to feed — and getting nothing in return — at some point the world is going to say screw the fat bastard —– why should we slave away while he does nothing but gorge himself on our effort —- and they will eventually let the fat bastard starve’

          All this is metaphor for the reserve currency — China is already not buying US debt — maybe the fat bastard has been told to get fucked — the fat bastard doesn’t like it so is whining like a spoiled prick and hurling empty threats all over the place and as usual resorting to bullying tactics – and Putin is laughing at what he feels is a castrated beast…

          China is no longer buying US debt — and they are buying a lot of gold. Perhaps they see the US as finished and are positioning for the aftermath.

          A rather dangerous situation because if China Russia are indeed rejecting the USD then the beast either stands done and accepts the end of empire — or they go to war.

          A dangerous situation.

          • Stilgar Wilcox says:

            The underlying reason for other countries to be in a position to reduce the USD as the reserve currency is the US’ attitude of acting like it can borrow ever greater amounts of money in spite of 17.5T in debt, playing bully around the world while printing money at zero interest, with apparently no repercussions because the dollar is still the world’s reserve currency. Take that away and I agree the elephant staggers and falls, with the bear and tiger devouring their share. No wonder the US went after Saddam and Gaddafi, but you’re right, China and Russia will not back down. After all what power do we apparently have left, symbolic sanctions?

            “NNNNNGGGGGG, and what do we have for the losers, your honor? A life sentence teaching typewriter maintenance at the Rocko School for the galactically stupid!”
            From the movie, ‘A Few Good Men’.

          • xabier says:

            Maybe this will play out with cyber warfare and state blackmail? Only occasionally will a twitch of the curtains allow us a view.

      • They have a lot of oil and gas, though.

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      Going after the petrodollar is a big deal. Both Russia and China apparently have designs on reducing the USD reserve status. Once that gets eroded enough it may be more difficult for the US to borrow to pay our bills. We may actually have to live within our means.

      • Paul says:

        China can never redeem their 4 trillion USD in US bonds — without collapsing the currency and bond market.

        So if you were China what would you do? I’d write off the 4T cuz I am never going to see that cash — I’d see the US for what it is – a dying diseased animal – I’d stop feeding this dying beast (by buying more of it’s debt)

        And I’d start making plans for a new future that does not involve supporting this welfare bum/bully.

        And I’d get everyone on board particularly the BRICS. You can bet your bottom dollar there are plenty of tigers ready to jump on the elephants back now that he is badly wounded and staggering

        • If the “Rest of the World” wanted to keep their economies going for a while longer, a likely scenario would be to try to find a way to cut out the United States, Europe, and Japan. I don’t know that it could really be done–prices would stay up high enough on commodities–but if it could be done, that would be a way part of the world could succeed separately from the “energy hogs”.

    • Thanks! I have seen some similar stories passed around by e-mail.

  32. Stu Kautsch says:

    Sorry all: I said last week’s gas rig count was 314, but it was 318. This week down to 316 while oil rig count continues to set records. Not surprising.

  33. Pingback: The Absurdity Of US Natural Gas Exports « wchildblog

  34. Pingback: L’esportazione del gas di scisto da parte degli Usa? Un’assurdità | Informare per Resistere

  35. Google translate (or LeMonde) not cooperating at the moment?? Will try later unless someone else solves the problem

    • I have been having trouble as well. I think it may be a band-width problem. I expect trying when utilization of the network is lower might help. Also, I first had the blog as a “tab” instead of a “new window”. When I made it a separate window, I got it to work. I had a similar problem a different day with the same blog.

  36. B9K9 says:

    A lot of good commentary on various subsidiary issues, but it appears only Paul consistently addresses the true crux of the matter: the global substitution of false capital for real energy.

    What this means, is debt (future promise to pay = false capital vs stored/accumulated wealth = real capital) is being used to manipulate and direct investment activities which have no known correlation to traditional measures of economic cost-benefit & return on investment.

    Now, why would the entire world be enamored by such a suicide pact that is guaranteed to destroy centuries old principles of jurisprudence encompassing common, contract, civil & criminal law, and eventually bring down the very system of government and institutions that provide the foundation of control for the PTB? Well, ask yourself the same question on a more personal level: if diagnoses with terminal cancer, what would you care if you blew your wad, your health & your principles, etc in one last grand debauch?

    So, since the entire name of the game at this point is the continued delusional acceptance of debt as a means of real capital, simply watch the emotional and sentimental environment for any clues as to its ongoing state of mind. In this context, the end of cheap oil is entirely irrelevant. To wit, as long as the Fed can print $trillions of militarily backed petro-dollars (and, as the reserve currency, be swapped for Euros, etc) at zero cost to create the reserves that are in turn used to finance the exploration, development, extraction, refinement, processing and transport (import/export) of any manner of fossil fuels, it simply does NOT matter whether or not it makes economic sense. Or to put it more simply, given the current psychological appetite for lending capacity, we really can ship coal to Newcastle; that is, for as long as the game stays afloat.

    We really don’t need to be too concerned until the tears of anger turn into torrents of rage. That’s why it’s important to gain control of things you can really possess: your health, your mental state of mind, your resources (land, assets), your family, friends, etc. By working on those things, and keeping an eye out for what’s going on, living can be very fun.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      Thanks for the link!

    • Stefeun says:

      Thanks to Gail for quoting François Roddier, and thanks to Robert for your link to his blog in English version. I was actually looking for F.Roddier’s texts in English language, but couldn’t find any (he published in English, but only as an astrophysicist -his former activity).

      Matthieu Auzanneau (blog OilMan, in French, cited here in right column) has written an excellent post about François Roddier, with good summary of his outstanding theory and quite a lot of links (most of them to pages in English language) and sources for those who want to dig in a bit deeper.
      Here’s the link, maybe Robert you could apply this auto-translation on it (I don’t think M.Auzanneau -or you Gail?- would see any objection to that), if ever possible:

    • Thanks! Google Translate seems to do better than usual on this.

  37. Don Stewart says:

    To All Concerned about Nitrogen Fertilizer
    See this study:

    (You will pretty quickly figure out how to enlarge the graphics).
    Note that with the four year rotation, the application of nitrogen fertilizer drops to near zero by the end of the test period. So…it took them a couple of years to move from an industrial model to a traditional diversified cropping model, then the need for industrially fixed nitrogen dropped radically. Over the period of the trial, production and profit equalled or exceeded the industrial model.

    Don Stewart

    • The crops produced were somewhat different. It is not obvious to me how the calories (or whatever other nutrition measure should be used) compares. In other words, with the revised crops you can still feed animals, and the farmer can make a profit. The question is whether as many animals can be fed.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Gail
        When you start comparing different rotations, naturally you get different outputs. You also require different inputs.

        For example, the corn and soybean rotation excludes any inputs related to animals. It also, of necessity, foregoes any of the inputs supplied by animals, such as manure. The primary comparison metric used in this study is profitability. The secondary metrics include (fossil) energy requirements, pollutions generated, and off farm inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides and herbicides. I think any objective person looking at the comparisons from a ‘sustainability’ position would conclude that the traditional four year rotation including animals is far superior to the corn/ beans rotation.

        As to your point about calories. Dr. Salvador’s talk was titled ‘We Need Better Food, Not More Food’. The world is awash in calories and the flow of resources into farm fields is truly enormous. For example, Dr. Salvador commented on nitrogen fertilizer: half to 75 percent of it never gets to the target plant, and then we waste half the food we do get. So the efficiency of nitrogen fertilizer is down in the 30 percent range if we look at actual food eaten. The fact that the nitrogen is used to produce junk food has something to do with the waste percentage. The junk food is also highly addictive and requires enormous advertising budgets. To say that ‘we have to continue to produce all this junk food with high calorie counts’ …I don’t know where to begin to explain what is wrong with that statement.

        The four crop rotation has been around for several hundred years. Industrial food put it mostly out of business in my lifetime, for complicated reasons. For one thing, it does require more labor, and farm laborers could make lots more money by moving to Detroit and making cars. If you look at the statistic on how much people in India and Kenya are spending on food, you will see that they are still largely in the pre-industrial food system. But the government of, at least, India is doing everything it can to kill off the family, diversified farm. Knowing what you know about future oil supplies, do you think there will be abundant jobs in auto plants for the displaced people to go to?

        The four crop rotation is not the best that can be done with current technology. I suspect it was chosen to demonstrate something very simple: Traditional methods work better than ‘green revolution’ methods when looked at objectively.

        Don Stewart

        • xabier says:


          I’ve referred earlier to a 17th century book on farming and gardening which came into my hands recently.

          I was astonished to note that the author referred to the misapplication of fertilizer/soil improvement methods even then.

          He explains that tenant farmers (short-term motives) and landowners longer-term) often acted without proper regard to the nature of their land and instead of a careful application of marl and manures, -with their eyes on increased profit – threw on as much as possible, thereby producing bumper crops over 20 to 30 years, but ending up with ruined land.

          And wasting a lot of nutrients in the process. That short-sighted profit motive again……

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Xabier
            Here is something to contemplate from Adrian Bejan’s Design in Nature. One page 179 he discusses the path of a dog retrieving a stick thrown into a pond. Suppose you throw the stick at roughly a 45 degree angle into the water. Now imagine a triangle from your point, A, to a point on the shore perpindicular to the stick, C, and the location of the stick D.

            The dog can run much faster than it can swim. But the shortest distance is the path from A to D, which would require that the dog swim the entire distance. Dogs know that they can run along the shore to point B which is between A and C, then swim in the water at an angle to point D. The dogs balance a complicated equation which yields the fastest way to get to the stick.

            The test has been performed with humans confronted with a ‘drowning person’ out in the water. Championship runners who are poor swimmers will run down the beach farther before striking out into the water. Champtionship swimmers who are poor runners will jump into the water more quickly.

            The balancing of these equations happens entirely subconsciously. It may be that a farmer who gets a larger yield is behaving pretty much instinctively, like the dog or the runner or the swimmer. It may require reflective thought to overcome the instinct. Such a situation is reminiscent of Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast and Thinking Slow. Thinking Slow is painful and requires energy…as well as education. We should probably not be shocked when people exhibit instinctive behavior which is beneficial in the short term but damaging in the long term.

            Don Stewart

        • Thanks! The system in India may be pre-industrial, but I know that the farm I visited was quite dependent on fossil fuel fertilizer (coal-based urea from China). So they will need to change as much as others. These is a photo I took of workers harvesting rice in India.

          Workers harvesting rice

          • dashui says:

            One of my friends went on a Taekwando tour of North Korea. He took a photo of 5 guys pulling a plow. He had a big laugh over their backwardness, He doesnt know probably his grandchildrens fate too.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “One of my friends went on a Taekwando tour of North Korea.”

              Amazing he got in! I thought they only let in bad-mannered has-been basketball players.

              “He took a photo…”

              Doubly amazing! I thought they took your camera away at the border!

            • Paul says:

              it is not a problem to enter North Korea — a group of us looked into going last year (Koryo tours handles…) but decided not to when we realized every moment of the tour was supervised — you can’t even leave the hotel without your minder. Sounded like a total waste of time and a fair bit of money and time.

            • You might be right.

            • Paul says:

              How amusing that most people mock the ‘backward’ people — the indigenous tribes — the subsistence farmers.

              They will have the last laugh – and those that survive will be lined up asking for help from such people.

              We complete the circle in North America where the first Europeans would have perished if were not for the tribes who helped them.

            • Interguru says:

              Their last laugh will be short lived until they are overwhelmed by refugees from ( formerly ) developed areas. While a collapse will end burning fossil fuels, desperate starving people will chop down every tree and hunt down every animal until there is nothing left.

            • Paul says:

              No doubt in some places …

              But most places where there are indigenous tribes are extremely remote — I have been deep into Irian Jaya — 3 of us supported by 14 porters — 12 days up and down 3000m hills every day — freezing cold, windy and raining at he top — muck and malaria in the valleys — I don’t imagine the beer guzzling, pizza cramming guns and ammo crowd will be overwhelming the sparse tribes living in such areas anytime soon…

              Also been into the amazon — I don’t think the tribes in most of those areas will be overwhelmed when the SHTF.

              Same situation in much of Africa… and many of the more remote areas of Asia.

          • Don Stewart says:

            Dear Gail
            Your response isn’t readable because the sentence has been cut off.

            What I mean by ‘pre-industrial’ is that many people are growing their own food, not buying it. There is no way they could buy all their food for the amount they are spending on food.

            Think, for example, about ‘child care’. In the US it may be a couple of thousand dollars per child, as people enroll the kids in daycare and nursery school and such. But in a very poor country, nobody can afford to pay someone else to take care of their children (unless they are the very rich minority). So ‘child care’ in Bangladesh is probably very nearly zero. The amount spent tells us something about HOW it gets done, very little about how much it might cost.

            When I saw the numbers for India, I was quite surprised. There must be an awful lot of people spending practically nothing on food.

            Don Stewart

  38. Anders Wijkman says:

    Dear Gail, An excellent piece. Warm regards Anders 1 apr 2014 kl. 06.08 skrev Our Finite World:

    > >

  39. Paul says:

    I guess Elon is not going to save the world – and Tesla is competing with Twitter for biggest bubble stock:

    Tesla sold only 1,600 of its objects of desire in March, according to Motor Intelligence. That was up a measly 3.1% from a year ago, and down from its peak of over 2000 in August. Even the biggest, most sluggish automakers showed more growth: GM’s sales rose 4.1%, Ford’s 3.3%, and Toyota’s 4.9%. The market overall sold 1.54 million vehicles in March, up 5.7% year over year; in the first quarter, it sold 3.74 million vehicles, up 1.4%. Tesla sold 4,700 cars in the first quarter, up 0.9%. Sales had stalled!

    • VPK says:

      Isn’t the industry expecting a world of 2 BILLION “cars” sometime in the near future?

  40. Paul says:

    Speaking of absurdities….

    Here we see the lengths that those in the know are willing to go to to try to keep BAU going as long as possible —- again clearly suicidal — but obviously they know we are already dead — anything to keep the heart pumping a few more months or years — is justified:

    1. China’s Monumental Ponzi: Here’s How It Unravels

    2. BBC’s Robert Peston travels to China to investigate how this mighty economic giant could actually be in serious trouble. China is now the second largest economy in the world and for the last 30 years China’s economy has been growing at an astonishing rate. While Britain has been in the grip of the worst recession in a generation, China’s economic miracle has wowed the world.

    3. Prem Watsa’s 9 Observations Why There Is A “Monstrous Real Estate Bubble In China Which Could Burst Anytime”

    There is a monstrous real estate and construction bubble in China, which could burst anytime. It almost did in 2011 but China increased its credit growth significantly since then.
    In the last few years we have discussed the huge real estate bubble in China.

    In case you continue to be a skeptic, here are a few observations from Anne Stevenson Yang, an American who has been in China for over 20 years and is the founder of JCapital Research in Beijing:

    1. China added 5.9 billion square metres of commercial buildings between 2008 and 2012 – the equivalent of more than 50 Manhattans – in just five years!

    2. In 2012, China completed about 2 billion square metres of residential floor space – approximately 20 million units. For perspective, the U.S. at its peak built 2 million homes in a year.

    3. At the end of 2013, China had about 6.6 billion square metres of new residential space under construction, around 60 million units.

    4. Yinchuan, a city of 1.2 million people including the suburbs, has 30 million square metres of available apartments – roughly 300,000 units that could house 900,000 people. This is in addition to the delivered but unoccupied units. The city of Guiyang, capital of Guizhou Province, has roughly 5.5 million extra units for a city of 5 million.

    5. In almost every city Anne has visited, pretty much the whole existing housing stock has been replicated and is empty.

    6. Home ownership rates in China are estimated to be over 100% versus 65% in the U.S. Many cities report ownership over 200%. Tangshan, near Beijing, is one.

    7. This real estate boom could only be financed through unrestrained credit growth. Since 2009, the Chinese banks have grown by the equivalent of the entire U.S. banking system or 15% of world GDP.

    8. The real estate bubble has resulted in companies extensively borrowing and investing in real estate or lending on real estate in the shadow banking system. This is exactly what happened in Japan in the late 1980s.

    9. And one observation of our own: Since 2009, the easing by the Federal Reserve combined with the explosive growth in China, backed by higher interest rates, has resulted in huge inflows (‘‘hot money’’) into China. The near unanimous view that the renminbi would strengthen has resulted in a massive carry trade where speculators have borrowed at low rates across the world and invested in China, almost always backed by real estate. The shadow banking system in China – i.e., assets not on the books of the major Chinese banks – is estimated by Bank of America Merrill Lynch to be approximately $4.7 trillion or 51% of Chinese GDP. Oddly enough, prior to the credit crisis, the U.S. had $4.5 trillion in asset-backed securities outstanding or approximately 31% of U.S. GDP. You know what happened then.

    When the flows reverse in China, watch out!

    • xabier says:

      What happens first: the bubble bursts or the extremely shoddy empty buildings fall down?

      • xabier says:

        The Science of Architecture: born in Asia Minor, perfected in Greece and Italy, grew to splendid maturity in 18th century Europe………….and then went mad and died in China.

    • VPK says:

      China is “sacrificing” several generations in order to “accomplish” this feat.
      You are correct. I remember reading an article about the son of German architect and War Production Minister, Albert Speer Sr. . His son has gone to China helping designing China cities as an architect. He remembers his father talking about Hitler’s plans to rebuild Berlin after the war was won and had a model of the city made to play with. Albert Speer Sr. and others thought this makeover of the Berlin city was over the top and on the verge of insanity.
      Well, knowing the details, Albert Jr. said in an interview that China leaders outdid Hitler three times over in Shanghai! He says the transformation is without any comparison in recent history. Perhaps we have to go to the ancient city of Rome where Augustus found in brick and left in marble.

      • xabier says:

        Yes, I can’t remember whether it was Rogers or Foster – the super-architects of our day – who said that they liked to work with the Chinese Communist Party as ‘unlike in democracies, they can get things done at once’, ie bulldoze anything they like.

        The Speer association can not be bettered in this context!

        • VPK says:

          Just saw this on youtube. A video showing Germanica, the rebuilt version of Berlin planned by Hitler and Speer. really good toward the end.

    • VPK says:

      NYTimes article had a front page article. These apartments were occupied by folks that bought TV’s on credit and such. Found out they could NOT afford to pay the electric bill to keep it on.

    • I am afraid you are right. I was amazed at all the building I saw when I visited China in 2011. Besides being overbuilt, there is a real question of whether the workers can afford the mortgages, particularly in the high-priced cities. As long as property values were rising, the rising property values could help “paper over” the situation. But if they ever fall, they will reach the same problem (or worse) than the US had.

  41. Earlier posts mentioned thermodynamic laws. During the 70’s I encountered the attempt by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen to formulate a Fourth Law of Thermodynamics, applying the entropy law to material. A google search will show the resulting controversy. To me Georgesu-Roegen’s Fourth Law seems clean and clear – arguably one of the most important concepts of all time.

    • According to the link you provided: In a closed system, such as a human society, “material entropy must ultimately reach a maximum,” has popularly (or rather infamously) become known as the Georgescu’s fourth law of thermodynamics. This statement has been paraphrased as “in a closed system it is impossible to completely recover the matter involved in the production of work.

  42. Interguru says:

    A book review of a The Knowledge: How to Rebuild our World from Scratch
    by Lewis Dartnell

    excerpt from review

    We are used to thinking of “technology” as meaning machines and gadgets, but Dartnell emphasises illuminatingly how much of modern civilisation is built on technologies of chemistry, the “processes” that enable us to synthesise indispensable chemicals in bulk. Strong acids and alkalis, for example, are the basis for innumerable other useful substances, starting with soap – which, as Dartnell points out, is one of the most important things for the people in his scenario to rediscover, because washing hands vastly reduces infection risk. And without industrial-scale nitrogen synthesis, we simply couldn’t grow enough food to support the world’s present population.

    • xabier says:

      The humble soap bar and clean water (and germ theory!) : worth more than all the high-tech hospitals in the world.

      • xabier says:

        Of course, if civilization collapses, people will mostly go back to believing disease comes from witches and demons and forget germ theory. It is not so long ago that washing was believed to be sinful in some parts of Europe.

        • VPK says:

          Just think, if it stayed that way we probably would be here in the trouble we are in now.
          The population of the world would still be way less than a billion people.

        • Lizzy says:

          What do you mean “go back to believing”?

          • xabier says:


            Last witch to be ‘pricked ‘ – all the neighbours stick pins in her to release themselves from her curse – in this part of England was 1860: practically yesterday. You are right, those demons and old beliefs are just waiting in the wings.

    • You are right. We often forget the role of chemistry.

  43. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Quitolis

    Here is another example of flow systems that may interest you. Billions of years ago, Earth was around 50C (150F), OK for some microbes but far too hot for multi-celled creatures such as us. How did the world get cooler? One reason was that microbes figured out how to weather rocks more efficiently. The more efficient weathering of rocks took carbon dioxide out of the air. ‘A high temperature would have precluded the kinds of enzyme systems that are deployed, and perhaps required, by the larger organisms. By cooling the planet, early life paved the way for later life.

    Note that the biotic enhancement of weathering would not have been a one-time invention. It is, rather, a general strategy for accessing minerals and a happy by-product of life’s more definite intentions. Consider: liberating nutrients from minerals is beneficial to the organisms that accomplish it. Any organism–bacterium, fungus, or plant–capable of secreting an acid that extracts nutrients from rock will survive and propagate. Promoting a deeper soil is also advantageous for life. Thus the basic enhancement of weathering would inevitably have been encouraged by the evolutionary process…’

    The quote is from Gaia’s Body by Tyler Volk, page 238.

    You could see this as an example of Bejan’s Constructal Principle: the organisms, over time, evolved more efficient ways to get the nutrients locked up in the rocks. Happily for us, the result was to reduce temperatures to a range where we can thrive.

    In another book I have referenced recently, The Revolutions That Made the Earth, by Lenton and Watson, the authors make the point that the revolutions frequently caused chaos in the short term and could have resulted in total extinction. For example, when oxygen became plentiful, the dominant organisms on Earth were poisoned by it and retreated to anoxic environments. Even common plants such as peas create anoxic environments for the nitrogen fixing bacteria they partner with. Yet oxygen provides most of life on the planet now with far more energy than the previous oxygen-poor atmosphere. It’s been a roller coaster more than a steady ascent.

    You could extrapolate to humans and think about our learning to extract and burn fossil fuels and mine phosphate rock. In many respects, we are like the microbes which learned to get nutrients from the rocks. The microbes grew in number, and humans have multiplied many times. Will our story have a happy ending similar to the planetary cooling engendered by the microbes? If we think it will have a very sad ending, do we have the mental and social skills to change course?

    Don Stewart

  44. Interguru says:

    From an Economist article,

    Political excitement about the idea of America’s shale gas helping Europe out tends to overlook the practical difficulties. For a start, there are not yet any export facilities. Sabine Pass on the Texas-Louisiana border, with a capacity of up to 2bcm, will start pumping LNG only in 2015. Two dozen export applications are pending, though, and IHS reckons that a burst of projects coming online in 2018–20 will bring America’s total LNG export capacity to 66bcm by early in the next decade. That is appreciable, but hardly overwhelming in a world LNG market that might be 540bcm a year by that time, according to the International Energy Agency. And a significant part of that gas would be headed to high-price Asia, not just from plants on America’s Pacific coast but also from the Gulf, since from 2015 the new locks on the Panama Canal will enable it to take large LNG carriers.

    • I expect that getting funding for all of the approved facilities is going to be a problem. It is one thing to put in paperwork; it is another to get someone to come up with the hard money for the facilities, especially without any contracts in hand. It seems like those doing funding will want to look pretty closely at how many re-gasification plants have been built, and how much gas in committed through, say, pipelines from Russia to China or Turkmenistan to China. Iran has quite a bit of natural gas to sell as well–probably less expensively than the US gas. There is also gas likely coming online from Israel and Cyprus.

  45. Quitollis says:

    Gail, interesting stuff about dissipative structures. Perhaps you could do a post on the thermodynamics of social evolution for “dummies” like me who have zero background in TDs.

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear Quitollis and Others
      I would like to mention two books which may be helpful in terms of flow systems. I have mentioned both books in the past…but perhaps they will seem more relevant now.

      The first is Design in Nature by Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke. Among Bejan’s accomplishments are the design of modern microprocessors to rapidly shed heat into the environment, thus permitting very fast processors which generate a lot of heat without frying the electronics. Consider Bejan’s description of a tree, on page 129:

      ‘Trees and forests are pumping stations operating 24/7 to move water from the grouind to the air…The tree is a design for moving water. Beginning with the roots that pull water from the surrounding area, to the trunk that conveys water to the branches, to the leaves that release it when they open their pores to capture sunlight for photosynthesis.

      The second law of thermodynamics proclaims that Nature should manifest the tendency to move water from wet to dry both locally and globally.’ And then he proceeds with a fairly detailed discussion of how a tree pumps water.

      Bejan covers many other topics, suggesting the Constructal Law: ‘flow systems should evolve over time, acquiring better and better configurations to provide more access for the currents that flow through them’.

      I was watching a movie with Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman recently. They make a call from Paris to London, and there is a roomful of ‘international operators’ who make manual connections, with a supervisor dutifully walking behind them. I think Bejan would agree that the international operators have been victims of the Constructal Law.

      So Luddites would like to restrict the operation of the Constructal Law if it threatens jobs, while capitalists want to exploit the Constructal Law to eliminate labor costs. Computer manufacturers want to apply clever design to dissipate unwanted heat, which may be thought of as the Constructal Law in operation.

      The second book is The Life of a Leaf, by Steven Vogel, a professor emeritus of Biology at Duke. On page 140 he discusses the problem of cooling:

      ‘After all the atmospheric absorption and after rejecting almost all of the near-infrared portion of sunlight, a leaf absorbs about 1000 watts per square meter from an overhead sun shining through a clear sky. Photosynthesis consumes at most no more than perhaps 5 percent of that energy, an amount we would dismiss as negligible were it not for life’s total dependence on it. That other 95 percent makes trouble…On a hot afternoon recently, I measured 52.0C (125.5F) on a white oak tree when the air temperature was 37.2C (125.5F)….such temperatures are a lot hotter than the range within which photosynthesis works best: 20 to 35C (68 to 95F).’

      Vogel describes the various mechanisms that leaves have to shed heat…but there are clearly limits to their natural abilities. The leaves haven’t had the benefit of Bejan’s engineering in terms of shedding dangerous heat. Farmers and gardeners use a variety of strategems to reduce the heat stress on plants.

      So we can think of a leaf as a system which makes energy and then sheds the waste heat as well as it can. We can think of farmers and gardeners as people who assist the leaves to deal with difficult situations, and thus are part of the operation of the Constructal Law.

      As a third resource, consider the biological farming systems which slow water as it descends in valleys and spreads the water out over the relatively dry ridges with various kinds of earthworks. Left to its own devices, the water descends the hill rapidly under the influence of gravity, with the energy of momentum likely causing erosion. If the biological farming system is working correctly, the water is slowed so that it can sink into the soil rather evenly distributed across the landscape. Erosion is stopped and water is conserved in the soil for dry periods. In this case, the designer is aborting the Constructal Law to achieve the human purpose of increasing the photosynthetic potential of the land by hydrating it.

      Don Stewart

      • timl2k11 says:

        “A leaf absorbs 1000 watts per square meter”.
        That is total nonsense.
        The only waste heat the plant has to dissipate is the portion of sunlight it absorbs and converts into energy (this creates heat via the 2nd law of thermodynamics). The majority of the light is reflected or passes right through. The leaf keeps cool via evapotranspirstion. Pretty simple. Plants grow in the amount of sunlight they can handle. Annyone who has bought an indoor plant knows this.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear timl2k11
          I’ll let you argue with the professor and with the fairly large contingent of professional farmers who use infrared thermometers to measure heat stress.

          Don Stewart

          • timl2k11 says:

            You apparently don’t understand what you read.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear timl2k11
              I think I understand it fairly well…but I don’t claim to be an expert. When I quote directly from a professor’s book, and you say it is nonsense, I see no reason why I should try to interject my opinions or explanations or rationalizations or personal experiences.

              Don Stewart

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear timl2k11
              I have read Steven Vogel’s book and gone to hear him lecture. I am pretty sure he knows more about biology and plants than I will ever learn.

              Would you rather hear exact, well thought out, science based words…or the words of an amateur trying to sort things out as best he can?

              As for Adrian Bejan:

              From Wikipedia
              Adrian Bejan has published 560 peer-reviewed articles and 25 books.[5] He pioneered numerous original methods in science, such as the constructal law of design and evolution in nature ,[6][non-primary source needed][7][non-primary source needed][8][non-primary source needed][9][non-primary source needed][10][non-primary source needed] entropy generation minimization,[11][non-primary source needed] scale analysis[12][non-primary source needed] of convection, heatlines and masslines, transition to turbulence, and designed porous media.[13][non-primary source needed]

              He was awarded 16 doctorates Honoris Causa from universities in 11 countries.

              In 2002, he was listed by ISI among the top 100 Highly Cited in all Engineering.

              When I have spotted all his elementary mistakes, as you seem to have done, I will let you know.

              Don Stewart

            • timl2k11 says:

              “Would you rather hear exact, well thought out, science based words [?]”

          • Jan Steinman says:

            The problem is in the definition of “absorbed.”

            If by “absorbed,” you mean “impacted by,” then of course, you are right, and that holds for human skin, rocks, ice, water, etc., as 1kw/m2 is the maximum insolation achieved between the tropics when the sun is directly overhead. (You never see 1kW/m2 north or south of the tropics.)

            But in biology and ecology, “absorbed” means something different (conversion and storage), and it’s probably more like a maximum of 80W/m2 for certain grasses (sugar cane is the most efficient), and more like 5 watts for most plants.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Jan
              You are making my point about my amateurish use of technical language. As I understand Professor Vogel’s point it is that leaves can get very hot, much hotter than the air around them. The heat has negative consequences. Whether the heat is ‘absorbed’ or whether some other word should be used to describe what happens is something I am not an expert in.

              I believe it is also true that the issue of water shortage and excess heat are related. A leaf will tend to get too hot when it is short of water. It might be that the tree just can’t lift water fast enough, or it might be that there isn’t enough available water in the soil, or a combination of the two. Again, I am not an expert on such things.

              I do think that checking crops with an infrared meter is useful.

              Don Stewart

            • Don Stewart says:

              Here are the exact words from Gaia’s Body, page 159.

              ‘How much sunlight falls on Earth at the top of the atmosphere as primary input? About 340 watts per square meter. This takes into account that half the planet is in darkness at any time and that more energy falls at the tropics than at the high latitudes. The energy flow of almost six 60-watt bulbs per square meter (bulbs that deliver the full solar spectrum) provides a starting point for what Earth receives from the sun at the top of the atmosphere.’

              I can’t remember all those I may have quoted (or misquoted?). But if we take daylight in, say southern Illinois during the growing season, the sunlight hitting the top of the atmosphere is probably in the neighborhood of 1000 watts, and the days are long so watt/hours will be high..

              Volk develops the fact that, globally, photosynthesis is around 0.7 watts per square meter. I don’t know what it is in an oak forest in southern Illinois in June, but I have heard that growth rates there are very high.

              My only point is that from the 7 watt potential that Volk developed in terms of biomass accumulation, Earth is only achieving one tenth of that. When you look at some of the reasons Volk gives for the fall from 7 watts to 0.7 watts, you find a lot of the things that farmers and gardeners and permaculture people worry about. The biggest factor in Volk’s list is water. And we have a flourishing permaculture effort to use rainwater to better effect. As another example, a polyculture will tend to harvest sunlight all through the year, while a monoculture will be limited to a fairly narrow window. In short, when we see a few people getting outstanding yields, we should not dismiss it as ‘mathematically impossible’.

              Don Stewart

      • timl2k11 says:

        “Among Bejan’s accomplishments are the design of modern microprocessors to rapidly shed heat into the environment,”
        More nonsense, this is the job of heat sinks, not microprocessors. Again very simple, you attach a very efficient conductor to the processor and cool it off with a fan (or in some cases a radiator).

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear timl2k11
          Bejan became a fairly wealthy man as a result of his innovations. If you want to know more about the details of how he did it, read the book.

          Don Stewart

      • Quitollis says:

        Fascinating stuff Don, thanks.

    • I wish I had a little more to go on myself. I don’t think the thinking on this has 100% solidified yet. Roddier has had difficulty in finding publishers for his work in English. I will see what I can do. It might help if my own physics background were better.

      • edpell says:

        I have not read Roddier but I do think systems that involve energy flow from high to low are a hot (pun intended) topic currently. Places like deep ocean vents with super high temperature and chemical energy on one side and cold dead nothing on the other side are a good place to look for the early emergence of life (dissipative systems). The idea should apply to social systems like corporations, governments, universities, churches, the local grange, etc..

      • Interguru says:

        The three laws of thermodynamics are derived from first principles, Newton’s Laws and statistical mathematics. “Thermodynamics” of social evolution may be very interesting and insightful but they are derived from observation, not physics, and are not in the same class. They may differ from species to species, while physics derived laws hold throughout the observed Universe.

        • The world is constructed in a manner where all parts seems to be temporary, eventually to be replaced by new parts which are more appropriate to changing circumstances. Individual plants and animals are clearly temporary, but so are individual species and local ecosystems. An economy knits together many constituent parts–would be buyers, manufacturers, governments. It clearly cannot be permanent, any more than a species can be permanent. It isn’t until we start observing that we see how temporary economies really are.

          This part of physics may not be completely set out, but it seems pretty likely to me. It is a lot more pleasant to think that we humans are in charge, but this really isn’t the case, I expect.

  46. Stu Kautsch says:

    A couple of hours ago, the EIA’s weekly “Natural gas in storage” report showed another drop – this time to 822 Billion cubic feet. Consulting the data to be had at (Historical data back to 1994), we see that this level has been achieved only a few times in the past 20 years. (The last time in 2003, not 2002 as Bloomberg reported last week.) I don’t remember that winter too well, but the time before *that* (early 2001) was the Enron era of extraordinaryily high prices in California. Also, the rig count for gas last week went down to 314, which bloomberg reported was the lowest since 1996.
    With increased demand, it’s hard to see how this does *not* lead to higher prices in the near future, particularly if we have another hard winter.

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