# The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports

Quiz:

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

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.

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.

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.

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.)

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.

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.
This entry was posted in Alternatives to Oil, Financial Implications and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

### 581 Responses to The Absurdity of US Natural Gas Exports

1. Williams, H. says:

Look at the difference between Texas oil production as reported by Texas and as reported by the EIA. In January 2014 the EIA reported 945,541 bpd more than Texas reported ?????

• There is always a delay in getting the numbers fully reported for the RRC.I don’t known if this explains all of it, but it has in the past. This post has some charts of some historical changes over time. http://peakoilbarrel.com/eagle-ford-update/

2. jdkagan says:

The 60% export amount only means that most producers also could send shipments to Canada, because the US and Canada have a single market. The other FTA countries are irrelevant. The amount planned for export outside our market is 10%.

3. Pingback: Fracking politics | VantageWire

4. VPK says:

Letter to President Obama from Democratic Senators; Approve the XL Pipeline, we want to get re-elected.
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/04/10/obama-keystone-decision-democrats_n_5126533.html

Now, if I were a betting man…..

5. Don Stewart says:

Dear Gail
You commented that some of my statements come from the perspective of a fairly prosperous Westerner. That’s true. But many of our problems have deeper roots than any cultural traits. One instructive example is, I think, an analysis of food and the obesity and diabetes epidemic. The world has now achieved an ‘upside down’ triangle: the poorest people are now fatter than the richest people. It’s worth while looking at the situation from a Neurobiological perspective, and also to put it into a Constructal Law framework. The video below summarizes the research, and shows just how we got humanity into this fix, and how difficult it will be to get us out. It is 45 minutes, but I do not think there is any alternative to watching the whole thing. Watching the whole thing gives you an appreciation for how all the parts fit together. One big issue the speaker does not address is the research on addiction…sugar is several times as addictive as cocaine. Fast food, with its formulaic architecture, is addictive.

When analyzed from a Constructal Law framework, we begin with the question ‘what is flowing?’. And my oversimplified summary is ‘hormones which give us pleasure’. You will note the experiment with animals where, without hormones, they literally don’t know which way to go. Other than some primitive responses, hormones have a large measure of control over our actions. We are also supposed to have good sense, but George Mobus claims there is a hole in our brains, with missing neurons, where that is supposed to reside. We can also look at other flows such as the flows of fractionated primary agricultural products which are assembled into the plastic wrapped stuff sold by the big food companies. We can look at the flows of profits which go to the food companies. We could go farther afield and look at the flows of money from the food companies to politicians and universities. And then the biggest flows of all go to the medical fraternity to deal with the aftermath. Even farther afield would be the flows of information and nutrients from real food to the various systems in our bodies, fostering good health.

In terms of the hormonal flow, the Constructal Law seems to have been at work. The big food companies have figured out the science and can precisely design an irresistable, addictive food using very cheap ingredients. The big food companies have figured out the profit flows so well that the industry has become highly concentrated. And if we look at the quiesence with which the governments and universities greet the situation, and their cooperation with diversionary tactics such as Move America, then we can see that the Constructal Law has been at work as influence flows along with the money. The Medical flows are more turbulent…but the flow has tripled over the last 40 years, so again we might suspect that the Constructal Law has been at work.

I submit that if one sees food simplistically as ‘food is just oil’, then one misses all the real action. One stops thinking, believing that one understands everything there is to understand. If you want to save yourself, much less save the world, you have to understand the real dynamics. That doesn’t mean that oil is irrelevant…without oil the industrial food system would doubtless collapse. But it may take it a long while to collapse and it is worthwhile understanding the system so long as it continues to function.

And, of course, as Geoff Lawton says, ‘we can solve all the world’s problems in a garden’. Gardens are, I think, the only way this problem can be addressed.

Don Stewart

Why Do We Overeat? A Neurobiological Perspective

• VPK says:

Don, I do NOT know how many times I witness people in a small parking lot with several stores that are not really obese and will take the trouble to drive their car from one spot to another just to save a few steps of walking. It’s called laziness

6. Quitollis says:
7. Paul says:

Into the final bend it’s China and Japan neck and neck —- the EU is making a charge — Japan pulls ahead of China…. we will rejoin the action after this commercial break…

As expected Abe has failed – stock market tanking – consumer spending is crashing with the higher sales tax http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/11/us-markets-global-idUSBRE96S00E20140411

I would suggest Abe follow the Paul Krugman solution — put the petal to the floor and announce the unheard of number of 100 trillion dollars (in yen) of money printing.

At some point some central bank has got to try this on — we all know that — why not make it so?

Anything that kicks the can a day – a month – a year —- I fully support that

• Stefeun says:

EU will probably be the last one going for QE (i.e. when it’s become useless), because it doesn’t fit in with the precepts of German “financial religion”.
They’re still stuck with bad memories of runaway inflation in the late 1920’s.
They prefer austerity, no matter if it starves southern countries (contemptuously called PIIGS).
For those who haven’t already watched the movie Catastroika:
http://youtu.be/RORPpFL21dM

• Stilgar Wilcox says:

That stock market report link was from a week ago, the 11th. Since then it has partially rebounded. How? I have no idea. It’s hard to know what keeps things going these days. Maybe it’s as Nicole Foss says, when people have collective optimism they spend and borrow. Could it be that US QE simply reinstated collective optimism?

• Well the answer is complex in detail, but simple in outline: all markets are rigged, e.g. from Libor, to gold, to the stock market, ‘thanks’ to QEs cheap money. Then there is HFT, front-running, insider trading and the end of anything remotely like the trading floors of old.

Over-arching all is Financialism which has eliminated whatever Capitalism was, so that now it’s all about the banksters totally taking over the world with their central banks, the World Bank, the IMF and the BIS at the top of the pyramid/Ponzi scheme.

It’s why Gaddafi had to go when he went for independence – and Saddam Hussein before. Oh and Syria still has a sovereign central bank and so does Iran … join the dots!?

• gerryhiles says:

Oh and add in stock buy-backs by corporations, which inflate prices, generate faux ‘profits’ and big bonuses for CEOs.

8. Paul says:

As I sift through the vitriol in the article below (keep in mind Roberts is a former Reagan high official and WSJournal editor – and he has come out of the matrix and turned on the establishment in a very big and angry way) I am inclined to believe that the world has had enough of the US and they are in the process of throwing it under a bus…

1. The NSA abuses everyone – even ‘allies’
2. Of course there is no end to countries that have had to endure US installed monsters — who’s people would just love to slit Uncle Sam’s throat
3. I believe even US allies are only allies because they have had no choice – they have gritted their teeth all the while — I can imagine if they thought the US was ‘over’ they’d jump on the next bus very quickly and leave the US lying dead in the mud
4. “I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing” Putin

I see China and Russia are almost certainly cutting deals to trade oil in their own currencies…

No doubt they have worked out the US is fucked and that they are better off trying a new path – regardless of how fraught that is with danger…

Better to get off the sinking ship and try to swim to shore than go down with it….

I don’t think Roberts headline is over the top — if the nasty, arrogant monsters who really run the US refuse to just let the ship sink and they dig in against China Russia — that could bring WW3…

Is the US or the World Coming to an End?
> It will be one or the other

Paul Craig Roberts

2014 is shaping up as a year of reckoning for the United States.

Two pressures are building on the US dollar. One pressure comes from the Federal Reserve’s declining ability to rig the price of gold as Western gold supplies shrivel and market knowledge of the Fed’s illegal price rigging spreads. The evidence of massive amounts of naked shorts being dumped into the paper gold futures market at times of day when trading is thin is unequivocal. It has become obvious that the price of gold is being rigged in the futures market in order to protect the dollar’s value from QE.

The other pressure arises from the Obama regime’s foolish threats of sanctions on Russia. Other countries are no longer willing to tolerate Washington’s abuse of the world dollar standard. Washington uses the dollar-based international payments system to inflict damage on the economies of countries that resist Washington’s political hegemony.

Russia and China have had enough. As I have reported and as Peter Koenig reports here http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article38165.htm Russia and China are disconnecting their international trade from the dollar. Henceforth, Russia will conduct its trade, including the sale of oil and natural gas to Europe, in rubles and in the currencies of its BRICS partners.

This means a big drop in the demand for US dollars and a corresponding drop in the dollar’s exchange value.

As John Williams (shadowstats.com) has made clear, the US economy has not recovered from the downturn in 2008 and has weakened further. The vast majority of the US population is hard pressed from the lack of income growth for years. As the US is now an import-dependent economy, a drop in the dollar’s value will raise US prices and push living standards lower.

All evidence points to US economic failure in 2014, and that is the conclusion of John Williams’ April 9 report.

This year could also see the breakup of NATO and even the EU. Washington’s reckless coup in Ukraine and threat of sanctions against Russia have pushed its NATO puppet states onto dangerous ground. Washington misjudged the reaction in Ukraine to its overthrow of the elected democratic government and imposition of a stooge government. Crimea quickly departed Ukraine and rejoined Russia. Other former Russian territories in Ukraine might soon follow. Protesters in Lugansk, Donetsk, and Kharkov are demanding their own referendums. Protesters have declared the Donetsk People’s Republic and Kharkov People’s Republic. Washington’s stooge government in Kiev has threatened to put the protests down with violence. http://rt.com/news/eastern-ukraine-violence-threats-405/ Washington claims that the protests are organized by Russia, but no one believes Washington, not even its Ukrainian stooges.

Russian news reports have identified US mercenaries among the Kiev force that has been sent to put down the separatists in eastern Ukraine. A member of the right-wing, neo-Nazi Fatherland Party in the Kiev parliament has called for shooting the protesters dead.

Violence against the protesters is likely to bring in the Russian Army and result in the return to Russia of its former territories in Eastern Ukraine that were attached to Ukraine by the Soviet Communist Party.

With Washington out on a limb issuing threats hand over fist, Washington is pushing Europe into two highly undesirable confrontations. Europeans do not want a war with Russia over Washington’s coup in Kiev, and Europeans understand that any real sanctions on Russia, if observed, would do far more damage to Europeans. Within the EU, growing economic inequality among the countries, high unemployment, and stringent economic austerity imposed on poorer members have produced enormous strains. Europeans are in no mood to bear the brunt of a Washington-orchestrated conflict with Russia. While Washington presents Europe with war and sacrifice, Russia and China offer trade and friendship. Washington will do its best to keep European politicians bought-and-paid-for and in line with Washington’s policies, but the downside for Europe of going along with Washington is now much larger.

Across many fronts, Washington is emerging in the world’s eye as duplicitous, untrustworthy, and totally corrupt. A Securities and Exchange Commission prosecuting attorney, James Kidney used the occasion of his retirement to reveal that higher ups had squelched his prosecutions of Goldman Sachs and other “banks too big to fail,” because his SEC bosses were not focused on justice but “on getting high-paying jobs after their government service” by protecting the banks from prosecution for their illegal actions. http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/04/09/65578/

The US Agency for International Development has been caught trying to use social media to overthrow the government of Cuba. http://rt.com/news/cuba-usaid-senate-zunzuneo-241/

This audacious recklessness comes on top of Washington’s overthrow of the Ukrainian government, the NSA spying scandal, Seymour Hersh’s investigative report that the Sarin gas attack in Syria was a false flag event arranged by NATO member Turkey in order to justify a US military attack on Syria, Washington’s forcing down Bolivian President Evo Morales’ presidential plane to be searched, Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” the misuse of the Libyan no-fly resolution for military attack, and on and on. Essentially, Washington has so badly damaged other countries’ confidence in the judgment and integrity of the US government that the world has lost its belief in US leadership. Washington is reduced to threats and bribes and increasingly presents as a bully.

The self-inflicted hammer blows to Washington’s credibility have taken a toll. The most serious blow of all is the dawning realization everywhere that Washington’s crackpot conspiracy theory of 9/11 is false. Large numbers of independent experts as well as more than one hundred first responders have contradicted every aspect of Washington’s absurd conspiracy theory. No aware person believes that a few Saudi Arabians, who could not fly airplanes, operating without help from any intelligence agency, outwitted the entire National Security State, not only all 16 US intelligence agencies but also all intelligence agencies of NATO and Israel as well.

Nothing worked on 9/11. Airport security failed four times in one hour, more failures in one hour than have occurred during the other 116,232 hours of the 21st century combined. For the first time in history the US Air Force could not get interceptor fighters off the ground and into the sky. For the first time in history Air Traffic Control lost airliners for up to one hour and did not report it. For the first time in history low temperature, short-lived, fires on a few floors caused massive steel structures to weaken and collapse. For the first time in history 3 skyscrapers fell at essentially free fall acceleration without the benefit of controlled demolition removing resistance from below.

Two-thirds of Americans fell for this crackpot story. The left-wing fell for it, because they saw the story as the oppressed striking back at America’s evil empire. The right-wing fell for the story, because they saw it as the demonized Muslims striking out at American goodness. President George W. Bush expressed the right-wing view very well: “They hate us for our freedom and democracy.”

But no one else believed it, least of all the Italians. Italians had been informed some years previously about government false flag events when their President revealed the truth about secret Operation Gladio. Operation Gladio was an operation run by the CIA and Italian intelligence during the second half of the 20th century to set off bombs that would kill European women and children in order to blame communists and, thereby, erode support for European communist parties.

Italians were among the first to make video presentations challenging Washington’s crackpot story of 9/11. The ultimate of this challenge is the 1 hour and 45 minute film, “Zero.” You can watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU961SGps8g&feature=youtu.be

Zero was produced as a film investigating 9/ll by the Italian company Telemaco. Many prominent people appear in the film along with independent experts. Together, they disprove every assertion made by the US government regarding its explanation of 9/11.

The film was shown to the European parliament.

It is impossible for anyone who watches this film to believe one word of the official explanation of 9/11.

The conclusion is increasingly difficult to avoid that elements of the US government blew up three New York skyscrapers in order to destroy Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah and to launch the US on the neoconservatives agenda of US world hegemony.

China and Russia protested but accepted Libya’s destruction even though it was to their own detriment. But Iran became a red line. Washington was blocked, so Washington decided to cause major problems for Russia in Ukraine in order to distract Russia from Washington’s agenda elsewhere.

China has been uncertain about the trade-offs between its trade surpluses with the US and Washington’s growing encirclement of China with naval and air bases. China has come to the conclusion that China has the same enemy as Russia has–Washington.

One of two things is likely: Either the US dollar will be abandoned and collapse in value, thus ending Washington’s superpower status and Washington’s threat to world peace, or Washington will lead its puppets into military conflict with Russia and China. The outcome of such a war would be far more devastating than the collapse of the US dollar.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/2014/04/09/us-world-coming-end-paul-craig-roberts/

9. Christian says:

Resuming again, it would not be difficult to find a thousand or more PhD around the world endorsing actual limitations to growth and some of the general implications to Mankind. Could some specific document prove to be useful? It would not be difficult to add some artists, some journalists, even the Pope and some politicians, and may be a million ordinary people. Or more.

What for? How? What else?

Meanwhile, limits recognition seems to be difficult to find outside the core of the western civilization: Europe, US-Can, Au. I specially wonder what can think Asians about this, if there are peak blogs there… Latin America is generally not talking of this, excepting Argentina and Uruguay, so many supposed ecological chances could be lost by delaying.

• Stefeun says:

Christian,
in the LTG model, the only scenario that didn’t lead to collapse implied very strong measures (control of the population increase, diminution of energy consumption, etc…) which should have been implemented woldwide, not later than 1975.

So I’m afraid you’re right when you say that “many supposed ecological chance could be lost by delaying.”
According to Meadows’ model, we’re even 40 years too late to avoid collapse.
But IMHO, such scenario wasn’t realistic because 1) impossible to implement, especially in such short period of time, and 2) steady state to which it was supposed to lead would have been very difficult to maintain, considering all forces and physical laws playing against it.

Reuired level of cooperation can be obtained only in case of immediate, global, and clearly identified threat (invasion of aliens?).
For example, today’s topic of climate change is global, (almost) clearly identified, but not (yet) immediate; result is that BAU isn’t really questioned.

• Also, the model only went to 2100. My expectation was that even with these controls, there would still have been collapse, just later.

I thought that the conditions were unrealistic as well.

10. CTG says:

Hi, sorry for not posting earlier. Busy spending time with family.

To those hopeful optimists who have the idea that there is a “plan B”, possibly being done secretly by governments — There are no “plan B” other than WWIII. The TPTB are making up anything along the way. The cupboard is bare.

Putin threatens Europe on gas issues : http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/04c551ce-c0b6-11e3-a74d-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2yXGqA7ha

Europe-Russia gas issues via Ukraine has been simmering/boiling since 1990s. There were continuous threats from 2005 until 2009. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia%E2%80%93Ukraine_gas_disputes

This problem is easy to solve and they have plenty of time (since 2005) to resolve this by reducing the dependence on Russia. If TPTB build LNG terminals, etc, they have would have been completed by 2014.

Question – if this easy issue is so simple to solve and yet no one solves it, what are the chances that they have a secret plan that will be unveiled when peak resources surfaces?

Human is greedy by nature and sharing is something is forced upon by nature when circumstances dictate it (cooperation only when it is really needed) and thus, when people assume that US-Russia-Ukraine crisis (or even Senkaku-Diaoyu crisis) is just a Kabuki theater and is still controlled by the same banker/TPTB, I beg to differ. They are real but TPTB are not as smart or omnipotent as what some people think.

• Paul says:

Exactly.

“Life is not a TV show” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFvT_qEZJf8 (the greatest rant in history!)

Nor is it a Hollywood Movie – Arnold is NOT going to appear at the last minute and save the day.

There is no plan – there is only QE and more of it (I see Lagarde urging countries to print more now)

Bernanke when he stepped down said when the world realized why he printed we’d thank him.

Indeed — he bought us 6 years of BAU — without him most if not all of us would be dead long ago.

• I am afraid you are right about TPTB not being all that smart of omnipotent.

11. timl2k11 says:

Drunken musings (on nihilism):
Collapse, shmollapse. Just ask yourself, do you want to die?
You better, because you will. You better want what is coming.
Who cares how it comes? We all suffer the same fate. We die.
I guess really the question is in what manner do you want to die? Do you think you make some sort of difference? Do you? You don’t. I swear. None of us makes any more difference than those who have never been.
So, make up your mind, do you want to die?
(Credit: Toadies: Possum Kimgdom)
Don’t drink and type (like me)!
I mean, seriously, why am I making a post after having this much to drink?
Is there anybody out there?
Sorry, I’m really lonely.

• Jan Steinman says:

“Sorry, I’m really lonely.”

You better find some people of like mind to work with! They shouldn’t be that hard to find!

• timl2k11 says:

I can’t seem to find anyone of like mind. (Not here in Tampa, FL)

• Jan Steinman says:

“I can’t seem to find anyone of like mind. (Not here in Tampa, FL)”

Perhaps it’s time to “get out of Dodge?” Or are you tied down somehow?

• sheilach2 says:

I think most people here care how they die. No one want’s to watch themselves & loved ones die slowly of cold, thirst, hunger or disease. As humans, we would prefer to die in our beds in our sleep or to go out laughing like one of my uncles did.

Even though I live alone & have no family, I don’t feel lonely, I keep myself busy doing many things, feeding birds, reading books, gardening & of course this very informative blog, ( Thanks Gail!)

I think even though we know most of us are doomed to die before “our time”, we may as well enjoy what time we have left & keep ourselves busy doing what we love doing .

Your not dead until you are really dead, so keep yourself busy & don’t worry about the inevitable that we can’t change.
I’m not dead yet, are you?

• Jan Steinman says:

“As humans, we would prefer to die in our beds in our sleep or to go out laughing like one of my uncles did.”

Or, as Steven Wright put it, “I want to die peacefully in my sleep, like my grandfather did… no screaming in terror like his passengers.” 🙂

• timl2k11 says:

I might be, in spirit.

• Quitollis says:

Dont worry tim, at least you dont waste your life worshipping and serving a fictional character, now that really would be embarrassing. I live simply because I want to, not because of any precept. Yes life is ultimately futile but such is life.

Arguably religions are profoundly dysgenic because they provide an existential crutch for ill-adapted people with a weak will to live. It breeds a weak, confused breed ripe for death, looking for “salvation” in eternity. 🙂 We have been bred over thousands of years of theological delusion so it is no wonder that we sometimes feel disorientated by “nihilism”.

So no, I dont want to die but I am reconciled to the fact that I will one day soon enough. (The older you get, the shorter a decade seems.) My final breath will reveal the full pettiness and futility of my life but also its nobility that I have lived honest to myself and in spite of it all. I have embraced life just as it is and without self-deceit. That is what an authentic “life” means to me, to accept it and live it as it really is.

So enjoy every day as if it were your “last”, it is all the more precious for its ephemerality. Love it for its futility, it is all a part of being human.

• timl2k11 says:

“at least you dont waste your life worshipping and serving a fictional character, now that really would be embarrassing. ”
Or might it be comforting? I am somehow immune to belief in something I cannot test for actual existence. I cannot avail myself of some fictional supernatural being who loves unconditionally. I only know the extremely conditional love of those who raised me. So I am left to wonder on my own, “Why do I exist? What is existence worth?” These are the ultimate questions that most people can not be bothered with. (Forgive me for these deep thoughts, I am still quite drunk)

• xabier says:

And yet what about the extremely tough and persuasive people who used religion to hold society together after the fall of Rome? One could regard those men and women as heroic, not weak. They could even force the appalling aristocrarcy into line.

‘Conscience is a word that cowards use’ is an old argument, both true and false. Identifying all religion with weakness is the first step on the path to totalitarianism.

Now, state welfare socialism, which is atheist, does clearly weaken society and fail to penalise anti-social behaviour. When someone will be housed,fed and clothed regardless of their actions, the result is not hard to guess at…

• Jan Steinman says:

That reminds me… need to finish work on my still. During bad times, people always seem to come up with enough moolah for a good bender. 🙂

• timl2k11 says:

🙂 bad times did not start with ideas of collapse for me!

• edpell says:

Tim, your concerns are beyond the scope of a chat board. Your concerns are real and I hope you find some good people in your area of the world to talk with and maybe work with. Best of luck.

Where in the world are you located? I am in New York State, US.

• timl2k11 says:

Tampa, FL. A grossly overdeveloped shithole swampland as far as I can tell. 🙂

12. Christian says:

I’m still surprised how much some people in the Argentinean Socialist Party are trying to tackle limits issue. Next saturday will be held the annual Social, Economical and Political Forum, aiming this year to “address social issues from the perspective of territory, intending to open the debate on a new progressive middle and long term agenda, oriented to the promotion of more participative societies and a demographic balance that guarantees governance and rights”.

Unfortunately, it seems I can not attend.

13. Christian says:

Merci Steph, des graphes bien drôles ce Jancovici. So, while we are not sure of the details (it seems there are no physicists among OFW “staff”, and that they don’t completely agree anyway), in order to continue evolving:

a) we must find a new source of energy, which should be bigger than those we have now. Very far away of what is now termed “FF substitutes”.

b) disorder generated by the exploitation of such a kind of source would be larger than fossils and nuke contamination (and would add to it rather than simply replace), to the extent it should necessarily remain outside of this planet.

So, even if water was to replace oil (hahahaha), the corresponding entropy creation (wathever unexpected form it takes) would prohibit this could be done on Earth at the scale we would be wishing to do it.

• Stefeun says:

Exactly Christian,
I’ve come to same conclusions.
So, we know what’s ahead, the only question is about timing.

BTW, in comments of an older post there was an interesting presentation by Simon Michaux about peak mining, in video; here’s the Powerpoint version:
http://www.population.org.au/sites/default/files/public/Simon_Michaux_0.pptx

• Jan Steinman says:

“we must find a new source of energy, which should be bigger than those we have now.”

Woa, that sounds like a planetfull of trouble!

Paul Erlich said, “Giving society cheap, abundant energy at this point would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

In light of what we’ve done with the fossil sunlight pulse, I have to agree.

Let’s go back to our budget: the amount of sunlight harvested by green plants, leaving much of it for other living things.

• Paul says:

Yes – what we need is unlimited cheap energy — we thought we had that in oil — and look where that got us — now imagine if we actually DID have cheap unlimited energy hahaha…

• Jan Steinman says:

The present exponential growth can not continue for the next millennium. By the year 2600 the world’s population would be standing shoulder to shoulder and the electricity consumption would make the Earth glow red hot. — Stephen Hawking

• VPK says:

True, but that won’t stop them from trying!

14. VPK says:

Seems Bloomberg has posted a very rosie picture of proven reserves for investors to gobble up:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-04-10/u-s-proved-crude-reserves-reach-36-year-high.html

• Paul says:

Proven I suppose if the price of oil were \$200…. which is impossible. 🙂

• VPK says:

It’s always the “details” and “fine print” that messes it all up! Hope the “investors” don’t look too close!

15. Quitollis says:

I posted before how the Russian far right now dominates foreign policy. Rogozin is the deputy PM, Zhirinovsky is deputy speaker of Duma and the LDP has 15% of Duma seats. They want to maximise Russian territory and influence.

http://fpif.org/brown-new-black/

Well now Putin has “found better allies” in the Western far right than far left. Arguably both the left and right are being played by Putin. The leftist parties still repeat the Kremlin stuff about the Ukrainian interim government being “fascist” even while they are totally blind to the Russian far right. The left does not seem to realise even now that they have always been a mouthpiece for Kremlin propaganda.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/140409/europe-far-right-rootin-for-putin

Europe’s far right is rootin’ for Putin

LISBON, Portugal — Vladimir Putin’s propaganda machine may relentlessly denounce Ukraine’s authorities as fascists and xenophobes, but elsewhere in Europe the Russian leader is energetically courting far-right politicians as allies in his confrontation with Western governments.

“You can see that the National Front is viewed very favorably in Russia,” says Ludovic de Danne, foreign affairs spokesman for radical-right French party. “We are more than tolerated, we are seen as a friend.”

He reels off a list of top Russian officials — headed by Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, now under US sanctions for his role in the annexation of Crimea — who lined up to receive National Front leader Marine Le Pen when she visited Moscow last year.

The National Front is just one of several radical right parties across Europe providing vocal support for Putin’s position in Ukraine, even as Western governments accuse the Russian leader of dragging the continent into its worst crisis since the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Dutch Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders has echoed the Kremlin’s line

Putin has a clear interest in encouraging such opinion as he seeks to counter pressure from European governments that have joined the United States in condemning his land grab in Crimea and military build up across the border from eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russia agitators this week seized government buildings in several cities.

“During the Cold War, the Soviet Union sponsored communist parties, far-left parties around Europe which basically did the bidding of Moscow and tried to spread certain types of propaganda,” says Mitchell Orenstein, political science department chair at Boston’s Northeastern University. “Russia today is using a lot of the old Soviet techniques, but this time is finding the far right a better partner than the far left.”

Many on Europe’s radical right admire Putin’s strongman image. Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, last week said Putin was the world leader he most admired. “Compared with the kids who run foreign policy in this country, I’ve more respect for him than our lot.”

Russian media have widely reported his comment that the EU has “blood on its hands” by meddling in Ukraine.

• Stefeun says:

Putin is the result of EU’s contempt for Russia after fall of the iron curtain.
We should have helped them and settled some kind of partnership.
Instead, we now have a vengeful (maybe too strong word) neighbour who can potentially starve us (of gas) overnight; OK it is not that simple, but the resulting situation is a shame, moreover if you consider the far right movements within EU.

• Paul says:

“I think they sit there across the pond in the U.S., sometimes it seems … like they’re in a lab and they’re running all sorts of experiments on the rats without understanding consequences of what they’re doing” Putin

🙂

16. Don Stewart says:

Dear Gail and especially Physicists and Deep Thinkers
After looking at Chaisson’s writings I come away dissatisfied. It seems that he is saying that evolution tends toward the inevitable increase in energy density and complexity. On the other hand, Bejan states the Constructal Law which says that, given freedom, flow systems evolve toward making movement easier. The system may get simpler. For example, river systems move water with less friction than a perfectly flat sandy beach. Furthermore, a mother river will tend to have four daughter tributaries…not one tributary and not a ‘more complex’ 20 tributaries. Bejan thinks that his law completes, in some sense, the first two laws of thermodynamics. This article was published a couple of years ago in the Philosphical Transactions of the Royal Society under Biological Sciences. I particularly call your attention to the quoted passage.

The constructal law of design and evolution in nature
Adrian Bejan1,* and Sylvie Lorente2

http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/365/1545/1335.full

‘The moving animal or vehicle is equivalent to an engine connected to a brake (figure 4), first proposed by Bejan & Paynter (1976) and Bejan (1982, 2006). The power generated by muscles and motors is ultimately and necessarily dissipated by rubbing against the environment. There is no taker for the W produced by the animal and vehicle. This is why the GNP of a country should be roughly proportional to the amount of fuel burned in that country (Bejan 2009).’
——
It seems to me that Bejan is saying that, given an amount of energy X, the energy will be dissipated either in useful work or in friction. (Some individuals may use less energy than their allotment, but that will just leave more energy for others to use). Therefore, adding more energy to a system may just increase the turbulence as opposed to the useful work. Since both useful work and turbulence are counted as GDP, then there should be a close connection between GDP and energy burned. Similarly, a reduction in energy available may result in a reduction in turbulence with little change in useful work.

When smooth flow has been achieved, then a further reduction in energy available will necessarily result in lower flow. (Once we can no longer afford politicians or lawyers or high frequency traders or the Kardashians, then we will know that the fat is gone?)

There are many reasons why our system is not free, and so we should expect that changes in flow will be difficult. For example, we have an enormous system of debt which does not easily adjust to reductions in energy availability. In addition, we have an enormous investment in built infrastructure which is designed for some optimal level of energy availability. I am sure you can think of other reasons why adjustments to lower energy availability would be problematic and not something you would describe as ‘free’.

Let me backtrack a moment and give a very simple model of a human. A human is an animal that likes to experience certain flows of hormones and other chemicals in their brain. Most humans try to manage the desired flows by moving physical objects around on the Earth. Contemplatives, however, long ago learned to manage the desired hormonal flows mostly by neurophysiological mechanisms which involve very little in the way of energy not immediately supplied by the sun or by food easily found. We might think that, perhaps, all the energy that humans have mastered over the intervening millenia has mostly increased turbulence: wars, competitions, risk taking, anxiety, dissatisfaction, worries, diseases, etc.

We might get a little more sophisticated and say that moving physical objects has some relevance, but that it offers diminishing returns. Consequently, as research tends to indicate, those of us in the OECD countries are experiencing a lot of turbulence for not much gain in hormonal satisfaction.

The ‘ultimately and necessarily dissipated’ power can be contrasted with a chemical such as phosphorus which is recycled assiduously in biology. A phosphorus atom goes through about 100 different plants and animals before it escapes the biosphere. In short, the human system is a one way trip, while a biological system is a merry go round. Therefore, biological systems have a fundamental difference from human designed systems in terms of recycling (while in other respects they have similarities.) Since the sun is essentially an unlimited resource, and since Nature has learned to recycle religiously, the biomass productivity of a forest is not at all like oil production.

Am I thinking along the lines indicated by Bejan, or am I completely confused?

Thanks…Don Stewart

• Stefeun says:

Bonjour Don,
(as preamble, I don’t pretend to be any kinda “deep thinker”, I’m just trying to connect a few dots together; I make this precision because one can very easily give an impression of arrogance while talking about scientific matters; this is certainly not my intention)

Quote from the document you link to: “Design is Flow”, and “flow” is dissipation of energy.
Bejan’s Constructal Law thus seems very similar to MEP (Maximum Entropy Production , which F.Roddier calls the 3rd law of TDs).

In a flow of energy, structures spontaneously appear, in order to maximize the rate of energy flowing through; such structures produce internal order and external disorder (entropy is a measure of disorder).
In a stable environment, more and more complex structures appear, each one being a little bit more energy-efficient than former one (which can still continue to exist, isolated, or as part of the more complex structure).
So as far as I can understand, there doesn’t seem to be any contradiction between Chaisson’s and Bejan’s writings, at least regarding the fundamentals.

Then, when talking about human society, we have to be very careful; its complexity can exceed our capacities of understanding (we don’t have full control of the “global brain”).
Yet, alternance of evolution systems r & K can tell us interesting things. In short:
– type K is few big structures in stable environment,
– type r is lots of small structures in changeing environment.
In changeing conditions, a system goes from an equilibrium (K) to another, through a transition phase (r). You can find better explanation e.g. in F.Roddier’s presentation (link on previous page).

In our case, it is clear that organisations (states, companies, …) are not adapted any longer to changeing conditions (depleted resources, population increase, …), and are too big to adapt quickly enough to new environmental conditions.
Those big structures are therfore likely to die, and be replaced by smaller ones that will re-organise in a different way (think dinosaurs and small mammals).

Reg. phosphorous, I don’t know if relevant to compare natural cycle in an ecosystem with an industrial process which focuses only on increasing productivity of one small part of the cycle, and take no care of what happens before/after (until the resource is depleted, or the waste make problems).

Best Regards

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Stefuan

From the paper:
-Entropy generation minimization and the pursuit of greater efficiency are used commonly in biology and engineering (Bejan 2006).
-Entropy generation maximization (sic), not minimization, is being invoked in geophysics (Paltridge 1975).

These are in his laundry list of the various models of goal seeking that he is trying to subsume under his Constructal Law umbrella (at least I think that is his goal). I suppose Roddier is included in the second point.

Bejan specifically rejects the claim that biological systems and geological systems follow different laws. Bejan thinks that a volcano will behave very much like a human: both will, over time, discover the best way to facilitate flow. I am not a physicist, but I believe that flow is maximized when turbulence is minimized. An engineer told me a long time ago that the highest technology in a plane is in the wing design…to avoid turbulence. The big lazy loops a river makes as it approaches the sea enable it to move a huge volume of water with minimum turbulence. Hierarchies arise in human endeavors to minimize turbulence. The Dark Ages were examples of maximized turbulence.

Bejan speaks like a lot of bright people, and is averse to repeating what he just said in different language so that us simpletons can understand it a little. But the way I interpreted his GDP statement is that, if energy is available, it will be used to either produce something useful or it will be wasted (as in a brake). Either way, the energy gets used and that equates to GDP. Evolutionary design helps us direct more of the energy toward desired flows and away from the brake (this has happened recently in the US with the installation of smart traffic lights…literally a lot less braking in automobiles).

Suppose that energy per capita simply stabilized. In Bejan’s world, the flow of useful products would continue to increase for some time as evolution found the best designs for minimizing turbulence and braking.

Suppose that energy per capita begins to decline. In Bejan’s world, at least I think, minimizing the brakes and turbulence would become a high priority, followed by the evolutionary search to preserve as much flow as possible at the reduced level of energy.

Don Stewart

• Stefeun says:

Don,
but a flow is actually created by energy going from higher grade to lower grade (thus generating entropy).
As I understand it, flow and energy dissipation are the same thing; in your last §, reducing energy rate and preserving as much flow as possible, at same time, sounds like nonsense to me. And a “level of energy” is only a steady state, a potential, that doesn’t create any “flow” by itself.
I see the turbulences as a “friction” that appears when the flow is too big for the structure it goes through; then a part of the energy is dissipated directly in the form of heat (the lowest grade) instead of movement, for example.
For a plane wing you maximize the movement, but in a heat exchanger you promote turbulence.
Fluid regimes (laminar Vs turbulent) seem somewhat connected to the r Vs K systems; you can’t tell if one is good or bad, it depends on environmental conditions.

I don’t know if my answer is appropriate or understandable (or even correct!).
I read somewhere that Thermodynamics is a funny thing:
– 1st time you don’t understand anything,
– 2nd time you feel like you have understood everything, but a few details,
– 3rd time, you’re sure that you’re totally confused, but you don’t care! 😉

Kind regards,
Stéphane

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Stefeun
As Bejan uses his words, they describe things such as the invention of libraries or language. Both facilitated the flow of information. Both evolved to facilitate flow. While both involve some energy, you can imagine cumbersome ways to have information flow, and much more elegant ways to have information flow. Language may be an elegant way to move information which uses less energy than some cumbersome way.

Another way to move information is with chromosomes rather than single genes. Lenton and Watson make a point of that in The Revolutions That Changed the World. I don’t know that there is a big energy differential with the adoption of chromosomes, but it made copying more elegant and reliable.

So Bejan is, as I understand him, looking at a very broad range of subjects. He asks ‘what is flowing?’, and then looks for evolution to find ways to make it flow more easily. Sometimes evolution finds a way, and sometimes evolution does not. For example, the roots, trunk, branches, and leaves system works very well to lift water high in the air in a tree. But if you defined ‘what is flowing’ not as water, but as photosynthesis, then trees are pretty energy inefficient compared to low growing plants because competition for sunlight forces them to be so tall, which requires a lot of energy.

Bejan says something like ‘there is no best, maximum, minimum, or optimum…there is only better.’ with ‘better’ defined as flowing more freely.

Don Stewart

• Stefeun says:

Don,
just a (stupid?) thought: efficiency is a ratio output/input.
I wouldn’t say that tall trees are inefficient, because they can take a maximum of the solar input; a measure of their efficiency depends on what exactly you include in the “output” calculation.
Their structure requires a lot of energy, but they actually are taking the biggest part, so…
I would say that efficiency also depends on the environment: in tropical rainforest, such strategy (tall big trees) work perfectly, but under other climates it might not be appropriate.
Anyway, in today’s world, we can see only efficient living structures, since unefficient ones cannot survive (in a given environment).

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Stefeun
Suppose all the trees got together and limited height to 4 meters. Then they wouldn’t have to grow trunks that are 60 meters tall. Or maybe the King of the trees issues a decree.

That hasn’t happened because evolution hasn’t figured out how to get trees to set down rules which would benefit all of them, and no King of the trees has stepped forth.

A human designed forest CAN be made with limits in mind. For example, a very common practice in permaculture is to prune fruit trees so that the person can reach the fruit without a ladder. This works best on a standard size tree which is just pruned vigorously.

Bejan would say that the humans are part of the system in a permaculture backyard forest garden.

More broadly, I agree that deciding what you are going to measure as the output is crucial. For example, if you are measuring raw pleasure…then it is hard to beat a sun bath on a warm April day. My point about diminishing returns is that a sun bath on a beach in Tahiti might be a little better, but not a whole lot better. If we are thinking about how to allocate increasingly scarce fossil energy, then trips to Tahiti to go to the beach will probably be an early victim, while sun baths in the back yard will be around for a very long time. That change destroys GDP, but the loss to the sun bather is very small.

Don Stewart

• Jan Steinman says:

“we can see only efficient living structures, since unefficient ones cannot survive”

I’m not so sure. Or perhaps we don’t know how to measure it properly. Or perhaps it needs to be re-defined.

For example grasses (Poacaea) are the most efficient converters of sunlight to carbohydrate. Sugar cane (a C4 grass) is upwards of 8% efficient, while many other plants are below 1%

So why have the grasses not taken over everything? There must be more going on here than simply maximizing output for a given input.

• Don Stewart says:

Stefuen
Also, on the Tahiti issue. The ‘energy efficiency’ of the plane which takes you there is a very secondary consideration. A 5 percent more efficient plane can’t compensate for the fact that you don’t have the money to go, and the backyard is free.

Don Stewart

• sheilach2 says:

The “backyard” is “free” only if you have one. Billions of humans existing in cities don’t have a “backyard”, their view is another building not trees & grass like us lucky ones have.
For most of my life, I also didn’t have a backyard either, I had too low an income for such a luxury.

Too often we see the world through tunnel vision, we can only relate to what we have experienced. Most of us haven’t lived where people poop on the beach, between shacks or in a outhouse.
We haven’t had to deal with brutal law enforcement, drug dealers, violent drunk men, sewage running down the ruts of a dirt road. Most of us don’t worry about blood sucking insects or maggots taking a meal from us as we try to sleep on the dirt floor of our hut.

Neither do most of us send our children to the dump to look for food or something to sell & neither do we hunt through the trash looking for building material to shore up our shack.
That is the world of most of the worlds poor.

How will we “rich” ones cope when our world changes for the worse? When the lights go out, the faucet no longer delivers clean water, when the shelves are empty, the toilet backs up & only hungry gangs roam the streets?

• Paul says:

Many very good points.

We are all about to find out what it’s like to star in a reality TV programme that resembles an Oxfam commercial…. And it’s gonna be a shocker for the lucky who have lived lives of plenty.

• xabier says:

Stephane

Amusing. I was told something similar about bookbinding, by an old man who left school at 14: First, you think it’s really too difficult; then you think it’s really not that hard at all ; and finally, you realise that absolute perfection is always elusive.

• Jan Steinman says:

“First, you think it’s really too difficult; then you think it’s really not that hard at all ; and finally, you realise that absolute perfection is always elusive.”

This is also known in engineering consulting as the “Second System Syndrome.”

In the first iteration, you make a lot of mistakes that you regret. You know you can do better, but those mistakes are often deep assumptions that can’t be fixed in isolation — it requires extensive re-design.

In the Second System, designers get cocky. They’ve learned from their first system, and they attack the second one with a vengeance and arrogance driven from “knowing” what was wrong and how to make it right. Plus, your users have identified a lot of things that they want, so you pile feature upon useless feature.

If the whole thing doesn’t blow up and leave everyone fired or laid off, the third system is often quite good, as you return with humility, and vow to work within your limitations.

In many ways, humans are operating in Second System Syndrome. You hear lots of talk about the “bad old days” of disease and privation. “You want us to get by on much less energy? Have you forgotten how bad things were before we had all this energy? Do you want us to go back to that?

Let’s hope we have a humbler, simpler, more realistic third system coming for humanity.

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Stefeun
One little thing might amuse you. Bejan is a Romanian by birth, but he went to MIT for his college and graduate work and has been a professor at Duke for a couple of decades now. On the ‘office hours’ program of interviews at Duke, one of the students asked him about the better reception he gets in Europe. Bejan distinguished between the reception afforded by other scientists (excellent on both continents) versus the interest shown by the press…definitely more interest in Europe.

The discussion turned to ‘the European educational system’ which Bejan said he was fortunate to have experienced as a child. Europeans are better educated was the bottom line.

Don Stewart

• Stefeun says:

Don,
So why aren’t we the 1st world-power anymore?

I fear the answer is included in the question: “power” (energy per unit of time).
Since we’re not able to produce internally, or steal from abroad, sufficient amounts of energy,
“overhead structures”, such as educational system, are a heritage from the glorious past, but I’m afraid we won’t be able to “fuel” them in the long term.

Europe is in real bad shape, despite MSM stories about “recovery”; there are huge protests in Greece and Spain and Portugal because conditions of life keep on decreasing for the majority of the people.
1 to 2 million people protested in Madrid last 22nd of March, and I heard nothing about it on French TV (but I’m not fan of TV!); see for example:
http://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/cristina-flesher-fominaya/spain’s-marches-of-dignity-22m-2014-not-antipolitics

But it’s early spring, the skies are blue and the birds are tweeting! Hhmmm…
Regards,
Stéphane

• Jan Steinman says:

“But it’s early spring, the skies are blue and the birds are tweeting! “

Exactly! “Before enlightenment, chop wood; carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood; carry water.”

All the doom-and-gloom may be true, but does it serve much purpose? I think its highest purpose is to motivate people to take joy in working toward making a tiny corner of this descent less worse.

And on that note, I’m going out to nurse a baby goat whose mom has mastitis.

• xabier says:

August 1914 was delightful……

• Stefeun says:

“August 1914 was delightful……”

this is rather what I meant; unfortunately.

• As Joseph Tainter pointed out, complexity solves problems. When increased energy is availability, it tends to create increasingly complex “dissipative structures” such as economies and humans and other kinds of animal. Because of their increased complexity, they tend to have an advantage when competing with less complex dissipative structures.

Flow systems are something else–not dissipative structures, that I can see. They reflect the combination of different energy forces working in different ways. I don’t see their trend toward simplicity as being a problem. Not all structures are dissipative structures.

All nature recycles, but on different time-frames. Chaisson writes about stars being recycled. I am not certain that the time-frame makes a major difference. For the vast majority of humans on earth, satisfying basic needs (food, transportation, shelter) is still an elusive goal, requiring a lot of physical resources. We look at things from the point of view of well-educated rich people, living in a rich country, in a time period when people are quite affluent. This is not necessarily representative of the 7.2 billion people on earth today.

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Gail

A few notes about Adrian Bejan and complexity. On page 19 he dismisses some ideas about complexity:

‘Complexity is finite (modest), and is part of the constructal design that emerges. Complexity is a result, not an objective; not an artist’s wish; and, contrary to current dogma based on fractal geometry, it is certainly not ‘maximized’.’

And on page 161 he begins a discussion of scientific knowledge. Absent science, what we have is a whole bunch of separate observations which can teach people how to do things such as shoot arrows while allowing for the fact that the arrow falls as it travels. ‘If science were only a collection of such statements, it would not be very useful. In time, scientists have organized and improved this deluge of information in the same way that a river basin has evolved: toward configurations (links, connections) that coalesce (condense) the flows and provide access for the flow of information…..Then Galileo stated the principle that rendered all those measurements unnecessary. Objects fall faster and faster downward at a predictable rate….Indeed, all great discoveries, from Newton’s laws of motion to thermodynamics, didn’t just tell us something new, they organized and streamlined our knowledge….They didn’t just rewrite our science books, they made them thinner.’

He does say that, in general, larger bodies require more complexity, such as branching. He compares small lungs with large lungs and finds more branching in the large lungs. However, the number of levels of branching which are required for efficient operation are predicted by the Constructal Law, so the science is not more complex…just more repetitions.

In summary Bejan argues that evolution will lead to the level of complexity which is required, while science will tend to reduce the level of complexity which is required as our understanding improves. I don’t think Bejan addresses the social and political issue directly, but he does observe that larger objects are more complex than smaller ones. He says that the United States government is more complex than the tribal organizations which it currently wars on in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example. I imagine he would agree that Rome was more complex than the German tribes. He would probably also say that Roman complexity was sustained by energy flows and gold flows from the conquered territory. When the energy and the gold flows dried up, then the complexity of Rome had to be replaced wth the simpler structures of the Dark Ages. But then those structures began their own evolution toward structures which facilitated more flow.

I think he believes that, in principle, two factors can drive changes:
1. A society gets more energy or more gold and can command a larger territory or take on larger undertakings.
2. A society discovers better ways of doing things (Newton’s Laws, designs to dissipate heat in microchips, village chiefs, etc.) It is not true that all changes require more energy, but it is true that they all facilitate flow. Some may reduce energy requirements…otherwise, in a world of scarce energy, they would not be adopted. Some, such as the dissipation of heat in microchips, will be examples of the Jeavons Paradox and enable greatly expanded usage of the resource.

Whether we label all changes as ‘increases in complexity’ is up for grabs. I don’t think the case is proven. My guess is that our complex monetary system desperately needs to be replaced with the equivalent of Galileo’s equations for falling bodies. This could be a huge reduction in complexity and therefore risk in our global society…paving the way, perhaps, for ‘powering down’ in as elegant a fashion as possible.

Don Stewart

17. Paul says:

One has to wonder if the S is approaching the Fan:

Written in 2010:

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

Written in 2013:

The decline of the world’s major oil fields
Aging giant fields produce more than half of global oil supply and are already declining as group, Cobb writes. Research suggests that their annual production decline rates are likely to accelerate.
http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Energy-Voices/2013/0412/The-decline-of-the-world-s-major-oil-fields

• VPK says:

Thanks for the links and we need not wonder no ,longer. Cheap oil is a thing of the past

18. Paul says:

This provides some insights into what the government expects to happen when the SHTF:

An Iowa City With A Population Of 7,000 Will Receive Armored Military Vehicle

• Don Stewart says:

Dear Paul
Don’t get too excited. About 6 months after the 9/11 attacks I was on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I noticed a heavily armored vehicle parked in a parking lot. I saw a maintenance worker, and asked about it. He said it just arrived, they didn’t order it.

Maybe if the black bears get unruly?…Don Stewart

19. Don Stewart says:

Dear All
There was some discussion earlier about Professor Steven Vogel’s assertion that photosynthesis works best in a range of temperatures which top out in the mid-90s F, mid-30s centigrade. At that point, according to the Professor, ‘proteins start changing shape in undesirable ways’. The professor also says that an infrared meter is a good way to see if the leaves temperatures are getting too high.

After days of clouds, I finally have a sunny day to put this to the test. Assuming you agree that the infrared meter is measuring something useful, and that the professor is correct about the ideal temperatures for photosynthesis. I tested 3 leaves in my garden. One leaf is in the shade, one is under an 85 percent transmission shade cloth, and one is in direct sunlight. Here are the readings:

Shade 16 C 61 F
Shade Cloth 32 C 90 F
Direct Sun 53 C 127 F

The official air temperature will be reflected in the ‘shade’ reading…a pleasant cool and sunny morning. The shade cloth keeps the plant cool enough for photosynthesis to work well, and these plants show it with vigorous growth. The direct sun plant is too hot and the day will only get hotter. So my project for the morning is to get shade cloth over the uncovered plants. All the plants were very well watered, as we just had soaking rains.

I also point this out as one example of the benefits of industrial technology even in a predominately biological system. It is not impossible to design plantings such that shade from tall plants helps lower growing plants cope with the direct sun. It’s just easier with shadecloth, which is quite inexpensive.

Note to Jan Steinman. As I was looking this up, I also see where the thousand watts per square meter came from. Its Professor Vogel, page 22. You can see those watts at work in heating up the leaves beyond their ability to cool themselves.

Don Stewart