Eight Pitfalls in Evaluating Green Energy Solutions

Does the recent climate accord between US and China mean that many countries will now forge ahead with renewables and other green solutions? I think that there are more pitfalls than many realize.

Pitfall 1. Green solutions tend to push us from one set of resources that are a problem today (fossil fuels) to other resources that are likely to be problems in the longer term.  

The name of the game is “kicking the can down the road a little.” In a finite world, we are reaching many limits besides fossil fuels:

  1. Soil quality–erosion of topsoil, depleted minerals, added salt
  2. Fresh water–depletion of aquifers that only replenish over thousands of years
  3. Deforestation–cutting down trees faster than they regrow
  4. Ore quality–depletion of high quality ores, leaving us with low quality ores
  5. Extinction of other species–as we build more structures and disturb more land, we remove habitat that other species use, or pollute it
  6. Pollution–many types: CO2, heavy metals, noise, smog, fine particles, radiation, etc.
  7. Arable land per person, as population continues to rise

The danger in almost every “solution” is that we simply transfer our problems from one area to another. Growing corn for ethanol can be a problem for soil quality (erosion of topsoil), fresh water (using water from aquifers in Nebraska, Colorado). If farmers switch to no-till farming to prevent the erosion issue, then great amounts of Round Up are often used, leading to loss of lives of other species.

Encouraging use of forest products because they are renewable can lead to loss of forest cover, as more trees are made into wood chips. There can even be a roundabout reason for loss of forest cover: if high-cost renewables indirectly make citizens poorer, citizens may save money on fuel by illegally cutting down trees.

High tech goods tend to use considerable quantities of rare minerals, many of which are quite polluting if they are released into the environment where we work or live. This is a problem both for extraction and for long-term disposal.

Pitfall 2. Green solutions that use rare minerals are likely not very scalable because of quantity limits and low recycling rates.  

Computers, which are the heart of many high-tech goods, use almost the entire periodic table of elements.

Figure 1. Slide by Alicia Valero showing that almost the entire periodic table of elements is used for computers.

Figure 1. Slide from presentation by Alicia Valero at UNED energy conference showing that almost the entire periodic table of elements is used for computers.

When minerals are used in small quantities, especially when they are used in conjunction with many other minerals, they become virtually impossible to recycle. Experience indicates that less than 1% of specialty metals are recycled.

Figure 2. Slide by Alicia Valero showing recycling rates of elements.

Figure 2. Slide from presentation by Alicia Valero at UNED energy conference showing recycling rates of elements.

Green technologies, including solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries, have pushed resource use toward minerals that were little exploited in the past. If we try to ramp up usage, current mines are likely to deplete rapidly. We will eventually need to add new mines in areas where resource quality is lower and concern about pollution is higher. Costs will be much higher in such mines, making devices using such minerals less affordable, rather than more affordable, in the long run.

Of course, a second issue in the scalability of these resources has to do with limits on oil supply. As ores of scarce minerals deplete, more rather than less oil will be needed for extraction. If oil is in short supply, obtaining this oil is also likely to be a problem, also inhibiting scalability of the scarce mineral extraction. The issue with respect to oil supply may not be high price; it may be low price, for reasons I will explain later in this post.

Pitfall 3. High-cost energy sources are the opposite of the “gift that keeps on giving.” Instead, they often represent the “subsidy that keeps on taking.”

Oil that was cheap to extract (say $20 barrel) was the true “gift that keeps on giving.” It made workers more efficient in their jobs, thereby contributing to efficiency gains. It made countries using the oil more able to create goods and services cheaply, thus helping them compete better against other countries. Wages tended to rise, as long at the price of oil stayed below $40 or $50 per barrel (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

Figure 3. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

More workers joined the work force, as well. This was possible in part because fossil fuels made contraceptives available, reducing family size. Fossil fuels also made tools such as dishwashers, clothes washers, and clothes dryers available, reducing the hours needed in housework. Once oil became high-priced (that is, over $40 or $50 per barrel), its favorable impact on wage growth disappeared.

When we attempt to add new higher-cost sources of energy, whether they are high-cost oil or high-cost renewables, they present a drag on the economy for three reasons:

  1. Consumers tend to cut back on discretionary expenditures, because energy products (including food, which is made using oil and other energy products) are a necessity. These cutbacks feed back through the economy and lead to layoffs in discretionary sectors. If they are severe enough, they can lead to debt defaults as well, because laid-off workers have difficulty paying their bills.
  2.  An economy with high-priced sources of energy becomes less competitive in the world economy, competing with countries using less expensive sources of fuel. This tends to lead to lower employment in countries whose mix of energy is weighted toward high-priced fuels.
  3. With (1) and (2) happening, economic growth slows. There are fewer jobs and debt becomes harder to repay.

In some sense, the cost producing of an energy product is a measure of diminishing returns–that is, cost is a measure of the amount of resources that directly and indirectly or indirectly go into making that device or energy product, with higher cost reflecting increasing effort required to make an energy product. If more resources are used in producing high-cost energy products, fewer resources are available for the rest of the economy. Even if a country tries to hide this situation behind a subsidy, the problem comes back to bite the country. This issue underlies the reason that subsidies tend to “keeping on taking.”

The dollar amount of subsidies is also concerning. Currently, subsidies for renewables (before the multiplier effect) average at least $48 per barrel equivalent of oil.1 With the multiplier effect, the dollar amount of subsidies is likely more than the current cost of oil (about $80), and possibly even more than the peak cost of oil in 2008 (about $147). The subsidy (before multiplier effect) per metric ton of oil equivalent amounts to $351. This is far more than the charge for any carbon tax.

Pitfall 4. Green technology (including renewables) can only be add-ons to the fossil fuel system.

A major reason why green technology can only be add-ons to the fossil fuel system relates to Pitfalls 1 through 3. New devices, such as wind turbines, solar PV, and electric cars aren’t very scalable because of high required subsidies, depletion issues, pollution issues, and other limits that we don’t often think about.

A related reason is the fact that even if an energy product is “renewable,” it needs long-term maintenance. For example, a wind turbine needs replacement parts from around the world. These are not available without fossil fuels. Any electrical transmission system transporting wind or solar energy will need frequent repairs, also requiring fossil fuels, usually oil (for building roads and for operating repair trucks and helicopters).

Given the problems with scalability, there is no way that all current uses of fossil fuels can all be converted to run on renewables. According to BP data, in 2013 renewable energy (including biofuels and hydroelectric) amounted to only 9.4% of total energy use. Wind amounted to 1.1% of world energy use; solar amounted to 0.2% of world energy use.

Pitfall 5. We can’t expect oil prices to keep rising because of affordability issues.  

Economists tell us that if there are inadequate oil supplies there should be few problems:  higher prices will reduce demand, encourage more oil production, and encourage production of alternatives. Unfortunately, there is also a roundabout way that demand is reduced: wages tend to be affected by high oil prices, because high-priced oil tends to lead to less employment (Figure 3). With wages not rising much, the rate of growth of debt also tends to slow. The result is that products that use oil (such as cars) are less affordable, leading to less demand for oil. This seems to be the issue we are now encountering, with many young people unable to find good-paying jobs.

If oil prices decline, rather than rise, this creates a problem for renewables and other green alternatives, because needed subsidies are likely to rise rather than disappear.

The other issue with falling oil prices is that oil prices quickly become too low for producers. Producers cut back on new development, leading to a decrease in oil supply in a year or two. Renewables and the electric grid need oil for maintenance, so are likely to be affected as well. Related posts include Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply? and Oil Price Slide – No Good Way Out.

Pitfall 6. It is often difficult to get the finances for an electrical system that uses intermittent renewables to work out well.  

Intermittent renewables, such as electricity from wind, solar PV, and wave energy, tend to work acceptably well, in certain specialized cases:

  • When there is a lot of hydroelectricity nearby to offset shifts in intermittent renewable supply;
  • When the amount added is sufficient small that it has only a small impact on the grid;
  • When the cost of electricity from otherwise available sources, such as burning oil, is very high. This often happens on tropical islands. In such cases, the economy has already adjusted to very high-priced electricity.

Intermittent renewables can also work well supporting tasks that can be intermittent. For example, solar panels can work well for pumping water and for desalination, especially if the alternative is using diesel for fuel.

Where intermittent renewables tend not to work well is when

  1. Consumers and businesses expect to get a big credit for using electricity from intermittent renewables, but
  2. Electricity added to the grid by intermittent renewables leads to little cost savings for electricity providers.

For example, people with solar panels often expect “net metering,” a credit equal to the retail price of electricity for electricity sold to the electric grid. The benefit to electric grid is generally a lot less than the credit for net metering, because the utility still needs to maintain the transmission lines and do many of the functions that it did in the past, such as send out bills. In theory, the utility still should get paid for all of these functions, but doesn’t. Net metering gives way too much credit to those with solar panels, relative to the savings to the electric companies. This approach runs the risk of starving fossil fuel, nuclear, and grid portion of the system of needed revenue.

A similar problem can occur if an electric grid buys wind or solar energy on a preferential basis from commercial providers at wholesale rates in effect for that time of day. This practice tends to lead to a loss of profitability for fossil fuel-based providers of electricity. This is especially the case for natural gas “peaking plants” that normally operate for only a few hours a year, when electricity rates are very high.

Germany has been adding wind and solar, in an attempt to offset reductions in nuclear power production. Germany is now running into difficulty with its pricing approach for renewables. Some of its natural gas providers of electricity have threatened to shut down because they are not making adequate profits with the current pricing plan. Germany also finds itself using more cheap (but polluting) lignite coal, in an attempt to keep total electrical costs within a range customers can afford.

Pitfall 7. Adding intermittent renewables to the electric grid makes the operation of the grid more complex and more difficult to manage. We run the risk of more blackouts and eventual failure of the grid. 

In theory, we can change the electric grid in many ways at once. We can add intermittent renewables, “smart grids,” and “smart appliances” that turn on and off, depending on the needs of the electric grid. We can add the charging of electric automobiles as well. All of these changes add to the complexity of the system. They also increase the vulnerability of the system to hackers.

The usual assumption is that we can step up to the challenge–we can handle this increased complexity. A recent report by The Institution of Engineering and Technology in the UK on the Resilience of the Electricity Infrastructure questions whether this is the case. It says such changes, ” .  .  . vastly increase complexity and require a level of engineering coordination and integration that the current industry structure and market regime does not provide.” Perhaps the system can be changed so that more attention is focused on resilience, but incentives need to be changed to make resilience (and not profit) a top priority. It is doubtful this will happen.

The electric grid has been called the worlds ‘s largest and most complex machine. We “mess with it” at our own risk. Nafeez Ahmed recently published an article called The Coming Blackout Epidemic, discussing challenges grids are now facing. I have written about electric grid problems in the past myself: The US Electric Grid: Will it be Our Undoing?

Pitfall 8. A person needs to be very careful in looking at studies that claim to show favorable performance for intermittent renewables.  

Analysts often overestimate the benefits of wind and solar. Just this week a new report was published saying that the largest solar plant in the world is so far producing only half of the electricity originally anticipated since it opened in February 2014.

In my view, “standard” Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI) and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) calculations tend to overstate the benefits of intermittent renewables, because they do not include a “time variable,” and because they do not consider the effect of intermittency. More specialized studies that do include these variables show very concerning results. For example, Graham Palmer looks at the dynamic EROEI of solar PV, using batteries (replaced at eight year intervals) to mitigate intermittency.2 He did not include inverters–something that would be needed and would reduce the return further.

Figure 4. Graham Palmer's chart of Dynamic Energy Returned on Energy Invested from "Energy in Australia."

Figure 4. Graham Palmer’s chart of Dynamic Energy Returned on Energy Invested from “Energy in Australia.” (Power point words are my explanation.)

Palmer’s work indicates that because of the big energy investment initially required, the system is left in a deficit energy position for a very long time. The energy that is put into the system is not paid back until 25 years after the system is set up. After the full 30-year lifetime of the solar panel, the system returns 1.3 times the initial direct energy investment.

One further catch is that the energy used in the EROEI calculations includes only a list of direct energy inputs. The total energy required is much higher; it includes indirect inputs that are not directly measured as well as energy needed to provide necessary infrastructure, such as roads and schools. When these are considered, the minimum EROEI needs to be something like 10. Thus, the solar panel plus battery system modeled is really a net energy sink, rather than a net energy producer.  

Another study by Weissbach et al. looks at the impact of adjusting for intermittency. (This study, unlike Palmer’s, doesn’t attempt to adjust for timing differences.) It concludes, “The results show that nuclear, hydro, coal, and natural gas power systems . . . are one order of magnitude more effective than photovoltaics and wind power.”


It would be nice to have a way around limits in a finite world. Unfortunately, this is not possible in the long run. At best, green solutions can help us avoid limits for a little while longer.

The problem we have is that statements about green energy are often overly optimistic. Cost comparisons are often just plain wrong–for example, the supposed near grid parity of solar panels is an “apples to oranges” comparison. An electric utility cannot possibility credit a user with the full retail cost of electricity for the intermittent period it is available, without going broke. Similarly, it is easy to overpay for wind energy, if payments are made based on time-of-day wholesale electricity costs. We will continue to need our fossil-fueled balancing system for the electric grid indefinitely, so we need to continue to financially support this system.

There clearly are some green solutions that will work, at least until the resources needed to produce these solutions are exhausted or other limits are reached. For example, geothermal may be solutions in some locations. Hydroelectric, including “run of the stream” hydro, may be a solution in some locations. In all cases, a clear look at trade-offs needs to be done in advance. New devices, such as gravity powered lamps and solar thermal water heaters, may be helpful especially if they do not use resources in short supply and are not likely to cause pollution problems in the long run.

Expectations for wind and solar PV need to be reduced. Solar PV and offshore wind are both likely net energy sinks because of storage and balancing needs, if they are added to the electric grid in more than very small amounts. Onshore wind is less bad, but it needs to be evaluated closely in each particular location. The need for large subsidies should be a red flag that costs are likely to be high, both short and long term. Another consideration is that wind is likely to have a short lifespan if oil supplies are interrupted, because of its frequent need for replacement parts from around the world.

Some citizens who are concerned about the long-term viability of the electric grid will no doubt want to purchase their own solar systems with inverters and back-up batteries. I see no reason to discourage people who want to do this–the systems may prove to be of assistance to these citizens. But I see no reason to subsidize these purchases, except perhaps in areas (such as tropical islands) where this is the most cost-effective way of producing electric power.


[1] In 2013, the total amount of subsidies for renewables was $121 billion according to the IEA. If we compare this to the amount of renewables (biofuels + other renewables) reported by BP, we find that the subsidy per barrel of oil equivalent in was $48 per barrel of oil equivalent. These amounts are likely understated, because BP biofuels include fuel that doesn’t require subsidies, such as waste sawdust burned for electricity.

[2] Palmer’s work is published in Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia’s Economic Growth, published by Springer in 2014. This book is part of Prof. Charles Hall’s “Briefs in Energy” series.

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, Energy policy, Financial Implications and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1,278 Responses to Eight Pitfalls in Evaluating Green Energy Solutions

  1. Francesca says:

    Excellent post!

    • Thanks!

      I have a new post ready, but I am going to wait until Sunday evening to put it up. With everyone very busy over the weekends leading up to Christmas, not many will have time to read a post during the weekend, and I won’t have much time to respond.

  2. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Here is a ‘green solution’ which may illustrate some of the opportunities and issues in the field of food.

    ‘According to James Duke in his Handbook of Legumes of World Economic Importance, growing cowpeas for leaves can produce 9 times more calories, 15 times more protein, 90 times more calcium, and thousands of times more vitamin C and beta-carotene, than growing the same crop for seed.’ (A typical seed might be called a black-eyed pea.)

    This is from the excellent book Eat Your Greens by David Kennedy. Kennedy has many very practical ways to increase the harvested human nutrition from green leaves, which are the magical vehicles which create food out of air and water and sunshine.

    The issues which must be dealt with are also covered in the book. While the straightforward way to maximize nutrition is to simply eat the leaves, and while most of our primate cousins would do just that, the human gut is not designed to subsist on a diet of green leaves. If we don’t eat ANY green leaves, which most Americans don’t, we will have all sorts of chronic diseases. But we can’t very well eat 20 pounds per day of green leaves, as a gorilla might do.

    The issue, then, for humans is how to get some concentrated calories. At the present time, we get them overwhelmingly from seeds (e.g., corn, wheat, soybeans, rice, etc.) and roots and tubers (potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, etc.). David Kennedy covers two methods for turning green leaves directly into more calorie dense food. The first is drying and grinding, which can be accomplished by a solar dryer and hand grinding, in the simplest case, and industrial drying and industrial grinding and incorporation into industrial, packaged food in the most complex case. The second method is the production of a leaf concentrate by a process of juicing and making curd and then using or preserving the curd. Kennedy thinks that making concentrate is good therapy, but believes it is best done at the industrial scale.

    The first thing to notice is those things which are probably NOT limiting factors. Cowpeas host the bacteria which fix nitrogen, so a lack of industrial nitrogen is NOT an issue. If green leaves are our source of calories as opposed to the seeds, we can grow 9 times more calories on the same land used to produce the black-eyed peas. So calories and protein and micro-nutrients are NOT the critical issue. The refusal of most people to eat what they need to eat MIGHT be the most pressing problem.

    So, let’s suppose that we want to make a solar dryer and grind some leaves. My daughter made a solar dryer out of a salvaged paper towel dispenser and disposal receptacle. Broadly, we need some industrial detritus to make most solar dryers. Direct exposure to the sun is NOT a good idea. So we need some rather simple infrastructure in a shaded spot.

    Grinding used to be accomplished by women using two rocks and lots of repetitive motion. The result was women with back problems and teeth which were ground down by small particles of rock.

    I have, in previous comments, tried to make the point that the survival of modest sections of the industrial world will be a very big help…referring to the Pareto Principle that 20 percent of anything generates 80 percent of the value, and sometimes its more like 10 and 90.

    At any rate, I hope this helps to clarify some of the issues which will become apparent as we descend the energy curve.

    Don Stewart

  3. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Quitollis
    I’ll try to explain my ideas about health issues using this article as a springboard:

    I’ll also refer back to Kelly McGonigal’s TED talk where she apologized for demonizing stress. It turns out that some people thrive under stress.

    I was watching an Ingmar Bergman movie about the frustrations of the human condition, thinking that he was under the stress of both making movies and his complicated personal life, and how he lived to be 87 (I think).

    My homemade conclusion is that the stress of creating something, overcoming obstacles, is not at all like a helpless rat in a cage getting random shocks. That’s one of the reasons I promote the idea that a family should produce some of the essentials that it needs…as opposed to being utterly reliant on something called ‘the market’. Better to wrestle with the cabbage loopers than the Federal Reserve or the idiots in the House of Representatives passing war resolutions about Russia.

    Let’s suppose that I am correct in dividing stress into two different categories: one destroys health while the other is a creative response to the challenges of life. Then what does a statistical study of ‘stress’ actually tell you?

    As for the gut bacteria. (Full disclosure. An in-law of mine is a gut bacteria researcher.) It seems to me that the crucial issue may be ‘leaky gut’. That is, chemicals in the food we eat is getting into the body proper through the gut lining when it should not be. The great increase in the production of Frankenfoods might lead us to think along those lines. Whether the movement of Frankenfoods across the gut lining is a function of bad bacteria or some more mechanical malfunction, I simply don’t know.

    Don Stewart

  4. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    Here is a scenario which could result in a massive reduction in population very quickly.

    According to George Mobus, perhaps one third of the world’s people have dormant TB bacteria. About 10 percent of the infected people will develop TB. But among those who have HIV compromised immune systems, 30 percent will develop TB. We also know that TB is increasingly drug resistant, and that treating TB requires the functioning of a modern health care system.

    Now assume that the events you prophesy happen, and the modern health care system collapses and the global food system collapses. The collapse of the global food system will compromise immune systems just as surely as HIV will do so.

    So we have 3 billion people with dormant TB. They are overwhelmingly in poor parts of the world. Many are crowded into third world supercities. TB is highly infectious. So perhaps we have about a billion people who are currently infected but not active, who become active as they develop compromised immune systems. These billion infect other people, who also have compromised immune systems. Before you know it, you are talking about serious numbers of deaths.

    Are there any alternatives? Well…the governments could take the land held by the multinationals to grow crops to ship to the rich countries and distribute it to poor people. The poor people could implement the gardening strategies outlined by David Kennedy for growing greens in both the tropics and the temperate zone. Leafy greens are the immune boosters par excellance.

    The new farmers would face many challenges, not the least of which is adjusted expectations. Many of them would probably go right back into the cities, just as people left rural England for the pestilences of London.

    Another alternative is that governments react calmly as the inevitability of decline becomes apparent. The governments engage in triage, and manage to save public health services and also to increase the amount of leafy greens people eat in order to boost immunity. (I have heard that if everyone in the US tried to eat the My Plate recommendation for fresh fruit and vegetables, only 3 percent of the population could be accommodated.) The only realistic way to boost greens consumption is to multiply home gardens by a large factor. Mathematics says it can be done, but, just as with the poverty stricken people in Asian and African cities, the psychological adjustment would be severe.

    Don Stewart
    PS There are, of course, other reasons why people might die besides TB.

    • Jarvis says:

      Good advice Don Just wondering – am I the only one collecting a supply of heritage seeds?

      • Jan Steinman says:

        “am I the only one collecting a supply of heritage seeds?”

        “Collecting” isn’t good enough.

        Are you planting them out and keeping the resulting seed?

        Some seeds (notably, beans and pulses) don’t last more than a year or two, while others can go many times as long.

      • InAlaska says:

        No. There are others.

    • We don’t know how things will end, but we do know that epidemics have been involved in a lot of population reductions in the past. We in the West seem to think that doctors can cure almost every disease, but that really isn’t the case, especially if immunity is compromised for some reason. If population declines, it would not be surprising if diseases play a major role.

  5. Stefeun says:

    President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia announced today that Russia is dropping plans for the South Stream pipeline and instead will expand a pipeline through Turkey.

    NY Times presents it as:
    “It was a rare diplomatic defeat for Mr. Putin, who said Russia would redirect the pipeline to Turkey. He painted the failure to build the pipeline as a loss for Europe and blamed Brussels for its intransigence.
    The decision also seemed to be a rare victory for the European Union and the Obama administration, which have appeared largely impotent this year as Mr. Putin annexed Crimea and stirred rebellion in eastern Ukraine.
    If there was one winner it was Turkey, which, along with China and other energy-hungry developing nations, has been exploiting the East-West rift to gain long-term energy supplies at bargain prices.”

    Globalresearch have slightly different opinion:
    “From South Stream to “Turk Stream” Pipeline: Huge Win for Turkey, Big Win For Russia, Historic Loss for EU.
    Turkey also made a killing. It’s not only the deal with Gazprom; Moscow will build no less than Turkey’s entire nuclear industry, apart from increased soft power interaction (more trade and tourism).
    Most of all, Turkey is now increasingly on the verge of becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO); Moscow is actively lobbying for it.
    This means Turkey acceding to a privileged position as a major hub simultaneously in the Eurasian Economic Belt and of course the Chinese New Silk Road(s).
    So here’s the bottom line; Russia sells even more gas – to Turkey; and the EU, pressured by the US, is reduced to dancing like a bunch of headless chickens in dark Brussels corridors wondering what hit them. The Atlanticists are back to default mode – cooking up yet more sanctions while Russia is set to keep buying more and more gold.”

    I didn’t notice any reference to currencies in above articles; I guess it won’t be in USD.
    So things are moving, and -to really understand what it means- I think we should keep an eye on Turkey’s relationship with NATO, and see if further agreements are taken by Turkey with China or Saudi Arabia, or..? Being such a huge crossroads is a dangerous place to be, but can also be very powerful. Wait and see…

    • InAlaska says:

      That’s one way to look at it. Another is that Turkey then becomes the major hub supplier of natural gas to Europe via pipelines and tankers. The premium its customers will pay will enrichen Turkey and keep Europe from catastrophe. Russia, Turkey, Europe everybody still wins.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear InAlaska and Stefeun
        The behavior of Europe relative to North Stream and South Stream has never made any sense to me. Perhaps one of you can explain.

        Russia obviously wanted to get their distribution pipes to western Europe without subjecting them to the treatment that might very well be inflicted by Poland and Ukraine. So North Stream was built through the Baltic and South Stream was to have been built through the Black Sea. If I lived in western Europe, I would be quite alarmed if my gas was coming through Ukraine…a very unstable country with a history of larceny. Why anyone in Europe would think that preventing Russia from building a more secure distribution network is somehow a ‘victory’ for Europe is a mystery to me. It seems that Russia is simply taking the gas that used to go to Europe and rerouting it to China and Turkey. It costs them some money, but it is better than dealing with the irrational leaders in Brussels.

        Am I missing something? Don Stewart

        • Creedon says:

          Why are the PTB in Washington so bent on the destruction of Russia and the leaders of the EU so willing to follow. It is a madness. This link has already been put up I think. Dimitry Orlov knows more about the subject than anyone else. http://www.peakprosperity.com/podcast/89249/dmitry-orlov-russias-patience-wearing-thin
          We are certainly succeeding in driving Russia into the Asian camp.

        • Stefeun says:

          Don, Creedon, Ed,
          I have no better explanation than yours, and I think “the irrational leaders in Brussels” are playing a very dangerous game, but maybe they have no other choice?

          PCR also seems to bet on irrationality:
          “Washington’s puppet rulers of Europe are the enablers of the neoconservative war-mongers. In all of Europe there is not a government independent of Washington. Pawns like Merkel, Cameron, and Hollande are selling out human life.

          Russian government officials, such as Putin and Lavrov, address the facts, but to Washington and its European vassals facts are not important. What is important is to destabilize Russia. The conflict that Washington has brought to Russia cannot be addressed on a factual basis.”

      • Quitollis says:

        Bulgaria loses half a billion dollars per year in transit fees because of the new deal. Their euro sceptics are very unhappy about this, they say that the EU and the US has used them as geopolitical pawns. Perhaps Bulgarians will begin to rethink the benefits of EU membership. East-West tensions tend to put strains on the border countries.



        The chairman of Bulgaria’s Attack party blames the United States and the European Union for using Bulgaria as a pawn in geopolitical games against Russia. He states that Sofia had to terminate the construction of the South Stream pipeline under Washington’s pressure.

        MOSCOW, December 4 (Sputnik) — Bulgaria could lose 400 million euro ($492 million) per year from closure of the South Stream gas pipeline as Washington and Brussels use the country as a “pawn,” the chairman of Bulgaria’s Attack party Volen Siderov told Sputnik on Thursday.

        “Supine submission to Brussels and Washington leads to no good. As a result of this policy Bulgaria could lose 400 million euro per year,” Siderov told Sputnik in an interview.

        The party chairman also added that “Brussels and Washington have started a rough geopolitical game against Russia, using Bulgaria as a pawn, as a tool in this game.”

        Siderov told the agency that several months ago, Bulgaria received “a warning” from the US ambassador to the country and a delegation of senators led by John McCain. The country’s then Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski was “literally forced to terminate the construction of the South Stream. Bulgaria obeyed,” the politician said.

    • You are right–this can be interpreted many different ways. I am not sure anyone is will come out well in the years ahead, but dropping plans for the South Stream pipeline makes it less likely that Europe will come out well. We will have to wait and see.

      • InAlaska says:

        Turkey is a member of NATO and so sending oil to Turkey is a way for all sides to save face. The Ukraine Problem is bypassed, Russia gets access to the stable markets of Europe via the pipeline network Turkey-Bulgaria-Eastern Europe, Europe gets the gas it needs, Turkey gets all sorts of benefit. This is a rational decision and underscores the FACT that these are rational actors acting in self interest NOT some apocalyptic End Game.

        • Quitollis says:

          Another perspective, the EU and Russia are increasingly hostile and Putin is weakening EU unity by diverting the gas to Turkey.



          Finally, the third group of countries are those who will suffer most and directly, Bulgaria and Serbia above all. Bulgaria will lose the $750 mln a year it could gain from gas transit. For Bulgaria, who entered the EC trap a moderately developed country- exporter of fruits, vegetables, wine and certain types of machinery to Russia and neighboring countries and just a decade after breathing “the air of liberty” has become a net importer of fruits and vegetables, a poverty-stricken third world country with the unemployment over 20% (in the previously industrial North, unemployment reaches 60%), and with the population that dwindled from 9 million to 7 million in just seven years, $750 mln a year is an astronomic sum.

          Serbia wanted Russian gas so badly that it even revolted against the EC sanctions on Russia and now accuses Putin of almost a treachery. Serbian losses from the South Stream stoppage look really serious, even more serious than Bulgarian ones: $500 mln for transit, thousands of lost working places, about $5 bln of direct and indirect investment losses… But let’s not forget that this same Serbia refused to sign a final agreement on South Stream during Putin’s visit to Beograd in October 2014. Yes, Serbia resisted EC sanctions on Russia- but let’s be honest, Brussels did not press it too hard knowing very well that the “key country” is Bulgaria and knowing also that the political elite of this country will do anything Washington and Brussels order. There was simply no need to pressure Serbia too hard.

          So now there are no triumphing cries in the Bulgarian and Serbian media; Russia will not be in Bulgaria and Serbia- but instead, it will be Turkey, who happily agreed to host the alternative route of the South Stream, with a gas hub on its borders with the EC.

          And Russia explained its position very clear: if you guys want to see the South Stream passing through your countries – YOU go to Brussels and put your cards on the table.

          With this move Russia has driven a very big nail into the “European unity”, and I shall not be surprised if Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia join Britain in leaving the EC. Russia does in Europe what Europe and the US did in Ukraine and planned to do in Russia: splitting and weakening. And if it happens, Europe will not have the right to cry and complain: what you sow, you shall mow.

          • Adam says:

            > I shall not be surprised if Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia join Britain in leaving the EC.

            EC or EU? Britain has not left the EU. Serbia was never a member – it is however a candidate country to join the EU. Candidate countries have applied to the EU and been accepted in principle. When they will actually join the EU (if at all) is not yet known. However, any that do join will be required to introduce the euro, if they meet the convergence criteria.

  6. MG says:

    When I read websites concerning the collapse after peak oil, peak resources etc., the people usually write about the food production as the main problem. But there is one even bigger problem: clothes and shoes.

    Today, many of the former industrial countries are totally dependent on the clothes and shoes from countries like China, Bangladesh, Vietnam etc. Many former industrial nations do not experience any problems regarding the self-sufficiency in food. But almost all of them are not self-sufficient regarding the clothes and shoes.

    How much agricultural land would be needed to provide clothes for todays population? Our todays high-tech clothes have features that the clothes of the previous non-industrial centuries did not have. The lower quality clothes would completely change are attitudes, habits, lifestyles, work, roles etc.

    Has anybody tried to analyze this special particular post-collapse problem?

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear MG
      As someone who used to live in St. Louis (First in Shoes; First in Beer; Last in the American League (baseball)), I think about shoes. The US is doing fine with beer and can do without baseball. One of James Howard Kunstler’s novels deals with the shoe issue. People make sandals out of old tires.

      If you look at accurate historical pictures of Native Americans, you see that their foot ware was pretty primitive. Europeans seemed to wrap their feet up with rags.

      I can see many years of scavenging clothing, but shoes need to fit. So I think foot ware is an issue.

      Don Stewart

      • Unless you live in an area with frequent sub-zero weather, you do not need shoes to survive. I’m in the Pacific Northwest, and there’s a guy here who never wears shoes. Walks around barefoot everywhere. Rides a kayak into town to minimize time walking on asphalt. It is not ideal, but it is possible.

        In colder climates, boots are obviously necessary. Once people move out of cities into the country side, boots and shoes wear out much slower on grass and dirt than on cement and asphalt.

        The rest of clothes mostly wear out due to using mechanical washer and dryer combos. Hang drying clothes, which will be a necessity anyways, will greatly extend clothing life. Washing clothes less frequently also helps; there are many people who believe blue jeans should never be washed, for example.

      • MG says:

        Dear Don Stewar,

        I live in the area close to the Czech town Zlin, where the Bata shoes empire originated (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bata_Shoes) and at the same time in the area of the former heart of the Slovak textile industry.

        I see the trend of lower and lower quality as regards especially the clothes: not so long ago the most renown world brands relocated their production to cheaper countries in order to keep the costs down. And preserve the quality. Now, even those most famous world brands are not able to produce the same good quality as before. Probably, the rising wages in the new, now already formerly cheaper countries (and other costs, too) force them to economize. When you want some sturdy clothes, you have to pay more and more. What you get in the shopping centers are clothes which are mostly for “puppets”, not for real people, as these clothes are less and less durable, made from ever thinner materials. These clothes are more and more for image, but not for real life.

        As regards the shoes, finding a good pair of sturdy shoes with modest look in those shopping centers is not always possible. E.g. ten or fifteen years ago you had no problem buying sturdy leasure shoes sold by some of the world sportwear brands that were made from artificial leather of good thicknes. Now you get leasure shoes that are mostly made from thinner and thinner materials or the artificial leather is replaced by plastics. This move from leather, through artificial leather to plastics is the move to lower and lower quality.

      • Creedon says:

        After food, clothing needs to be the #2 concern as we enter a post collapse world. So we are going to live in a world where we wear tire tread strapped to our feet and farm with wooden sticks. Not many of us would survive such a world. John L Casey says that we are entering a new solar minimum, to reach it’s coldest about 2030 at the same time that oil runs out. In 2030 we will be wearing tire treads on our feet, farming with sticks, have no oil and living in the coldest climate of the last 200 years in isolated small economic communities. Many will die.

      • I understand that in Norway, getting good enough foot ware to withstand the cold was a problem. Just a layer of animal skins was not enough to keep out the cold.

    • Quitollis says:

      better stock up on Gucci now

      • Creedon says:

        According to the IMF, China is now officially the world’s largest economy, when measured by Purchasing Power Parity, which is apparently the state of the art in measuring economies. http://peakoil.com/consumption/its-official-america-is-now-no-2 We have just driven Russia and it’s large oil and natural gas supply into the China, Asia camp. JMG calls the rulers of declining empires ‘The Senility of the Elites.’ The rulers in the state department and pentagon are operating by questionable motives.

  7. interguru says:

    Google has spent much time and effort to make renewables cost competitive with fossil fuels. They recently stated that it was an impossible goal, and cancelled their project. Here is a detailed explanation by tow of the engineers

    What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change

    Today’s renewable energy technologies won’t save us. So what will?


    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear inter guru
      Thanks for the link. I read this near the end of their article:
      ‘In carbon storage, bioengineers might create special-purpose crops to pull CO2 out of the air and stash the carbon in the soil.’

      It would doubtless comer as a shock to the two authors, but such ‘special-purpose crops’ were invented long ago by Mother Nature. Perennial grasses fit the bill nicely. They sequestered enormous amounts of carbon as they built the topsoil that we call the Midwest. Human have used various methods to release the carbon from the soil and put it into the air. We know how to put it back in the soil.

      The problem is, the method isn’t patentable. So Google couldn’t make a lot of money doing it.

      Don Stewart

      • Quitollis says:

        Don, do you think that there would need to be some compromise between the need to restore the Mid West to perennial grassland and the farming needs of the masses or would the two be mathematically compatible? In other words, can planet earth feed 7B and still soak up the carbon in your estimate? QT

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Quitollis

          There are a very great number of moving parts involved in any answser to your question. For a teaser, see Albert Bates current article on the Lima conference:


          He just hits the subject a glancing blow, and indicates that ‘serious people’ are not interested in some solution which involves a bunch of farmers doing the right thing. Serious People are interested in proprietary solutions surrounded by patents which can be turned into money by giant corporations.

          First, a thought experiment. The Ogallala irrigated lands should not be producing corn ethanol, for all the reasons that have been discussed here. They should be returned to grasslands, and would be ideal for growing the perennial grasses which sequester the carbon. They need to be grazed by cattle, because grass and herbivores have co-evolved. The areas of the Midwest which get adequate rainfall need to be producing human food rather than the corn and beans which are used by confined animal feeding operations. That doesn’t mean that there will be zero animals on that land. More likely, it will be an integrated crop and animal rotation. These integrated rotations are the kinds of farming which were studied by the decade long Iowa State trials.

          The kinds of farming which produced the Dust Bowl should be way back in the rear view mirror. We now know how to farm flat land to produce crops sustainably. Hilly land in the well-watered parts of the country should be either grassland with grazing animals or forests.

          I recently quoted the statistic that the green leaves of cowpeas produce 9 times the calories (and many times the protein and micronutrients) as the seed: black eyed peas. The grains or beans that we prefer to harvest are an order of magnitude less efficient in their use of sunlight. David Kennedy’s books reflect the lessons he has learned over many years of his own land in Kentucky and his 40 years of experience working with very poor people in the South.

          Bill Clinton, reflecting on the work of his foundation in Africa, ruefully commented that it isn’t so much the ability to grow food as it is the ability of the richest billion to hijack all the land to grow biofuels and, thus, starve the poorest billion.

          Don Stewart

          • Stefeun says:

            Excellent comment, Don.
            Love your sentence about the “serious people”, spot on.
            Re your conclusion (Clinton’s (??) comment about BigAg hijacking land for biofuels) I’m preparing a short summary with a few figures about landgrabbing, that I’ll post here soon.

          • I hadn’t heard this:

            Bill Clinton, reflecting on the work of his foundation in Africa, ruefully commented that it isn’t so much the ability to grow food as it is the ability of the richest billion to hijack all the land to grow biofuels and, thus, starve the poorest billion.

            Somehow, the whole idea of “renewables” and how we can save ourselves with them, has been highjacked into a way corporations can get rich, and the rich world can have more.

        • InAlaska says:

          The great plains and perennial grasslands were only a healthy ecosystem with the interaction of millions of herbivores (bison) that churned up the soil and recycled nutrients via their manure.

    • “Google has spent much time and effort to make renewables cost competitive with fossil fuels. They recently stated that it was an impossible goal, and cancelled their project.”

      No, that is not what they said at all. They concluded that, even if renewables could be brought down to the price of coal, it would not solve carbon emissions. The reason is that the existing coal plants would keep running; the only way it could work is if renewables were so cheap, they drove coal plants out of business.

      They then go on to state the current technology cannot achieve that goal, and they recommend power companies investing along the Google model, to accelerate innovation. Basically, they are technotopian and believe the technological singularity will save us.

      Of course, most of the “green activists” or whatever they call themselves, instead of trying to make more affordable renewables, want to simply tax coal up to the price of renewables.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear Matthew Krajcik

        Joe Romm recently wrote an article saying that no serious people think that solar or wind electricity can be produced at a low enough price to drive a coal fired power plant out of business. He refers back to his work in government.

        Silicon Valley, and Google in particular, like to use the word ‘disruptive’…completely change the landscape. The two Google engineers end with a call for the energy industry to invest in Disruptive Research. Yet Robert Rapier wrote an article prompted by the bankruptcy of a Silicon Valley backed biofuels company, pointing out that the energy industry is a very well expolored territory. Exxon and Shell are not stupid. They have invested money and, mostly, pulled out. Rapier argues that Silicon Valley is a victim of its own hubris, and overreliance on slogans such as ‘disruptive change’.

        Don Stewart

  8. Pingback: Ten Reasons Why a Severe Drop in Oil Prices is a Problem | Our Finite World

  9. Pingback: Ten Reasons Why a Severe Drop in Oil Prices is a Problem - Emerging EventsEmerging Events

Comments are closed.