First Report from Gail in China

Greetings Finite Worlders!   Gail is on her 1 month lecture tour of China.  She’s unable to access WordPress from China, but does have access to email, so she’s sending me updates to publish here on OFW.  My Byline/About appears at the bottom here, but the China Travelogue articles are authored by her and all photos are from her  We will try to keep you updated as the trip progresses. -RE

Here’s the email Recap so far from Gail

Greeting from Beijing!

I am being treated well at China University of Petroleum in Beijing. I have given four lectures to my class so far, and will give four more lectures (and a short test) to my students next week. The classroom is not heated after March 15, so students have their coats on.

I understand cutting off the heat on March 15 is pretty much standard in Beijing. Some of the graduate students have reported that their apartments are quite cold at this time of year–the night temperature gets down below 40 degrees.

The apartment I am in has  a separate heating and cooling unit, in addition to central heat. So my apartment has been as warm as I have wanted it. My apartment is intended for guests that the university wants to treat well. The apartment is not luxurious by United States standards, but it is very adequate for my needs. It is conveniently located, in the middle of the campus, so it is easy to get wherever I want to go. It even has its own machine for washing clothes, plus a rack for drying clothes. It is quite large, with a big kitchen area, living room, bedroom, and bathroom.

I have given four lectures so far to my class, and will give another four lectures next week. I have discovered that students don’t like talking very much in class. Usually, they understand written English better than spoken English, so I have tried to see that copies of my presentations are available in class. Professor Feng who invited me occasionally spends a few minutes explaining something I have said in Chinese so that the student have another chance to understand what is being said.

The classes are being video taped. I understand that they will be edited (probably to remove the Chinese portion) so that I can put the videos of the lectures up on I am attaching here the first of the lectures I gave. I will try to do write-ups of these lectures as well.

On Saturday afternoon, I am giving a lecture to MBA students. This will be a shorter overview of our problems. Actually, that lecture will be very soon. I need go over to that lecture in a few minutes.

I am being treated very well, with graduate students going with me to meals and taking me sight seeing. This is a photo of a group of us, after the dinner we had the first day I was in Beijing.

A few Pics from the trip so far…

Group who had lunch together first day

students from my class

Note from RE: Gail also included an Acrobat file of her presentation slides, however I will leave that for Gail to add after she returns.

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About Reverse Engineer

Reverse Engineer is Admin and Chief Cook & Bottlewasher on the Doomstead Diner Blog & Forum, and hosts the Collapse Cafe Video Discussions and Podcasts, and the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant spleen venting Collapse-tainment show. Fans of George Carlin, Bill Hicks and Rick Mercer tend to like the material, Academic folks, not so much.

110 thoughts on “First Report from Gail in China

  1. Thank you Reverse Engineer for keeping us informed.
    I went to Beijing last year around february, while it was
    difficult to experience chinese opinon of the rest of the
    world, I believe many are aware of the current issues
    specially those with family overseas. However I am not
    sure how to feel about the chinese government intentions
    it is like they allow some information in and out except anything
    subversive, also I would like to see how much first hand
    information is handed out to Ms. Tverberg in regards
    to political plans for the future of energy.

    I hope Ms. Tverberg has a fruitful time over there, and hope
    she is able to try peking duck, which is quite nice.

    • Bloomberg, the EIA, the IEA, and pretty much the entirely of the MSM, along with even some of the alternate press like Wolf Richter, faithfully evangelize the talking points being spun by the likes of Obama and Rex Tillerson, chairman of ExxoMobil.

      Production figures from the Texas RRC, however, tell a quite different story. Here, for instance, is a graph of EIA production figures for Texas, along with TRRC figures, from a link ( ) Don Stewart provided the other day. Notice how production as reported by the TRRC began differing from EIA production figures last June, with the difference growing more pronounced every month since.

      TRRC figures show Texas production declined in January, whereas the EIA claims an increase.

      The fiction Bloomberg, the EIA, IEA, the MSM and folks like Wolf Richter are propagating is what Art Berman, in this video, calls “a beautiful story.” For those fond of fairy tales, the official storyline is great stuff.

      • I have traded emails with Wolf Richter and he does not want to or is incapable of understanding this situation. I believe he is a retired banker so that would explain it.

        Likewise whomever Tyler Durden is at Zero Hedge.

        He has half the story correct (i.e. that a collapse is coming) but refuses to understand, in spite of the evidence, that it is oil related. I have also corresponded with this person Durden and his position is pretty much the same as the fools who rant about the Fed day after day, year after year: ‘the PTB are stupid and that is why we are going to collapse’

        If one suggests that when collapse strikes it will be a death blow to BAU and that QE and ZIRP and all these other policies that the ZHers despise, have kept food on the table for the past 6+ years, that is dismissed with a simpleton’s response of ‘they are stupid – we will recover when the stupidity and corruption stop’

        When the evidence is put in front of your face (ZH runs Gail’s articles) and you refuse to acknowledge facts, then there is most definitely stupidity involved.

        Either that or self-preservation both psychologically and financially.

        If ZH acknowledges the obvious then the entire site may as well be incinerated because it is nothing more than white noise; it is irrelevant, and it is just plain wrong. Rather than attacking the central bankers it should be worshiping them.

        There would also be mental toll to pay because recognizing that this is an incurable, terminal disease is devastating for most people.

        Tough to get up for work if your work involves believing that there is hope for a recovery.

        • Gail writes in an Academic style acceptable enough for the Tyler Durdens on ZH to publish her. I am not so fortunate of course. The only Website that picks up my stuff periodically is Global Economic Intersection.

          These guys, and Wolf Richter also have a very conventional view, and like most people believe the Industrial Economy will continue onward, just we will have a Financial Collapse here for a while. They don’t see the connection between Resource Depletion and the Economic system. Actually, they REFUSE to see this connection, it causes too much Cognitive Dissonance.

          Also similar in this regard is Neil Howe, who wrote The Fourth Turning handbook of collapse. He charts a pattern of crashes and repeated recoveries. He doesn’t seem to grasp that this time REALLY IS DIFFERENT. There won’t be a recovery, at least not of Industrial Civilization. How many people can actually make it through the Zero Point remains an open question though.


        • Speaking of the nexus of energy, banking and China, there was a great article in the “Democracy” journal the other day on the subject of banking and China.

          “The Coming China Crisis”

          The author, Richard Vague, gets a lot right in his analysis. He doesn’t, for instance, succumb to the defactualized nonsense we hear from both sides of the ideological divide in the United States. To wit:

          “Neither of the two dominant economic theories of our time forecast the coming storm. The doves—those more in favor of lower interest rates and government stimulus—were sanguine, unconcerned by rapid loan growth. The hawks—those more focused on curbing the money-supply expansion through higher interest rates—were sounding dire warnings of inflation. Both were wrong, but neither has since changed its theory.”

          However, missing from Vague’s analysis are the factors which Gail Tverberg brings to the conversation: depleting natural resources and environmental degredation.

          Unmistakable is the correlation between 1) the rapid run-up of private debt in the world’s major economic powers and 2) the onset of high oil prices. Both began in the early 1970s.

          I suppose the million dollar question is this: “Is the run-up in private debt being caused by high oil prices, or is it just another run-of-the-mill crisis of capitalism?”

          Gail argues the former. If she is right, then the problems facing the world are far more intractable than Vauge forsees. His solution to the surfeit of private debt: “If too much capacity and too many bad loans are the problems, the solutions are time and capital: time for organic growth to absorb the excess capacity, and capital to repair banks and borrowers.” But if Gail is right, then the “organic growth” Vague speaks of will be extremely difficult to achieve, unless people can find some way of being productive without consuming large quantities of fossil fuels. And what are the possiblities of that?

          For those on the left, of course, the transition to a carbon-free existence will be a snap. It will be painless and sacrifice-free. The future, they tell us, is all peaches and cream. And in fact, their future carbon-free utopia will be a fairer, more just and equitable place than what we live in now.

          Utopia, therefore, is just as alive and well on the left as it is on the right, even though the left’s utopia is quite different from Rex Tillerson’s carbon utopia, described by Michael Klare here:

          “Perpetuating the Reign of Carbon”

          “Put together,” Klare concludes of Tillerson’s theology, “this represents a dazzling vision of a future in which growing numbers of people enjoy the benefits of abundant energy and unlimited growth,” and are “the futuristic fantasies deployed by the fossil fuel companies to perpetuate their dominance.”

          But here’s the rub. Klare, being a darling of the left, never takes a similar wrecking ball to the “futuristic fantasies” of the left which are used to “perpetuate +their+ dominance.”

          Here is a good example of the “futuristic fantasies” being peddled by the left:

          “The present global energy system (85% fossil fuels) under the rule of capital is unsustainable on multiple grounds, in a world of extreme inequality and ever closer to the tipping points for climate hell. The challenge posed to all committed to multidimensional class struggle is the rapid phaseout of this system and the simultaneous creation of a global wind/solar power infrastructure with the capacity to deliver the minimum energy consumption required for the world standard life expectancy for all children born on our planet (roughly 3.5 kilowatt/person). We demonstrate that this goal is achievable in 20-30 years using current technology, with a projected 9 billion people in a world with primary energy production corresponding to roughly 32 trillion watts (now it is 18 trillion watts); go to for our 2011 ‘A solar transition is possible’ and much more.”

          That’s a pretty tall order. In 20-30 years the world will have a population of 9 billion people, who will consume roughly 32 trillion total watts of energy, an 80% increase over current consumption of 18 trillion watts. Furthermore, 90% of the world’s current energy system of 18 trillion watts — that is fossil and nuclear — will be phased out and abandoned. This leaves the total sum of new wind and solar infrastructure to be built out in the next 20-30 years with a capacity that exceeds 30 trillion watts. And on top of that, all this can be done “using current technology.”

          So what we see is that the left’s future wind and solar energy utopia is just as much of a “futuristic fantasy” as Rex Tillerson’s future carbon energy utopia. (But of course don’t tell darlings of the left like Michael Klare or Naomi Klein that.)

          The underlying problem is this: The US left and right are not the opposite of each other, but the mirror image of each other. They are twins, but wearing different hats. They are both sects of an overarching stealth religion, the religion of “Positivism.”

          In “Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern,” John Gray gives a little bit of the history of how Positivism evolved, and how it came to be the underlying faith of both the US left and the US right. Here’s Gray:

          “From the eighteenth century onwards, it came to be believed that the growth of scientific knowledge and the emancipation of mankind marched hand in hand. This Enlightenment faith — for it soon acquired the trappings of religion — was most clearly expressed in an exotic, sometimes grotesque but vastly and enduringly influential early nineteenth.century intellectual movement that called itself Positivism.”

          “The Positivists believed that as societies came to be based on science they were bound to become more alike. Scientific knowledge would engender a universal morality in which the aim of society was as much production as possible. Through the use of technology, humanity would extend its power over the Earth’s resources and overcome the worst forms of natural scarcity. Poverty and war could be abolished. Through the power given it by science, humanity would be able to create a new world.

          “There has always been disagreement about the nature of this new world. For Marx and Lenin, it would be a classless egalitarian anarchy, for Fukuyama and the neo-liberals a universal free market. These views of a future founded on science are very different; but that has in no way weakened the hold of the faith they express.

          “Through their deep influence on Marx, Positivist ideas inspired the disastrous Soviet experiment in central economic planning. When the Soviet system collapsed, they re-emerged in the cult of the free market. It came to be believed that only American style ‘democratic capitalism’ is truly modern, and that it is destined to spread everywhere….”

          “This may seem a fantastical creed, and so it is. What is more fantastic is that it is still widely believed. It shapes the programmes of mainstream political parties throughout the world. It guides the policies of agencies such as the International Monetary Fund. It animates the ‘war on terror’, in which Al Qaeda is viewed as a relic of the past.”

          “This view is simply wrong…. Like Marxists and neo-liberals, radical Islamists see history as a prelude to a new world. All are convinced they can remake the human condition. If there is a uniquely modern myth, this is it.”

          • Yes, the utopian left never talks dollar cost. It drives me crazy. 30TW built in the next 30 years.

            Let’s see at $2/watt. That is 60 trillion dollars. 2 Trillion dollars per year. More than supposed combined war budget of all the nations on the planet.

            Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Kum bay ya, my Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

            Someone’s laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s laughing, my Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

            Someone’s crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s crying, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s crying, my Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

            Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Hear me singing, my Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

            Someone’s praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s praying, Lord, kum bay ya;
            Someone’s praying, Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

            Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya;
            Oh, I need you, my Lord, kum bay ya,
            O Lord, kum bay ya.

          • Thank you Glenn for your interesting post.
            Appreciate the remarks about faith and dogma, how they’re artificial fabrications aiming to achieve some delusional utopia in the best (worst?) case, more often to serve particular interests. And how science, language, etc.. are hijacked and twisted in this purpose.

          • Our energy situation is very simple: Suspend disbelief for a few moments and believe that clean nuclear fusion is proven today. It will take ten years until the first viable plant is online, and twenty to thirty years to make a sizeable impact on our needs.
            It is already too late, and it will not solve most of the problems that flow from oil unaffordability.

  2. On March 12, François RODDIER made a conference at The Shift Project, called:
    “Thermodynamics of Economic Transitions”.

    Here’s an introduction text, Google translation of the latest post on his blog:

    F. Roddier thinks we cannot avoid the collapse, but we could smoothen the landing by using additional alternative currencies (and provided that we have time to implement them at sufficient scale before the crash…).

    There’s a link to the slides of his presentation (128 slides) at the end of his post ; both are in French, but it seems that you can get them in auto-translated English if you open them from the translated post linked above (should work at least for the written version).

    Here’s another link to the slides (in French):
    The description of alternative currency is in chapter VII “Que Faire?” (“What should we do?”), slide #96 and followings (see also §.13 page 12 of the written version, “The use of Two Currencies”).

    Also available on Youtube (1h17min video, French only):

    • Thanks for posting RE, good to hear that all is well with Gail.

      Looked at your link, you maybe need to explain the money angle a bit more.

        • Thanks for the link to the Money Valve.
          I should perhaps explain that money comment a bit more. I recall reading a blog – “extremeearlyretirement” – where the guy priced everything he did, including the cost of his daily porridge, and built a spreadsheet to forecast how long it would take him to become a millionaire. Extreme certainly, but I had to admire his focus and determination. I look at some seedlings I buy, and think, It would be chaper just to buy the vegetables already washed and prepared from the shop, if all costs are included.

  3. I got an Email from Gail with Responses to the early posting in the commentariat. Here they are:

    The Internet has been down completely here for most of the last day. Now I am getting e-mail, but still am having trouble reading web sites. The network seems to have been down for everyone. As far a I know, others are not having the same problems with web sites that I am. It will be easier to check on website problems tomorrow (Monday).

    Regarding responses to these comments:

    To RobinP (4:41am)

    I am not sure where you come to the conclusion that I am not qualified and might become brainwashed or become a secret agent. I have had as much schooling as most of the so-called experts, but not in exactly the same fields. I have known Prof. Lianyong Feng since 2009. Prof. Feng met me in 2009, when Prof. Charles Hall invited me to speak at his Biophysical Economics Conference in Syracuse, NY. I first visited Petroleum University in Beijing, at Prof. Feng’s request in 2011. Since then, I have written (by myself) two peer reviewed academic papers on energy-related topics, and have co-authored two other energy-related academic papers. The two papers I have co-authored have been with Prof Feng and his former student, Prof. Jianliang Wang. So I know these folks fairly well. I also have peer reviewed a number of energy-related academic papers, since academic journals consider me capable in this field. My papers have been cited by many other academic papers.

    To Stefeun (3:49 am)

    Regarding the number of student I will have talked to, I am not certain I know yet. The class has about 60 registered students. There are also a number of professors and graduate students who have sat in on my class, when their schedule permitted–the room my class is in holds about 80 students. I spoke to a group of about 30 MBA students on Friday. Both my regular class, and the lecture for the MBA class, were recorded, with the idea that folks who could not attend could see the recordings. I am not quite certain how the next three weeks will work out in terns of who I talk to when, but I am sure that there will be more people involved.

    With respect to answering questions, I have probably answered more questions of graduate students and faculty than students in my class so far. The students are quite unsure of their English, and worried about asking questions. Prof. Feng has been involved to some extent in three way discussions, with Prof. Feng providing an English-Chinese translation of what I am saying to the them, and also telling me what questions they have in English. Even the graduate students have some difficulty with spoken English.

    The pollution level was high one day, but generally hasn’t been bad. (I expect not having the heat on in buildings has helped, as has breezy spring weather.) The pollution level was far worse when I visited Mumbai, India.

    To yt75 (8:18 am)

    I am not sure I have a good answer to your question. The students in the class are students in a new major called “Energy Economics and Management”. So they come with more interest in this subject than the average student. The course does not have a stated prerequisite, so I have a mixture of different levels of undergraduate students, plus graduate students and faculty members sitting in. I have been providing copies of my PowerPoint slides in advance, so that the students can take them home and look up words they don’t understand. The more conscientious students seem to be using them in this way. But they are still pretty hesitant about asking questions in English during the class period.

    To kakatoa (9:41 am)

    The building I am staying in has hot water central heat, plus a mini heat pump both in the living room and bed room of my apartment. The class rooms and offices also seemed to have hot water heat. The heat was on the first day I was here, and both the classroom and the graduate student office were way too hot. The large number of people in fairly small rooms tended to raise the temperature a lot. I found I needed to take off layers of clothing to be comfortable. Once the heat was turned off, both the graduate student office and the classroom were a bit on the cool side, but more comfortable. It is easier to live with a room being a little cool, especially if a person has a jacket that can be worn, than it is to live with a room that is way too hot. I expect that they are not able to regulate the amount of heat very well, and cutting off the heat on March 15 “works” fairly well for quite a few buildings, especially if there are a lot of people in small rooms.

    (I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that the hot water heat comes from burning coal. I know i have read in the past that the really bad pollution days in Beijing occurred when the heat was turned on in the fall. On a related subject, someone here remarked to me that the level of pollution did not change much when most of the cars were off the road for the Chinese New Year, suggesting that the ultimate cause of pollution was not so much vehicles as other types of pollution, particularly coal. )

    • Many Thanks RE for doing the messenger job (and house-keeper, emcee, ..!)
      And of course, thanks to Gail for taking time to read us and write answers.

      Just ran across a not-so-bad article in the we-should-start-doing-something-but-we-dont-know-what series. (of course, nothing about the “why”, esp.nothing about energy)

      The author suggests Utopia:
      “SOME quake in terror as we approach the Terminator scenario, in which clever machines take over the world. After all, it isn’t sci-fi when Stephen Hawking says things like, “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.”

      But before the robots replace us, we face the challenge of decreasing real wages resulting, among other factors, from automation and outsourcing, which will itself be automated before long. Inequality (you don’t need more statistics on this, do you?) is the biggest social challenge facing us. (Let’s call climate change, which has the potential to be apocalyptic rather than just awful, a scientific challenge.) And since wealthy people don’t spend nearly as high a percentage of their incomes as poor people do, much wealth is sitting around not doing its job.

    • Thanks Gail for your replies, and thanks RE for unqualifiedly reversing the engineering problems of the internet connection to-from Beijing. So if I understand your reply correctly, you have been granted recognition as something of an expert even though you haven’t had formal “qualifications” such as any degree in the subject. While your expertise has long been obvious to many of us following since oildrum times, I am guessing the key factor in your gaining “official” acceptance as an expert has hanged on publishing a significant amount in the high readership theoildrum and subsequently your own blog here? Or perhaps you could elaborate/correct my impression? Cheers, RobinP

    • Thanks for the replies Gail, I’ll suggest that you might have more success downloading the website and reading the file off the hard disk if your connection is really bad.

  4. Most university students in the US live sheltered lives. From the picture I am guessing the same is true in China. I think most people are happy not to worry about the big picture.

  5. No problem on doing some Housekeeping for Gail while she is away and leap frogging the Chinese censorship problem. Gail and me both run WP based blogs, in fact the versions are almost identical so I can do maintenance here while doing my usual Diner shtick. 🙂 It popped into my head to suggest we try this when she said she probably would not be able to post from China for a month, and leaving a Blog Fallow for a month is just not a good practice, regular blog followers want regular updates. Besides, it’s very interesting to get Real Time reports from China.

    So far it seems to be working pretty good. I did send Gail another update with the last 50 or so comments, but haven’t heard back from her today yet.


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