Supplemental energy puts humans in charge

Energy is a subject that is greatly misunderstood. Its role in our lives is truly amazing. We humans are able to live and move because of the energy that we get from food. We count this energy in calories.

Green plants are also energy dependent. In photosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide and water into the glucose that they need to grow.

Ecosystems are energy dependent as well. The ecologist Howard T. Odum in Environment, Power, and Society explains that ecosystems self-organize in a way that maximizes the useful energy obtained by the group of plants and animals.

Economies created by humans are in some respects very similar to ecosystems. They, too, self-organize and seem to be energy dependent. The big difference is that over one million years ago, pre-humans learned to control fire. As a result, they were able to burn biomass and indirectly add the energy this provided to the food energy that they otherwise had available. The energy from burning biomass was an early form of supplemental energy. How important was this change?

How Humans Gained Dominion Over Other Animals

James C. Scott, in Against the Grain, explains that being able to burn biomass was sufficient to turn around who was in charge: pre-humans or large animals. In one cave in South Africa, he indicates that a lower layer of remains found in the cave did not show any carbon deposits, and hence were created before pre-humans occupying the cave gained control of fire. In this layer, skeletons of big cats were found, along with scattered gnawed bones of pre-humans.

In a higher layer, carbon deposits were found. In this layer, pre-humans were clearly in charge. Their skeletons were much more intact, and the bones of big cats were scattered about and showed signs of gnawing. Who was in charge had changed.

There is other evidence of human domination becoming possible with the controlled use of fire. Studies show a dramatic drop in numbers of large mammals not long after settlement by humans in several areas outside Africa. (Jeremy Lent, The Patterning Instinct, based on P. S. Martin’s “Prehistoric overkill: A global model” in Quaternary Extinctions: A Prehistoric Revolution.)

In recent times, humans have added fossil fuel energy, hydroelectric energy and nuclear energy to their “toolbox.” All of these energy sources have allowed humans to stay in charge.

Whether humans’ control of energy is good or bad depends on a person’s point of view. Without humans being in charge, the human population would likely be similar in size to that of the populations of chimps or gorillas–in other words, tiny in comparison to today’s human population. Furthermore, humans would be located only in the warmer parts of the world. As we will see in the next section, humans would not have evolved in the direction they did. Instead, they would have continued with only the abilities they had as pre-humans. They would have continued living in the wild, eating raw food and spending half of the day chewing it.

How the Controlled Burning of Biomass Produced Amazing Results 

Pre-humans learned to control the burning of sticks and other biomass over one million years ago. This new-found ability helped our ancestors in many ways:

(1) Pre-humans could cook part of their food. (Richard Wrangham, Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human) The ability to cook food increased the variety of food that could be eaten because some foods need to be cooked to be edible. Chewing time could be greatly reduced (Chris Organ et al.), leaving more time for tool making. Moreover, cooking allowed nutrients in food to be better absorbed.

(2) Less of the energy from food was needed for the maintenance of large teeth, jaws, and guts. Instead, more energy could go into building a larger brain. In this way, our ancestors could outsmart their predators, instead of depending on their muscles and teeth.

(3) Pre-humans could use fire as a tool to burn down unwanted trees and brush, making it  easier to capture prey and encouraging new plant growth of a type more suitable as human food. Also, the fire itself could be used to frighten predators.

(4) Stone tools could be made sharper using heat.

(5) The heat from fire could be used to enlarge the range where pre-humans were able to live.

(6) Larger brains and frequent gatherings around campfires allowed language to develop.

(7) Humans, with their larger brains, were able to selectively breed different types of plants and animals, choosing characteristics that were better suited to their needs. As humans tamed fire and animals, they themselves became (in some sense) tamer.

The Physics Reason Why Energy Is So Important

We are all familiar with how the energy from food allows humans to grow. We also know how solar energy allows green plants to grow. Most physics instruction focuses on thermodynamically closed systems—that is, systems to which no new energy supply is added. Sometimes isolated systems are discussed—again a situation where no additional energy is available. In these situations, there is no growth—only a gradual depletion of the available energy supply, leading ultimately to “heat death.”

More recent analysis has shown that thermodynamically open systems, which are characterized by inflows of energy, are very different. They can, and do, change and grow. Hurricanes grow when heat from warm seawater is available. Stars grow as the result of the chemical reactions taking place within them. All of these structures (known as dissipative structures) are temporary in that they cannot continue to exist when suitable flows of energy are no longer available. They can also be undone in other ways, such as too much pollution or by other forms of “entropy.”

On earth, the energy system we experience is an open system. Energy from the sun is constantly being supplied. Energy made available by burning biomass and from burning fossil fuels is also being supplied, as is nuclear energy, in the form of electricity. The energy obtained from burned fossil fuels, in fact, reflects the re-release of ancient solar energy that was once stored in the bodies of small plants and animals. Under the proper temperature and pressure conditions, this stored energy had been slowly transformed into fossil fuels.

The Hidden Nature of Energy Consumption 

When humans burn fossil fuels today, they are able to access the use of this stored energy. Some researchers have talked about the ability to utilize fossil fuel energy as being similar to having “energy slaves.” In making this analogy, it has been observed that a human adult produces roughly the energy output of an always-on 100 watt light bulb. Even when humans were still hunter-gatherers, they made some use of energy slaves, approximately tripling the amount of energy available to the economy at that time. By the time the industrial period was reached, always-on watts per capita had climbed to 8000, indicating that energy available to industrialized humans was 80 times as high (8000/100 = 80) as the amount expected based on food energy alone. The huge increase represented primarily the use of fossil fuels.

Figure 1. Relationship between human energy use and population.

In Against the Grain, Scott finds that slave labor was very widely used in early civilizations. Male slaves were often used for tasks requiring heavy labor, such as mining and building roads. Today’s fossil fuel energy slaves can do these things and much more. For example, a truck operated on a road makes liberal use of fossil fuel energy slaves partly to make the road, partly to build the truck and partly as fuel to operate the truck.

Any commercial process requires energy in one or more forms. Part of the energy can be human energy. This human energy can be used in many ways such as typing on a computer, listening, thinking, operating machinery, speaking, digging in the ground, and walking. The rest of the energy is likely to consist partly of electricity and partly of fossil fuels burned for heat. (Some of this heat energy is converted to rotary motion in order to power vehicles.) Constructing a building requires a tremendous amount of energy; manufacturing a car is also energy-intensive. Heating and lighting a building require energy. Even obtaining a potable glass of cold water requires energy.

Figure 2 is a chart showing a breakdown of non-transportation energy consumption in the United States, based on data from the United States Energy Information Administration.

Figure 2. United States non-transportation energy consumption by sector, based on information from the US Energy Information Administration.

The residential percentage of non-transportation energy consumption rose from 23% in 1949 to 29% in 2017. We don’t have a world estimate of the breakdown of energy consumption for residential use, but the United States is probably unusually high with its 29% residential share. According to a study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, China’s energy consumption was only 11% residential in 2014.

If people do not understand how much of our energy consumption is hidden, it is easy for them to overestimate the benefit that can be achieved through energy conservation by individual citizens. A major use of supplemental energy (that is, beyond that available from food consumption) is to provide finished goods of all sorts, such as cars, homes, electricity transmission lines and roads. Supplemental energy consumption also provides the gift of free time. Without modern agricultural equipment, many more of us would be working long hours in the fields, leaving little time for advanced education and other modern pursuits. Another benefit of supplemental energy consumption is a much longer life expectancy, thanks to such things as clean water and antibiotics. Indirectly, supplemental energy consumption also provides jobs that pay well. Without supplemental energy consumption, there would be few jobs other than digging in the ground with a stick, in an attempt to grow food.

In a very real sense, the availability of inexpensive energy supplies that work to power existing machinery and equipment is what allows today’s economy to function.

How Can We Tell If Human Carrying Capacity Has Been Reached?

If we are discussing primates such as chimpanzees, baboons and gorillas, it is fairly easy to tell when the carrying capacity of the environments they inhabit has been reached. These primates depend on local food and water supplies. If there is not enough food to go around, the weakest and the lowest ranking will find themselves without enough high quality food, bringing the population back below the carrying capacity. In some cases, as population density rises, there may be aggression toward immigrants to the territory. Females have even been observed to kill the infant newborns of community members.

Humans have control of various types of energy supplies, in addition to food. These energy supplies make it easier to produce enough food for the overall population. People today are used to having things that wild animals do not have, such as clothing, education, climate controlled homes, transportation, medical care and retirement benefits. It should not be surprising that in our case, the first sign of reaching carrying capacity is something other than running out of food. In fact, the laws of physics suggest that reaching human carrying capacity is unlikely to be signaled by running out of any energy product, such as oil.

Instead, the issue that tends to arise as humans reach carrying capacity is increasing wage disparity. This issue arose in the 1930s, and it seems to be rising again now. Increasing wage disparity is a way, within our economy, of squeezing out some members, if there are not enough energy supplies to go around. Providing climate-controlled homes, automobiles, paved roads and electricity transmission lines for people all over the world would take a huge amount of energy supplies–far more than we have available today. Wage disparity assures that some groups cannot afford these goods and services, thereby effectively holding down demand for these goods and services.

Many people believe that oil prices are likely to rise very high, if there is a shortage. However, if wage disparity grows sufficiently large, any spike in prices is likely to be short lived. Instead, the energy limit that we are reaching may be prices that do not rise high enough to encourage adequate production of energy products. Without sufficient production of these energy products, there will be a shortfall of finished goods and services.

Physicist François Roddier in Thermodynamique de l’évolution : Un essai de thermo-bio-sociologie explains that when there is inadequate energy for an economy, the situation is similar to some members of the economy being “frozen out” through low wages. The same forces allow a rising portion of the wages (and other wealth) to go to the very rich. This situation is like steam rising. These individuals do not use very much of their wages to purchase goods and services made with commodities. Instead, they tend to use their wages for services (such as tax avoidance) that are not very energy intensive. Also, they tend to use their wealth in ways that tends to drive up asset prices, without adding true value. For example, buying previously issued shares of stock can have this effect.

Eventually, the poor are frozen out. In fact, in cases of extreme wage disparity, the problems can spread further as governments find it impossible to collect enough taxes to finance their spending.

What Characteristics Do Energy Supplies Need to Have?

Unless we are willing to give up our dominion over other species, including microbes, humans need to secure a supply of energy products that grows with human population. These energy products must precisely match the needs of current infrastructure. They also need to be inexpensive and non-polluting. They cannot add new problems of their own–new types of entropy.

At this point, we are running into difficulties. Fossil fuels are becoming ever more expensive to extract. They also lead to carbon dioxide and other pollution problems. Nuclear energy seems to be quite dangerous, given the problems with waste disposal and multiple accidents, including the one at Fukushima.

Wind and solar, and indeed hydropower, are not really solutions, either. For one thing, they are not very controllable. If humans expect to control their environment, they need to be in control of their energy resources. Even waterpower can vary by a huge amount, from month to month and from year to year.

Figure 3. California Hydroelectric Generation by Year, Based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Hydroelectric, wind and solar can be used in limited amounts, as part of a portfolio of energy products, but they cannot be used on their own, unless they are hugely overbuilt. In that case, only a very small portion (which can then be controlled) is used. Many people believe that storage can be used as an alternative to backup energy supplies, but the cost of adequate storage seems to be extraordinarily high because of the long-term nature of required storage. (Note also the apparent need for multiple-year storage indicated by the pattern on hydroelectric generation shown in Figure 3.) If humans expect to be in control of other species, humans need to be in control of the supply of energy resources.

Of course, choosing not to be in control is another option. In such a case, we can expect human death rates to rise rapidly. If this happens, women will again be valued for their ability to produce large numbers of children. Men will be valued for their strong muscles. The world will become a very different place.

About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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2,426 Responses to Supplemental energy puts humans in charge

  1. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Copper… is trading more than 20 percent below its 52-week high, officially entering bear market territory… potentially signalling an economic slowdown is happening around the world.”

    “”Dr. Copper,” as it is sometimes referred to by economists and finance experts, is often seen as a leading indicator of future economic trends since it is utilized in a number of different sectors. Copper is used in home construction and consumer products, as well as manufacturing.”

  2. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The Turkish lira rallied from record lows on Wednesday after Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said Qatar was standing by its “brothers in Turkey” as he announced a $15bn investment into the country’s financial markets and banks.”

  3. Harry McGibbs says:

    “The pound has endured its longest losing streak against the dollar since the financial crisis a decade ago because of mounting fears that the UK will crash out of the European Union in March and amid signs that the economy is struggling to gather momentum.”

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Fears are growing that Britain’s property bubble is about to burst. A string of indicators last night triggered concerns that the market is running out of steam – and could be heading for a correction or even a crash. Prices in London are falling at the fastest pace since the financial crisis – but the declines are not limited to the capital.”

      • Growing Asian demand is what has been what is holding up the world economy. It now seems to be failing. See this article:

        Oil Demand Growth Starts To Weaken In Asia
        Aug 15, 2018

        According to shipping data quoted by Reuters, the combined oil imports of China and India—the countries solely responsible for buying 12 percent of the world’s oil—were 500,000 bpd lower in July compared to the average combined imports of 12.4 million bpd in January to June this year.

        China’s crude oil imports in July rose for the first time in three months, but were still at their third lowest monthly level so far this year due to the weakened crude demand from the small independent refiners, the so-called teapots, who grapple with higher taxes and waning margins.

        The slowdown in import growth in India and China has been affecting the pace of demand growth in the world’s fastest-growing oil consuming region, Asia.

        This is a big reason that oil prices cannot keep rising. Asian markets’ lack of demand affects markets of all kinds, including the UK.

    • xabier says:

      ‘Struggling to gather momentum’: that’s a good one.

      ‘This parrot is dead!’ ‘No sir, just struggling to gather momentum!’

      If after 10 years of stimulus the UK is in its present state….

      • Fast Eddy says:

        The patient’s cancer metastasized…. it is in the heart … the brain … and most other organs…. the doctors are dripping epic amounts of drugs into him…. and urging him to run a 100m dash…. he is struggling… to gain momentum….

  4. Fast Eddy says:

    We are … seriously … f789ed

    A hearty bowl of oatmeal is a healthy way to start your day, but according to a new study, that bowl of oatmeal can contain dangerous levels of glyphosate, a weed-killing chemical linked to cancer.
    The study, carried out by the non-profit Environmental Working Group, found that 43 out of 45 popular breakfast cereals tested in three locations in the US contained traces of glyphosate. 31 of these contained dangerously high levels of the chemical.

  5. Baby Doomer says:
  6. Rodster says:

    You want to see what delusional looks like? have a look at these comments on Kunstler’s latest blog with Steve St. Angelo of the srsroccoreport:

    August 15, 2018 at 6:42 am #
    No doubt oil was easier to get in the beginning; it’s only natural that you take the easy oil first. But all indications are we have plenty of harder oil to last as long as we will need it to. Obviously at some point it will no longer be worthwhile to extract the oil, but that point appears to be pretty far off still. By that time we will have much better alternatives. We will probably stop extracting oil because the demand has dropped more than because it is too expensive to drill.

    I have no problem with a retirement party for the oil age. It’s been great, but let’s get on to something better. It will probably be a pretty long retirement party, though.
    August 15, 2018 at 5:02 pm #
    And you missed the entire point the previous poster DurangoKid was trying to make. In order to create alternative energy, you need energy and that energy comes from fossil fuels. Without fossil fuels alternative energy is a fantasy or fairy tail. In fact fossil fuels has made possible everything we wear and eat.

    We got to where we are today because of fossil fuels and everything we produced along the way. Alternative energy won’t save the day because it requires fossil fuels.
    August 15, 2018 at 9:47 pm #
    Actually, DurangoKid’s post was exclusively about fossil fuels; he didn’t even mention alternative energy,

    Now I am well aware that we use fossil fuels to create alternative energy systems. And for the near term, we will continue to use fossil fuels to create alternative energy systems. Luckily, we have enough fossil fuels to do that.

    Of course, as more non-fossil fuel energy comes along, we will use more and more of that to make additional alternative energy systems. Then the alternative energy won’t rquire fossil fuels.

    • There is an awfully lot of thinking that ultimately comes from the belief that we are seeing peak oil. In their view, peak oil won’t matter, because we will be able to get oil out practically indefinitely, as prices rise. We will also be able to get out other fossil fuels, and we will be able to substitute renewables. Somehow, we can get along with very much less, if we only learn to live sustainably. Our big concern should be climate change.

      I attend an Atlanta monthly group called “Atlanta Beyond Oil” at least some of the time. This is where I get to see and hear what Peak Oilers are thinking about now. I occasionally give half hour talks, but mostly I make comments of five minutes or less. I seem to be in a different world than this group is in. They are very concerned about electric cars. One regular member just got his new Tesla 3, and wanted to give rides to anyone who would take them before the last meeting. There have been several others with earlier Tesla models who have at least visited the meeting, and others have Nissan Leafs. They are very concerned about how awful fossil fuels and fracking are. They root for laws that will encourage more use of wind and solar. They have very little understanding of how the financial system could be connected to what is going on. Very few read my articles. They read the what main stream media says.

      I sometimes feel like I am banging my head against the wall, but they are nice folks, and “sort of” listen to what I am saying. They certainly mean well. They are so fixated on the standard story that they cannot imagine any other view to be correct. They seem to sort of listen to what I am saying, but my occasional 30 minute talks do not even slightly make a dent in their pre-existing understanding of the situation.

      • jupiviv says:

        The people you are referring to are “non” rather than “peak” -oilers. They argue a non-oil-based future for industrial civ is possible and peak oil probably serves as a premise. Usually for collapse pundits and enthusiasts, peak oil = peak affordable oil.

      • Rodster says:

        This particular group fails to understand the connection of how fossil fuels work. They first cannot comprehend that energy producing nations make more money selling it than using it. If demand goes down, then their economies falter as we’ve seen too many times in the past. If everyone on this planet were to cut fossil fuel usage by 50% the entire global economic system would completely and permanently collapse.

        They think that alternative energy grows on trees or requires little fossil fuel inputs. They are sadly mistaken. If they think that alternative energy which globally is around 2-3% of total energy used will generate enough power in the future to keeps the lights on in NYC, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, London, Paris, Berlin etc 365 days of the year, 24 hrs a day. Then they must believe in sunshine, rainbows and unicorns and that unicorns produce skittles as a waste product. That’s fantasyland.
        According to British Petroleum we currently have as of 2017, 50.2 years left of proven reserves left and that includes everything we know about that still needs to be extracted out of the ground. Fifty years time is not a long time away when we are so addicted to fossil fuels, we can’t pull ourselves away from it.

        They think we will discover this magical energy source that will provide an unlimited supply of energy. Again, utter rubbish. If it were possible, we would be making the transition now. Instead we are fighting amongst ourselves to take the last remaining pockets of oil from the weakest nations. John Michael Greer wrote a great article on this and I believe it was called: “Technological Fairytales”.

      • Fast Eddy says:

        The Mot and MSM are doing a very good job at sedating the masses with PR

        • Tim Groves says:

          Just yesterday evening I had a long phone call from an old friend (he’s 65 years old and I’ve known him for 30 years) who is a college teacher here in Japan. He phoned me up to tell me how horrible Donald Trump is and to lament globbly wobbly and then went on a rant against the way smartphones are destroying humanity. I agreed with him on the third point.

          After half an hour the subject turned to energy and he had no trouble envisaging a renewable future that leaves us all modestly comfortable. The FF issue doesn’t bother him apart from the contribution to globbly wobbly. He reads a lot, including big books, but he refuses to stray off the reservation. I put it to him that the renewable dream we are being sold now may turn out to be just as illusive as the nuclear dream we were being sold half a century ago, and that there might not be a solution to humanity’s predicament.

          “Don’t be so sure our masters have got everything under control,” I advised. That was as far as I was willing to go because I could feel the tension building in him when I started to explain some of my more blasphemous and heretical ideas. While he realizes there are limits to growth and he personally believes that human beings would be happier with less consumerism and less technology than Westerners and East Asians currently use, he has no interest in exploring how financial problems could lead to collapse and he is emotionally attached to a worldview that doesn’t permit the sort of energy issues we discuss at OFW.

          At the present time, I think it would be difficult to spread Gail’s main message to a wide audience. Few people are capable of understanding and even fewer want to understand. When I try to get people from among my own acquaintances to even consider the implications of things like net energy decline and diminishing purchasing power among non-elite workers, I feel a bit like Lot trying to find ten good men in Sodom.

          • Fast Eddy says:

            I keep thinking… when I meet someone who seems to be somewhat switched on … that they might get it… but when I test them… they are found wanting….

            That is when then I slap myself in the head many times and call myself stewpid stewpid stewpid… because there are literally no more than a few dozen (if that) people who get the entire picture (other than those who are orchestrating the desperate continuation of BAU)….

            What are the odds of coming across one of them…. in real life

            I should buy lottery tickets instead.

          • zenny says:

            I would of talked about space elevators Just for sport.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Give him Keith’s number… they could talk for hours….

              On second thought don’t — we need Keith to stay on task….

    • Rodster says:

      But hey, the eCONomy is doing great, not enough people for all those high paying jobs businesses are seeking and there’s virtually NO inflation. Life is good in the Twilight Zone.

      • Baby Doomer says:

        The only thing keeping BAU together is fake data, fake news, ignorance, and denial..

        If the general public were aware of what we on this blog are..BAU would collapse into atomic dust..

        • Artleads says:

          I’m not sure about that. A lot of the decline of BAU is due to no one working constructively to save it. And if the public is as ignorant as they are, you can only speculate on what they would do if better informed. They might actually work to save it.

          • Tim Groves says:

            I don’t think BAU is savable either in its current form or as BAU Lite. I think it’s like Humpty Dumpty in the nursery rhyme. In our various ways, most of us are working hard to keep it going, and we’ll continue to do that up to and until it is no longer possible.

            I think Gail has captured the essence of BAU very well with the economy as a a dissipative system. Like a galaxy or a fountain or a hurricane and even more a living thing, It needs a material structure and a flow of energy to sustain it. And BAU is further endangered by the need to keep growing, which demands a greater flow of energy as time goes by.

            I’m praying, although not hoping, that Gail can come up with a way to transform BAU into something that can continue to function for the benefit of its constituent cells—us—while reducing its need for energy as time goes by. So far, all she’s done is kept coming up with reasons why that isn’t possible. But if somebody does come up with a way to make BAU sustainable, there could be a Nobel Prize, tea with the Queen, and even an invitation to appear in Oprah’s Guest House in it for them.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              And the key to DelusiSTAN….

            • Artleads says:

              Hi Tim,

              My understanding is too flawed to allow for a proper response. In the first half of your post, several issues didn’t seem related to my concerns. I don’t understand or relate to “dissipative systems.” My house is a dissipative system most likely. And I keep it from dissipating by repairing the smallest of cracks every day. Doing it that way, on the time scale that matters to me, there is no dissipation. The declarations re dissipative systems come in like chalk screeching on the chalk board. I’d rather it didn’t happen, since it does me no good whatsoever. But I have to accept it when it happens. OTOH, I am a dissipative system that is clearly fading away. So what? Everyone that ever lived met the same destiny. i have better things to worry about.

              I expressed myself badly if it seems that I think BAU can work or endure. I never thought it could fifty years ago, and I don’t think it can now. But the system doesn’t seem to be a monolith working everywhere in a linear process of either growth or decline. A good analogy for how I see the system is my internet presence where every ill considered things I’ve written over the past 30 years is recorded, searchable, and past horrific in ability to sham, persecute and embarrass, or worse.

              So if someone tells me the internet is evil, I say, yes, it is, but more constructive things can be done with it than are being done. One doesn’t rule out the other. “Don’t look back; something might be gaining on you.” We still have room to do constructive things on the internet. I also say that those constructive won’t produce any predictable results. The world is a self organizing system that uses, chooses and refuses every single thing according to complicated flows that we can’t understand. So it is foolish to hope or expect and you might as well be at ease. But that doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t act constructively. Throwing chemicals in the sea so someone has a job cleaning it up is damn foolishness, since you can get as many jobs doing something less poisonous with the chemicals.

              Similarly, community, urban and other kinds of planning are well beyond missing in action. 8 billion people in the world and no planning. If you fail to plan you plan to fail. That’s enough to know. If you plan you don’t plan to fail. Why should you know or care what results instead. Wouldn’t that be presumptuous? Just simply don’t plan to fail. Period.

              That’s my position. I am constructive in a system that (apart for some aspects of the military and some aspects of global corporations) that shows no constructive ability. My path is decidedly uphill, just the way I like it. And my powerlessness is a relief. I bear no responsibility and have no care for the fate of the planet. And I suspect that more people would be more constructive if they had the faintest clue about what is commonly known on FW. That wouldn’t necessarily make them deluded.

            • Tim Groves says:

              Hi Artleads,

              I appreciate your response. A lot like you, I’m fixing the cracks so that this old house stays up longer than I do. It’s a very satisfying thing to do, and when I spot something that needs repairing and I neglect to repair it, I get a nagging feeling that I’m not doing my duty.

              In some ways we are like the white cells, or phagocytes, that live and die in the bloodstreams of humans, rabbits, a crocodiles, fish and probably even worms I would imagine. These little creatures are not mental wizards; they don’t worry about anything, like the end of BAU or where their next meal is coming from. They just go around identifying tasks that need to be done, repairs that need to be made, trash that needs to be cleared away, and they get on with it. That’s their life and, I would expect, their satisfaction. They may live a few weeks or months inside a living body and then they die and become trash and another white cell to clean up. And when the animal that forms their world, or their house, dies, that’s the end of BAU for that animal’s population of white cells.

              Up on the human level, life is more complicated, at least for us moderns. Our thinking and scheming and worrying and unhelpful behavior can do a lot of harm to ourselves and each other. Unlike the white cells, we are often in competition with each other and we can also be self-destructive. I suppose that’s because we are so much smarter than they are. 🙂

            • Artleads says:

              “I’m fixing the cracks so that this old house stays up longer than I do”

              And it would stay up indefinitely if the subsequent owners did the same thing. Taos Pueblo, which at 1000 years old and while being the oldest continually inhabited building in America, is made of mud that is ritually and routinely repaired.

              True that the wider world is much more complicated than a house, which is where comprehensive planning toward rational behavior for mass society would come in. Despite there being no clear way to get around it, our global economic system doesn’t seem to be rational. For now, I have the luxury of having one foot in that system and one foot out.

              In as much as I can, I pattern MY economy on the shanty town, selling things for truly ridiculous prices.

              OTOH, we have the development and building profession that I insist is the most dangerous industry in the world. But everybody else thinks it’s fossil fuels. Go figure. 🙂

  7. Berndt says:

    My thoughts on the thermodynamics of oil production:

    Its simple physics. Up to now, nobody has found a severe error.

    and some thoughts concerning the oil price development:

    My projection of the oil price in the near future, based on mathematics, and the assumption that the oil price has a cyclic component.

    • I am seriously doubtful about your theory having any validity.

    • oil has a cyclic component only as long as we continue to have an ongoing surplus to our actual needs–ie, oil drives population increase–which in turn needs more oil—which feeds more people

      that cycle goes on until we run out of the means to feed increasing populations

      oil provides everybody’s wages, but it is only that surplus which provides increasing wages in real terms—ie genuine payrises

      this is why average living standards have been flat since the 1970s in real terms….there are too many people making increasing demands on depleting energy resources.

      there is less and less surplus to spread around

      we now consune10 barrels of oil for every barrel we discover—no mathematical formulae are required—the data is readily available

      which makes us bankrupt.

      • Berndt says:

        Hi Norman,

        you refer to:
        You are right, the cyclic component might disappear in the next years. But it is pronounced in the years 2013-2018. I have analysed the data for this period of time, and there is the cyclic component. It does not exist prior to 2013. It is best obvious in the USA oil production diagram of slide 13, the deviations of the actual production from the theoretical curve are very small. The price has larger deviations from theory, but it still follows the cycle in a very good way.
        The price extrapolation (slide 14) results from the analytic continuation of the numbers from 2013-2018. The extrapolation has a sound base, but future influences from a lot of sources (politics, bancrupties etc.) will have effects. I myself am curious how long the extrapolation will hold. The next months will show it.

    • Tim Groves says:

      Berndt, I read the PDF presentation “Temperature Effects impacting Earth cause
      severe Limits for Oil Production”.

      As I understand your hypothesis, you are saying that oil production transfers heat from the interior of the earth to its surface, where the heat builds up over time.

      My understanding is that the earth has a very effective system of moving heat away from the surface to the top of the troposphere, where it is radiated into space. The more heat at the surface, the harder the system works to transport it away. The system comprises three main processes or mechanisms, namely the H2O evaporation-condensation cycle, atmospheric convection, and outgoing longwave radiation (OLR).

      Over oceans and over land where water vapor is available, the warmer it gets, the more evaporation, cloud and rainfall there is, and this mechanism lowers the temperature are ground or sea level very effectively. This is why in tropical deserts when the sun is high, temperatures can rise to 50 degrees C or more, while in jungles and and tropical wetlands it rarely gets above 35. Also, regardless of the humidity, hot air rises and cooler air falls, helping to cool the surface.

      But the biggest mechanism is OLR, which varies according to the surface temperature and places upper and lower limits on the temperature. The amount of OLR is directly dependent on the actual temperature of the earth. Just as a hot cup of tea or a hot cake out of the oven will cool at a faster rate than their warm equivalents, so the land cools at a faster rate in the evening after sunset than it does in the early morning, faster on summer evenings than on winter evenings, faster in the tropics than in the arctic. This process operates on all timescales from seconds to centuries. During the Little Ice Age a few centuries ago, the earth was a little colder than today and so the amount of OLR was a little less. When things get warmer, OLR increases accordingly..

      OLR accounts for about 68% of the earth’s energy balance. As the earth’s temperature changes, the amount of energy loses through OLR adjusts to to the new temperature. This natural “thermostat” has kept the earth within +/-6 degrees C of the average temperature for the past 5 million years. At least, that’s my understanding.

      The idea that heat is going to keep building up incrementally at the earth’s surface indefinitely is erroneous IMHO. But I may well have misunderstood what you were trying to say. I’m just a peasant farmer who scratches in the dirt with a stick after all, and mathematical formulae replete with squiggly lines often goes over my head.

      • Berndt says:

        Hi Tim,
        thank you for the info concerning OLR. I try to answer your comment.
        “My understanding is that the earth has a very effective system of moving heat away from the surface to the top of the troposphere, where it is radiated into space. ”

        I believe your main point is that the temperature difference dilutes with time, because the earth surface transfers its heat all over the earth, and radiates some of it in space.
        In my derivation, i only consider temperature changes between the earth interior and surface. I do not know, if the interior cools about 50 % of the difference and the surfaces heats 50 %. For simplicity, lets give both 50%.
        In the earth interior, there are no diluting effects, only relaxation is working (slide 10), which is extremely slow.
        On the surface, dilution works. But there is an important effect: In eq. 14 the mass and heat capacity in denominator and numerator cancel. The energy required to generate additional temperature differences is independent of the involved mass and heat capacity. Therefore, dilution of the heat all over the world surface has no effect !

        “The idea that heat is going to keep building up incrementally at the earth’s surface indefinitely is erroneous IMHO”. Before i set up the equations, i always thought, that the dilution of the heat all over earth results in a temperature increase of zero or nearly zero, so i did not recognize that the work to extract oil increases with time. But the formulas clarify the situation. Even very small increments have an effect. First i had the same opinion you have, but now i know better.

        To be honest, i never thought about transfer of the oil heat by infrared radiation (OLR) into space, and it will take more than a day to evaluate that. Again, in the maximum case only 50 % of the temperature difference can be influenced. In most cases, heat convection by gas or liquids and heat conduction by solids is much faster than heat tranfer by radiation. So i expect that the heat will move into earth and not into space, only in very long time scales radiation will have an effect.

        One remark:
        Here at Gails site are so much comments, that in very few days our discussion will be hidden in a pile and lost. So it is better, you post further questions on the german peak-oil site.

  8. Yoshua says:

    The WTI crashed through its one year support line.

    The largest share of dollar denominated debt among emerging markets is held by the Asia Pacific region. That region will perhaps ignite the real EM crisis?

  9. Baby Doomer says:

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