Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Powering the world’s economy with wind, water and solar, and perhaps a little wood sounds like a good idea until a person looks at the details. The economy can use small amounts of wind, water and solar, but adding these types of energy in large quantities is not necessarily beneficial to the system.

While a change to renewables may, in theory, help save world ecosystems, it will also tend to make the electric grid increasingly unstable. To prevent grid failure, electrical systems will need to pay substantial subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear electricity providers that can offer backup generation when intermittent generation is not available. Modelers have tended to overlook these difficulties. As a result, the models they provide offer an unrealistically favorable view of the benefit (energy payback) of wind and solar.

If the approach of mandating wind, water, and solar were carried far enough, it might have the unfortunate effect of saving the world’s ecosystem by wiping out most of the people living within the ecosystem. It is almost certain that this was not the intended impact when legislators initially passed the mandates.

[1] History suggests that in the past, wind and water never provided a very large percentage of total energy supply.

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per person (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley, Cambridge University.

Figure 1 shows that before and during the Industrial Revolution, wind and water energy provided 1% to 3% of total energy consumption.

For an energy source to work well, it needs to be able to produce an adequate “return” for the effort that is put into gathering it and putting it to use. Wind and water seemed to produce an adequate return for a few specialized tasks that could be done intermittently and that didn’t require heat energy.

When I visited Holland a few years ago, I saw windmills from the 17th and 18th centuries. These windmills pumped water out of low areas in Holland, when needed. A family would live inside each windmill. The family would regulate the level of pumping desired by adding or removing cloths over the blades of the windmill. To earn much of their income, they would also till a nearby plot of land.

This overall arrangement seems to have provided adequate income for the family. We might conclude, from the inability of wind and water energy to spread farther than 1% -3% of total energy consumption, that the energy return from the windmills was not very high. It was adequate for the arrangement I described, but it didn’t provide enough extra energy to encourage greatly expanded use of the devices.

[2] At the time of the Industrial Revolution, coal worked vastly better for most tasks of the economy than did wind or water.

Economic historian Tony Wrigley, in his book Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, discusses the differences between an organic economy (one whose energy sources are human labor, energy from draft animals such as oxen and horses, and wind and water energy) and an energy-rich economy (one that also has the benefit of coal and perhaps other energy sources). Wrigley notes the following benefits of a coal-based energy-rich economy during the period shown in Figure 1:

  • Deforestation could be reduced. Before coal was added, there was huge demand for wood for heating homes and businesses, cooking food, and for making charcoal, with which metals could be smelted. When coal became available, it was inexpensive enough that it reduced the use of wood, benefiting the environment.
  • The quantity of metals and tools was greatly increased using coal. As long as the source of heat for making metals was charcoal from trees, the total quantity of metals that could be produced was capped at a very low level.
  • Roads to mines were greatly improved, to accommodate coal movement. These better roads benefitted the rest of the economy as well.
  • Farming became a much more productive endeavor. The crop yield from cereal crops, net of the amount fed to draft animals, nearly tripled between 1600 and 1800.
  • The Malthusian limit on population could be avoided. England’s population grew from 4.2 million to 16.7 million between 1600 and 1850. Without the addition of coal to make the economy energy-rich, the population would have been capped by the low food output from the organic economy.

[3] Today’s wind, water, and solar are not part of what Wrigley called the organic economy. Instead, they are utterly dependent on the fossil fuel system.

The name renewables reflects the fact that wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams do not burn fossil fuels in their capture of energy from the environment.

Modern hydroelectric dams are constructed with concrete and steel. They are built and repaired using fossil fuels. Wind turbines and solar panels use somewhat different materials, but these too are available only thanks to the use of fossil fuels. If we have difficulty with the fossil fuel system, we will not be able to maintain and repair any of these devices or the electricity transmission system used for distributing the energy that they capture.

[4] With the 7.7 billion people in the world today, adequate energy supplies are an absolute requirement if we do not want population to fall to a very low level. 

There is a myth that the world can get along without fossil fuels. Wrigley writes that in a purely organic economy, the vast majority of roads were deeply rutted dirt roads that could not be traversed by wheeled vehicles. This made overland transport very difficult. Canals were used to provide water transport at that time, but we have virtually no canals available today that would serve the same purpose.

It is true that buildings for homes and businesses can be built with wood, but such buildings tend to burn down frequently. Buildings of stone or brick can also be used. But with only the use of human and animal labor, and having few roads that would accommodate wheeled carts, brick or stone homes tend to be very labor-intensive. So, except for the very wealthy, most homes will be made of wood or of other locally available materials such as sod.

Wrigley’s analysis shows that before coal was added to the economy, human labor productivity was very low. If, today, we were to try to operate the world economy using only human labor, draft animals, and wind and water energy, we likely could not grow food for very many people. World population in 1650 was only about 550 million, or about 7% of today’s population. It would not be possible to provide for the basic needs of today’s population with an organic economy as described by Wrigley.

(Note that organic here has a different meaning than in “organic agriculture.” Today’s organic agriculture is also powered by fossil fuel energy. Organic agriculture brings soil amendments by truck, irrigates land and makes “organic sprays” for fruit, all using fossil fuels.)

[5] Wind, water and solar only provided about 11% of the world’s total energy consumption for the year 2018. Trying to ramp up the 11% production to come anywhere close to 100% of total energy consumption seems like an impossible task.

Figure 2. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Let’s look at what it would take to ramp up the current renewables percentage from 11% to 100%. The average growth rate over the past five years of the combined group that might be considered renewable (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar) has been 5.8%. Maintaining such a high growth rate in the future is likely to be difficult because new locations for hydroelectric dams are hard to find and because biomass supply is limited. Let’s suppose that despite these difficulties, this 5.8% growth rate can be maintained going forward.

To increase the quantity from 2018’s low level of renewable supply to the 2018 total energy supply at a 5.8% growth rate would take 39 years. If population grows between 2018 and 2057, even more energy supply would likely be required. Based on this analysis, increasing the use of renewables from a 11% base to close to a 100% level does not look like an approach that has any reasonable chance of fixing our energy problems in a timeframe shorter than “generations.”

The situation is not quite as bad if we look at the task of producing an amount of electricity equal to the world’s current total electricity generation with renewables (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar); renewables in this case provided 26% of the world’s electricity supply in 2018.

Figure 3. World electricity production by type, based on data from 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The catch with replacing electricity (Figure 3) but not energy supplies is the fact that electricity is only a portion of the world’s energy supply. Different calculations give different percentages, with electricity varying between 19% and 43% of total energy consumption.1 Either way, substituting wind, water and solar in electricity production alone does not seem to be sufficient to make the desired reduction in carbon emissions.

[6] A major drawback of wind and solar energy is its variability from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Water energy has season-to-season variability as well, with spring or wet seasons providing the most electricity.

Back when modelers first looked at the variability of electricity produced by wind, solar and water, they hoped that as an increasing quantity of these electricity sources were added, the variability would tend to offset. This happens a little, but not nearly as much as one would like. Instead, the variability becomes an increasing problem as more is added to the electric grid.

When an area first adds a small percentage of wind and/or solar electricity to the electric grid (perhaps 10%), the electrical system’s usual operating reserves are able to handle the variability. These were put in place to handle small fluctuations in supply or demand, such as a major coal plant needing to be taken off line for repairs, or a major industrial client reducing its demand.

But once the quantity of wind and/or solar increases materially, different strategies are needed. At times, production of wind and/or solar may need to be curtailed, to prevent overburdening the electric grid. Batteries are likely to be needed to help ease the abrupt transition that occurs when the sun goes down at the end of the day while electricity demand is still high. These same batteries can also help ease abrupt transitions in wind supply during wind storms.

Apart from brief intermittencies, there is an even more serious problem with seasonal fluctuations in supply that do not match up with seasonal fluctuations in demand. For example, in winter, electricity from solar panels is likely to be low. This may not be a problem in a warm country, but if a country is cold and using electricity for heat, it could be a major issue.

The only real way of handling seasonal intermittencies is by having fossil fuel or nuclear plants available for backup. (Battery backup does not seem to be feasible for such huge quantities for such long periods.) These back-up plants cannot sit idle all year to provide these services. They need trained staff who are willing and able to work all year. Unfortunately, the pricing system does not provide enough funds to adequately compensate these backup systems for those times when their services are not specifically required by the grid. Somehow, they need to be paid for the service of standing by, to offset the inevitable seasonal variability of wind, solar and water.

[7] The pricing system for electricity tends to produce rates that are too low for those electricity providers offering backup services to the electric grid.

As a little background, the economy is a self-organizing system that operates through the laws of physics. Under normal conditions (without mandates or subsidies) it sends signals through prices and profitability regarding which types of energy supply will “work” in the economy and which kinds will simply produce too much distortion or create problems for the system.

If legislators mandate that intermittent wind and solar will be allowed to “go first,” this mandate is by itself a substantial subsidy. Allowing wind and solar to go first tends to send prices too low for other producers because it tends to reduce prices below what those producers with high fixed costs require.2

If energy officials decide to add wind and solar to the electric grid when the grid does not really need these supplies, this action will also tend to push other suppliers off the grid through low rates. Nuclear power plants, which have already been built and are adding zero CO2 to the atmosphere, are particularly at risk because of the low rates. The Ohio legislature recently passed a $1.1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants because of this issue.

If a mandate produces a market distortion, it is quite possible (in fact, likely) that the distortion will get worse and worse, as more wind and solar is added to the grid. With more mandated (inefficient) electricity, customers will find themselves needing to subsidize essentially all electricity providers if they want to continue to have electricity.

The physics-based economic system without mandates and subsidies provides incentives to efficient electricity providers and disincentives to inefficient electricity suppliers. But once legislators start tinkering with the system, they are likely to find a system dominated by very inefficient production. As the costs of handling intermittency explode and the pricing system gets increasingly distorted, customers are likely to become more and more unhappy.

[8] Modelers of how the system might work did not understand how a system with significant wind and solar would work. Instead, they modeled the most benign initial situation, in which the operating reserves would handle variability, and curtailment of supply would not be an issue. 

Various modelers attempted to figure out whether the return from wind and solar would be adequate, to justify all of the costs of supporting it. Their models were very simple: Energy Out compared to Energy In, over the lifetime of a device. Or, they would calculate Energy Payback Periods. But the situation they modeled did not correspond well to the real world. They tended to model a situation that was close to the best possible situation, one in which variability, batteries and backup electricity providers were not considerations. Thus, these models tended to give a far too optimistic estimates of the expected benefit of intermittent wind and solar devices.

Furthermore, another type of model, the Levelized Cost of Electricity model, also provides distorted results because it does not consider the subsidies needed for backup providers if the system is to work. The modelers likely also leave out the need for backup batteries.

In the engineering world, I am told that computer models of expected costs and income are not considered to be nearly enough. Real-world tests of proposed new designs are first tested on a small scale and then at progressively larger scales, to see whether they will work in practice. The idea of pushing “renewables” sounded so good that no one thought about the idea of testing the plan before it was put into practice.

Unfortunately, the real-world tests that Germany and other countries have tried have shown that intermittent renewables are a very expensive way to produce electricity when all costs are considered. Neighboring countries become unhappy when excess electricity is simply dumped on the grid. Total CO2 emissions don’t necessarily go down either.

[9] Long distance transmission lines are part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Early models suggested that long-distance transmission lines might be used to smooth out variability, but this has not worked well in practice. This happens partly because wind conditions tend to be similar over wide areas, and partly because a broad East-West mixture is needed to even-out the rapid ramp-down problem in the evening, when families are still cooking dinner and the sun goes down.

Also, long distance transmission lines tend to take many years to permit and install, partly because many landowners do not want them crossing their property. In some cases, the lines need to be buried underground. Reports indicate that an underground 230 kV line costs 10 to 15 times what a comparable overhead line costs. The life expectancy of underground cables seems to be shorter, as well.

Once long-distance transmission lines are in place, maintenance is very fossil fuel dependent. If storms are in the area, repairs are often needed. If roads are not available in the area, helicopters may need to be used to help make the repairs.

An issue that most people are not aware of is the fact that above ground long-distance transmission lines often cause fires, especially when they pass through hot, dry areas. The Northern California utility PG&E filed for bankruptcy because of fires caused by its transmission lines. Furthermore, at least one of Venezuela’s major outages seems to have been related to sparks from transmission lines from its largest hydroelectric plant causing fires. These fire costs should also be part of any analysis of whether a transition to renewables makes sense, in terms of either cost or energy returns.

[10] If wind turbines and solar panels are truly providing a major net benefit to the economy, they should not need subsidies, even the subsidy of going first.

To make wind and solar electricity producers able to compete with other electricity providers without the subsidy of going first, these providers need a substantial amount of battery backup. For example, wind turbines and solar panels might be required to provide enough backup batteries (perhaps 8 to 12 hours’ worth) so that they can compete with other grid members, without the subsidy of going first. If it really makes sense to use such intermittent energy, these providers should be able to still make a profit even with battery usage. They should also be able to pay taxes on the income they receive, to pay for the government services that they are receiving and hopefully pay some extra taxes to help out the rest of the system.

In Item [2] above, I mentioned that when coal mines were added in England, roads to the mines were substantially improved, befitting the economy as a whole. A true source of energy (one whose investment cost is not too high relative to its output) is supposed to be generating “surplus energy” that assists the economy as a whole. We can observe an impact of this type in the improved roads that benefited England’s economy as a whole. Any so-called energy provider that cannot even pay its own fair share of taxes acts more like a leech, sucking energy and resources from others, than a provider of surplus energy to the rest of the economy.


In my opinion, it is time to eliminate renewable energy mandates. There will be some instances where renewable energy will make sense, but this will be obvious to everyone involved. For example, an island with its electricity generation from oil may want to use some wind or solar generation to try to reduce its total costs. This cost saving occurs because of the high price of oil as fuel to make electricity.

Regulators, in locations where substantial wind and/or solar has already been installed, need to be aware of the likely need to provide subsidies to backup providers, in order to keep the electrical system operating. Otherwise, the grid will likely fail from lack of adequate backup electricity supply.

Intermittent electricity, because of its tendency to drive other providers to bankruptcy, will tend to make the grid fail more quickly than it would otherwise. The big danger ahead seems to be bankruptcy of electricity providers and of fossil fuel producers, rather than running out of a fuel such as oil or natural gas. For this reason, I see little reason for the belief by many that electricity will “last longer” than oil. It is a question of which group is most affected by bankruptcies first.

I do not see any real reason to use subsidies to encourage the use of electric cars. The problem we have today with oil prices is that they are too low for oil producers. If we want to keep oil production from collapsing, we need to keep oil demand up. We do this by encouraging the production of cars that are as inexpensive as possible. Generally, this will mean producing cars that operate using petroleum products.

(I recognize that my view is the opposite one from what many Peak Oilers have. But I see the limit ahead as being one of too low prices for producers, rather than too high prices for consumers. The CO2 issue tends to disappear as parts of the system collapse.)


[1] BP bases its count on the equivalent fossil fuel energy needed to create the electricity; IEA counts the heat energy of the resulting electrical output. Using BP’s way of counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to 43% of total energy consumption. Using the International Energy Agency’s approach to counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to only about 19% of world energy consumption.

[2] In some locations, “utility pricing” is used. In these cases, pricing is set in a way needed to provide a fair return to all providers. With utility pricing, intermittent renewables would not be expected to cause low prices for backup producers.

This entry was posted in Energy policy and tagged , , , , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

1,461 thoughts on “Rethinking Renewable Mandates

  1. “Saudi Arabia has phoned other oil producers to discuss possible policy responses as oil prices fell to a seven-month low, a Saudi official said. The kingdom won’t tolerate a continued slide in prices and is considering all options, the official said, asking not to be identified discussing private talks. He didn’t say what measures were being discussed.”

  2. “South Africa’s public finances are in a perilous state. There are four main reasons for this. First, economic growth is low or non-existent. Second, tax revenue collection is repeatedly below forecasts.

    “Third, debt levels have risen rapidly and are now at their highest levels in the post-apartheid era. Fourth, the poor performance of state-owned enterprises is necessitating large-scale government support.”

      • “More than five million people in Zimbabwe – about a third of the population – need food aid, with many coming close to starving, the UN says. The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a $331m (£270m) appeal as the country battles the effects of drought, a cyclone and an economic crisis. David Beasley, head of the WFP, said many were “in crisis emergency mode… marching towards starvation”.”

        • “The Kariba dam that straddles Zambia and Zimbabwe, the world’s biggest man-made reservoir, is emptying fast, sparking fears the countries may have to cut hydropower production there completely. For the two southern African nations already suffering daily blackouts and growing economic pressures… a total shutdown at Kariba would be crippling. Zambia gets about a third of its supply from the dam, Zimbabwe almost half.”

          • “Some 1.6 million people are currently facing hunger in Mozambique, with that number set to rise to 1.9 million between October and February next year, according to WFP estimates. The country was struggling to feed itself even before cyclones Idai and Kenneth in March and April, because of a long-running drought affecting the whole of Southern Africa.”


          • People forget that hydroelectric is intermittent, in a little different way than wind and solar. It is not possible to build an economy that depends on anywhere near the full amount of hydroelectric output, unless the country also has available fossil fuel backup. How much backup depends on where the dam is located. Very far north, where melting ice feeds the dam, less backup is needed than elsewhere. In parts of the world where rain is seasonal and may not come at all, hydroelectric is very variable. For example, this chart shows how variable California’s hydroelectric production has been. (Sorry, not updated with recent data.)

        • Zimbabwe was once called Rhodesia, and it fed much of Central Africa. Since independence, it has been deluged with “foreign aid”, almost all of which has been stolen. People don’t seem to grasp that most of the world’s basket cases have woven their own baskets.

          • Also, donations of food from outside the country tend to plunge local producers into bankruptcy. Even selling industrially produced food from outside at lower prices than local producers can match is a recipe for disaster.

            • Gail, you are so right! I saw exactly that growing up in Nigeria, thanks to Oxfam. Dump free food on a million starving people, drive whole villages of farmers into bankruptcy, and next year face two million starving people.

            • you are quite right of course

              a million people who do not have the resources to grow or buy food at any price.

              Their own farmers cannot grow it for nothing, neither can they employ a million people as labour on the farms (supposing they exist).
              those 1m have to support themselves between planting and harvest somehow. They have no means whatsoever to buy food

              Overpopulation has destroyed their land probably, fossil fuels have helped wipe out the diseases that kept their—and our—numbers under control. (all well meaning of course)

              Africa now has 7x the people it should have. Just like the rest of the world.
              What we see there is our future as destitution creeps up our ladder of prosperity.
              this situation has been multiplied many times over

              but then we must consider the alternative—turn our backs on one million starving people completely, then come back in 5 years when only the strongest are left alive?

              No doubt the Trumpsters of this world do that. but would you be prepared to do that—if you were in a position of power?

              If there’s a third option, then OF Worldsters will no doubt update me on it

            • My father grew up in Madagascar. I have aunts and one uncle who lived there, and many cousins who have visited. So I have some connections, even though I have never been there myself.

        • We tried to feed them Now it is China’s turn…They will get nothing from me

    • they pretend to have solutions for the problems there

      but the reality is that there are no solutions

      They have no means by which a modern industrial society can be supported, yet they try to run the country as a modern first world society while maintaining tribal affiliations.

      There is also a minority white tribe, which was ultimately responsible for the mess they are in. The results of that are highly predictable.

      • “minority white tribe, which was ultimately responsible”

        Isn’t that both racist and untrue? It’s been a long time since the white tribe lost power.

        • the white tribes showed up at the cape in the 16/1700s and proceeded to take the land as their own.

          Now the resources there cannot support the population, but the black peoples there think that they can. Any instability there is put down to the years of apartheid, and the predations of the white man, rather than general incompetence and overpopulation and resource depletion by all races.

          The USA has the same basic problems, but with a different racial balance

          nothing racist about it–just statement of facts as they are

          • Sounds like Norman is perilously close to attempting to “whitewash” anything nasty that ever happens anywhere in the Third World ever again by blaming it on the white tribe’s historic collective guilt.

            • “it was the white man”

              Why? Invasion chops go to the ones who can fight best. This was not always the Europeans, consider the Mongol invasion. It is a major mystery to this day of why they stopped in Hungary rather than taking over the whole of Europe.

            • Ogedei died. So they had to go back to elect a new Khan at the Kuritai.

              And then the key generals since they were sent elsewhere soon died of old age.

            • The tanned and turbaned man turned up in much of North, East and West Africa well before the Europeans did, armed with swords,whips, yokes, the Koran,medicinal herbs and many cultural innovations. They came to trade, enslave, civilize and colonize, and they were often brutal to the natives and often kind—a lot like the like the whites that showed up centuries after them.

              It is recorded that back in the day, there were numerous villages without men in Malawi because the men had all been stolen away by Africans from the coast to feed the demand for Arab slaves.

          • The pension plans are the last frontier. BAU will last until they confiscate the pension plans and then it ‘s the Zombie Apapocalypse.

            • The pension plans, whether supposedly funded or not, really depend on the continuing operation of the governments that guarantee them. I suppose issuing more currency, and diluting the worth of everyone else’s currency could be an option. Or the pension plans could be handed over to smaller subdivisions to handle, as I mentioned earlier. Or the top governmental layer holding the system together could fail completely. None of these are very good options.

  3. A few *tiny* misunderstandings about the nature of the economy in Labour’s energy manifesto:

    “Heating and electricity will become a “human right” under a [UK] Labour government, the party will announce tomorrow…

    “Publicly owned networks would have connections to parts of the country with high potential for solar, wind and tidal energy generation…

    “Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is expected to hit out at millionaires who “fly about in private jets and heat their empty mansions,” as he and Ms Long Bailey set out their plans tomorrow for a “green industrial revolution.””

    • The world cannot afford heating and electricity for everyone. In fact, now it can afford it for fewer people than it could in the past. The laws of physics are a problem.

    • This would be absolutely hilarious if it wasn’t so tragic. If Jeremy was really concerned about keeping the British people warm, he would back the burning of more coal and subsidizing hot water bottles.

      “Parts of the country with high potential for solar….” Well,that IS actually quite funny!

    • Well, there is probably another layer to that and that’s the general pendulum swing from the deflation (global banker’s) regime towards inflation (national worker’s) regime, it’s a sort of ~40-60yrs kind of cycle reversal.

      Such policies have nothing to do with OFW key drivers, which will eventually (derail) it later as we suspect here. It’s more like on/off political-social realm reaction/forcing machine.

      The proponent of it the US-Aussie economist Mark Blythe predicted Brexit, Trump, Salvini etc. So, even-though he completely omits discussing the role of energy (+believes in klimate kult) could be right in the short term – political economy trend which would precede the OFW grande finale.

    • “Heating and electricity will become a ‘human right'”

      i prefer the older version: “By the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread”

      Human rights used to mean the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It now means the right to live at somebody else’s expense. An ultimately self destructive creed, because when the main activity of the State is taxing the productive to subsidise the parasites, eventually everybody realises that the only sensible career is as a parasite.

      One way to ensure collapse, but alas only one way of many.

  4. Aldous Huxley interviewed by Mike Wallace in 1958. This is a fascinating discussion from the good old days of black and white TV.

    At times, Aldous sounds like a conspiracy theorist who has dropped a bit too much acid, but it is remarkable how much of what he foresaw about the evolution of society has come to pass in our own time.

    The thing about this program that I find most shocking is how the host sits there introducing his guest while holding a lit cigarette in one hand and tobacco smoke wafts through the air of the studio like incense at a Buddhist temple. Try exercising your freedom to do that on primetime TV these dystopian days and and see how far you get.

    • Aldous Huxley lived in Isla Vista, California, a place I resided for quite some time.
      (It was as good as it got until about 1970)
      Huxley and Orwell vied for views of the future.
      Huxley prevailed for quite some time, although it is quite clear Orwell had the vision.

    • China is working hard on his vision, with their automated facial recognition systems tied to giving everyone grades on how well they behave and obey the one and only political party. Few could envision such a system of control 50 years ago,

  5. Well, I’ve been posting here for about a week, and it’s been interesting. Some folks give you hope; some don’t. I’d like to say something, as I part.

    A lot of folks around here are very sure of their judgments. It’s really very poor analysis. Strong analysis makes judgments from data, and some measure of certainty/uncertainty is applied to those judgments. If you were to take completely certain judgments to anyone truly serious, in a position to make important decisions, you wouldn’t be taken seriously. Intelligence analysts are trained in this; financial analysts are trained in this. Many of the best analysts actually have the ability to change their minds very quickly based on new data. They also have a healthy respect for the unknown. They know because being too certain in the past in all likelihood burned them. In other words, certain judgments, or even judgments provided without sufficient data to support them, are a red flag for untested analysts.

    Some datasets support the assessment that key points in financial history would seem to be predestined. This is an interpretation of the data. There are other possible interpretations. It does SEEM the laws of physics play a defining, and constraining, role in our energy economy. This itself is a judgment, and that must be recognized. So right off the bat, we have uncertainty. But let’s say we accept that as certain, since pretty much everyone around here does, and it’s very reasonable. It’s a very poor judgment to assess, for instance, events in the energy economy are certainly predestined because of these laws, because there’s not sufficient evidence to support the claim with complete certainty. It would need to be tested, over and over and over, to reduce the likelihood these events don’t come about because of coincidence, or even some other phenomenon. The laws of physics can constrain events—after all, that’s what is meant by “law”—but we cannot say with certainty, given available evidence, they predestine them. We cannot even really be sure of what sufficient evidence would look like to confirm certain predestination of events. It might require omniscience. You can never fully confirm it, only be led strongly to assess it. It’s very important to qualify it as an assessment, for the sake of one’s credibility.

    On the kinds of issues we find on this website, you can pretty much tell if someone is worth listening to or not just based on their adoption of this approach, which is, after all, the approach of analysts and scientists in different professions. Words like “could,” “probably”, and “likely” can flag that a statement is a judgment; they qualify it as something that isn’t a fact but that an analyst believes you should consider to be true, based on supporting evidence. This transparency is a sign of a strong, well-trained analyst. Unfortunately, the extreme doomer types are full of very weak analysis, even the ones with significant background knowledge and data upon which to draw. Some of their assessments will end up being right, in something like the same way a dead clock is right twice a day. Point is, we should be extra skeptical of these people who are so certain, as they are not being skeptical of themselves, and that tends to turn out badly in most fields requiring analysis.

    It would be best to approach these types of issues as a professional analyst and as a scientist does. Gail does this. Assessments take on probabilities and only laws determine real certainties. People will listen to you more with an approach like this, you will get more respect, and it will enrich your analysis and thinking.

    Take care all.

    • I hope you read some of the other articles I have written in the past. Some of them give better background on the issues I am writing about. You might want to read

      You might also want to read the two-part write up of a fairly long talk I gave last September.

    • Somehow my faith in our professional analysis is crossed up with the question that if all our professional smart people are so smart, how did we get in the predicament that we’re in? I probably don’t need data sets and models to see that the Earth cannot sustain 7billion humans at or current level of evolution. It seems quite likely that the dissaptive energy system we call life is programmed to correct . We could expect that the system of species extinction that has progressed for the past 4billion years will correct the current imbalance.

      • The book “The Limits to Growth” by Donella Meadows et al. was published in 1972. In that book, the base computer model of infinite growth in a finite world indicated that the world could be expected to hit resource limits about now. What we are seeing now was obvious 46 years ago, using very limited computer capability. No one believed the authors.

        • How eerily accurate their calculations were way back then. Those who scoffed at their predictions and analysis back when the book was first written might have a different view today because many of their predictions are coming true. Dennis Meadows has said “there is no solution” to the problem, which most refuse to believe.

          I have not read the book but already in a big city in India of 10 million people, they have run out of water. So they have to transport water to the city each day which turns out to be 1 liter per day per person.

          • I was reading on another website which said the city was 10 million but Google links say it’s 4.6 m. The Indian city is Chennai.

          • whenever i write something–I’m often asked about ‘solutions’

            when I say ”there isn’t one” suddenly the whole thing becomes ‘my fault’—as if stating the obvious simply cannot be the truth

            i must be a liar

            can’t win em all I guess

            • This interview is from 2012. I would probably come to the same conclusions, but from a different direction. I see that the physics of the system is causing the huge wage and wealth disparities. We cannot really fix them, even if we wanted to. If we did, we would get population to temporarily surge as poor people had more babies and they lived longer, but then the world economy would “hit the wall” sooner.

            • With 7.7 billion homo sapiens living in a collapsing ecosystem, there are no solutions.
              My only question is complete extinction or not?

            • i dont think complete extinction

              but ultimately reduction to or below the level that the world supported pre 1700

              Because that will happen very quickly of course, (6 bn over less than a century) the trauma of watching it happen, together with the actual denial that what is happening, is happening, might make things far worse than that.

              that level of rapid reduction could i think only be the result of methane release destroying the means of food production

              Denialists will look for ‘reasons’. Idiots are all too ready to blame others, so wars are inevitable as long as the means is available to make wars.

              that could easily trigger nuclear, which might of course be terminal, or close to it when added to the methane thing.

            • “i must be a liar”

              Just unformed on sciences and engineering.

              For example, liquid transport fuels can be made by F/T using hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Electrolytic hydrogen is made from water, and combined with CO2 from the air makes CO.

              It does take considerable energy, about 2 MWh per bbl. Which is why the power satellite project scales up to 1.5 TW/year installed.

            • But Norman, with respect, there is a solution.

              When I hear someone say: “We need twice as much water to support our growing population”, my immediate thought is “No, you need half as many people to survive on your supply of water.”

              The problem is, that nobody is even permitted to think about that solution. But Nature is not constrained by our human desires and delusions.

        • “No one believed the authors.”

          I would argue that too many of the ruling class believed the authors. I think it is probably that many high-level politics have been affected by this work

          I followed this work from well before LtG came out. It was based on Forrester’s World Dynamics which came out the previous year. I had read Forrester’s 1969 book Urban Dynamics, It “suggest that the root cause of depressed economic conditions is a significant shortage of job opportunities relative to the population level,” Which sound very much like Gail.

          Peter Vike went through the code for World3. He discovered that the code had an unexplained fudge factor in it.

          The biggest problem LTG had was that it admitted to no resources besides the obviously finite earth. So people talking about power satellites to bring energy in from outside the planet should be driven off. We were nearly thrown out of a LGT conference in the late 70s.

          Relative to those days, with Reaction Engines, SpaceX, and Blue Origin all looking like they could build economical power satellites, and an energy payback time of a couple of months, things are looking better.

          • Yep, I’d also not subscribe to Gail’s conclusion in that particular post.
            TPTB made these atrocious deeds ~20yrs ago exactly at their peaking relative super power status when (Russia bellow down, China still very early hockey stick, EU not fully institutionalized).. Even their own literature admits that time horizon once in life-time oppoerunity.
            To believe this timing was a mere coincidence is nuts, OFW/Peak resources related internet public discourse spiked very soon after that, but the delay was function of many other factors, incl. low internet penetration among the pop at that time.

          • I am very skeptical of using resources from off the planet earth (meteors, for example, or from the moon). It would seem to be less energy intensive to get the resources from some source we are not using now, such as under the ocean or filtered from sea water.

            Mostly, what I hear space solar people talking about is getting solar electricity in a way that eliminates the huge time of day and seasonal intermittency problem. I don’t consider this a new resource as much as a vastly upgraded resource similar to the one we have today.

            • “I am very skeptical of using resources from off the planet earth”

              So am I at least until technology advances a lot. Eventually, most of the materials we use in space will be local. But that’s a long way out. My work on power satellites has been entirely using material lifted from the earth. Which is why getting the cost to LEO down to $100/kg is so important to the economic model.

            • I think the system has to work in GEO, though, and that would seem to be a tougher requirement. Otherwise, the intermittency problem is still there.

            • Right, the power satellites are moved to GEO for $200/kg or less or they don’t work economically. The cost of the entire move using electric propulsion is about twice the cost of mass in LEO. So around $100/kg in LEO looks like it will give us economical electric power.

            • “eliminates the huge time of day and seasonal intermittency problem”

              That’s one of the obvious features. The not so obvious one is overbuilding the power satellite fleet to pick up the entire human energy load or most of it. That probably includes a lot of synthetic fuel plants. It might include making synthetic methane.

              There are certainly problems. I *think* we have the space junk damage under control, it’s mostly an economic problem. Another problem is damage to the ozone by high flight rates of hydrocarbon rockets. That needs to be studied. Say by Blue Origin and NOAA.

        • I believed them. First, because they were right; but secondly, because while growing up in sub Saharan Africa, I had seen the problems for myself.

          There was a teacher who said we must voluntarily control our numbers (on a world of 2.5 billion). I knew why that would not work, and when I challenged him, he called me “a fascist”. Later, I studied the “green revolution” and noticed that its main proposal, upon which all the rest depended, was to replace traditional, sustainable agriculture with fossil fuel based, non sustainable agriculture. At that time, the words “overshoot and collapse” were not in my consciousness, but they came along eventually.

          But the main insight I took away was that our predicament was not a set of individually soluble problems, but a system of connected and mutually reinforcing problems. And, therefore, that the only solution was to replace the entire system by another, and let the chips fall where they may.

          And even then, I was painfully aware that this would not happen. So what, as a supposedly moral being, should I do now? Perhaps for another time.

          • “our predicament was not a set of individually soluble problems, but a system of connected and mutually reinforcing problems.”

            That is a very good way of putting the situation.

    • “It would be best to approach these types of issues as a professional analyst and as a scientist does. Gail does this.”
      You hit a chord Gail. His auto delusion protect kicked in hard. His statement was not really for us. He may have succeeded in convincing himself. There was some truth to his statement. Doomers are predisposed to forcast doom. But how did we become doomers? I didnt choose it or even want it. There is a truth that can not be denied yet it is. Exponential growth can not exist indefinitely on a finite planet. That doesn’t take a whole bunch of analysis. To dismiss in its entirety the issues discussed here by categorizing the psychic of the individuals participating is a effort to disregard that truth IMO. I hope he succeeds. I wish I could. In some regards understanding the truth is a pox. In some ways I think understanding the truth is all there is. It helps one value what is real and away from the way we hide from impermanence. I value compassion. Understanding impermanence is our condition allows me to allow more appropriate actions in that regard.

    • Dear SteveS

      Thank you for your sojourn in this group, and for the new perspectives you brought. I hope you will decide to continue with us; but if not, go in peace.

      Many of us have strong opinions. I myself strongly believe that all bodies remain in a state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line, unless … And I see no reason to qualify that by “probable”, or “in my considered opinion”. But then, I am a scientist.

      Your opinion of skeptics is one I share. On several newsgroups, I have encountered two flavours of skeptics: those who are skeptical about everything. and those who are skeptical about everything EXCEPT their skepticism. The latter are another tribe of the infuriating dogmatists you have encountered. Climate skeptics and climate believers are, in my view, equally at fault, and equally useless.

      But, as the saying goes, Time is the Mother of Truth. And I wish you enough time to find the truths about which you care so passionately and so admirably.

      Robert Firth

  6. There is a new Michael Moore documentary that has been produced that documents some of the problems of renewable energy. The film is called Planet of the Humans. The film recently premiered at the Traverse City Film Festival. It reportedly received a standing ovation.

    The film, which does not yet have distribution, is a low-budget but piercing examination of what the filmmakers say are the false promises of the environmental movement and why we’re still “addicted” to fossil fuels. Director Jeff Gibbs takes on electric cars, solar panels, windmills, biomass, biofuel, leading environmentalist groups like the Sierra Club, and even figures from Al Gore and Van Jones, who served as Barack Obama’s special adviser for green jobs, to leader Bill McKibben, a leading environmentalist and advocate for grassroots climate change movements.

    This is a link to an article about the film.

    From the above article:

    “Building out an electric car and solar and wind infrastructure and the biomass, biofuel infrastructure, is going to run us off the cliff faster,” Gibbs declares. “Because it’s an additional round of mining and destruction that does not replace the one [fossil fuels] that’s already destroying the planet!”

    The green energy movement, in fact, has proven counter-productive, Gibbs argues.

    “It’s a giant profit center, unfortunately, for environmental groups [that support these ‘green illusions’], for corporations, for the people mining and destroying the planet,” Gibbs maintains. “The people that produce our fossil fuels love [the green energy movement] because it still uses fossil fuels and it’s not a threat to fossil fuels. All the car companies love the electric car.”

    Ozzie Zehner, author of “Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism,” played a major role in the movie’s production. He has commented on OFW in the past.

    • Is it an ABSOLUTE that no other possible technology can conceivably replace FF? Even if we got real imaginative and thought outside the box, would we still say the buck stops no matter what will FF? That would mean any other planet anywhere in the Universe in which evolution led to a species that could manipulate mass to use fossil fuels would end up similarly to ours facing inevitable collapse. If so, that represents a brick wall in which evolution cannot breach. That seems very unfortunate.

      • Any species anywhere which relies on a finite resource of their planet is likely to become extinct.
        There must have been thousands of species which evolved relying on an existing animal, vegetable, mineral or climatic condition, only to go extinct when that source of life ceased to exist for whatever reason.
        But if their original emergence as a species occurred by using a resource which still existed,a few survivors of the (current) resource depletion may be able to continue the species by reversion to the old resource.
        In our case, getting ourselves into the FF dead end is typical evolution.
        Works great (multiplication seems always to be the name of the game)until it doesn’t.
        Seems that hunter gatherer existence might still work for a few.
        Some new technology, maybe, but I doubt it (likely to need some of the diminishing resources).
        May be a brick wall for human evolution – Yes very likely.
        Not so sure that is unfortunate.

      • Almost everyone sees/hopes some form of ‘technology’ will replace FFs.

        that fallacy lies in the concept itself.

        It should be easy to grasp, but for some reason the majority of humankind just doesn’t get it

        Fossil fuel is a material object–a lump of coal, a gallon of oil—you can feel it, weigh it, get yourself dirty with it. you can, (by using technology) convert it into a million other useful things.

        Technology on the other hand is an abstract concept

        to ‘make things’ with ‘technology’ you must have material input–I mean ‘physical stuff’.

        You can create an electric charge, and Faraday, when he demonstrated controlled use of it, needed a whole array of ‘material’ to handle and control it.
        It wasn’t of much practical use until Edison made the first lightbulbs and other gizmos by which it could be used to benefit humankind

        Everything that Edison (et al) produced, was produced using the heat input of fossil fuels to convert material into useful objects, using the ‘technology’ available to them at the time, together with the calorific value in the fuel.

        Despite our wishful thinking, it isn’t possible to reverse the process, starting with some kind of abstract technology and winding the process backwards to produce the ‘stuff’ we need to continue our economic/industrial infrastructure (ie BAU–which is what everybody expects)—that is where the wish-science of new technology has arisen.

        We know the elemental makeup of the planet. We have made it our business to extract and recombine those elements in infinite permutations to make the things we need (or think we need).
        Oil coal and gas are the prime means by which we do that.

        There is no aspect of that (finite) business that can be carried out without heat input of some kind. as Faraday discovered, Electricity is almost useless without all the whirry whizzy things by which it can be put to work.

        And apart from oil coal and gas—electricity is all we have.

        There is no ‘alternative technology’ that is going to give us the means by which we can do that elemental reworking on the scale we need it.

        the only use for ‘technology’ in the ultimate sense. has been to give the planet a cash value
        by which we buy and sell bits of it to each other, which we have consistently and endlessly converted into bright shiny toys to amuse ourselves.

        We forget we are merely tenants here, we invented gods to confirm we own the place

        • “Tenants”? That’s an odd word to use unless there’s also a landlord who is renting the place to us.

          You are a child of the Universe, Norman. No less that the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here. 🙂

          • I may have the temporary right to be here. ‘Temporary’ makes me a tenant. No species has permanent residency unless you count the microbial life that keeps us all alive. They might be seen as ‘landlords’, we are certainly here by their grace and favour.

            If we vanished tomorrow–they wouldn’t notice our passing.

            If they died out tomorrow, we wouldn’t survive a week. To them we are merely mines and prairies.

            Which then is the dominant life form.?

            what I do not have is the right to tear the place apart to the detriment of every other living species, though I have no doubt done my share of that in my lifetime. As we all have.

            My right is much less than the trees and stars because they too stabilise the world. Humankind appears to be destabilising it. The equivalent if you like, of burning down our house in order to keep warm.

            A once-only exercise in economic madness.

            • Excellent points. Then tenants we are.

              But bear in mind Life on Earth is hierarchical. As destructive as our activities may be to the biosphere, we can only prune the top layers of complexity. Lots of different viruses, bacteria, molds and probably insects are beyond our power to annihilate.

              When a climax ecosystem is degraded by nature or man (including women, transexuals, etc.), it spontaneously rebuilds itself into a climax ecosystem again (although not necessarily the same one) if given the chance and sufficient time.

              Take the Amazon rainforest. If people stop chopping it up and instead abandon the bits they’ve “reclaimed” from it, it regenerates into rainforest again within a century. It is only a continent-wide rainforest during interglacials such as the present period. In the colder glacial periods when Chicago and New York are buried under 2 miles of ice, the Amazon becomes mostly savannah or prairie with small patches of rain forest here and there. What we know as the Amazon is not much more than 10,000 years old and if we don’t cut it down first, it will probably return to mostly grassland over the coming 10,000 years.

              If you could look down at the Americas from Earth orbit like a speeded up movie with one frame every thousand years, you would see the Amazon pulsing into and out of existence like a heartbeat as the Laurentide ice sheet waxed and waned and the sea level rose and fell.

          • Some of us think that there is a literal Power behind all of the energy flows who is the real landlord. We are just temporary tenants, as are other species on earth.

            • Somewhat related, and to narrow down this large concept, lies morality. I’ve been trying to see morality as an energy system of a kind. Whatever service we get from humans, animals, natural forces must be repaid to satisfy the demands of morality. Something like the good of all might be considered, since this all is what has supplied us energetically to get where we are. So we owe something, which, for the system to work, must be repaid. Somehow, I could see this being a law of the “literal Power.”

            • “I’ve been trying to see morality as an energy system of a kind.”

              I think you might see it better as selected by human evolution. Try using evolutionary psychology. One of the things you should expect is that morality is context-dependent. Unstressed people tend to be well behaved toward each other. Highly stressed people are another story. You would expect this from selection models. For an example, try

            • I think that human morality varies over time, and is selected by human evolution. At the same time, what the morality selected at a given time depends on the energy consumption level available. Where death rates of babies are very high, and it is difficult to keep population up, morality will tend to encourage rich men to have several wives. When resources are more abundant, “one spouse at a time” will tend to keep population at closer to the right level, because many poor men will not be able to find wives.

              When population is too high, some excuse will come up for killing female babies. Babies are the ones who become mothers. Excess fathers in some sense, “Don’t matter.”

        • Great post Norm.
          though how do photons fit into your analogy. Would we describe them as physical things?
          Just looking for where you will get push back on your idea.

          • I guess photons, in the purely scientific sense, are physical things, but my concept of fossil fuel, and our use of it, was as something you can reach out and touch and rework for commercial purpose in some way.

            You can sink another oilwell using the energy from an oilwell, and have a vast surplus left over to use for other things

            A photon, as part of electrical transmission, always needs additional hard physical objects to react with. Those objects must be ‘made’ by human hands. I don’t know anything about the physical makeup of the electric eel, (as an example) but that species cannot use electricity other than to kill prey before eating it, which forms a 1:1 energy conversion ratio.

        • “we invented gods to confirm we own the place”

          In the past, we invented imaginary gods. In the not so distant future (assuming things hang together) we will either invent gods or raise ourselves to that category. This might be a good idea, or the worst ever considered.

        • “Fossil fuel is a material object–a lump of coal, a gallon of oil—you can feel it, weigh it, get yourself dirty with it. you can, (by using technology) convert it into a million other useful things.

          Technology on the other hand is an abstract concept”

          Existing technology allows using energy, air, and water to make stuff like coal and synthetic fuels that are exactly the same as what we refine out of oil. Synthetic methane as well. None of the carbon vanished when we burned it.

          • But the complexity tends to lead to wage disparity. Folks without college degrees are not much used in the process of making these synthetic compounds. It is the wage disparity that brings down selling prices of commodities, and makes it impossible for advanced technology to work in the real world.

            • “wage disparity. Folks without college ”

              I agree that the designers will be educated people. But most of the work on the ground such as installing billion-dollar rectennas will take people of the same level who are now installing solar farms.

            • Rectenna. From rectifying antenna. The term has been around since 1970 or so. Converts the microwave power beam into direct current electricity which is then converted to alternating current electricity for the grid.

            • This is a website detailing the requirements for solar installers.


              According to this:

              Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, Texas and quite a few other states – Requires electricians install solar panels

              California, Arizona, Hawaii, Florida and some other states – Require specific types of solar contractor licenses

              Quite a few states had no requirements, as of February 2015.

            • Poorly done PV installations on roofs can cause fires so there is a fair reason to require electricians. A rectenna build would be more similar to the huge solar farm installations. There would be a fair amount of medium to low skill work building the rectenna, but the running staff would be small. Still, building 300 of them a year for ten years will need a lot of labor.

          • explaining this is almost as painful as banging my head on the desk—but at least the neighbours don’t come round to complain about the noise.

            if, by some chance, humankind was able to move our energy dense era on from what we have now, —-which is a situation where we fulfil most of our energy requirements by digging stuff out of the ground, and setting fire to it

            ——To another situation entirely, where we reconfigure the molecules of all that we consumed over the last 300 years or so, back into the elements we started with.

            Then what we would have, is an industrial society whose prime function would be the acquisition of prime energy as an end in itself. Whereas now, acquisition/conversion of energy sources is a secondary activity.

            Why would we be in that position?

            Because we would be consuming more energy in the acquisition of (reconfigured) energy, than we would have as a return on our energy expended.

            Or—to put it as simply at the lowest level of human understanding, we would be converting the entire world into one giant battery.

            Next time someone offers to sell you a clock that runs backwards, on the promise it will make you younger—buy it.

            It will make more sense than pulling carbon molecules out of the air to build cars and computers. Entropy is a one way ticket. I too wish it had a return half.

            • “Because we would be consuming more energy in the acquisition of (reconfigured) energy, than we would have as a return on our energy expended.”

              That’s simply not true. If it were, I would not work on power satellites. The time to energy repayment for a power satellite is a couple of months. I have run through this calculation several times. I can do it again right here if you want to argue over the details.

            • You’ve already calculated (or accepted somebody else’s calculations) that there are enough stray asteroids out there to build several earth-areas which we can use for ongoing survival.

              any more arithmetic like that and my brain might explode

              so as such workings-out are unlikely to lead to any fruitful conclusions this side of the next millennium, we must agree to leave it at that

            • “You’ve already calculated (or accepted somebody else’s calculations) that there are enough stray asteroids out there to build several earth-areas which we can use for ongoing survival.”

              The astronomers have a good number for the mass of the asteroids. The mass of an O’Neill cylinder was worked out in detail around 1970. To get the number (which as a couple of thousand times the land area of the earth) you divide the asteroid mass by the space colony mass.

              “any more arithmetic like that and my brain might explode”

              Are you making the case that one arithmetic division is over your limit? I don’t think that is the case since such a level of numeracy is rare.

            • “you lost me”

              When you make comments on subjects that take serious math analysis, I hope the readers understand your limits.

              “I think I prefer it that way”

              Takes all kinds. I could not stand to be that ignorant.

            • There are people like like Norman, who are problem-oriented, and people like Keith, who are solutions-oriented, and they see the world very differently from each other.

              If we are to discover and implement solutions to our current problems, they can only come from people like Keith, because people like Norman have already convinced themselves that there are no solutions worth implementing. He may be right or he may be proved right by events, but that isn’t the point. Or the solutions implemented by people like Keith may leave us with even bigger problems down the road.

      • See:

        Most planets with water have abundant deuterium, which is an important and abundant stock fuel for fusion reactors. He needs a few hundred thousand for a demo reactor. Containment fusion reactors will never provide enough power gain, despite all the money thrown at them. Clock’s ticking…

        • here is a link to a fairly recent article on the containment fusion reactor folks, always stating their case for success being “just around the corner”.

          one of the main proponents interviewed had just lost his big government grant, which he states is “absurd” considering the progress the peer reviewers (his think-alike colleagues) acknowledged. we are left to wonder why this happened. could it be that there was actually little progress despite huge funds expended and generous time allotted for the work? hummm…

          • I think we need to get Fast Eddy back as the hopium is getting out of control.

    Glencore’s Mutanda Mine Closure Could Cripple Or Kill Tesla

    On Aug. 6, Glencore announced plans to close its Mutanda mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo by the end of this year.

    In Slide 33 for its recent conference call, Glencore explained that Mutanda will produce 25,000 tonnes of cobalt this year, followed by two years in care and maintenance mode.

    In its 2018-2019 Cobalt Market Review, Darton Commodities forecast total global supply of 140,000 tonnes in 2020 vs. total global demand of 132,000 tonnes.

    The Mutanda mine closure will immediately shift the cobalt supply and demand balance from a comfortable 4,000-tonne surplus to a crushing 19,000-tonne deficit.

    Since batteries for electric cars and stationary energy storage products require enormous amounts of cobalt, the Mutanda closure could be a crippling if not fatal blow for Tesla.


    Glencore explained that Mutanda’s economic oxide ore reserves will be exhausted by year-end. . . Since Mutanda produced over 20% of the world’s cobalt in 2018, the mine closure will shift the short-term supply and demand balance from comfortable surpluses in 2020 and 2021 to crushing supply deficits of 19,000 and 23,000 tonnes, respectively.

    • We have been at this several times already, as not every lithium based batt chemistry is using the same amount of cobalt (if at all), on top of it TSLA is retooling for different type of batteries anyway..

      • Typical naive response to a resource limitation. There will always be a newer, more efficient process, technology driven material combination to overcome the shortfall,, and it will all be created with much more complexity. Of course the newer process and material combination is guaranteed to ultimately be exhausted also.

        • We can’t tell when the exhaustion occurs, so we assume that it will never occur, or that a different substitute will happen. We also miss the point that increased complexity leads to increased wage disparity. Increased wage disparity tends to bring commodity prices of all kinds down. It is the low prices that tend to bring the system down.

        • JJ> you might have noticed I said nothing about the realistic volume (maximum) production achievable for the less rare resource consuming batt production, there is a limit to it obviously as well. I merely reminded Gail, we had this discussion in detail before. Instadoom/crash callings serve no purpose.

          If you happen to live near IC hubs of the world, i.e. some degree of dependency(habit) on electric power, any increased production of this stuff has potential benefit to you, it’s a simple extender of this epoch when lights start go blinking and then dark. Nothing more to it from rational-opportunistic observer standpoint.. we can simply watch such muskianic, kianistic or vware mass production efforts from predatory self restrained distance.

      • I think you are right. Prices would spike if there were a problem. I see that in terms of prices, Lithium and Cobalt prices started falling about January 2018. This is the time I think of China’s demand being at its peak. It is the time before it discontinued a lot of its renewables processing. I am sure that there were a lot of layoffs in China at that time, even though we didn’t read about it.

        I imagine that there were other issues as well.

        A lot of nickel is used in batteries as well. Nickel’s prices seem to follow the same general price curve a oil (High in 2008, again in 2012, etc.) I presume that is because nickel is used widely throughout the economy.

        If a person is a cobalt analyst (as the Seeking-Alpha author I linked to was), it is easy to look at the supply side of the equation only.

        • Yes, nickel for car industry is only small portion of the overall industrial demand, besides the manufs of mild hybrids are slowly moving away from these nimh batteries to lithium etc..

        • The top three elements in metal asteroids are iron, nickel, and cobalt. But I really doubt cobalt is going to be used much longer in batteries. There is a new kind of lithium battery that uses etched silicon wafers in place of the cobalt. It needs a massive scale-up, but perhaps a bad cobalt shortage would do just that.

    • While the Congolese themselves are among the most wretched people on earth – all those resources extracted and run down for nothing. No Green Dream for them.

  8. With the rise of the use of the fossil fuels, the human species increasingly transports resources from hostile environments to the environments that are depleted through the long-term use by the humans. The point is that this is only a temporary solution preventing the inevitable decline of the human populations.

    As regards the renewables, only the stored energy can counteract the natural flows of the energy, thus creating the environments suitable for the human species.

    The key question of the humans is always this: What is the storage that I can draw from independently of other species (i.e plants, animals, microbes etc.)?

    E.g. when the wild plants are more efficient in the use of the energy of the natural elements, then the wild plants defeat the human environments, while the humans seek shelter (i.e. spend energy for protecting themselves against natural elements). Thus a permanent controlled destruction of other species for energy gain (like burning the biomass, hunting animals) is an integral part of the existence of the human species.

    • Very insightful observations, MG.

      Continuing controlled destruction of other species appears to be essential to successful agriculture. The land has to be cleared and regrowth kept in check in order for crops and livestock to be grown on a large enough scale to create a large enough surplus from nature to support the farmers and the wider community that depends on the surplus food.

      Similarly, wild animals have to be kept in check in order to prevent them from destroying those same crops, or chickens. Unless you happen to be a Jain, agriculture involves controlled destruction of other species on a continuing basis.

      • Interestingly, the largest eco-cide has been performed not on the macro fauna-flora but on the soil web creatures which hold it all together. After that internalized knowledge a lot could be reversed back (at least locally-regionally wise), some already do it..

        • The soil is depleted by the long-time agriculutural use. It needs not only the soil web creatures, but also a lot of minerals put back into it. Unless there are rivers that bring those minerals back in floods.

          • The minerals are brought up from deeper layers by these soil creatures (and fungi etc), plus a lot could/should be added via animal/human compost and wood burning ashes. Last but not least a lot of rare stuff is “miraculously” synthesized-transmuted in the soil in the first place..

            The various rejuvenation agri practices show it clearly, deep rich top soils brought back several inches per decade.. no extra mineral inputs apart from above mentioned. That’s how nature was replenishing enviro disaster stricken places for millions of yrs previously..

            • I think you are right. Collapses, and leaving areas without human population for quite some period, were able to rejuvenate depleted soils. There is still the problem of where soil has washed completely away, but those areas are more limited. Also, salination is a problem in some places.

          • Liebig’s Law of the Minimum makes certain that the plant doesn’t grow, unless it has the basic minerals that it needs for its functioning. But plants seem to be able to grow with suboptimal amounts of many minerals. Also, the needs of humans for minerals is quite different from the needs for plants. Thus, even if the soil is adequate for plants, it quite possibly might not be very good for human nutrition.

            Years of crop rotation won’t really solve this problem, if human and animal waste is sent off to sewage treatment centers, and much of the output ends up downstream. The commercial fertilizer that is used to supplement tends to leave out a lot of important minerals, such as magnesium. So human nutrition goes farther and farther down, over time. This would seem to be especially the case where manure is not used to fertilize crops.

            • When I moved to the countryside, the old house had a primitive outhouse with a septic tank and we had the dubious pleasure of ladling out the waste, which was disposed of as fertilizer for the veggie field or else to feed the roses and tea bushes.

              However, the wife turned her nose up at the smell, literally, and so we installed a huge tank to purify all household water and waste, which is kept operating by a motorized blower to aerate the thing 24/7/365. The purchase and installation was subsidized to the tune of 100% by the local authority and they also subsidize 50% the cost of the annual “scum” removal and water exchange.

              So for the past 25 years we’ve paid a modest US$400 a year plus the running cost of the motor for the privilege of not having to put up with the smell and reduced our risk of contracting dysentery, and the local river is cleaner, but the land has lost out on a lot of organic fertilizer and the flies and other insects are big losers too, which means the birds and bats and frogs that depend on said bugs have a harder time too.

            • I’ve been reposting your writing in a few places internationally. One part of me thinks it’s just going to pass over people’s heads, but am pleasantly surprised to see a like here and there on Facebook. Tim’s story has a textbook clarity to it, and I included that in today’s sharing.

            • Someone sent me an e-mail saying that a union in South Africa was distributing copies of my current article on Renewables. I know I have readers around the world, pretty much everywhere.

            • “Years of crop rotation won’t really solve this problem, if human and animal waste is sent off to sewage treatment centers, and much of the output ends up downstream.”

              In the long run (assuming people continue eating as biological creatures) the elements taken away in crops have to be returned to the soil. That takes a lot of energy.

            • Indeed that takes a lot of energy UNLESS the people live in the same local of the food production. Otherwise, ideally, the recycling-redistribution of minerals is done manually(+wood ashes), draft animals (manure spreading), as well as most of the composting work itself done by (microbial volunteers) + domesticated animals with natural affinity for it. It’s a small (nearly) closed cycled surplus system for decent human pop and culture not for the techno metastasized overpop..

            • The trick is first, getting population low enough for resources available. Then the problem becomes keeping population from growing to exceed the resources. All of the historical collapses shows that the system has gone through this cycle many time. Once sufficient resources are available, population tends to grow and resources tend to deplete. In a short time, the system is back to the same place it was, with way too many people for resources.

            • Gregory Clark makes exactly the same analysis with the exception that he think the industrial revolution broke at least some of the population out of the Malthusian trap. His book has a considerable discussion about the lower birthrate that came along with the industrial revolution.

        • Right, but the crop yield will be lower and the problem with depleted minerals won’t go away by itself. The amount of human labor in the process may prove to be higher as well. In the US, organic food seems to be produced in very dry areas, where the problem of plant pests is lower. But watering needs are higher, and the cost of transport is higher.

          The cheapest food is the food that can be produced with least human labor. In the US, at least, that is what seems to sold in greatest quantity. “Organic food” is always more expensive.

      • “Desertification is a fancy word for land that is turning to desert,” begins Allan Savory in this quietly powerful talk. And terrifyingly, it’s happening to about two-thirds of the world’s grasslands, accelerating climate change and causing traditional grazing societies to descend into social chaos. Savory has devoted his life to stopping it. He now believes — and his work so far shows — that a surprising factor can protect grasslands and even reclaim degraded land that was once desert.

        • If I recall correctly, this is one of the ideas put out in videos that doesn’t really work in practice. I don’t have links on this, however.

          • Not sure about greening deserts pronto (even semi arid desert setting takes time) but the basic system of rotational grazing and keeping water in the land works, that has been proven ample times already on many continents in recent decades, obviously the inherited bias is more on northerly/colder biomes. It’s not meant for tropical jungle.. although (even near) there terraced rice paddies and selected domesticated animals could coexist with the wild nature, obviously not in volumes for billions of humans. That’s all known stuff, however “seamless” transformation for everybody is likely not possible at this point.. if that’s too messianic idea put forward by Savory – my/his bad – the basic message is correct though.

      • Yesterday, I have visited a friend, who is a catholic parson in a village in the Carpathian mountains some 40 km from my home. He keeps some sheep around his church for grass mowing. I asked him about the local hunters and he mentioned that they told him that they do not kill all the amount of the game animals allowed per year due to the road that crosses the given valley and the traffic which kills a good portion of the game animals instead of them.

        The control over other species exists in many parts of the world, but people usually do not realize its existence and importance for the maintenance of the human environments.

      • In fact, pre-humans started destroying other species, back when they learned to control fire. The control of fire started over 1 million years ago. I am not sure when pre-humans (or humans) started burning down whole forests, so that the area would become more open (at least temporarily), and thus would support more of the food stuffs that they wanted to hunt and gather. Even at that early date, we were choosing which species we wanted to continue and getting rid of species that seemed to be in our way. Our influence on climate (at least locally) began back then as well.

        • Recently the methods of reconstructing the image of past landscapes/ecosystem matured enough (decade/decade or even y/y seeds-pollen deposit-record etc.) that the levels of biodiversity are known to relatively precise degree. Especially, if we look at the pre extensive tillage period in colder European regions, the agro forestry worked pretty good, it was basically mixed forest with enough opened canopy and partially domesticated animals, yes some megafauna did not survived to this point but it was still very diverse and rich ecosystem kept in balance. Things turned to sh%te only with invasion – incorporation of cultured ME grasses (grains), the surpluses spiked locally, and the resulting whole human competition viscous cycle kick started wider social changes in terms of preference for permanent dwellings and conflicts. That’s basically rehash of the old narrative of “paradise lost” but it’s true – there were such good (interregnum) periods – unfortunately never lasted for ever.

          • Grains allowed people to store calories in a convenient way. Grains also allowed humans to use horses as work animals, instead of oxen that ate grass. Thus, with grains, humans had control of more energy products.

            The use of grains helped world population grow, just as the control of fire was a step forward in giving humans an advantage over other animals. Fossil fuels added to this advantage.

            • Yes I described the peak of idealized form of affluent pastoral [no/low grain] and [no till] system ~2000BC (in the north). You described the more recent “evolutionary steps forward” stages.. which eventually brought the pandemonium multitude of very bad side effects and waste loops..

        • I looked this up as I had no idea, and I found a response from Ravindra Jain, who is a Jain and an expert on Jainism. It comes down to doing the minimum of harm to living creatures. He writes:

          It is a total misconception to say that agriculture cannot be undertaken by Jains. Jainism does not forbid agriculture as such.

          Jainism expressly mentions 15 type of highly sinful activities (karmadaan) that entail enormous amount of himsa (harm of violence) of Tras Jivas (two sense to five sense living-beings) and should not be taken up by Jain shrawaks. Agriculture is not one of these. A farmer works in the field to feed us. His activity cannot be called sinful.

          The first Tirthankar Lord Rishabhdev himself taught the skill of agriculture to the mankind as the impact of ‘kalpavrikshas’ had started dwindling and people could not get their needs fulfilled from them. If agriculture was such a sin, he would not have taught this skill.

          Many of the staunch followers of Lord Mahavira, including Anand Shrawak, were engaged in agriculture.

          If agriculture is not permitted, the alternate means of food will be primarily meat which is obviously not at all permitted in Jainism.

          The opposition to agriculture mainly comes from the fact that it entails more himsa than many other trades or professions. Therefore, the general perception is that if one has a choice or if it is not a compulsion, then why not avoid it.

          What Jainism says is that we should try to avoid or minimise himsa. Whatever we do, we should use due caution and commonsense to ensure that, to the extent possible, there is minimum himsa. Ultimately it is your intention, your conduct and your object of doing a particular activity that is more important than the activity itself.

          It would, therefore, be wrong to say that Jainism forbids agriculture as such. However, if you want to do farming only for pleasure or as a hobby, then you should consider whether it is worth, as it would certainly involve avoidable himsa.

  9. The enabler, silent partner, supporting all our environmental concerns, climate change, populations growth, pollution, habitat destruction, mass extinction, resource depletion, looming economic and social collapse etc., etc., the white elephant in the room is our messy morality and ethics.

    In 2007 when I first seriously considered our predicament, it was obvious to me then and remains so today, our problems are rooted much deeper than the oil we burn, and the resulting greenhouse gases we emit. Since then I feel our state of affairs hasn’t changed all that much. What has changed is the amount of published work on the subject environmental ethics. We are awash in persuasive arguments rationalizing our morals and ethics, our relations with the planet, the biosphere, the natural systems, etc. The Pope’s encyclical is the first example to come to my mind. A quick googling of “environmental ethics” yields thousands of published articles, philosophical papers, books, and videos. We have an ocean of related information. Such as they are, our ethics and morals supervene (as they say) on physical systems grounded in the physics.

    Shine a light, look closer and we find the scrappy, ubiquitous, the unyielding and poorly understood, the un-winder of potentials, the under appreciated machinations of… entropy. Our pithy measure of ignorance, and possibilities. What is ignorance if not reservoirs for dreams of what could be. It is bound to all the global challenges we face, and it deserves our attention when planning a future. Together with complexity science we are illuminating important systemic relationships, dynamics previously beyond our ken. We have a new appreciation for and a better understanding of the emergent properties evident in large numbers of actors following their rules for engagement. Our very clamorous numbers dictate this happens, in spite of our perturbations. Through this lens we are but burning blind faith. Any naïve optimism for a better space age future, is burning blind faith.

    We do not have a perfect understanding of the system Earth as an integrated whole; yet, we will continue to push boundaries, innovate in ways that further capture, generate and integrate greater and greater potentials in order to do… what ?

    Gung-ho enthusiasts are gathering behind geo-engineering proposals to mitigate the effects of climate change. We do not have a perfect understanding of the interrelated macro and micro dynamics of climate. The Earth is a complex dynamical system, completely inter connected, integrating natural and social agency, constantly evolving anew emergent global order. The energetic constituents behaviors over time eventually lead to a phase transitions all the while pressing on for greater equilibriums. Geo-engineering sounds like a good strategy to some people, an expedient, but our limited understanding of complex systems dynamics and our history of being forced to deal with the increasing social and physical entropy. The “unintended consequences ” of our interventions should cause us to push pause and reconsider. “First, do no harm”. Interventions at the scale that Global change requires, is something we should dread addressing post cautionary. It is something we should respect before all hell breaks loose. I support policy that respects the cautionary principle, while recognizing the post-cautionary principle has supporters.

    A better understanding of how systemic dynamic evolutions will serve our aims, our information processing, our energy capture and transformations, weather or not these aims are ultimately misguided, entropic forcing can help us explain the tailings of our cultural mores, our hubris, arrogance and anthropocentric moral landscape, and with luck, just might prep us for a radical change of mind.

    • “The enabler, silent partner, supporting all our environmental concerns, climate change, populations growth, pollution, habitat destruction, mass extinction, resource depletion, looming economic and social collapse etc., etc., the white elephant in the room is our messy morality and ethics.”

      We are like other species. We expand our range and population. Our morality and ethics have always been discarded when they conflict with expanding range and population. In that extent they are just a idea with no substance. Yet they do reflect something real our ability to want to be kind and just. That is the paradox. I don’t think that our kindness should be discarded. I don’t think we could discard it even if we wanted to. Just like we cant discard our consuming nature. Paradox.

    • The most sophisticated, and technologically advanced, human intervention in the natural order can only ever be very clumsy, and largely unpredictable in consequences.

      • True enough, little do we know, so pedal to the metal full speed ahead. Mercy.
        Late at night,
        The end user flips on the lamp and fan, then sits comfortably reading High Times, or Wired. Can everyone see how much room we have for improvement? We are using one of our densest energy sources, hydrocarbons to bring light to a task, or move air molecules in or out, here or there…
        This is an particularly egregious example of how inefficient we are when it comes to electric energy use
        I have read various calculations, all close depending on the source burned and the device driven at an outlet. We loose >90% of the energy in the supply chain in order to do the least taxing of work?
        Staggering, sobering. Room for improvement my young engineering students?
        We can do better, we can start by matching the quality of energy to the work to be done.
        I am not an engineer, but I believe they can redesign the coarse clumsy bludgeons we currently have at hand.
        And reminding myself, engineering is first a social science serving an agenda, wittingly or not, the goals, our aims constrain the designs. What are we designing for? More poolside parties, more drunken nights at the punch bowl.

        • Nature builds differently, though. Lots of redundancy. The best adapted survive. High efficiency is not the most important criterion, unless your system can withstand a high failure rate.

          • Yes, yes, yes, efficiency is sometimes over rated. A leaf uses but 10% of sunlights energy bathing it; an electric eel is but 19% efficient. Enough is enough for any success in evolution.
            I was hoping to make two points;
            1) To be mindful of how wasteful we are with our precious high density energies. Use them where appropriate, heavy lifting. I imagine we can use less dense energy sources in most places.
            2) Seed my hope for some review of first principles that guide who, what, where, when and why, we engineer the burning of our resources.

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