Friday, February 06, 2009


I got a new YouTube subscriber today, her screen name is 2BSirius. she has a number of very interesting videos on her site, that I encourage folks to go take a peak at.

As I was viewing them today, my perennial question came to mind and I decided to send her a message and ask her opinion of it. I didn't include anything naughty in that message, so I though I might share here, also, as see what comments you folks might have for these thoughts and this line of inquiry.


I'm currently working my way through your videos. I see that early in the series you were well aware of Peak Oil.

You talk about solving the 'problem'. Do you come to any conclusions or definitions as to what you think the problem is?

This is a topic that had been thinking about for decades, but really gelled for me in 1998, when I read, "The End of Cheap Oil" by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherre, in the May Scientific American. That's when I understood the problem I had been worrying over all along. That of resoruce depletion and how to go about understanding the timing of resource depletion.

Ove the last decade in conversations in many forums, I have been vexed by the cyclic redundancy of arguments and solutions presented. Much of the ground we covered in those early conversations, has now made it into books by the 'experts', who seem to have gone no further into this topic than we did.

They lay out the problems, show the scale of the crisis with various data points, then end with a nebulous fuzzy path to some sort of 'solution'.

I think that this optimism is driven by two things.

1. Publishers want a happy ending.
2. We want to believe that we control our destinies.

In a Peak Oil town hall meeting in Austin many years back, after the presenters gave their arguments and slideshows, several audience members took turns, asking for the solution. I remember one woman said, "Throw us a bone. How can we fix this?"

She got me thinking about this. Can we fix it? I knew logically, and mathematically, that I had proven to myself that this problem was in essence, a problem of the exponential function. And the exponential function has no solution. It's like the computer (Joshua) says at the end of the movie, 'War Games', "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play."

But we are already playing.

The problem is usually characterized as, 'How do we return to business as usual?' Which can be paraphrased as, "How do we get back on track to infinite growth?'

But infinite growth is impossible, as we quickly get into a state were our rate of consumption of resources reaches impossible levels. For instance, a healthy 3% growth in oil consumption, leads to a doubling every 25.6 years. When people argue that this can be continued to the year 3000, I can help but laugh. The mass of oil required exceeds the mass of the known universe. Clearly, the problem of returning to infinite growth, is completely insolvable.

In ecological studies, we have the concepts of overshoot and dieoff. These concepts, when applied to our current situation, fit in neatly. We've eliminated 90% of our food fish and more than 90 percent of our topsoil. We're still eliminating our last old growth forests at fantastic rates. We have build a civilization that is completely dependant of fossil fuels.

When we fall back onto pre-fossil fuel aged modes of living, it will be very hard on us. We have done so much damage to our biosphere that it may not be able to support even the population levels we had, before the industrial revolution.

The financial disasters we're seeing now, are completely predictable in the face of peak oil. As early as 2000, I was writing online that governments would combat peak oil by increasing liquidity, by printing money and would pull all stops in an effort to bail out it's top institutions, to keep them growing, and expanding, no matter what. As they do so, they'll sacrific smaller entities and destroy thr economies that support them. It seems that this prediction has come true. This trend will continue.

I originally took my cues from what I knew of Perestroika. then much of the rest just seemed to follow a logic line of reasoning. After all, the politicians in Washington are vetted and groomed by the wealthiest institutions. These entities will get unlimited support, no matter what.

Further, Peak Oil preparations in my view, require an intentional move to a more 'conservative' lifestyle. In conservative, I mean it in the actual definition, not in the jello-like, political definition.

Our political conservatives, have made it clear that true conservation is an evil that they will not pursue. As Dick Cheney argued, 'It's not a basis for sound policy.'

So our government then and now, are intent to chase after the spectre of infinite growth. Our owners will not allow us to elect anyone with a saner or more rational view.

So if policy cannot change, then we can only change ourselves. And only to a limited degree, as the government will take our stuff away, if we do not participate in the prescribed fashion. We must still play at capitalism and consumption, or lose our property in tax siezures.

Finally, the real root of our problem, is that we have too many people. That topic is untouchable, unsolveable by the likes of you and I. So the problem will persist no matter what we do.

So if we can't solve the problem, we must redefine it. We must find a sub problem within the bigger set of problems, that will at least lend itself to temporary solutions.

The only way I see to do this, is to concern myself with my personal path and my local community. Within that scope, I can find solutions to problems. And even better yet, many of those solutions I can implement. But even as I do so, I think it's wise to keep an eye on how the bigger problems are unfolding as they have a way of becoming local.

This isn't a message of hope. But in day to day survival, the path we've taken since conception, there is hope. There is beauty. There is joy. We just need to remember that we're here to live, even as we fight to survive. We're going to experience shortages of stuff. but we don't need stuff, to be happy. We just think we do. But I think to be happy, we do need food and safe water drink. We need shelter. We need clothes and companionship. These are the things that support happiness. So there's no reason to despair over the big problems. We've taken our place on the great mandela. Enjoy the ride while we're here.

The crushing weight of the exponential function, coupled with man's nature, leads me to believe that we may end this century with less than a billion people. I don't see any proof in any of this to assume that our line will become extinct. But I believe that we can assume that evolution will shape future generations into new forms, better fitted to life in the world we'll leave them.

If I jump out of my little box for a moment, and work on a solution, assuming I could change human nature, I'm left with the essential problem, of getting our population down quickly, to under sustainable levels, without destroying the biosphere in the process. The only way as I see it is to fertility down to near zero. The world's resources would like support a diminishing and dying population and give us a 'prosperous way down'. But I doubt we'll see that. It seems like pie in the sky for me.

So back to my earlier question, have you considered the nature of the problem?


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