Net metering and the death of US rooftop solar

April 22, 2016 by Roger Andrews at

“Net metering” allows anyone with a solar installation to sell surplus solar power to the grid when the sun is shining and to purchase power back from the grid when it isn’t. Net metering has been described as the lifeblood of solar in America, and it’s probably true to state that without it there would be few, if any domestic rooftop solar installations anywhere in the country. However, the program is now coming under attack, with Hawaii and Nevada recently rolling back net metering benefits and with a number of other states also considering changes. What happens if enough states impose similar rollbacks, or maybe do away with net metering altogether? This post reviews this question and concludes that domestic solar in the US will slowly wither and die.

The Nevada decision

On December 23, 2015, the Nevada State Legislature passed Senate Bill 374, following which the state Public Utilities Commission cut the rate payable to owners of domestic solar installations who sell surplus power to Nevada Energy. The rationale was that intermittent solar power sold to the NV Energy grid “differs from” the dispatchable power the grid sells back and that domestic solar owners were getting paid too much for the former and not paying enough for the latter:

The order separates the prices of energy and related services provided by NV Energy, and the intermittent renewable energy provided to NV Energy by net metering customers. This approach is fair because it recognizes that the energy and suite of energy services provided by NV Energy to net metering customers differs from the intermittent excess energy delivered to NV Energy’s system.

This decision will be welcomed by all who recognize that solar is incapable of providing more than a small fraction of total electricity supply because of prohibitive storage requirements and that it’s presently getting a free ride on the back of grid generation that substitutes for storage. Certainly my rooftop solar panels would be totally uneconomic if I couldn’t use grid power at night and had to use storage batteries instead.

The Nevada solar industry, however, was not amused. Three solar companies – SolarCity, Sunrun and Vivint – announced they would have to cease operations in the state and local installers have been forced to cut staff. Also not amused were Nevada’s 18,000 existing rooftop solar array owners, who thought they were “grandfathered” but found that they weren’t. Their response was to launch a class action lawsuit against NV Energy alleging the utility “conspired to unlawfully reduce incentives” and NV Energy caved in, announcing that it would file a proposal to keep existing customers on the old rates, recognizing the desire for a “stable and predictable cost environment.”

“A potentially worrisome precedent”

But still the outcome in Nevada sets a potentially worrisome precedent for the US solar industry, with roughly half of all U.S. states currently studying or changing their net metering policies. States are taking action now because domestic solar in the US has grown so fast that several of them are now approaching or have already reached their net-metering caps. (A net metering cap is a target set by state authorities and it’s usually related to some fraction of peak demand or to capacity. But each state uses different criteria and some of them are extremely complicated. Details for anyone who might want more information are available here and here).

Two states other than Nevada have already revisited the question of how much intermittent solar power is really worth and how much of it their state can really use. The first was Hawaii, where some of Hawaii Electric Company’s grids were getting swamped by rooftop solar to the point where solar generation exceeded total demand at daytime solar peak. An example is given in Figure 1, which shows “backfeed” conditions between 10.30am and 2pm on August 8, 2013:

Figure 1: Average transformer load showing “backfeed” conditions, Hawaii utilities

Because of growing problems of this type the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission shut the net metering program down for new participants in October last year. As was the case in Nevada this shutdown was also accompanied by weeping, wailing and lawsuits from the local solar industry and rooftop solar owners, but the situation was obviously unsustainable. And it arose with less than 1% overall annual solar penetration in the state, not the 10% commonly assumed. More about this later.

Another state on a collision course with net metering is California, the home of the “Duck Curve”: (The Hawaii curve is known as the “Nessie Curve”, although the resemblance is less obvious.)

Figure 2: The California “Duck Curve”

At expected rates of solar growth California will also have a potential overgeneration problem by 2020, and the ramp rates needed to cover the period between about 5pm and peak load at 9pm reach potentially alarming levels. California’s solution has been to mandate the installation of 1.3GW of storage capacity (again no “h” given) by 2020, but this is just a drop in the bucket by California standards.

Current Status of the US solar industry:

One of the remarkable things about the US solar industry is how insignificant it is. Figure 3 plots percent solar penetration in the 36 states for which solar data are available (estimated as total solar generation divided by total generation using 2015 data from the EIA detailed state generation data base). The average level of penetration in 2015 was only 0.6%, and many states generated effectively no solar at all:

Figure 3: Solar generation by state as a percentage of total generation.

Only California is anywhere close to 10% solar penetration. Solar penetration in Nevada is less than 5% and in Hawaii less than 1%. (I checked this number and found that according to Hawaii Electric Company it’s correct). The implication is that solar may begin to stress grids at levels of penetration much lower than 10%, particularly at the local level.


What we are seeing here is a conflict between on the one hand the utilities and grid operators, who view solar as a threat to their bottom line and to grid stability, and on the other the green lobby plus the residential owners, installers and PV panel salesmen who are now benefiting from the proceeds of subsidized solar and the existence of net metering. The surprising thing, however, is that this conflict has broken out even though solar still contributes a negligible percentage of the US generation mix. Why should this be? I think partly because the hundreds of thousands of homeowners who have installed solar arrays are dependent on a continuation of net metering to recoup their investment, partly because 200,000 people are now employed in the US solar industry, partly because solar can in some cases destabilize grids even at low levels of penetration (viz. Hawaii) and partly because of the claims made by some scientific organizations as to the percentage of US electricity generation solar could ultimately fill, such as:

  • US National Renewable Energy Laboratory: 39% with rooftop solar PV alone
  • Stanford University: 38% by 2050
  • US Department of Energy: 27% by 2050
  • International Energy Agency: 36% by 2050 (with solar thermal)

Numbers like this, which assume an approximate sixty-fold expansion of US solar capacity over present levels, can only be described as wishful thinking. Yet in the minds of many they are realistic targets.

But what happens if net metering benefits are rolled back? I picked an example which should be fairly close to reality – a household in Southern Nevada that consumes 11,000 kWh/year, the US average, with a 5kW solar array on the roof. I constructed a crude daily demand curve to show a peak around the breakfast hour and a larger one in the evening when everyone is at home watching large-screen TV or playing computer games and all the lights have been left on. Figure 4A shows hourly consumption and solar generation for the household during an average day (which assumes 12 hours of sunshine and a capacity factor of 19%, which is about right for Southern Nevada.) When the sun isn’t shining the household gets all its power from the grid, but for about 7 hours it gets all its power from the 3kW solar array. And over this period the array generates a healthy surplus that gets fed back to the grid, sending the electricity meter into reverse and causing it to wind rapidly backwards:

Figure 4: Demand, solar generation and consumption for a “typical” Southern Nevada household with net metering in place

Figure 4B shows the cumulative impacts. At the end of the day the household has consumed 30.3kWh, but because of the surplus solar power sent to the grid it gets charged for only 6.7kWh of grid power, which at current Nevada retail rates of $0.11/kWh works out to the princely sum of 74 cents, or an annual bill of about $270. Compared to what the bill would have been without solar (about $1,200) this gives the owner something like a ten-year payback on his or her solar investment after federal and state tax credits, which is not too bad when one considers that the solar array adds value to the house and that the PV panels will, one assumes, continue to generate electricity after payback is reached.

Nevada’s net metering rollback will, however, ultimately reduce the payment homeowners receive for solar electricity sent to the grid by 75% . How much difference will this make? Instead of saving almost $1,000/year on electricity bills the homeowner will now save only about $250/year. Even allowing for federal and state tax credits this will make domestic solar totally uneconomic in Nevada. And if other states follow Nevada’s lead it will eventually become uneconomic in those states as well.

And the problem doesn’t stop there. US utilities, with some justification, are also angling for increased charges to cover the costs of integrating growing amounts of solar power with their grids. (Nevada’s “grid connection charge” is scheduled to triple over the next five years). The end of the net metering road will of course be reached when the grids can’t physically accept any more solar, or no one will be able to afford the grid connection charge, whereupon Figure 4A will look like this:

Figure 5: Demand, solar generation and consumption for a “typical” Southern Nevada household with no net metering in place. The household is capable of powering itself for only about 8 hours.

Yet some believe that net metering rollbacks will provide a new opportunity for US solar. This article (which describes net metering as solar’s “junk food”) proposes a “value-of-solar tariff” where “solar customers are paid for the value of the electricity they produce at the specific time and place they put it on the grid.” This seems fair, but it too would probably kill rooftop solar. The California duck curve shown in Figure 2 shows how. The solar power produced in the middle of the day exceeds grid requirements and would therefore have to be sold at a low price if not wasted altogether, and at the nine o’clock peak, when power is in greatest demand, the sun has set or in in the process of setting. Another article views net metering rollbacks as an opportunity for domestic solar producers to go off-grid entirely and fill demand from energy storage, either in a utility-owned or domestic storage facility. But “to make the storage option appealing to customers … it would need to be offered using a low capital expenditures (CAPEX) business model.” “Energy storage” and “low CAPEX” are, however, mutually-exclusive terms, so that won’t work either.

It therefore appears that the future of domestic US solar depends on how far the states that are currently considering or reconsidering their positions roll back net metering benefits. And they probably wouldn’t have to roll them back very far before rooftop solar becomes uneconomic – unless of course the government jumps in with yet more subsidies. But hope springs eternal, particularly in the breast of the US solar industry.


Posted in Other Experts, Photovoltaic Solar | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

NASA explains why self-driving cars may not be in your future

[ This is a shortened, reworded summary of the article below.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

Pavlus, John. July 18, 2016. What NASA Could Teach Tesla about Autopilot’s Limits. Scientific American.

Decades of research have warned about the human attention span in automated cockpits

After the Tesla’s Model S in auto-pilot mode crashed into a truck and killed its driver, the safety of self-driving cars has been questioned due to 3 factors: the autopilot system didn’t see the truck coming, the driver didn’t notice the truck either, so neither applied the brakes.

Who better knows the dangers than NASA, where automation in cockpits has been studied for decades (i.e. cars, space shuttle, airplane).  They describe how connected a person is to a decision-making process as “in the loop”, which, say driving a car yourself, means Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA).  But if your car is in autopilot but you can still interact with the system to brake or whatever, you are “ON the loop”.

Airplanes fly automated, with pilots observing.  But this is very different from a car.  If something goes wrong the pilot has many minutes to react. The plane is 8 miles in  the air.

But in a car, you have just ONE SECOND.  That requires a faster reflex reaction time than a test pilot. There’s almost no margin for error.  This means you might as well be driving manually since you still have to be paying full attention when the car is on autopilot, not sitting in the back seat reading a book.

Tesla tries to get around this by having the autopilot make sure the driver’s hands are on the wheel and visual and audible alerts are triggered if not.

But NASA has found this doesn’t work because the better the auto-pilot is, the less attention the driver pays to what’s going on.  It is tiring, and boring, to monitor a process that does well for a long time, and was called a “vigilance decrement” as far back as 1948. Experiments back then showed that after just 15 minutes vigilance drops off.

So the better the system the more we’re likely to stop paying attention.  But no one would want to buy a self-driving car that they may as well be driving. The whole point is that dangerous stuff we’re already doing now like changing the radio, eating, and talking on the phone would be less dangerous in autopilot mode.

These findings expose a contradiction in systems like Tesla’s Autopilot. The better they work, the more they may encourage us to zone out—but in order to ensure their safe operation they require continuous attention. Even if Joshua Brown was not watching Harry Potter behind the wheel, his own psychology may still have conspired against him.

Tesla’s plan assumes that automation advances will eventually get around this problem.

By the way, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) already has a 4 level definition of automation.

  • Level 1 “invisible” driver assistance (i.e. antilock brakes with electronic stability control).
  • Level 2 cars with 2+ level 1 systems (i.e. in cruise control, lane centering)
  • Level 3 “Limited Self-Driving Automation” in cars like the Model S, where “the driver is expected to be available for occasional control but with sufficiently comfortable transition time.”
  • Level 4 full self-driving automation

NASA warns that although partial automation is inherently unsafe, it’s also a danger to assume that level 4, full self-driving automation is a logical extension of level 3 (other car makers like google and Ford appear to be trying to reach level 4).

Level 3 is probably unsuitable for cars because the 1-second reaction time is simply too fast, and level 4, based on NASA’s experience is also unlikely.

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Limits to Growth? 2016 United Nations report provides best evidence yet

This peer-reviewed United Nations report (excerpts below) ought to scare anyone who understands exponential growth. Here are a few examples to think about while reading the report:

  1. If 2 grams of gold grew at a 5% compound rate for 2,000 years, it would grow to 800 trillion golden planet earths
  2. Donella Meadows, lead author of limits to growth, explored the concept of doubling. If you ate double the number of peanuts every day for a month, you’d be eating 500 tons the last day. Until the 1970s, oil consumption doubled every 10 years at a 7% growth rate per year. That means every 10 years, as much oil was used as all the oil previously consumed.  At that rate, even if the earth was a giant gas tank, oil would run out in 342 years.
  3. The UN study states population grew at a 1.6% compound rate from 1970 to 2010. So if  there were 15 million people 13,500 years ago, we’d have over a google of people now at a 1.6% compound rate.  A google has 100 zeros.

In order to accommodate an additional 2 billion people in 2050, material consumption will need to nearly triple to 180 billion tonnes of materials, almost three times today’s amount.  If 180 billion tonnes grows in the future at 5% compound rate, in 497 years the entire earth will be consumed, all 5.972 x 1021 tonnes of it, and we’ll be floating in outer space.

I’m amazed we haven’t run out of stuff already.  Between 1970 and 2010, the global economy expanded more than 3-fold, population almost doubled from 3.7 to 6.9 billion, and global material extraction went from 22 billion to 70.1 billion tonnes. In 2010, 30 billion tonnes of materials extracted globally were required to produce 10 billion tonnes of directly traded goods. Half of the tons of traded material was oil. Compound growth rates of extraction were: Biomass 2%, fossil fuels 1.9%, metal ores 2.8%, and non-metallic minerals 4% per year. From 2000 to 2010 all materials except biomass accelerated their extraction growth rate: fossil fuels grew by 2.9%/year on average, metal ores 3.5%, and non-metallic minerals by 5.3%.

Those who deny limits to growth say we’ll miniaturize, use less material, and get more efficient.  This UN report states that in fact, the opposite is happening. Global material efficiency started to decline around 2000, so now the global economy needs more materials per unit of GDP than it did at the turn of the century. What may seem counter-intuitive has been caused by a large shift of economic activity from very material-efficient economies such as Japan, the Republic of Korea and Europe to the much less material-efficient economies of China, India and Southeast Asia.

We are growing less sustainable because there is a growing environmental pressure per unit of economic activity that works against the hypothesis of decoupling – achieving more with less – which is so important to the success of global sustainability.

Increasing material extraction increases the damage and pollution of our ecosystems:

  • The global economy, at today’s level of resource use, is already surpassing some planetary boundaries. Rising material use will result in climate change, higher levels of acidification and eutrophication of soils and water bodies, increased biodiversity loss, more soil erosion, increasing amounts of waste and air pollution, negative impacts on human health and quality of life, and ultimately lead to the depletion of certain natural resources causing supply shortages for critical materials in the short and medium terms.
  • Our world is built from materials. The food we eat, the buildings that house us, the vehicles in which we travel and the consumer goods that furnish our life, are all made of, embody and require for their operation massive quantities of biomass, fossil fuels, metals and non-metallic minerals. Our dependence on materials links us directly to the natural world from which primary materials are extracted, and to which they all ultimately return as waste and emissions.
  • Impacts associated with increasing agricultural outputs include large-scale land degradation via erosion, salinization and acidification which can accompany the extension of cropping into marginal lands or the intensification of inputs on existing arable land.  Large-scale change in land use and forest cover accompanies the extension of agriculture, timber production and in some cases mining and energy extraction.
  • Further problems include the destruction of biodiversity and the eutrophication of waterways. Increasing outputs of forestry products can increase deforestation, with attendant damage to surface and groundwater systems, erosion and changed flooding regimes.
  • Problems associated with mining and quarrying include loss of land to competing land uses, pollution of land and waterways from acid mine leaching, heavy metals liberated from mine tailings, and some chemicals used in mining and refining processes. Secondary and tertiary production processes, and disposal after final consumption, add to waste and emissions downstream. Ultimately, everything that is extracted must be sunk back into the environment

This UN report states that their study demonstrates the close relationship between economic trends and natural resource use.

Well of course they are related!  But our economic system doesn’t take natural resources into account.  Mow down a forest for timber and GDP increases.  Build a $200 million dollar water treatment plant to replace the free water purification services the forest provided, and GDP grows.  Completely out of forests?  Don’t worry, human ingenuity will solve the problem, or we’ll find a substitute.  How such insanity came to be is wonderfully explained in Hall and Kilitgaard’s “Energy and the Wealth of Nations”.

The UN doesn’t flat out state there are limits to growth, though they come close when they point out there’s not enough stuff in the world to raise the standard of living for everyone and we appear to be on an unsustainable trajectory (page 5).  But to flat out say there are limits to growth would be seen as an attack on capitalism and right-wingers would probably accuse the UN of socialism or worse and demand America stop funding them.  Limits to growth means a shrinking piece of pie for everyone.  Capitalism can only justify the huge disparities in wealth distribution the constant propaganda that we all have the potential to become billionaires (especially if the government stops regulating businesses and taxing the rich).  Those who understand “Limits to Growth”, and the occupy movement that sought to reduce the corruption in the current economic system have had little effect, if any, on changing the system.  Oh well, Mother Nature can always be counted on to do it…

Capitalism is lauded as the best political and economic system, but in reality it’s just the most successful at extracting energy and natural resources the most quickly to enrich mainly the top 0.1% of the population, future generations be damned.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

UNEP. 2016. Global material flows and resources productivity. United Nations Environment Programme  International resource panel. 200 pages.

Excerpts (out of order, shortened and paraphrased at times):

Natural resources provide the foundation of our lives on Earth. Water, soil, energy, minerals and metals underpin our standards of living. They feed and shelter us, and provide for our material needs throughout our lives.  Pressures on these natural resources are mounting. A growing population and heightened world economic demand in the past half century are rapidly depleting these vital resources, inflicting great harm on the natural environment and human health.

This study demonstrates the close relationship between economic trends and natural resource use. Global material use slowed in 2008 and 2009 due to the global financial crisis, with trade flows contracting in 2009, but is again on a growth trajectory. Sustained reductions in material use depend on changes in the structural asset base of an economy. This means that there is considerable inertia built into the global system of material use, which makes it difficult to reduce material use rapidly and on a sustained basis.

In this report, the use of materials – society’s metabolism – is interpreted as an environmental pressure. The larger the material use the bigger the pressure. Material use is also closely related to other pressure indicators including waste flows, energy use and carbon emissions, land use and water use. When material use grows, other pressure indicators increase. Material use is also used as a proxy for environmental impacts that will occur across the whole life cycle of material use from extraction, transformation and consumption to disposal. When material use increases, the environmental, social and economic impacts of material use also see a commensurate rise.

Material use is a good proxy for overall environmental pressure and also reflects environmental impacts, so decreasing material efficiency is not favorable with regard to environmental sustainability. It means that the speed at which we are exploiting natural resources, and generating emissions and waste, is increasing faster than the economic benefits gained. This disproportionately accelerates environmental impacts such as climate change, resource depletion and reduced ecosystem health.

Fast-expanding demand for materials will, however, require very large investments into new extraction and supply infrastructure and will contribute to local conflict over alternative uses of land, water, energy and materials. Such conflict is already pronounced in the energy sector where mining competes with agriculture and urban development in many places.

The primary sectors of the economy (agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and quarrying) extract materials from the natural resource base and turn them into the basic commodities required for various major economic activities. Access to abundant and affordable materials is critical for the economic success of a national economy and fundamental to the ongoing well-being of its citizens. During the 20th century, the economic development that improved material standards of living for hundreds of millions of people was assisted by declining real prices for most materials, including food, fuel and metals.

There are major limitations on the availability of arable land for crops. Increasing inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides can increase productivity on available land, but often with rapidly diminishing returns and the associated costs of land degradation. If this approach is pushed too far, a situation can develop where arable land becomes a depleting stock which is effectively being “mined”. Furthermore, total land area remains constant, so expanding agriculture into existing forest areas will decrease land available for forestry, and vice versa. It is possible (indeed commonplace) to bring land from previously low productivity areas, e.g. deserts, into biomass production by transferring water from remote river systems, or pumping from aquifers, however this is usually limited by the expense of developing the infrastructure required, the adverse effects it has on source river systems, and/or by the rate at which the rivers or aquifers can provide. Many aquifers are in effect non-renewable resources on human timescales, with recharge periods of thousands of years or more.

This situation may not be sustained through the 21st century as the rapid economic growth occurring simultaneously in many parts of the world will place much higher demands on supply infrastructure and the environment’s ability to continue supplying materials.


The annual per capita material footprint for the Asia-Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and West Asia is between 9 and 10 tonnes, Africa 3 tonnes.  The richest countries consume on average 10 times as many materials as the poorest countries, and twice the world average, with Europe at 20 tonnes per capita, and North America 25 tonnes.   Both regions have experienced a decline in material footprint since 2008 caused by the economic downturn during the global financial crisis (GFC). Before the GFC, North America had a per capita material footprint of well above 30 tonnes and Europe of well above 20 tonnes and both regions were on an upward trajectory. It remains to be seen whether the economic recovery in North America and Europe has put material footprint on a growth trajectory again. This would suggest that there is no level of income yet at which material use has stabilized.

The world economy has experienced a great acceleration in material use since 2000, strongly related to the industrial and urban transformation in China, which has required unprecedented amounts of iron and steel, cement, energy and construction materials. China’s growth in material demand since the year 2000 has reverberated across the world economy, especially in primary resource exporting regions and countries such as Latin America, Africa and Australia.

The group of countries of high human development have experienced the fastest growth in material footprint and are now, on average, at 12.5 tonnes per capita, up from 5 tonnes per capita in 1990. China, for instance, had a material footprint of 14 tonnes per capita in 2010 on a strong upward trajectory and Brazil had a material footprint of 13 tonnes per capita in 2010 and has also grown strongly in recent years.

The average material footprint of countries with medium levels of human development has grown slowly over the past two decades, reaching 5 tonnes per capita, while material footprint in low HDI countries has been stagnant for the past two decades at 2.5 tonnes per capita. The richest countries consume on average 10 times as many materials as the poorest countries, and twice the world average, which demonstrates very unequal distribution of materials to support the standard of living. It shows that the low income group of countries will require increasing quantities of materials, per capita, to achieve the sustainable development outcomes the global community aims for.


Domestic extraction of materials has grown in all world regions to meet increased demand for materials. These two regions have required large and increasing amounts of imports of materials, especially fossil fuels and metal ores, from all other regions.  As a result, trade in materials has expanded 4-fold since 1970. In 2010, more than 10 billion tonnes of materials were exported globally.

Over the four decades an increasing specialization of countries with regard to natural resource extraction for trade has emerged, especially for fossil fuels and metal ores but to some extent also for agricultural products. This is especially visible at the country level where countries such as Australia, Brazil, Chile, Indonesia and Kazakhstan have increased their net exports of materials over time while other countries such as South Korea and the United States (until 2005) increased their net imports of materials, or depended (such as Germany, France and Japan) on a high level of net imports over the four decades. China, India and Pakistan show an interesting pattern of fast increasing import dependency for the direct trade of materials which coincides with the status of a net exporter when adjusting trade flows for upstream and downstream indirect material flows associated with trade, i.e. looking at the raw material equivalents of trade.

For this assessment study, we reviewed the existing global databases and compared their methodological underpinnings and results in an effort to create one unified data set that can become the standard authoritative source for data on global and country by country material use. In doing so, we were able to establish a multi-country, global data set for year by year material extraction for the four decades from 1970 to 2010 including information for all countries of the world as far as possible. The materials extraction data set reports 44 different material categories.

By relating global supply chains to final demand for resources, the material footprint indicator (amount of material consumed in a nation or region) is a good proxy for the average material standard of living in a country. It indicates that the level of development and well-being in wealthy industrial countries has been achieved largely through highly resource-intensive patterns of consumption and production, which are not sustainable and can’t be matched in other parts of the world.

The growing complexity of international supply chains, driven by globalization of the world economy, has paired with a trend whereby high-income countries tend to outsource many materials-, energy- and emissions-intensive industrial processes to other parts of the world. The high-income country can then effectively import the primary commodities it needs either in a greatly concentrated form, or indirectly “embodied” in a relatively small quantity of imports. The conventional measures used in material flows accounting are largely blind to such extraterritorial inputs to a nation’s final demand. This created a need for a new indicator that captures the full material requirements of a country’s final demand (household and government consumption, and capital investment), which includes extraterritorial inputs of materials for local consumption.

UN 2016 Figure 1







Figure 1. Yearly global economic growth rates, 1970–2013

The material intensities of the different sectors shown in Figure 2…[show that] services are not really substituting for materials- and energy-intensive processes at all [Other Activities].

UN 2016 Figure 2

Figure 2. World GDP sector added value shares

The economic success story of the twentieth century of Europe, the United States and Japan post-WWII was enabled by stable or decreasing world market prices for most natural resources. Since 2000, the price of many natural resources has started to grow.

Chapter 2 Global trends in resource extraction

Figure 7 shows the increase in global material use by four main material categories. All four material groups have grown over the past four decades. Biomass extraction grew by 2%, fossil fuels by 1.9%, metal ores by 2.8% and non-metallic minerals by 4% per year on average.

UN 2016 Figure 7

Figure 7. Global material extraction (DE) by four material categories, 1970–2010, million tonnes

[ My comment: Table 2 shows how much stuff and time it will take to use reserves up. It’s based on the Reserve to Production ratio, which is complete nonsense [see R/P ratio is completely useless].   If scientists are correct about the average decline rate of oil fields reaching 9% or more by 2030, we will need to replace half to two-thirds of our current oil, hard to do with far away, nasty, difficult, expensive tar sands and deep sea oil.  Only cheap plentiful oil matters, since even the lowest grade ores could be processed, and when they ran out, minerals and elements could be extracted from dirt or seawater. ]

UN 2016 Table 2

Table 2. Recoverable reserves of key commodities.

Since global material use has grown faster than population, we see in Figure 8 that per capita use has increased quite significantly, especially since 2000. It took 30 years for per capita material use to grow from 6.4 tonnes in 1970 to 7.9 tonnes in 2000 but only another 10 years to reach 10.1 tonnes per capita in 2010. By that time, the average use of materials per person included 2.7 tonnes of biomass (mostly related to food supply systems and including timber as a structural material and for heating), 1.9 tonnes of fossil fuels (mostly for power and transport), 1.1 tonnes of metal ores for construction, manufacturing applications and communications) and 4.4 tonnes of nonmetallic minerals (for buildings and transport infrastructure in fast-growing cities).

UN 2016 Figure 8

Figure 8. Per capita global material extraction (DE) by four material categories, 1970–2010, tonnes

Trade in metal ores grew by 4.7% annually on average over the past four decades but accelerated to 7% annual growth between 2000 and 2010. In 1970, 370 million tonnes of mostly concentrated metals were traded. In 2010, metals traded totalled 2.4 billion tonnes, comprising 22% of all traded materials. Trade in biomass has also grown dramatically from 370 million tonnes in 2010 to 1.9 billion tonnes in 2010. Biomass trade grew at an average of 4.2% over the past four decades and has somewhat declined since 2000 to 3.2% yearly average growth.

Trade in fossil fuels, which comprises the largest share in materials traded at slightly more than 50% of all traded materials, remained at a constant 2.8% yearly increase over the past 40 years and did not change between 2000 and 2010.

UN 2016 Figure 9

Figure 9. Global exports of materials by four material categories, 1970–2010, million tonnes

In 1970, 1.8 million tonnes of oil, coal and gas were traded among countries, accounting for two thirds of all traded materials. The amount of traded fossil fuels had grown to 5.6 billion tonnes by 2010.

The rapid increase in per capita global material use (the metabolic rate of the global economy) from 7.9 tonnes to 10.1 tonnes per capita in just 10 years since 2000 and the fact that materials use grew faster than GDP over that decade has meant that global material efficiency, for the first time in a century (Krausmann et al. 2009), has started to decline. Since 2000, we have observed growing material intensity (MI) in the global economy. In 2000, 1.2 kg of materials were required to produce one US$ of GDP; this had risen to almost 1.4 kg per US$ by 2010.

The main reason for the increase in material intensity at the global level is a shift of global production away from very material-efficient economies – Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea – to the less efficient economies of China, India, Brazil and South Africa among others.

Sugar crops showed the strongest total growth for any of the major “pure” categories (137%), and this is consistent with the increasing importance of processed foods as developing countries urbanize.

UN 2016 Figure 14

Figure 14. Global extraction (DE) of biomass by material subcategories, 1970–2010, million tonnes

Figure 15 haseight categories, showing that total domestic extraction for each of the categories grew by over 100% between 1970 and 2010. By far the largest growth in total tonnage terms was for other bituminous coal, which increased by nearly 2.9 billion tonnes, almost twice the 1.5 billion tonne increase for natural gas, which had the second largest increase in total tonnage terms. These two categories grew at roughly comparable rates (2.6% p.a. and 2.8% p.a. compounding, respectively), with the rate of growth in other bituminous coal accelerating over the 1990 to 2010 period, while the fastest growth for natural gas was from 1970 to 1990. All coal categories together accounted for over 58% of the 7 billion tonne increase in fossil fuel tonnage between 1970 and 2010, increasing coal’s share of total fossil fuels from 48% to 53%, while natural gas increased from 12% to 17%.UN 2016 Figure 15


Figure 15. Global extraction of fossil fuels by material subcategories, 1970–2010, million tonnes

The growth rate for iron ore, which had been less than 1.2% p.a. compounding between 1970 and 2000, grew at over 9.1% p.a. between 2000 and 2010.

UN 2016 Figure 16

Figure 16. Global extraction of metal ores by material subcategories, 1970–2010, million tonnes

The data on Domestic Extraction (DE) of non-metallic minerals in Figure 17 are disaggregated into five categories and show clearly the domination of this category by construction minerals (common rock), in total tonnage terms. At 29.5 billion tonnes in 2010, the subcategory of construction minerals was larger than any of the other complete materials categories (biomass, fossil fuels and metal ores).   Not only was it one to two orders of magnitude larger than any of the other non-metallic minerals categories, it also grew at the fastest rate, 4.1% a year compounding from 1970 to 2010, compared to 2.6% a year for other mining and quarrying products n.e.c, the next fastest growing.

UN 2016 Figure 17

Figure 17. Global domestic extraction (DE) of non-metallic minerals by material subcategories, 1970–2010, million tonnes.

At the local scale, however, supplies can be severely limited, or their extraction can cause unacceptable environmental damage. An example of the former situation is where settlements are on major alluvial flats or deltas with little or no rock exposed at the surface. In such cases, the rock-based aggregates crucial for concrete and road base may need to be replaced by firing alluvium to create bricks, which may then be crushed for use as aggregate. This practice is expensive, and the requirement for fossil or biomass fuel will typically be more environmentally damaging than the extraction of alluvium of itself.

Chapter 3 Regional trends in material use

UN 2016 Figure 18

Figure 18. Regional classification used in this report.

While global material extraction tripled between 1970 and 2010 this growth was overwhelmingly driven by increasing domestic extraction in the Asia-Pacific region, which increased more than fivefold in just 40 years, at a compounding annual rate of nearly 4.8%. The average rate of growth actually increased in the latter half of the period (from 1990 to 2010) showing the acceleration of material extraction and demand from Asia and the Pacific. The Asia-Pacific region’s share of global DE consequently more than doubled over the past four decades, from less than a quarter of the global total to more than half.

UN 2016 Figure 19

Figure 19. Domestic extraction (DE) by seven subregions, 1970–2010, million tonnes

The share of global material extraction grew from 24.3 to 52.9% in Asia and Pacific, 9.4% to 10.7% in Latin America and Caribbean.  It shrunk everywhere else (nation 1970 %/2010 %). Africa / 7.9 / 7, Europe 20.9 / 10.5, North America 19.6 / 9.7, and Eastern Europe  14.7/ 5.8.

While relative shares contracted for many regions, total domestic extraction of materials still grew in all cases, with EECCA being the only region which saw growth of less than 40% in Domestic Extraction (DE) over the period (the EECCA increase was 16%). Latin America, West Asia and Africa all saw growth in total DE of greater than 100%, at compounding annual growth rates of 3.1%, 2.9% and 2.5% respectively.

Figure 20 shows a much more mixed situation with regard to per capita DE, with three of the seven regions (Africa, North America and West Asia) showing at least marginal decreases between 1970 and 2010.  The declines in per capita DE for Africa and West Asia are of particular interest in that they show that despite the rapidly growing total DE for these regions displayed in Figure 19, their populations are growing even faster, effectively reducing the already low per capita domestic resource availability in Africa and West Asia.

UN 2016 Figure 20

Figure 20. Per capita domestic extraction (DE) by seven world regions, 1970–2010,

Detail of the composition of the materials used by a society is important and can yield information on where a society is situated in the transition from an agrarian to an industrial society, and on the speed with which that transition is taking place. One important piece of information in this context is biomass inputs relative to mineral inputs. A high biomass share is indicative of a more agrarian economy, with mineral materials (encompassing fossil fuels, metal ores, and non-metallic minerals) increasing their shares as a society increasingly adopts the mineral-based energy and materials systems typical of industrial society

Figure 21 shows a very wide range in the proportion of domestic extraction (DE) of biomass between the different regions, and some markedly different trajectories. The AsiaPacific region stands out as the region which has most radically shifted away from biomass, which had a share of 53% of all materials in 1970, decreasing to just 22% by 2010.   While the Asia-Pacific region’s per capita extractions of fossil fuels grew twofold and metal ores grew more than threefold, it was growth in non-metallic minerals (dominated by construction aggregates) which contributed by far the greatest share, increasing by over six-fold, a compounding growth rate of 5.1% per year over the past four decades, and of 6.5% per year over the most recent two decades.

Latin America saw growth in DE per capita of all categories of materials over the period, with least growth in fossil fuels (20%) and greatest in metal ores (139%). It saw a significant decline in the share of biomass from 52% to 43%. However, this is still high by global standards, exceeded only by Africa, where biomass accounted for 46% of materials extraction in 2010;

UN 2016 Figure 21

Figure 21. Per capita domestic extraction (DE) in 7 world regions, 1970–2010, tonnes per capita

The Asia-Pacific region has shown by far the most rapid and consistent growth in its requirement for imports, which increased more than fourfold between 1970 and 2010 at a compounding rate of 4.4% per year, and 6.5% per year over the latter two decades. In contrast, Europe’s total net imports only increased by 50% over the full period. The high ongoing dependence of Europe on net physical imports indicates how it has been able to maintain high material living standards while having levels of Domestic extraction of some key material categories at or below the levels of less wealthy regions.

West Asia maintained major net exporter status over the full period, but its relative importance declined as it moved from being the World’s largest net exporter in 1970 to second largest by 2010, with total net exports increasing by 35% in total. Latin America shows relatively consistent growth in its net exports over time, which increased by a total of 164%, a compounding rate of 2.5% p.a.

It must be noted, however, that primary materials are often traded in much more concentrated form than they are extracted, and so traded primary products are frequently of much greater value to an economy than an equivalent tonnage of DE. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced for metal ores, but is also significant for biomass (Schandl and West 2012).

North America also figures as a much more significant importer of raw materials relative to Europe.

In Figure 26 we return to the Physical Trade Balance (PTB) metric, in this case giving more detailed disaggregation by the four main material categories, on a per capita basis. A first insight from an overview of Figure 26 is the dominance of fossil fuels in net physical trade terms. Regions tend to start out and remain major net importers or major net exporters for the full time period. In all cases except Latin America, fossil fuels are clearly the major net import/export item in volume terms. For Latin America, net exports of metal ores are frequently larger than fossil fuels. Europe and North America have consistently been major net importers of fossil fuels, although the trajectory for North America is notably more volatile, probably reflecting that region’s greater ability to satisfy domestic demand from Regional physical trade balance per capita.

UN 2016 Figure 26

Figure 26. Per capita physical trade balance (PTB) for 7 world regions, 1970–2010, tonnes

UN 2016 Figure 29

Figure 29. Per capita domestic material consumption (DMC) by seven subregions, 1970–2010, tonnes

UN 2016 Figure 30

Figure 30. Per capita domestic material consumption (DMC) by region, 1970–2010, million tonnes

UN 2016 Figure 33

Figure 33. Per capita material footprint of consumption (MF) by seven world regions, 1990–2010, tonnes.  Before the global financial crash, North Americans were consuming 34 tonnes per person.

Figure 82 shows the global extraction of non-metallic minerals from the study of Miatto et al. (in review), starting at around 10 billion tonnes in 1970 and reaching about 35 billion tonnes in 2010, a 3.5-fold growth and a yearly average growth rate of 3.4%.

Sand and gravel constituted the main share of global non-metallic minerals extraction in 2010 (40.8% gravel and 31.1% sand). Limestone, for cement production, had the fastest average annual growth rate of 4.5%, gravel extraction grew by 3.7% per year, and clay extraction grew by 3% per year.

Non-metallic minerals for roads and bricks are of a similar magnitude and show a slower average growth rate compared to non-metallic minerals for buildings. The average annual growth rate for roads was 0.8%, compared to 2.8% for bricks. The amount of non-metallic minerals required for rail tracks is negligible.

UN 2016 Figure 82


UN 2016 Figure 83















Figure 83. Global extraction of non-metallic minerals by sector of use, 1970–2010, million tonnes. Buildings include the actual buildings, and other infrastructure such as dams, water tanks, bridge pillars, and so on.


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Just 16,000 catenary trucks would use all of California’s electricity with only 2400 to 8300 miles of overhead wires

Proposed Catenary System for I-710 Zero-Emissions Corridor (Source: Siemens Mobility).

Proposed Catenary System for I-710 Zero-Emissions Corridor (Source: Siemens Mobility).

 [ It makes sense to electrify trucks since oil, coal, and natural gas are finite and biomass doesn’t scale up. Without electric trucks, the thousands of components of a wind turbine and solar PV can’t arrive via long supply chains from dozens of factories all over the world, nor can the final wind turbine and solar PV and their associated infrastructure (roads, transmission, inverters, and so on) be delivered.

Since without trucks, civilization shuts down within a week, there is no higher priority than keeping trucks running.  But if trucks can’t be electrified, then what’s the point of using the remaining fossil energy to build windmills and solar PV? Could the energy be better spent on energy conservation and organic agriculture research (food production now depends heavily on finite natural-gas fertilizers and oil-based pesticides), smaller and more widely spread grain storage facilities, insulation, passive solar homes and buildings, lower speed limits, gas hog taxes to discourage people from buying SUVs and light-trucks when oil prices dip, and so on?

Although trolley buses run on overhead wires in several cities, there are usually only a few hundred or less running 15 minutes apart. Scaling that up to 20,000 heavy-duty freight trucks that run just seconds apart, if that is even possible (we don’t know yet), is so energy-intensive that very few stretches of roads could be electrified.

Related posts:

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

Catenary electric trucks are proposed for zero-emissions, certainly not energy conservation or efficiency!

The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are trying to reduce the pollution of diesel drayage trucks hauling containers between the ports and inland warehouses.  Currently the I-710 has 10,000 drayage trucks making 3 to 5 round-trips a day between the ports and inland destinations.

One solution being investigated are dual-mode catenary trucks running on 24-miles of overhead wires along the I-710 corridor.  After leaving the wires to pick-up or deliver containers, catenary trucks would switch to another energy mode, either a battery, compressed natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell, or diesel.  This prevents the highway from turning into a giant parking when the power goes out, allows trucks to pass one another, and catenary wires won’t be needed within the round-trip range of the other mode of power to thousands of destinations and pickup locations within the ports.

According to Calstart 2013, “This is a new situation; transit applications obviously use catenary, but those uses have headway times of 10 minutes or more. Current traffic models have truck headways of five seconds or less in the I-710 corridor, which significantly increases power demands and complicates the distribution of power to the catenary wires.”

And consider the scale. If there are 16,349 catenary trucks in 2020 (SCAG 2013), that’s orders of magnitude more than San Francisco’s MUNI catenary vehicles: 311 trolley buses and 151 light-rail cars.  And heavy-duty trucks are heavy.  They can weigh twice as much as a trolley bus and require more power to move.

Catenary trucks are far from commercial. There is a one mile pilot-demonstration project catenary system under construction in Carson, California. In 2015 when I wrote “When trucks stop running” this $13.5 million project was expected to start in 2015 (Calstart 2013), but since then the date has slipped to 2017 and $4.5 million more dollars.  A similar project in Sweden finished in mid-2016.

In California, four demonstration trucks are planned: a battery-electric truck that can go for 10 miles after coming off the wires (ARB SEP 2014), a diesel truck, and two compressed natural gas trucks (Hsu 2016). Whether this is enough trucks to find out if it is possible to scale up to tens of thousands of trucks and what the power requirement and distribution of electricity remains to be seen.

It will be hard to build dual-mode trucks that can match the performance of today’s diesel drayage trucks, which go 400 miles between refueling, last 604,000 miles, haul up to 44,000 pounds, operate at temperatures from 23 to 113 degrees F, go up 6% grades, and travel 10 to 14 hours a day. Diesel drayage trucks are also far less expensive — a used one can cost as little as $3,000, a new one $104,360 (Calstart 2013). A Battery Electric truck (BEV) truck costs $307,890 (ICCT 2013), a hydrogen fuel cell truck $1.3 million (ARB 2015), and a natural gas catenary truck $282,000 (GNA 2012).

Why use dual-mode catenary trucks rather than plain old battery electric or fuel cell?

Battery electric trucks (BEV) may never work out. Even if 5 to 10 times as much battery energy density (Wh/kg) were achieved and other technical issues solved, they’d still weigh too much: 2 to 4 tonnes (4400 to 8800 pounds)  in a 40 tonne truck.  Today’s batteries are 5 to 10 times heavier than 2 to 4 tonnes (ICCT 2013).  This is why the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach ruled out Battery-electric (BEV) trucks, which need a 7,700 pound battery that cuts too much into payload, and only goes 100 miles, half as far as required, and are out of service too long and too often, recharging for 4 hours every 120 miles (Calstart 2013b).

Siemens, which is building both the California and Sweden catenary systems points out that “With today’s technology, driving a semi-truck 500 miles would require a 23-ton (46,000 pound) lithium-ion battery, half the weight of the truck itself. [Hydrogen] Fuel cells would need a massive, $2 million hydrogen fuel tank to go the distance (Coren 2016).

And it’s not just batteries that are heavy — CNG tanks and hydrogen fuel cells (hydrogen tank alone 2166 pounds) are heavy as well, and require new  fuel distribution systems and fueling stations that each cost $1 million or more.  I never found a good reference for what CNG tanks and systems would weigh, the best I could find was this: “It is not practical to get 300 gallons of diesel equivalent in CNG on-board a truck — the combined weight of the gas and the system is over 10,000. If you work the weight of the fuel, 300 gallons of diesel = 1,140 gallons of CNG, which weighs 1.81 pounds per gallon, for a total of 2,072 pounds. Add another 1,800 pounds for the CNG tanks, and about 1,300 pounds for the racks and protective plates, and the fully loaded CNG system weighs in at over 5,172 pounds, 141 percent heavier than the full 300-gallon diesel tanks” (Schneider 2014).

Another disadvantage of BEV trucks is the need for twice as many (32,968) as dual-mode catenary/battery (C/B) trucks (16,349) because the battery on the C/B truck can be continually charged from the overhead wires.  Nor would battery swapping solve the BEV problem, since it would be too expensive to carry multiple batteries for each truck (SCAG 2013) and build expensive battery-swapping stations (Berman 2011).

Another zero-emission solution rejected by the ports was a fixed guideway system, because over 20 years it would cost 14 times more than a dual-mode catenary system (GNA 2012 page 18).

Fixed guideway system

Fixed guideway system

Source: Klinski, J.  2015. LEVX intermodal freight transport system. Port of Hueneme. California sustainable freight action plan. Magna Force, Inc.

Question: How much power would catenary trucks on 24 miles of wires along I-710 need?

Answer: from .29% (ICF 2014) to 1% (my calculation) of all the electricity generated in California for a year. That means just 2,400 to 8,275 of California’s 175,000 miles of roads would use all of California’s electricity.

My assumptions for I-710 catenary:

  • 16,349 hybrid catenary trucks I-710 in 2020 (SCAG 2013)
  • 3 round-trips per day per truck (Calstart 2013. On good days 4 to 5 trips are made)
  • 48 miles per round trip (24 * 2 miles of catenary wires on I-710)
  • 313 days of drayage deliveries (ports are closed on Sundays)
  • 3.5 kWh/mile (2.21 kWh/kilometer) due to the inefficiency of the dynamic loading on catenary wires, with a 10% efficiency loss assumed (ICCT 2013).
  • California produces 250,561 GWh of power a year (ICF 2014)


  1. 2579 GWh needed by all catenary trucks per year = 16,349 trucks * 3 round-trips * 48 miles per trip round-trip * 313 days per year * 3.5 kWh/mile (3,438,783,264 kWh)
  2. 1% of all generated California electricity used per year = 2579 GWh / 250,561 GWh per year California
  3. 100% / 1% * 24 miles = 2,400 miles of roads would use all of California’s electricity
  4. .16 GWh per truck per year = 2579 GWh per year / 16,249 trucks

But ICF 2014 estimates .29% of annual power. That’s still a lot!

ICF 2014 “Aggressive Adoption” by 2030 (all trucks electrified) assumptions for I-710

  • .29% of all generated California electrity used per year = 722 GWh all trucks/year (table 13) / 250,561 GWh per year California
  • Consume 3 kWh/mile (page 87). Using 3 kWh lowers my calculation to 2211 GWh/year, .88% of California electricity, still 3 times more than .29%
  • 36,100 trucks = 722/.02  .02 GWh/year/truck (table 33), all trucks 722 GWh/year.
  • 241,000,000 total miles all trucks a year (Table 12). Therefore, every day all trucks drive 769,968 miles collectively (241,000,000 / 313 working days).
  • 100% / .29% * 24 miles = 8,275 miles of roads would use all of California’s electricity
  • Just 21 miles/day on catenary = 769,968 miles a day all trucks / 36,100 trucks. In my calculation each truck goes 144 miles a day, and then 56+ miles using the other mode, since the specs call for 200 miles a day.  If just 21 miles, the other mode must go 180 miles a day. That can’t be right!


Even if the ICF 2014 estimate of .29% of all California electricity is correct, that’s an awful lot of electricity.  Just 8,275 miles of California’s 175,000 miles of roads would use all of California’s electricity– think how much power America’s 10 million trucks would need over 4 million miles of roads.

Since fossil fuels are finite and global production has peaked, or will soon (i.e., oil, coal, natural gas), it makes sense to try to run transportation on 100% renewable electricity.  But is an 80 to 100% renewable electricity system even possible?  I make a case in “When trucks stop running” that it isn’t.

And catenary doesn’t solve the main problem, which is keeping tractors and harvesters running so they can plant and harvest food.  How would you string overhead wires across millions of acres of cropland?

Catenary also locks in a very expensive infrastructure on a road that may not be heavily used in the future.  Will the ports continue to move as many goods if the unreformed financial system crashes again and trade drops in the consequent depression, or when energy becomes too expensive or too scarce a component of the supply chain? It’s more likely globalization will decline and more goods made locally in the future.

I was very upset that the father in “Angela’s ashes” spent money on booze rather than food for his children. So is a goal of zero-emissions rather than energy efficiency the best way to spend our remaining energy when no commercially viable way of replacing oil is even in sight, and it takes 50 years to make an energy transition (Smil 2010)?


ARB. September 2, 2014. Heavy-duty hybrid vehicles technology assessment. California environmental protection agency, Air Resources Board.

ARB. 2015. Technology assessment: Medium- and Heavy-duty fuel cell electric vehicles.

Berman, B. 2011. Plug-and-play batteries: Trying out a quick-swap station for E.V.’s. New York Times.

Calstart. 2013. I-710 project zero-emission truck commercialization study. Calstart for Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. 4.7.

Coren, M.J. June 23, 2016. Siemens says it can power unlimited-range electric trucks using a 150-year-old technology. QZ.

Edelstein.  July 10, 2016. Road for electric trucks with trolley-like catenary opens in Sweden. greencarcongress.

GNA. March 8, 2012. Zero-emission catenary hybrid truck market study. Gladsteni, Neandross & Associates.

Hirsch, R. L., et al. 2005. Peaking of world oil production: impacts, mitigation, & risk management. Department of energy.

Hoffert, et al 2002 Advanced Technology Paths to Global Climate Stability: Energy for a Greenhouse Planet, Science. Vol 298.

Hsu, T. July 18, 2016. 100-Year-Old Street trolley technology could completely change trucking.  CNG: Kenworth Trucks , BAE Systems and TransPower.

ICCT. July 2013. Zero emissions trucks. An overview of state-of-the-art technologies and their potential. International Council for Clean Transportation.

ICF. September 2014. California transportation electrification assessment. Phase 1: final report. ICF International.

SCAG. February 2013. On the Move. Southern California delivers the goods. Final report. Southern California Association of Governments.

Schneider, D. February 10, 2014. The fuel alternatives: CNG & LNG part 1.

Smil, Vaclav. 2010. Energy Transitions: History, Requirements, Prospects. Praeger.

Posted in Electric Trucks, When Trucks Stop Running | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Peak Fossil Fuels: overview of peak oil, coal, and natural gas

[ Below are overviews of peak oil, coal, and natural gas, each followed by additional reading material from my book “When trucks stop running”. My book also explains why we are unlikely to be able to electrify transportation, as well as why it’s likely an 80 to 100% renewable grid isn’t possible.

Since conventional oil peaked in 2005 and unconventional oil is unlikely to fill in the gap of exponentially declining conventional oil (90% of our oil today) in the future, all other resources become less available.  Including oil, coal and natural gas reserves, which go back to being unexploitable resources. This may mean that the worst IPCC projections are less likely to be reached.  Of course we may have already crossed some non-linear boundary resulting in irreversible crazy weather and sea-level rise, and the effects will be felt for centuries to millennia, but peak fossil fuels lowers the odds of a runaway greenhouse turning Earth into a sterile Venusian Hell. In fact, peak fossil fuels is great news for climate change, since it means that CO2 levels will likely start to drop off within the next 10 years as oil begins its exponential decline:

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, about 50% of carbon dioxide emitted by human activity will be removed from the atmosphere within 30 years, and a further 30% will be removed within a few centuries. The remaining 20% may stay in the atmosphere for many thousands of years (GAO. 2014. CLIMATE CHANGE: Energy Infrastructure Risks and Adaptation Efforts GAO-14-74. United States Government Accountability Office).

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

Peak Oil

Of all the resources in the world, oil is top dog.  All other resources depend on oil.  You can get every fish in the sea, drain every drop out of non-renewable aquifers, make enough concrete to pave the planet, and convert every square mile of land to grow crops and feed barnyard animals cutting down the remaining forests.  Which we are well on our way to doing.  But only oil can do it, because the heavy-duty diesel engines that do the essential work of civilization run on diesel fuel.  Locomotives, ships and trucks (i.e. logging, mining, construction, long-haul, garbage, cranes, fork-lifts, tractors, harvesters) all burn oil.

Peak oil doesn’t mean “running out of oil”, it happens when global oil production inevitably declines which will clearly happen some day since oil is finite.  Since the 1960s the world has been consuming more oil than has been discovered.  Most of the world’s 500 largest oil fields were discovered over fifty years ago, and are still the source of 60 % of our oil.

Decline could start sooner than most people think.  Conventional oil peaked in 2005, and provides 90% of our oil supplies.  Oil fields past their peak are declining on average 6% a year. But every year that increases slightly, so by 2030 they may be declining at 9% or more a year. This means that by 2030 half to two-thirds of our oil will need to be replaced.  I don’t see how unconventional oil can make up the difference. Even if a crash program to ramp up tar sands production occurred, peak would be reached about 2040 at a quarter of what America consumes today.   Arctic oil, if we ever figure out how to get it, will take decades of development before a single drop is produced.  And tight fracked oil is expected to peak by 2020 after which it will decline rapidly.

Ever since oil prices dropped, people have forgotten and even denied peak oil.  But perhaps they’d think differently if they’d heard former Secretary of Defense James at a senate hearing in 2006 where he said that “By about 2010, we should see a significant increase in oil production as a result of investment activity now under way. There is a danger that any easing of the price of crude oil will, once again, dispel the recognition that there is a finite limit to conventional oil.

There can be no transition to alternative energy without oil because that’s what heavy-duty transportation runs on.   Wind turbines depend on the delivery of 8,000 parts from dozens of countries and trucks to dig a giant hole and fill it with 1300 tons of concrete for a platform to put the turbine on after it’s delivered.

Oil shocks can happen any time there’s a financial crash, exporters keep their oil for their own growing populations, war or terrorists destroy refineries, oil tankers, or block chokepoints.


Peak Coal

There are scientists who believe coal has already peaked globally or will soon. Estimates of global peak production range from 2015 to 2034, and U.S. peak from 2002 to 2015.

Tad Patzek, at the University of Texas, thinks that energy-wise, coal peaked in 2011, since we mined the higher energy coal first. Patzek thinks the remaining coal will provide only half the energy by 2050 that it does today.

The United States is often said to have 250 years of coal reserves.  But that estimate was made in 1974 when the USGS last did a survey.  A national academy of sciences report in 2007 said they thought the number might be closer to 100 years and recommended the USGS do another survey.

New development since “when trucks stop running”: Last year the USGS reassessed America’s most important reserve, the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, where 42% of our coal is produced.  The USGS found that at most, 40 years of reserves were left.  Not 250 years.  This is coal that keeps the lights on in much of America. But the only major news media that reported this were U.S. News and World Report and the Pittsburgh post gazette.

Clearly other coal reserves need to be re-evaluated again too.  It’s a good bet the reserves in Illinois will go down, since even though coal production is half of what it was 20 years ago, it’s still credited with reserves nearly the size of Montana.

Liquefied coal, also known as CTL, is seen as a way to cope with diesel shortages in the future, since we know this can be done because Sasol has been making CTL for 50 years in South Africa.

Coal is also one of the few substances that might scale up to replace oil, though whether it would be worth doing depends on a more realistic assessment of our reserves.  Some geologists estimate America has as little as 60 years of coal left.  If that’s correct and it was all converted CTL, then it would only last 30 years, since half the energy of coal is needed to make CTL. With Carbon Capture and Storage, another 40% of the energy would be used.

CTL has other limits too.  Each ton of liquid coal requires 6 to 15 tons of water, so very little if any could be produced in dry states like Wyoming and Montana where there simply isn’t enough water.

Peak Natural Gas

It’s hard to predict world peak natural gas, because there are huge amounts still.  But many of these gas reservoirs are stranded because it would cost too much to build pipelines to get it to markets, and 20 to 40% is too expensive to process since they contain corrosive “sour” gas with toxic hydrogen sulfide or carbon dioxide.

And since shale “fracked” natural gas depletes rapidly, when U.S. shale gas peaks around 2020, or perhaps economically now due to the shale bubble bursting, it is not so good that the U.S. gets such a large, and increasing share of natural gas from fracking.

sources of U.S. natural gas production 2000-2012















The Energy Information Administration estimates 57 years of global natural gas are left at current consumption rates.  If we increased consumption by 7% a year, it would last 28.5 years, half as long.

Natural gas is not traded like oil world-wide because  Liquefied natural gas import terminals cost billions and each LNG carrier $2 to 3 hundred million dollars.  But in 2004, the U.S. was trying to build dozens after prices sky-rocketed and shortages loomed.

Conventional gas production peaked in 1973 and is declining at a rate of 5% a year.  Fortunately, in 2005 fracked natural gas came to the rescue by yet another Wall Street scam that fleeced the middle class again like the mortgage bubble.  Millions of Americans who invested in high-yield bond and stock funds were unwittingly lending money to shale companies that were losing money, who kept on drilling as long as Wall Street kept lending them money.  Now shale companies are over $300 billion in debt and many have gone bankrupt.  Even without the shale bubble popping, but both fracked natural gas and oil would have geologically peaked by 2020.

In order to keep trucks running our congressional leaders had hoped that by now 20% of trucks would be using compressed or liquefied natural gas to take advantage of what they’ve been told is 100 to 250 years of fracked natural gas and American Energy Independence.

But only 3.5% of trucks run on natural gas, mainly private fleets of delivery trucks and buses.

Truckers haven’t bought into natural gas because they have to refuel 2 to 4 times more often, natural gas trucks cost 50 to 100 thousand dollars more than diesel trucks, and any price advantage natural gas has is undercut by continual efficiency improvements in diesel engines.

There are very few trucks burning Liquefied natural gas, but not many since there are only 73 public LNG stations in the U.S., mainly in California.

Railroads don’t want to have to build a completely new gas distribution system and replace their 25,000 $2 million locomotives plus add a giant tank car of natural gas fuel that might explode in a derailment.

References for Peak Oil

  • Aleklett, K., et al. 2012. Peeking at peak oil. Berlin: Springer.
  • Brandt A.R., et al. 2013. The energy efficiency of oil sands extraction: Energy return ratios from 1970 to 2010. Energy.
  • Brown, J.J. June 10, 2013. Commentary: is it only a question of when the US once again becomes a net oil exporter?
  • 2010. Armed forces, capabilities and technologies in the 21st century environmental dimensions of security. Peak oil. Bundeswehr transformation centre, future analysis branch.
  • 2015. Canadian crude oil production forecast 2014–2030. Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.
  • Cleveland, C. J., et al. 2010. An assessment of the EROI of oil shale. Boston University.
  • Davies, P. et al. 2000. Oil resources: a balanced assessment. Journal of the Center for Energy Petroleum & Mineral Law & Policy 6:15.
  • DOE/EIA. 2015. Annual energy outlook 2015 with projections to 2040.
  • 2007. Crude oil. Uncertainty about future oil supply makes it important to develop a strategy for addressing a peak and Decline in Oil Production. U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  • Hallock, J. L., Jr, et al. 2014. Forecasting the limits to the availability and diversity of global conventional oil supply: validation. Energy 64:130–153.
  • Hamilton, J.D. 2013. Historical Oil Shocks in Routledge handbook of major events of economic history. Routledge.
  • Hirsch, R. L., et al. 2005. Peaking of world oil production: impacts, mitigation, & risk management. Department of energy.
  • Hirsch, R.L., 2008. Mitigation of maximum world oil production: shortage scenarios. Energy Policy 36(2):881–889.
  • Hook, M., et al. 2009. Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. Energy Policy 37(6):2262–2272.
  • House 112-176. 2012. The American energy initiative part 28: a focus on the outlook for achieving North American energy independence within the decade. U.S. House of Representatives hearing.
  • House 112-4. 2011. The effects of Middle East events on U.S. energy markets. U.S. House of Representatives hearing.
  • House 113-1. 2013. American energy security & innovation: an assessment of North America’s energy resources. U.S. House of Representatives hearing.
  • House 113-2. 2013. American energy outlook: technology market and policy drivers. U.S. House of Representatives hearing.
  • Hughes, J. D. 2014. Drilling deeper. Post carbon institute.
  • 2008. World energy outlook 2008, 45. International Energy Agency.
  • 2010. World energy outlook 2010, 116. International Energy Agency.
  • 2013. World energy outlook 2013 executive summary. International Energy Agency.
  • Kerr, R. 2011. Peak oil production may already be here. Science 331:1510–11.
  • Macalister, T. 2009. Key oil figures were distorted by US pressure, says whistleblower. The Guardian.
  • Murphy, D.J., et al. 2011. Energy return on investment, peak oil, and the end of economic growth. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 1219: 52–72.
  • Murray, J., et al. 2012. Oil’s tipping point has passed. Nature 481:43–4.
  • 2013. Canada’s energy future, energy supply and demand to 2035. Government of Canada National Energy Board.
  • Newby, J. 2011. Oil Crunch (Fatih Birol). Catalyst. ABC TV.
  • 2015. Arctic potential: realizing the promise of U.S. arctic oil and gas resources. National Petroleum Council.
  • 2006. Trends in oil supply and demand. Potential for peaking of conventional oil production and mitigation options. National Research Council.
  • Patzek, T. 2012. Oil in the Arctic. LifeItself blog.
  • Pearce, F. 2012. The land grabbers: the new fight over who owns the earth. Beacon Press.
  • Sahagun, L. May 21, 2014. U.S. officials cut recoverable Monterey Shale oil by 96 %. Los Angeles Times.
  • Senate 109-412. 2006. Energy independence. U.S. Senate hearing.
  • Soderbergh, B., et al. 2007. A crash programme scenario for the Canadian oil sands industry. Energy Policy 35.
  • Udall, R. 2005. The illusive bonanza: oil shale in Colorado “pulling the sword from the stone”. ASPO-USA.
  • Waldman, J. 2015. Rust. The longest war. Simon & Schuster.
  • Zittel, W, et al. 2013. Fossil and nuclear fuels. Energy Watch Group.

References for Peak Coal

  • Croft G.D., and T.W. Patzek. 2009. Potential for coal-to-liquids conversion in the U.S.—resource base. Natural Resources Research.
  • 2015. Table 6.2 Coal Consumption by sector. Washington, DC: Energy Information Admin.
  • 2013. Fossil and nuclear fuels—the supply outlook. Energy Watch Group.
  • Heinberg, R., and D. Fridley. 2010. The end of cheap coal. Nature 468:367–369.
  • Höök, M., et al. 2009. Historical trends in American coal production and a possible future outlook. International Journal of Coal Geology 78(3):201–216.
  • Höök, M., et al. 2010a. Global coal production outlooks based on a logistic model. Fuel 89: 3546–3558.
  • Höök, M. 2010. Trends in U.S. recoverable coal supply estimates and future production outlooks (Gompertz curve p. 20). Natural Resources Research 19(3): 189–208.
  • Höök, M., et al. 2010b. A review on coal-to-liquid fuels and its coal consumption (Fig. 3). International Journal of Energy Research 34: 848–864.
  • Höök, M., et al. 2010c. Validity of the fossil fuel production outlooks in the IPCC emission scenarios. Natural Resources Research 19(2): 63–81.
  • Höök, M., et al. 2014. Hydrocarbon liquefaction: viability as a peak oil mitigation strategy. Philosophical Transactions. Series A: Mathematical, Physical, and Engineering Science 372.
  • Kong, Z., et al. 2015. EROI analysis for direct coal liquefaction without and with CCS: The case of the Shenhua DCL Project in China. Energies 8(2): 786–807.
  • Luppens, J.A., et al., 2008. Assessment of coal geology, resources, and reserves in the Gillette coalfield, Powder River basin, Wyoming. U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report.
  • Luppens, J.A., et al. 2009. Coal resource availability, recoverability, and economic evaluations in the U.S. A summary. U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Mohr, S.H., et al. 2009. Forecasting coal production until 2100. Fuel 88: 2059–2067.
  • 2007. Hydrocarbon liquids, Chap. 11. Hard truths: Facing the hard truths about energy. National Petroleum Council.
  • 2007. Coal. Research and development to support national energy policy. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.
  • 2009. Liquid transportation fuels from coal and biomass: Technological status, costs, and environmental impacts. Washington (DC): National Academies Press.
  • Patzek, T.W. et al. 2009. Potential for Coal-to-Liquids Conversion in the United States-Fischer-Tropsch Synthesis. Natural Resources Research 18(3).
  • Patzek, T., et al. 2010. A global coal production forecast with multi-Hubbert cycle analysis. Energy 35: 3109–3122.
  • Reaver, G.F., et al. 2014. Imminence of peak in US coal production and overestimation of reserves. International Journal of Coal Geology 131: 90–105.
  • Rutledge, D. 2011. Estimating long-term world coal production with logit and probit transforms. International Journal of Coal Geology 85: 23–33.
  • 2007. Crude oil. Uncertainty about future oil supply makes it important to develop a strategy for addressing a peak and decline in oil production. United States Government Accountability Office.



References for Natural Gas


  • Berman, A., et al. 2015. Years not decades: proven reserves and the shale revolution. Houston: Houston Geological Society.
  • Coyne, D. 2015. World natural gas shock model., July 28.
  • DOE/EIA. 2015. Annual energy outlook with projections to 2040. U.S. Energy Information Administration.
  • Heinberg, R. 2013. Snake Oil: How fracking’s false promise of plenty imperils our future. California: Post Carbon.
  • House 113-1. 2013. American energy security and innovation: An assessment of North America’s energy resources. U.S. House of Representatives Hearing.
  • Hughes, J. David. 2014. Drilling Deeper. A reality check on U.S. government forecasts for a lasting tight oil & Shale gas boom. Part 1: Executive Summary. California: Post Carbon Institute.
  • 2009. Second IMO GHG Study. International Maritime Organization.
  • Inman, M. 2014. Natural gas: The fracking fallacy. Nature 516: 28–30.
  • Krauss, C. 2012. After the Boom in natural gas. New York Times, October 20.
  • Loder, A. 2015a. Shale drillers feast on junk debt to stay on treadmill. Bloomberg, April 30.
  • Loder, A. 2015b. The Shale industry could be swallowed by its own debt., June 18.
  • 2015. Review of the 21st century truck partnership, 3rd report. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
  • Powers, B. 2013. Cold, hungry and in the dark: Exploding the natural gas supply myth. Gabriola: New Society Publishers.
  • Senate 109-412. 2006. Energy independence. U.S. Senate Hearing, March 7.
  • Senate 113-1. 2013. Natural gas resources. U.S. Senate Hearing, February 12.
  • Senate 113-355. 2014. Crude oil exports. U.S. Senate Hearing, January 30.
  • TIAX LLC. 2010. Demonstration of a Liquid Natural Gas Fueled Switcher Locomotive at Pacific Harbor Line, Inc, prepared for the Port of Long Beach.
  • Tinker, S.W. 2014. Role of shale gas in North American and global power markets. Slide 45 Forecast vs. Actual. University of Texas, Bureau of Economic Geology.
  • Urbina, I. 2011. Insiders sound an alarm amid a natural gas rush. New York Times, June 25.
  • S. Census. 2000. Annual projections of the total resident population as of July 1: Middle, lowest, highest, and zero international migration series, 1999–2100.
  • Yergin, D., et al. 2003. The next prize. Foreign Affairs, Council on Foreign Relations.


Posted in Coal, How Much Left, Natural Gas, Peak Coal, Peak Natural Gas, Peak Oil | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Telling others about peak oil and limits to growth

[ Obviously the planet is finite. We’re using many times more oil than we’re discovering, and therefore at some point global oil production will peak and decline.  Yet even in 2016 this reality is denied by most, and a temporary glut in oil has led to the public buying gas guzzling light trucks and SUVs. At a time when the main way to stretch modern civilization out a few more years is to burn less oil, miles per gallon is going down, not up.  I spoke at the Sierra Club last month about my book “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation“, and someone in the audience trotted out the usual techno-optimist capitalist horseshit that the Market would come up with the capital, and human genius with the technology to produce oil for hundreds of years. Also, many others in the audience said the IPCC projected increasing oil production out to 2100 and didn’t believe an oil crisis was coming any time soon.

What follows are the experiences of members of several peak oil groups (energyresources, runningonempty, sfbayoil, and so on, most of them from 2000 to 2005) about their experiences of trying to tell friends and family about peak oil.  You may also want to read James Hecht’s “Collapse Awareness and the Tragic Consciousness“.  

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer]

Bruce:  My girlfriend simply does not want to hear it, so we don’t discuss it. Many other people, shown the die off graph I keep in my pocketbook, seem intrigued and concerned, but don’t rush off and sell their cars or do anything to change their investments or plans etc. It sometimes feels as though there’s a stampede of a million innocent cattle towards the cliff, and the only cowboys are Jay Hanson and I.

One thing I’m a bit sad about is the shock and grief that we are in fact pushing onto the basically innocent sleepy world. When we “succeed”, that “critical mass” may by itself have a massive shock effect on the stock market, employment, etc.

After a year of talking to people, here’s my guesses for the main subliminal reasoning why people think the energy crash is impossible:

  1. It’s impossible because whad’ya mean energy crash, never heard of it.
  2. Because we’re doing fine. Just some hiccups in the supply.
  3. Because they know what they’re doing and would have told us by now.
  4. Because I haven’t got time for an energy crash right now.
  5. Even if I had time, I couldn’t afford one. Look at my credit card.
  6. The oils wells have never run dry before, so they never will.
  7. Rain refills water wells. For oil wells: acid rain or something.
  8. Because oil wells are big slot machines, put money in, get oil out.
  9. Because they’ll think of alternatives-ha-ha-silly-billy.
  10. The oil companies have things up their sleeve they’re going to bring in.
  11. Because God looks after me.
  12. I need a car for work so it’s impossible.
  13. Impossible because you’re just trying to scare us.
  14. It’s impossible because you’re crazy.
  15. It’s impossible because ya have to stay positive.

The purpose of truth is to maximize later happiness and reduce later misery. We only face hard truths in order to avoid suffering. Truth serves total happiness. But in the context of the overwhelming energy decline holocaust, truth may not serve us as well as optimistic delusion — if  you are going to get dental root canal done, do you prefer the “truth” of no anesthetic, or the “delusion” of anesthesia?

In view of the size and speed and intractability of the energy holocaust, I’d suggest we’re wiser to allow humanity to remain deluded rather than publicize the energy decline. It’s mainly my lifelong habit of facing hard truth to avoid worse misery that compels me to tell others, and of course my personal intellectual vanity gloating about being “the one who knows”.  So, I vacillate, sometimes having a rave to a new acquaintance about it, and often just keeping quiet.

Whether to tell others about the coming oil crisis depends on how grave you think the energy decline will be, and whether a person can actually gain from knowing from it. Imagine, for example, a world in which the media has suddenly shouted the truth about the energy decline so that everyone knows what we know. A better world?

Oliver:  I think there is perhaps a belief that the government will “do the right thing” which allows people to “turn off”.

I once mentioned the impending oil depletion to my mother, who was very concerned at the time, but has apparently forgotten about it. It seems to require a certain type of person to appreciate the evidence and not get turned off by the whole thing.

Once past the peak, oil extraction can no longer meet demand and we start having shortages …this is an important thing for people to understand, since most people at first glance, look at 50% of oil left and think, “well, that’s going to last just as long as the first 50%”. Common sense, right?

It’s hard not to feel it’s all fantasy, looking out the window and seeing a bright sunny day. But then I notice the cars, the transport trucks, the transport ships, and the trains carrying food…  Most people really don’t really understand how much we rely on oil. This is understandable, since our modern society *is* complex. It’s like trying to comprehend the distances between the planets, starts, and galaxies. It’s big, really big. You take oil out of the picture, and things will stop working they way they are now.

Clyde: To get people to voluntarily change their lifestyles is a VERY hard sell.  And as Jay Hanson recently pointed out, simply increasing the efficiency of systems is usually counter-productive because it allows more people to do what had been done by fewer prior to the improvement. That just ups the ante when the time of reckoning comes.  It seems likely to me that people will only change when change is forced on them.  I doubt that your time is well spent trying to convince everyone that the end is near. The message will probably be received with about as much concern as when one sees a religious zealot walking on the street with a sandwich board proclaiming the end is near.  It is probably a better use of one’s time looking out for family and friends who share your viewpoint. Those who are prepared stand a better chance of making it through the difficult times ahead.

Tom:  I tried to start a dialog with my brother about some of the things we’ve been discussing.  He is firmly entrenched in the “man was meant to dominate the earth” mindset.  His reactions were as follows:

  1. You guys have been preaching doom and gloom for years and none of it has happened.  Why should I believe you now?
  2. There are scientists working on these problems.  When the need arises we’ll find the answers.  We always have.
  3. The people who are putting out this information simply have a leftist political agenda to change the American lifestyle.
  4. You can’t force unwanted changes on people as long as there is scientific uncertainty about the need for it.

I would guess this is typical of the reaction you will get from most people in the U.S.  So I doubt social change will happen in time.

The other evening I was having a beer with a group of friends from our local Sierra Club chapter.  These were all very environmentally concerned people.  I asked everyone in general “what are we going to do when the oil runs out?”  Blank stares.  One guy said “nukes”.  Another said “we’ll walk a lot”.  Then I asked how much longer until we are in a serious oil crisis.

No one knew.  One guy thought we had another 30 years.  I said try 10 at the most. Another fellow in his 30’s said you mean it’ll happen in my lifetime?  I said you better believe it will.

Then I found out that our chapter president who is about to turn 50 is expecting a baby in May.  I didn’t know what to say.  (He was the one who thought we had 30 years of oil left.)  When I got home I forwarded him some articles from the website.

I have found that people don’t want to know or think about the oil depletion scenarios.  I’m doing all I can to tell people with letters to the editor.   But realistically what can most people do anyway.  The average person doesn’t have the money for a PV system.  We need our cars to get to work so we can put food on the table and a roof over our heads.

Lise:  I have brought up the point that there can only be so much oil available and that Nature takes a heck of a lot longer to make it than we can use it.  I’ve also asked people to look around them and I’ve asked what would be missing if we didn’t have any more oil.  Since a lot of our synthetic materials and plastics are oil-based, it doesn’t take them long to see how dependent we are…it’s not just a matter of fuel.  But they usually don’t quite make it all the way to the holocaust scenario mainly because a lot of them still believe that Uncle Sam will protect and save them.

Hallyx:  I’ve been aware of Earthcrisis and particularly the oil peak for over a decade. For the past two years, I closely monitored the Y2K computer situation as a model of individual and sociological response to impending crisis.

Now here’s a delicious bit of irony. Throughout my Y2K discussions, few if any were prepared to consider climate, soil, water, species decline or oil peak as worth worrying about. Even the most doomly of the Y2Krowd are still Pollyanna optimists when it comes to Earthcrisis. Of course virtually all of my “green” friends rolled their eyes in barely concealed contempt whenever Y2K was discussed. Now their Save-the-Earth message is even more fiercely condemned as mere wolf-crying.

And all this discussion is among people who have the intelligence and heart to be concerned enough even to learn and to talk about the issues, a vanishing small percentage of the American people.

Thomas: The idea that we are about to run out of resources has been debated at least from the days of Adam Smith and Tom Malthus thru Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon…a span of about ten generations. So far, each of those generations has seen their standard of living exceed the preceding one’s. Any shortages have been short-lived; either supply and demand has come back into balance, or new resources replaced the old. Why should a reasonably well-educated John Q. Public, who knows of this 200+ year background, listen to us now?

Sherwood:  There seems to be no universal consensus on what should be done.  Indeed, the RunningOnEmpty scenario implies that for most, there’s no effective answer to insure their own personal survival.  Such a message is not going to be popular, to say the least.  It will be easy to dismiss this as a crackpot vision of the future until the crude stops flowing.  There are many who remember the gas lines of the 1970’s and will dismiss this as just another manipulation of the oil companies or oil exporting countries attempting to gouge the consumer, not the oil itself is running out. Y2K experience suggests that the .999 percent will indeed wait until they can “see” something happens with their lives.  If so many people can’t be sustained in the post oil era, why bother to convince them?

Scott:  …it matters not at all whether anybody “listens” or not. It is all coming down – regardless of how “awake” we are or become. I suppose being aware of the Titanic’s plight, AFTER hitting the iceberg (that’s where we are, by hypothesis), might have allowed more time to get the chairs on deck stacked nicely or something, but it would not have increased the number of lifeboats.

In fact, from a certain point of view, it is better for the survivalists if fewer people awaken, and begin to compete for the inexorably shrinking resources.

I may be wrong, but it seems reasonable to suppose that if as many people as possible are notified about the coming holocaust, they will act in ways that delay it and reduce its impact on them. Even the way they choose to suffer or die.

  • It’s reasonable to give people the choice of whether or not to bring new children into this future.
  • It’s a good idea too, to loose all the marvelous other minds of the world onto this monstrous problem.
  • We are not unquestionably right in our forecast and conclusions that nothing whatsoever can be done.
  • It is simply not fair to others to remain silent.
  • Even considering the future, caring about others is what makes my life bearable and meaningful, so if I can, I’d prefer not to stop. It just seems a more deeply satisfying way to suffer and die. With and for others.

James:  People have been shouting about any of a hundred extinction threatening forces for decades, and no-one takes any notice.  This is because the majority of people are ruled by emotion.  If they want something to be true badly enough, they will convince themselves that it is true regardless of the facts.

The reason there are so few people that don’t understand it is because no one wants to understand it.  ‘Limits to growth’ was published in what, 1979?  Nothing has changed.

The information has been available for decades, activists have been working for decades, and nothing has changed. That is because lack of information is not the problem.

Tom:  This summer, I will be teaching writing to my usual class of pre-freshmen at Hampton University in eastern Virginia–a conservative African-American university, I am about the only one on the faculty who gives any thought at all to the kinds of vital issues we are discussing here and on other Environmental lists.

My students are here primarily to get a degree in order to get a high paying job with a corporation, so that they, unlike their struggling parents or sharecropper grandparents, can enjoy the blessings of an affluent middle-class life–prestigious careers, leafy suburbs, a big, beefy SUV in the driveway, three kids, a local swimming pool, soccer on weekends, fancy new cars and computers, shopping binges at the local mall, and vacations in Europe or Cancun. This is what they are going to college for; it is what they all expect.  AND NOBODY HAS TOLD THEM THAT IT’S ALL A LIE.

How can I tell these kids that everything they’ve ever known, all their hopes and dreams, will crash and burn when the oil runs dry? How can I tell them that in 30-odd years, when they aren’t even as old as I am today (50), they and their children and everyone they will most likely die a horrible death from violence or starvation or both?

Quite simply, I can’t tell them that. I can’t puncture the bubble of their dreams; they would never forgive me. I can’t tell them that their future has been cancelled for lack of fuel. It would be too cruel, too brutal to tell them the dreadful truth.

Jeff:  Allow me to dash off a working journalist’s viewpoint. First, there’s the problem of credibility. I’ve been writing energy stories for decades, but I confess that when I first encountered the back in 1997 I dismissed it as just another millennial apocalypse site, the petroleum version of y2k…

You ask why people don’t make what appears to be the next logical step, “economic ruin and massive die off of ‘surplus’ population.” That’s what they said about Y2K, nuclear winter, and saccharine. The writers, editors, and owners of any major publication can’t tell their readers that their grandchildren are doomed and still retain their own credibility. The principle is called balance statement and counter-statement. They might  go along with a section or even a full article that says: “Jay Hanson, a well-known energy researcher in Hawaii, warns…” but that would immediately be followed by quotes from four other people (probably economists!) roundly criticizing Hanson’s overly alarmist conclusions.

You’re asking for an immediate, all-out, major challenge to people’s world view. From a purely practical viewpoint, it has to be more gradual than that. There’s an educational process involved. Unfortunately, the news cycle these days is dominated by television — which means the story must be visual and it must be contained within a 30-second sound bite, with a new angle every 12 hours to keep it fresh.  I’m firmly of the belief that television is the greatest modern threat to a working democracy and an informed electorate. Forgive me, but television is to my social view what economists are to Jay’s. Can you tell I’m a print journalist?

Jay:   Why the establishment MUST lie about energy. Recall that the sine qua non of government is public order. [1] If the truth were known, it would cause panic in the streets. Matthew Simmons makes this point:  “Since our current petroleum stocks are now so much lower in both total volume in some areas and days supply throughout the petroleum complex than the industry’s stock levels in 1973, we are far more vulnerable today to a petroleum shortage and the resulting consumer hoarding than we were in 1973.” [2]  So if the truth were told, a hundred million cars would suck-up another ten gallons each (run on the top half of the tank instead of the bottom half).  In short, the news itself would cause acute shortages.



Recall that the mass media is not in the business of dispensing truth either.  They are in the entertainment business.  And panic in the streets is bad for business.

So don’t expect the USGS, DOE, or CNN to tell the truth anytime soon.  Truth is not what they are about.

Would we want it any other way?  I am not so sure.

How can world leaders inform the public that economic growth will end soon — followed by a global die-off which will kill nine out of ten?  If they told the truth they would be butchered by the angry mobs.  In the Titanic analogy, the steerage passengers would rearrange the lifeboat assignments.  So the band must play on…

Earth is a globe, the ecosphere is materially closed. “Sustainability” would require a society whose population did not increase, that did not use nonrenewable resources, and used renewable resources at a rate that didn’t destroy them.  Just changing fuel isn’t going to make any difference.

I remember in the 1950s and 60s how preparation for a nuclear war was quite a fad. Then, by 1970 and beyond there seemed to be general denial within society. There was a “don’t care” attitude, or a “so what” attitude. People who lived in cities or near probable targets simply resigned themselves to live day to day and if the nuke came that was the end of it. They said, “who wants to live after the bomb hits anyway!” I believe that the die off scenario (and global warming) is behaving the same way.

With a monumental threat of proportions that cannot be dealt with on an individual basis, there is a kind of resignation that takes place. This is also true of slowly advancing threats. Humans are not evolutionarily equipped for slow moving threats.

Somehow we seem not to notice. I know a great deal about what is likely to happen, but that does not stop me from wanting a thick, juicy steak dinner or the ability to soak in a hot tub. I still drive an automobile even though I once rode a bike. I think that my attitude is not unusual. People just don’t seem to feel the immediacy of the energy depletion problem.

ANY effort to dispense information into the public domain will find vested interests who oppose you — that’s “politics”…their very livelihood depends upon endless economic growth.  Every day, millions of economists work hard to maintain the present dogma — they ARE priests.  In order to change the prevailing ideology, one is going to have to discredit the priests.  They certainly aren’t going down without a fight.

With regard to tactics, it is literally impossible to oppose the mass media and convince Joe Six-pack to change his ways.  It’s been tried for decades by environmental organizations — it simply doesn’t work.  The ONLY chance is to convince the billionaires that it is in their own best interests to change the system.

I am convinced that, several years ago (after the PROJECT INDEPENDENCE fiasco), our rulers reached the same conclusion I have: since no solution exists, there is no point in scaring Joe Six-pack.  It’s kind of like that movie ON THE BEACH where the radiation cloud is coming and nothing can be done about it.  That is why EIA, USGS, Lynch, et al are trying to convince everyone there is plenty of oil and gas.

Once again, I want you all to understand my findings: the reproduction/consumption problem has NO solution: or

You must take personal responsibility for your own family’s future.

I did not choose personal wealth over public welfare.  The fact is that I can do nothing to solve the reproduction/consumption problem.


#1. Watch the COPS TV program for three or four nights. Pay particular attention to the “stars” of the show (the people without uniforms). These stars are usually harmless to anyone outside of their own neighborhoods because they are so disorganized and screwed up on drugs.

There are, however, millions of “proles” in these neighborhoods who ARE working, ARE organized enough to keep a roof over their heads, DO pay their bills, and ARE raising a family. These proles do not star on COPS TV.

#2. If the truth about energy were widely known, the economy would be history.

#3. Now flash back to #1 above. What happens if the proles are unemployed and in the streets?

What happens if the whole neighborhood organizes for political change?

Do you really want the news about energy to reach the proles?

Do you really want the stars of COPS TV knocking on your door at 3 am? Not me.


If Joe-Six-pack knew about the peak; knew that everyone in authority and most of academia had been lying to him for at least 20 years; knew the best his kids could hope for was a painless death; the resultant rioting, looting, and total breakdown in infrastructure would make any solution impossible. That’s the best reason NOT to tell the public.

[1] Thomas Hobbes: “Whatsoever therefore is consequent to a time of war, where every man is enemy to every man, the same consequent to the time wherein men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal. In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain: and consequently no culture of the earth; no navigation, nor use of the commodities that may be imported by sea; no commodious building; no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force; no knowledge of the face of the earth; no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Robert D. Kaplan: “West Africa is becoming the symbol of worldwide demographic, environmental, and societal stress, in which criminal anarchy emerges as the real ‘strategic’ danger. Disease, overpopulation, unprovoked crime, scarcity of resources, refugee migrations, the increasing erosion of nation-states and international borders, and the empowerment of private armies, security firms, and international drug cartels are now most tellingly demonstrated through a West African prism. West Africa provides an appropriate introduction to the issues, often extremely unpleasant to discuss, that will soon confront our civilization.”

Peter:   Do we tell the world or not?  To give a short answer first, I don’t think you or anyone will be able to convince very many people in the time left. They just will not be able to accept it. It will be easier to remain in denial.  What you can accomplish is to alert the more flexible people with open minds to the coming difficulties. The more of such people that can survive, the better the chance that some form of what we call “good civilization” can survive. I have lightly brought up the subject with many of my friends and have been met with denial, attacks, etc. Most conclude I’m just nuts and we drop the subject. These are fairly well educated people. The typical response is, “well, when the price gets high enough we’ll just drill more wells and find more oil”. They fully believe in the economist’s “perpetual motion machine”.

Tom:  In my not so mumble opinion, the best route is to make it possible for folks to learn about energy, ecology, and culture and the role such circumstances play in people’s lives. Where I have been able to do this, people get excited and start taking things into their own hands, tending to look not for the cute solar-roller, warm fuzzy idea of the day, but for what works and how they can learn more.

Peter:   In one sense, it doesn’t make much difference either way (telling the world). The Great Crash of 1929 was resolutely half-ignored by journalists, politicians, and almost everyone else. The main response was, “it’s not a crash, it’s a correction.” See J.K. Galbraith, The Great Crash 1929.

The metaphor I’ve always liked is that if you drop a frog into boiling water, it’ll jump out, but if you put it into cold water and bring the water gradually to a boil, the frog will die. I’d say the 21st century will be one of Boiled Frog.

However, even if 200 people could outwit 6,000,000,000, the 200 would first have to think of what message they are delivering. Like predestination and reincarnation, you have to take a stand if you expect to get followers.

Jean:  I’ve tried telling a few friends and relatives about the Hubbert Peak.  The information vanished into a black hole never to be seen again.  Fascinating really.  That saying about how you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink comes to mind. People just don’t want to hear this bad news.  If they were to believe it, what could they do about it, really?  The best, most convenient policy is to just ignore the news about oil depletion, hoping it’s wrong or will somehow go away with advances in technology.

Both professionally and in everyday life, I generally make it a policy to tell any particular person useful information only once. If they are too dumb to comprehend it or don’t want to know so be it. It’s a waste of time to do more.

Mike:  Humans have exploited resources for most (perhaps all) of history. They have built most of their social structures based on the concept that there was an unending supply of resources to exploit. Look back 300 years to what England did to its hardwood forests, then look what they did about it. That paradigm will play itself out over and over until the combination of population and depletion leaves them with nothing left to exploit.

If there will be a time when benefits run out – “that’s tomorrow’s problem, we’ll deal with it then. This week I’m going on a ski vacation.” Foresight (or vision if you will) is the province of not more than a few. Personal responsibility, intellectual honesty, and concern for others are even more rare as human attributes go.

Of course I know that political/economic system has deliberately concealed the dangers in unrestricted expansion. So what? That is how Machiavellian political systems work. I get the sense that some people are laboring under the impression that “the world can be saved” if enough people are well enough informed. I don’t see any historical evidence to support that conclusion, and I’m not sure what about the present economic/political system is worth saving. I am also at a loss to explain what parts of the system would be  of what use in a world where there is little or no oil to do the work.

Christine: I think the current problem (people’s over-reliance on oil and other forms of fossil fuel) stems from the tendency of most people to follow the path of greatest comfort and least resistance. Even when looking at oil and coal depletion, it’s easier for people to comfort themselves by “believing” that only the doomsday kooks think the world is going to come to a screeching halt than it is for them to make changes in their lifestyles.  Or say to themselves, “It’s going to happen, but not in my lifetime.” It is not surprising that SUV sales in the US are rising — the design is in place, the manufacturing facilities are tooled for production, and its much easier for the SUV manufacturers to keep making and selling them to a willing public than it would be for them to redesign, retool and remarket a different vehicle.  And, I can understand why people choose to walk out their front door and climb into their air-conditioned/heated luxury vehicle to cart them from here to there and back again.

The alternatives take much more effort.  Public transit involves walking to a bus/train stop, waiting in line, crowding on to a bus or train with people breathing down your neck. In some cases, public transit is the less stressful alternative — due to traffic, lack of parking, etc. — but in most cases, people will choose their automobile every time.)  Bicycling, well, it’s strenuous to say the least and too daunting for most people. Even the people who build power plants are only doing what they are geared up to do.  (My greatest dread is that electricity will become so scarce that I will have to give up my daily hot shower!)  Change is hard.  I don’t think the masses will ever be convinced to willingly make daily, personal changes that would have a real impact.  I think it’s going to take a few people with vision, commitment, and resources to “walk the talk” and push through whatever is needed to change the outcome.  And I don’t have any clue how to do that.

Ted: Of one thing we can be sure, top down solutions will not work in guiding people towards ‘improving their energy circumstances’. Mass education, mass media, governmental control, and so on, are all sheer folly. Any profound and lasting shift in our socioeconomic paradigm must start at the grass roots, at the level of individuals. That is there where all hope lies. Individuals who understand the problems facing our fragile world must be proactive and must lead by example. For instance, they must build and live in energy efficient structures. They must own and drive energy efficient cars. If they have a garden, they must practice the principles of sustainable agriculture. As to persuading others to do the same, that is a waste of time. When crunch time comes, however, then they will be able to empower change, by sharing knowledge. I suspect that when energy becomes scarce, people will be begging for solutions about energy efficiency and permaculture and so on.

Andrew:  How do you respond to dreamers saying something like “If we all converted to Gandhi’s lifestyle (that is AFTER he quit being a fancy lawyer) then world population of say 20 Billion could be sustained ?”

To me this kind of argument, usually backed by an accusation that if you don’t agree with it you are a Nazi-minded ‘eugenicist’, is as sophist as saying “if we covered X thousand sq km of desert with solar cells we could escape energy-triggered economic crisis and civil or international war and strife”

Because it isn’t possible in the timeframe we have. Maybe 85% of ‘ordinary well-informed citizens’ in advanced industrial societies either don’t know, or don’t believe that fossil energy supply will start tapering down pretty damn fast in the next 10 years.

Nearly all the other 15% are sure something will be done to avoid any difficulties coming from fossil energy exhaustion.

Meantime, in the real World, dinosaur-minded politicians and war leaders crunch around for the last major reserves of the Jurassic Energy Fix

Timothy: As I look out of the window of my house this morning, I see many homes surrounding mine. It looks like a lovely community. But that is an illusion. There is no community. Those of us living so closely together barely know each other and we never work together. We are all a part of the neutral world. We mostly ignore each other. In this great neutral world that dominates western civilization, we don’t even know each other. Most of us humans living in this “modern” world are locked in the mindless routine of earning our living, while responsibility for our futures rest in the hands of elected politicians who live in a system designed to grow and profit until it consumes all the natural resources of the earth and then declares bankruptcy.

As the recent events in the Middle East have made clear to everyone, it could be worse. Most humans living in the third world are locked in the mindless struggle for basic survival, while responsibility for their future rests with the warlords who live in a One Bullet=One Vote system of adversary political-economics. This One Bullet=One Vote system cannot create a positive tomorrow. The only way humanity will have a positive future is if we change the rules. To do this all we have to do is change our minds. We will have to make the decision to work together. We can go out into our neighborhoods and introduce ourselves. We can start projects where we work together. The word community is a contraction of the two words common and unity. Or as I like to spell it, CommUnity. We can begin to restructure our lives based on working together, and we must embrace sustainability.

We can take a look at what we need, not at what we want. This means we have to grow up. We must put away advertising because it promotes today’s products that are not local. This in turn will begin to put away consumerism.

When we view Humanity as Community rather than as Individuality it becomes immediately clear that we need to stop having children NOW. Reproduction is not a right. It is a privilege. And, it is a privilege that belongs to Humanity as Community, not to Humanity as Individual.

Robert: Even if the media did an in depth feature story on depletion, what difference would it make? My guess is that it would stay in readers minds for exactly half an hour, then decay as the next new television image or song or thought comes in.

Greg:  I finally concluded, just a few days ago, that the battle was lost; that growth had gone on for so long with such high numbers that there was no way back and the trend, as it continued, had swallowed any chance for correction. I think the same reasoning applies to energy and the approaching energy crisis.   I think we are getting more and more evidence that the problem of alerting society to the tragedy just ahead is bigger than any solution we members, in or out of the group, might bring to it.

There’s simply too much resistance to the information. I think time will prove that we have been reduced to simple onlookers on History, along with many others, as history and events grind ahead.

Jack:  I’ve tried communicating this info to people I work with and associate with. There is one small group of friends, that believe the things we discuss here. The rest quickly forget the conversation, or shift what they say temporarily so that they might pretend to agree with me. I can’t seem to get them over the hump to, what does it mean?

The main difference between the two groups are… 1. Group 1, understands the Laws of Thermodynamics and isn’t afraid of big numbers.  2. Worries about what’s on TV tonight and whether they are up on the current conversational topic. In general, they feel that big numbers have no clear definitions and a deep faith that if there is a problem, then it’s being handled. Comments like, ‘there’s plenty of hydrogen in water’, are enough to soothe them and make them feel better.

There are 4 people in group one, that I personally know. Everyone else is in group two.

We need a severe crisis before the masses will experience maybe a 10% conversion. The other 90% will probably keep arguing that it’s all political and that killing an Arab, will fix the oil depletion problem.

Ron:  WE WILL NEVER DO ANYTHING COLLECTIVELY AS A SPECIES. The very best we can ever hope to do is act collectively as a nation. But even this is extremely difficult and requires a very powerful and dedicated totalitarian government, such as the one that currently exists in China. People keep saying that WE must control our population, WE must conserve energy, WE must  develop renewables, WE must convert to solar, wind or whatever forms of energy, WE must stop emitting greenhouse gases, WE must do this, that or the other two. Actually we will do nothing of the sort. People, as a whole, never see enormous problems coming in the future and act to head them off. What they really do is wait until the problem arrives, then react to that problem.

It is very true that a few farsighted people, like most of those on this list, see the problem coming and also foresee the enormous consequences of that problem. Then we start screaming, “We are running out of fossil fuels, we are poisoning the earth, we are killing off thousands of species, we are headed for disaster, the sky is falling, the sky is falling!” And of course nobody pays even the slightest bit of attention.

For  every Cassandra warning us of the disaster that is to come, there is a Cornucopian telling everyone that this is all the propaganda of doomsayers who do not know what they are talking about. There are several very good reasons for this behavior. That is, there is a very good reason why no one believes the Cassandras and believes the Cornucopians instead. People (in general) always believe to be true that which they desire to be true. And when they are presented with the choice of believing the Cassandra or the Cornucopian, they will most always believe the latter.

Think about it, the lives of their children and grandchildren depend upon it, literally. And I do mean literally,  I never use the word as a metaphor. If I tell you that your beautiful, wide eyed little child or grandchild will live in a world of unspeakable horrors but Julian or Bjorn tells you that this is all nonsense, your child or grandchild will grow up in a world every bit as beautiful as the one we see around us today, which would you rather believe? Which do you think the vast majority of people will believe?

So WE are a species who always do that which is in our nature to do. When we are presented with choices in beliefs, we will always choose the most pleasant belief, that is the belief that promises the most pleasant stress free future for us. The vast, vast majority of people simply cannot live with the stress of the knowledge that we are completely destroying any chance for our children and grandchildren to live in the same beautiful world that we take for granted.

Those who take the time to even listen to the Cassandras will deny our claims. But for the vast majority of people there is no need for any denial at all. The possibility of any kind of undesirable future is never even given the slightest consideration. They simply believe their world will last forever. They will shut their eyes and stop their ears to anyone who tries to tell them anything different.

Perry:  While I applaud your intent and efforts in the oil depletion communication/publishing venture, may I ask your goals?  i.e. what is the intended behavioral change you wish to invoke in others by the publishing of  the data regarding the oil depletion, et al? Numerous of those with whom I am acquainted who are aware of the facts simply do not want to change their lifestyles nor their behavior; this includes PhD’s, college profs, businessmen, etc.

They are knowledgeable about the technology, the history, the fundamentals, the premises, the conclusions, etc. – yet most just say “I don’t want to be around when it all happens”.   There is a great denial that THEY will be a part of any of what we routinely discuss here happening.

In fact, I think that lack of awareness is NOT the problem, but lack of behavioral change is.  I’m convinced that a far greater proportion of the population than we might admit to, IS aware, and IS, in fact, SO aware, that they are scared sh**less;  but they also have no means, nor methods, nor leaders, nor education, nor motivation to DO anything about what they already know.  So by default, they do nothing.

So, is there a desired behavioral change that you wish to achieve by your efforts, and what portion of the population do you hope to reach by doing so? and when? Do you really believe that political, or governmental, or media, or educational ‘leaders’ will be willing to put their necks and careers on the block for such a non-PC idea as we are talking about?

I’ve talked to, and do continue to talk to those who show even the slightest bit of interest in the subject, but most are not interested in being influenced to DO anything different from what they are already doing.

For example: If we start with Jay Hanson and the Dieoff site, and add Bruce Thompson’s efforts, and ER and ROE and ROE2, and Alas Babylon, and HubbertPeak, and Oilanalytics, and ASPO, etc., and expand those efforts to the max, we might agree that:

  • there are 10,000 ? in the world now, who are ‘aware’
  • and of those,  500 who have made some ‘significant’ behavioral changes due to their becoming aware
  • and of those, 50 perhaps who might be in a position to live without fossil fuels for some extended duration into the future
  • and of those, 5 who may survive long enough to pass on their genes to the next generation

I’m willing to help, – but I have to ask: what is the intended outcome you hope to achieve by the effort you intend to expend?

Gerald: I make an effort to bring peak oil depletion to every astronomer who knows me well enough to understand that I don’t go off half-cocked, often in bizarre places like NASA project review panels and scientific workshops. I’m usually successful in getting US colleagues to read introductory info, enough to get them agitated for a few days. Then distractions come, and when I follow up, I inevitably get “well, there’s fusion I suppose …” (perhaps after a cursory investigation into inertial confinement).  And an uneasy faith that once the peak is recognized/arrives, “clever” people will finally be brought to bear, political/environmental idiocy will be swept aside by “pragmatists”, the notion that energy overuse can be curtailed by “free markets” (many are Republicans), and “we’ll muddle through somehow”. There’s also a minority but surprisingly large segment who are convinced that God will be evident in the details, a mind split that boggles my mind (around here, they also tend to be Republicans). All this from scientists with children (and often SUV’s). My French/German scientific collaborators are much better informed on energy (and are more cynical on government solutions).

John: I see communities with large numbers of truly intelligent people as few and far between. Most US citizens are frightfully ignorant — just look at how few even accept and understand even basic scientific fundamentals.

Their ignorance is magnified by the fact that most do not even watch the pitiful news on the major networks, but instead rely on pseudo news, talk shows, tabloids, etc. Teens and twenty-somethings are truly appalling — their lack of understanding of world politics, science, etc. is abysmal.  Add to that the problem that relatively few have many real-world skills: they cannot build a shed, cook from scratch, plant a garden, fix an engine, etc. Consequently, their outlook during the die off is frightening. Even universities are often only a little better.  Most outside academia do not understand just how specialized the knowledge of academics has become. One recent study found that most professors, when writing outside their field, only write at the level and understanding of a typical undergraduate. So the political knowledge of an electrical engineer might be very limited. Add to this the fact that their knowledge is very theoretical, and you have a bunch of folks with many illusions, and only limited real-world abilities. The powers that be, during the last 20 years, have trained a generation of ignorant but easily placated workers. They will reap the fruits of their attempts at control when the hard times come. When the bread and circuses are yanked away, many of those ignorant folks will implode — and many others will explode violently. Fortunately, there are still pockets of intelligence left, and, for many here, your best bet is to relocate to one of those pockets.  So this question emerges — what will constitute true post-crash intelligence?

Brian: These are issues that take years of thought and meditation. Concepts of resource depletion, global politics, and the natural state of human culture are not something that fit into 350 word editorials.  People will need to read book after book and create a mind set that is capable of handling these realities. Its like a Buddhist telling a westerner to “just read this article and then tomorrow become a Buddha”…  On the contrary, it takes rigorous study and discipline- neither of which the American public can be proud of… To assume that the American people will somehow understand what you are talking about and use this information to change their daily lives is delusion.  I have written to my local papers numerous times as have others that I know who are aware of peak oil- and nothing more comes in the form of debate.  I have posted on the IndyMedia boards on the net that attract like minded individuals and even those who are considered to be counter-culture do not even take this seriously. I pray that it crashes sooner rather than later-  these sorts of efforts are noble, but the American people are asleep- lulled by propaganda, american idols, and cadillac escalades… I have made preparations and continue to refine my skills.  I suggest you all do the same. This amounts to nothing more than pissing on a forest fire… Retreat. Retreat. Retreat.

Sy: My warnings are almost universally greeted with bemused smiles like those that greet madmen as they share their particular wisdom with the wider world

Of course, their world is all they have ever known. They face what the science-fiction author Ian M Banks calls an “outside context problem”. It is fascinating concept, the short definition of which is a problem whose origin is so far outside of a culture’s collective experience that they are incapable of recognizing it, let alone mounting a defense, leading to the end of their existence. By definition, informing people about something outside their frame of reference is a near-impossible task.

Ben:  Judging by what I’ve read here and other websites, pretty much everyone has had the same experience when trying to convince others about this issue.  Nobody believes you, some get mad at you or ridicule you, and at best they might be non-commital to your face and disregard it otherwise. I think this is an important issue worth of study because I think it contains the answer of how we got in this mess and also if there is any light at the end of the tunnel (not for avoiding the die off but for humanity ever to escape a fate of slowly disintegrating back into a prehistoric lifestyle).

One of the most interesting things I have noticed is that when the subject of recent energy prices comes up, a LOT of people immediately accuse the energy companies of price gouging or a conspiracy.  Now, they have done no research on the subject and it’s not like the media perpetuates this myth. So the question is, where does this idea come from?

Now, we all know that people don’t know why they do or believe anything.  My guess is that people know that they are ANGRY, and that our nature predisposes us to solve problems POLITICALLY, so the goal is to find someone to blame.  The rationalizing part of the brain now has the job of playing the PR role and filling in the gaps and comes up with “it’s the energy companies’ fault, they are gouging us.  Everyone knows that.”

The thing is that people don’t really seem at all interested in peak energy in the first place.  I believe that a lot of this has to do with a genetic tendency to view “the commons” as infinite, put here by God to serve us — and making sense of any information that suggests otherwise gets a *Very Low* rating from the Prioritizer part of the brain.

However, that explanation doesn’t quite satisfy me completely after giving it more thought. I think the other part of the problem is that peak energy is not a political issue.  We aren’t interested in how much “stuff” we have, as much as we are interested in how much stuff we have compared to everybody else.  People today are still unhappy and frustrated even though they have cell phones, the internet, fast cars, etc., because they aren’t want to be where they want on the human social hierarchy.  So the reason why people

would rather watch E! or MTV “Road Rules” rather than make sense of the energy crisis is because until they understand how it affects their status in the pecking order, it has *low priority*.  And when the energy issue finally does affect their lifestyle, they see “I have LESS stuff, energy companies have MORE stuff”, not “This a serious issue that all humans must deal with collectively to solve.”

If these are the reasons why we can’t get through to anyone about the energy issue, then humanity is essentially doomed.  Hundreds of years from now we will still be fighting each other over domination of the world, even if that very fighting has already reduced it to an energy-drained, radioactive desert shithole.  And in the short-term, while many of us may be expecting people to suddenly realize the grave importance of energy and to revolutionize our lifestyles — we can instead look forward to various tribal mentalities springing up, with conservatives blaming the liberals for our problems since they won’t let us drill ANWR, liberals blaming the conservatives for letting Big Oil gouge us, and the government in turn blaming everything on terrorism.  The fact that you can see elements of this developing already doesn’t bode very well for the future.

Michael:  I suspect that the subject of Peak Oil reminds people of their mortality, which for most is never conversation fodder. An almost universal reply I got was “They’ll think of something”. Some chided for being too negative. Some would immediately try to change the subject. Others would stop conversing. Opening the eyes of those who refuse to see is like pissing into the wind.

Lawrence: Peak Oil is a topic I do not bring up that often, because most often the response is negative and sometimes rather hostile. As a rule amongst progressive people there is a tendency to see the problems of the world as entirely due to some elite group. There is a resistance to considering problems as systematic, such as energy depletion as a corollary of thermodynamics or that the human race is overpopulated. I used to say that the crux of our difficulties are to be found in the bathroom mirror. It appears that people have a tendency to see problems in the world as due to some “other”.

As a related matter I find that most people have an inability to imagine a future world without human beings. As I see things Homo sapiens is a terminator species that is stripping down the natural order of things on this planet and converting it all into trash. Along with that we are engineering the next planetary mass extinction, which will probably include the end of our species as well. Most people react to my thesis with a sort of shock and astonishment, as if I just declared my allegiance to the Nazi party. In fact I can lead people to a conclusion where they admit aspects of the argument, but recoil at the final conclusion.

Gregson:  I am under the impression that most people in the power and energy business are sympathetic towards the concepts of depletion but like most people they usually just think about next  year and not next decade. I also think that telling bad news is a good way to become unpopular.

Low:  If neither mainstream religion nor business acknowledges the “Limits to Growth”, while scientists (along with thinking individuals) do, the latter are effectively becoming heretics in their own society. Is that how the ER members are feeling? Like heretics? It’s a strong word, but it might go a long way toward explaining the strange looks and violent reactions ER members get when those who dare to do it, try to explain some of the “peaking” concepts to our family, friends and colleagues.

It’s like telling somebody that almost everything you’ve learned so far is a lie.

It’s like telling somebody “hey, you’ve been living in the Matrix, welcome to the real world”.

Immediate, irrecoverable system shock for most people except the really, really open-minded ones.

Jason:  I am referring to what lies ahead as the Perfect Storm. Financial crisis, energy crisis and climate change all coming on at about the same time, perhaps in that order. Another way I’ve put it (to those who bother to listen) is a 1, 2, 3 knock out punch for industrial civilization/our way of life.

Pedro:  I have doubts that people will one day awake and be enlightened with the issue of depleted resources, be that moment in the peak itself or several years after.

What I see now is that rulers, controlling the media, have very well managed in the most advanced countries, to convince their people that problems with scarcity of resources or with their security (usually vested under the phrase of “our national interests”) come from Arabs, Muslims or terrorists in general.

I am afraid we may be falling down the slide, the slope or even the steepest cliff and still believing that we have plenty of energy available, but convinced that “terrorists” outside do not allow us to extract it for the benefit of Mankind.

Open your eyes and watch TV and the media. What you see? Are we in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Emirates to squeeze their oil and prevent others squeezing it, or are we there to defend the democracy and the values of the Western civilization against barbarians? What is the use for the smarts, as Denis mentioned, to awake and be aware, if the masses continue believing the unbelievable media tales?

What do you think it will be the response of the masses when falling down even deep into the cliff? Awareness or fascism, enlightenment or a demand for the military to fight terror –- their constructed terror?

I have already a guess…and I would very much like to be wrong.

Brian:  I have a confession to make… I have been in this forum for a very long time now, almost from the beginning… I have participated in discussion… I have read most of the posts here… I have a pretty good grasp of what is going on the world politically, geologically etc…

I have listened to arguments presented here and in my daily life on why ‘there is a way’ to careen through our current and future problems… I understand the hope and the potential of humans to ‘find a way’ — it would take a huge collective effort globally to pull it off… I understand all of that…

I get bored, like most people, listening to arguments that play out like a tennis match where neither side listens to the other and where each side just throws the argument back across the net…. the technical mumbo jumbo is not going to save any of us…

I have to confess, my friends, that I am rooting for collapse… it is perfectly clear that the world is in no position currently to collectively solve our the coming energy crisis… the interdependencies of our problems, institutions, governments, etc… I really do not want solutions… solutions may be possible in a bizarro utopian reality- but that is not our reality…

I do not want to enable humanity to continue their consumptive, gluttonous addiction to material things… I do not want science to enable our natural world to be re-sculpted in our image at the expense of all other life… I do not want these things…. do any of you???  Really?

The best thing for our children is for this culture to collapse… I have made and will continue to make preparations for this collapse… if it comes I will be far better prepared than most…. if it does not– I will still be living a life based on nature– a simpler, much more fulfilling life than the one that many are trying to sustain by advocating replacements and alternatives…

The arguments go round and round, becoming increasingly vague, blurred, and confusing… numbers are presented, web sources are cited—after a while it all becomes completely lost in confusion…. I have noticed this phenomenon on most major media outlets… the pundits get the issues completely twisted and spun and confuse the public into a catatonic state….

I would like to know several things– those of you who believe in, and desire, a scientific solution for our current situation: why do you want to continue this consumptive, vapid lifestyle which the united states is marketing to the rest of the world? Do you not see anything wrong with that sort of lifestyle? Does the fact that this lifestyle threatens life on the globe as we know it– be it human life, flora or fauna etc..– concern you in the least?

I am rooting for olduvai… I am saddened that life has become so trivialized….I would like to hear from all of you…

Jason:   I agree it is important to give people the message that they are capable of making decisions that will improve the situation. I also believe people need to be scared enough to be motivated to do so. When the current system rewards the opposite of what is for the common good, something like fear is needed to work against that. I think “dieoff” is a fearful concept that people need to understand– first at the immediate level and then in a more nuanced fashion.

You make a good point about what is meant by “dieoff.” The time scale is important. I do see local famines occurring, but not a global one. So local dieoffs will occur, that is certain. In many other places there will be severe economic stress that will both reduce fertility rates dramatically, e.g., Russia, and lead to higher mortality rates for primarily the old and sick. Here’s where your thoughts about the need to accept and appreciate death are important.

I have been to many places in the world were people “get by” in conditions I can barely imagine. So I do understand how adaptable humans are. But I also don’t want the whole world to live in this miserable state, and that is what I fear we will face. I also worry about how people in the spoiled countries will lash out when under stress. This is what keeps me in the political process. I don’t want more wars that perpetuate a way of life that can’t go on.

So a message of both scary realism and hope needs to be carefully crafted.

Archdruid: The difficulty here is that faith in the prospect of a better future has been so deeply ingrained in all of us that trying to argue against it is a bit like trying to tell a medieval peasant that heaven with all its saints and angels isn’t there any more. The hope that tomorrow will be, or can be, or at the very least ought to be better than today is hardwired into the collective imagination of the modern world.

Robert:   Most people are aware that tobacco smoke is harmful, yet many still smoke.  Most people are aware that war kills civilians, children, and young men in their prime, yet the world is still full of war.  Many people are still having unprotected sex, drinking and driving, overweight, etc., despite massive education campaigns spelling out the dangers of these various vices.

Also, the president of the United States has ALREADY told Americans what any of us here at ER know to be gospel regarding Peak Oil [Jimmy Carter’s energy speech]:

AMERICANS JUST DON’T HAVE THE EARS TO HEAR the PEAK OIL blues-news, no matter from whose mouth it comes from!

CalRichard wrote: Sadly, there’s a high probability that we’ll choose that faith-based road [techno-fix rather than reduce consumption, revamp infrastructure, reform agriculture, etc]. Part(s) of me is/are not sad. Here’s my “logic”:

  • Humanity needs to reduce its population to 1/6 of what it is now.
  • The majority of people will cling to the “technology will save is, and if not, our leaders would certainly prevent us from going in the shitter, and if not, God will save us, because He/She/It will not let his chosen people (America, whom He/She/It blesses).”
  • This faith-based approached will not result in a large shift in habits.
  • 5/6 of the world’s population dies.
  • Problem is solved.

The Universe knows (if it indeed even bothers at all with my doing) that I have serious issues with primarily faith-based approaches. And… everything serves, including the faith-based approach. For me (and perhaps for you, Richard, if you choose to take it up), the challenge is to see the value of faith as something other than just superstition and denial, and to see how it serves. [Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism for the 5/6 that will (necessarily) die.

The forces in motion are much larger than we are. If collapse and mass death is inevitable, I can see how most of the 5/6 wouldn’t want to face the awful truth and use faith as their coping mechanism. Why would I require them to face the truth, given that we can’t stop what’s to come? What’s it to me if most people choose (if they even make the choice) to take the blue pill? Understanding that you and I don’t need such a coping mechanism, but not requiring others to face the truth, brings me to a place where I can sit with compassion for humanity.

That said, probably my biggest concern is that those who adhere primarily to faith may not leave a world inhabitable to the 1/6 who continue (or to most of the species that walk, swim, and fly, and it’ll all go bye-bye.

Ed (in 2016): Am I alone feeling despair and depression when confronted with the seemingly endless inability of family and friends to see what we seem to see on this list?  I’m 72, and my purpose in passing along what we’ve learned is to attempt to help folks not be blindsided by looming events. It’s been worse than fruitless. I get rejection and the opposite of love — indifference. I also get anger, and statements something like, “Gee, can’t you be positive?” A few years ago I posted a short essay to this group, titled “How Many Understand?” I concluded that perhaps 0.001 percent of the world’s population, or then about 65,000, ‘got it’ at the level and detail that most of us have absorbed for the past twenty years. We are now seeing materialize what we foresaw decades ago, and one would think events currently acting out on the world’s stage would clue folks, but the opposite seems to be the case — heads buried deeper.  We’ve all read of the Backfire effect, the Dunning-Kruger effect, complacency bias, normalcy bias, and much more, and we’ve delved deeply into Evolutionary theory and Evolutionary Psychology, so we’re pretty confident that we’re not a bunch of nut cases spouting nasty sorts of pseudoscience, but still, it’s both unnerving and debilitating to be constantly confronted with the degree of abject denial “out there.”  Especially from family and close friends.  I find I am now so different from nearly everyone around me, that almost any conversation is impossible. How do the rest of you handle this?  I’m certainly not doing well with it.


STOP CALLING ME A “DOOMER” By Carolyn Baker Monday, 22 October 2007

People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change.

Michael Byron, Ph.D. Author of Infinity’s Rainbow: The Politics of Energy, Climate and Globalization

Last week a review of the documentary “What A Way To Go: Life At The End Of Empire” was posted on Energy Bulletin and sub-titled “a review of a new doomer cult classic.” While the review was favorable, I must state that as someone who has seen the documentary dozens of times, who consistently shows it to my history classes, and who is a personal friend of the film makers, I was appalled at the use of the word “doomer” to describe the film. The reviewer’s use of the term was the culmination for me of the inappropriate use of “doomer” to label individuals who have rejected the soporific of “hope” with respect to the terminal state of planet earth. I am equally unnerved by those who consistently describe me as “negative” and obsessively attempt-almost beg me-to offer them “something positive.” Hence, the inspiration to write this article.

I’d like to begin with defining the word doom. My dictionary defines doom as: “fate or destiny, esp. adverse fate; unavoidable ill fortune.” When I consult a dictionary of etymology, I notice that the term had its origins in the early Christian era and is connected with the idea of divine judgment. Since I have made clear ad infinitum, ad nauseum that the “fate” of the planet is in our hands and that extinction of earth’s life forms including humanity is unequivocally avoidable, labeling me as someone who embraces “doom” is factually erroneous. Likewise, most people who know me well do not experience me as someone who walks around preaching divine judgment. After all, I published my autobiography earlier this year in which I described in vivid detail my exodus decades ago from Christian fundamentalism and all that “divine judgment” yah-yah that I grew up with.

Let me say again: The probable extinction of the human race and all life forms on the planet is absolutely avoidable, and it is not the product of an angry deity who will visit judgment on his naughty children. Only humans can reverse the lethal process they alone have set in motion.

Secondly, anyone who watches “What A Way To Go” to the end will be incessantly confronted with the notion of opportunity that the film makers insist the collapse of civilization brings with it. In fact, one could easily replace nearly every use of the word “collapse” in the documentary with the word “rebirth.”  People locked into “doom” do not talk about rebirth; far from it-they are generally depressed individuals who may be looking to throw themselves under the next freight train or jump off the nearest cliff.

The Psychology Of Doomer-Labeling

I have asked myself repeatedly where this label of “doomer” comes from when applied to people who continue to talk about opportunity and rebirth, yet refuse to sell the snake oil of “hope.” I didn’t fully understand the “doomer” label until a friend called after having just heard an interview with Harvey Wasserman, co-author of HOW THE GOP STOLE AMERICA’S 2004 ELECTION & IS RIGGING 2008. What Wasserman stated in the interview and what he also implied in his article “Do The Neo-Cons Need Karl Rove When They Can Count On The Democrats?” is that overwhelmingly, the progressive left does not want to hear the irrefutable documentation of the stealing of the 2000 and 2004 elections-or the compelling evidence that the 2008 election is already stolen! It appears that if they were to fully comprehend the futility of voting in national elections, they might feel-oh dare I say it-drum roll-hopeless?

This reminds me very much of the alcoholic/abusive family system where abuse and addiction are rampant, and someone in the family breaks silence and speaks the truth about what is so. Immediately, that family member is scapegoated, labeled a troublemaker, incorrigible, ungrateful, or in the case of the abuse of the planet and the political systems that enable it, a negative-minded “doomer.” Even worse, in the abusive system, the truth-teller becomes the identified patient, that is, “this family would be just fine if it weren’t for the troublemaker.” Translation: Why can’t you stop being a “doomer” and just vote Democratic, buy a hybrid car, put some curly lightbulbs in your lamps, and think positively?

One result of this finely-tuned denial system is that the truth-teller ends up feeling the feelings that everyone else in the system refuses to feel. The other members of the system are numb or cheerful, but the truth-teller is wracked with anxiety, anger, or depression because he or she is carrying the emotional baggage of the entire system.

Pardon a little bit of ancient mythology, but I’m quite certain that Noah was called a “doomer”. Talk about negative! Talk about raining, so to speak, on humanity’s “perky party”! Truly an identified patient he was.

Derrick Jensen states that everything in the current system of civilization is set up to protect the abusers. Those who refuse to do so will be scapegoated-if not by the abusers, then by their “siblings” who beg them to be quiet and maintain faith in the system.

Please understand that I am not forbidding disagreement. If you can look squarely and rationally at the evidence for the likelihood that civilization has entered a state of collapse and knowing the evidence, disagree with the probability of the extinction of the planet and its inhabitants, that is your prerogative. What I resent is being scapegoated because I have a different perception and I refuse to look at the evidence and still support the enablers of the system that is murdering the earth and every life form on it or because I refuse to say that everything is going to somehow work itself out, that politicians will save us, that solar energy or carbon credits will provide the magic bullet, or that technology will come to our rescue. And-what is more, I refuse to accept the scapegoating of those who absolutely will not face the overwhelming evidence of stolen national elections or who, for whatever reason, expect me to carry the feelings they will not feel and who identify me as the “troubled patient” in their terminally toxic, hope-addicted reality.

Repeatedly, these individuals do not hear or see me when I refer to the opportunity that the collapse of civilization may afford us or the rebirth of human consciousness that could unfold as the old paradigm crumbles and a new one erupts. In my book in process, I am among other things, painstakingly taking the reader through a process of introspection regarding collapse and rebirth, inviting her/him to be aware of the feelings that loom or lie dormant around the end of the world as we have known it. I do not expect it to be easy for anyone to acknowledge the reality of collapse; it certainly has not been for me. I have only been able to open to its irrefutable truth because I have had the support of others and because of a deep and abiding sense of meaning that I experience in the demise of empire. For me, both are extremely “positive” forces in my life-more authentically positive than “hope” or “optimism” or voting for the Democratic Party.

When I speak of rebirth, this is not for me some airy-fairy fantasy about “positive outcome”. In my opinion, rebirth is absolutely the most apt description of civilization’s demise. For most women, birth is no walk in the park-it’s painful, bloody, and very uncertain. What is born may be healthy and intact, or it may be impaired. Whoever is born must be nurtured, tended, given structure and limits, and he or she will at some point (or many times) break one’s heart. Parents almost always admit that giving birth has changed them, and that as a result they will never be the same. Giving birth consigns one to a lifetime of responsibility and care for one’s offspring; sacrifices must be made, priorities re-arranged, personal comforts postponed, risks taken-all with no guarantee of “happily ever after.” From my perspective, rebirth and collapse are inextricably connected and consistently mirror each other.

Mimicking Mainstream Media

The “doomer” label belies the labeler’s inability to grasp the complexity of the person or position he/she is labeling. Had the reviewer of “What A Way To Go” mentioned above, thoroughly understood what the documentary is communicating, he would not have applied the label of “doomer” to it. Yes, the film maker lets us know that he is not interested in presenting any “happy chapters” that let the viewer off the hook, but he also repeatedly emphasizes the “new stories” that can be told and the new opportunities offered as a result of collapse, culminating in film’s pivotal and haunting question: Who do I want to be in the face of collapse?

Moreover, “doomer” labeling demonstrates a lack of capacity for  comprehending paradoxes such as: Yes, civilization is collapsing, and that is an opportunity for rebirth-or one of my favorites from Derrick Jensen: “We’re fucked, and life is really, really good.” Paradox, two apparent opposites being true at the same time, complexity, holistic rather than black and white, either/or thinking appear to elude those who simplistically slap the unwarranted “doomer” label on whomever they choose.

Most egregiously, however, “doomer” labeling replicates the style of superficial mainstream and sensationalist journalism which refuses to deal with complexities and applies labels so that readers will not have to grapple with multi-layered reality. The prime motivation in this style of journalism is speed and brevity. As a result, readers are unable to view the rich and convoluted tapestry of an event, a story, a person, or a concept. Hence the old paradigm endures with no willingness to construct a new one!

Refusal To Admit That We Have No Government

A careful study of recent American history which I have endeavored to convey in my book U.S. History Uncensored reveals that although we may have a bureaucracy in Washington that operates myriad departments and provides services, in reality, we have no government. That is to say that what used to be the function of government has been usurped by corporations and centralized financial systems. Repeatedly, icons of the progressive left such as Jeremy Scahill in his brilliant book Blackwater, Naomi Klein in Shock Doctrine and in her latest article ” Outsourcing Government”, and Arianna Huffington as she appeared on Keith Olbermann’s “Countdown” on October 19 are telling us that it is now virtually impossible to determine where government ends and corporations begin. Only a few years ago, these same individuals probably would not have acknowledged this reality which actually has its roots in the late-nineteenth century and came to fruition in the Reagan and Clinton administrations.

Perpetually rigged elections are one glaring characteristic of this reality. If there is no government, then there are no authentic choices in terms of political candidates because a candidate cannot even be nominated for the presidency unless she/he is owned by the plutocracy. The progressive left loves to deny the extent to which candidates are owned and persists in rationalizing: “But he/she has done so many wonderful things; he/she is so sincere; he/she has to appear conservative, but when he/she really sits in the Oval Office, everything will be different. She/he is the lesser evil.” Anyone who does not buy into this delusion must then be marginalized by labeling that person pessimistic, doomish, or even crazy. Moreover, this kind of marginalization mirrors the exclusion of individuals and groups by the political right that it finds intolerable, and thus I return to the thesis of Harvey Wasserman’s article: Why would neocons need Karl Rove when they have the Democrats?

Participation in the federal election process sanctions the lie that authentic choices exist in presidential politics and condones the use of the election chimera for the purposes of maintaining social control. It is progressive America’s method of choice for maintaining the dirty little secret of the toxic system-that Daddy is raping the kids, but we can’t talk about it! If we do admit this to ourselves and each other, we will feel hopeless, angry, sad, disempowered-unless, we accept that all of this is the result of the collapse of civilization, and that the most powerful act for any of us is admitting that collapse is real and beginning as soon as possible our preparation for it.

Overall, the Democratic progressive left refuses to acknowledge that not only do presidents and political parties not govern the United States, but they are in fact, irrelevant. The sovereignty of nations has been irreversibly eroded by corporatism and organizations such as the Bilderberg Group, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Trilateral Commission whose agenda is the dissolution of nation-states and the global dominance of corporations. Almost all of the candidates progressives tout as capable of reversing America’s descent into fascism are prominent members of one or more of these hegemonic organizations.

As Mike Byron states in the quote at the beginning of this article: People must first be made to give up on the existing system before they will become receptive to fundamental change. As long as we cling to the teddy bears of progressive politics, we embrace the old paradigm of civilization and paralyze ourselves so that we are unable to explore deeper layers of our current predicament. As a result, we allow ourselves to be distracted from the dire exigencies of collapse and any possibility of rationally preparing to navigate it, which only increases the severity of its repercussions.

Collapse/Rebirth Vs. Doomerism

I have written profusely about “the end of the world as we have known it”, but at the same time, I insist that the “endings” of which I write, are also beginnings. I have emphasized that the word “apocalypse” simply means “the unveiling” and that we are currently in the midst of a protracted apocalypse which is ripping the veil off all of civilization’s illusions. The result will be the dissolution of all of our institutions and the lifestyles of hubris and mindless consumption that permeate empire. What is also true, in my opinion, is that behind those is another reality that cries out to emerge in our consciousness-or, as author, storyteller, and mythologist Michael Meade has titled his forthcoming book: “the world behind the world.”

Characteristic of the culture of empire is its incapacity to appreciate paradox-a word inextricably connected with “paradise.” (Could it be that in order to ultimately experience “paradise”, it is necessary to appreciate paradox?) But in its typically polarized fashion, empire says that things are either alive or dead, ending or beginning, and that both cannot be occurring at the same time. Yet the origin of the word “end” is instructive because it originally implied not cessation but “the opposite side”. Nature, the ultimate teacher, perpetually demonstrates the “end” in the changing of the seasons such as we are currently experiencing, revealing that the falling leaves and withering grass are dying, but will be reborn in a different form in the springtime and come to fruition in the resplendent heat of summer. The world as we have known it is ending, only to regenerate and appear in some other form which we cannot yet imagine.

While that may sound gloriously reassuring to the hopeful and pathetically airy-fairy to the cynical, I emphasize that the metamorphosis of collapse into rebirth will not occur without enormous suffering. Yet one may ask, if nothing really comes to an end, why talk about collapse at all? Because in the real world, as opposed to the polarized delusional world of civilization, new beginnings cannot occur without endings, and the most adult response is neither denial nor doom. Rather it is the ability and willingness to acknowledge collapse on both the transformative level and on the human level. That is, we must understand its evolutionary significance but also prepare ourselves for the havoc it will wreak with our lives-our bodies, emotions, communities, families, economies, and the ecosystem.

In all transitions, the people who seem to weather them most effectively are those who can hold on to whatever is for them timeless and changeless. From concentration camp survivors to indigenous peoples who have lived through the extermination of their cultures, connection with that which they experience as eternal has facilitated their perseverance and survival. In other words, the capacity for finding meaning in the crumbling of civilization enhances one’s ability to endure and survive it.

The question I would ask those who assign the label “doomer” to those of us who irrepressibly speak of and write about collapse is: Can you allow yourself to become comfortable with paradox? Are your mind and heart large enough to hold the possibilities of rebirth alongside the reality of death? Can you withdraw from the drug of “hopeful politics” that prevents you from looking into the black maw of collapse with all its inevitable misery and uncertainty, yet at the same time entertain the potential that it may ultimately actualize for all of life on planet earth? I can do that; if you can’t, then please don’t call me a “doomer”.



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Why do so few alter their lives to lessen climate change and peak oil?

[ Most people are in denial about Peak Oil, so of course they’re not doing anything about it.  In fact, quite the opposite. With oil prices down, the public is buying gas guzzling light trucks and SUVs, which not only worsens climate change, but depletes finite oil and shortens the lifespan of our fossil-fueled civilization.  Cafe standards are going DOWN, not up. This is not an entirely bad thing,  given the biodiversity losses, pollution, and other destruction of the environment homo sapiens is wreaking on the planet.  Many believe that collapse is best sooner rather than later.

Related posts:

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”]

Gifford, R. July 11, 2015. The Road to Climate Hell. NewScientist.

Even people who want to do something about global warming often do nothing. What are the reasons – and what can we do about them?

By now, most reasonable people understand that they have been burning too much carbon. Most of these same people are still burning too much carbon. There is a big gap between our views on climate change and our actions to do something about it. Unfortunately, actions are what matter, not sentiments or good intentions.

Most of us have taken some steps in the right direction. However, we continue to produce greenhouse gases. Sometimes, we truly cannot do better. Not everyone can afford to buy solar panels, rural residents cannot commute by subway, and people who live in cold climates cannot go without heating. These are structural barriers, beyond an individual’s control.

However, for those not restricted by such barriers, adopting more pro-climate choices and behaviors is quite feasible. Yet, so far, we are not taking enough action to decrease emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Why is this? What is stopping us from doing at least the things we are capable of?

A few years ago I began researching this problem. Journalists would ask me the simple question: if so many people are concerned about the climate, why aren’t more of them doing something about it? Often in conversations, people would express concern about climate change, and then say, “but…”

It quickly became apparent that many of the barriers to action are not structural, but psychological. I have identified 33 reasons, classified into seven fearsome families.

1. Limited cognition.  Humans are far less rational than once believed – which is also true when it comes to thinking about climate change. 

1: Ancient brain

Our physical brain hasn’t evolved much in 30,000 years. Back then, we were wandering around the savannah, concerned mainly with our immediate kith and kin, proximate dangers and quickly exploitable resources. Although we have learned to think (a bit!) about other people, distant threats and slowly exploitable resources, our ancient brain tends to fall back into the here and now, which is inconsistent with paying much heed to the gradual and often distant impacts of climate change. This makes us slow to act.

2: Ignorance.  Ignorance is a barrier to action in three ways: not knowing that climate change exists, not knowing what to do about it once you become aware of the problem, and being told wrong information. The first problem is shrinking, although factual knowledge still lags severely: my team recently tested the climate change knowledge of a representative sample of Canadians. We found that, on average, they could only correctly answer 1.5 out of 6 questions. Second comes a lack of knowledge about which actions to take, how to undertake those one is aware of, and the relative climate benefits of different actions. We are getting better at understanding the latter, and in broad terms we know what we should be doing. However, much remains to be learned, partly because the answers aren’t always universal – a best practice in London may not be a best practice in Vancouver, for example. Also, they aren’t always obvious – for instance, lamb raised in New Zealand and eaten in the UK has a smaller carbon footprint than lamb raised and eaten in the UK. And modern products are composed of many ingredients or component parts and have complex life cycles. Third, ignorance also stems from disciplined and deliberate attempts by groups with a vested interest in the production and use of greenhouse gases to cast doubt on climate science.

3: Environmental numbness. This dragon comes in two subspecies. First, every environment is made up of more elements than we can wholly grasp, so we attend to them selectively. Sometimes we attend to salient elements at the expense of less salient but more dangerous ones, which is how accidents happen. Climate change is like that for many: a dangerous phenomenon that isn’t salient because it isn’t causing any immediate personal difficulties. This makes action unlikely. The second form occurs at the other end of the stimulus spectrum. When people see the same advert many times, they get used to it and stop paying attention. Similarly, hearing about climate change too often, particularly if the message isn’t varied, can lead to message numbness and the attenuation of behaviours that would help ameliorate the problem.

4: Uncertainty. Experiments show that uncertainty – both real and perceived – reduces the frequency of pro-environmental behaviour. For example, when asked how many fish they would harvest from a hypothetical ocean, the more uncertain the number of fish left, the more people said they would take. People tend to interpret any sign of uncertainty as sufficient reason to act in self-interest. This happens in the real world too. In its 2007 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressed its level of confidence in its predictions very carefully, using phrases such as “likely” or “very likely”. This led many to interpret the report as indicating a lower likelihood than the IPCC intended. Thus, we are left with a perplexing problem: how to present the likelihood of climate outcomes honestly without promoting underestimates of the problem, which of course help to justify inaction.

5: Discounting. One well-known psychological bias is our tendency to undervalue distant and future risks. This is also true of climate change. For example, my colleagues and I found that citizens in 15 of 18 countries believe that environmental conditions are worse in other countries. Although conditions often are objectively worse elsewhere, this tendency occurs even in similar places, such as English villages a few kilometres apart. People also tend to discount environmental risks that will occur in the future. Both types of discounting are a barrier to action against climate change. If conditions are presumed to be worse elsewhere and in the future, people will be less motivated to act.

6: Optimism bias. Optimism is generally a healthy, desirable outlook that can produce useful personal outcomes. However, it can be overdone, to the detriment of well-being. For example, people are overly optimistic about their chances of having a happy marriage or avoiding illness. They are also overly optimistic about environmental risks.

7: Perceived lack of behavioral control. Because climate change is a diffuse and global problem, many people do nothing because they think that their behaviour has little or no impact on the outcome. Closely related to this is fatalism – the sense that nothing can be done, not only by oneself, but even by collective human action.

8: Confirmation bias. We like to be told that we are correct. Therefore, people tend to read and watch media that tells them they are on the right track. Those who have doubts about climate science prefer to read newspapers and watch broadcasts that reinforce their convictions. That, in turn, is a serious barrier to engaging in climate-positive behaviour.

9: Time is money. Studies show that when people view the time they have available in monetary terms, they tend to skip acting in environmentally positive ways. Money is the epitome of self-interest, and so when one’s time becomes associated with it, the environment suffers.

10: Perceived inability. Many pro-climate actions require some extra knowledge, skill or ability. Some people are unable to act because of a physical disability, for example. However, many more are capable of, say, riding a bicycle or changing their diet, but claim to be unable to do so.

2. Ideologies. “When people have a comfortable lifestyle, their tendency to not rock the boat grows”

11: World views. World views are broad swathes of connected attitudes. Some of them include a special place for views on climate change. For example, support for free-enterprise capitalism is especially associated with disbelief in global warming. Capitalism has clearly produced comfortable lifestyles for millions, but some aspects of it, such as a belief in the freedom of the commons – that common resources should be exploitable by anyone – have also led to the devastation of fisheries, forests and landscapes around the world. Having a financial or emotional stake in capitalist organisations isn’t compatible with adopting climate-positive behaviours.

12: Suprahuman powers. Some people take little or no action because they believe that a religious or secular deity will not forsake them, or will do what it wishes anyway. When researchers at the University of Melbourne in Australia interviewed people living on Tuvalu’s main island, Funafuti, which is threatened by rising sea levels, they found that about half weren’t worried, maintaining that God wouldn’t break the biblical promise never to flood Earth again. More commonly, secular people believe Mother Nature will take a course that we mere mortals cannot influence. Climate inaction follows naturally from these beliefs.

13: Technosalvation. Technical innovation has a long and admirable history of improving our standard of living. Clearly, it can be a partner in mitigating climate change: witness the recent drop in the price of solar panels. However, some go further and believe that technology can solve all the problems associated with climate change. Such overconfidence can serve as another barrier to climate-mitigating behaviour.

14: System justification. This is the tendency to defend and justify the status quo. When people have a comfortable lifestyle, the tendency to not rock the boat grows and – more importantly – so does the desire not to let anyone alter the way things are. Climate change will require major adjustments; system justifiers normally won’t adopt them, and will argue against them. On a positive note, if mitigation can be portrayed as part of the system, this can change.

3. Social comparison. Humans are social animals; comparing our own situation to that of others is a deeply ingrained tendency.  

15: Social comparison. People routinely compare their actions with those of others. When we compare ourselves to someone we admire, we gravitate toward their choices; if that someone happens to harbor anti-climate-science views, we are likely to decide that the climate isn’t such a problem.

16: Social norms and networks. Norms are what we see as the proper courses of action. They can be a potent positive force for climate action, but they can also be regressive. Social networks create and informally enforce norms. If the network’s sentiment is toward doubt, a dragon of inaction naturally reigns. But it works both ways. In one US neighborhood, for example, dwelling proximity in the network helped explain why 16% of householders installed photovoltaic panels, far higher than the national average of 1%.

17: Perceived inequity. Perceived inequity is often heard as a reason for inaction: “Why should I change if they won’t change?” Usually other nations or well-known figures are cited as not cooperating, which serves as a convenient justification for one’s own inaction. This is backed up by experiments that show when any inequality, real or perceived, exists, cooperation tends to decline.

4. Sunk Costs

18: Financial investments.  Once we have invested in something, disinvesting in it for climate reasons becomes difficult. The cardinal example here is car ownership. If I have bought a car and am now paying for its insurance and upkeep, why should I sell this cosy portable living room or leave it on the driveway? Similarly, if someone has a financial stake or a job in a fossil fuel industry, believing that burning these fuels damages the environment can lead to cognitive dissonance. It’s often easier to reduce this dissonance by changing your belief (“burning these fuels isn’t causing a problem”) than by changing your behaviour (disposing of the stake).

19: Habit. In 1890, pioneering psychologist William James called habit the “enormous flywheel of society” – that is, a powerful force for keeping things regular and ordered. In the context of climate change, habit can lead to the routine, mindless performance of damaging actions. Of course, climate-positive habits are a potential boon. Habit isn’t a glamorous dragon, but it is one of the most important because many repeated actions are highly resistant to permanent change – think of diet and transportation. Some people use the term “behavioural momentum” instead, because it aptly expresses this resistance to change. The use of cars, for example, has a great deal of behavioural momentum, and therefore is very difficult to change.

20: Conflicting goals, values and aspirations. Everyone has multiple goals in life, and these aren’t all compatible with climate change mitigation. The near-universal aspiration to “get ahead” often means engaging in actions that compete with the goal of reducing climate change, such as buying a larger house, taking exotic holidays or owning a new car. That climate-related goals frequently take a back seat to others is revealed when people are asked to rank climate change against other problems or concerns: they usually assign it a low importance. Polls carried out by the Pew Research Center think tank reveal that 80 per cent of US respondents say climate change is an “important issue”, yet it comes 20th out of 20 when ranked against other issues. Many people favour addressing the economic cost of climate change, as long as it doesn’t come out of their own pockets.

21: Place attachment.  Individuals are more likely to care for places they feel an attachment to. Weak attachment can therefore act as a barrier to climate-positive behavior. However, so can strong place attachment, for example in Nimbyish opposition to nearby wind farms.

5. Discredence. When people think ill of others, they are unlikely to believe what they say or take direction from them. These negative views can take a range of forms.

22: Mistrust. Trust is essential for healthy relationships. When it is absent between citizens and scientists or government officials, resistance in one form or another follows. There is ample evidence that many people mistrust messages that come from scientists or government officials. When trust sours, the probability of positive behaviour change diminishes.

23: Perceived programme inadequacy. Policy-makers have implemented many programs designed to encourage sustainable or climate-friendly behavior. Most of these are voluntary, such as a rebate for buying loft insulation or energy-efficient appliances. Thus, people choose whether to accept the offer, and often they decide it isn’t good enough for their participation.

24: Denial. Uncertainty, mistrust and sunk costs can easily lead to active denial of the problem. This may include denial that climate change is occurring at all or that it is caused by us – something believed by substantial minorities in most countries. Those holding this view tend to be outspoken. One newspaper reader’s comments on an article about research by environmental psychologists is typical of the emotional intensity felt by some deniers: “It figures that a bunch of psychologists need to mess with people’s heads to get them to fall in line with this ‘eco-friendly’ nonsense.”

25: Reactance. Mistrust and denial lead to what psychologists call reactance, the tendency to struggle against whatever appears to threaten one’s freedom. Of course, some circumstances should promote reactance, but climate change isn’t one of them. Reactance is especially problematic when it comes to climate because it may promote actions that go beyond inaction into destructive territory.

6. Perceived risk. Changing one’s behavior is risky.  

26: Functional risk. Will it work? If one purchases, for example, an electric car, it may, as a new technology, have operational problems. The same could be said for many green technologies.

27: Physical risk. Some adaptations may have, or at least be perceived to have, some danger associated with them. Bicycles, for example, produce virtually no greenhouse gases after they are manufactured, but they result in quite a few visits to emergency rooms.

28: Financial risk. Many green solutions require capital outlays or premiums. How long is the payback? If the product becomes a fixed part of a residence, such as solar panels, will I recoup the installation costs or accrue enough energy savings before moving on? Is the premium for that electric car worth it?

29: Social risk. Other people notice many of our choices. This leaves us open to judgement, which could damage our reputation or ego. Will riding a bicycle make me look odd? What about becoming a vegan? Or keeping my old mobile phone?

30: Psychological risk. This risk is perhaps less likely for most people, but can occur. If we are teased, criticized or even bullied for engaging in climate-positive actions, we risk damage to our self-esteem and self-confidence.

31: Temporal risk. Another risk is the potential that the time I spend planning and adopting a climate-friendly course of action might fail to produce the desired results. Many people spend considerable time trying to decide whether to install solar panels, buy an electric car, become a vegetarian or cycle to a destination. Fear that the choice might not result in the desired benefits can lead to inaction: the time spent planning a change may be wasted.

7. Limited behavior. Most of us engage in at least minimal action to help limit the emission of greenhouse gases. However, most of us could do more.  

32: Tokenism. Some climate-related behaviors are easier to adopt than others, but have little or no impact on greenhouse gas emissions. One example is taking your own shopping bags to the supermarket. However, their ease of adoption means these tend to be chosen over higher-cost but more effective actions, such as commuting by bike or public transport, or switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet. Nevertheless, they might be considered a gateway to better things.

33: The rebound effect. Often, after some positive change is made, the gains are diminished or erased by subsequent actions. For example, people who buy a fuel-efficient car may drive further than when they owned a less efficient one. Like reactance, this dragon may go beyond cancelling out the benefits and produce overall negative consequences.


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Missing monsoon crashes Indus Valley Civilization

19 March 2014 Withering monsoon may have doomed past Asian society. NewScientist.

The Indian summer monsoon abruptly weakened 4200 years ago. The ensuing drought may have led to the collapse of the Indus Valley Civilization, which flourished around the Indus river, in what is now Pakistan and north-west India. It was at its height from 2600 BC to 1900 BC, but after that its cities were mysteriously abandoned.

Shifts in the monsoon have also been linked to the fall of China’s Tang dynasty, and of the Mayan civilization in South America, both around AD 900.

Yama Dixit and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge dug up snail shells from Kotla Dahar, a lake near one of the cities. The shells record changes in the lake’s water level in their composition. The team found that the lake was deep from 4500 to 3800 BC. Although it shallowed a little up to 2200 BC, after this time there was a sharp drop in the water level, suggesting the summer monsoon abruptly weakened for 200 years, meaning less rainfall. The Indus valley people relied on the monsoon for crops, says Dixit. “It is inevitable that they were affected.” The dates of the drought don’t match perfectly with the collapse, but Dixit says both are uncertain. The idea is credible because the results agree with data elsewhere, says Supriyo Chakraborty of the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pune.

The journal article:

Dixit, Y., et al. February 24, 2014. Abrupt weakening of the summer monsoon in northwest India ~4100 years ago. Geology.

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Hitting the solar wall

ISO peak and off peak california


California peak and off peak demand in California. Solar produces power when it’s least needed: from 7 am to 4 pm during Off Peak and Super Off Peak time frames.  Adding more solar power makes the problem worse, requiring even more solar PV power and other plants to shut down more often.

[ California solar generation has reached the point where it’s producing so much power at the time of day when it’s least needed that it has to be shut down during the sunniest time of the year.  This is because year round, solar generates power when there is the least demand, and the least power when demand is highest.

Notice in the figure above that peak demand occurs after 4 p.m., which according to the California ISO, is “when the sun is setting and solar output is declining. During July and August supplies are even more limited during peak hours”. Except for July and August on the weekends, supply surplus occurs during “super off-peak” hours from 10 to 4 PM – which is when solar generation is at its highest. In addition, surplus conditions occur this same time period in March and April weekdays while weather is still mild and there’s no need for air-conditioning.

Because solar PV is so seasonal, it provides from 2% in winter, to 10% in summer of California’s daily needs — but not when most needed, and at times, far more than what is needed, so solar PV and/or other power generation has to be shut down.  Additional solar PV power only makes the problem worse.  Solar thermal with energy storage would help, but it’s mostly “smoke and mirrors”, less than a quarter have storage, and most of the time produce less than half a percent of daily power needs for California.

Alice Friedemann  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer]


July 12, 2016. On the path to deep decarbonization: Avoiding the solar wall. Op-Ed by Sally Benson and Arun Majumdar Co-Directors, Stanford Precourt Institute for Energy.


If California continues to rely mostly on solar resource for meeting the 2030 50% Renewable Portfolio Standard, the total statewide solar-generating capacity would reach 30 to 40 GW under peak production, according to a report by Energy and Environmental Economics Inc. (E3).

Under these conditions, on a sunny day, for most of the year, California would be generating more electric power than it needs during the middle of the day from solar energy alone.

E3 calculates that this large amount of over-generation could be a problem 23% of the time, resulting in curtailment of 8.9% of available renewable energy, with marginal overgeneration by solar PV of 42-65 percent.

In other words, California could hit the solar wall.

And this does not even consider that midday demand is likely to decrease due to the installation of additional residential and commercial solar PV systems “behind the electricity meter.”

Consequences of hitting the solar wall

Just a decade ago it would have been nearly unthinkable that during the middle of the day solar energy could provide more electricity than an economy as large as California’s needs. But supportive policies, rapid scale-up and decreasing costs make this possibility a reality today. While from some perspectives this is very encouraging, in reality, there are consequences for hitting the solar wall. For example:

  • Reliance on so much solar energy would require rapid ramping capacity for more than 10s of GW of natural gas power plants from 4:00-6:00 p.m., when the sun is going down and electricity demand goes up as people return home.
  • Large back-up capacity from natural gas plants or access to other sources of dispatchable electricity would be required for days when the sun isn’t shining.
  • Zero marginal-cost solar generation could squeeze out other valuable low-carbon electricity sources that can provide baseload power. For example, natural gas combined cycle plants, geothermal energy and nuclear power that cannot operate during these times at zero marginal cost.
  • Large-scale curtailment of solar PV during times of overgeneration, which will reduce the value of solar capacity additions to investors.
  • Real-time pricing during times of overgeneration could limit or eliminate the net-metering advantage of PV on residential and commercial-scale installations.

There is no doubt that California’s solar energy potential is invaluable, but we must take steps to avoid the solar wall.

A few of the suggested things to do:

  • Ensure adequate capacity of rapid ramping natural gas plants to provide reliable supply during the morning and evening hours as the sun rises and sets.
  • Increase energy storage to avoid curtailment of solar overgeneration during peak production periods. For now, few financial incentives exist for large-scale pumped-hydropower or compressed air storage projects. Levelized costs of small-scale storage in batteries range from about $300 to more than $1,000/megawatt-hour (MWh) depending on the use-case and the technology. These are expensive compared to pumped-hydro storage at $190 to $270/MWh. For comparison, gas peaker plants have a levelized cost of $165 to $218/MWh. The business case for battery storage will be limited until prices come down significantly. Both R&D and scale-up will be needed to reduce costs.
  • Use electrolysis to produce hydrogen fuel to augment the natural gas grid, generate heat and power with fuel cells, or power hydrogen vehicles. However, compared to storing electricity in batteries, hydrogen-based storage systems that combine electrolysis and  fuel cells are about three times less efficient. In addition, today, these technologies are expensive, and significant cost reductions will be required to make them competitive alternatives.


California ISO  

Issues with renewable power:

  • Short steep rams when the ISO must bring on or shut down generation resources to meet an increasing or decreasing electricity demand quickly, over a short period of time
  • oversupply risk: when more electricity is supplied than needed
  • decreased frequency response when less resources are operating and available to automatically adjust electricity production to maintain grid reliability.

To balance unpredictable, intermittent renewables ISO needs flexible resources that can sustain an upward or downward ramp, change ramp directions quickly, react suddenly to meet expected operating levels, start with short notice from a zero or low electricity operating level, stop and start many times a day, respond for a defined period of time.

For example, figure 1 shows a net load curve for the January 11 study day for years 2012 through 2020. This curve shows the megawatt MW amounts the ISO must follow on the y axis over the different hours of the day shown on the x axis. Four distinct ramp periods emergy.

#1 Ramp of 8,000 MW upward (duck’s tail) starting 4 a.m.

#2 Ramp down at 7 a.m. when sun comes up and solar generation starts (belly of the duck).

#3 At 4 p.m. solar generation ends, ISO must dispatch resources to meet the 11,000 MW ramp up (arch of the duck’s neck)

#4 Finally a ramp down after around 6 p.m. until the next morning

ISO winter duck









Figure 1. Net load – January 11, winter ramp duck

The summer has even more extreme requirements – the system needs to supply an additional 13,000 MW within just 3 hours to replace the electricity lost by solar power as the sun sets.

ISO summer duck











The more renewable energy added to the grid, the more likely it is that more electricity will be generated than needed.  Since the system frequency must be within a very tight band around 60 hertz, solar and wind sudden over or underproduction can cause a blackout if not compensated for.  When there’s too much production of electricity, this drops wholesale prices to zero or even negative, which causes generators to have to paly utilities to take the energy.  This is a situation to be avoided if possible.  The middle of the day is when it is most likely solar will produce too much electricity.  ISO would like to see this electricity exported, more electric cars, encourage users to consume when this happens, and more energy storage.

More California ISO links

Today’s renewables and net demand

Daily Renewables Watch (daily renewable stats back to 4-20-2010)

Posted in Concentrated Solar Power, Photovoltaic Solar, Seasonal Variation | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Climate change impacts on energy, water, and land use in the U.S.

Hibbard, K., et al. 2014: Ch. 10: Energy, Water, and Land Use. Climate Change Impacts in the United States: The Third National Climate Assessment, U.S. Global Change Research Program, 257-281.

[ Excerpts from this 25 page document, charts/tables: best to see original if you have time, this is a placeholder to make you aware it exists and whether you want to read the full article]

The links between and among energy, water, and land sectors mean that they are susceptible to cascading effects from one sector to the next.

An example is found in the drought and heat waves experienced across much of the U.S. during the summers of 2011 and 2012. In 2011, drought spread across the south-central U.S., causing a series of energy, water, and land impacts that demonstrate the connections among these sectors. Texans, for example, experienced the hottest and driest summer on record. Summer average temperatures were 5.2°F higher than normal, and precipitation was lower than previous records set in 1956. The associated heat wave, with temperatures above 100°F for 40 consecutive days, together with drought, strained the region’s energy and water resources.3,4,5 These extreme climate events resulted in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems.

Extreme climate events result in cascading effects across energy, water, and land systems.

High temperatures caused increased demand for electricity for air conditioning, which corresponded to increased water withdrawal and consumption for electricity generation.

Heat, increased evaporation, drier soils, and lack of rain led to higher irrigation demands, which added stress on water resources required for energy production. At the same time, low-flowing and warmer rivers threatened to suspend power plant production in several locations, reducing the options for dealing with the concurrent increase in electricity demand.

The impacts on land resources and land use were dramatic. Drought reduced crop yields and affected livestock, costing Texas farmers and ranchers more than $5 billion, a 28% loss compared to average revenues of the previous four years.6 With increased feed costs, ranchers were forced to sell livestock at lower profit. Drought increased tree mortality,7 providing more fuel for record wildfires that burned 3.8 million acres (an area about the size of Connecticut) and destroyed 2,763 homes.8

The Texas example shows how energy, land, water, and weather interacted in one region. Extreme weather events may affect other regions differently, because of the relative vulnerability of energy, water, and land resources, linkages, and infrastructure. For example, sustained droughts in the Northwest will affect how water managers release water from reservoirs, which in turn will affect water deliveries for ecosystem services, irrigation, recreation, and hydropower. Further complicating matters, hydropower is increasingly being used to balance variable wind generation in the Northwest, and seasonal hydroelectric restrictions have already created challenges to fulfilling this role.

With electricity demands at all-time highs, water shortages threatened more than 3,000 megawatts of generating capacity – enough power to supply more than one million homes. 9

Competition for water also intensified. More than 16% of electricity production relied on cooling water from sources that shrank to historically low levels,9 and demands for water used to generate electricity competed with simultaneous demands for agriculture and other human activities.

Energy, land, water, and weather interactions are not limited to drought. For instance, 2011 also saw record flooding in the Mississippi basin. Floodwaters surrounded the Fort Calhoun nuclear power plant in Nebraska, shut down substations, and caused a wide range of energy, land, and water impacts (Ch. 3: Water).

GAS FRACKING: A typical shale gas well requires from two to four million gallons of water to drill and fracture (equivalent to the annual water use of 20 to 40 people in the U.S, or three to six Olympic-size swimming pools). The gas extraction industry has begun reusing water in order to lower this demand. However, with current technology, recycling water can require energy-intensive treatment, and becomes more difficult as salts and other contaminants build up in the water with each reuse.30 In regions where climate change leads to drier conditions, hydraulic fracturing could be vulnerable to climate change related reductions in water supply. The competition for water is expected to increase in the future. State and local water managers will need to assess how gas extraction competes with other priorities for water use, including electricity generation, irrigation, municipal supply, industry use, and livestock production, particularly in water-limited regions that are projected to, or become, significantly drier.

Utility-scale photovoltaic systems can require three to ten acres per megawatt (MW) of generating capacity32 and consume as much as five gallons of water per megawatt hour (MWh) of electricity production.

Utility-scale concentrating solar systems can require up to 15 acres per MW33 and consume 1,040 gallons of water per MWh34 using wet cooling (and 97% less water with dry cooling). The U.S. Department of Energy study concluded that 14% of the U.S. demand for electricity could be met with solar power by 2030.34 To generate that amount of solar power would require rooftop installations plus about 0.9 million to 2.7 million acres, equivalent to about 1% to 4% of the land area of Arizona, for utility-scale solar power systems and concentrating solar power (CSP). 34 Recognizing water limitations, most large-scale solar power systems now in planning or development are designed with dry cooling that relies on molten salt or other materials for heat transfer. However, while dry cooling systems reduce the need for water, they have lower plant thermal efficiencies, and therefore reduced production on hot days.35 Overall, as with other generation technologies, plant designs will have to carefully balance cost, operating issues, and water availability.

Biomass-based energy is currently the largest renewable energy source in the U.S., and biofuels from crops, grass, and trees are the fastest growing renewable domestic bioenergy sector.13 In 2011, approximately 40 million acres of cropland in the U.S. were used for ethanol production, roughly 16% of the land planted for the eight major field crops.37 Consumptive water use over the life cycle of corn-grain ethanol varies widely, from 15 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline equivalent for rain-fed corn-based ethanol in Ohio, to 1,500 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline equivalent for irrigated corn- based ethanol in New Mexico. In comparison, producing and refining petroleum-based fuels uses 1.9 to 6.6 gallons of water per gallon of gasoline.38,41

Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) substantially increases the cost of building and operating a power plant, both through up-front costs and additional energy use during operation (referred to as “parasitic loads” or an energy penalty). 46 Substantial amounts of water are also used to separate CO2 from emissions and to generate the required parasitic energy. With current technologies, CCS can increase water consumption 30% to 100%. 48 Gasification technologies, where coal or biomass are converted to gases and CO2 is separated before combustion, reduce the energy penalty and water requirements, but currently at higher capital costs.49

CCS facilities for electric power plants are currently operating at pilot scale. Although the potential opportunities are large, many uncertainties remain, including cost, demonstration at scale, environmental impacts, and what constitutes a safe, long-term geologic repository for sequestering carbon dioxide.51

A few of the many interesting figures to look at in the original:

Figure 10.4. U.S. regions differ in the manner and intensity with which they use, or have available, energy, water, and land. Water bars represent total water withdrawals in billions of gallons per day (except Alaska and Hawai’i, which are in millions of gallons per day); energy bars represent energy production for the region in 2012; and land represents land cover by type (green bars) or number of people (black and green bars). Only water withdrawals, not consumption, are shown (see Ch. 3: Water). Agricultural water withdrawals include irrigation, livestock, and aquaculture uses.

Figure 10.5 The top panel shows water withdrawals for various electricity production methods. Some methods, like most conventional nuclear power plants that use “once-through” cooling systems, require large water withdrawals but return most of that water to the source (usually rivers and streams). For nuclear plants, utilizing cooling ponds can dramatically reduce water withdrawal from streams and rivers, but increases the total amount of water consumed. Beyond large withdrawals, once-through cooling systems also affect the environment by trapping aquatic life in intake structures and by increasing the temperature of streams.18 Alternatively, once-through systems tend to operate at slightly better efficiencies than plants using other cooling systems. The bottom panel shows water consumption for various electricity production methods. Coal-powered plants using recirculating water systems have relatively low requirements for water withdrawals, but consume much more of that water, as it is turned into steam.

Figure 10.6. The figure shows illustrative projections for 2030 of the total land-use intensity associated with various electricity production methods. Estimates consider both the footprint of the power plant as well as land affected by energy extraction. There is a relatively large range in impacts across technologies.

Figure 10.9. In many parts of the country, competing demands for water create stress in local and regional watersheds. Map shows a “water supply stress index”

Figure 10.10. Agriculture is in yellow, forests are shades of green, shrublands are gray, and urban areas are in red. The river is used for hydropower generation,


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