How I stumbled on the energy (and ecological) crisis

You can trace my worries about gasoline back to when I was 10 years old.  Our family was on an epic camping trip, driving through Death Valley in 120 Fahrenheit heat, and probably higher than that in our dark Blue Rambler with no air conditioning.  When I stuck my head out to cool down, it was like putting my face in a blast furnace. The gas gauge nearing empty, and I kept my eye on it until we finally pulled into a gas station.

But going back even earlier than that, I’d been pestering my parents and complete strangers to teach me to read since the age of 3, so when I finally learned how to read in first grade, it became my passion in life.  I was born to read, driven by my main trait, curiosity about EVERYTHING. Between the ages of 9 to 17 that drove me to read the Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedia in our house from A to Z.

And this drive to read non-fiction books across many areas of knowledge has been central to my life, check out the eight book lists of my favorites here.

Another big influence on me was finding out Santa  Claus didn’t exist at age 5.  I cried and cried when my 8-year-old friend Craig told me and I stayed up long enough to see Dad put presents under the tree as he told me to do.  I was also angry about being lied to, and that was the beginning of wondering what else I was being told that wasn’t true.

And sometime around that age I learned that saying Butt! really loudly was naughty, though it made my younger bother laugh so hard that milk spilled out of his nose and I was roundly scolded. So I whispered to my brother that a butt was really an Oompah, and after that I would parade around the room saying oompah which my parents thought was really cute and made my brother laugh hysterically.  But it also added to my perception that things weren’t what they seemed necessarily.

When I was around 9 I discovered a wonderful magic store about two blocks away, and visited constantly to see the owner demonstrate the latest tricks, and then save up enough money to buy some of them to find out how the trick was done.  It sunk in over time that if magic could trick people so easily, it might be easy to trick other people in other ways as well.

Such as at Riverview amusement park which I started attending around then when I became taller than the clown and could ride the roller coasters that we boasted were bigger and better than Coney island coasters later in life to annoy New Yorkers. There were also many beautiful, extremely scantily clad women I much later realized where hookers, and endless rows of carnival barkers with crooked games you never managed to win a big stuffed animal at.  I still remember one where you put a quarter on a number and yet somehow the spinning wheel never landed on a number with a quarter on it.  Wondering how this was done, as the wheel slowed down, I grabbed the counter and pushed up high to catch the operator with a foot pump he could control the speed of the wheel with.

I also discovered Mad magazine around age 9 or 10 at the news stand two blocks away. I found its parodies of TV shows and how society worked incredibly funny and early on this gave me a mischievous and somewhat rebellious nature.

Another key factor in how I evolved was when my parents let evangelists into the house once a week. After my grandfather Pettijohn, a geologist at Johns Hopkins heard about this, he gave me a book about “The Monkey Trials”, where Clarence Darrow cleverly questioned the literal nature of the biblical stories, and this was also the first time I learned about evolution.  And that, I began a new  monkey trials and it wasn’t long before the evangelists left and I became keenly interested in evolution.

Although I wasn’t an atheist yet, because I was very much wired to believe in God, after the Monkey trials God receded from the angry wrathful Santa-in-the-sky who knew if you’d been naught or nice to a more abstract entity.  This was furthered by mom, who believed heartily in new age supernatural beliefs. It wasn’t long before me and my friends were playing with ouija boards, Kreskin’s ESP game, and I began reading new age books.  I was especially enamored of one that had a  six step method of how to leave your body.  How wonderful!  I’d be able to fly around the sky, go to amazing places any time I wanted!  But after months of trying I complained to Dad, and he said “Well, not everything you read in a book is true”.  “What!” I screamed. “Do publishers know it isn’t true too?” And Dad said quite sadly, yes, that they were trying to make money.

I was really really shocked — and the thing is, I continue to be shocked after a lifetime of reading investigative journalism.  Though not surprised any more as I constantly was back then.

My most vivid moments that I can still remember from school are mostly the very few times we learned critical thinking.  The first time was 6th grade, where I was forced to take the position in a debate that 18 was a better age for teenagers to start driving than 16.  I came up with three reasons and my opponent Eric came up with four.  Everyone voted for Eric when the teacher asked for the winner. I felt terrible. But then she said she thought I had won, because my arguments were better, and that it was more important to consider how good arguments were, not how many.

In seventh grade we voted on whether the Lochness monster was real or not, and though we all voted yes initially, we were then walked through other evidence showing otherwise, and all changed our minds.  It was a lesson in what to even ask to prove or disprove something.

It was also in seventh grade that I gave a report in social studies from the National Enquirer that rats were eating babies.  The teacher, Mr. Bilsky, just roared with laughter.  I was mortified, but it was a great lesson in learning how important a trustworthy source of news was.

In high school, the teacher asked how we could be sure the moon landing actually had happened.  Photos could be faked for instance.  Eventually the teacher got us to realize that thousands of people would have had to be in on the hoax, and surely one of them would have squealed.

My favorite courses were learning about constitutional history, especially Hobbes who worried about the dark side of human nature and the need to have checks and balances, and Jefferson’s worries about corporations taking over the nation.

Most of all, I read Gibbon’s “Decline and fall of the Roman Empire”.  I was very happy that I would never experience that, clearly the USA was one of the strongest, wealthiest most honest nation in the world, ever, and that fate was probably thousands or more years away.  But how interesting that nations’ could fall, and wouldn’t it be like a detective story to look for things happening now that might lead to our failure thousands of years in the future?  That is the one category that I now find encompasses all others, including energy and natural resource decline, war, biodiversity loss, climate change, and so on.

I also loved the muckraking books we read, such as Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” about the Chicago stockyards.  My favorite books of all, and which still are, are investigative journalism on any topic — such as the “The rich and the super rich” about the growing unfair wealth gap, “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life” by Richard Hofstadter, and too many others to list.

But my growing awareness also made me feel out of place, like an anthropologist from another country.  An outsider.   Thank goodness for Unit 1, an experimental living-learning center at the University of Illinois in Campaign-Urbana.  It was a magnet for creative and brilliant people of all kinds, from artists and poets to pioneers in computing science, a place where musicians and other performers visiting campus stayed for free in an apartment in exchange for interacting with us. I had finally found a place I fit in!  And this critical awareness boosted by the even smarter and aware students in Unit 1 also led me to  become an anti-war activist, feminist, ecologist, and environmentalist in high school.

And that brings me back to energy and running out of gas.  I was in college when the first energy crisis hit in 1973.  Growing up in the industrial city of Chicago, it was pretty obvious society ran on gas, from the trains that roared by to the endless lines of trucks and cars. Back then buildings were blackened by coal, and I always feel when I go back to see Mom and Dad that millions of people with scrub brushes must have scoured it all clean, it is amazing how buildings look now.

I think everyone was worried back then. Some of the brilliant Unit 1 students soon organized an alternative energy group may of us participated in that looked at wind, solar, and other alternative energies.   We invited engineering students to show us their projects or speak about the windmills and electric cars they were building.  One time they asked us to help them build a solar collector by drinking beer and then painting the cans black.  Alternative energy was not only going to be good for the planet, it was going to be a party!

In college I had no time to take English, but in my free time and summers worked my way through the classics from A to Z, especially liking Mark Twain and Russian authors like Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

I went through the usual heart breaks in college, and I partly  blamed fiction, fairy tales, TV shows, and fantasy books steering me wrong about how the world really worked, and stopped wasting my time with fiction (except for extraordinary books like Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”, Marquez “A Hundred Years of Solitude”) and poetry, which speaks to the heart of human experience, metaphor, and the beauty of language.  I stopped watching TV for 20 years, and rarely watch it now.  Basically, I’ve been reading non-fiction for 42 years now.  A lot of it.

But even in high school I knew that I was no good at telling truth tellers from liars, and I had no idea how to go about telling them apart. So after college, I devoured skeptical magazines to gain critical thinking skills and try to figure this out.  I constantly roved the bookshelves at Cody’s and Moe’s in Berkeley, Green Apple in San Francisco, Powell’s in Portland, thumbing through books in science, natural history, cognitive psychology, anthropology, political science, biographies, history, and just about everything else. But that still didn’t get me any closer to figuring out who was telling the truth — but it did give me critical background knowledge that often helped me evaluate books on similar topics — I had some basis of comparison, some way to question what I read based on past reading, which is very important.

But I was in my thirties before I finally figured out the best way to tell truth from lies better (though I’m fallible and emotional and can suffer from fallacies like everyone else).

After my husband became a science writer at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in 1988, we joined the Northern California Science Writers Association, and the friends I made there steered me towards specialized books on evolution, the philosophy of science, and peer-reviewed science journals. I subscribed to Science, Nature, Scientific American, Discover and other magazines.

At this point you may think I’m really smart, but that is not true! I am not even close to being a genius.  Garrison Keillor likes to say that “all the children are above average” at Lake Wobegon.  That’s me.  Really, the only difference between me and most people is that I have a bigger picture view from spending a a lot more time reading a very wide-ranging amount of non-fiction than average.  I never had children either.  And I am not a naturally clear, critical thinker like my husband, who is super-duper at understanding the world and several decades of journalism and writing, superb at asking the right questions and the most objective and fair person I’ve met.  Both my parents believe in wacky supernatural things, take supplements, reject western medicine, and drive me nuts since I worry they’ll be taken advantage of or have their health harmed.  It’s been a long hard never-ending fight to triumph over my upbringing and perhaps genetics to get this far, and I have a long way to go still.  Thank goodness I have such a great husband, who I can bounce ideas off of and I continue to learn from him to this day.  Though he is a bit of a techno-optimist, but it makes him more delightful and fun to be around, and I’ve come to see this attitude as self-protective, I’m the oddball to be willing to look at such a depressing and disturbing reality.

When the oil shocks came again in 1979, I was too busy with my new career as a programmer at Electronic Data Systems and searching for a single man in San Francisco to think about it much.   Besides, maybe it would finally force the evil oil companies to stop preventing renewable energy from happening.

Sometimes my grandfather, Francis J Pettijohn, a well-known sedimentary geologist in the National Academy of Sciences, would try to educate me about the role of fossil fuels in civilization.  I’d counter with my alternate technology experiences in college, especially the solar beer can collector story.  He’d chuckle  and change the subject.

But then I read his “Memoirs of an Unrepentant Field Geologist” (Pettijohn) and was really struck by what he had to say about of M. King Hubbert:

“One student had a profound effect on my thinking and on the course of events later in my life — M. King Hubbert.  When I arrived at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1929 King was one of the first graduate students I met.  I was struck immediately by his personality.  He turned out to be something of the iconoclast, a sharp critic with an excellent analytical mind and skill in mathematical and physical analysis.  Nothing seemed to delight him more than finding a fatal flaw in someone else’s analysis.  Although he was a graduate student working for his Ph.D. under Rollin Chamberlin, I never could discover whether he took any courses, and I soon observed that, although Chamberlin was his adviser and supervisor, King neither needed nor accepted advice and supervision.  He was a very independent individual–a student of nobody.

Perhaps King’s most dramatic achievement was his prediction of oil depletion. This paper dealt with the trend and future production of oil and gas in the United States. King clearly saw that at the time the discovery rate had peaked and production would soon culminate, and that it and our reserves would begin an irreversible decline.  He predicted a peak production in 1970.  His paper created a great deal of consternation in the oil world, and provoked heated controversy; he was roundly denounced.  It was heresy indeed in a profession that is constitutionally optimistic and incapable of conceiving of its demise.  It turned out, as we all now know, that King was right”.

Yikes!  Had oil peaked?  I did an idle internet search, and bang!  Alarming articles at the Colorado School of Mines website about Hubbert’s Peak, (or what participants in the oil industry called the “reserve replacement problem”), which should be right about now.  Although a bit frightening, there was far more bad news to contemplate at Jay Hanson’s dieoff.org.  It wasn’t long before I joined several forums such as energyresources and runningonempty (also started by Jay Hanson), energybulletin, theoildrum and too many others to list to learn more.  There were about 500 people back then following this issue, several of them well known professors like H. T. Odum at the University of Florida, and several graduate students of Charles A. S. Hall and other systems ecologists who posted the latest information on the forums.

So where were the beer solar collectors?  How come there wasn’t much alternative energy thirty years later, even though everyone knows the oil won’t last forever?  I spent hours at University of California (Berkeley) libraries reading technical journals about hydrogen, solar, wind, biofuels, soil science, nuclear, geothermal and other energy resources, as well as auditing classes, attending seminars, and lectures.  Through the internet forums, I discovered many books and articles I would never have found otherwise.

Gradually it became clear why alternative energy couldn’t replace oil.  But when I tried to explain why to family and friends, they thought I was nuts.  This was happening to everyone else on the forums too (see “Telling Others“).

And who could blame them? It’s not a sound bite to explain. Perhaps a semester of lectures might win someone over to the views of theoildrum, ourfiniteworld.com, and other great forums, but that’s not how conversations go, I had about a minute to make a point, and then it’s someone else’s turn to talk.  That’s how conversations work.  The other person was usually angry or exasperated with me for not seeing that solar, wind, nuclear, and other kinds of power could replace oil.

For example, when I try to explain why this is a diesel fuel crisis, because trucks, tractors, and other diesel combustion engines do the actual work of society that keeps us alive, but can’t be electrified for many reasons.   Such as batteries or fuel cells would are far too heavy, and overhead wires won’t work, there are 4 million miles of roads and millions more miles of farmland that can’t be covered with overhead wires.  Outraged sighs of disbelief ensue. So I quote Physicist Richard Muller at the University of California, Berkeley, who wrote in “Physics for Future Presidents”, that “high-quality, expensive batteries—the kind used in cell phones and portable computers—store only 1% as much energy as gasoline, pound for pound” (page 305), and scientist Kurt House that there are laws of physics which limit the amount of maximum energy stored to around 3-5% of gasoline pound for pound, so the size and weight of batteries for trucks and tractors will always be too large and heavy. I’m either told I’m arguing from authority, the conversion goes back to electric cars, or more fun topics.

I once believed whatever I wanted to believe too, because I had no way of knowing who was telling the truth – so why not believe what sounded most appealing?  I even had a new age phase in junior high school that was quite delightful.  Space travel, astrology, the Loch Ness Monster, ESP, and all sorts of other magical thinking ruled my understanding of the world. What crashed this fantasy world was when I got one of Mom’s books off the shelf about ten steps to having an out-of-body experience, and after months of trying, got frustrated that it didn’t work.  When I complained to Dad, he told me that not everything you read in books was true.  I was flabbergasted, demanding to know if the publisher had known the book wasn’t true, and he said it was very possible, because the book industry wanted to make money.  Not long after that, I found a story about rats eating babies in the Enquirer, and gave a report on this in history civics class, and Mr. Bilsky was so outraged and amused, that I got yet another lesson on not believing everything you read.

So I understand how easy it is to dismiss ideas you don’t want to believe in, especially if they’re scary.  I could have dismissed the posts at energyresources and elsewhere on the internet if I hadn’t read most of the recommended books.  Unlike articles in magazines, books have the time to really nail down a topic, close all the loopholes.  You can’t change the conversation.  The full complexity and interactions with related topics can be explored.  Above all, there are references to pursue further.

So when I read Youngquist’s outstanding book “Geodestinies”, Gever’s “Beyond Oil: The Threat to Food and Fuel in the Coming Decades”, and so on (see my booklist), the awareness of the consequences hit me like a sucker punch. This would be the worst disaster to ever befall mankind, with up to 6.5 billion people dying by the time it was over and a wood-based civilization from now on.  Fossil fuels were a unique, one-time only phase of our history.  I’d already spent so much time reading non-fiction (and lots of ecology, natural history, etc)., that the puzzle pieces clanged together all at once, like a jail door in a prison.

The future unfolded like a nightmare. I was depressed for months.  Violent scenes from films played unwilling clips. Armies marched, women wept over graves, Scarlett O’Hara dug up carrots.

I can see now why people thought I was nuts, there was no energy crisis, what was I nattering on and on about?  Nothing was in the news about this at all.  It wasn’t until 2006, when National Geographic put Peak Oil on the cover, that I gained some credibility with friends and family.  But even now in 2016, most people still think  alternative energy is going to rescue us from both climate change and declining fossil fuels.

I’ve been accumulating material since 2000 on the energy crisis, which encompasses many other areas – ecology, environment, climate change, carrying capacity, soil science, agriculture, transportation, infrastructure, global trade, the financial system, politics, cyber war, nuclear war, terrorism, natural disaster, and more.

Energyskeptic.com is my attempt to translate high-quality, preferably peer-reviewed scientific literature about these topics into information the average person can understand.

I learned when my husband was a science writer at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory how often the scientists didn’t like what he wrote — it was too simple, they feared being criticized by other scientists because simplifying their research made it less nuanced, less “true” because maybe only one part was discussed, scientific terms weren’t used, and so on.  So I’m sure experts will find fault with my understanding of a topic, or how I’ve phrased it, or what I’ve left out, especially most of the numbers and graphs, which my friends tell me makes their eyes glaze over.

Above all, my career as a systems analyst/engineer in health care, banking, and transportation has affected how I think and write.  Often I was trying to take a workflow and computerize it, capture critical information for the sales department as soon as possible, create a unique manifest for a new country we were shipping to, and to do this you need to understand the process from the very beginning to the very end.  Usually I could get 95% of the work done in 5% of the time, it was that last 5% that was the problem.  Sometimes projects weren’t cost justifiable because it would cost too much to get the missing data, or take too many employees, or take too long.

It was my job to prevent expensive projects with a negative return from happening in the first place.  Money returned on money invested.  So discovering Charles Hall’s energy returned on energy invested made a lot of sense to me.

When I started looking at energy resources, I found that  a lot of optimistic, positive articles in the news media were some kind of breakthrough in the laboratory that would not likely ever work out. Perhaps it depended on a really scarce rare earth metal, or the new and improved batter lasted longer — but you could only recharge it a few instead of hundreds of times.  There is a financial incentive to blare these so-called breakthroughs — more investment or grant money.

The most important aspect of an energy resource is whether it takes more inputs of fossil fuel energy than the output energy returned, or Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI).  So for a windmill, you’d look at how much fossil fuel energy was used to mine the iron, aluminum, concrete, to fabricate all the components, and so on to the delivery of the windmill, and subtract out the fossil fuel energy required to operate and maintain it.  Basically, you need to find out if more fossil fuels are used in the full energy life cycle than what’s going to be delivered by the windmill over its lifetime.  Even though this is the most important aspect of looking at alternatives to replace fossil fuels, I find that most people don’t understand this concept, or don’t want to understand it.

But even if a windmill had a positive EROI?  SO WHAT?  Any contraption that generates electricity isn’t worth a fig newton, because tractors, harvesters, logging and mining trucks and equipment, construction and road trucks, cranes, forklifts, 18-wheelers all run on diesel fuel.  Not electricity. The 8,000 parts of the windmill aren’t going to arrive at the factory without trucks.  The wind mill isn’t going to be moved to its destination without trucks.

Even many scientists who should know better use far very narrow boundaries to come up with a positive result. Studies that found a positive EROEI for corn ethanol were often done by scientists funded by the National Corn Growers Association, weren’t peer-reviewed (data and methods open to all scientists), and kept the energy analysis  to within the biorefinery.  Important energy inputs like the energy to make fertilizer, the tractors to plant and harvest crops, trucks to deliver the crops to the biorefinery, and delivery of the ethanol by truck or train weren’t included.

Much as I like EROEI, and can’t resist mentioning it, there are just too many ways to cheat — cherry picking numbers from LCA that tilt the results the way you want them to come out, leaving out key energy inputs, and so on.

There are plenty of other factors that trip up alternative energy replacements.  Biofuels are limited by nitrogen, the depth and quality of topsoil, water, and so on.  Solar PV, windmills, computers, and much other technology now depends too heavily on limited supplies of rare earth and platinum metals.  Peak uranium, peak phosphorous, peak everything basically. There are dozens of resources that are getting short that could also cause the collapse of civilization as we know it.  Fossil fuels have hidden from us what a deep hole we’ve dug for ourselves — we’re still able to continue to mine less rich ores and get at difficult and remote resources.  Oil is the mot important of all.  It is the magic wand that can make anything happen, prevent water shortages by drilling 1,000 feet deep, and used to get all other resources, including other energy resources like coal and natural gas.

Running out of water?  Build a very energy-intensive desalination plant.  Food requires a tremendous amount of water, so import food instead, or grow food hydroponically.  These all require fossil fuels.

Oil is the fuel burned by trillions of combustion engines doing the actual work of society by moving goods, food, and water. The easiest resources, the richest ores, have been used up, so declining oil at a time when all of the remaining resources depend on oil for their extraction while at the same time are remote, depleted, and difficult to get — including oil itself — ought to trouble everyone, but it’s been years since peak oil was in the mainstream news.

It’s also hard to believe energy resources are a big problem because newspapers focus on today’s news.  Oil shocks in the future is not a story because it isn’t happening right now.  Important issues are only covered when there is “news”.  So the last time the New York Times wrote about nuclear winter was 1991 after Carl Sagan’s book “Nuclear Winter and the End of the Arms Race” came out. A more up-to-date paper on nuclear winter wasn’t reported — Robok’s 2007 “Climatic consequences of regional nuclear conflicts”.  However, Scientific American did report on this in their January 2010 issue in “South Asian Threat? Local Nuclear War = Global Suffering. Worry has focused on the U.S. versus Russia, but a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan could blot out the sun, starving much of the human race”.  But how many people read Scientific American?

There has never been, and never will be again, a collapse of this magnitude. There are way too many factors to predict when, how, and how long the collapse will occur, and the suffering will vary greatly from place to place even within the same nation.  But a collapse is inevitable because it’s hard science, every living being on earth depends on (food) energy, and humans have temporarily been able to jack up the carrying capacity of the earth by 6.5 billion people using the hundreds of millions of years of solar energy locked up in fossil fuels.  It’s absolutely certain that there won’t be 7.5 billion people a century from now.  But how long it will take to go back down to 1-2 billion is hard to predict, or what the exact series of catastrophes are that will cause systemic collapse.

Still, like in any murder mystery, we know who the suspects are.  It’s the order of the dominoes that’s unknown.  Any one domino can knocks others over — if Mr. Financial System crashes he’ll knock down Mr. Oil Production because new projects won’t get funded, and Mrs Global Trade will go home and supply chains will break down.  If Mrs. Earthquake takes out Los Angeles or Tokyo, that will knock down Mr. Financial System.  Or Miss Oil Shock could bring everything to a halt and bring down Mr. Financial System (one of the reasons peak oil is avoided is because several think tanks have stated that a general awareness of Peak Oil would bring stock markets and banking systems down, since it would be clear that loans couldn’t be paid back since the economy would start shrinking and stop growing like it has the past 200 years).

We’re leaving future generations a pretty crummy world.  No one is thinking about the grand children, and I suspect that’s because we’re just not wired that way. Like other species, we live in the moment, from day to day.  We have a hard time even imagining being hungry again after a big meal. So when you’re tempted to blame someone for our dilemma — oil companies, politicians, economists, scientists – remember that it’s really no one’s fault, we inherited our predicament from previous generations who turned to coal, oil, and natural gas when their trees ran out.

The best action to take now is to stay under the energy depletion curve by women having no or just one child. We also ought to reopen Yucca mountain and put nuclear waste in immediately while we still have the energy to do it, or our descendants will be stuck all over the country with nuclear waste that lasts millions of years.  And also clean up mining waste, superfund sites, and other damage future generations won’t have the energy, and eventually know-how to clean up.

What we could do is try to preserve useful knowledge for the grandchildren.  I encourage you to buy books in my book lists.  Also hang on to undergraduate college level textbooks.  Computers will not outlast the age of oil for long, and even if more simple transistors can be built, they won’t be able to access the information stored on today’s hardware, so these digital files will all be lost.  Yet that’s increasingly where universities, libraries, and other institutions are putting information.  So if you know any librarians, you might want to pass my “Peak Resources and the Preservation of Knowledge” article along to them.

Whole Grains – an Essential Post-peak Skill  (http://wholegrainalice.com/ )

Each of us has something different to contribute.  For me, it was clear the electric grid would grow increasingly unstable.  Refrigeration will grow less reliable, leading to a need to get enough calories to survive from food that doesn’t need refrigeration.  The way people have done that for the past 6,000 years is by eating grains, which can be stored and allowed civilization to survive several years of bad harvests in a row.  Climate change will increase the number of bad harvests, but fortunately the technology to protect grain from pests and decay is much better now than it was in the past.

I’ve been baking with whole grains for many years.  I see my own small contribution to the transition  as helping people learn how to bake, mill, and store whole grains at home.  I’ve set up another website to teach these skills (http://wholegrainalice.com/)

There’s a saying “we’re only 9 meals away from a revolution”.  The longer hunger can be staved off, the less likely we are to experience a chaotic, violent tipping point when economic collapse, oil shortages, and other disasters increase in the future.

I wish I were more inclined to collect garden gnomes or porcelain ballerinas instead of gloom-and-doom articles, but this is where curiosity and the desire to know the truth have led me.  How I got to be this way is reviewed further here.

58 Responses to About

  1. Ted Howard says:

    Hi Alice
    Firstly I appreciate what you’ve been doing. As a 15 year peak oil activist a lot of what you’ve covered resonates completely with me and my journey too.
    Please email. I have a response to your Optimism versus Ignorance article that I’d like your feedback. I posted it to a group I’m on and somebody has come back with a negative/’ignorant’ response I’d like to get your input on as I build something myself as well.


    Ted Howard
    New Zealand

  2. Malcolm Lyons says:

    Great summary Alice, as is your posting on contercurrents. You have a way of condensing the truth.
    I have struggled for years to introduce (let alone warn) my sisters to the true predicament we face. One of my sisters still remains utterly in denial but my father, wife and a few others I know are now aware.
    But I really dont see that enough people will get it or want to get it in time.
    I fear we will not prevail.
    Denial of grim reality has been selected for as a human trait and on an individual level has be a great survival advantage, boosting performace and mood. But collectively, in this situation this guarantees our decimation or even extinction.
    Timing is the question now.
    Kind regards
    Malcolm in New Zealand

  3. Ric Steinberger says:

    Is there a way to get on a mailing list for this site, so I get alerted when new posts appear?

    • energyskeptic says:

      I’ve got 15 years of articles I’ve accumulated that I’m going through now that I eventually hope to turn into books about decline and collapse, since I don’t think the internet will last at some point down Hubbert’s curve. I work in bursts as I find the time to do so and post the best of my archives. I don’t have a mailing list. What I do to keep up with the websites, blogs, and journals I follow is to create science, energy, and other topical folders in the bookmarks of Firefox and Explorer that I open up in tabs.

  4. John Howe says:

    How can I submit to your wonderful site?

    Also, I surface mail complete manuscripts, if I have your mail address.

    There are too many web and blog sites.

    John Howe

    • energyskeptic says:

      Dear John,
      I have some of your writing already, and I’ve posted your booklist and one child per woman if that’s okay, and hope I can post more of what you’ve written,

      Alice energyskeptic at ya h o o

      • John Howe says:

        Hi Alice.
        Just reread your great essay: “How I Stumbled…”.
        Too bad “Peak Oil is Dead”.
        I stillsend out my free book; “The End of Fossil Energy, 5’th ed.”
        Am presently mailing to all members of congress.
        See and forward new summary site: http://www.percapitaoil.com.

        If you e-mail me your surface mail address, I will send a copy.
        Thanks. Keep uptake good work.

      • Dan Taylor says:

        In the late 80s or early 1990s I was on the Board of an early internet operation that used uunet.
        My tagline was “one child per couple is the solution to pollution”.
        I was metaphorically glabally eviscerated by many women declaring “keep your hand of our bodies”.
        Denial ain’t just a river.

  5. Gordon Graham says:

    Just listened to your interview with Jim Kunstler. Ever since being required reading my senior year at Cal in 1972, the Club of Rome’s “Limits to Growth,” and its successors, I’ve been concerned with “the poisoning of the planet.” Their latest recalculation has reduced the peak of their concerns from the 2030-2050 range to 2025. When Nafeez Ahmed wrote about “the decreasing resources crisis” as a contributing concern to the instability in Egypt last summer, a similar article about Syria a few weeks later, Governor Moon Beam’s emergency declaration there in California, the continuing spread of radioactivity from Fukushima and most, if not all, nuclear facilities, especially from Hanford here in the US, there does not appear to be any “safe place” on the planet.

    So my theme song has changed from “Blowin’ in the Wind” to “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” What else can one do?

  6. Auntiegrav says:

    Thanks, Alice.

    My concern is that the “optimism” I see in most articles about what to do and how to build communities is based on philosophy that doesn’t have people with skills to support it. Sure, there are lots of people getting into CSAs and intentional communities, tiny houses, etc., but when the crap hits the fan, there are very few people aware and willing that are also able to use wrenches and tools fast enough to do the things expected of us.
    I see the writing of most Change Optimists like an Ironman movie: people dream up all kinds of stuff as though it can be fabricated and produced magically by an artificially intelligent computer (or the alternative version: “if everyone would just do x”) with robots at its disposal and everything works as soon as it is thought of.
    It doesn’t matter if the technology is an electric car, a solar powered house, an intentional community whole grain system or simply planting a seed in the ground: the philosophers are dreaming of utopias but there just isn’t enough time to both coordinate the work and do the work, let alone raise money for it.
    Most of the “successful” people in organics that I see are working government jobs on the side or they are dependent on customers who have high paying jobs in government, education or some other ‘non’profit system of employment.
    It’s all running on money that’s running on hope, not actual work or closed-loop resource cycles.

  7. Wade Keister says:


    Can you contact David Blume? You two have much in common and I think he has very good info on NON-corn based Ethanol which you might be interested in..

    Thanks for your work


    • energyskeptic says:

      The reverse is true. Blume should read my article “Peak Soil” and reply with peer-reviewed scientific evidence to refute me. I took a Permaculture class from David in 2002 at Strybing Arboretum. He’s very bright and charming, but not at all scientifically based.

      Blume attacks David Pimentel, a famous scientist — one of the most brilliant and widest ranging in history, and ranks with Carl Sagan, E. O. Wilson, Charles A. S. Hall, James E. Hansen, Vaclav Smil, and so on (bio at http://www.eoearth.org/profile/David.pimentel/ )

      David Fridley, scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wrote me:
      Yesterday Julian Darley (founder of PostCarbon.org) told me he was going to SolFest, and I told him to give Blume a hard time. He said that Blume had sent him his book and asked him to write a review, so I offered to give my comments. This is what I sent them this evening:

      “I reviewed this book. My basic reaction is that if Chapters 2, 3, 4, 5 and Appendix A were omitted, it would best be entitled “Manual for Small-Scale Production of Ethanol”. If the author had stuck with what he apparently knows best, it would be a solid book.

      However, he strays beyond his competence in a number of areas. Overall, he has an excellent grasp of technology and of plant characteristics and performance; his knowledge of energy science, however, is a little shaky and downright wrong in some places–unfortunately, mostly in places where he is trying to make what he feels is an important point.

      Among these are his embarrassing discussions of EROEI, in which his lack of understanding of the concept–and importantly–of the implications of the concept, weaken his larger thesis. For example, on p. 25, he writes “in fact, it’s oil that has a negative EROEI. Because oil is both the raw material and the energy source for production of gasoline, it comes out to about 20% negative.” This is a classic error–conflating conversion efficiency with EROEI, thus making the comparison with ethanol apples and oranges. Crude oil, at its peak in the US in the 1930s, had a 100:1 EROEI, and even today, Mideast oil is in the range of 20-30:1. Even logically, this doesn’t make sense: how could an energy sink–in which we were expending more energy than we could get out–have possibly transformed the entire globe in the 20th Century and created more wealth than anyone could have thought possible? It was the net energy availability, 29 units for each one expended, that could be used to build roads, run industry, heat homes, and so forth and so on. He gamely provides a summary chart of EROEI studies (except for the meta-study by Farrell et al last year) to “prove” that ethanol has a positive return–of about 1.3. The miniscule level of this return–and the enormous increase in primary energy consumption that results from it, seems to escape him. (He also doesn’t seem to realize that the .3 of the 1.3 return is actually energy credit from the DDGS, so the liquid itself is solidly 1:1 at best.

      In Appendix A, he tries his absolute best to smear Pimentel and Patzek, by, among other things, linking them to oil company contributions and saying that they are not ecologists (neither is, but Patzek is definitely a system analyst). Blume, on the other hand, is not an energy scientist, but tries very hard to dismiss the work of both men on this subject (and again, repeating his lack of understanding of EROEI). Thoughout the book, he blames all anti-ethanol criticism as stemming from “Big Oil”, or what he cutely calls “MegaOilron”, and dismisses all criticism of alcohol fuels as “vituperative bile”. Nice turn of phrase, but more indicative of a closed mind on the issue.

      He cites these studies of EROEI without mentioning that they were done of industrial-scale, optimized, capital intensive, efficient plants. Elsewhere in another chapter, he admits that small scale production is “of course” more energy intensive, but doesn’t extend the point to say that small scale production results in no or negative net energy production, which would be the case.

      He also is a cheerleader for more DDGS use and touts this as a benefit of ethanol production and says we should feed more of it to cows and how good it is for them. Pollan, and many others, including the USDA, would disagree. DDGS is so disruptive to cows that it is strictly limited to no more than 4 lbs of DDGS per day, and much less for pigs. DDGS acidifies the cow rumen and causes liver problems, which is why the meat industry is the largest user of antibiotics in the country. He notes his patent on DDGS use as fertilizer and pre-emergent, which is a fine use of the material, but to claim we could feed the world on the extra meat and dairy that more DDGS to cattle would bring is absolutely specious.

      He promotes cellulosic ethanol as if it were already a proven, existing industry and most of his examples of how we could wean ourselves off of oil comes from this misunderstanding. Cellulosic ethanol is currently not commercial, and enormous hurdles remain before it could be made so. Even our very optimistic DOE forecasts that it would contribute less than one percent of our fuels by 2030, but I doubt it will ever get that large scale because of all the problems outside the refinery, not inside. His example on p. 27 of how to reduce OPEC imports to zero relies on our gathering of all our lawn clippings. Can you imagine all the energy it would take to cut, collect and deliver millions of small parcels of cut grass to refineries?

      This oversight follows through in all his discussions. In his technology discussions, he fails to talk in specific terms of the efficiency and energy consumption of the equipment used, simply assuming that there will be enough biomass or fossil fuels around to power all this machinery used to make this low energy return alcohol (the basic problem with alcohol being that it has to be distilled, meaning that the energy return could never rise about 2.7, even if all the other parts of the chain were energy free.) If we were to make 9.5 million b/d of alcohol for transportation, just where will that 9.5 mmb/d oil equivalent energy come from to run all the equipment? He asserts that we will just burn biomass, but I think the scale issue here can’t justify that conclusion.

      His discussion of the environment benefits of alcohol lack credulity. There are far too many mainstream studies that are supportive of ethanol use that otherwise show the increased NOx and carcenogen production from ethanol combustion. And to claim that ethanol production will “heal the earth” through increased CO2 absorption in plants is ludicrous.

      Blume falls into a common trap of assuming that if something can be demonstrated on a small scale, it can be done on a national or global scale with no impediments. This appears to be behind his assertions of “if we only planted the panhandle of Texas” or some other scale in biomass, we could provide all our needs. Scalability is a serious challenge to most laboratory discoveries, and this is no exception. He blithely speaks of how capital costs will continue to fall, despite the fact that the cost of the high quality energy behind the development and production of capital goods continues to rise.

      He attempted to stray outside the US by talking of the opportunity that China has to “leapfrog” to alcohol and how substitution of alcohol in their “coal-driven” trains would decrease costs. I won’t even comment further on how the second largest economy and energy system in the world is going to “leapfrog”.

      Now, I know that you want to say something nice. The nice things are the excellent summary and compilation of the various technology options for alcohol production, and the thorough discussion of the plant options, mixed with sound permaculture advice. Unfortunately, he wraps all this around a polemic against oil that is error-ridden and in the end, diminishes his message, credulity and objectivity. This will doubtlessly find an audience, but for serious thinkers about peak oil, its consequences, and possible responses, it’s yet another tome trying to support a business-as-usual lifestyle (aside from his rant against SUVs) with no consideration that perhaps not consuming and reducing demand is more important now that trying to find another source of supply, especially one that is among the worst of our choices. It’s a pity he didn’t focus more on biodiesel options.”

      I’m glad to hear your take on him. The book is strewn throughout with “Bucky told me this” and “As Bucky said”, since he met Buckminister Fuller at some point a couple decades ago. And the blurb on the front calling it “Brilliant” “Must read” is from Thom Hartmann, the TV talk show host!


      Blume trashed David Pimentel with no justification at all according to Pedro Prieto, co-author of “Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment” when he launched an ad hominem attack on “Pimentel’s study in the early 1980’s that showed ethanol as a net energy loser. Blume said that Pimentel’s study was funded by Mobil Oil. He tried to leave listeners with the impression that Pimentel went out of his way to produce the result that Mobil wanted”. But he never showed that Pimentel’s data or methods were wrong.

      Jason Bradford also reported Blume’s unfounded attacks on Pimentel in 2004: “I met David Blume at Solfest and he said he has new data more favorable for ethanol. I asked him to send it to me. He also said that Pimentel is an oil industry shill (which I doubt). I have no interest in debating Blume about the EROEI of ethanol. This should be a matter for scientific research, not polemical mud-slinging. ”

      Tinnerman writes: From David Blume’s own bio posted at the URL you gave:
      “When the energy crisis of 1978-9 struck, Dave started the American Homegrown Fuel Co. Inc. It was an educational organization teaching farmers and others how to produce and use low cost alcohol fuel at home or on the farm. Alcohol, a renewable and virtually pollution-free fuel, is used in place of gasoline in automobile engines. AHGF became a small corporation with 15 employees. Dave taught 180 workshops to 7,000 people over a two year period while appearing over 750 times in print, radio and television.”

      So, you think maybe Blume gave those 180 alcohol workshops for 7,000 people and charged no fee? Blume made no money from running his AHGF corporation? He will make no money on the new book he is coming out with shortly? So after an almost 30 year career of hyping the alcohol fuel business Blume has credibility as an unbiased critic of Pimentel and Pimentel’s funding sources? Right.

      How many of those farmers that Blume taught to make “low cost alcohol fuel” do we suppose are now producing and using it for their own vehicles and equipment. Maybe about zero?

      Look, the attempted discrediting of Pimentel has been going on for decades, and didn’t start with Blume. Just Google “Pimentel” along with the words “discredited” and “outdated” and “ethanol”, and “report” and the number of hits that you turn up from the various ethanol promoting sources will surprise you. And make the people who hand out the right wing talking points green with envy at the ability of ADM and Cargill to co-opt the ethanol discussion.

      Pimentel himself has stated that it wouldn’t have been all that difficult for him to produce a study showing positive energy return for ethanol. All that is necessary is do what most of those studies do, which is not fairly account for the energy of fertilizer inputs, or the inputs of farm machinery and equipment. Or not bother to make a distinction between the energy required to produce corn in an eastern corn belt state like Illinois, and the energy required to produce the same amount of corn in arid western Nebraska which requires large inputs of irrigation. Or to take excessive energy credits for the by-products used as animal feed. There was one study a couple years back that even took energy credits for the CO2 produced during the fermentation process.

      So Pimentel is not credible about ethanol? Gimme a break. Just ask the ethanol people to show you where they are now producing ethanol without using subsidies in the form of cheap fossil energy, or a subsidy of cheap grain prices, or a subsidy of cash from the government. Take away any one of those 3, and you will see the little ethanol plants that have popped up over the last couple of years close their doors.
      Dell Erickson writes:

      I went to David Blume’s website referenced in another recent post. Perhaps left wingers, assorted feel-good environmentalists, and certain special interests would use his statements to support the alcohol as fuel position, but few others would.

      I’ve copied several of his statements (*) for the list and briefly reply to some of them. Add your own thoughts.

      * “Annually, it [David Blume’s farm he says] grew as much as 100,000 pounds of food per acre, without a tractor, using only hand tools, on a terraced, 35 degree slope similar to farms in China or Guatemala. Dave used a combination of biointensive and permaculture techniques to produce these impressive yields.” [“Our Farm”]

      1 ac = 43,560 square feet. 100,000/43,560 = 2.3 pounds of food per square foot. That impressive!

      Maybe someone on this list will do a back-of-the-envelope calculation comparing the insolation (square foot), photosynthesis, and the amount of food produced. I.e., energy in vs. energy out as food. The output seems rather generous even with four crops per year (mining the soils). What’s the energy cost of 20 (?) human laborers?

      Nor am I considering trivialities such as the 35 degree terraced slope, of which a significant percentage would not be food productive, “infrastructure”, receive substantially reduced insolation (and in mountain area), that maintenance requirements are noteworthy, or that overtime despite great efforts, the valley will claim the slope. Apparently this terraced field is in Mexico. (He doesn’t say.)

      IMO, “farming” on a 35 degree slope is an excellent example of overpopulation.

      Short food output comparison:

      Let’s assume a U.S. cornfield yields 150bu/ac and a bushel weighs 15 pounds. The field yields 2,250 pounds per acre. However, more than half the corn ear is not the seed. Let’s say, 50%. Ergo the cornfield yields 1,112 pounds of corn per acre.

      The implication is that Blume’s process yields almost 90 times more food yield from a marginal Mexican “mountainside field” than from a productive midwest U.S. cornfield.

      * “Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is considered the best system to save small farmers from going extinct. … CSA’s allow a farmer to make a middle class living on as little as two acres. … Permaculturally designed land can have up to 16 times the yield of conventional single-crop agriculture.” See < http://www.permaculture.com/who/davidblume.htm >. [“Our Farm”

      90 times or 16 times?

      The CSAs he’s talking about are evidently in the U.S. If corn sells for $2.25/bu our farmer is getting about $340 per acre, $680 for two acres. Blume’s corn equivalent: 16 x $680 = $10,880 per farm.

      * “In a CSA, the farmer contracts directly with a group of consumers to grow their food for them. Each week, the consumers receive a box of whatever is in season for a fixed price, paid at the start of the season. By eliminating all the middlemen the farmers receive enough compensation to sustainably produce our food.”

      The Devil, they say, is in the details. This is complicated and tricky. Maybe someone on the list knows the details, but IMO, they behave as any major corporation.

      The CSA doesn’t appear to be a co-op or where sales are generally between CSAs. Like a big food conglomerate or a brokerage, CSAs literally sell their produce *before* delivery. The buyer benefits from having a fixed price and the possibility of lower than market prices. The offset is that market prices may be lower than the contract on the one hand, and possibility of reduced or, at worst, no food deliveries on the other hand (in which case the buyers would need to buy elsewhere).

      The CSA farmer gets his seed money and potential profits up front. If there is a bumper crop, the buyers contracts are easily met and the balance sold as pure profit. If there is a crop bust, then buyers may not get their allotment. If the CSA is obligated to provide the food, then the CSA must dig deep into their own pockets to buy on the market the contracted amounts. The alternative is to do as ag conglomerates do, go into the derivative market and hedge. Since hedging will lower profits, the CSA will either eat the difference or add it to the contract price (most likely).

      It also implies the CSAs are not the two acre family style farms as indicated, but must something mirroring corporate farming.

      * He says “oyster mushrooms, [are] a highly nutritious food”.

      Oysters are very nutritious –but these are not oysters. It’s not clear to me that mushrooms are “nutritious”. They taste great when fried with steaks, however, I would expect to live a lot longer eating steaks than mushrooms. See < http://www.permaculture.com/who/davidblume.htm >.

      * “Did you know that alcohol-fueled cars are virtually pollution free? Global Warming could be stopped or reversed if all cars were converted to using alcohol fuel? Alcohol is plant-based. It is essentially liquid solar energy… Alcohol’s clean burning triples engine life too!”

      I suppose he believes oil is liquid solar energy too! Also, I was’t aware that what burns in a combustion chamber determines the life of the engine. He’s avoiding the overarching issues. Ethanol (field to tank) is a highly energy intensive process implying that pollution is actually made worse from its production. The pollution of the process energy is embedded in ethanol. It’s circular: higher energy prices mean higher processing costs. Because it’s at an energy loss, alcohol fuel prices rise faster than other fuel prices.

      * “If feed corn is first fermented to alcohol fuel, the concentrated spent grain can still be fed to cattle resulting in greater weight gain than if the cattle were fed the original grain. The byproduct of this highly improved animal feed is pollution-free alcohol fuel!”

      Blume apparently has fixed in his mind that “spent grain” contains more calories and nutrition than before it was fermented. My guess is that he is deliberately being overly clever. Without saying it, he’s probably talking in relative weight of feed terms, with after processing “feed” much more concentrated. Maybe someone on the list can outline the nutrition by volume and weight of feed before and after fermentation. Fermentation converts sugars in feed corn to alcohol (calories) and likely the more difficult to ferment/digest cellulose is removed. What is left as good feed -nutrition, he claims?

      * “Did you know there is a $1500 tax credit for either purchasing an alcohol-fueled vehicle or converting a vehicle to alcohol! Buying a new bus or heavy truck that runs on alcohol earns a $37,500 tax credit and there is a $100,000 tax deduction for installing a fueling station with new tax credits proposed. … Did you know that in this day of $2.00 a gallon gasoline, you can make alcohol today for only 43 cents per gallon on the small scale and $1 on the big commercial scale? … Did you know you can get a $.63-$1.40 per gallon tax credit for every gallon produced OR burned in your car?”

      Keep pulling up your Levis! (Your boots were lost long ago.) Common sense says that if something can be made for 1/5 – 1/2 the user price, then everyone would make and use it.

      And to have the government more than compensate the costs means the more you make and use, the more money you have. Why hasn’t Blume sold his idea to the airlines?

      * “Alcohol Can Be A Gas! The book and series were so powerful that shortly after the series began to air in San Francisco oil companies threatened to pull out their funding if the series was released to the rest of the PBS network!! PBS caved in and halted the distribution of the series and book. See < http://www.permaculture.com/who/davidblume.htm >. … Alcohol Can Be A Gas! was originally written to accompany the author’s 10 part television series that was produced by PBS station KQED, and aired in 1983. The series was so powerful that oil companies threatened to pull out all their funding if the series was distributed nationally through PBS as scheduled. As a result the series was never seen outside of San Francisco and the printing of the book was stopped at the press even though KQED received thousands of orders!!” See < http://www.permaculture.com/alcohol/FAQ.htm >.

      Twenty years has passed since the KQED program and the energy sink character of ethanol has not changed. Perhaps, the oil companies did lean on PBS. Yet, their fundamental position was probably science based -negative net energy and higher energy costs.

      • Lisa Kenton says:

        My goodness, what do you use to fuel yourself? You work a job as a systems analyst, and research and publish all this material. You must have taken your own advise and not produced any children.

        I am very interested in permaculture, sustainable building techniques, etc. Unfortunately , I didn’t get interested until realitively late in life, I do hope to point my grandchildren in the right direction and bankroll that direction as much as possible. I think your site is going to help me determine which ways to invest. Thank you.

  8. I dredfully LOVE this massive compilation of knowledge and references on this subject. And even though you have provided an RSS-feed off the website, It’t really be a great step for spreading the word if you announce new articles on Twitter. The world needs you on Twitter! 🙂

    If you don’t feel you have the time, just install a plugin that automatically posts a link with the headline on Twitter every time you publish something new… Please do get these articles out to a broader audience. The audience is there!

    I just found this goldmine through your appearance on the Kunstler Cast. I think you came across very powerful and knowledgeable. Thanks for that and best of luck with your future work and… well, life I guess 🙂 Peace.

  9. I just found this blog last night. I have been reading on many of the subjects for about three hears now. I was formerly a specialized librarian working in health care and had a brief four year stint in what is now a large agritech company in Saint Louis ( an eye opening experience for a naive optimist). I am building my own print library, as I once heralded the benefits of e-stored resources from CDs, online databases and and writing applications to make all these seamlessly work together. It might be an interesting exercise to write a talk for librarians or dor that matter the general public about the importance of physical resources verses virtual resources in regards to the assumption that we will “always have the energy” for the digital environment.

    On another note, climate is changing, but I no longer trust the so-called science of the glibak warming camp. I have been reading from Steve Goddard’s realscience blog, the Ice Age Now blog and others.

    In my own life, I now am establishing my own permaculture mini-farm, Wyndy Nwyps, about which I will begin blogging etc. as soon as we finish the 1200 sq ft home we are building ( includes rocket stove etc) on our 5 acres on central Whidbey Island, WA.

  10. ti says:

    EROI is an important indicator but it is not enough, a few others play a key role in assessing the efficiency of an energy source

    suggested readings

    Feasibility of Large-Scale Biofuel Production
    Mario Giampietro; Sergio Ulgiati; David Pimentel
    BioScience, Vol. 47, No. 9. (Oct., 1997), pp. 587-600

    The Biofuel Delusion: The Fallacy of Large Scale Agro-Biofuels Production
    Mario Giampietro and Kozo Mayumi

    free download of his papers

    • energyskeptic says:

      Have you read my Peak Soil article, first published in 2006? I’ve read these and thousands of other papers, I spent 3 years learning soil science to write it. I don’t spend much time on EROI because it’s too easy to argue about the boundaries. Pimentel edited my paper, as well as Tad Patzek and Walter Youngquist


  11. Colin Megson says:

    If we, in the UK, had Gen IV breeder reactor technology in place, we have enough of our most precious energy resource to supply all of our energy needs – electricity, liquid fuels, heat, fertilisers – to last 500 years. That’s energy security big-time.

    We are awaiting a no-brainer decision from our nuclear authorities to use a GE Hitachi PRISM reactor to burn our plutonium stockpile. It could render the plutonium useless as a bomb making material in 5 years. From the fuel produced, it would chug away for a further 50 or 60 years generating 622 MW of emission-free electricity.

    This same reactor can be configured as a Gen IV breeder and we’d need about 1000 of these factory-built units, grouped together on about 200 sites, to do the job. It does seem do-able and in burning our most precious energy resource, the legacy for future generations will be clean energy not nuclear waste.

    That’s the UK taken care of – on the premiss nuclear fusion might just be in place by the time we run out of fuel.

    What is your take on Gen IV breeder reactors taking over from fossil fuels, worldwide?

    • energyskeptic says:

      The main issues with nuclear reactors are their capital cost and long time to build, the odds are good that since they’re all aging there will be more Fukushima’s and breakdowns, turning the public against their use, and above all, no where to store the waste. Plus nuclear is baseload power and doesn’t ramp or down quickly enough to match demand, which will bring on a blackout (no problem now but a big one when natural gas runs out). But that’s not the real issue – the real issue is that transportation depends nearly 100% on oil, and that transport that really matters, freight, runs on diesel fuel and their combustion engines can’t burn anything else, and coal and natural gas are near their peaks as well, and there isn’t enough biomass to make a significant amount of diesel from biomass. The thousands of suppliers for a nuclear generator won’t be able to ship, truck, fly, or send their components by rail to the building site, the workers won’t be able to get there without cars – civilization ends when transportation stops, especially trucks.

  12. Rob Ryan says:

    Well…. yes and no. Many things will happen quickly when the writing is on the wall. IF we have energy, oil (including diesel for transport) is not an insurmountable problem. Oil is a hydrocarbon. We have carbon (too much in the atmosphere) and we have hydrogen (the oceans are full of it, albeit combined with oxygen). All that’s lacking is the energy to separate the oxidized hydrogen from the water and the oxidized carbon from the atmosphere and, voila, hydrocarbons aplenty!

    Of course, the energy to undo the oxidation will be significantly greater than the energy derived from the oxidation, but if the energy is available it can be done.

    And of course, many non-transport energy uses do not require liquid fuel. And it’s likely that, were the energy needed for the creation of needed liquid fuels to become available, it would be electrical energy which can be used for some transport, heat, lighting, etc.

    Nevertheless, even given that energy (solar, fusion, fast breeder reactors, whatever), we’re still on a path toward disaster by various other sorts of self-poisoning. To the extent that we’re on a non-equilibrium path, we will come to grief.

    I can envision a world in which a global equilibrium with energy availability is achieved at population levels well in excess of those you mention on a wood based energy economy, but I don’t have much hope that my vision will be realized.

    • energyskeptic says:

      This is a liquids fuel heavy-duty transportation vehicle crisis. There are trillions of dollars worth of billions of trucks, ships, locomotives, and equipment essential for planting and harvesting food, building and maintaining infrastructure (roads, bridges, construction), and mining. They all have DIESEL ENGINES, which can last 40 years and go a million miles. They do NOT burn hydrogen.

      Since water is one of the few substances besides air and dirt abundant enough to scale up as a fuel, hydrogen is a logical choice.

      But hydrogen (H2) isn’t an energy source – it is an energy carrier, like a battery, putting you in negative energy territory immediately when you split it from natural gas or water, and again when you compress or liquefy it, and again when you store it in extremely heavy and expensive steel containers, and again in pipelines, and again to deliver it, with each step using more and more scarce energy (only fusion would provide enough according to Hoffert, see http://energyskeptic.com/2014/science-no-single-or-combination-of-alternative-energy-resources-can-replace-fossil-fuels/):
      1. To split hydrogen out of water takes a tremendous amount of energy, so 96% is made from natural gas
      2. Then H2 needs to be compressed, purified for fuel cells, or liquefied and cooled to -423 F using energy-demanding cryogenic support systems.
      3. Storage tanks and pipelines are heavy since H2 is the smallest element, enabling it to escape through the tiniest imperfections, so fuel cell engines and storage tanks have many seals, gaskets, and valves. Hydrogen requires expensive tanks and pipelines made of special steel that won’t become brittle and crack or fissure what it is contained within.
      4. H2 is very flammable and explosive
      5. Without pipelines, delivery requires a $250,000 canister truck weighing 40,000 kg delivering only 400 kg of fuel, enough for 60 cars. The same truck can carry 10,000 gallons of gas, enough to fill 800 cars. If the distance of 150 miles, the truck will burn the equivalent of 20% of the usable energy in the hydrogen delivered.
      6. And turning that hydrogen back into electricity with a fuel-cell will only be 24% efficient: .84 natural gas upstream and liquefaction * .67 on-board reforming * .54 fuel cell efficiency * .84 electric motor and drivetrain efficiency * .97 aerodynamic/rolling resistance efficiency, aided by regenerative braking from a 25 kWh li-ion battery (DOE)

      Although many would say wind energy is “free”, the wind turbine isn’t. Just one 2 MW wind turbine uses 1300 tons of concrete, 295 tons of steel, 48 tons of iron, and 24 tons of fiberglass.

      Hydrogen requires enormous amounts of energy to make. The state of California used 250 TWh of electricity in all of 2005, but it would take another 350 TWh, or 31 nuclear power plants, devoted only to making hydrogen in a 2050 renewable economy and provide only 90% of the needed hydrogen (CCST).

      CCST. September 2012. California’s Energy Future: Portraits of Energy Systems for Meeting Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets. California Council on Science and Technology.

      • Nathanael says:

        Really, trucks aren’t a problem. Battery-electric trucks are already practical and will take over quite quickly.

        Honestly our biggest problem is getting off of fossil fuels fast enough to stop ocean acidification, which will cause the collapse of the ocean food chain and the biggest mass extinction ever.

        At this point we can replace liquid transportation fuels for everything but airplanes really, really easily technically speaking, and the replacements are already more cost-effective in pure dollar terms. A combination of status quo bias / inertia, and political power by the fossil fuel industry, are preventing us.

        Unfortunately we don’t have much time to do the replacement before we trash the ocean food chain and starve.

        • energyskeptic says:

          In what way are battery-electric trucks NOT a problem? It is almost certainly impossible to ever run the trucks that matter: heavy-duty long-distance, cranes, construction, logging, mining, and so on trucks on batteries, they weigh nearly as much as the truck itself. They cost 3 times as much as a diesel equivalent. See these articles for more about why battery-electric trucks are not going to happen:
          Diesel is finite. Trucks are the bedrock of civilization. So where are the battery electric trucks? @ http://energyskeptic.com/2016/diesel-finite-where-are-electric-trucks/
          Who killed the electric car? @ http://energyskeptic.com/2016/who-killed-the-electric-car/
          Making the most energy dense battery from the palette of the periodic table @ http://energyskeptic.com/2015/making-the-most-energy-dense-battery-from-the-palette-of-the-periodic-table/
          All Electric Trucks. Probably not going to happen. Ever. Why not? @ http://energyskeptic.com/2015/all-electric-trucks-not-going-to-happen/

          As far as “we can replace liquid transportation fuels”, if you read the following posts at energyskeptic it is clear that biofuels cannot compensate for petroleum fuels. They don’t scale up, they have a negative energy return on investment, they are needed for all the other uses of petroleum (see list below), and biomass fuels are tremendously ecologically destructive to water, topsoil, and toxic and polluting chemicals, and so on. If you want to refute what I’ve written, then you need to provide a scientific reference to a peer-reviewed article (i.e. not a National Corn Growers Association sponsored EROI of corn ethanol paper), otherwise what you are saying is your opinion.

          “Peak soil: Why biofuels destroy ecosystems and civilizations” @ http://energyskeptic.com/2015/peaksoil/
          Biofuels do not scale up enough to power society @ http://energyskeptic.com/2015/biofuels-do-not-scale-up-enough-to-power-society/
          Dozens of reasons why the world doesn’t run on algal biofuels @ http://energyskeptic.com/2015/algae/
          One gallon of gas = 98 tons of ancient plants @ http://energyskeptic.com/2014/one-gallon-of-gas-98-tons-of-ancient-plants/
          Germany National Academy of Sciences report: Don’t use biofuels @ http://energyskeptic.com/2012/germany-national-academy-of-sciences-against-biofuels/
          Fill ‘er up with kelp? @ http://energyskeptic.com/2012/kelp-seaweed-fuel/

          Biomass such as wood and crops will need to replace natural gas, coal, and oil someday. It is the “Answer to Everything,” a feedstock providing:
          1. transportation fuel
          2. the source of the half-million products now made with fossil fuels
          3. baseload electricity and balance for intermittent power
          4. high-temperature heat needed to make cement, steel, ceramics, and glass
          5. heat for homes and businesses
          A lot of biomass is already spoken for. It provides food, grazing, and heats 10 % of American homes. Even the so-called “crop waste” is increasingly tilled-in by
          farmers to replace fertilizer and improve soil health.

          Is there enough biomass for it to be the answer to everything?

          Certainly, besides air, dirt, and water, plants are the most abundant and renewable resource that could
          possibly scale up enough to replace fossil fuels.

          Yet few studies consider how biomass would be shared among all these competing uses. California found that at best, due to limited irrigation water, California has the biomass to make 18 % of transportation fuel, but that a quarter of this biomass should be allocated to utilities to generate electricity (Youngs and Somerville 2013).

          And my book “When Trucks Stop running Energy and the future of transportation” have the latest research on batteries, biomass, the electric grid, electric trucks and trains, etc.

          Alice Friedemann http://www.energyskeptic.com

          Youngs, H., and C.R. Somerville. 2013. California’s energy future: the potential for biofuels. California: California Council on Science and Technology.

      • hugh owens says:

        I agree with you on almost everything you write Alice but saying hydrogen is just an energy carrier is not accurate. Hydrogen(in this case liquid hydrogen) is one of the most powerful energy sources known, which is why it was used in rocket engines along with liquid O2. Of course getting it to the liquid stage poses energy issues….

        • energyskeptic says:

          it’s a battery that you put energy into. On its own it has zero energy until compressed or liquefied, which will take more energy than what’s stored in the hydrogen

  13. Pingback: Anthropogenic Bookmarks – Noah Kruiper

  14. K Klein says:

    Just heard the latest Kunstlercast podcast (7/1/2016) at: http://kunstler.com/podcast/kunstlercast-278-alice-friedemann-trucks-stop-running/

    Very informative and I highly recommend it. I have the distinct feeling that at this time (Summer 2016), the trucking industry IS running on fumes. Pun intended.


  15. hugh owens says:

    Hands down, Alice’s blog is the best on the net and how she finds the time to keep it up seems amazing. People out there: Get her book on trucks. It is hard to find and ridiculously expensive because of the tiny academic publishing house but I paid to get our library to find a copy out of state. And I am in Wyoming the chief energy dependent state in the country!! Almost everyone except a small subset of energy pundits is flying blind and fake news is not just rampant in the political sector.I just read that energy independence is upon us…AGAIN. Not gonna happen. I feel as if I am up in the crow’s nest of the Titanic watching the berg moving ever closer and no way to turn the ship of state around. Political economic and social collapse seems unavoidable at this point and the sensible option is personal preparation to have all self support plans in effect.

  16. Stephen Truslow says:

    Hi Alice,
    I read Louis Arnoux’s essays over on Casandraslegacy last July and for some reason it had a profound effect on my thinking about all the issues that you cover on energyskeptic. Maybe it is because the Hills Group analysis seems to be the best synthesis of all that I’ve read about peak oil, net energy, and peak everything. It’s amazing that the mainstream still seems to be living in denial but it does take a lot of studying to rap one’s mind around these issues. It’s also very unsettling because in the short time frame that we have to do anything about the coming liquid fuels crisis, we’re definitely heading over the cliff because of the inbuilt momentum of the global economy.

    Keep posting even if it feels futile and you can’t help but feel out on the fringe. The information is so timely.

  17. Eclipse says:

    Hi Alice,
    First, are you closing some articles for comment? I can’t seem to follow up some of the interesting points you make.

    Second, I respect your journey as a peaknik, as I’ve been there myself. I’ve met Richard Heinberg and briefed politicians in Australia on peak oil. I went manic for this meme. Doomerism and ‘peak energy’ memes can be fatal, and I’ve met with the father of a 19 year old Australian boy that committed suicide over peak oil. I shared his peak oil email list, and watched him lose hope. I also lost 2 years of my own life to ‘peak energy’ doomerism when I should have been focussing on my young children and getting trained for a new career. Like many (susceptible and probably more influential) younger people, the prospect of society’s imminent collapse propelled me into anxiety and uncertainty. I wanted to *know* the future. Interestingly, studies have shown that this is part of the attraction of cults, whether ‘scientific’ cults like peak oil doomerism or religious cults. CERTAINTY – even if that certainty is the complete destruction of modern civilisation and the death of billions – is preferable to uncertainty. Doomerism is a preferential state than uncertainty.

    Are you sure you’re not giving in to this basic impulse of wanting certainty? I’m not just Bulverising you, which is a lazy logical fallacy insinuating *why* someone is wrong rather than proving *that* they are wrong.

    I’m asking a genuine question. Have you asked yourself whether it is the *certainty* of doomerism that attracts you to certain scenarios rather than embracing others, including providing an emotional buffer against optimistic technologies like breeder reactors? After all, Hubbert himself embraced nuclear power, and predicted a nuclear age after the fossil fuels ran out! For myself, I’m not really into predictions. I have scenarios, where if we fail to deploy nuclear power fast enough we could see XYZ happen. I wouldn’t be surprised if we sailed through peak fossil fuels into a nuclear-blue-crude / hydrozene era and had a huge colony on Mars in 20 years. Nor would I be surprised if we nuked ourselves back to the stone age! I don’t *know* the future. Anything could happen. But I am at least open to the possibility that breeder reactors could eat our waste, and have such a high EROEI that they can use uranium from seawater (from dongles dangled in deep currents) AND manufacture all the Blue Crude we could possibly need.

    • Hubbert thought fission could be a replacement in 1956 but later decided that solar power would work instead, if our society learned to evolve beyond the demand for endless growth on a finite planet. That would include giving up a monetary system predicated on endless exponential growth, since no resources can have never ending increase of extraction, not even “renewable” resources such as forests, soils, water, food, etc.

      Breeder reactors are not an “optimistic” technology, but the scariest ever invented. They are toxic, dangerous to operate and create plutonium as a byproduct. In 1975 the Nuclear Regulatory Commission published a paper stating a plutonium reprocessing economy would threaten civil liberties, since putting Pu-239 into commercial economies would make the danger of a nuclear emergency incompatible with democracy.

      As for extracting U from seawater, good luck figuring out how to make that net energy positive. And the idea of a colony on Mars should have ended with the stories of Ray Bradbury, since there’s not any breathable air, drinkable water, soil or anything else that we humans need to live. It’s a bizarre avoidance of how we are causing mass extinction on the only habitable planet we know of.

  18. Eclipse says:

    In other words, are you sure you are not invested in a certain paradigm for various psychological reasons? Because, as far as I can tell, the engineers *do* have various breeder reactors that they *could* build. The BN350, 600 and 800 all EXIST. Whatever actually EXISTS in energy technology is already possible. The EBR2 survived WORSE than the Fukushima power outage. It EXISTED. The S-PRISM *is* based on it. They *do* eat nuclear transuranics, and *do* reduce it to a fraction of the waste and a fraction of the time in storage. (Only 300 years, and then the fission products are safe). The human race has 400 reactor years experience with them! (Reactors by number of years in operation).

    In all intellectual honesty, can you tell me these reactors are hypothetical? You said “Although safety and disposal of nuclear waste ought to be the main reasons why no more plants should be built,”
    But we KNOW how to deal with the waste: breed it into new fuel for MILLENNIA of energy from today’s nuclear waste. Would you prefer we left that energy alone and tried to bury it for 100,000 years, probably cursing our great grandchildren with it? Or should we burn it? The final wastes are vitrified (converted into a ceramic glass like plate) and buried underground for just 300 years. They can do this now, but Argonne labs are working on a way to make the whole process even cheaper. This 4 minute video will help.

    We can DO this already. This is not my opinion. This is a scientific FACT. How do you process this? If you really know all this, how can you write “Although safety and disposal of nuclear waste ought to be the main reasons why no more plants should be built”? It smacks to me of the psychology of certainty. Your thoughts?

    • energyskeptic says:

      Eclipse, you are driving me nuts, you aren’t reading my posts, which address all these things. Above all, if trucks can’t be electrified, then what is the point of nukes or any contraption that generates electricity? I’m not going to reply any more because my book “When trucks stop running” and posts here address all of your concerns, and you have yet to provide a recent peer-reviewed journal article.

  19. Rosenkohl says:

    Hello, thanks for this comprehensive blog.

    in http://www.bio-wasserstoff.de/html/h2-herstellung.html, you referred to the article by D. Simbeck and E. Chang: “Hydrogen Supply: Cost Estimate for Hydrogen Pathways-Scoping Analysis” (2002) to establish this paragraph:

    “Hydrogen can be made from biomass, but there are numerous problems: 1. it’s very seasonal; 2. it contains a lot of moisture, requiring energy to store and dry it before gasification; 3. there are limited supplies; 4. the quantities are not large or consistent enough for large-scale hydrogen production; 5. a huge amount of land is required because even cultivated biomass in good soil has a low yield — 10 tons per 2.4 acres; 6. the soil will be degraded from erosion and loss of fertility if stripped of biomass; 7. any energy put into the land to grow the biomass, such as fertilizer and planting and harvesting, will add to the energy costs; 8. the delivery costs to the central power plant must be added; and 9. it is not suitable for pure hydrogen production.”

    Simbeck and Chang apprently looked into Gasification of dried biomass. However, it seems most of these objections can be adressed, at least in theory, when steam-reforming as proposed by Karl-Heinz Tetzlaff (1938-2014) ist used instead, http://www.h2-patent.eu/H2_Tetzlaff.pdf.

    Here, biomass and water steam under high pressure at temperatures of 800°C to 1000°C are turned in CO2 and H2.http://www.bio-wasserstoff.de/html/h2-herstellung.html (German)

    Basically, all biomass can be used around the year, wet or dry. Using wet biomass decreases the amount of required additional water. According to Tetzlaff, Germany could produce all the required hydrogene with biomass, mainly harvested on about 1/3 of the agricultural area and from sustainable forst management. Corn in 2014 achieved yields of about 12 tons per acres = 30 tons per hectar. 2 Harvests per year are possible, where not just corn has to be used, but also wild flowers, or secondary crops like grass, clover and alfalfa, which restore the humus balance. http://www.bio-wasserstoff.de/html/energiequellen.html (in German)

    Hydrogene from steam reforming would be pure with out tar, suitable for use in fuel cells. CO2 bound in ashes can either be returned as fertilizer into the fields and wood, or since it is very pure too, used in the chemical industry. There could be decentral power plants of 50 MW to 500 MW, one each 20 to 30 km. Only with plants of 50 MW or larger, production would become economic. The hydrogen then could be stored in artificial cavernes or natural salt cavernes, and distributed through the existing natural gas tubes grid, so that the electricity grid becomes less important or redundant.

    I don’t want to say that this vision is actually feasible, in any country or even on a global scale. Main problems seems: 1. Hygrogene is very lightweight and difficult to handle as a fuel for heating, electricity and transportation 2. there is no working sample power plant producing hydrogene by steam reforming yet, 3. the required amount of biomass would in fact be very large.

    However, it seems that the Simbek and Chang’s assessment of hydrogen by biomass becomes rather outdated by now.

    • energyskeptic says:

      Biomass fuels (ethanol, biodiesel, hydrogen, biogas, etc.) don’t scale up: http://energyskeptic.com/2015/peaksoil/

      Hydrogen is the most ridiculous of all the possible energy sources: http://energyskeptic.com/2011/hydrogen/

      • Rosenkohl says:

        Sorry, some links didn’t work as supposed in the post above, since I accidentially hit the “send”-button too early. The initial quote was taken from the article http://energyskeptic.com/2011/hydrogen/.

        Ulf Bossel, organizer of European fuel cell forum at Lucerne turned strictly against any hydrogen-based economy. https://phys.org/news/2006-12-hydrogen-economy-doesnt.html. But Tetzlaff, in a dispute 2006, accused Bossel to suppress any fuel cell technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells, which could challenge the dominant position of natural gas grid, electricity grid and fossil fuels. (http://www.bio-wasserstoff.de/pdf/Solarzeitalter_1_2006_Bio-Wasserstoff_web.pdf in German)

        Tetzlaff strongly opposed the use of natural gas in fuel cells, or power to gas technologies which store superflous wind electricty by producing hydrogene from water with very low efficiency. Instead, he demanded a “heat-led” hydrogene economy, the main use of fuel-cells in a house is heating, while electricity is a usefull by-product.

        Today, hydrogene fuel cells are used in some cars. Instead of heavy steel tanks, the Toyota Mirai car has “two hydrogen tanks with a three-layer structure made of carbon fiber-reinforced plastic consisting of nylon 6 from Ube Industries and other materials. The tanks store hydrogen at 70 MPa (10,000 psi). The tanks have a combined weight 87.5 kg (193 lb) and 5 kg capacity”. It also has a battery for braking energy recuperation, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Mirai. Tetzlaff proposed to use capacitors for passenger cars and flywheels for trucks (https://books.google.de/books?id=sbm5DAAAQBAJ&pg=PA172 in German)

        While, according Tetzlaff, current law demands that 50% of the residual wood must remain as dead wood in the forrest, Tetzlaff instead proposed to use all wood, and return the ashes from the hydrogene plant as fertilizer, blended into the anyway necessary liming. In this case, the entire energy demand of Germany could be covered by 100% from the forrests, he claims. I concede Tetzlaffs proposals for intensive use of cultivable soil and forrests appear questionable, in light of important microorganisms living in dead plants, and soil and water degradation already happening now, due to overuse and overfetilization.

  20. Thomas YAPO says:

    hello Alice,

    i discovered you in a Youtude video from Chris MARTENSON. i am impressed by all the valuable content you provide on this blog.

    i try to warn people (political authorities and business influencers) in France and Africa but with no success. i am afraid we are doomed.



  21. Maura benton says:

    Eclipse why do you care what Alice says if you are so certain she’s wrong?Suicide is a long term human existential problem and cannot be laid at Alice’s door.Charles Darwin was depressed about revealing his theory of evolution because of the messy realities of biological survival

  22. Sabina Pade says:

    Here just to say thank you, Alice, for your hugely informative and rigorously sourced blog – and for the prodigious effort you have invested in creating it!

    You help the interested among us to better understand the civilization we live in. Moreover, with the documentation you present, you help us to maintain our sanity. However unknowable the future and however incomplete the scope of any given individual’s understanding, the confidence that one’s common sense and personal observations are substantively not the product of fantasy, but indeed are borne out by empirical fact, is an invaluable anchor.

    I feel very much in your debt!

    In warm admiration,


  23. Jeff Strahl says:

    Alice, can you believe this? Jacobson is suing the NAS Journal and the lead author of the study which debunked his 100% renewable by 2030 (or whenever) claim. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/11/01/stanford-professor-files-libel-suit-against-leading-scientific-journal-over-clean-energy-claims/?utm_term=.697e37d9db54

  24. Christopher Logan says:

    Can’t find this article, that was up a while ago:


    I’ve been researching EROI and am anxious to know what went on with fracking EROI 2013-17. Debt is a factor, but I’m not clear on that either. Where can I turn for latest deep analysis of fracked oil?

    • energyskeptic says:

      I have posts about shale in http://energyskeptic.com/category/energy/fracked-oil-and-gas/
      Within them there are links to sites like the blogs of Art Berman, David Hughes, shalebubble.org and so on. Basically it’s a huge bubble like the real estate mortgage bubble, and if there’s another financial crash, drilling will go way down, as it is I’m amazed investors are willing to buy their junk bonds and stock, but then again, I knew about the housing bubble in 2002 and the fraudulent mortgages around 2005. Bubbles can go on much longer than you expect!

  25. Jacob says:

    Hi, Alice,

    I don’t have a specific comment except to say thank you for the work you’ve done. I would email you but I understand that you keep that private, which is completely understandable. I’m happy to post this publicly here. I came onto the topic of peak oil/everything through Kunstler, but his interview with you in 2014 made a dramatic impact on me, as you crystallized just about all of our predicament in a 50-minute segment. I’ll admit that I’ve sent that interview to all the people I care about, and it has opened the eyes of many of them in the same way my eyes have been opened. So, thank you, very sincerely, for what you’ve done and what you continue to do. One of these days I hope I”ll be able to see you at a conference or presentation (or reading) and thank you in person.

    Jacob Newberry

  26. Gregory Ross says:

    Yes, Mrs. Friedemann has made a wonderful contribution. But we need more than just stating the facts. The point is to use this information to change the course of humanity so as to cushion the impact as much as possible. America is by far the most powerful country in the world and yet there’s no organized political movement that campaigns to force humanity to change course. Maybe our republic has conditioned us to think that if something isn’t very popular now, it can never possibly win.

  27. francis mccann says:

    I b work on locomotives and I have studied natural gas and I assure you that a tier 1 diesel locomotive converted is still a tier 1 and will not compare to a tier 2. It a flawed study commissioned by railroads to maintain record profitability. They are mortgaging the future to line their pockets. Natural gas beats diesel in every way except:
    1) startup cost (because they are currently more expensive to manufacture, and if you take a few economics classes you will understand why )
    2) power output- lower energy density means less horsepower(but this is incremental and a non issue; furthermore pairing technologies could boost performance and anyone that would comment on the horsepower needs of a locomotive really doesn’t know much about trains in general)
    The technology exists, the fuel is far more sustainable than oil for instance GE has a 300 year supply of Natural gas so a no brainer really

    • energyskeptic says:

      You should read my book “When trucks stop running” to understand why natural gas isn’t a replacement for oil. It too is finite and the amounts left have been exaggerated. The distribution system for LNG doesn’t exist (essential for locomotives and trucks). There are trillions of dollars invested in hundreds of millions of diesel vehicles and equipment. That can’t be converted or new vehicles/equipment replaced in time to confront the oil crisis which is likely to happen within the next 10 years — or sooner. LNG stations cost $2 million each to build as well. CNG is only good for local trucks.

  28. Rick Delgatty says:

    Hello Alice! Are you aware that they are asking about $70 on Amazon for your book when the truck stop running? Actually that’s not just on Amazon that’s everywhere that you list that it can be purchased.

    • energyskeptic says:

      There’s absolutely nothing I can do about it, and I’ve tried. Perhaps get the electronic version for $55 and share the pdf with friends, since I’m not getting any royalties, I don’t care… for a while there were dozens of sites that offered the pdf version of my book for free. They may still be out there, but I’d sure do homework to make sure they don’t infect your computer if you find one. Many people wrote me to say they’d gotten my book free that way, and I imagine that if the sites are hosted in Russia and other places, there’s nothing Springer can do about it.

      Also, most of what’s in the book is on energyskeptic.com as well, with updates. The catenary trucks post here was written after the book was published.

      • Veluté says:

        Since you don’t care about royalties, the next time someone complains about price tell them your book on trucks can be found at libgen. The other with the whole grain recipes doesn’t exist in digital form anywhere. Too bad cause I find it no less important than the former. You see, I didn’t know that white flour is basically just sugar, all the good nutritious stuff being in the bran and germ. You have no idea how much money, harmful body fat and precious years to live you spared me by waking me up.

        By the way, you also inspired me to get in the practice of copying useful stuff from books such as those on your lists as well as science textbooks on topics relevant to survival like food production and science in general so that our knowledge on how the universe, the earth and man evolved doesn’t get lost. What I basically do is run a digital copy of a book though a tool that can make it into another format like txt, keep all the info dense parts, throw away anything superfluous and print out using both sides of a sheet to save on paper. A useful peak oil skill will be the knowledge of paper manufacture and ink to write with. Also glasses so you can still read when eyesight weakens with age.

  29. Hi Alice, I’m so thankful I found your site, (through Chris Martenson) and got your book. It has truly changed my life.
    Our histories are so similar. I am a magician, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIZ5OsWS_PM
    studied at the Colorado School of Mines, worked in the oil industry, was an early proponent of solar energy, got a degree in computer science and worked for EDS. My bookshelf looks just like yours too.
    Sending you my love.

  30. Graeme Lang says:

    Hi, Alice,

    I’m collaborating with Sarah Elton of Ryerson University, Toronto, who is working on a project about food-supply in the Toronto region during the pandemic (she has published two great books on local/regional/urban agriculture). I recommended your book ‘When the Trucks Stop Running’ to her, and we have wondered whether you have some writing or links on how the pandemic has affected long-haul trucking of food around North America. Many thanks, in advance, if you have time for a reply. (my own publication, ‘Urban energy futures: a comparative analysis’ (2018) citing your book as one good source, is at the link under ‘website’; it includes case studies of Hong Kong, and Vancouver, Canada, to illustrate).

    Graeme Lang (retired professor, based in Toronto

    • energyskeptic says:

      I’ve been too busy getting my second book finished for publication at Springer about how civilizations once used wood for energy, then oil, but after that we’re going back to wood, since alternatives won’t work out, and go into all of them. But if you find anything out that’d be great, let me know. I read recently there’s a glut of diesel fuel, so the food can be distributed. What would matter is how many trucking companies and farmers have gone out of business. I remember there were big supply chain problems here initially on farms that supplied restaurants and the like rather than grocery stores, they had no way to sell their food, and were dumping milk and plowing crops back into the ground. I expect some of that has been sorted out. And with a massive number of people unemployed, I expect that there are plenty of people applying for trucking jobs regardless of covid. I’m expecting trouble when there are diesel shortages for any number of reasons…

  31. Dear Mrs. Friedmann,
    Thanks a lot for all the sobering information you share. Do you have any hints for answering the following question?

    –> How many people can survive in 2028 supposing (as a thought experiment) that no more fossil fuels are burnt and ALL possible renewable energy is made available?

    This question is relevant because there is obviously too much co2 in the atmosphere already now but it is not realistic to demand stopping all fossil fuels just now. However, the year 2028 is equally unrealistic. It would allow us only a 2/3 chance of staying below a 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise. This year is based on the working paper (1) and uses the overly optimistic IPCC viewpoint which does not account for feedback loops, reckons on Carbon Capture and Storage (and seems to ignore a delay in heating, too.)

    I pose these questions because I almost finished a book on citizens’ assemblies about the climatological and ecological crises and want to stress the need for urgent change. Also, I am member of the Dutch Footprint Working Group (voetafdruk.eu) where we are interested in answering this question.

    The answer seems to be: about 1G people, meaning some 6G premature deaths. However, I find the reasons not sufficiently compelling:

    Reason 1: before the industrial revolution, there were 1G people too and this must have been the maximum possible number of people because, as a biological rule, every population strives for its greatest size (2). Perhaps, with current technology, this number may be slightly greater.

    Reason 2: the rate by which renewable energy increases flattens off to a level (3) which allows approximately 1G if I loosely extrapolate unmentioned technologies and use one of the energy requirements per person per year for a decent life. (I leave out a number of references.)

    As to the number of premature deaths: the world population in 2028 has been estimated in 2019 to be 7.14G. Without any babies being born from 2019 onward, it would be 6.14G (this is a standard acturial computation.)

    The dilemma is that in a world 4 degrees hotter, the number of people will be about 1G too, according to scientists in several media but not mainstream peer-reviewed journals (4).

    In concusion, giving the uncertainties in these estimates, the only psychologically palatable course of action would be to reduce fossil fuel use right now to the bare minimum for present survival and hope for the best.

    (1) Tim Jackson (2019). Zero carbon sooner. The case for an early zero carbon target for the UK. CUSP Working Paper No 18. Guildford: University of Surrey. http://www.cusp.ac.uk/themes/aetw/zero-carbon-sooner

    (2) Hans Meek (2018) Ecologica. Waarom verkleining van de menselijke impact op de biosfeer moeilijk maar onvermijdelijk is, Delft: Eburon, pp.148-153, 256-271. (The reference to the Norwegian report on which Figure 36 on p.153 is based, could not be found.)

    (3) J.P.Hansen, P.A.Narbel, D.L.Aksnes (April 2017) Limits to growth in the renewable energy sector. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, Volume 70, Pages 769-774

    (4) David Spratt (feb. 2011). 4 Degrees Hotter. A Climate Action Centre Primer, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kiXgVnehPbYZ8BGaDoESX3073IRw1O0F/edit

    • energyskeptic says:

      I collect climate change positive & NEGATIVE feedback loops. I can see potential tipping points, but if peak oil happened in 2008 (IEA) to 2018 (EIA) then in just 10 years we’ll be emitting half as much carbon, and in 20 years perhaps 10%, so I do not see extinction or a hothouse happening. For sure centuries of crop failures, rising sea levels, starvation since if trucks stop running, civilization fails within a week.

      The diatoms in the ocean will continue to absorb CO2, die, and sequester it on the sea bed. They are a HUGE negative feedback loop. With so many people dying, forests and soil will begin to absorb more CO2 as well. Though even if we stopped burning fossils today, the earth wouldn’t even start to cool, temperature wise, for 35 years according to recent research. Yes there are tipping points, but we just don’t know whether plants moving north to the arctic could stop the methane coming up from the permafrost or not, and so on.

      In 1500 there were about 450 million people. That will be the new carrying capacity. The 700 million more in 1910 were there because coal was already busting the limits of what land could produce with excess stock energy. Oil is needed to get coal and natural gas, it is the master resource. When it fails, so do all others. And coal has or will soon peak. Just like oil, we got the easy, shallow, nearby good stuff.

      We are going to be consuming less fossils soon, and unwillingly. If Europe decided to forgo them, I can assure you that Asia and the U.S. would have no such qualms.

  32. Kira says:

    Hi Alice,
    I have been following your site for a few years now and really appreciate your efforts in educating others about future problems for the civilization. I came across a CNBC video about future battery storage technologies beyond lithium ion, many of which are already commercial and appear to be scalable for grid level storage. One example is Iron Flow battery which uses Iron, salt and water. Another is Zinc-Bromide flow batteries. Here is the link to the video. Would like to hear your opinion on this.

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