From Wood (10,000 BC to 1750) to coal (1750-1920) to Oil, Natural Gas, & Electricity to What?

Cutler J. Cleveland . Energy Quality, Net Energy, and the Coming Energy Transition.  Department of Geography and Center for Energy and Environmental Studies, Boston University

The level of health, food security and especially material standard of living that exists today throughout the world is made possible by the expansive use of fossil fuels. While many take this affluence for granted, a long run view illustrates that the fossil fuel era is relatively new and will last for a relatively short period of time. For thousands of years prior to the Industrial Revolution, human societies were powered by the products of photosynthesis, principally fuel wood and charcoal. Widespread use of coal did not develop until the 18th century, oil and gas not until the late 19th century.

In 1800, the nation was fueled by animal feed, which powered the draft animals on farms, and wood — used for domestic heating and cooking and by early industry.

Wood and animal feed rapidly disappeared when coal became the dominant fuel, the latter due to the introduction of the first tractor in 1911.

The Industrial Revolution transformed the nation’s energy picture, substituting coal for wood on a massive scale.

By the time of World War I, coal accounted for nearly 75% of energy use. But coal’s place as the dominant fuel was fleeting as well.

Oil and natural gas quickly replaced coal, just as coal had replaced wood.

By the 1960s, oil and gas together accounted for more than 70% of total energy use; coal had dropped to less than 20%. Primary electricity has played a small but steadily growing role. Primary electricity refers to electricity generated by hydroelectric, nuclear, geothermal, solar, and other so-called “primary sources. The increase in the share of primary electricity towards the end of the period is due to the rise in nuclear generating capacity.

This long run view of energy raises an important question: what guided these transitions in the past, and to what extent can such information inform us about the impending transition from fossil to renewable fuels?

The transition from one major energy system to the next is driven by a combination of energetic, economic, technological and institutional factors. The energy-related forces stem from the tremendous economic and social opportunities that new fuels, and their associated energy converters, offered compared to earlier ones.

Energy plays a critical role in nature.

All organisms must use energy to perform a number of life-sustaining tasks such as growth, reproduction, and defense from predators. The most fundamental task of all is using energy to obtain more energy from the environment. When energy is used to do useful work, energy is degraded from a useful, high quality state to a less useful low quality state. This means that all systems must continuously replace that energy they use, and to do so takes energy.

This fundamental reality means that Energy Returned on Invested (EROI) and net energy are used to explain the foraging behavior of organisms, the distribution and abundance of organisms and the structure and functioning of ecosystems

For the overwhelming majority of their existence, humans obtained energy from the environment by hunting and gathering.

The EROI for food capture is the caloric value of the food capture to the expenditure of energy in the capture or gathering process.

Natural ecosystems produce enough edible food energy to support hunter-gatherers at densities no greater than one person per square kilometer. Traditional agricultural societies support hundreds of people square kilometer, enabling permanent settlements to grow in size and number. The greater surplus released labor from the land, creating the potential for people to move to urban areas and work in manufacturing and industry.

The economic usefulness of an energy converter is determined in part by its power, the rate at which it converts energy to do useful work.

Humans and draft animals convert energy to work at low power outputs. The energetic limits of people and draft animals set very definite economic and social limits.

The Industrial Revolution erased these limits with the introduction of the steam engine, which had a power output that dwarfed that of muscle power.

The higher power output of the steam engine enabled it to deliver a much large energy surplus than human labor or draft animals.

Given the economic advantage offered by heat engines powered by fossil fuels, it is no surprise that labor and draft animals we rapidly replaced by heat engines once they became available.

The United States’ economy illustrates this transition. In 1850, more than 90% of the work done in the economy was accomplished by human labor and draft animals.

Over the next half-century, engines powered by wood and then coal rapidly displaced the animate converters.

By the 1950s, labor and animals had almost been completely displaced. Of the economic changes driven by the new fuels and machines, one of the most dramatic was the effect on labor productivity. In agriculture, for example, the productivity of labor increased more than 100-fold relative to rates possible prior to the Industrial Revolution. This increase in labor productivity reduced the need for farm labor and workers moved to industrial jobs.

How strong is the connection between energy use and economic growth?

One hypothesis is that the link is weak.  This is because it’s assumed that as fossil fuels become scarcer, their price will rise, which in turn will trigger technological changes and substitutions that improve energy efficiency. Indeed, many believe that the price shocks in 1973-74 and 1979-80 led to the adoption of many new energy efficient technologies. Second, the shift to a service-oriented, dot-com economy will de-couple energy use from economic activity. A dollar’s worth of steel requires 93,000 Btu to produce in the United States; a dollar’s worth of financial services uses 9,500 Btu. Thus, it stands to reason that a shift towards less-energy intensive activities will reduce the need for energy.

A second hypothesis is that the connection between energy use and economic output is strong.   The heat equivalent of a fuel is just one of the attributes of the fuel and ignores the context in which the fuel is used, and thus cannot explain, for example, why a thermal equivalent of oil is more useful in many tasks than is a heat equivalent of coal.

Because of the variation in attributes among energy types, the various fuels and electricity are less than perfectly substitutable in production or consumption. For example, a Btu of coal is not perfectly substitutable with a Btu of electricity; since the electricity is cleaner, lighter, and of higher quality, most people are willing to pay a premium price per Btu of electricity.

Consider incoming solar energy. The land area of the lower 48 United States intercepts 500 times of the nation’s annual energy use. But that energy is spread over nearly 3 million square miles of land, so that the energy absorbed per unit area is very small. Plants, on average, capture only about 0.1% of the solar energy reaching the Earth. This means that the actual plant biomass production in the United States is very small (compared to the overall incoming solar energy).

Power density combines two attributes of energy sources: the rate at which energy can be produced from the source and the geographic area covered by the source. A coal mine in China, for example, can produce upwards of 10,000 watts per square meter of the mine. As the above examples indicate most solar technologies have low power densities compared to fossil fuels.

A low energy and power density means that large amounts of capital, labor, energy and materials must be used to collect, concentrate and deliver solar energy to users.

This makes them more expensive than fossil fuels. The difference between solar and fossil energy is best represented but their energy return on investment (EROI). The EROI for fossil fuels tends to be large while that for solar tends to be low. This is the principal reason that humans aggressively developed fossil fuels in the first place. Fossil fuels have allowed us develop lifestyles that also are very energy intensive. The places that we live, work and shop have very high power densities. Supermarkets, office buildings and private residences in industrial nations demand huge amounts of energy. This very energy-intensive way of living, working, and playing have been made possible by fossil fuels sources that are equally as concentrated. Another quality difference between renewable fuels and fossil fuels is their energy density: the quantity of energy contained per unit mass of a fuel. For example, wood contains 15 Mj per kilogram; oil contains up to 44 Mj per kilogram.


Among the countless technologies humans have developed, only two have increased our power over the environment in an essential way.

Georgescu-Roegen called these Promethean technologies. Promethean I was fire, unique because it was a qualitative conversion of energy (chemical to thermal) and because it generates a chain reaction that sustains so long as sufficient fuel is forthcoming. The mastery of fire enabled man not only to keep warm and cook the food, but, above all to smelt and forge metals, and to bake bricks, ceramics, and lime. No wonder that the ancient Greeks attributed to Prometheus (a demigod, not a mortal) the bringing of fire to us.

Promethean II was the heat engine. Like fire, heat engines achieve a qualitative conversion of energy (heat into mechanical work), and they sustain a chain reaction process by supplying surplus energy. Surplus energy or (net energy) is the gross energy extracted less the energy used in the extraction process itself. The Promethean nature of fossil fuels is due to the much larger surplus they deliver compared to muscle energy from draft animals or human labor.

The energy surplus delivered by fossil fuel technologies is the energetic basis of the Industrial Revolution.


Posted in Wood | 2 Comments

Population, Fossil Fuels, Consequences

Now that oil, coal, and natural gas are at peak production or will be soon, how can any rational person argue there’s no need for birth control and less immigration with 5 of the 7 billion humans alive due to fossil fuels?

Not only that, we’re driving other species extinct now that we’re using up three-quarters of the Earth’s land:

  • 1%     Urban and infrastructure
  • 11.7%  Cropland
  • 26.8%  Forestry
  • 36%     Livestock grazing. 20% of all animal biomass on the planet (UNFAO 2006).

The 24.5% that we aren’t using is:

  • 12.5%  Rocky, desert, or covered with snow
  • 7.4%    Unproductive arctic and alpine tundra, grasslands
  • 4.6%    pristine forests, including boreal and tropical rainforests
Source: (Erb, 2009 – doesn’t include Greenland or Antarctica)

A Litany of Evils caused by overpopulation and immigration

  • Aquifer depletion, especially northwestern India, northern and western China, northern Mexico, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, and Syria
  • Climate change
  • Climate refugees: New Orleans among the first climate refugees – soon those in London, New York, Washington, Miami, Shanghai, Kolkata, Cairo and Tokyo will join them.
  • Storms from higher surface water temperatures in Central America, the Caribbean, the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the USA, East and Southeast Asia, japan, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Viet Nam, and Bangladesh.
  • Desertification. Expanding deserts include the Sahara into Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria. The Sahelian is moving southward into Nigeria. Deserts are forcing migrations in Iran, Brazil, and Mexico. The expansion of deserts in China has accelerated since 1950. 24,000 villages have been abandoned partially or entirely. The Gobi desert grew as much as half of Pennsylvania in just 5 years and is within 150 miles of Beijing. The 1930s dust bowl forced 2 million people to leave Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. As the Ogalalla aquifer continues to deplete, the conditions for even larger dust bowls grows more likely.
  • Extinction
  • Invasive species
  • Pollution refugees: Love canal, Times Beach Missouri, Chernobyl area, cancer villages in China, Fukushima
  • Rising oceans
  • Water shortages
  • Toxic pollutants in local environments
  • Wildlands lost, wildlife habitat fragmented, converted to farmland, reservoirs, power lines, roads, mines, logging, overgrazing, bottom trawling, urban sprawl

What’s at stake: 5 billion people dying, starvation, disease, Genocide and madness on the scale of the Nazis, Rwandan Hutu-Tutsi, North Korea, Mao, Stalin, nuclear war, chaos, and endless wars.

Feeding the next 3 billion means cutting down the remaining forests, and unprecedented biodiversity destruction as we take over what few bits of wild remain and replace them with soil-eroding, aquifer guzzling, toxic pesticide polluting crops. Most scientists don’t think we can sustain the 7 billion we have now, ten billion is a sick fantasy.

One reason not even 7 billion can survive much longer is that we’re mining topsoil to grow enormous amounts of food now.  This has always been a factor in the fall of civilizations in the past, it just took them longer to destroy their soil in the past (on average 1500 years) because they didn’t have mega-horsepower tractors to compact and till the soil so it could wash and blow away within 100-200 years.  Soil erosion is happening 17 times faster than new soil is being formed on 90% of farmland (IUGS 2013).  Future generations simply won’t be able to grow as much food.

Population growth relentlessly destroys past environmental victories.

A wild river that was once saved gets dammed. A freeway that was once prevented is built, ripping apart the ecosystem and tight-knit neighborhoods.

A million acres of prime farmland in America is paved over by sprawl every year

2.2 million acres if you include wild land.  Who benefits? Developers and businesses that can pay cheap wages.

Overpopulation was caused by coal, oil, and natural gas

Fossil fuels allowed up to agricultural intensification and equally important — the ability to harvest, preserve, and deliver food before it spoiled in myriad ways:

  1. Iron made with coal rather than charcoal is what launched the industrial revolution and made combustion engines, tractors, vehicles, etc., possible
  2. Trains delivering food to inland areas of famine and later trucks that could deliver food and other essential goods anywhere
  3. Up to five times as much food grown with Haber Bosch nitrogen natural-gas fertilizers
  4. Public Health – clean water and food (i.e. sewage and water treatment, etc., raised average lifespans far more than medicine and continues to do so)
  5. Container ships, above all, made globalization possible (Levinson). America now imports half of its food.

Fossil Fuels have allowed us to go way past carrying capacity

Since the 1980s we’ve been using about 1.4 Earths by burning vast troves of oil, coal, and natural gas. This energy allowed us to go way beyond our carrying capacity by intensifying agriculture and using up resources that would have otherwise been preserved for future generations.

There are many other reasons why population went up

  • Wanting children is a biological drive
  • Abortions and birth control were hard to come by
  • Capitalism depends on endless growth
  • Religious leaders depend on endless growth of worshippers to amass power and wealth
  • Before oil-based weapons systems, the largest army was the most likely victor
  • Political, military, business (especially real estate) leaders want more voters, the largest armies, and more consumers which leads to abortions being banned and birth control hard to come by
  • Humans don’t think very well, see my list of “Over 250 cognitive biases, fallacies and more” at energyskeptic, or read Carol Tavris’s book “Mistakes Were Made But Not by Me: Why We Justify Foolish Beliefs, Bad Decisions, & Hurtful Acts”
  • It is taboo to be realistic. Reality-based talk is labeled pessimism and dismissed. Happy endings to Hollywood movies, lack of critical thinking skills and science in schools, and other cultural factors in America have taken this “must always be optimistic” to such a crazy level that “Positive Thinking” ought to be in the DSM-5. Some good books to read: Ehrenreich’s “Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America” and Kuntsler’s “Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation”
  • The business need to make products break so more products could be sold led to a much earlier peak of resources. Read Slade’s “Made to Break Technology and Obsolescence in America”.
  • Even people who were aware of “The State Of The World” had children, hoping that “The Scientists Would Come Up With Something”.
  • We live in the moment. Today. People have a hard time imagining they’ll be hungry tomorrow after a large meal. Even if you could convince people that times would be hard decades ahead, that would not be a strong enough reason to refrain from having kids.

America could have stayed below 200 million

Several systems ecologists have estimated that the carrying capacity of the United States without fossil fuels is somewhere between 100 and 250 million people.  How do we get from over 317 million to 100 million in less than 20-30 years?  It’s already too late for no immigration or one-child per woman to do the trick, but still, both of these would help a bit.

Limiting our population in America would have a huge impact.

Americans consume 5 times as much as the average person, so 317 million Americans is the same as 1.58 billion Chinese.

Exponential Growth: Sustainability Impossible

Above all, if the concept of exponential growth had been taught in schools, or explained by journalists and environmental groups, Americans would be more willing to have fewer children.

Here’s how Albert Bartlett explains it: “The growth in one doubling time is greater than the total growth during all the preceding doubling times”.

An example he uses is oil production. Over 100 years world oil production grew 7% per year. That’s 10 doublings which means 1970 oil production was a thousand times more than in 1870. So every decade, more oil was produced than in all preceding decades.

Similarly, with each doubling of population, we cause as much destruction as all of the preceding doublings.

It took 5,000 years for population to double from 1 to 2 million people between 20 and 15 thousand years ago at a rate of almost zero growth. But it only took 37 years to go from 2 to 4 billion between 1930 and 1976. Now, 37 years later, we haven’t quite doubled, but we’re close — 7.13 billion. The rate of population growth has gone down very slightly, but the rate is still exponential, and orders of magnitude larger than the almost zero rate for most of human history.

Once Upon a Time, people understood population mattered

1963 President Johnson told the United Nations that “five dollars invested in population control is worth 100 dollars invested in economic growth” (Erlich 1970)

1968 President Eisenhower: “once as president, I thought and said that birth control was not the business of our Federal Government. The facts changed my mind…I have come to believe that the populatin explosion is the world’s most critical problem.”

1976 Gallup poll: 84% said they didn’t want more people in the United States (Hays). The population was 200 million back then.

The consequences: If journalists and environmental groups had kept population issues and awareness in print we more than half of the American people wouldn’t have to die of starvation, disease, or war in less than a generation (that’s how Mother Nature solves overpopulation).

The consequences: Sprawl and consequent lower carrying capacity

Sprawl is one of the largest environmental problems in America and world-wide. It increases energy and water consumption, air pollution, and destroys wildlife. In the USA between 1982 and 2001 we lost 34,000,000 acres of forest, cropland, and pasture to development, an area the size of Illinois.

Posted in Overpopulation | 2 Comments

Why did everyone stop talking about Population & Immigration?

Population world in billions








Unlooked for but swift, we have come on like a swarm of locusts: a wide, thick, darkling cloud settling down like living snowflakes, smothering every stalk, every leaf, eating away every scrap of green down to raw, bare, wasting earth…There are too many men for Earth to harbor. At nearly seven billion we have overshot Earth’s carrying capacity”. Dave Foreman, co-founder of Earth First.

The Consumption of Wealthy Nations is the problem. Not the Poor.

It’s both, obviously.  Not one or the other.  The famous equation to describe this is I = P x A x T, which translates to Human Impact (I) on the environment =  (P)opulation times (A)ffluence times (T)echnology.

The population growth of the poor is dismissed as inconsequential compared to the consumption of the industrialized nations. It’s certainly true that the wealthier nations are destructive at a global scale. All the more reason to limit immigration to North America and wherever else consumption is grotesquely out of scale. Even if Americans cut consumption in half, continued immigration levels of a million people a year will undo any savings.

But the poor have tremendous impact at a local scale. Yet it is politically incorrect to blame the poor for environmental destruction, despite these obvious effects:

  • Slash and burn non-native peasants migrate on illegal logging roads and destroy tropical rainforests with slash-and-burn agriculture
  • Bush meat is shot for food, jaguars, Bonobos, chimpanzees, gorillas, and many other endangered species slaughtered
  • Deforestation to cook food, sell illegal timber
  • Overfishing
  • Desertification
  • Competition over scarce water, i.e. ten countries in the Nile basin have rapidly growing populations
  • Sewage and chemical pollution because pour villages/countries can’t afford treatment plants
  • The sheer numbers of poor – billions, overwhelms resources of all kinds
  • The poor relieve their excess population by migrating to developed nations or nearby nations, so population growth remains unchecked and the need or desire for birth control lessened
  • Adopting the consumerism of rich nations and consuming more meat and other goods

In much of the world, Catholic and Evangelical churches oppose contraceptives, and politicians look the other way as the last wild lands are destroyed to delay potential social unrest as an escape valve for a society with little upward mobility.

In North America many scientists have found evidence that the first people to migrate to North America wiped out the megafauna – the mammoths, mastodons, giant sloths, giant beavers, and saber-toothed lions. So certainly the poor can impact the environment by hunting, fencing off migration routes of wild animals (i.e. wildebeest migration in Africa, etc.)

We all have an impact on the environment. Giant tractors, with combustion engines the energy equivalent of 500 horses, plant and harvest crops, mining, compressing, and destroying the topsoil ten times faster than past civilizations were capable of doing. The poor may not be driving the tractors, but the rich are exploiting their land by mining and farming with fossil-fueled machinery.

It’s taboo to mention the link between poverty and population

Obviously the misery and starvation in Niger is caused by having the highest birthrate in the world. But reporters never mention this connection.

Don’t worry, America’s birth rate went down

By 1973 the birth rate dropped below replacement level, so the media ran headlines declaring that the population problem was solved, our nation was at Zero Population Growth.

Huge mistake! The population was still growing. In fact, it would take up to 70 years before growth was stopped. We could have stabilized around 250 million people. According to the census bureau, we could have 750 million to 1 billion people by 2100.

And it was only wealthy countries where this was happening. As Dave Foreman puts it “elsewhere, babies were still coming down like hailstones in a High Plains thunderbuster”.

Feminists and Human-rights groups took over the Sierra Club

After feminists and human-rights advocates were put on the population committee at the Sierra Club, they fought to have empowerment of women as the main goal. Dave Foreman was on the committee and opposed this since the goal was population stabilization and then reduction. Empowering women might be a key path to that goal, but was not the goal itself.

The newcomers replied that any implied restrictions, such as a goal of population stabilization, was an assault on women rights to choose how many children they had. The mere mention of limits to growth was coercive.

The takeover of the Sierra Club population platform by people unaware or unable to understand “The Limits to Growth” and “The Tragedy of the Commons” was a tragedy.   Like bowling pins, it wasn’t long before goals of population stabilization and reduction were knocked over in virtually every other environmental group as well. The Sierra Club was instrumental in making the topic of population taboo and politically incorrect.

Consider the impact every child has. Businesses and government construct buildings, roads, airports, etc. So even if you’re off-the-grid, on your behalf society is consuming 7 billion tons of minerals a year. This means the average person is consuming 47,769 pounds of a year — 1400 pounds of copper, 9 tons of phosphate rock, 300 tons of coal, 16 tons of iron ore, 700 tons of stone, sand, and gravel – and more.

Cornucopian and Leftists Environmentalists also destroyed immigration and population stabilization goals

You’d think the Left would support conservation, but there are splinters who saw talking about overpopulation as blaming the world’s poor for their plight. Better to stop wealthy countries from consuming so much.

In 1998 the Bay Area Marxist group “Political Ecology Group” succeeded in killing a Sierra Club immigration-lowering initiative. Leftist ideologues also suppressed talk about overpopulation at the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment because Chinese and India’s attempts to gain population stabilization were seen by them as coercive.

Well Leftists – look at the evil you have wrought, the suffering. Despite your objections, China kept going with its one-child policies and malnutrition was sharply reduced. Only 7% of children in China under 5 are underweight.   In India, where the program to stabilize population stopped, 43% of children under 5 are underweight. 230 million people are hungry (25% of all hungry people in the world).

Since the 1980s there’s been little media attention to population growth, and close to none since 1994.

Not only did the Sierra Club and other environmental groups stop writing about issues, they stopped reminding people that overpopulation is responsible for every single problem they were fighting for. A growing population worsens:

  • Climate change
  • Oceans: acidification, overfishing, pollution
  • (Rain)forest destruction for agriculture, cattle, construction
  • Biodiversity loss (6th mass extinction)
  • Providing a good education to children everywhere
  • Feeding everyone
  • Making jobs available for record numbers of unemployed youth

Martha Campbell puts this even more strongly – she sees hostility towards mentioning the population question because universities have taught students for the past 20 years that even discussing the connection between population and environment is not a tolerable topic of discussion. Indeed, it is politically incorrect to even suggest that slowing population growth might protect the environment for future generations.

The American public is anti-science and ignores warnings

Anyone who denies overpopulation is a problem is as deliberately stupid and ignorant as a “Climate Change Denier”. People and environmental groups continue to ignore the many warnings of top scientists:

  1. 1798 An Essay on the Principle of Population by Thomas Malthus
  2. 1968 The Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin
  3. 1968 The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich
  4. 1973 Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows et al
  5. 1980 Overshoot by William Catton (especially Chapter 2)
  6. 1992 World scientists’ warning to humanity. 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal
  7. 1993 The Arithmetic of Growth: Methods of Calculation by Albert Bartlett.
  8. 1995 The Immigration Dilemma: Avoiding the Tragedy of the Commons by Hardin
  9. 1999 The Ostrich Factor: Our Population Myopia by Garrett Hardin
  10. 2001 Global Biodiversity Outlook
  11. 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
  12. 2006 The Essential Exponential: For the Future of our planet by Albert Bartlett (video)

Educating Women to lower population a nice idea but…

I love this idea, but as far as lowering population, Virginia Abernethy has some valid criticisms about whether this will work in “Population Politics: The Choices That Shape Our Future”.

The main reason it won’t work is that it’s too late. But it is still a great idea, because perhaps women in the future will fight harder, and resist total male control over their lives by knowing it doesn’t have to be that way. Before fossil fuels and state-level societies, men engaged in endless battles, mainly over women, and up to a third of men died in these skirmishes. In most poor countries even now, women are property, die early from childbirth, and are treated like slaves.

After fossil fuels, will most societies and women go back to this dismal state?

Only humans matter, screw the other species on the planet

Nearly all the optimistic books that have been written with the general theme of “YES WE CAN SUPPORT 10 BILLION PEOPLE” ignore or don’t give a damn about all the other species on the planet. All that matters are human needs.

We’re already causing the 6th mass extinction, the idea that we can kill off most other species and maintain a population of 10 billion is absurd, again revealing the incredibly poor education in ecology and science of even well-known “intellectuals”.

Since high population growth rates are also the cause of the worst poverty in the world (i.e. Niger, Uganda, Nigeria), there’s also a bit of a “screw the poor” philosophy behind the rhetoric of overpopulation deniers as well — could this be racist? Also, no country has gotten out of poverty and also had high fertility rates (except Saudi Arabia and a few other oil producing nations).

Anyone who wants to limit immigration or population is a racist

Huh? How’s that? You will never hear people interviewed in the media who support lower immigration and more birth control for ecological reasons. But you can count on gun-toting, uneducated, poorly groomed people doing their own border patrols in Arizona being interviewed.

The Sierra club and other environmental groups abandoned immigration level goals

Conservationists feared alienating leftist and racial rights groups and dropped immigration to stabilize population from their platforms.

It is so ironic that the politically correct crowd, rather than the endless growth Wall Street crowd is the most responsible for the coming die-off ahead, as well as the loss of prime farmland to sprawl, and depletion plus pollution of topsoil, forests, fisheries and all other resources consumed by what will be at least 100 million more people than would have been here if immigration levels had stayed at 200,000.

Until the 1990s this wasn’t true – in 1989 the Sierra Club’s stand was that “immigration to the U.S. should be no greater than that which will permit achievement of population stabilization in the U.S.”.

For 40 years immigration was 200,000 a year

In 1965 it leapt to 1,000,000 – five times as many people.

In 1990 it leapt to 1,500,000 – seven times as many

Immigration is the main cause of increasing population growth in the United States.

Between 1900 and 2000 the population almost quadrupled (76 to 281 million). The largest ten-year-increase was between 1990 and 2000 (32.7 million).

We must have more population growth to fund retirees

That’s crazy, an unsustainable Ponzi scheme.  We’re on a finite planet after all.

Immigrants take jobs Americans don’t want

Right now, over 110,000 immigrants are allowed to come here every month from Mexico, where they can live off the paltry wages paid just across the border where the cost of food and rent is much lower. These jobs are taken away from recent immigrants and the growing numbers of (long-term) unemployed could have taken, would have taken if the wages hadn’t been driven down so low.

Even more arrive illegally, further driving down wages, safety laws, working conditions, but the desperation of the workers that take these positions means that the decent conditions and wages that could provide good jobs to American workers are never going to happen. The wealthy owners getting hundreds of times the wages of the workers benefit, and since cheap labor drives down the cost of the goods being sold, Americans look the other way. But as Henry Ford figured out a long time ago, if you don’t pay workers good wages, then who’s going to buy your products? Eventually this scheme collapses as few are left who can afford to buy anything.

We’re wealthy, so we’re obliged to offer shelter to immigrants, we are a nation of immigrants

Righto – and we’re on the way to turning our wild lands into slums and polluting our water and air, paving over our best farmland to accommodate everyone that within a few generations there will be little difference between our country and all the other poverty-stricken nations. No more dreams for future generations, no beautiful places to vacation and find renewal.

Americans consume 40 times as much stuff as people in India. So multiply the environmental impact of every immigrant by 40

Nature keeps us alive

People are so removed from nature inside their heated and air-conditioned homes, flush toilets rather than outhouses, store bought rather than hunted meat, water piped in at the turn of a faucet rather than hauled in a heavy bucket – totally out of touch with the ecosystems that keep us alive, all of them being polluted or paved, oblivious because oil-driven ships and trucks can bring us stuff from abroad, we don’t even realize how far we’ve gone past carrying capacity.

1994 United Nations International Conference on Population and Development

Activists at this conference shifted the goal of population stabilization and growth to empowering women. They labeled attempts by China and India as coercive, and thereby killed family planning, replacing it with empowerment and reproductive rights and health, because now family planning was spun as being coercive.

This is pretty outrageous when you consider that women are coerced into unwanted pregnancies and often die or are severely injured in childbirth. It’s outrageous that this conference is a key reason why poor women have no access to family planning today — unable to control their bodies, how many children they have and when they have them.

This conference discouraged discussing the connection between population growth and environmental destruction, because to do so was seen as anti-woman. Anyone who persisted in talking about population growth was dismissively labeled a Malthusian.

Standard demographic theory

It was assumed that women would want fewer children as their nation modernized and more women were educated.

A better theory that matches reality, is that if men and women can gain easy access to birth control, they will have fewer children.

For example, in Thailand, where family planning is easy to obtain, women with no education use birth control as much as educated women. In the Philippines, where birth control is hard to get due to the Catholic Church, uneducated women don’t use   contraception because they can’t get it.

If women could gain access to birth control, the population growth rate would go down.

Women aren’t stupid, they know that childbirth is dangerous – the risk of death or injury is very high. Women would rather stay alive to take care of their existing children (and because let’s face it – being alive is pretty wonderful). One million children are left motherless every year – childbirth kills 287,000 women and injures another 10 million every year according to the World Health Organization.

It’s Human Nature not to worry about overpopulation

In the end it may be that we’re not wired to worry about this issue.

Everyone loves babies.

We’re tribal.

We’re optimistic.

Don’t worry: the fertility rate and disease are driving population down

Worldwide, family planning brought fertility rates down from 5.5 to 2.5 children per woman. Therefore the media reports: the population explosion is over. Which gets back to a lack of understanding of exponential growth, ecology, and basic math.  Diseses like AIDS, malaria, TB, cancer, heart disease, and so on are having no effect at all, since the number of births exceeds the number of deaths by 82 million people a year.

Propaganda from anti-abortion activists, religious leaders, and right-wing think tanks

The most extreme are not only against abortion, but even family planning. Catholics and Right-to-Lifers strategized to convince people that there was no population problem, since that’s one of the reasons many people supported legal abortions.

Islamic countries are thought of as living in the Dark Ages, but some Muslim countries are the most advanced in family planning. In Iran, subsidies stop after a third child and classes in modern contraception methods are required before a marriage license can be obtained.

Capitalists have succeeded in painting environmentalists with negative terms such as being overly concerned about the environment, which threatens jobs. Their concerns about pollution and endangered species are overblown.


Population doubling times

Population in

Year    Billions            Years to add 1 billion more

1800       1                  ~200,000

1930       2                     130

1960       3                        30

1975       4                        15

1987       5                        12

1999       6                        12

2011       7                        12

Source: Scheidel


Aldo Leopold: “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss. Had the funeral been ours, the pigeons would hardly have mourned us”.

Leon Kolankiewicz “Our species is unique, because here and now only we have the ability to destroy, or to save, biodiversity. Only we have the ability to care one way or the other. The destiny of all wild living things is in our hands. Will we crush them or let them be wild and free? Limiting human population will not guarantee success, but not doing so means certain failure”.

Isaac Asimov: “Democracy cannot survive overpopulation. Human dignity cannot survive it. Convenience and decency cannot survive it. As you put more and more people onto the world, the value of life not only declines, it disappears”.


APPG 2007. Return of the Population Growth Factor: Its Impact on the Millennium Development Goals. All Party Parliamentary Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health.

Beck and Kolankiewicz. 2000. “The Environmental Movement’s Retreat from Advocating U.S. Population Stabilization”

Cafaro, P, (ed) et al. 2013. “Life on the Brink. Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation”.

Erb, Karl-Heinz, et al. 2009. Eating the Planet: Feeding and fuelling the world sustainably, fairly and humanely–a scoping study. Social Ecology Working Paper no. 116. Institute of Social Ecology and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Erlich, P. 1970. Population Resources Environment: Issues to Human Ecology.

Hays, S. 1987. Beauty, Health, and Permanence: Environmental Politics in the United States, 1955-1985.

IUGS (International Union of Geological Sciences) 2013. Geoindicators. Soil and Sediment Erosion.

Levinson “The Box”

Meijer, R. I. Apr 16 2014: Overpopulation Is Not A Problem For Us.

Scheidel, W. 2003. “Ancient World, Demography of”. Encyclopedia of Population.

Homer-Dixon, T. 2001.  Environment, Scarcity, and Violence.

UNFAO 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. United Nations Food & Agriculture Organization.




Posted in Overpopulation, Population | 3 Comments

Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System. National Academy of Sciences.

Much of what follows is from the 2012 National Academy of Science report written for the Department of Homeland Security: “Terrorism and the Electric Power Delivery System


Electricity is ubiquitous, reliable, and taken for granted . . . until the lights go out. Our modern society is almost totally dependent on electrical systems. Electricity is essential to the U.S. economy and way of life. The National Academy of Engineering called the grid the world’s largest integrated machine and a central part of the greatest engineering achievement of the 20th century.

A few of the services that fail in a Blackout: Pumping of drinking water, sewage, and irrigation water; the internet, banking, communications, refineries, shipping, and transportation systems; refrigeration, gas station pumps, home and commercial life-support systems (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), traffic and railroad signals, natural gas and oil (most pipelines use electricity) to power stations, homes, and businesses.

The U.S. power delivery system is extremely complex. It is a network of substations, transmission lines, distribution lines, and less visible automatic and human controls that operate the system, as well as an intricate web of computers and communication systems that tie everything together.

The reliable operation of the power grid is complex and demanding:

  • Electricity moves at close to the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) and is not economically storable in large quantities, so electricity must be produced the instant it is used.
  • Voltage and frequency must be maintained within the extremely narrow range of 59.98 to 60.02 Hz, or power systems and equipment can be damaged, potentially leading to blackouts if the damage spreads widely

A well-executed terrorist attack could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage and take out the grid for over a year

Electric systems are not designed to withstand or quickly recover from damage inflicted simultaneously on multiple components. Such an attack could be carried out by knowledgeable attackers with little risk of detection. A large and coordinated attack by terrorists could leave the electric power system in a large region of the country disabled many months or, in absolute worst cases, several years, because substation and generator step-up transformers are vulnerable to attack from within and from outside the substation, are very large, difficult to move, custom-built, and can take over a year to replace. We no longer make them – getting one from another country can take a while because they’re in such high demand across the developing world.

The Grid is an easy target for terrorists. There are 5,800 major power plants connected by 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning thousands of miles to unguarded facilities protected only by a chain-link fence. This makes the electric grid hard to protect, and so it can be severely damaged by a small number of well-informed attackers.

Cyber-attack. The grid depends on complex systems of sensors and automated and manual controls, all of which are tied together through communication systems, so instead of a physical assault; terrorists can cause blackouts by spoofing, jamming, or sending improper signals. Hacking and cyber-attacks are becoming increasingly common.

Military Attacks. Commandos with special training could mount a far stronger attack than even the most sophisticated terrorist group. The object would be to create havoc and demoralization before overt hostilities commence. A hostile country might take this approach if it were unable or unwilling to declare war but wanted to take some military action against the United States. The ultimate attack would be an overt military operation. The vulnerability of electric power systems can have serious national security implications. In World War II, Germany’s highly centralized electric system was not attacked until late in the war. German officials commented after the war that ‘‘The war would have finished 2 years earlier if the Allies had bombed our power plants. This experience will not be ignored in any future hostilities. (OTA 1990)

Terrorist attacks in other countries.   The U.S. Department of State lists over 42 international terrorist groups operating around the world today using rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and small arms. It’s hard, if not impossible, to defend substations from explosions, bullets, or other projectiles fired from a distance. Most attacks so far have come from local groups bent on damaging or destabilizing established ruling power structures. Around 2,500 attacks have occurred over the past 10 years, 528 against substations, 2,539 against transmission towers.

Who’s going to fix the grid? Half of workers retire in 5 to 10 years

As many as half of the 400,000 electric utility workers will be eligible to retire in the next 5 to 10 years. This loss of critical skills and training new workers is a significant problem for the electric utility industry, and likely to make nation’s electric power system will less reliable and more vulnerable to external threats, including terrorist intrusion and disruption from natural disasters.

One reason there aren’t enough employees is that they were fired due to industry restructuring, pressures from Wall Street and regulators, mergers and acquisitions, and the evolution of wholesale markets.

This substantial downsizing has made electric utility jobs far less secure and therefore stressful. Many utility engineers report a substantial broadening of work assignments without the necessary time to become “experts” in their new areas of responsibility. They cover more functions and technical areas at less depth, now that so many engineers have been fired. This in turn has led to few students wanting to go into power engineering as a career, most universities have dropped power engineering, only 12 colleges have this degree now.

As the workforce declines, a significant loss of institutional knowledge is occurring. This knowledge is often not documented, and frequently it is known only to a very few people. When today’s employees leave the workforce, this knowledge leaves with them.

Workforce vulnerability. After a terrorist action, restoration workers themselves may become targets (i.e. several line crews were shot at after Hurricane Katrina). Workers on poles and towers and in open areas in substations are particularly vulnerable. Further complications arise if terrorist attacks involve chemical, radio nuclear, or biological agents. Should a pandemic occur it will touch every part of the electric system in ways few have considered, because if workers don’t show up to run the grid, many essential services will stop running (see blackout list in introduction and table 8.1 below)

What to Do? Too much money to protect every installation, buy all the spare parts

Much of the document deals with how to solve these issues, how to protect facilities, the desperate need for engineers to replace the 50% of retiring workers, and how to get private businesses, industries, and essential services to buy back-up generation.

The researchers conclude it would cost too much money to protect every installation, and too much money to buy all the spare parts needed.

The threat to any given utility is modest, so to spread the risk, there is a program to get utilities to share in the cost of buying spare parts collectively, especially transformers. But EPRI has had difficulty getting the electric power industry to do this, which the NAS report calls “a classic case of “tragedy of the commons.”

I think the ruthless nature of capitalism will prevent an effective collective spare parts collaboration, because each privately owned entity is selfishly motivated to make profits for its executives and shareholders only. “The Market” will not spend money to protect the public from a year without electricity unless forced to, and I’m not sure how corporations can be forced to do anything now that corporate lobbyists practically run government and can easily stop such legislation. If that sounds radical, read Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress–and a Plan to Stop It by Lawrence Lessig, The Corporation: The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power by Joel Bakan, Corporations Are Not People: Why They Have More Rights Than You Do and What You Can Do About It by Jeffrey D. Clements, Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) by David Cay Johnston, or When Corporations Rule the World by David C Korten.

My Summary of the report

There are many Really Stupid Energy-Electric Grid Interdependencies that will make outages from terrorism, natural disasters, and other causes much worse

Here are some other factors that I think will exacerbate the problems in the future as the system ages and there’s less oil to fix all the growing problems of society:

Natural gas power plants are fed by natural gas pipelines that use electricity to keep the natural gas flowing. So when the electricity goes out, the natural gas will stop flowing to power plants. Terrorists are also likely to take out natural gas transmission lines when they attack the electric system as well. Natural gas pipelines used to use the natural gas flowing through them to power the continued flow of natural gas.

Refineries are fed by oil pipelines that use electricity to keep the oil flowing. So when the electricity goes out, the oil will stop flowing to refineries, and there will be no fuel for ships, trucks, barges, cars, or airplanes.

Gasoline stations need electricity for the pumps. So even if a business or home has had the foresight to buy back-up generators, they won’t be able to get gas or diesel fuel because most gas stations don’t have backup power.

Coal supply chains. Coal travels an average of 848 miles by rail to power plants. Railroads heavily depend on signals, which will be out in an electric blackout. They too are vulnerable to climate change (rising sea level, heat buckled rails, etc.), failing infrastructure, and declining coal supplies. Trains deliver 70% of coal, and a lot of it: over 1 in 5 railcars are carrying coal – over 40% of the weight trains haul. In 2008, 7,710,000 carloads with 878,600,000 tons of coal were delivered by train (AAR).

Microprocessors can’t be made if the electric grid isn’t up or delivers low-quality electricity. The grid can’t function without microprocessors. Over 10% of electric demand is controlled by microprocessors,by 2020 it’ll be over 30% (EPRI, 2003). The electric power system was designed to serve analog electric loads and doesn’t always provide the quality power required by digital manufacturing assembly lines and information systems. A nearly imperceptible 1-second variation in power quality due to transients, harmonics, and voltage surges and sags at a semiconductor-fabrication plant can ruin an entire 30-hour batch of microprocessors and sometimes the manufacturing equipment, and take several days or more for a fabrication plant to recover and resume production again. Any device with a microprocessor is vulnerable to the slightest disruption of electricity. Billions, if not trillions, of microprocessors exist in electronic devices.

I believe that chip fabrication will be one of the first industries to fail, and not just from electric grid outages and/or poor quality electricity. Microprocessors have the longest supply chains, single points of failure in both nations and machinery, require silicon, water and chemicals of up to .9999999% purity, at least 60 minerals (many of them rare), $10 billion dollar clean rooms, and much more. (For details, see my articles The Fragility of Microchips, Microchips and fab plants: a Detailed description, High-tech can’t last: limited minerals and metals, and Motherboards in Computers – too complex to make in the future).

The biggest threat to the electric grid isn’t even mentioned in this report: lack of fossil fuels, uranium, and hydro-power to keep it going

We’re running out of the fossil fuels, uranium, and dams that keep 94.2% of the electric grid running: Coal 37%, Natural gas 30%, Nuclear 19%, Oil 1%, and hydropower (6.2%). We are at (or near) peak coal, peak natural gas, peak uranium, and peak oil.

Most “renewable” power comes from hydro-power, which isn’t really renewable, because dams fail when their short-lived concrete crumbles, and silt up within 50 to 200 years. Within the next 20 years, 85% of U.S. dams that cost taxpayers $2 trillion dollars will have outlived their average 50-year lifespan.

Renewables can’t keep the electric grid running either:

  1. Wind and solar are too sporadic and unpredictable, and their lifespan is only 20-30 years.
  2. According to Steven Chu, former US energy secretary, “Without technological breakthroughs in efficient, large-scale energy storage, it will be difficult to rely on intermittent renewables for much more than 20-30% of electricity.” We’re a long way from figuring out how to make low cost, high energy density, fast response, and safe storage devices.
  3. The grid must stay within an extremely narrow range of 59.98 to 60.02 Hz to prevent blackouts. This limits the use of intermittent renewables like wind and solar, because the more you add, the more unstable the electric grid gets (Halper).
  4. Adding renewables doesn’t reduce the use of fossil fuels, and can do the opposite, because additional natural gas combined cycle plants need to be built to kick in suddenly when the wind dies.

Terrorists: We are fully capable of ruining the electric grid without any help from you

The biggest threat isn’t terrorism (yet), it’s natural disasters, the aging electric power system, too much complexity, and lack of capital and energy to fix the system.

The Electric Power System is falling apart. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives our energy infrastructure a D+. The electric grid and most of our other infrastructure is old and falling apart. Both the average age and lifespan of power transformers is 40 years old, and much of the rest of the grid is at or nearing the need to be replaced, and this will lead to more and more blackouts. In the late 1990s, the restructuring and re-regulation of the U.S. transmission system led to a decrease in investment and now the grid operates at or near its physical limits, resulting in many parts of the bulk high-voltage system being heavily stressed.

Capitalism ensures most of the money needed to fix the grid will go to fat cats instead.  Because of deregulation and over 90% of America’s infrastructure being privately owned, money that ought to have been invested in maintenance and improvements has gone instead to CEO’s, top executives, and shareholders.

Natural Disasters & Climate Change. Hurricanes will be fiercer and more frequent in the future, as will tornadoes, ice storms, extreme droughts and flooding, severe thunderstorms, and the coup de grace – rising sea levels. All of these will take the grid down more often and for longer periods over wider areas.

There are many other ways the grid can come down besides terrorism. Cyber or nuclear war, an Electromagnetic pulse, natural gas shortages, coal shortages, and oil shocks.

Too Complex – Too Many Owners and operators, over 3,000 entities to coordinate, many with conflicting goals and interests. The U.S. electric power industry today is composed of a wide variety of players, entities, and institutions, all of which play different roles, and the actions of individual asset owners and operators affect each other.

Deregulation has made the system unstable. Competition in the wholesale electricity market has increased the operational complexity of the power delivery system. Electricity is being shipped much longer distances over a transmission system designed only to provide limited power and reserve sharing among nearby utilities.

Related Articles:


AAR. Association of American Railroads. August 2013. Railroads and Coal.

EPRI (Electric Power Research Institute). 2003. Electricity Technology Roadmap: Meeting the Critical Challenges of the 21st Century: Summary and Synthesis. Palo Alto, Calif.: EPRI.

Halper, Evan. Dec 2, 2013. Power struggle: Green energy versus a grid that’s not ready. Minders of a fragile national power grid say the rush to renewable energy might actually make it harder to keep the lights on. Los Angeles Times.

LaCommare, K.H., Eto, J.H., 2004. Understanding the cost of power interruptions to U.S. electricity  consumers. Ernest Orlando Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, LBNL-55718, Berkeley, CA, September.

OTA (Office of Technology Assessment). 1990. Physical Vulnerability of Electric System to Natural Disasters and Sabotage. OTA-E-453. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.


Annual sales in 2006 were $326 billion. Electricity outages in the U.S. cost an estimated $80 billion every year, mostly from small disturbances (LaCommare).

Table 2.1 Major Industry Players in the U.S. Electric Industry

  • Asset Owners: 1) Vertically integrated utilities (owning generation, transmission, and distribution) 2) Generation and transmission utilities 3) Transmission utilities or companies   4) Distribution utilities 5) Generation companies 6) Marketing companies
  • Institutional Structures of Asset Owners: 1) Investor-owned electric utilities (IOUs), 2) Rural electric cooperatives (RECs or Co-ops) 3) Municipal utilities (MUNIs) 4) Federal power agencies
  • Other Asset Operators and Coordinators: 1) North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC), 2) Independent system operators (ISOs)  3) Regional transmission operators (RTOs)   4) Regional reliability organizations (RROs)
  • Government Entities and Regulatory Authorities: 1) State regulatory commissions, 2) Power marketing authorities (PMAs) 3) Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) 4) U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 5) Energy Information Administration (EIA)   6) Bonneville Power Administration (BPA)   7) Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA)   8) V Western Area Power Administration (WAPPA)
  • Industry Associations and Institutions: 1) Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), 2) National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI)    3) Edison Electric Institute (EEI) 4) National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)  5) Electric Power Supply Association (EPSA)  6) National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC)    7) Association of State Energy Research and Technology Transfer Institutes (ASERTTI) 8) National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA)

NERC requires organizations to register as one or more of: Generator owners, Generator operators, Transmission service providers, Transmission owners, Transmission operators, Distribution providers, Load-serving entities, Purchasing-selling entities, Reliability authorities, Planning authorities, Balancing authorities, Interchange authorities, Transmission planners, Resource planners, Standards developers, and/or Compliance monitors.

Table 8.1. Examples of Critical Social Services that depend on Availability of Electric Power

Emergency Services

  • 911 and other dispatch centers
  • Police headquarters and station houses
  • Fire protection services
  • Emergency medical services
  • Hazardous materials Response Teams

Medical Services: Ambulance, Life-critical hospital care, Clinics and Pharmacies, Nursing Homes

Communications and cyber services

  • Radio broadcast media
  • Television broadcast media
  • Cable television
  • Conventional and wireless telephone and data systems
  • Wired data service
  • Computer Services

Water and sewer: Water supply & Sewer systems

Natural gas. Pipes may burst in cold weather if homes/buildings are left without heat.


  • Retail groceries (cash registers, lighting, etc)
  • Wholesale grocery and distribution networks
  • Food production facilities (farms, animal facilities, processing, packaging, etc)
  • Refrigeration: Spoiled food in homes and grocery stores

Financial Cash Machines                 Credit card systems                Banks

Fuel   Bulk fuel delivery                     Local storage infrastructure    Retail gasoline sales

Non-emergency government services

  • Information service offices: Important for distributing emergency information. Risk of chaos if information not available.
  • Operations units
  • Prisons and other detention facilities: Potential risks to prisoners, guards, and public if security systems fail.
  • Schools

Transportation systems

  • Traffic lights
  • Tunnels (esp ventilation)
  • Light rail systems and subways
  • Stranded commuter trains (i.e. outage in Italy 110 trains with 30,000 passengers)
  • Conventional rail systems, including railroad crossings
  • Air traffic control, navigation, landing aids, and airport operations
  • River lock and dam operations
  • Buses
  • Drawbridge operations

Lighting: buildings, residential (risk of fires from candles), commercial and industrial, street

Building operations: elevators, space heating and cooling

Other instabilities.Some states have more stringent environmental regulations than at the federal level, and don’t allow coal generated electricity, making it harder for systems operators to meet reliability objectives. This is made even harder when communities build renewable-energy-based resources like wind for generation, since unreliable renewables are often far from customers, and not able to generate electricity when the need is greatest, increasing the complications of system design, operation, [and the need for natural gas combined cycle plants to make up for the lack of power].

Other Impacts (OTA 1990)

  • Agriculture. There can be significant hazards to livestock and produce during a blackout. Sensitive processes include incubation, milking, pumping, heating, air-conditioning, and refrigeration.
  • Residential. Consumers do not have air-conditioning, heat, hot water, lights, freezers, refrigerators, stoves and microwave ovens, toasters, home computers, elevators etc.
  • Transportation A blackout affects virtually every mode of transportation (box D). Subways, elevators, and escalators stop running, street traffic is snarled without traffic lights. Gasoline pumps do not work, taxis and buses decline over time. Parking lot gates and toll booths will not operate. Trains can function, but it can be hazardous without signal lights. Other transportation effects result from the inability to deliver goods.
  • Looting and fires. Looting and arson can severely strain police and fire-fighting and services. During the New York City blackout there were 1,037 fires (primarily arson)
  • Water supply systems often rely on gravity to move water from reservoirs through the mains and to maintain pressure throughout the system. Some power may be required at pumping stations and reservoirs. Loss of pressure in mains hampers free-fighting and may permit contaminants to seep into the water supply.
  • Electricity is needed in treatment and pumping of sewage. An outage at a treatment plant causes raw sewage to bypass the treatment process and flow into the waterways. Lack of pumping station power prevents sewage flow and ultimately causes a backup at the lowest points of input (usually basements in low-lying areas. Many sewage treatment plants and pumping stations have standby power supplies, but only for short durations. After standby power is exhausted, untreated sewage flows continuously from the treatment plant.
  • Destruction of Four or More Major Transmission Substations. The destruction of more than 3 transmission substations would cause long-term blackouts in many areas of the country. Only a few areas have a good enough geographic balance of load and generation to survive this very severe test.

Costs of blackouts: food spoilage, damage to electronic data, life-support systems inoperable in hospitals, arson and looting (in the 1977 New York City blackout, this accounted for half of the economic costs — $155 million), overtime payments to police and fire personnel, increases in insurance rates, lost productivity at commercial and industrial companies. Many industrial processes are highly sensitive to power disruptions. An interruption of less than 1 second can shut plant equipment down for several hours. Outages can spoil raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods. Spoilage is a significant problem in chemical processes, steel manufacture, food products, and other industries (OTA 1990)

Sabotage and Vandalism: Insulators on distribution lines are a frequent target for vandals with guns. To date, no long-term blackouts have been caused in the United States by sabotage. However, this observation is less reassuring than it sounds. Electric power system components have been targets of numerous isolated acts of sabotage in this country. Several incidents have resulted in multimillion-dollar repair bills. In several other countries, sabotage has led to extensive blackouts and considerable economic damage in addition to the cost of repair

United States before 1990: Over the past decade there were few notable acts of sabotage, and apparently none that were intended to cause harm other than to the local utility. The most common cause has been labor disputes. In July 1989, a tower on a 765-kV line owned by the Kentucky Power Co. was bombed, temporarily disabling the line. No arrests have been made. In 1987-88, power line poles and substations were bombed or shot in the Wyoming-Montana border area. Later in 1988, similar attacks were experienced in West Virginia. Such attacks had also occurred in 1985 in West Virginia and Kentucky. All these attacks occurred during coal mine strikes. Two Florida substations were heavily damaged by simultaneous dynamite explosions in 1981 in one of the most expensive incidents. Damages totaled about $3 million, but no significant customer outages resulted. No arrests have been made, but circumstantial evidence points to a contractor labor dispute. Incidents stemming from unknown motives include the cutting of guy wires and subsequent toppling of a tower on the 1,800-MW, 1,000-kV DC intertie in California in 1987. There was negligible impact on the power system, because the load on the line was light at the time and it was scheduled for maintenance the next day, so alternate power routes had already been arranged.

Another incident demonstrates that saboteurs can mount a coordinated operation. In 1986, three 500-kV lines from the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station were grounded simultaneously over a 30-mile stretch. It happened at a time when none of the nuclear reactors was operating, so no disruption occurred. Under different conditions, the reactors would have shut down. No arrests have been made.

El Salvador: Attacks on electric power systems have been most severe in El Salvador. The Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) has repeatedly bombed or fired on transmission towers, substations and hydroelectric power plants. Up to 90 percent of the entire Nation has been blacked out by the FMLN during some sabotage campaigns. The FMLN has even produced a manual detailing how to attack an electric power system. According to official sources, the FMLN has launched over 2,000 attacks on electric systems since 1980. The Sendero Luminosa (Shining Path) revolutionary group has adopted a similar strategy in Peru, frequently leaving Lima, as well as a 600-mile stretch of the country, blacked out or under power rationing for 40 to 50 days (OTA, 1990).

Industries most dependent on electricity (in New Jersey): aluminum, wet corn milling, cement, pipelines (oil, natural gas, water), electrometallurgical products, petroleum refining, platemaking, soybean oil mills, carbon black, smelting and refining of copper, industrial organic and inorganic chemicals, plastics and resins (Greenberg, Met al. 2007. “Short and Intermediate Economic Impacts of a Terrorist Initiated Loss of Electric Power: Case Study of New Jersey.” Energy Policy 35(1):722–733.








Posted in Electric Grid, Electricity, Infrastructure, Oil & Gas, Water | Leave a comment

Sandra Postel: Wildfires in the Western U.S. Threaten Drinking Water

Sandra Postel. May 1, 2014. Wildfires in the Western U.S. Are on the Rise, Posing Threats to Drinking Water

When the Las Conchas Fire scorched some 151,000 acres of northern New Mexico in 2011, it wasn’t just the direct fire damage that was cause for worry.
Striking as it did in the midst of a persistent drought, but just before summer “monsoon” rains, the Las Conchas – the largest blaze in New Mexico’s recorded history – set in motion the one-two-three punch of drought, fire and flood that much of the western United States has seen all-too frequently in recent years.
As the intense rains pounded burned-out watersheds, peak floods poured through the Jemez Mountain canyons pushing tree trunks, boulders and tons of blackened soil down to the valleys below.   Soon after, to avoid the high costs of de-clogging equipment and treating sediment-laden river water, the Albuquerque drinking water utility cut its intake from the Rio Grande by half – and tapped more groundwater to make up the deficit.
With new research showing that fires in the western United States are getting larger and more frequent, water managers need to mitigate the impacts of fire in their source watersheds, as well as prepare for the consequences.
In a study published online in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, Philip E. Dennison of the University of Utah and colleagues analyzed a database of large wildfires (those greater than 1,000 acres, or 405 hectares) in the western United States over the period 1984-2011 and found a significant increase in the number of large fires and/or the area covered by such fires.
Specifically, in the region stretching from Nebraska to California, the number of large wildfires increased by a rate of seven per year over the 28 years of study, and the total area burned by these fires increased at a rate of nearly 90,000 acres a year – an area the size of Las Vegas.
“We looked at the probability that increases of this magnitude could be random, and in each case it was less than one percent,” Dennison said.
For their analysis, Dennison and his team used satellite data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity Project, which is supported by the US Forest Service and the US Geological Survey.
The team also found a correlation between increased fire activity and increased drought severity.
Those regions expected to be most affected by climate changes, especially more intense droughts, showed the greatest increase in fire activity, including the Rocky Mountains, the Arizona-New Mexico mountains, the southwestern desert region, and western Texas.

A satellite image of the 2011 Las Conchas Fire in New Mexico

For water managers, the new research is a clarion call to begin action now to safeguard water supplies originating in watersheds prone to fire. 
Fires are natural and beneficial to forested watersheds.  But for many decades, firefighters focused on protecting people and property have squelched even small fires that would do the important work of cleansing the forest floor and thinning trees to healthy densities.
As a result, many forests have accumulated an excess of  “fuel,” so when a fire ignites– whether from a natural cause, such as a lightening strike or a human one, such as a campfire – the forest is primed to burn rapidly, increasing the potential for a mega-fire like Las Conchas.  Drought only adds to the favorable fire conditions.
Partly in response to the damage wildfires have inflicted downstream, a few pioneering water suppliers are taking a proactive approach to addressing wildfires’ costs and risks to drinking water sources.
After the 2002 Hayman Fire, Denver Water faced a reservoir cleanup and infrastructure repair bill upwards of $30 million. Rather than pay such a steep price over and over again, Denver Water is investing $16.5 million to match the Forest Service’s investment in thinning ponderosa pine stands, cutting trees killed by pine beetle infestations, and generally rehabilitating the watershed critical to Denver’s water supply.
Likewise, Santa Fe, New Mexico, has embarked on watershed protection measures to safeguard against wildfires in the Santa Fe National Forest (SFNF).  In partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the US Forest Service, Santa Fe has established a water fund to help pay for restoration efforts in the 17,520 acres of the forested watershed that supplies about 40 percent of the city’s drinking water. (Some 88% of that forestland is in the SFNF, and half of that is located in the Pecos Wilderness, where forest thinning is not allowed.)
Such partnerships between municipalities and the Forest Service would seem to offer great potential to mitigate the risks of fire to downstream water supplies while simultaneously reducing the costs of both fire-fighting and water treatment.
Collectively, the national forests are part of more than 3,000 municipal watersheds that supply 60 million Americans with drinking water.
The Nature Conservancy, building on its watershed protection work in Latin American, has also been instrumental in forming the Rio Grande Water Fund in New Mexico.  The fund aims to generate sustainable financing for a 10-30 year program of large-scale watershed restoration to avoid more impacts like those caused by the Las Conchas Fire.
Recognizing that adequate supplies of clean water are critical to the health of the local economy, a number of businesses – including Lowe’s, PNM (the state’s largest electricity provider) and Wells Fargo – are contributing to the water fund.
With wildfire activity increasing across the western United States, more partnerships like these to proactively improve watershed health are a crucial line of defense to safeguard our drinking water.

Originally published at National Geographic Newswatch.

Posted in Wildfire | Leave a comment


For those of you who prefer to listen rather than read

Overviews of the Energy Crisis

Peak Oil: A Staggering Challenge to “Business As Usual”  A very clever animated documentary from Incubate Pictures, that lays out the challenges to “business as usual” that society faces over the next century. The decisions that we make within the next 50 years will seal the fate of the human race.


Many many videos to choose from at

And even more at PostCarbon

Richard Heinberg

Peak Oil: The Story of More Richard Heinberg at TEDxSonomaCounty

Richard Heinberg: Peak Oil and the Globe’s Limitation

And many more Richard Heinberg videos  — I randomly selected the above two which may not be his best, but everything he does is wonderful, he’s the wisest, most articulate, knowledgeable expert on peak resources.  All of his books are superb as well.

Dr Albert Bartlett on exponential growth


Jason Bradford on:

Nate Hagens, former editor of theoildrum

Joseph Tainter and the Collapse of Complex societies

Tad Patzek – professor at University of Texas, Austin

Posted in Videos | Leave a comment

Richard Duncan : Olduvai Gorge – Civilization ends when Electric Grids Permanently Fail

The Olduvai Theory – Heading into the Gorge

By Richard C. Duncan, Ph.D. Volume 23, Number 2 (Winter 2013)

Summary: The Olduvai Theory is defined as the ratio of world energy production and population. It states that average energy production per capita will decline to its 1930 level by 2030. Collapse will be strongly correlated with an “epidemic” of blackouts around the globe. This warning has come from scientists for more than a century, but it is still disallowed in Washington, D.C. A back-to-the-land movement has emerged and is accelerating.1

In a previous paper for The Social Contract, I focused on the Olduvai Theory.

[See the articles:
The Olduvai Theory
The Olduvai Theory: Terminal Decline Imminent
The Olduvai Theory - Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standard of Living
America: A Frog in the Kettle Slowly Coming to a Boil.]

This raises the following question: Where will the Olduvai die-off occur? Answer: Everywhere.

Large cities will be the most dangerous places to reside when the electric grids permanently fail. Therein millions of people are packed in high-rise buildings, surrounded by acres and acres of blacktop and concrete: no electricity, no work, and no food.

The Olduvai Theory is defined by the ratio of world energy production and population ( e).… It states that energy production per capita will fall to its 1930 value by 2030, thus giving industrial civilization a lifetime of less than or equal to 100 years. The theory projects that the collapse will be strongly correlated with an epidemic of blackouts worldwide.

Urban areas will rapidly depopulate when the power grids die. In fact the danger zones are already mapped out. Specifically: The big cities stand out as brightly lighted areas on NASA’s satellite mosaic, The Earth at Night. These planetary lights blare out “beware,” “warning,” “danger.” The likes of Baltimore-to-Boston, London and Paris, Brussels-to-Berlin, Bombay and Hong Kong and Osaka-to-Tokyo are all unsustainable hot spots.2

Let there be light

All primary sources of energy are essential to modern civilization. The Olduvai Theory however focuses on a secondary source, namely electric power. And visible proof of its global importance is confirmed by NASA’s composite display of Earthlights at Night.2


Figure 1. Earthlights at Night: Chicago, New York, etc.The above image shows the lights of Chicago near the upper left corner and those of New York City near the upper right, plus many cities to the south, including Baltimore and Washington, D.C.3

The solar basis

Electromagnetic energy was, is, and always will be fundamental to all life on this or any other planet. Many millions of years ago the incoming solar rays “nourished” microorganisms (protists) whose bodies ultimately morphed into the fossil fuels: coal, petroleum and natural gas. Then about 150 years ago we learned how to turn fossil fuels back into electromagnetic energy. Enter a boy named Tom.

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931, USA)

In 1882 Thomas Edison’s Pearl Street Station in New York was the forerunner of global electrification. (3) An artist’s rendition of Edison’s station appears on the Web.4

… Thomas Edison was more responsible than any one else for creating the modern world… No one did more to shape the physical/cultural makeup of present day civilization… Accordingly, he was the most influential figure of the millennium.

The benefits of electric power were immediately obvious:

Electricity was good for more than just light and transit. Cheap, plentiful electricity would attract industries, jobs and prosperity. City Light isn’t just a utility; it’s a “city builder.”5

Henry Adams (1838-1918, USA)

Henry Adams was Chairman of the Department of History at Harvard University for six years and a celebrated resident of Washington, D.C. His lifelong goal was to discover a succinct law of history. It was at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 — the campus blazing with electric light — where he hypothesized, “Incandescent lighting and electric power will soon destroy industrial civilization.”

The new American — the child of incalculable coal power, electric power, and radiating energy, as well as of new forces yet undetermined — must be a sort of god compared with any former creation of nature.… The new forces would educate…. The law of acceleration was definite…. No scheme could be suggested to the new American, and no fault needed to be found, or complaint made; but the next great influx of new forces seemed near at hand, and its style of education promised to be violently coercive.… Forces totally new would accelerate society into chaos and ruin.6

Fred Hoyle (1915-2001, UK)Sir Fred Hoyle in 1963 gave a series of lectures wherein he stated:

It has often been said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on the Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as the planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ores gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned.… (p. 64)

If the world population is not stabilized… nothing but pain and grief will follow. The future will then indeed be based on our cries of agony. (p. 69)

Roberto Vacca (Italy)

Roberto Vacca is a member of the Club of Rome. His book, The Coming Dark Age, theorizes that industrial nations are increasingly at risk because of their dependence on complex and sensitive systems such as the electric power grids.

Such critical situations as I have described [e.g., blackouts] develop gradually, and are contributory prerequisites of graver crises that will come more precipitately. These are our real interest and concern, for they will be an integral part of that ultimate avalanche of a breakdown, which will initiate a new dark age. (p. 65)

And yet the probability that a crisis is on the way is strong and growing stronger in all great cities where people are densely congregated. … (p. 132)

Urban crisis will not be exclusive to New York; that particular megalopolis serves as our example of what will occur in every great metropolitan city. On the other hand, the vivid events here foreshadowed would not produce The Dark Age overnight; they would be, rather, the germinal beginning, disintegrating agent — of a profound breakdown of society and of civilization itself, as we know it.… (p. 137)7

Jay W. Forrester (USA)

Dr. Jay Forrester in 1971, at the request of The Club of Rome, built a world model “to understand the options available to mankind as societies enter the transition from growth to equilibrium.”

What happens when growth approaches fixed limits and is forced to give way to some form of equilibrium? We need have no fear that population will continue to rise forever.… If man does not take conscious action to limit population and capital investment, the forces inherent in the natural and social system will rise high enough to limit growth.… (p. 68)

Our greatest challenge now [i.e., in 1971] is how to handle the transition from growth into equilibrium. … The folklore and the success stories praise growth and expansion. But that is not the path to the future.… (p. 112)

Dr. Forrester didn’t include the possibility of urban blackouts in the standard run of his model. Nonetheless, even without blackouts, the world population peaked in year 2023 and then declined by 28 percent in 2100. (Fig. 4-1, p. 70). In contrast, with blackouts the world population would likely decline by considerably more than 28 percent in 2100.

Picture the Olduvai Theory

I graphed the Olduvai Theory in 2001 by a steep upside curve, followed by a bumpy “plateau,” then a brief “slide,” and finally a steep “cliff,” reproduced in Figure 3.


The curve from 1920 to 1999 is historic data, so that still stands. But the forecast from 2001 to 2011 is wrong because the value of energy per capita rose to 12.83 in 2011. However the Olduvai cliff remains at year 2012 as overpopulation, global warming, national bankruptcies, blackouts, etc. strike wide and deep.8Dennis Meadows (USA)

Dr. Meadows in 1972 was one of the authors of The Limits to Growth. Therein he stated that there is still time for “the transition from growth to global equilibrium.” But now he sees things differently:

In so far as I can tell, people who use the term [sustainability] mean, essentially, that this would be a phase of development where they get to keep what they have but all the poor people can catch up. Or, they get to keep doing what they’ve been doing, but through the magic of technology they are going to cause less damage to the environment and use fewer resources. Either way you use the term, it is just a fantasy.

It has probably been only in the last four or five years that it has become really clear to me that we just haven’t got a chance of dealing with these issues in any kind of orderly way. … Limits to Growth is absolutely focusing on a bubble, a bubble in population and in material and energy consumption. …

Theoretically, resilience is the capacity of a system to absorb shocks and to continue functioning. … I am talking about coping with the permanent loss of cheap energy or the permanent change in our climate and what we can do at the individual, the household, the community, and the national level to ensure that … we will be able to pass through that period still taking care of our basic needs.

Walter Youngquist (USA)

Dr. Youngquist is a geologist who has worked abroad and traveled in more than 70 countries where he studied the vital relationship of Earth resources to nations and populations. In January 2012, he noted:

I think your view of the future of electricity is very prescient — in that the scale of things is beyond what can be coped with — and blackouts are increasingly the mode in the United States, but already evident elsewhere.

The use of electricity defines civilization, as we know it today almost as much as is the use of oil.

Things continue to come apart everywhere —famine in Africa because of too many people for a beaten-up environment to support, government debt rising in Europe and here as all the industrialized countries are living beyond their means. Frugality will arrive whether people like it or not. I see one statement saying that the U.S. standard of living has been in decline for several years. It can only get worse. Also we are making (and importing) people faster than we are making jobs. … The unemployment rate will never get back to the previous 5 percent. So what does government do to handle the unemployed? Spend more money it doesn’t have to support a standard of living that cannot be supported. Social upheavals are ahead for sure.

We just don’t have the resources on this finite Earth to sustain people in the lifestyles they have now — much less for those who would like to achieve that lifestyle.

Chaos is ahead as populations face a future of LESS.

And in May he continued:

Over history austerity has been the NORM. Recent prosperity for a few of us cannot last.

The world in general faces more austere times — a future of less!!! When the Greeks had to face it they rioted — to no avail. Many such social upheavals are to come as more and more people divide up declining and degrading resources. Roots of troubles are ahead as population rockets up to 10 billion—I cannot visualize that world!

Colin J. Campbell (Ireland)

Dr. Campbell is a petroleum geologist and in February he spoke on the past and the future.

We have now passed the first decade of the Twenty-First Century and may again face radical changes. The success of the last Century has severely depleted the resources of the Planet, especially its critical energy supplies, suggesting that the Industrial Age has passed its peak to face contraction…

Looking ahead, it is evident that we enter the Second Half of the Oil Age, when this critical energy supply that fuels the modern world, including its military engagements, declines from natural depletion. Today, some 60 billion barrels of petroleum a year…support a population of 7 billion people, but by 2050 the supply will be sufficient to support no more than about half that number in their present way of life. It speaks of a radical change, with the transition likely to be accompanied by much tension, signs of which have already been seen.

We may see a return to regionalism with the development of local markets, even local currencies, and a new community spirit, as the imperial constructions of the past pass into history. As always, there will be winners and losers, with the winners being those who adapt better to the changing circumstances. The Transition Town Movement had its origins in Kinsale, Ireland but has now spread around the world setting an example of the new strategies to be followed.

Transition towns and doomsday preppers

The World is in terrible shape—including the U.S. The Olduvai Gorge looms.

We are living beyond our means and the Earth’s natural resource credit card is maxxed out. Now what?

More and more people are quickly realizing that the Earth’s resources that we depend upon, such as arable land, potable water, nonrenewable resources, are rapidly decreasing while the human population is rapidly increasing. This predicament has fostered the Transition Movement, the Preppers Network, and others to prepare.

(a) The Transition Movement is bringing together people that now live in nations, provinces, cities, and towns that are readying for whatever the future holds.

The Transition Town [comprises] vibrant, grassroots community initiatives that seek to build community resilience in the face of such challenges as peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis. The Transition Movement differentiates itself from other sustainability and environmental groups by seeking to mitigate these converging crises by engaging their communities in homegrown, citizen-led education, action, and multi-stakeholder planning to increase local self-reliance and resilience.…

  • If we wait for governments, it’ll be too little, too late.
  • If we act as individuals, it’ll be too little.
  • But if we act as communities, it might just be enough, just in time.…

(b) The American Preppers Network is part of a fast-growing international movement organized by nations and regions.

It has formed alliances with independent affiliates such as Pioneer Living Survival Magazine, a homesteading and survival skills website which provides a range of advice for those who want to store extra food in case of a power cut, to those who want to embrace the “off-the-grid” lifestyle of America’s western pioneers….

Today you’re seeing average people taking smart moves and moving in intelligent directions to prepare for the worst. … Growing your own, self sustaining, doing as much as you can to make it as best as you can on your own… And it also means becoming more and more tightly committed to your neighbors, your neighborhood, working together and understanding that we’re all in this together….

The Golden Horde describes the anticipated large mixed horde of refugees and looters that will pour out of the metropolitan regions when a catastrophe strikes. Thus the following dilemma arises.

The Transition Dilemma (TD) states: The more successful a Transition Town, the more danger its inhabitants face from the robbing and looting by the starving people fleeing the urban chaos. Thus to protect itself each Transition Town must have (a) a large part-time police force, (b) communications within each town and between the towns, and (c) guns and ammunition for a long siege.9

Blackouts are increasing because electric power systems are aging and expensive to upgrade and maintain. And if one-city blackouts occur for an extended period of time, this will cause chaos within that city. However, as the news spreads it is likely to cause more blackouts and turmoil in other cities.10

Summary and conclusions

In 1882 Thomas Edison brought electricity and affordable lighting to the world. In 1893 historian Henry Adams theorized that electric power would drive industrial civilization into overshoot and collapse. In 1949 M. King Hubbert published an agrarian-to-industrial-to-agrarian ( A-I-A) scenario. In 1963 Fred Hoyle forewarned that overpopulation would cause “our cries of agony.” In 1971 Roberto Vacca foresaw “a new dark age” and used New York City as his example. In 1971 the standard run of Jay Forrester’s world model showed that growth “is not the path to the future.”

In 2012 three eminent scientists — Dennis Meadows, Walter Youngquist, and Colin Campbell — basically agree: “Chaos looms as the growing population faces a future of less.”

The Transition Movement and the Preppers Network recognize the need to balance the world’s population and the earth’s natural resources.

The transition dilemma ( TD) states that a successful transition town would also be a magnet for desperate and dangerous people. This problem could be solved in each town by a reliable communication network and a strong defense unit.

Several industrial nations are already over the cliff. Ultimately the world’s population will peak and decline.


1. Google has built a colorful [collection of images] about the Olduvai Theory; just google: “images for olduvai theory illustrated guide.” Then click the pictures, graphs, and cartoons to see how they explain the theory.

2. Could it be that the blackout in the Eastern U.S. in 2012 is a preview of things to come?

3. Envision the chaos that would erupt and rapidly spread if one of the world’s largest cities blacked out permanently.

4. Minute amounts of electricity were used in the early nineteenth century for power, e.g., telegraphy and carbon-arc lamps. However, Thomas Edison was the first to make the generation and distribution of electric power commercially viable.

5. If the coming of electricity is a “city builder,” then the going of electricity will be a city destroyer.

6. Henry Adams’ visit to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 resulted in the most remarkable forecast I’ve ever seen.

7. Is it a mere coincidence that Roberto Vacca in 1971 chose New York City as an example of ”the germinal beginning…of a profound breakdown of society and civilization itself”?

8. The duration of industrial civilization in the Olduvai Theory is about 100 years (Figure 3) versus M. King Hubbert’s A-I-A scenario of about 3,500 years (Figure 2).

9. A hand-powered telephone system is essential in each transition town to protect it from desperate outsiders.

10. The loss of electric power in an urban area causes many more problems than just the blackout itself. For example, it also causes the lack of food, potable water and fuel and stops sewage transport.



Duncan, R. C., 2001, World Energy Production, Population Growth, and the Road to the Olduvai Gorge, Population and Environment, v.2; n5, May.

NASA’s composite of earthlights appears on a Google Map. Study the globe and print it out, as desired.

Edison, T. A.

Edison’s Pearl Street Station, 1882;

Biography of Thomas Edison, The Heroes of the Age: Electricity and Man;

Ross. J. D., Superintendent of Seattle City Light, 1911;

The Devil in the White City, The Chicago World’s Fair in 1893;

Nye, D. E., 1990, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 479 pp.

Adams, H., 1907/1918, The Education of Henry Adams, Houghton Mifflin Co.;  Chapters 33 and 34.

Hubbert, M. K., 1949, Energy from Fossil Fuels, Science, v. 109, Fig. 8;

Hoyle, F., 1964, Of Men and Galaxies, Prometheus Books, Great Minds Series, 73 pp.

Vacca, R., 1971/1973, The Coming Dark Age, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, NY, 221 pp.

Forrester, J. W., 1971/1973, World Dynamics, Wright-Allen, 144 pp.

Meadows, D., 2012: Is It Too Late for Sustainable Development? Reported by Megan Gambino, The Smithsonian, April.

Youngquist, W., Letter to R.C.D., 1/23/12.

Youngquist, W., Letter to R.C.D., 5/3/12.

Campbell, C. J., 2012; Select: West Cork Previous Issues; Issue 16 – February; Scroll down to page 3, “Mapping The Past & Past & The Future.”

Youngquist, W., Letter to R.C.D., 4/12/12.

Transition USA.


More on Preppers.

See “G” at Golden Horde.

Richard Duncan is chief author of the Olduvai Theory, a prediction of rapidly declining world energy production. He has an M.S. in Electrical Engineering (1969) and a Ph.D. in Systems Engineering (1973) from the University of Washington. In 1992 he founded the Institute on Energy and Man.

Posted in Where to Be or Not to Be | Leave a comment

Videos on What to Do


Chris Martenson’s Peak Prosperity:

Why the Next 20 Years Will Be Completely Unlike the Last 20. Presenting the ‘Accelerated’ Crash Course, by Adam Taggart, June 20, 2014.

Posted in Videos | Leave a comment

Limits to Growth

cartoon never run out of anything argument

Below are links or excerpts of articles about limits to growth

Scientists vindicate ‘Limits to Growth’ – urge investment in ‘circular economy’

Early warning of civilizational collapse by early to mid 21st century startlingly prescient.

Exhaustion of cheap mineral resources is terraforming Earth – scientific report.

Soaring costs of resource extraction require transition to post-industrial ‘circular economy’ to avoid collapse. 

June 4, 2014. Nafeez Ahmed. The Guardian.

A new landmark scientific report drawing on the work of the world’s leading mineral experts forecasts that industrial civilisation’s extraction of critical minerals and fossil fuel resources is reaching the limits of economic feasibility, and could lead to a collapse of key infrastructures unless new ways to manage resources are implemented.

The peer-reviewed study – the 33rd Report to the Club of Rome – is authored by Prof Ugo Bardi of the Department of Earth Sciences at the University of Florence, where he teaches physical chemistry. It includes specialist contributions from fifteen senior scientists and experts across the fields of geology, agriculture, energy, physics, economics, geography, transport, ecology, industrial ecology, and biology, among others.

The Club of Rome is a Swiss-based global think tank founded in 1968 consisting of current and former heads of state, UN bureaucrats, government officials, diplomats, scientists, economists and business leaders.

Limits to Growth–At our doorstep, but not recognized

February 6, 2014. Gail Tverberg

How long can economic growth continue in a finite world? This is the question the 1972 book The Limits to Growth by Donella Meadows sought to answer. The computer models that the team of researchers produced strongly suggested that the world economy would collapse sometime in the first half of the 21st century.

I have been researching what the real situation is with respect to resource limits since 2005. The conclusion I am reaching is that the team of 1972 researchers were indeed correct. In fact, the promised collapse is practically right around the corner, beginning in the next year or two. In fact, many aspects of the collapse appear already to be taking place, such as the 2008-2009 Great Recession and the collapse of the economies of smaller countries such as Greece and Spain. How could collapse be so close, with virtually no warning to the population?

Reaching Limits to Growth: What Should our Response Be?

February 17, 2014 Gail Tverberg

Oil limits seem to be pushing us toward a permanent downturn, including a crash in credit availability, loss of jobs, and even possible government collapse. In this process, we are likely to lose access to both fossil fuels and grid electricity. Supply chains will likely need to be very short, because of the lack of credit. This will lead to a need for the use of local materials.

Time to Wake Up: Days of Abundant Resources and Falling Prices Are Over Forever

April 29, 2011.  Jeremy Grantham, the Chief Investment Officer of GMO Capital (with over $106 billion in assets under management). Mr. Grantham began his investment career as an economist with Royal Dutch Shell and earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Sheffield (U.K.) and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. His essay, reformatted for TOD, is below the fold. (Original, on GMO Website, here)


Revisiting the Limits to Growth After Peak Oil

In the 1970s a rising world population and the finite resources available to support it were hot topics. Interest faded—but it’s time to take another look

Charles A. S. Hall and John W. Day, Jr. May-June 2009. American Scientist, Volume 97, pp 230-37.

Some excerpts from this excellent paper:

“Despite our inattention, resource depletion and population growth have been continuing relentlessly. Our general feeling is that few people think about these issues today, but even most of those who do so believe that technology and market economics have resolved the problems. The warning in The Limits to Growth —and even the more general notion of limits to growth—are seen as invalid. Even ecologists have largely shifted their attention away from resources to focus, certainly not inappropriately, on various threats to the biosphere and biodiversity. They rarely mention the basic resource/human numbers equation that was the focal point for earlier ecologists.

Although many continue to dismiss what those researchers in the 1970s wrote, there is growing evidence that the original “Cassandras” were right on the mark in their general assessments.

There is a common perception, even among knowledgeable environmental scientists, that the limits-to-growth model was a colossal failure, since obviously its predictions of extreme pollution and population decline have not come true. But what is not well known is that the original output, based on the computer technology of the time, had a very misleading feature: There were no dates on the graph between the years 1900 and 2100. If one draws a timeline along the bottom of the graph for the halfway point of 2000, then the model results are almost exactly on course some 35 years later in 2008 (with a few appropriate assumptions). Of course, how well it will perform in the future when the model behavior gets more dynamic is not yet known. Although we do not necessarily advocate that the existing structure of the limits-to-growth model is adequate for the task to which it is put, it is important to recognize that its predictions have not been invalidated and in fact seem quite on target. We are not aware of any model made by economists that is as accurate over such a long time span.

technology does not work for free. As originally pointed out in the early 1970s by Odum and Pimentel, increased agricultural yield is achieved principally through the greater use of fossil fuel for cultivation, fertilizers, pesticides, drying and so on, so that it takes some 10 calories of petroleum to generate each calorie of food that we eat. The fuel used is divided nearly equally between the farm, transport and processing, and preparation. The net effect is that roughly 19 percent of all of the energy used in the United States goes to our food system. Malthus could not have foreseen this enormous increase in food production through petroleum.

Together oil and natural gas supply nearly two-thirds of the energy used in the world, and coal another 20 percent. We do not live in an information age, or a post-industrial age, or (yet) a solar age, but a petroleum age.

Most environmental science textbooks focus far more on the adverse impacts of fossil fuels than on the implications of our overwhelming economic and even nutritional dependence on them. The failure today to bring the potential reality and implications of peak oil, indeed of peak everything, into scientific discourse and teaching is a grave threat to industrial society.

The concept of the possibility of a huge, multifaceted failure of some substantial part of industrial civilization is so completely outside the understanding of our leaders that we are almost totally unprepared for it.

There are virtually no extant forms of transportation, beyond shoe leather and bicycles, that are not based on oil, and even our shoes are now often made of oil. Food production is very energy intensive, clothes and furniture and most pharmaceuticals are made from and with petroleum, and most jobs would cease to exist without petroleum. But on our university campuses one would be hard pressed to have any sense of that beyond complaints about the increasing price of gasoline, even though a situation similar to the 1970s gas shortages seemed to be unfolding in the summer and fall of 2008 in response to three years of flat oil production, assuaged only when the financial collapse decreased demand for oil.

No substitutes for oil have been developed on anything like the scale required, and most are very poor net energy performers. Despite considerable potential, renewable sources (other than hydropower or traditional wood currently provide less than 1 percent of the energy used in both the U.S. and the world, and the annual increase in the use of most fossil fuels is generally much greater than the total production (let alone increase) in electricity from wind turbines and photovoltaics. Our new sources of “green” energy are simply increasing along with (rather than displacing) all of the traditional ones.”

Revisiting The Limits to Growth: Could The Club of Rome Have Been Correct, After All?

October 2000. Matthew R. Simmons

In the early 1970′s, a book was published entitled, The Limits To Growth, a report of the Club of Rome’s project on the predicament of mankind. Its conclusions were stunning. It was ultimately published in 30 languages and sold over 30 million copies. According to a sophisticated MIT computer model, the world would ultimately run out of many key resources. These limits would become the “ultimate” predicament to mankind.

Over the past few years, I have heard various energy economists lambast this “erroneous” work done. Often the book has been portrayed as the literal “poster child” of misinformed “Malthusian” type thinking that misled so many people into believing the world faced a short mania 30 years ago. Obviously, there were no “The Limits To Growth”. The worry that shortages would rule the day as we neared the end of the 20th Century became a bad joke. Instead of shortages, the last two decades of the 20th Century were marked by glut. The world ended up enjoying significant declines in almost all commodity prices. Technology and efficiency won. The Club of Rome and its “nay-saying” disciples clearly lost!

The critics of this flawed work still relish in pointing out how wrong this theory turned out to be. A Foreign Affairs story published this past January, entitled Cheap Oil, forecast two decades of a pending oil glut. In this article, the Club of Rome’s work was scorned as being the source document which led an entire generation of wrong-thinking people to believe that energy supplies would run short. In this Foreign Affairs report, the authors stated, “….the “sky-is-falling school of oil forecasters has been systematically wrong for more than a generation.

What the Limits to Growth Actually Said

After reading The Limits to Growth, I was amazed. Nowhere in the book was there any mention about running out of anything by 2000. Instead, the book’s concern was entirely focused on what the world might look like 100 years later. There was not one sentence or even a single word written about an oil shortage, or limit to any specific resource, by the year 2000.

The group all shared a common concern that mankind faced a future predicament of grave complexity, caused by a series of interrelated problems that traditional institutions and policy would not be able to cope with the issues, let alone come to grips with their full context. A core thesis of their work was that long term exponential growth was easy to overlook. Human nature leads people to innocently presume growth rates are linear. The book then postulated that if a continuation of the exponential growth of the seventies began in the world’s population, its industrial output, agricultural and natural resource consumption and the pollution produced by all of the above, would result in severe constraints on all known global resources by 2050 to 2070.

The first conclusion was a view that if present growth trends continued unchanged, a limit to the growth that our planet has enjoyed would be reached sometime within the next 100 years. This would then result in a sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.

The second key conclusion was that these growth trends could be altered. Moreover, if proper alterations were made, the world could establish a condition of “ecological stability” that would be sustainable far into the future.

The third conclusion was a view that the world could embark on this second path, but the sooner this effort started, the greater the chance would be of achieving this “ecologically stable” success.


Excerpts from: Carolyn Lochhead. 4 Jan 2014. Critics question desirability of relentless economic growth. San Francisco Chronicle.

“We are approaching the planet’s limitations. So when I see the media barrage about buying more stuff, it’s almost like a science fiction movie where .. we are undermining the very ecological systems which allow life to continue, but no one’s allowed to talk about it.”  Annie Leonard, founder of the Story of Stuff project, a Berkeley-based effort to curb mass consumption.

Ecologists warn that economic growth is strangling the natural systems on which life depends, creating not just wealth, but filth on a planetary scale. Carbon pollution is changing the climate. Water shortages, deforestation, tens of millions of acres of land too polluted to plant, and other global environmental ills are increasingly viewed as strategic risks by governments and corporations around the world.

Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily

As the world economy grows relentlessly, ecologists warn that nature’s ability to absorb wastes and regenerate natural resources is being exhausted. “We’re driving natural capital to its lowest levels ever in human history,” Daily said.

The physical pressure that human activities put on the environment can’t possibly be sustained,” said Stanford University ecologist Gretchen Daily, who is at the forefront of efforts across the world to incorporate “natural capital,” the value of such things as water, topsoil and genetic diversity that nature provides, into economic decision-making.

For example, scientists estimate that commercial fishing, if it continues at the present rate, will exhaust fisheries within the lifetime of today’s children. The global “by-catch” of discarded birds, turtles, and other marine animals alone has reached at least 20 million tons a year.

Mainstream economists universally reject the concept of limiting growth.

As Larry Summers, a former adviser to President Obama, once put it, “The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit is a profound error, and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs.”

Since World War II, the overarching goal of U.S. policy under both parties has been to keep the economy growing as fast as possible. Growth is seen as the base cure for every social ill, from poverty and unemployment to a shrinking middle class.  Last month, Obama offered a remedy to widening income inequality: “We’ve got to grow the economy even faster.”

U. C. Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Richard Norgaard: We don’t have to have a free-market economy

Economies are not fixed and unchangeable.  The United States had a centrally planned economy in World War II, then a mixed Cold War economy that built the Interstate Highway System and established social welfare programs like Medicare. Today’s more free-market economy took root in the 1980s.

“Economies aren’t natural,” Norgaard said. “We build them to do what we need to do, and we built the economy we have.”




Cassandra’s curse: how “The Limits to Growth” was demonized

March 9, 2008, Ugo Bardi

In 1972, the LTG study arrived in a world that had known more than two decades of unabated growth after the end of the Second World War. It was a time of optimism and faith in technological progress that, perhaps, had never been so strong in the history of humankind. With nuclear power on the rise, with no hint that mineral resources were scarce, with population growing fast, it seemed that the limits to growth, if such a thing existed, were so far away in the future that there was no reason to worry. In any case, even if these limits were closer than generally believed, didn’t we have technology to save us? With nuclear energy on the rise, a car in every garage, the Moon just conquered in 1968, the world seemed to be all set for a shiny future. Against that general feeling, the results of LTG were a shock.
The LTG study had everything that was needed to become a major advance in science. It came from a prestigious institution, the MIT; it was sponsored by a group of brilliant and influential intellectuals, the Club of Rome; it used the most modern and advanced computation techniques and, finally, the events that were taking place a few years after publication, the great oil crisis of the 1970s, seemed to confirm the vision of the authors. Yet, the study failed in generating a robust current of academic research and, a couple of decades after the publication, the general opinion about it had completely changed. Far from being considered the scientific revolution of the century, in the 1990s LTG had become everyone’s laughing stock. Little more than the rumination of a group of eccentric (and probably slightly feebleminded) professors who had really thought that the end of the world was near. In short, Chicken Little with a computer.
With time, the debate veered more and more on the political side. In 1997, the Italian economist Giorgio Nebbia, noted that the reaction against the LTG study had arrived from at least four different fronts. One was from those who saw the book as a threat to the growth of their businesses and industries. A second set was that of professional economists, who saw LTG as a threat to their dominance in advising on economic matters. The Catholic world provided further ammunition for the critics, being piqued at the suggestion that overpopulation was one of the major causes of the problems. Then, the political left in the Western World saw the LTG study as a scam of the ruling class, designed to trick workers into believing that the proletarian paradise was not a practical goal. And this by Nebbia is a clearly incomplete list; forgetting religious fundamentalists, the political right, the believers in infinite growth, politicians seeking for easy solutions to all problems and many others. – See more at:
Posted in Limits To Growth | Leave a comment

Earth’s Magnetic Flips May Have Triggered Mass Extinctions

Earth’s Magnetic Flips May Have Triggered Mass Extinctions

At several times in Earth’s history, mass extinctions have come close to wiping life out altogether. The reasons for these catastrophes are still unclear – they’ve been blamed on everything from asteroid impacts to cosmic ray blasts. But a new study has found that our planet itself could have a surprising hand in these disasters.

Research recently published in Earth and Planetary Science Letters suggests that reversals of the Earth’s magnetic field may have sparked mass extinctions in the past by stripping oxygen from the atmosphere.

Field Flips

607968main_geomagnetic-field-orig_fullThe Earth’s natural magnetic field, generated in the liquid outer core, spontaneously changes direction every 500,000 years or so. Known as geomagnetic reversals, these processes cause the field’s north and south poles to swap places.

Normally, the Earth’s magnetic field acts like a shield around the atmosphere, protecting it from the damaging effects of the solar wind (the supersonic stream of charged particles emitted by the sun​). During a geomagnetic reversal, however, the field weakens dramatically, exposing the atmosphere to the full force of the solar wind – and causing oxygen ions to be stripped off into space.

This much was already known. But in the recent study, a team led by Yong Wei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences set out to discover if the oxygen lost during geomagnetic reversals could bring about mass extinctions.

It had long been known that mass extinctions are often accompanied by both an increase in the rate of geomagnetic reversals and a decrease in atmospheric oxygen levels (one of the potential drivers of mass extinctions). The researchers’ goal was to determine if geomagnetic reversals could actually have caused such oxygen loss – and therefore potentially have caused mass extinctions, too.

Oxygen Depletion

Wei and colleagues focused on the “Triassic-Jurassic” mass extinction of 200m years ago, in which up to 84% of all species on Earth perished. Independent studies had already shown that, during this extinction, the geomagnetic reversal rate doubled, and the amount of atmospheric oxygen simultaneously dropped by 9 percent. This oxygen drop is one of the possible reasons for the extinction.

Using a computer model, Wei and his team concluded that geomagetic reversals stripped at least 218 trillion tons of oxygen from the Earth’s atmosphere during the Triassic-Jurassic extinction – or 4.5 percent of the total amount. This indicates that at least half of the 9 percent oxygen drop that occurred during the extinction could have been caused by geomagnetic reversals alone – more than enough, the study’s authors say, to have played a major role in the die-off.

This theory may explain even deadlier mass extinctions. Study coauthor Markus Fraenz of the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research said that the oxygen loss caused by geomagnetic reversals could also have caused the end-Permian mass extinction (also known as the “Great Dying”), in which up to 97% of all species were wiped out.

Perhaps then, alongside the meteoric collisions, supernovae explosions and volcanic eruptions – which have variously been proposed to explain mass extinctions – it’s time to add another suspect. The invisible fluctuations of a physical field might not be as cinematic, but their consequences throughout history may have been just as dire.

Posted in Extinction | Comments Off