Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I have been trying to understand the inaction worldwide to the convergence of various issues facing humanity and the earth today – population overshoot, clean water shortage, climate change, fossil fuel depletion, mining the last dregs of oil and natural gas, ocean acidification, ocean rising, species extinction, massive environmental degradation of life support systems, soil denaturing and loss, inequality, continual war to name a few important ones.

The quick and dirty.  There are no viable solutions unless everyone, I mean everyone, reduces their energy consumption, non-fuel mineral use, birthrate and pollution of air, water and soil.  This ain’t gonna happen!

We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us.  We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to continue on this path.   And if we don’t have the energy level we see others have, we will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people and even to ourselves to attain that level.  The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.
From: The Curmudgeon Report

Many parents work hard to assure their children’s future.  Many if asked would give their lives for their children and grandchildren. If a culture/society is at threat from outside forces, starvation or environmental stress, this support for the next generations falls by the wayside.  However, in general, mothers, fathers and grandparents will protect the future of their offspring.

We are surrounded by a litany of threats to the future - fracking, deep ocean drilling, tar sands; pollution from mountain top removal, destruction of natural resources, dying oceans, climate disasters of epic proportions, dangers of genetic engineering; corporate control, and population overshoot to name a few of the less subtle. Some would have more technology to combat these problems or at best forestall them.
“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
Albert Einstein

For citizens of developed nations, this is about lifestyle – energy and other resource consumption – will we change our lifestyle for the children and grandchildren’s future?  NO.

And now for a rousing chorus of “Yes, but” from all the morally and ethically indignant.  .  .
There is no legitimate “Yes, but .  .  . 
You can’t get there (wherever there is) from here!

If we don’t do this equitably globally, there will be riots and revolts.  Oh, we aren’t even beginning to do it equitably.  Oh, there are riots and revolts. 

This from a friend:  I asked her how she handles her impact of the earth.  This is a person who has lived off the grid for decades. She is a major and very knowledgeable gardener.  Makes maple syrup, cans, splits wood, and has done this for decades. She is an amazingly capable person and is wonderfully honest and sincere.

Hi John, to try to answer your question.....I can't and don't want to live a life in a "cave". To totally disconnect from society, which is pretty much what you would have to do to live without any use of fossil fuels, is something I wouldn't be able to do. To give up driving, never seeing some of my children or grandchildren is not something I'm willing to do. Do I realize I am contributing to greenhouse gas when I drive or God forbid, fly? Yes. How do I wrap my head around that fact that I am not fixing the world? That I am adding to the problems of the world? I try to make good decision when I use resources. Example, I don't go to town for just one thing....usually. Try to combine chores. I feel good that I have renewable energy on our house...sure it took mining to get the products to create the panels but what is the alternative?.....coal fire power plant for my lights (and etc etc) or sit in a cave? I guess I'm choosing the lesser of two evils. I'm far from being perfect! but I feel the work I've done, and the life style I've chosen to live is respectable. I hope it has done some good...some where or for someone. I try to give back more than I take.....but that is very debatable if scrutinized carefully. I guess I'm saying I'm doing the best I can with the talents I have. And when the hammer comes down???? I guess I'll play it by ear. And be on the team that tries to help others and carry on/survive/ remake a life....and not be on the marauders team. Almost everything we do involves fossil fuels. I'm going to the eye doctor tomorrow....burn gas to get there...she'll exam my eyes with equipment that took fossil fuels to make. I'll probably have to get new glasses that took fossil fuels to make. Not to mention the education the doctor got....all the resources involved in that.... But what is the alternative?...stumble through life? Not be a very full functioning person?  Like I said before doing the best I can...trying not to be too lazy, too blinded, too indifferent. Not really denial....not really who gives a f--- but....       Marcia

From me.
Marcia - I would have answer with similar reasons.  I would add:
1. I enjoy the power that my world affords me.  I know it makes me at the top of the heap energywise.  I know it entails a certain sense of privilege.  
2.  I enjoy the comfort my world affords me.  Even when I lived off-off-the grid, I was still floating on top of a sea and bed of fossil fuels that made it possible.  I wasn't initially aware of that but it slowly dawned on me.
3. I enjoy preparing for the eventuality of climate and peak change.  I know deep in my gut that it won't be pleasant and know that there is not a damn thing I can do to change it.  And there never was, it is the nature of the beast (life that is) see:
4. I have had quality medicine and medical. I would not be alive without them.
5. Relatively safe food, clean water and access to them.
6. I feel I have been blessed with living in the age I have and where I have.  Life has been open with many possibilities.  My generation may well be the last to have such access.
7. All of the above and I am truly at the end of life for myself.  And am having a ball.

We are on a trajectory that simply is what it is.  All studies show this is what happens to "civilizations".  It just has never been this global and consequently this dire.
It is tough for you and Kathy (my partner), with children and grandchildren that you love and would do anything for, to realize the inertia of this train we are on.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Reality again

I know I have spent lots time on this subject.  We continue to be barraged by academic types with pencil and paper that think we can maintain our way of life using "renewables".   I am challenging this illusion that we can maintain BAU with “renewables” both at the level of needed energy and without further devastation of the environment (our true life support system).
When looking at the constraints to solar pv (actually all “renewables”) there are many ways to approach it.
  1. It is possible to prorate the energy of the infrastructure used to generate the devices that capture the sun or wind.  For those wishing to increase the ERoEI of the various “renewables” this is one illusion.  However, and a big however, there is a front-end cost of energy on a massive scale.  There is not just the energy to make the devices but the energy used to make the machines (engines, tires, electronics, etc), the chemicals, the refineries (aluminum, copper, rare minerals, etc) and other technologic inputs that are the infrastructure that supports the making the materials that go into the solar and wind devices.  That is why I call the essay machines making machines making machines.
  2. Included, but standing alone, is the water necessary for all processes to make all this infrastructure in addition to what is used to make the solar and wind devices.       See: Water for energy: Is energy becoming a thirstier resource? WEO_2012_Water_Excerpt.pdf
  3. Included, but also standing alone, is the enormous environmental degradation (water, air, soil, biological diversity) associated both with the making of the infrastructure, the operation of the infrastructure and the making of the materials that go into solar and wind devices.
  4. In addition, the solar and wind devices do not stand alone, they have necessary supporting hardware – inverters, controllers, batteries, cables, monitoring instrumentation, etc – that will not last 25 years and must turn to the fossil fuel supply system to replace the supporting devices.    These auxiliary equipment manufacturing have water and environmental consequences also.
  5. Because renewables will never replace themselves as a horse or oak tree does, once they need replacing including the auxiliary support equipment there will not be the fossil fuel energy to accomplish this especially if it is 25 years down the road.
  6. Even if the solar and wind devices could generate enough energy to replace themselves (and the required infrastructure) they will then need more excess energy to build the equipment that we want to have the electricity for in the first place (radios, vacuum cleaners, water pumps, etc.) Not going to happen.
  7. Given the above “renewable” devices are not green, are not “renewable” like the sun and wind, and are not sustainable.
  8. Given the above, with the reliance on fossil fuels to build the infrastructure and then generate the materials to create the devices to capture the sun and wind, so-called renewables support fracking, tar sands, deep ocean drilling and mountain top removal for coal.
  9. On top of all this the ERoEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) of photovoltaics is seriously low Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment by Prieto, Pedro A., Hall, Charles  2013.           Energy in Australia: Peak Oil, Solar Power, and Asia's Economic Growth (SpringerBriefs in Energy / Energy Analysis) by Graham Palmer                                                                                                            I don’t have actual energy data for the infrastructure that must be in place to create the devices that capture the sun and wind.  There are as indicated research papers on ERoEI of various “renewables” but they don’t directly assess the information on the infrastructure energy.  I use the quote below to indicate what is required to maintain the lifestyle we are privileged to enjoy and wish wo maintain at all costs.                                                                                         From: “Scientific American” Volume 308, Issue 4   Will Fossil Fuels Be Able to Maintain Economic Growth? A Q&A with Charles Hall
What happens when the EROI gets too low? What’s achievable at different EROIs?
If you've got an EROI of 1.1:1, you can pump the oil out of the ground and look at it. If you've got 1.2:1, you can refine it and look at it. At 1.3:1, you can move it to where you want it and look at it. We looked at the minimum EROI you need to drive a truck, and you need at least 3:1 at the wellhead. Now, if you want to put anything in the truck, like grain, you need to have an EROI of 5:1. And that includes the depreciation for the truck. But if you want to include the depreciation for the truck driver and the oil worker and the farmer, then you've got to support the families. And then you need an EROI of 7:1. And if you want education, you need 8:1 or 9:1. And if you want health care, you need 10:1 or 11:1.

From my perspective, the government already has misused money supporting “renewables” in the mistaken belief that they are green, renewable and sustainable.  There is a whole bureaucracy whose sole existence and salary depends on this belief. Those who think the government is going to come through and make major commitment to “renewables” (which I don’t support for the above reasons) have missed what has happen overtly to the United States of America in the last thirty years.  (actually from the beginning but don’t tell the history teachers)

Continuing down the path of proselytizing for “renewables” is simply more of the same – business as usual under a high tech guise.  It creates a false hope that will trap us further.  It really is ethnocentric from the point of view of the so-called developed world because that family in Bangladesh will not be getting their pv panels any time soon. 

Many are clinging to a hope that this magnificient (yet earth killing) lifestyle we are privileged to enjoy can some how be maintained at some level.  Not going to happen because of energy, climate, population, soil, water, oceans, and war.

This essay speaks to the issues we must address to survive as a species;

We must work towards an energy use not high tech at all.   The longer we wait to accept the truth, the more devastating will the consequences be environmentally but especially socially and psychologically.

Here are examples of the equipment needed to mine the materials for solar and wind devices.  Look at the fuel use on the diesel/electric truck. 

There was a great show on the Komatsu 930e

To extract precious metals found beneath the earth requires a massive 232-ton, two-story-tall dump truck with a load capacity of 320 tons — a giant earth-mover like the Komatsu 930E. This amazing engineering achievement is made possible by five essential raw ingredients: coal, chromium, mineral oil, latex rubber and sulphuric acid, an electron superhighway that generates massive power.
“Raw to Ready” on PBS
Runtime: 54 minutes
Original air date: October 16, 2013

Friday, February 7, 2014

Solar Investing?

This is another editorial I have sent.

A new scientific study shows it takes years to payback the energy used in solar electric devices. EROI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested) says it takes energy – mining, drilling, refining, transporting, installing, maintenance, and replacement parts – to make the devices necessary to capture solar energy. 
Spain’s Photovoltaic Revolution: The Energy Return on Investment by Prieto, Pedro A., Hall, Charles  2013.

This book presents the first complete energy analysis of a large-scale, real-world deployment of photovoltaic (PV) collection systems representing 3.5 GW of installed, grid-connected solar plants in Spain.  Prieto and Hall conclude that the EROI of solar photovoltaic is only 2.45, very low despite Spain’s ideal sunny climate.  Germany’s EROI is probably 20 to 33% less (1.6 to 2), due to less sunlight and efficient rooftop installations.

“Solar advocates can learn from this analysis . . . “  Not looking at the reality of EROI “is not good science and leads to wasted money and energy that could have been better spent preparing more wisely for declining fossil fuels in the future.”

This study does not detail the environmental destructive mining, toxic chemicals or air and water pollution necessary to get the materials for manufacturing and installing solar devices.  It is the sun not the devices that is renewable, green and sustainable.

Sometimes the truth doesn’t set you free; it simply creates denial for short-term fun or profit.

Invest in solar now while we still have the fossil fuels from fracking, deep water drilling, Canadian tar sands and mountain top removal for coal.  Then we can have the massive trucks, large refineries, huge manufacturing facilities for glass, aluminum, copper, and photovoltaic cells that are necessary for these high tech, temporary solutions.  Don’t let true science or concern about the earth’s future stand in your way.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI)

Energy Return on Energy Invested (ERoEI) shapes our lives.  ERoEI says it takes energy – mining, drilling, refining, transporting – to get the energy we use.

“The EROI for oil in the US during the heydays of oil development in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana in the 1930s was about 100 returned for one invested.  .  .  . declining to about 20:1 in the first half decade of the 2000s.”

The shale oil ERoEI is around 1 to 5; this is the minimum needed to maintain life as we know it.  However, the decline rate of an individual well in the region is very high, and thus the industry has to continue to drill wells at a rapid rate, just to replace the decline.
“From Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll: Red Queen ‘It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place’ "

Presently the estimated breakeven price for the “average” well in the Bakken formation in North Dakota is $80 - $90/Bbl.   In plain language this means that presently the commercial profitability for new wells is barely positive.
The “average” well now yields around 85,000 Bbls during the first 12 months of production and then experiences a year over year decline of 40% (+/-) 2% .

Here are some ERoEI calculations for selected energies.
EROI (for US)    Fuel
1.3          Biodiesel
3.0          Bitumen tar sands
1.3          Ethanol corn
6.8          Photovoltaic
5.0    Shale oil
1.6    Solar collector
1.9    Solar flat plate
18.0 Wind

This study puts photovoltaics much lower and is the most recent and peer reviewed.

It is important to understand that the “renewable” energies like wind use lots of fossil fuels to mine, process, manufacture, transport, assemble and do multiple maintenances during the year.  They have an estimated 20-year life span.  Where will the energy come from to manufacture the next batch?  They do not reproduce themselves like a horse or an oak tree.

The way it works is you give me $20 and I give you $1 in return for 20 years.  Of course, if there is inflation (part replacement) then I must adjust my payment to you accordingly.

We must aim for a simpler lifestyle.  I know I am whistling into the wind but it is not my world but yours and if have children, your children's.  

Even the electricity from the Becker, Minnesota, plant requires not just coal but diesel to run the huge trucks, scoops for mining and three 100 car trains to bring the coal. 

Here is just one of the trucks used for coal and copper.  Copper being critical for the way we live.  It is one of the smaller ones.
MT5500 statistics include a gross vehicle weight of over 1,100,000 pounds. The truck
is 46 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 24 feet tall. The MT5500 house's a 16 cylinder,
3000 horsepower engine requiring 264 quarts of oil and consumes fuel at the rate of
137 gallons per engine/hour. 21/2 Gallons a minute or over 1 Gallon every 30
seconds !

Easily accessible oil peaked in 2005.  We now are finding only the hardest to retrieve and lowest ERoEI in the oceans, the artic, in shale, in tar sands.  It endangers the environment now and for your grandchildren’s future.

We will do anything and everything to maintain our present personal level of energy use and the comfort it affords us.  We will do anything and everything to the earth, to other people, and even to ourselves to continue on this path. The proof of this assertion is simple; we are doing it.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013


Got these off Google Earth.  May 2003.
Click on the pictures for an enlarged view




Sunday, December 22, 2013

Serious Overcharge

Well, an interesting update.  I received another bill for $220 for medication that Medicare and Medica would not pay. 

I got a list of the medications and what the hospital was charging me.  I developed an Excel spreadsheet with their charges, the charges at the local pharmacy and the percentage difference.  At the pharmacy, it would have been $7.55.  

I sent all this information with a cover letter to the hospital administrator along with a check for $15.10 - wanted them to have a profit.  J 

I received a call from the chief financial officer.  They were accepting my check as payment in full.  He apologized for the cost of the meds and explained that the price I found from my retail pharmacy was the price they paid also.  He said they were looking into how to reduce their charges.    Hummmmmm.

I was pleased.

I have sent this to multiple newspapers and my senators and representative.  We need serious grass root movements to undo the power of corporations. 

In September, I went for a stress test at St. Joseph Hospital in Brainerd, MN.  My breathing is poor because of previous lung cancer so my performance was poor.  The nurse gave me a nitro pill.  She walked three paces to a cabinet, got the pill, put it in a little white cup, came back and gave it to me. 

The charge for the ONE pill was $41.50.  At my regular pharmacy, they cost me $1.25 a piece.  I am sure my pharmacy is making a profit at $1.25.

This is atrocious. There is simply no way that there is $40 worth of effort to get that pill.  Unless of course that was a very expensive little, white cup.

Of course, the hospital will simply ignore my concerns.  They will dog me with collections. They have all the power.

This is why our insurance is so high.  It is time our elected state and federal senators and representatives do something about this.  They still are working for us, aren’t they?

It is tough enough having to go to the hospital.  Going to the hospital should not involve me having to battle for reasonable prices.  It is stressful for any of us. 

John Weber

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Hammer looking for a Nail

A local man and friend wants to bring “Gardening for Decades” to the schools along with a mock up of a solar home with panels of various kinds.  He works for a local organization that has as an auxiliary a manufacturer of solar hot air panels and an installer of solar electric panels.  The main man funding all this made big money with an invention.  He is now working on fusion. 

I told my friend whom I have known for many years that I was afraid he was creating false hopes among the young.

Thanks for your honesty and concern.  "Gardening for decades" I feel has value.  The reality is that very few small and medium farms are making a profit, let alone a living wage, yet many continue to try. False hope is definitely not what we are looking to create, but your knowledge of whole systems could be very valuable, I believe.

Maybe we can get together and discuss.

My Answer

I have several essays that I would suggest you read since I have covered some of this material already. (see end of this message)   I don’t believe it will make any difference.  There are those who believe technology will “save us”.  To me they are simply “business as usual” proponents who do not look at the whole system of energy and other resources necessary for the “saving”. 

This is the tale of the technologist/cornucopian.  

  “.   .   .   Abraham Kaplan’s.  .  . : "I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding."  .  .   .  also been called the law of the hammer, attributed both to Maslow and to Kaplan.”
I heard it, when you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

In the 70s, I was at a debate where Dean Abrahamson, a physicists and physician at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, trashed the proponents of nuclear power.  A man sitting next to be was actually crying.  I asked him what was the matter.  He said, “I work for GE making nuclear power plants, this is how I feed my family.”

There is much to be addressed in the unintended consequences of technology and in the blind use of technology without total system consideration.  Having said that I continue to tilt at windmills.

I agree, "Gardening for decades" not only has value; it is a necessity.  I do not see this as “business as usual” simply absorbing gardening as another activity like golf or travel agent or wind generator technician.   For me, sustainability means the majority of us (globally) will need to be horticulturalist and practice animal husbandry.  

However, if “gardening for decades” is high towers and hydroponics and solar collectors heating the ground – then, to me, this is industrial gardening and not in anyway, shape or form sustainable.  This could be among my concerns of creating false hope.

It is the sustainability that I challenge.  How we live now is not sustainable – not physically and not psychologically.   It is a finite earth.  The present bright light - both literally from fossil fuels and metaphorically from human creativity - is simply too glaring in its need for resources and continued consumption.  Not only is this not sustainable; it threatens the very ecosystem that sustains life including our own – oceans, rivers, underground water, air, nuclear releases, human made chemical envelopment, overpopulation fostered by fossil fuel energy and its products (overshoot), invasive genetic manipulation, warming climate to name a few of the converging harms. 

As an aside, if fusion should be developed, what will stop it from continuing the trashing of the earth?  How will we assess the unintended consequences? This is more “business as usual”  (BAU)  For me the best place for fusion is 93 million miles away on the sun. 

Most looking at sustainability would address the physical needs -daily, seasonal and generational - to arrive at a sustainable way of being.  This is a question of materials and technology.   My belief is that we must also address the social/psychological questions, or all the technological adjustments in the world will only result across time (considered in generations not millenniums) with “same old, same old”. 

We are the biggest hurdle we face.  Without a resolution, I address this at the end of the essay.

Physically, our lifestyle/lifeway will need to be at a lesser level of energy consumption; a lesser level of nonfuel mineral consumption such as copper, iron, aluminum, rare minerals, phosphorus and many others for a non-brutish, yet simple lifestyle.

Envision this gardeningway - what physical tools are needed?  Hoes, shovels, cultivators, wagons, pumps, .  .  .  .
For each of these tools, we need to be able to answer the questions about what resources and energy sources are available to make them?   We need to ask the question what is the infrastructure that makes these tools available?  If you have steel, is it straight from ore or is it recycled?  Is that recycling via remelting and fabricating?   Or is it recycling by mining today’s trash and adapting the given shapes to needs?   What energy is needed to accomplish either of these approaches?  What quantity can be made?  Quality? 

How will the land be replenished?  If it is three-field rotation, how much land per person, family, group is needed for long term sustainability?  There must be a community of people to trade and interact.  Even more important, there must be many communities that are not human or human dominated.  In space and time, these need to be multiples of each human community.  We must not mine them for food, other energy or other minerals. 

What animals will be incorporated in the whole system as was done on farms of old?   All the questions of similar ilk for animal husbandry.   

How will we transport things?  How will we work the land?  How fast do we need to go?  A human and a horse walk around 3 mph.  How much “horse power” do we need?  What is the motive force?

Water???   How – a well?  Irrigation for the garden? 

There is one study out of Stanford University that says we can meet all our energy needs with “renewables” by 2030.  They do not really look at the whole system – infrastructure to make and continue making.   They also propose 50% from wind by 2030 which would entail if started in 2012 – 24 massive wind machines built and installed every hour, 24 hours a day for 18 years.  They argue (I had a lengthy email discussion with one of the authors) that we do that with automobiles.  Talk about more trashing of the environment.

If all of these concerns are not part of the equation, then technologically, I believe you are selling pipe dreams (not necessarily with a pipe but for me certainly myopic and a fantasy for the future).

However, the technology for the future is not our main problem.  The conundrum facing us is our own human/natural selves. There are at least five natural factors that determine and will continue to determine our history and future.
* All life reproduces to the maximum that their environment allows (this is population density).
* All life will use all the resources in its environment to promote its present living (this is population pressure).
* Much of life manifests an ‘us against them’ protectionism (even plants release poisons to the soil to protect their territory).  This is not conflict for physical resources but also political and religious beliefs.  This is the convergence of territoriality (which is manifest by all life) and the need to belong for this dependently social animal called human.
* We are immersed in an environment of our own making and our "brilliance" threatens us with unintended consequences (whether agriculture, human-made chemicals in the water or nuclear power).
* Groups larger than the small group of 30 to 200 people, which is the social environment in which we evolved for a million years, creates power-over and inequality.
These five factors are a natural part of life and being human. For more detailed exposition:

As a psychologist, I must add – once we deal with these five issues, we must then deal with the idiosyncrasies and “wounds” of individuals because family and culture inevitably shape us.  To paraphrase Arno Gruen, “to be born human is to be born into a dangerous situation because no one knows what they are doing.”  From Betrayal of the Self.

Here is a piece I wrote several decades ago:

If humanity were seen as a person who is 100 years old, the first 99 years of her life would have been spent as gatherer and hunter.  She would have only one year to adapt to the changes in family structure, living arrangements, child rearing and all the other pressures and stresses that the shift to agriculture brought.  This same 100-year-old person would have five or six days to adapt to the enormous changes brought about by the industrial revolution.   And less than a day to adapt to the mass of information made available by electronics.
Each adaptation moves us further away from the original social and physical environment of our emergence.  Is it bad or wrong?  This is not the criterion.  There is no fault.  Each accommodation comes from necessity and is the best we know at the time.  At the leading edge of human history is an accumulation that expands and deepens the knowledge of our travels.

“.  .  . it is easy to take up technics; it is almost impossible to lay them down.”
Introduction written by Frederick Wilhelmsen to The Failure of Technology by Frederich Jueger.  1956. pg. Viii.

“How you gonna keep them down on the farm once they have seen Paree?”

This is my concern – it is the hammer concern.  If you teach the young people that this technology will allow them to live a certain way, for me you are inadvertently and without malice misleading them.