Monday, October 31, 2011

Optimism versus Ignorance

This was written by a friend and I think it is well done and very instructive. Visit her website.

John Weber

Optimism versus Ignorance

Posted on October 26, 2011 by energyskeptic

When it comes to scientific topics like peak oil and climate change, are people’s opinions based on optimism, or ignorance? Does optimism prevent people from even
obtaining the information that would make them less optimistic?

To answer this, consider what it took for me to become aware of peak oil, peak resources, and climate change:

1) Being curious about many topics

2) Majoring in biology with a chemistry/physics minor

3) Becoming involved in alternate technology groups when I was in college during the first energy crisis

4) Continuing to read about science after I graduated

5) Understanding the scientific method – how we know what we know –how else can you tell truth from falsehood?

6) Critical thinking skills (especially via Skeptic and other magazines devoted to this

7) A hell of a lot of bedrock knowledge to evaluate new information.

8) Getting bedrock knowledge, “a big picture view”, from (systems) ecology, evolution,
cognitive science, cosmology, biology, agriculture, engineering, soil science, medicine and health, economics (history of & natural capital), etc.

9) Willing to continue despite having cherished notions crushed – it’s like finding Santa
doesn’t exist over and over again.

10) Willing to continue despite the very negative feedback from friends and family who thought I was nuts and unrealistic (pessimistic) see “Telling Others

11) Having time to read: no children, reading a lot while commuting (including while walking back and forth to work 10 miles a day).

12) Reading BOOKS, which connect the dots (of articles). People who are too busy to get new information beyond TV sound bites will never understand anything important.

13) It takes a lot of reading to really understand a topic. For example, to understand how soil affects plant growth, I spent 3 years reading soil science textbooks, peer-reviewed articles, and college-level courses before I knew enough to write just the soil sections within “Peak Soil

14) Knowing where and how to find the very small amount of information that contradicts all the positive press releases and articles

15) Reading Grandpa’s autobiography “Memories of an Unrepentant Field Geologist”, where I discovered he was a good friend of someone called M. King Hubbert who predicted
there’d be a peak in oil production, and doing an interent search on Hubbert.

I still wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t found peak oil internet forums from my “Hubbert” search in #15 above, and found forums like energyresources and runningonempty), where I found out about books like Youngquist’s “Geodestinies”, Gever’s “Beyond
Oil”, Hayden’s “Solar Fraud”, and Trainer’s “Renewable energy cannot sustain a
consumer society”. The Bay Area reads more books per capita than anywhere else in the United States, yet these books never appeared in any bookstore in the Bay Area, let alone books by Charles hall, David Pimentel, and others too numerous to mention (see my book list ). Some of these books are at the University of California, Berkeley library, the 3rd largest university library system in the United States, and I’m often the only person or one of several to have read them! But I would have never stumbled on them in the vast stacks, and I didn’t even know until about 6 years ago that the public has access to these libraries for $100 a year.

It’s still very hard to find this kind information that contradicts positive articles because negative scientific results are often not published and publishers explicitly state in their guidelines they won’t publish pessimistic books (they’re hard to sell).

I continue to find new information in internet forms, but also by reading Science, Nature, and other peer-reviewd journals, as well as the books recommended (Science only publishes their long list of books received online).

Then there’s the “bop-a-mole” problem. Pimentel, Patzek, Hall, many others, and I
(Peak Soil) have explained why plant-based fuel can never replace oil for
dozens of reasons — from topsoil depletion and compression, EROEI, composting or
combustion of the biomaterial in storage, weather preventing harvest,
eutrophication of waterways from fertilizers to grow crops, not enough water to
grow plants, energy to collect and deliver biomass to biorefinery, energy to
deliver biofuel to customer, and hunger (in my paper I have a caption of “Do
you want to eat, drink, or drive?”).

It seemed like there was actually some effect – scientific researchers
vowed to stay away from corn ethanol and pursue cellulosic ethanol or butanol from non-food crops. Though that still doesn’t get around all the other problems listed above. But never mind, science researchers got hundreds of millions in funding from BP and other sources, and I think that quietly they’re more looking at how to use plants to replace chemicals and the other 500,000 products made with oil as a component than for fuel.

Just because the corn mole was bopped down doesn’t keep the other moles from popping up. Especially annoying is the algal biofuel mole (see 38 reasons Algae will never replace oil ).

Or consider all the positive information that constantly is published about solar, wind, and other energy that would generate electric power. Before you can begin to understand why these articles are too optimistic, you have to keep in mind while reading them that

1) our problem is oil, which accounts for 99% of transportation

2) that the electric grid is falling apart and needs at least $2 trillion in expansion to balance the alternative energy load

3) that the grid can only handle so much intermittent power which has to be balanced by more and more natural gas peaker plants (and natural gas is finite despite all the fracking)

4) that some of the rare metals required are depleting faster than fossil fuels

5) that at best these energy resources can augment fossil fuels, but once oil is gone, they’ll vanish too, because these sources aren’t capable of reproducing
themselves: They don’t generate enough energy to mine the rock, crush the ore,
fabricate the metal, maintain themselves (especially windmills which start to break down more and more often after about 2 years), build the roads and vehicles to transport the device to remote locations, feed / house / educate / fuel the cars of the employees
involved from birth to death involved in this entire process, etc.

I think that it’s okay people don’t understand the situation we’re in because there’s nothing that can be done, we’ve so way, way, way overshot carrying capacity locally, regionally, and globally. If people did realize the real situation, the financial system would have already collapsed when Science announced peak oil happened sometime in 2005 and the IEA said peak happened in 2006. That means our economy can’t grow endlessly and the entire credit/debts-payed-off system no longer works. As long as people think other kinds of energy will seamlessly replace oil and don’t know how much their lives depend on oil, civilization continues, and when it crashes, will crash that much harder and faster, perhaps our only hope of preventing our extinction (and millions of other species).

I think that it’s okay people don’t understand the situation we’re in because there’s nothing that can be done, we’ve so way, way, way overshot carrying capacity locally, regionally, and globally. If people did realize the real situation, the financial system would have already collapsed when Science announced peak oil happened sometime in 2005 and the IEA said sometime in 2006. That means our economy can’t grow endlessly and the entire credit/debts-payed-off system no longer works. As long as people think other kinds of energy will seamlessly replace oil and don’t know how much their lives depend on oil, civilization continues, and when it crashes, will crash that much harder and faster, perhaps our only hope of preventing our extinction (and millions of other species).

Alice Friedemann in Oakland, CA

Friday, October 28, 2011

Faith, Hope and Charity

A generation of people face depression, despair and meaninglessness as the full significance of the resource constraints of fossil fuels, water, land and food coupled with environmental degradation and overshoot of the global population become a loud noise that can no longer be ignored. This is trauma in the true psychological meaning of the word.
Many of us will encounter failed attempts when our efforts of the past produce no viable results. In fact, we will experience a disconnect between the then and the now. We will see no light at the end of the tunnel. Filled with the emotionality of grieving, our anger and fear will motivate our choices, narrow our tolerance and send us searching for scapegoats. Many of us will become entrenched in magical thinking and condemn the unbelieving.
Faith is believing that my efforts will give me results. This belief is based on personal experience of previous effective action. It can also be based on the belief that certain actions (prayer, positive thoughts, repetitive behavior) will provide results. It is a belief that the possible can be accomplished. And some times what does not seem possible. These beliefs can be based on direct true cause and effect such as letting go of a china cup will make it fall and possibly break. It can be based on assumed cause and effect such as a drop of coffee falls on the name of a stock in the paper and it goes up that day. Or it can be based on any number of beliefs that are held and continuously reinforced regardless of the statistical possibilities or improbabilities in the known reality.
Being without faith is helplessness; it is depression. It is a feeling of not inadequacy but no adequacy. Faith dies when previous actions do not solve. It is not being able to change/control the circumstances or environment or behaviors that in the past seemed to be changeable/controllable. Depression has been called anger turned inward. If it were turned outward it would be aimed at the circumstances/environment/behaviors (persons) that are creating the feeling of helplessness. Depression is related to the past. It arises when all our adaptations fail to be effective. The energy of depression is pervasive, a mood and in the gut.
Hope is based on positive possibilities for the next minute, day, year. It is fueled by a belief in a just world. Without hope there is despair. It has to do with the future. It is a fear of a continuation of the present situation. It is same old, same old. It is also the feeling that there is no freedom from the repetition of the patterns of adaptation. These patterns are unsuccessful in getting our needs met and they will go on and on and on. So the future is bleak and hopeless.
Charity is about relationship with the self and other. Too much self is filled with greed and amorality. Too much other enables without discrimination. To the self, charity is giving and caring not in gluttony but in honoring. Charity to others strengthens all the communities of the web we live in. It is experiencing the oneness of being. The oneness can guide us but we must live in the webs of our particular life and recognize the boundaries. Charity is being gentle. It is about balance. It is the challenge of knowing when each is needed.
Without the fullness of charity, being is meaningless. Without being connected, we live in an angst of aloneness.
Depression rises out of the gut from the energy of a failed past and flows into the head dampening action. Despair arises out of the mind because the idea of a future is in the head. Despair flows into the gut dampening the emotional energy for action. Charity is the connection to the heart. The heart without meaning is meanness to self, it is meanness to others.
As humans, in the process of becoming, we learn faith, hope and charity particular to our human world. They can be learned in narrow, restricted, restrictive, and self-defeating ways. The first half of life is learning these ways of being and then working diligently to express them: we actually create/define the world to reinforce them.
The second half of life, with enough experiences to see the patterns, is filled with finding our faith, hope and charity. Without it we become trapped in the arising experiences of depression, despair and meaninglessness.
In February of 2003, I was diagnosed with a huge cancerous tumor growing out of my right lung. I was given weeks to live without treatment and minimal odds with treatment.
My wood-cooking stove heated my home as well as that was how I cooked my food. I had lived this way, off-the-grid, for 30 years. In Minnesota, in March and April during treatment, it was cold so I need wood for heating as well as cooking. My kindly neighbor Dan came over and split some of my wood for me. (I love splitting wood so left it to be split each day.) However, I still needed to split some myself.
My treatment consisted of radiation 5 days a week and chemotherapy one day a week. Either one alone is tough, both together are quite debilitating. Almost everyday during the seven weeks of treatment, I would split wood. I would cook on the wood cook stove.
I never thought I would die. I don’t believe this was denial. Within a week of diagnosis I had taken care of all the necessary legal things should I die.
When I gave a speech at the RelayForLife activities for cancer that take place here in the United States, I told the people that hope was doing. For me there were two types of doing. The first was splitting the wood to cook and heat. It had to be done and it was part of living each day.
The second is what I did when I was through with the cancer treatment and it was declared in remission. I went to a billboard company and arranged for billboards to be put up around central Minnesota. I arranged with schools all around the area to speak to students about not smoking. During the time I was doing this I spoke with over 2000 young people. There were as many as ten billboards put up; two were put up and paid for by students at two different schools by holding bake sales.
The splitting of the wood was necessity. It was necessary doing connected with hope. The speaking with students all around Central and Northern Minnesota, the billboards and the T-shirts with the picture on it arose in me and had a life of its own. It was hope doing me.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

To Make a Light Bulb

I would like to have lights. Having lived off the grid for 30 years, ten of which was without electricity, I would like to have lights.

During the ten years without electricity, I got my lights from kerosene lamps. I got a masters degree in psychology using kerosene lights. The experience taught me the old saying, “a place for everything and everything in its place” because a kerosene lamp doesn’t give off a lot of light. I love to read and I did okay.

I can’t make kerosene. I could make oil from various plants by pressing them. Whales are scarce in Northern Minnesota so that option is out. So I thought I might make an electric light. Below find an image of an electric light and its components from a mining company.

If the above is not clear you can find the original at:


It is fairly clear I won’t be making a light bulb anytime soon. There are many minerals and much energy to extract, process and manufacture those minerals that without fossil fuels will make if very difficult. Thirty years off the grid and not one second of that time was I disconnected from the fossil fuel world.

For twenty years, I had solar electric panels and wind generation with batteries and various electronics. Each and all of these were products of the fossil fuel world from the raw products in the ground to the finished product in my home.

There are large, idealized movements to switch to “renewable” energy sources with the hope of maintaining a semblance of the life style we in the developed economies are use to. As I have written elsewhere, all the devices for capturing, storing, transporting and managing these “renewable” energies require fossil fuels. (See: Energy in the Real World with pictures of proof. )

There are paper plans that propose that solar electric panels, solar focused steam, wind, biofuels, etc. can make enough energy to reproduce themselves. I say do it. Make a demonstration project of tons of various materials extracted, processed, manufactured, transported and installed using only “renewable” energy.

Oh, and then make a light bulb with the extra energy you have. I want lights.

There are those that think that I am a doomer. I think I am a realist. In fact, I agree with a wise woman on one of my mailing lists:

Posted by: kathy Sep 3, 2011

“Got thinking about this morning. Supposing a wife tells her 6 pack a day husband that he is going to die from lung cancer or emphysema? Is she a doomer? Or is he perhaps the doomer as he is continuing to do things that may doom him to an early death?

Is a scientist who warns of global warming a doomer or are the dirty coal burning factories the true doomers?

Is someone who warns of the dire possibility of collapsing more and more fisheries a doomer or are the factory fishing boats the doomers?

Are the people who warn about building nuclear power plants on fault lines doomers, or are those who build them there the doomers? Would living with less energy in Japan be a worse doom than Fukushima?

Warning of potential doom does not make you a doomer IMHO, participating in activities that make that doom more likely - that makes you a doomer”

Of course, we are all caught. Not one of us is voluntarily going to really reduce our consumption to levels that are truly sustainable across decades. It is not the nature of the beast. (See - and )

I think that we will continue as we are until we cannot. One of the reasons is easy and cheap as stated by Nicols Fox in Against the Machine:

“There is within every human the perpetual pull of opposites. Fear taunts courage; willpower struggles with appetite; order with disorder. Caution tugs at curiosity as impulse teases aversion. For all the stimulation of the new, there remains the powerful comfort and security of the known. We are, like Dr. Dolittle’s famous Pushme-Pullyou, conflicted creatures. Individuality is defined by these differences, by where the balance is struck.

But one impulse in particular seems to have weak competition or none at all. The appeal of ease, or the less-taxing option, is unquestioned. Only the obstinate, the perverse, the eccentric, or the mad, the conventional wisdom toes, intentionally choose the more difficult over the easier method of reaching a goal. The hatchet or the ax over the chain saw? “I like the feel of the ax in my hand, the resistance, the thud of impact. I like to feel I am linked to what I am doing. I like the quiet in the forest, the smell of rosin, even the living shudder of the tree as the x bites, “ says the old woodsman. The logger smiles, pulls the starter on his chain saw, and has seven trees down in the time the woodsman spends on one. And the logger’s boss brings in the feller-buncher, the giant machine that grasps each tree in a steel embrace, then cuts it and stacks it with its downed companions as if it were kindling; and logger smiles no more as the new machine does the work of seven chain-saw-bearing men and he finds himself reading want ads. Seldom, however, is the original impulse to make things easier questioned.

The religious have always known that ease is a dangerous road to travel. One reason for caution is that it’s sometimes hard to tell who the real beneficiary is. Or whether something is really as easy as it first seems. Or whether ease costs more than it appears to. Or whether something is being lost in the transition that hasn’t been mentioned, or foreseen, or accounted for. Machines, in the time of Carlyle, Dickens, and Ruskin, were making production easier. The matter of “at what cost” had just begun to be considered, and then only by a very few.”

The other thing I would like from electricity is a 1/2 hp motor. It can run many things – pump water, grind grain, power a vacuum cleaner, etc. I think making a 1/2 hp motor will be just as daunting as making an electric light bulb.

This is the reality of a world without the gift from life past, time and the pressure of the earth in the form of fossil fuels. It will be here tomorrow.

Slowly (maybe not so slowly) becoming obstinate, perverse, eccentric, and mad.