Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Have we entered the downslope?

Over at The Oil Drum recently, Ace, one of their contributors, made the following comment:

"According to IEA, current Peak Oil (total liquids) is potentially 86.13 mbd on Jul 2006. One year later, production in Jun 2007 was 84.3 mbd, which is a drop of 1.83 mbd or just over 2%/yr. This is a bigger drop than I have forecast! I hope that Jun 2007 was just an unusual month."

This is a shocking observation! While the world twiddles its collective thumbs, while the dark recesses of the human brain scream that what is happening cannot be happening, here we have this odd little fact sticking out at us.

Ace again raised this issue near the bottom of the July 30th Drumbeat section. It was again met with either raw silence or incredulity from those that saw it. Hopefully Ace will be posting more soon on his bottom up analysis which now points to peak liquids as possibly having passed by already.

This is fairly serious because if the decline rate now, at the very beginning of the downslope is 2% when it is supposed to be at its mildest, just how bad is it going to get? If 2005 was peak C&C, and if 2006 was peak liquids, and if 2% is the current decline rate at the start of the downslope, then all bets are off people. The peak decline rate may soar into the double digits somewhere, perhaps 10% to even 20%. Right now it's all a rather large crapshoot but the preliminary data do not support the happy faced crowd at all.

This fall is looking more and more like a period of initial shock and awe as nature may begin to assert real limits against a rapacious humanity. And if that happens, there is no telling what reactions will be like around the world. The race may be on for the remaining global resources and that race will not be a free market race at all. Instead it will be a military race with all that this implies.

Monday, July 23, 2007

They are Angry! Very very Angry!

The Oil Drum is getting amusing lately. I opened up TOD and the techno-cornucopians are going nuts over anything that does not promote or espouse their agenda. The poster named Asebius, reveals himself to be a self-proclaimed "centrist" who wants to automatically tar and feather anyone associated with TOD as "terrorists", maybe so that his fedgov homeboys can come along and shut down that blog. In fact, Asebius is quite full of himself but he's not the only one. The esteemed (not) luisdias is in that group too as well as a few others. Now I just recently wrote about this in They Took The Blue Pill and in Techno Geek Optimism but this latest outburst looks positively silly.

After the Asebius incident, in which Professor Goose finally had to give him a public warning for being disruptive, we followed that up with more of the same the following day. Oilmanbob and others kept running off the end of the proverbial fishing pier rather than showing any reasonableness at all. Of course this was all one sided and aimed at anyone who possessed an opinion that things would turn out less than perfectly according to the particular poster's own utopian visions. Such venom was never aimed at anyone who suggested things might turn out better than the positivists expected. No, those espousing positive views had to be "debated" and respected. All quite absurd. Oilmanbob even tried the very typical ploy of playing psychoanalyst online and recommending that I take Prozac for my "depression". It was quite the laugh, especially when he revealed that he is the one that is clinically depressed and taking various drugs yet projecting his own problems on everyone else.

And further, Professor Goose at TOD also ran an article titled A Request to Our Readers about how TOD is being blacklisted by Reddit and Digg. Then he had another post, titled Peak Oil Media Redux (Or "The Course of Our Lives WILL Be Determined by the First Derivative of a Function, Redux), in which he praised certain basic materials useful for understanding peak oil, such as Dr. Albert Bartlett's presentation amongst others. Both of these articles generated much heat and little light. The techno geeks were there in full force actively shouting down any opposing viewpoint and making it very clear that for them there is no other future other than success. No planning for a rainy day from that crowd, let alone planning for a massive disruption.

Matt Savinar asked Professor Goose if he was ready yet to accept the notion that he cannot change the world, that neither he nor the rest of the TOD staff would receive positions of high importance in some new world energy order, and if they would instead decide to focus on some form of preparation for what he views as inevitable. There has been no reply yet from the good professor but I fully expect him to continue tilting at windmills because that is what he's chosen to do. In the case of Professor Goose, I suspect that it is a conscious decision and that he realizes the consequences of being wrong much as Alan Drake realizes it. But most of those at TOD who keep calling any position more negative than their own "extreme" don't realize that according to the rest of the world they are extremists too.

Most of these people don't realize that anyone who argues against the current planetary religion (infinite growth economics) is viewed as a heretic and even a bit insane. Any position that does not allow for sustained growth is viewed as unacceptable. Oh, if you challenge the average man in the street he says he realizes that growth cannot continue forever and he may even say something like "Besides, we're just going to continue growing throughout my life and my children's lives. Surely some brilliant human being will solve this problem for us before it becomes acute, right?"

It's never the responsibility of someone today to change that pattern of behavior. It's always assumed that someone tomorrow will provide a solution that stops growth yet avoids all the negative fallout from that.

And then there is population - the 800 pound pink gorilla in the room that everyone ignores. Even if we solve peak oil, we still have huge numbers of problems facing us, any single one of which could destroy our civilization. What is worse is that most people do not realize that these problems are all intertwined and they are not all arriving at close to the same time by chance but because they feed on each other.

The optimistic silliness is pretty deep at TOD lately. I am not talking about people discussing specific technical approaches to particular problems, even when I don't fully agree with them. The key posts by Professor Goose and all the other contributors and editors at TOD remain top notch and interesting to read. It's in the comments section that it has become looney toons time, with those who choose to shout down any idea they dislike as "doomer porn" demonstrating the deep seated fears in the dark corners of the human brain.

People will undoubtedly again accuse me of wanting civilization to fail. I've said before that I do not want this to happen. I just see it as a sad yet inevitable outcome due to our collective desire to ignore the problems until they become too large to address. Other people will accuse me of various other things without even knowing me personally. They will also accuse anyone else who sees collapse as strongly possible. This is exactly the sort of reaction that will stifle further debate, that will push consideration of the worst case scenarios off the table, and allow the business-as-usual crowd to urge no action on any of these issues at all. In fact, this is exactly what the business-as-usual crowd wants - to see any other perspective marginalized so that it does not threaten business-as-usual. It's when you realize that and then realize we are seeing this happen before our very eyes that you come to the conclusion that things may be worse than people think, precisely because of the human interactions (politics) and human state of mind (psychology).

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Afraid of Extremes

Scientists are often critical of businessmen for expecting things to stay the same rather than change. Yet scientists exhibit the exact same reluctance to consider change as well even when faced with it clearly. The Big Thaw, a National Geographic article about global melting ice and its consequences, treads fearfully around the topic of ice melt. The article cautiously quotes the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) about sea level rise claiming we might see a foot by 2100. Then it gets braver and talks about 3 feet of rise by 2100. These scientists are terrified of being seen as extremists if they say anything more yet the geologic history tells us to be terrified.

Dr. James Hansen, the most outspoken and well known of the climatologists concerned with global warming, has recently published a paper titled Climate Change and Trace Gases. The paper was presented in the British Journal Philosophic Transactions of the Royal Society. In this paper, Dr. Hansen notes that in prior warming periods the ice did not melt slowly after the temperature warmed. Indeed, the ice melted rapidly while it warmed. Further, Dr. Hansen shows that the last time the earth was this warm and then warmed another 3 degrees centigrade that the ocean levels did not rise 30 cm (about 1 foot) at all. No, indeed the ocean levels rose more than 25 meters. Worse, as Hansen demonstrates, the bulk of the sea level rise comes during the temperature rise. This means if we see 3 degrees celsius rise in temperatures, that we logically should not expect a 30 cm rise in sea levels at all. In other words, Hansen is warning that sea levels may rise by 25 meters between now and 2100!

Think about this. Even if we divide the rise unevenly and ascribe 80% of the sea level rise to a time after 2050, that still means we would likely see 5 meters (16 feet) of rise before 2050. That's a foot every 3 years or 4 feet in 12 years. And if the rise is more even? Then it would be more like a meter (3+ feet) every 4 years, or 12 feet every 12 years. We're talking about a 82+ foot sea level rise in a century and no, it won't all wait til after you are dead to happen.

That is the real data from paleoclimatology sources about what happened before. It wasn't a linear relationship at all which is what the IPCC assumes. It was an exponential relationship with positive feedback loops built into it. We know that. These climate scientists know that. They've read the papers. They've studied these specific topics in school and professionally. And yet despite factual evidence, none of these scientists in the National Geographic article is willing to admit the possibility that we might see similar melts as past evidence tells us. Instead they try to believe that tomorrow is going to be just like today or so little different that it does not matter.

I bring this up not because of the sea level rise issue, which is important in itself, but because it demonstrates the powerful human tendency to want to believe that tomorrow will be similar to today and to deny facts about tomorrow when those facts get in the way of this belief. This is happening with climatologists who have been trained to think critically, examine facts, and consider impacts on the future yet they still tend towards the human norm of expecting tomorrow to be like today.

Given this sort of behavior by even those with clear training otherwise amongst us, why would our leaders, the politicians of the world, ever be expected to consider anything except "business as usual" for what is coming?

Now go on and couple this sort of mental attitude amongst trained scientists with the sort of outlook that covers up problems such as those found at Kashawazaki nuclear power plant after the earthquake. These are the trained professionals whom the rest of us rely upon for clearheaded thinking. The entire world is refusing to consider the radical impact of resource scarcity (peak oil included) and climate change. At most it is simply an excuse to party or get rich in the current business climate by trading carbon credits.

These are the people who are supposed to be leading us through the wilderness of these difficult times. These are the people in whose judgments we entrust our futures and our children's futures. Are you getting a sense yet that our culture is sick? Are you getting a sense yet that our culture is in denial?

Friday, July 13, 2007

They took the blue pill

So I open up The Oil Drum and what do I see? It's a thread to discuss The NPC Report. And immediately I see many people very upset that a hand picked council headed by Lee Raymond (former CEO of Exxon) comes to the conclusion that no peak in oil is imminent and that all is pretty much ok, with a few tiny caveats. There is yelling, screaming, and a great deal of incredulous shock that anyone could say this in the face of the evidence of the last several years. There is great cries calling for more activism, more publicity, more, more, more... well more something, anything to change the minds of those that refuse to accept what is happening.

I dissented, which got a rather poor reception. I told them that the general public has taken the blue pill and they don't want to be bothered with reality. In my opinion, the optimal course now is assisting some group (maybe an entire town) as it transitions to the post-peak age. Concentrate on the local with an eye towards utter and total disaster and hope that things don't get that bad. But certainly do have a plan in case they do get that bad. Odds are very high against you and yours getting through the coming bottleneck but that's what you should worry about, not the other 6.5 billion people on the planet. They've chosen the path they are on and they don't want off. They don't want to even hear of getting off. So focus on saving yourself and those close to you. Do whatever you can to maximize your chances no matter how small. Any edge you give yourself is an edge that those who die will not have. And trust me, as the ecosystem goes to crap, and as the resource game advances, there will be plenty of opportunity for the unprepared to rejoin the ecosystem as fertilizer.

Someone suggested I get more specific. There's no point in having that discussion at TOD, none at all. The TOD staff don't even like to admit that anything other than a happy ending can occur to all this. They just want credit for being the ones to warn humanity and "save" it from itself.

Well I have a question for those peak oil activists - when is it time to do something different? What is your cutoff when you say no more, I can't help, I have to focus on myself because the rest of you chose to be dead? I'll bet that most of the TOD activists, who believe peak oil is bad but that everything can somehow still be saved, have never even considered those questions. They just have faith that if they proselytize long enough that everything will turn out fine.

I wish them all the luck in the world and then some, because, believe me, they will need it.

And no, I am not planning to rescue your ass when things go south. I'll be too busy trying to rescue mine and those dear to me.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Techno Geek Optimism

It never ceases to amaze me when otherwise bright people assume that just because something is technically doable that it must automatically happen and be doable. This happens constantly, probably because over the last few centuries there have been more cases of success than failures. In the 1860s, machine labor was clearly already superior to slave labor yet technology did not inevitably supplant slavery without fighting a very destructive and very human civil war.

The latest bit of techno euphoria is from Euan Mearns over at The Oil Drum in a piece entitled "Crisis? What energy crisis?" and which appears to put forth the notion that all will be well because all must be well. Further down in the comments section, Euan actually admits to worries about certain things so even the techno euphoria isn't enough to fully cloud the brain about looming issues.

I've stated this to other people and I've never gotten a satisfactory answer but if technology is the be-all and end-all of every human decision then why isn't New Orleans rebuilt yet? It's only been two years. Surely in two years we could have mustered the technological prowess in the most powerful, richest nation on the planet to rebuild one single rather smallish city that was hit by a hurricane? And yet the city remains far from rebuilt, not because of technology but because of the human factor, because of politics.

I told Euan that it is not technology that I fear. I fear Bush, Putin, Blair, Clinton (both of them), and others. Anyone who believes that these people will willingly give up power to preserve some kind of civilization has far more faith in our leaders than I do. As a counterpoint, I can think of exactly one leader in the last 50 years who would do exactly that, step aside to allow civilization to reorganize and change and that man was Jimmy Carter. I didn't always agree with Jimmy then nor do I always agree with him now, but I do greatly respect him. I don't know many ex-presidents or ex-prime ministers who go out and build houses for the poor on a regular basis.