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A Physicist’s View of the World’s Energy Situation
Green Car Congress
Well, not just any physicist. Dr Steven Koonin, who was appointed BP’s Chief Scientist last year, appeared at a recent public Colloquium at Fermilab to discuss some of the technical, economic, and social considerations surrounding the challenge of ensuring adequate energy supplies in an environmentally acceptable manner.
The talk moves rapidly, and coalesces around two primary concerns:
* The availability of hydrocarbons as future energy supplies
* The threat of anthropogenic contributions to climate change
On the supply question, he strikes a balance between what he characterizes as the geologist’s argument (Hubbertian peak oil) and the economist’s (rising prices stimulate greater development and eventually a transition to a new fuel source).
(29 Apr, 2005)
Ed: See the video link.
Back to the Ancient Future
Chewing Raw Grubs with the “Nutcracker Man”
by Joe Bageant
….Anyway, I came away from the meeting deeply struck by one thing. Every person there seemed to understand and acknowledge the coming global human “die-off.” The one that has already begun in places like Africa and will grow into a global event sometime within our lifetimes and/or those of our children. The one that will kill millions of white people. That’s right, clean pink little Western World white people like you and me. Nobody in the U.S. seems to be able to deal with or even think about this near certainty, and the few who do are written off as nutcases by the media and the public. Mostly though, it goes unacknowledged. All of which drives me nuts because the now nearly visible end of civilization strikes me as worthy of at least modest discussion. You’d think so. But the mention of it causes my wife to go into, “Oh Joe, can’t we talk about something more pleasant?” And talk about causing weird stares and dropped jaws at the office water cooler.
Here’s the short course: Global die-off of mankind will occur when we run out of energy to support the complex technological grid sustaining modern industrial human civilization. In other words, when the electricity goes out, we are back in the Dark Age, with the Stone Age grunting at us from just around the corner. This will likely happen in 100 years or less, assuming the ecosystem does not collapse first. And you are thinking, “Well ho ho ho! Any other good news Bageant? And how the fock do you know this anyway?”
For those willing to contemplate the subject, there is a scientifically supported model of the timeline of our return to Stone Age tribal units. A roadmap to the day when we will be cutting up dog meat with a sharpened cd rom disc in some toxic future canyon. It is called the Olduvai Theory.
(29 Apr, 2005)
Ed: Who is this guy, Joe Bageant? Redneck, hippie, leftist, magazine editor and now Internet cult figure. See his Interview.
American Thermidor: How the cycle of deficits has kept the right in power in America.
Many people have become worried about the hard limits to the current world economy, and particularly the place of America in it: global warming, which is the limit of how much carbon we can sink into the earth’s atmosphere and waters, and Hubert’s theory of “Peak Oil,” which predicts that production of oil will plateau and then enter a decline. Many have also become worried about the seemingly inexorable growth of America’s trade and budget deficits, as well as the ever-spiraling imports of energy from abroad. Finally, many have become concerned about the growing inequality of the distribution of wealth  and the decline in real wages. 
It makes many angry that, in a time when America seems to be strip-mining its environment, its credit and its people, we are ruled by the most reactionary American political party to take power since the days when strikers were shot by state militia units, a party that has chosen not to address any of these problems, but instead, tells us that all will be well.
(3 Apr, 2005)
Exploding Overseas Demand Ends Era of Cheap Oil
When it comes to discussing gasoline prices, President Bush is a lot like the doctor who refuses to give a terminally ill patient the bad news. To wit: “The end is here.”
Instead, like his reluctant counterpart in the medical profession, the president prefers speaking in euphemisms, offering palliatives, extending hope that the inevitable is somehow not so inevitable after all. The president did a lot of that Thursday night in his nationally televised address on his administration’s Social Security and energy policies.
….So, here’s the deal, America: Your days of living with the developed world’s cheapest gasoline prices are over. They probably never will return. The rest of the world is developing; and it needs fuel, too.
You want examples? By 2014, according to global auto industry estimates, North America will be the second-largest growing car market behind China. Europe will be a very distant also-ran. An estimated 57 percent of the global automotive market’s growth will occur in the Asia-Pacific region alone between now and 2014, according to industry estimates.
(1 May, 2005)
Unmentioned Energy Fix: A 55 M.P.H. Speed Limit
NY Times (also at Common Dreams)
President Bush made it clear last week that he sees no quick fixes to the nation’s energy woes. The problem has been long in coming, the argument goes, and so will the solutions. But if history is any guide, there is one thing he could do immediately: bring back the 55 miles-per-hour speed limit.
It has been done before. Along with record oil and gasoline prices, improvements in fuel efficiency and a lasting economic recession, speed limits helped curb fuel consumption for the first time in American postwar history between 1974 and 1984.
Of course, energy eventually became cheap again, the economy expanded and Americans became complacent and unwilling to make more sacrifices. Instead of opting for small fuel-efficient cars, people switched to large sport utility vehicles and larger pickups. As drivers groaned and states fought for their right to speed, the limit was raised.
(1 May, 2005)
ROAD WARRIOR: Gasoline prices: You ain’t seen nothin’ yet
Las Vegas Review-Journal
It’s a question that’s been mulled behind steering wheels, amid traffic jams and at gasoline pumps from Summerlin to Henderson and down the Strip: How high will the price of a gallon of gasoline go?
Would you believe four bucks or so, within three years?
That’s not a misprint. Four bucks. And it’s not the rant of some tree-hugger who wants you to surrender your SUV for a solar-powered moped.
Sounding the alarm is Goldman Sachs Group, a blue blood global investment firm. In a recent report, it predicts a coming global “super spike” that would make $2 gasoline look like a steal, though the forecast has yet to be widely accepted.
Then again, a couple of years back, did you really think you’d be shelling out $2.50 for a gallon, as we’ve been doing lately?
(1 May, 2005)
Solutions and Sustainability
Rising number of greens ditch cheap air travel
Campaigners focus on environmental impact of flights
Nick Kieboom has always believed in doing his bit for the environment: recycling rubbish and buying organic food, for example. It is scarcely novel stuff. However, Nick has now found a new campaign to add to his list of concerns and actions. He has decided to restrict himself to one flight a year, a cutback in holidays that reflects his fears about aviation fuel’s impact on the environment.
Nor is Nick alone. He is one of a growing army of concerned individuals who have begun to turn away from international flights to exotic hot spots because of the global impact of the current boom in world air travel. These people have decided that, although travel to Third World countries may bring unexpected boosts to local economies and even stimulate an increase in eco-friendly tourism, the environmental price can no longer be justified.
(1 May, 2005)
The Logic of Collapse
A Theory of Power by Jeff Vail
I’ve just finished Joseph A. Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies”. It is a truly remarkable book—very academic, but fascinating, rigorous and very, very important. It is a powerful counterpoint to Robert Wright’s “Nonzero”, which I wrote about recently. What follows are some thoughts that derive from Tainter’s writing.
In fact, the modern civilization continuum has existed for so long without a global collapse because we have managed to tap new energy sources—coal, then oil—each with a higher energy surplus than the last. This has buoyed the marginal return curve temporarily with each discovery, but has not changed the fundamental dynamics of collapse.
Perhaps we should take a step back and look at collapse in general. Our psychological investment in the “goodness” of “high-civilization” leads to the commonly held conclusion that collapse is bad—and that to advocate it would be irrational. But from a purely economic point of view, collapse actually increases the overall benefit that social complexity provides to society for their level of investment. It makes economic sense.
(28 Apr, 2005)