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Predator-Prey Dynamics in Demand Destruction and Oil Prices

Jeff Vail, The Oil Drum
One of the classic ecological modeling problems is the oscillating populations of predators and their prey in an ecosystem–as prey population rises, predator population follows suit until prey population begins to fall off, resulting in a subsequent drop in predator population (illustrated below). The same dynamic also applies, to some degree, to the relationship between oil price (prey) and marginal production/demand destruction/energy policy (predator). This post will explore that relationship and its ability to help us avoid poor energy policy choices.

… Awareness of the underlying problem, in turn, is being masked by the oscillations of the price/demand/production “predator-prey” dynamic. If individual consumers realize that price drops (at least relative to purchasing power) are temporary in an environment of geological depletion, and if policy makers learn to effectively communicate this point, then we will be positioned to best mitigate the effects of peak oil on a personal, regional, and global scale.

If, on the other hand, we do not see through the fog of these predator-prey oscillations, then we may miss our best opportunity to adapt to the long-term energy reality. Technophiles may be right–efficiency gains and high-tech substitutes may allow us to continue “business as usual” indefinitely. While I don’t share their optimism, my overriding concern is that the lure of their sales pitch–especially in an environment like today’s where prices are dropping and production is (arguably) rising–will convince us not to make the difficult choices about changing “business as usual” now and force us to make much more difficult choices later.
(26 August 2008)
Heavy-duty discussion in the comments that follow the article. -BA

Heinberg: GM Pines for electric car

Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute
In just two years we’ve gone from a film documentary called Who Killed the Electric Car? to an article in Canada’s Globe and Mail titled Who Revived the Electric Car?. This is a deliciously ironic turn of events.

Those of us who understand the perils of oil dependency have been advocating the electrification of transport for years: not only can an electric transport system access renewable sources of energy like solar and wind, but electric motors are far more efficient than internal combustion engines, so electric cars use less energy than gasoline-fed cars do-and emit less CO2 even if their power comes ultimately from a coal-fired generating plant.

GM voltSo naturally it’s gratifying to see General Motors, the villain of Chris Paine’s excellent film, rushing to bring out its Volt-a battery-powered car on which the company seems to be staking its hopes for economic survival in the era of $100+ oil.

The Volt is slated for debut in 2010, just in time for the world peak in oil production. Maybe at its unveiling GM’s ad department will feature Hubbert curves on flipcharts surrounding the diminutive car, its winsome young driver and passengers clutching cloth shopping bags stuffed with fresh-picked organic produce.

Still, one can’t help but wonder whether the Volt will be GM’s breath of fresh air or its last gasp.
(26 August 2008)

Traductions de John Michael Greer (French)

Damien Perrotin, blog
De tous ceux qui écrivent sur le pic pétrolier, John Michael Greer est sans doute celui avec je me sens le plus en phase. D’abord parce que, comme moi, il s’interesse moins au phénomène en lui-même qu’à l’effet qu’il aura sur nos société ensuite parce qu’il rejette ces deux illusions mortifèrent que sont l’optimisme technophile et le pessimisme apocalyptique. Son discours peut-paraître extrèmement sombre et il l’est certainement pour ceux qui considèrent la croissance matèrielle comme l’horizon ultime de la civilisation. Nous avons devant nous une crise profonde et durable mais si nous savons la gérer nous en sortirons sans doute meutris mais d’une certaine manière grandis.

L’homme lui-même est atypique donc interessant. Il est engagé dans le mouvement néo-druidique américain – qui n’a rien à voir avec les groupuscules pseudo-paîens derrière lesquels se masque trop souvent, dans nos contrées l’extrème-droite – et appartient au même monde culturel qu’une auteure comme Ursula Le Guin ou Elisabeth Vonarburg. Je me suis permis de commencer mettre en ligne, avec son autorisation, des traductions de ses textes, en français, et bientôt en breton, afin d’en faire profiter tous ceux qui, chez nous, ignorent encore l’anglais. Bien sûr, cela, ne vaut pas l’original – je reste une amateur dans ce domaine – et j’invite toutes les personnes interessées à visiter le blog de John Michael Greer.

Qui suis-je

Un simple citoyen qui s’est rendu compte que la politique s’occuperait de lui même s’il ne s’en occupait pas. C’est pour cela qu’à 33 ans j’ai choisi de m’engager dans le parti qui répondait le mieux à mes aspirations : l’Union Démocratique Bretonne.

Je me définis comme de gauche, écologiste et breton.
(August 2008)
Mr. Perrotin has translated an astounding number of posts by John Michael Greer. Pointed out by “TB” who is translating Dmitry Orlov and Joe Bageant into French. -BA

UPDATE (May 31, 2009)
Damien Perrotin has a blog in French where the French translations of Greer now reside.

He also maintains a blog in English: The view from Brittany.

Looming energy crisis In Mexico stirs debate
Jason Beaubien, National Public Radio (NPR)
Reform of Mexico’s state-run oil company continues to dominate Mexican politics. There have been numerous debates and referendums on a proposal by President Felipe Calderon to open the struggling oil monopoly to foreign investors.

The left has denounced Calderon’s plan as privatization of the nation’s oil wealth, but Calderon and top officials within Pemex say that without radical reform, Mexico will run out of oil in less than a decade.

Just about everyone who has weighed in on the Pemex debate agrees that the Mexican oil monopoly is in crisis.

Production of crude is falling dramatically. In July, output at Mexico’s largest oil field, Cantarell, was off 37 percent from the year before.
(26 August 2008)

The Economist’s Online Debate Series on solving the world’s energy crisis

The Economist (email from PR person)
Since the debate is ending this week, I thought you might want an update on the results to date in case you wanted to update your readers on the debate and/or rally them to vote.

Currently, 57 percent of Economist readers agree with the proposition, “This house believes that we can solve our energy problems with existing technologies today, without the need for breakthrough innovations.” Does this surprise you?

With just three days left to vote and comment, it’s still possible to affect the outcome of the debate. Closing statements post tomorrow, August 27th, and a winner will be chosen by the community on Friday, August 29th.

We’ve included a sneak peek of moderator Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran’s closing statement which will post tomorrow….

Vijay V. Vaitheeswaran’s Closing Remarks:

All good things must come to an end, including our lively debate on energy technology. It remains a closely run match thus far, with a slight edge to the Pro team running up to today’s closing statements. Many readers have posted thoughtful, often technically detailed, comments suggesting the debaters have done their jobs well in provoking thought.

However, not all of you punters are perfectly pleased. Though some readers appreciate the civility and nuanced debating styles on offer from both teams, others are still lusting for blood. Taiglin finds “both sides of this argument to be in grey areas around the same viewpoint. I do not see a major contrast.” Other readers fault the organisers, not the debaters, for the boxers hugging so often in the centre of the debate ring. Kerry E. O’Neill offers a crisp version of this critique: “The premise of this debate is flawed, as others have noted. Why are we debating deploying existing technologies today vs. investing in breakthrough innovations to solve the energy crisis?” We need both, goes the argument.

It does seem the two teams are bending over backwards to be conciliatory rather than go for the jugular. That, of course, is the prerogative of the debaters. As for the question about the debate’s premise, the reason the debate proposition was posed as a clear choice between rapid deployment in today’s technologies and aggressive investment in tomorrow’s inventions is this: the first rule of economics (well, the first rule that matters) is that you cannot spend the same dollar twice.

When debating airy topics like energy policy, it is all too easy for armchair pundits to conjure up infinitely large pots of money that can be spent on all good things, on today’s needs and tomorrow’s wishes, on choice A and choice B. In real life, and especially in government, hard choices have to be made because resources are, in fact, finite. Sensible tools of economics like cost-benefit analysis as well as a willingness to make difficult choices is essential. Hence, The Economist’s decision to pose a provocative question that was certain to upset those who wish to have their cake and eat it too.

Turning to the closing arguments, it is clear that some of the conciliatory tone seen thus far remains. However, Joseph Romm does strike a direct blow, claiming that the side opposite is “in complete agreement with me.” His remarks expand on his line of argument that technologies that are ready or which recombine old, established technologies can solve the climate and energy problem. As an example of the latter, he trumpets the potential of concentrating solar thermal plants, which he calls “perhaps the most important renewable” because it can be used for baseload power on the power grid.

Peter Meisen closes the Con team’s case by issuing a warning: “If we continue building and funding the world’s energy needs as we did in the last century, we deserve the consequences.” In addition to the technology-boosting approaches discussed already in the debate, he emphasises one that he believes got short shrift: “government policies that provide the grease to accelerate this transition.” With adequate greasing, he is convinced that “investments in clean energy solutions will flourish and dominate the 21st Century.” …
(26 August 2008)
Debate site.

I suggested to the organizers that a peak oil spokesman like James Howard Kunstler might liven up the debate. Maybe next time? -BA