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The Long Emergency
April 7, 2005 6:08 PM   Subscribe

The Long Emergency is coming, according to James Howard Kunstler. Welcome to the new agrarian future. Buy 40 acres, a mule, and maybe some stock in the railroads.
posted by QuestionableSwami (106 comments total)

 
My dream is to have a chicken farm, a ricefield, some soybeans fields, and a forest.

Then I could have chicken teriyaki donburi, the meal of the gods, every night.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:27 PM on April 7, 2005


Don't forget the shotgun.
posted by mondo dentro at 6:36 PM on April 7, 2005


One thing that sucks is our existing land use patterns and ownership regime. To escape high land valuations and urban decay, we live out in exurbs and drive further and further to work. This is incredibly inefficient. We need to 'clean out' our ghettos like South Central LA and figure out mixed-use planning to increase the density of our core cities.

The central problems are absentee landlordism, the prior postwar commitment to roads rather than rails, and a general have and have-not consumerist polarized society.

We need disadvantaged people developing more work skills like home improvement, education, and health care, open up capital spigots to improve existing housing stock, and focus on production of useful wealth, health, and happiness not the empty consumption of fast food and mindless media.

Energy is an important piece of this puzzle, but it's not the biggest piece at all. The free market structures society, but given its random walk nature chances are the resulting order is a local, not global, maxima.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 6:38 PM on April 7, 2005


Damn it! When are people going to listen. It's not about this survalist crap. Get it through your skulls. Peak WILL happen in your lifetime and it will impact you in a big way.

I have been talking myself blue about Peak Oil since 1998. And everything... EVERYTHING that has transpired geopolitical since then has followed a nice little line back to Oil resource issues.

No. I am not psychic. Though, because of this string of "uncanny" predictions, some of my friends now believe I am. LOL.

In 1999 I convinced a friend of mine who was completing her Ph.D. in ME studies to look into Peak Oil and US/ME geopolitics.

During that series of discussions over the course of few weeks, as we read over reams of material (including the originally very candid PNAC doctrine on the subject - now mysteriously deleted from the PNAC site) on Peak, we uncovered strong likelihood of, among other things: a Republican Whitehouse victory in 2000 and 2004; a major Islamo-Facist attack on US soil; and the subsequent invasion of Iraq.

Once I started reading everything I could by the leading energy and economic strategists and theorists (not exactly your UFO/Black helicopter crowd) about Peak it was like a reading a script — from 9/11 to invading Iraq.

Now prepare for the Rogue Wave (started by T note sell off) financial events in Asia in the next few years (months?) and then you will start to see us tipping over the precipice.
posted by tkchrist at 6:44 PM on April 7, 2005


I saw this guy in the okay documentary The End of Suburbia. He was certainly the most amusing of the interviewed, though Michael C. Ruppert of Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of The American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil was pretty good too.

Are there any articles that address the question of what the world might be like in 2005 if we'd never discovered this huge cheap dense energy source?
posted by Aknaton at 6:51 PM on April 7, 2005


The central problems are absentee landlordism

This is a HUGE problem. I'm amazed that cities don't work harder on enforcing law already in place for this issue. I'm all for squatter's rights.

I live in a small city. The sprawl has hit it's limit, it's just a mess out in the burbs (traffic, etc). There are a LOT of people moving back downtown - finally.
posted by tomplus2 at 6:54 PM on April 7, 2005


THE SKY IS FALLING THE SKY IS FALLING

keswick, will you let us mefites in on your secret stash of oil?

or do you choose not to believe cheap oil is running out?

if you accept the well-documented proposition that the era of CHEAP oil is nearly over (i'd be interested in any analysis that says it's not) then what do you envision happening?

how can a global economy that's based on a model of unfettered growth survive the massive diminishment of its primary energy source?

what about this impending catastrophe don't you get? i'd rather be the type of fowl that's worried about such things than the type that puts its head in the sand.
posted by Hat Maui at 6:55 PM on April 7, 2005


Hat Maui is 100% right.
posted by tkchrist at 6:56 PM on April 7, 2005


So don't lead us up to these events today and then dump us off with a "here come the Rogue Waves..."

What the hell are the Rogue Waves, pray tell, please?
posted by PigAlien at 6:59 PM on April 7, 2005


if you accept the well-documented proposition that the era of CHEAP oil is nearly over...then what do you envision happening?

Jesus' return?

Or perhaps just its conceptual equivalent, the deus ex machina--meaning in this case just-in-time delivery of a new world-saving technology, created by the magic of the marketplace and the ruling class' ever obedient servants, the always docile, always industrious technological priesthood.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:03 PM on April 7, 2005


What the hell are the Rogue Waves

Cascading financial collapses - like the last "Asian Flu" 1998 that lay waste to much of Asia's economy.

You know. Like when your 401k became a 201k over night.

The next one will be precipitated by the massive sell off of US Treasury Notes (mostly likely by the large holders like China and Japan) due to US currency devaluation - greatly effected by the increasing loss of the petrodollar (oil sales based on the dollar) and the US deficit etc.

And "cheap oil" (under $30 a barrel) was the way Asia used "growth" to shake it self of the Flu. They will not be able to do that next time.
posted by tkchrist at 7:09 PM on April 7, 2005


what about this impending catastrophe don't you get? i'd rather be the type of fowl that's worried about such things than the type that puts its head in the sand.

I kind of hate saying this, but as someone who does think we're f*cked regardless, and as someone who doesn't really want to be a farmer, I'm pretty much putting my head in the sand.

What the hell are the Rogue Waves, pray tell, please?

He gave you the clue. Asia basically decides to stop floating the truly massive amounts of our debt they're currently holding. There are rumblings of this already, though doing it now would also pull them down. Once China gets really aggressive in their search for oil and starts sporting anything resembling a consumer/middle class base (already starting), all bets are off though.
posted by jalexei at 7:10 PM on April 7, 2005


The era of cheap oil was over long ago in most parts of the world and catastrophe has yet to strike. The trouble with disaster scenarios like this is the assumption that people, economic relationships, and politics cannot adjust to changing times.

Trends don't go on for ever, and there is so much inefficiency in the way we use energy that there is still much scope for adjustment. Remember Paul Erlich? He made convincing arguments that we'd all die of starvation in, oh, 2000 or so.

But if the sky does fall, think through what you need, like this guy:

Navin: No! Maybe you've hit bottom, but I haven't hit bottom yet! I got a ways to go. And I'm gonna to bounce back, and when I do, I'm going to buy a diamond so big it's going to make you puke!


Navin: Well I'm gonna to go then! And I don't need any of this! I don't need this stuff, (he pushes all of the letters off the desk), and I don't need you. I don't need anything except this (he picks up the ashtray) and that's it and that's the only thing I need, is this. I don't need this or this. Just this ashtray. And this paddle game, the ashtray and the paddle game and that's all I need. And this remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game and the remote control, and that's all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game and the remote control and the lamp and that's all I need. And that's all I need too. I don't need one other thing, not one - I need this! The paddle game, and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches, for sure. Well what are you looking at? What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something? And this! And that's all I need. The ashtray, the remote control, the paddle game, this magazine and the chair.

[Outside the house]
And I don't need one other thing except my dog. (Shithead growls) Well I don't need my dog.

posted by mono blanco at 7:15 PM on April 7, 2005


created by the magic of the marketplace and the ruling class' ever obedient servants

I'm not a big Steely Dan fan, but Fagen's I.G.Y. was one of my first iTMS purchases.

I put some of this blame for lack of planning at Clinton's feet, too. I was out of the country in the 1990s, but AFAIK he wasn't able to motivate the country to attack the energy issue with the level of commitment it really demands.

The minarchists free-market libertopians seem to be comfortable leaving energy policy up to Big Oil. The oil companies talk a good game but they don't seem to distressed by the status quo right now.

The turn-around for me wrt peak oil was learning about how the North Sea field is tapped out and both the UK and Norway are on the downward production slope for the past 10 years, with total exhaustion not that far away.

Oil is certainly the best prism to look through to explain the US & UK's war on Saddam 1992-now.

Anybody with a background in statistics will recognize this curve, which relates to one of the more useful things I've ever learned in my life... Oil exploration (in a given province) is just like battleship, chances are you're going to find the carrier before the PT boat, so drilling more in an area isn't going to give you linear increases in discoveries. The big finds will be found early in the game. One of those relevatory moments in my life...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2005


Then again, I suppose Clinton wasn't going to be a repeat of Carter and his so-called negativism.

People want to be told bed-time stories, not the truth. We are a nation of children.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:30 PM on April 7, 2005


Jalexei has it pretty right. Though Asia has been diversifying it's currency holdings lately with the Euro. Which may make them more stable in the short term. Ultimately still bad for the US.

People thought that deflated dollars are good because it makes US exports cheaper so they stopped worrying about deflation. They were right. It did. In 1990. But no more.

One reason is when you have to ship goods over seas - with fucking expensive fuel that you buy with deflated currency you have exchange for Euros because the oil producers won't take dollars - suddenly the equation shifts greatly. You lose TWICE. (Then you have every country on earth hating Bush's guts and putting up trade restrictions not buying as much US goods... well... this hasn't quite happened yet. But it will.)

The other is in order to finance our deficits, social programs and defense expenditures we sold treasury notes to ANY-FUCKING-BODY (The Kuwaiti's had a bunch in 1990 that they used as leverage to get us to fight a goddamned war for them - ironically getting us further in debt and forcing Clinton to sell more T-bills) including our strategic enemies like China.

We had no idea the EU would be successful and China would grow like they did, as fast as they did, and actually burn through piles of cash bringing them closer to sell off our T-notes (so they can buy Oil). We thought they would stay backwards-ass commies for ever.

Europe - with the Euro and the EU - decided to really compete with the US for the first time since before WWII. It is no accident that we invaded Iraq after Saddam announced he was shifting from the petrodollar to the Euro. This was a message and a warning of things to come.

As for Peak. Understand this: Oil effects everything. From how we grow our food and how we ship it to how we cook it. Everything.

Yes. War for Oil.
posted by tkchrist at 7:34 PM on April 7, 2005


HM: The minarchists free-market libertopians seem to be comfortable leaving energy policy up to Big Oil. The oil companies talk a good game but they don't seem to distressed by the status quo right now.

What does Big Oil have to worry about? I don't suspect their profit margin will be adversely affected by a drop in supply.
posted by simra at 7:37 PM on April 7, 2005


Not initially, anyway...
posted by 40 Watt at 7:38 PM on April 7, 2005


The era of cheap oil was over long ago in most parts of the world

that's because, by population, "most parts of the world" (aka The Third World) live in what we 'murcans would call extreme poverty and cheap oil was never much of a factor in their lives.

and catastrophe has yet to strike.

again, i think most of the Third World would beg to differ

The trouble with disaster scenarios like this is the assumption that people, economic relationships, and politics cannot adjust to changing times.

i don't think anyone thinks that adjustments can't be made. in fact, in the article, kunstler describes what some of those adjustments might be like. humanity is resilient, sure, and this doesn't necessarily spell our doom. but do you want to live through the kind of global upheaval that would exist if, say, oil was 10 times as expensive as it is now?
posted by Hat Maui at 7:41 PM on April 7, 2005


from the article:
I predict that Sunbelt states like Arizona and Nevada will become significantly depopulated, since the region will be short of water as well as gasoline and natural gas. Imagine Phoenix without cheap air conditioning.
I've read that a solar array the size of Rhode Island could supply the US's energy needs. Phoenix & the sunbelt may not be so bad off when everything shakes out...

California's ISO peak today was under 30GW... at 15% efficiency, if my math is right, that's 70 sq miles of solar EV panels.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 7:43 PM on April 7, 2005


The era of cheap oil was over long ago in most parts of the world and catastrophe has yet to strike. The trouble with disaster scenarios like this is the assumption that people, economic relationships, and politics cannot adjust to changing times.

This is a common fallacy. Why: The US economy, with IT'S cheap oil, kept those people from starving and faltering. They could trade with the US, use our technology, buy our cheap food grown with our cheap oil and use our cheaply fueled military to subjugate their colonies and insolent masses. They could send us their precious resources and in exchange we give them our chief export. Paper. With some green squiggles printed on it.

AND the catastrophe has struck. Just not to you. Perhaps you have heard of this place we used call the Soviet Union? You know they had this completely irrelevant massive inefficient economic model that they propped up creaking and faltering with constant energy growth until... TA DA... they hit peak. 90% of the former USSR is BARELY a third world country now.
posted by tkchrist at 7:44 PM on April 7, 2005


I can't wait for the Long Emergency! I've been wanting my own farm for years!

Kunstler makes little remarks here and there in Geography of Nowhere and in his other books about the day the oil dries up. It's his thing, I guess. He's been talking about it for years. He's a little bit "sky is falling" but he does have some valid points. I just want to be around to witness the decline of suburbia. I feel bad that the Chinese are buying cars at such a clip and totally buying into the whole endless oil supply mirage this late in the game. Though, they'll likely be able to revert to bicycle travel whereas half or more than half of suburban america is totally going to be effed. Can't effing wait!
posted by shoepal at 7:46 PM on April 7, 2005


The era of cheap oil was over long ago in most parts of the world and catastrophe has yet to strike.

Maybe you don't understand what "global peak oil" means. We haven't had that before. It's new. It can only happen once.

The trouble with disaster scenarios like this is the assumption that people, economic relationships, and politics cannot adjust to changing times.

See, this is your problem. You remind me of people who deny conspiracy in the government by setting up a straw man of some ridiculous version of such. Nobody said that disasters can't be slow.

But make no mistake about it: this is world changing shit, and it will lead to hard times. War will rear it's ugly head (oops, looks like it already did). Imagine the field day the corporatist and theocratic demagogues will have with a fearful middle class feeling its sense of entitlement slip away. Like I said, don't forget your shotgun.

Now, will people adapt? I sure as hell hope so. In the long run, it might actually be democratizing, since it's going to put a major hurting on global hegemons. Then again, it might just send us back to feudalism. The real issue is: how many tens of millions will die during this "adaptation". It's easy to be all Strangelovian and rational about "adaptation" when it's not affecting you directly. It's a bit harder when you're, say, in the middle of Fallujah.
posted by mondo dentro at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2005


Don't worry now, jus erminds me o' bummin and a hobo'in back in the thirties.

The grass was green and so was the dollar, if ya ever saw one. (can someone teach me how to make little musical notations?)
posted by snsranch at 7:51 PM on April 7, 2005


Peak is not the End. That is alarmist nonsense.

Yes. Lots and lots of people will die. But we won't know them very well. So whaddya gonna do?

It will be the end of the present consumer lifestyle in the west. We won't starve. We will fight wars to hold on to what we have for as long as possible. And shit rolls down hill. Sorry third world.

The carrying capacity of those areas of the world have been exceeded and they don't have the wealth, the resources or capability to defend themselves from the onslaught of the west to soften the blow enough to prevent a massive population decrease.

War. Lot's of it. Just like the bad ol' days.

People in the west who find it easy to say "Yeah, man, down with the system - no wars for oil!" while veging to MTV or playing Nintendo, owning a car and house and working easy 40-50 hour weeks will sing a different tune when they will HAVE to work 70+ hours for low wages just to subsist and own next to nothing.

They will be crying "Man, can't we invade some frigg'n Ay-rabs already."

Eventually technology and population contraction will adjust civilization to live with-in it's means for a while. And It won't be that bad.

I would still prepare, however. It will make it easier for everybody.
posted by tkchrist at 8:00 PM on April 7, 2005


snsranch, unsupervised just linked that same song in a thread about Hootie. weird.
posted by shoepal at 8:02 PM on April 7, 2005


to post in unicode, just type in the symbols like so:

♫ --> ♫

More symbols are here.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:15 PM on April 7, 2005


(my god, what have I done...)
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:15 PM on April 7, 2005


mondo dentro hit the nail on the head: the culture of lifers in this country aren't thinking about tomorrow because jeebus is on his way back and cars run on cotton candy and angels wings in heaven.

i've had an overwhelming feeling lately that no matter what any of us rational folks do the religous nuts own this world and we just live in it.
posted by photoslob at 8:18 PM on April 7, 2005


The higher prices of crude oil will shift the paradigm over to making oil from coal. Not cheap, does not address the environmental issues, but plentiful and in different nations than oil concentration.
Yes, we have run into peak crude oil. Yes, the world will take an economic hit (on the level of five dollars a gallon gas in the US, standard) , but no, we are not nearly out of energy and can continue to destroy the environment for the time being.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:19 PM on April 7, 2005


Oh. I thought I'd add a "Silver Lining" note.

These wars will be mostly proxies and brief. We won't have the energy to fight them for very long. They may be intense and there is the chance somebody may nuke somebody else. But likely not your Armageddon type scenario.

The SUV will disappear. Yay. (that fuck who has the aircraft carrier sized BMW SUV that parks next to me and smacks my doors every other week is going to have get his ass kicked otherwise).

Man caused global warming - from hydrocarbon emission - will diminish.

The population contraction will occur mostly naturally and over a century or more. It will be nasty in the third or fourth decade after peak, but humans adapt well. Especially in the third world. Essentially the big epidemics will run unchecked because we won't have the energy to mitigate them and populations will not be able to have as many children.

It's likely that family planning will be de-stigmatized as a result.

There will be a significant slow down to wildlife habitat encroachment... that is after the initial rush to clear forests for food by the hardest hit countries.
posted by tkchrist at 8:20 PM on April 7, 2005


Ain't nothin' gonna happen. When oil gets expensive enough, we go to fission, fusion, solar, coal (cleaned up I hope), and a dozen other technologies.
posted by LarryC at 8:20 PM on April 7, 2005


The minarchists free-market libertopians seem to be comfortable leaving energy policy up to Big Oil.

Find a credible minarchist who thinks that an "energy policy" ought to exist. You wouldn't know a minarchist if he punched you in the nose.
posted by trharlan at 8:25 PM on April 7, 2005


It will be nasty in the third or fourth decade after peak,
Which is when? Will i be alive? Will i have to share my refrigerator box and cat food?

I still don't see why solar and wind can't be made better and cheaper. We have thousands of miles of sunny deserts that are empty, and plenty of wind all over. And tops of buildings all over the country are empty except for water tanks. Put stuff there.
posted by amberglow at 8:28 PM on April 7, 2005


Ain't nothing' gonna happen. When oil gets expensive enough, we go to fission, fusion, solar, coal (cleaned up I hope), and a dozen other technologies.

LOL. Yeah because a transition to all that can be done in just a few years, right?

Need we remind you guys the energy and economic systems we have now did not exist before Oil. There was no transition. We lucked out into a cheap energy source and went ape shit from there.

It would take a century or more to get to current GDP and rate of GROWTH (that is what is important) with new systems.

But your right - we will go to those energy sources eventually and things will get much better. But they will get worse first.
posted by tkchrist at 8:29 PM on April 7, 2005


LarryC, this is true but 'cheap(er) oil' was probably the largest impetus behind those nice years of economic growth of the 1990s.

I don't buy the global gloom and doom, but I do see a lot more pain and suffering in our future as we adjust to the new realities. People think we'll be going back to $1.39 oil, since every other peak has subsided, but this one will be different since we are so maxxed out right now.

While it is true that $1.10 in 1980 money is worth $2.79 today, so gas prices aren't that much different from the Carter-era spike, that Carter spike killed our economy, and inflation itself isn't too wonderful for people who have been saving for their retirement, either.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:30 PM on April 7, 2005


In the interest of causing trouble, and, since I am one of the lazy optimists who will not get his shelter in the woods ready in any case, here are some counter-arguments by non-quacks. Just don't hit me too hard, Peak-enthusiasts, since I don't know if I believe the optimists:

1. The Hubbert Model is based on faulty math and the decline in discoveries was caused by politics and economics, not peaking production.

2. Alternative energy sources, like shale, will allow a smooth transition for another 100-1000 years of growth (pdf, google cache html version here)

3. These sorts of predictions have been wrong before, and we have a lot of oil. (This is from the NCPA, a favorite of Bush's, so you should at least know what he is reading)

4. The current situation is solvable.

Of course, there seems to be a heck of a lot more pro-peak than anti-peak sources, though whether this is because this is the general scientific consensus, or because, as in the 1970s Club of Rome days, the population bomb group was so much louder than the more sane groups, I do not know.
posted by blahblahblah at 8:30 PM on April 7, 2005


cool, I finally get to have a debate with trharlan after lurking lo these years. Think I'll pass on this one tho.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:32 PM on April 7, 2005


We peaked last year. Just so you know.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:35 PM on April 7, 2005


As for blah's #2, bitumen (tar sand) extraction, I think fission+bitumen is almost like peanut butter & chocolate, two great tastes that go great together.

Build up some fission plants in backcountry Canada, bring in the monster rototillers and we'll have plenty of $50-60 oil for the foreseeable future.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:43 PM on April 7, 2005


>Will i have to share my refrigerator box and cat food?

And what of my cat box and refrigerated food?

Ok, kidding aside - How many years will it take for us to understand that we are in fact past Peak? Seems to me there's considerable leeway for arguing about 'temporary downturns'. It's taken 20 some-odd years to shout down then Global Warming naysayers....
posted by Triode at 8:45 PM on April 7, 2005


Here's my favorite quiz:

The US has oil reserves to cover the next:
  1. 4 years
  2. 10 years
  3. 40 years
  4. 100 years
of domestic consumption.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 8:47 PM on April 7, 2005


What monju said.
posted by tranquileye at 8:58 PM on April 7, 2005


OK, so we're past peak--at what point (what price?) will people not pay for gas, or start buying small cars again? or move closer to work? or demand public transportation?

Will it have to be like in the 70s, with alternate days for gas, and really long lines? or worse?

(actually, this might hasten telecommuting and virtual offices.) /bright side
posted by amberglow at 9:01 PM on April 7, 2005


Kunstler Came to my school yesterday. Spent all day with the guy—he's quite the character. Spoke to the largest crowd I've ever seen assembled in our auditorium; everybody was riveted for over 90 minutes, despite the total lack of ventilation in the place.

My contrubition to this discussion, though, has to be that many of the points Kunstler makes in his lectures have little to do with the "long emergency" of peak oil. He spent at least half the time last night speaking about how Americans have simply forgotten to build decent civic architecture: how we don't know how to make good entry doors, good windows, good facades, good sidewalks, etc.—this inability, in fact, is what created the suburban flight in the first place by convincing everybody that cities were crappy places to live. In a sense, Kunstler's argument is that this whole impending catastrophe could have easily been avoided (or at least put off) by simply building high-quality civic buildings. Quite the burden for us pre-architecture students to bear.
posted by rossmeissl at 9:07 PM on April 7, 2005


at what point (what price?) will people not pay for gas

I'm not an economist, but I believe this is a transfer function.

People will weigh the costs of filling up their SUV at $3+ per gallon vs. a car with twice the MPG.

Some people don't mind the extra $100-$200 per month for the increased manliness they get from their vehicle.

Will it have to be like in the 70s, with alternate days for gas, and really long lines? or worse?

The waiting lists on a Prius indicates the market will, indeed, correct. The stupid thing is that Detroit has had its thumb up its ass all these years. How Toyota beat Detroit is worth a good writeup in salon I would expect. Then again, Toyota's output is just 15,000 cars/month for 2005, not that big a deal I guess, ~$4.5B in sales or so.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:10 PM on April 7, 2005


shoepal; weird, I heard that song yesterday for the first time on pirate radio.

Heywood, I promise to take it easy with the musical note thing! hahah, and thank you BTW!!!

RE the post, were due for a socio-economic shift anyway. Bring it on.
posted by snsranch at 9:16 PM on April 7, 2005


The best part of Kunstler's website has got to be his architectural critiques. I think this one is my favorite.
posted by longdaysjourney at 9:17 PM on April 7, 2005


You can have my '59 Cadillac when you pry my cold dead hands off the steering wheel. (And don't scuff the dead seal upholstery when you do it, you fuck.)
posted by keswick at 9:20 PM on April 7, 2005


ldj -- thanks for the linkup with the critiques -- I remember happening upon that ~2 years ago, good educational stuff.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 9:26 PM on April 7, 2005


Sometimes the Mad Max movies can be too real to watch. I'm still waiting for the part where "the great leaders talked and talked" to occur, and then they have a war over the oil.
Ooops, I guess that part already happened. Hmm. Maybe no WMDs was a good thing in some small sense after all.
Seeing water futures paired with the obvious oil futures shortage was a pairing that is not yet expressed much, yet will come to bear in time. I do not care for sublime panic articles like this, but it will all come to bear in some form in the future...oil is the blood of America. We are hooked, it is a lifestyle the nation grew around, and there is no way off of it.
posted by buzzman at 9:40 PM on April 7, 2005


not sure what percentage of commenters actually read the linked story, but it intimates that we're complacently sleepwalking into a more sudden, and jarring, shift than anyone could imagine.

this idea seems to be borne out by some of the comments -- there's a general "why-should-i-listen-to-the-chicken-littles" disdain that's a product of the sense of entitlement derived from participation in the massive consumer culture that's brought us to this brink.

furthermore, in response to what amberglow said about wind and solar, the article identifies problems with that idea: you need the cheap oil economy to cost-effectively produce the implements needed to generate solar and wind power, and there's simply no current way to scale alternative sources of energy (excluding nuclear power, which is rather flawed in its own right) in a large enough way to offset oil's decline.

i'm reminded of a bumper sticker that i took to heart when i was a driver for allied van lines: without trucks, america stops. well, without (cheap) diesel, trucks stop. and not just at the truckstop.

thanks for those linx, b to the third.
posted by Hat Maui at 9:50 PM on April 7, 2005


blahblahblahblah : Nice links, in particular the pdf.

For those who are expecting higher priced oil to drastically affect things please check out the graph on page 11 of the pdf. It shows that oil only provides about 30% of the current energy usage. Higher oil prices will change things, but it's going to be an evolution not a revolution.

Greenhouse could still screw us up though. It'd be interesting to see how long democracy and respect for others lasted if there were real global food shortages.
posted by sien at 9:53 PM on April 7, 2005


sien:

In California (2003), the breakdown of electrical production is: This doesn't count the NG that is burned directly for heating, either.

One of the carpet cleaning companies here in the bay area ran an ad claiming they're raising prices next month 'due to higher energy costs' LOL. I've seen this movie before...
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 10:05 PM on April 7, 2005


Granted, two hundred years from now, a barrel of crude oil might be used for unimaginably important uses. But why save it for our children when we need it now to fuel an SUV to carry a single obese American to Yet Another Strip Mall?

Greenhouse could still screw us up though. It'd be interesting to see how long democracy and respect for others lasted if there were real global food shortages.

Capitalism, having defeated Soviet brand "communism", is poised to do the same to democracy.
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 10:15 PM on April 7, 2005


Heywood Mogroot:

Without cheating and using Google: I believe the answer is (1), four years.
posted by teece at 10:24 PM on April 7, 2005


This topic is very interesting, in that it functions almost as a religion with two sects. There are those who seem to believe in and cherish either a sharp shock leading to utter chaos and regression or a slow,lingering death leading to the same, either way fitting punishment for ours sins of consumerism and complacency. The other sect sees a problem coming, but being solvable through various means over time. It almost is exactly like a religion, because while both sides can present a number of compelling factual arguments, that doesn't really matter to their adherents. It's a matter of faith, whether modern culture will be consumed by itself or live on.
posted by Sangermaine at 10:46 PM on April 7, 2005


Anyone who quotes The Jerk to make a point in a discussion about global financial collapse is all right in my books!
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:52 PM on April 7, 2005


tkchrist: You've made a number of excellent points in this thread, but I think there's one glaring blindspot in your analysis:

Yes. Lots and lots of people will die. But we won't know them very well. So whaddya gonna do?

It will be the end of the present consumer lifestyle in the west. We won't starve. We will fight wars to hold on to what we have for as long as possible. And shit rolls down hill. Sorry third world.


Apologies for invoking the dread "post-9/11" trope and I don't mean to be alarmist, but one of the big lessons of the live television event of the century was that if enough shit rolled downhill, the people living in it would figure out a way to bring it to your doorstep and set it on fire (to overstretch the metaphor).

It's dangerously naive to believe that a global cataclysm of the kind that may well be ushered in by peak oil and/or climate change will not blow back at least as lethally as the Cold War's proxy militarism did. Which is in no way an argument for Fortress America (or Fortress First World) but rather a suggestion that we're all in this shit to some degree, and that the more universal our problem-solving, the less likely we're going to choke on it.
posted by gompa at 10:53 PM on April 7, 2005


There are those who seem to believe in and cherish either a sharp shock leading to utter chaos and regression or a slow,lingering death leading to the same

My mind's evenly split between the scenarios of Great Depression-scale breakdowns, buggering on in a continued decline of the American dream (Bush is on track to leaving his successor with a $9 trillion debt, with interest payments alone totalling over $500B/yr), and things somehow getting better as our free market economy steps in to save the day.

The religious angle comes from a belief in how much democractic government should overrule market forces and the rotational inertias wrt the current status quo. IMV, the $200B we spent to put the Muslim Brotherhood in power in Iraq would have been better spent on our own problems like hydrogen infrastructure, mass transit, urban renewal, but hey, those kinds of decisions are above my pay grade.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:05 PM on April 7, 2005


I was talking to my Dad about this last night - how does it look for us in New Zealand?

Kerosene's going to be expensive, so long haul flights will become out of reach for the average punter, ruining our tourism industry. No-one's going to want our agricultural produce either, since diesel-powered shipping is going to be similarly uneconomic - but perhaps we can build really efficient sailing ships again. And suddenly there's going to be a lot more crappy coal being burned, which is nae guid neither. It'll be goodnight chimps, 'cause suddenly everyone's going to want uranium from Gabon, Congo etc, so go down to the zoo and say sorry now. And the people who live there aren't going to enjoy the resulting wars either (not that they enjoy the ones they have now, but they'll get worse).

On the other hand, fish stocks will recover because fishing is extremely fuel-intensive and the rapacious Japanese and Spanish and Uruguayans will have to stop. (The Japanese love nature. It's delicious.) Possibly there might be tuna left in the world by the time that happens. We have a lot of cheap, crappy coal that can be used as feedstocks for chemicals etc. Shame about the sulfur, but since we have a prevailing westerly, it's the Falkland Islands that'll cop the acid rain. There's plenty more rivers to dam for hydro - fuck the greenies, we need the megawatts. And our friends next door in Australia have a crapload of uranium, which is just as well, because suddenly nuclear power's going to look really attractive. All the rich fucking foreigners who've bought up coastal land here will have to sell, because they'll need the money and there won't be international flights for them to come for visits any more. Hooray!

I don't see a crisis. I see extended rapid change while a new order sorts itself out, and we might all be happier at the end. You guys won't be on top in that new order, though, because it will be too hard to deploy troops to maintain America hegemony compared to now. You won't be able to afford them. Hopefully the famous tyranny of distance will keep us safe and well-fed, if deprived of foreign luxuries.

We're full, by the way. Motel New Zealand has NO VACANCIES. Sorry 'bout that.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:06 PM on April 7, 2005


Just kidding. You guys can sleep on the couch. But you'll have to make your own way over - maybe you can hitch on a nuclear sub or something.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 11:25 PM on April 7, 2005


since diesel-powered shipping is going to be similarly uneconomic

shipping will always be (relatively) economic. Those suckers can mount anything as an engine (tons and tons of engineering spaces), and have a lot of volumetric space to use for fuel storage too.

The Pacific Ocean is a more or less untapped energy source. All those typhoons are being driven by untapped energies of the wind, waves, and solar incidence. I see a possible future of PV solar -> H2 megafloats, but admittedly this requires a lot of capital investment, maintenance, and isn't as efficient as petrol.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 11:33 PM on April 7, 2005


I still don't see why solar and wind can't be made better and cheaper.
Because they (solar cells) involve things like ultra pure silicon crystals and GaAs -- pretty rare and very energy intensive to manufacture. Aslo, they are the same components that go into electronics industry. When you account for how much oil-based energy goes into manufacturing solar cells, their net energy return doesn't look so hot all of a sudden.

But that is not really the point. The point is that trucks, ships and airplanes run on oil, not electricity. Noone has figured out a way to power them with electric motors yet, and when they do, we will have to scrap all of them and build the electric ones, using oil.
It is also pretty hard to make things like plastics, chemicals, or fertilizer out of elecricity, as opposed out of good old oil.

But not only do we have to figure out how to do all of that, we also need time to implement these ideas. And if the peak is really that close, we're simply SOL. It doesn't help you much to know how to build an aiplane and fly away when you're on sinking Titanic..
posted by c13 at 11:47 PM on April 7, 2005


The point is that trucks, ships and airplanes run on oil, not electricity. Noone has figured out a way to power them with electric motors yet, and when they do, we will have to scrap all of them and build the electric ones, using oil.
Just a clarification: it is not the electrical engines themselves that are problematic (making tremedously powerful electric engines really isn't all that complicated), it's just that alternative sources for the required electricity are not currently practical. There's nothing impossible about it (there are, for example, current military subs that can run purely on fuel cells), it's just expensive and complicated.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:56 PM on April 7, 2005


Linked to above, the movie The End of Suburbia gives a good overview of this topic, something you can share with people less inclined to dig into these ideas on their own. Makes a nice double feature with another movie called Surplus.
posted by airguitar at 11:59 PM on April 7, 2005


This topic is very interesting, in that it functions almost as a religion with two sects.

Sort of, but not exactly. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who Believe in One Explanation for Everything, and those who think life is complex, multifarious, and not easily reduced to certainties.

The former have the religious bent and get frustrated with the willfully wrongheaded ignorant obtuseness of skeptics. The latter are agnostic and comfortable with an unknowable future. I'm the second type (and therefore actually believe that there are a lot more than two types of people, but anyway.)

But just in case the sky does fall we best prepare, because as the man said:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

(best not to encourage me, Starvos.)
posted by mono blanco at 12:08 AM on April 8, 2005


Current military subs have nuclear reactors, it's a bit problematic to store enough liquid hydrogen. Germany is experimenting with fuel cells, but that's all so far.
As far as airplanes are concerned, electric motors are nowhere near the practical thrust to weight/size ratio, and neither are the fuel cells.

But again, the question is more about time than alternative technologies.
posted by c13 at 12:15 AM on April 8, 2005


This article, from an older mefi post, gives some perspective on what oil means to the production of food.
Every single calorie we eat is backed by at least a calorie of oil, more like ten. In 1940 the average farm in the United States produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil energy it used. By 1974 (the last year in which anyone looked closely at this issue), that ratio was 1:1. And this understates the problem, because at the same time that there is more oil in our food there is less oil in our oil. A couple of generations ago we spent a lot less energy drilling, pumping, and distributing than we do now. In the 1940s we got about 100 barrels of oil back for every barrel of oil we spent getting it. Today each barrel invested in the process returns only ten.

David Pimentel, an expert on food and energy at Cornell University, has estimated that if all of the world ate the way the United States eats, humanity would exhaust all known global fossil-fuel reserves in just over seven years. Pimentel has his detractors. Some have accused him of being off on other calculations by as much as 30 percent. Make it ten years.
posted by airguitar at 12:16 AM on April 8, 2005


Germany is experimenting with fuel cells [for submarines], but that's all so far.
In production, actually, and with several export contracts.
As far as airplanes are concerned, electric motors are nowhere near the practical thrust to weight/size ratio, and neither are the fuel cells.
In general, quite true (and likely to remain that way for decades). Although, again, I suspect the problem is the weight/size of batteries/fuel-cells - I suspect an electric motor could easily replace a turboprop, if you could find some light way to power it. Also...
posted by kickingtheground at 12:43 AM on April 8, 2005


Well, I truly wish them luck. But I feel just as ambivalent about it as about one of the projects we have going on in the lab, which involves subverting plant photosynthetic machinery to either split water to produce molecular hydrogen, or to make electricity. It sounds very promising, and it actually works, somewhat, but when I think what it will take to make it as common as gas stations...
posted by c13 at 12:51 AM on April 8, 2005


The thing is, without oil, the only energy that we get (essentialy) is what comes in every day from the Sun, and that amount and the rate are pretty constant. Even with oil, we're already using about 1/4 of that energy in the form of photosynthesis in crop plants. Unless we get fusion working, we'll have to increase our take at the expence of all the other species, and it ain't good for them..
posted by c13 at 12:59 AM on April 8, 2005


As far as airplanes are concerned, electric motors are nowhere near the practical thrust to weight/size ratio, and neither are the fuel cells.

This is pedantic from a practical standpoint, but you must be talking about batteries or some other source of potential difference more than motors here, c13.

The electric motor is the best way to build a motor, it seems to me. The difficulty is powering the electric motor, which is where all the trouble comes in with batteries or whatnot.

Electric motors are much simpler than combustion. Unless I'm missing something. Are electric motors hard to get efficiency out of, as a matter of course? Or are you including the power plant and motor as a combo (which makes sense, I'm just curious).
posted by teece at 1:22 AM on April 8, 2005


I can't reliably source the quote, but it is appropriate here...

The stone age didn't end because we ran out of stones.


Have we all given up on the power and flexibility and creativity of humankind, when given the opportunities provided by the free market? It hasn't failed us yet. When gas gets expensive enough people will find alternatives. Profitable, better, cheaper alternatives.

The amount of waste and inefficiency in N. American energy consumption is staggering, there is so so much that could be done with regards to conservation there. What ever happened to the conservation efforts started in the 70's?

Non-market forces (OPEC, US gov't) retarded these trends, that's what, through interventions in the free market.

Things will sort themselves out, you mark my words. The world will be different in 50 years, well duh. It will be better, what we've got now will seem like the bad old days.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:27 AM on April 8, 2005


from c13:...which involves subverting plant photosynthetic machinery to either split water to produce molecular hydrogen, or to make electricity. It sounds very promising, and it actually works, somewhat, but when I think what it will take to make it as common as gas stations...

Here we stand
Like an Adam and an Eve
Waterfalls
The Garden of Eden
Two fools in love
So beautiful and strong
The birds in the trees
Are smiling upon them
From the age of the dinosaurs
Cars have run on gasoline
Where, where have they gone?
Now, it's nothing but flowers

-David Byrne
posted by Meatbomb at 1:35 AM on April 8, 2005


But not only do we have to figure out how to do all of that, we also need time to implement these ideas.

I disagree about the medium-term direness. Short-term we can conserve to nearly any degree necessary, there's still a lot of slack in the system.

As for solar requiring silicon stuff, this is not necessarily true.

but when I think what it will take to make it as common as gas stations

30 years ago affordable microcomputers ran at 1Mhz and 2K was a large amount of memory. We've upped these number by a factor of a thousand now.

without oil, the only energy that we get (essentialy) is what comes in every day from the Sun

This is not true. We're sitting on trillions and trillions of joules of geothermal energy. I'm not going to try to do the math but we could live for millions of years without the sun if we could tap that source effectively.

We've also go wind & wave power, which are immense energy flows that we let dissipate.

The US still has immense reserves of coal.

And our ace in the hole is nuclear fission & fusion. 20 years ago I thought fusion might be 20 years away, alas, but hey, with a visionary leader like Bush really investing in it I think we'll get there sooner rather than later.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:41 AM on April 8, 2005


Electric motors requre magnetic fields, which are usually made by passing electricity through coils of wire. Lots and lots of wire. Just try to compare the weights of say 5hp electric motor and an internal combustion one (from a lawn mower, for example).
Besides, the reason all the big and fast airplanes use jet engines is because they can move a lot of air in a very short amount of time, creating a lot of thrust. There was a post here on meta a while ago about a Royce-rolls jet engine, where they said that each of the compressor blades produces something like 800 horsepower equivalent. And it has a lot of these blades. Propeller-driven airplanes apparently cannot match this (otherwise we'd see a lot more of them around). And I can't imagine how you could power a jet engine by an electrical motor. But then it doesn't mean anything.

On preview: Its not about creativity, its about how much time we have to exercise it. Yes, I hope we come up with something. But then we have to implement it, not just in the developed world, where we might be able to afford it, but also in places like India or China. They probably will not, so we'll basically have to do it for them. Are we really willing to?
posted by c13 at 1:47 AM on April 8, 2005


What ever happened to the conservation efforts started in the 70's?

"Conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

-- Dick Cheney.

Non-market forces (OPEC, US gov't) retarded these trends, that's what, through interventions in the free market.

ahah, hah, ahah-hah,hah hah. OPEC is the laissez faire capitalist system on steroids. There are two orthogonal forces in the west: capital and free enterprise, these can and do work at cross purposes.

I agree that the free market will always win in the end, but in the medium run capital can have an extremely deleterious effect on the market -- cf. the O.G. himself, Rockefeller, or how that rat bastard Scaife got his money from the Mellon fortune, via a North American monopoly on aluminum (Alcoa) during the first half of the 20th century.

It will be better, what we've got now will seem like the bad old days.

1/3rd of me agrees with this wholeheartedly. 1/3 says the next 50 will be like the last 50, only less fun. 1/3 says things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 1:51 AM on April 8, 2005


30 years ago affordable microcomputers ran at 1Mhz and 2K was a large amount of memory. We've upped these number by a factor of a thousand now.
Are you seriously comparing restructuring the infrastructure and way of life for the whole world to making computers faster?

This is not true. We're sitting on trillions and trillions of joules of geothermal energy. I'm not going to try to do the math but we could live for millions of years without the sun if we could tap that source effectively.

Well, we also know that E=mc^2, and there is that whole thing about dark matter and dark energy and zero point fluctuations.
posted by c13 at 2:03 AM on April 8, 2005


mentioned on MeFi before, but well worth a re-read:

The Oil We Eat

David Pimentel, an expert on food and energy at Cornell University, has estimated that if all of the world ate the way the United States eats, humanity would exhaust all known global fossil-fuel reserves in just over seven years. Pimentel has his detractors. Some have accused him of being off on other calculations by as much as 30 percent. Fine. Make it ten years.
posted by Substrata at 3:34 AM on April 8, 2005


Are you seriously comparing restructuring the infrastructure and way of life for the whole world to making computers faster?

I don' think much really needs to be changed, just the gasoline economy. Toshiba just announced those batteries that charge up in two minutes, right?

hmm, doing the math (numbers from here.

Gasoline burned: 9.0e6 bbl/day (= ~1.25gal/person/day)
Energy content: 5.25e6 btu/bbl
Conversion: 3413 btu/kwhr

Gasoline Energy consumed: 1.38e10 kwhr/day

= 13.8 billion kwhr/day, or 5,050 billion kwhr/year

Total electricity production: 3,848 billion kwhr/year

So if we need to double our power production basically to power our cars, assuming we don't become Rational Man and actually fix our city planning and mass transit insanities.
posted by Heywood Mogroot at 4:05 AM on April 8, 2005


They will be crying "Man, can't we invade some frigg'n Ay-rabs already."

Eventually technology and population contraction will adjust civilization to live with-in it's means for a while. And It won't be that bad.



You make it sound like YOU are going to not be one of the ones 'contracted' or 'adjusted away in a violent manner'.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:28 AM on April 8, 2005


Don't have kids, people. I can't say that strongly enough. Don't have kids.

/already got a vasectomy
posted by The Dryyyyy Cracker at 6:21 AM on April 8, 2005


I am not a scientist but several things strike me:

1) Obvious bias, both in the article and in several responses. There is an agenda and some glee, especially pointed towards the middle class and suburbia.

Doesn't mean that what is being said isn't true, but one should consider these kinds of things when evaluating the content.

2) There is already an adjustment occurring. Hybrid cars, trucks and even SUV's are going to take over the car market in a big way. There are tons of other technologies being tested, and as gas prices rise, there will be more resources put to those areas.

It is easy to doubt the ability of humanity to overcome problems. But I just can't help but remember how fast we landed on the moon once it became a top priority.

3) We have much to worry about these days: global warming, a new ice age coming, super volcanoes, asteroid or comet hitting the earth, dirty bombs, population overwhelming the food supply, fuel output peaking, flu pandemics...etc.

Sometimes I think we know too much in these days of the information age.
posted by UseyurBrain at 7:03 AM on April 8, 2005


A truly fascinating page is the one by one of the founders of the field of AI (and the inventor of LISP), Jim McCarthy at Stanford. It is an omnibus of arguments about why growth is sustainable. A good read, which certainly makes a good case that it might be too early to give up on having kids yet.
posted by blahblahblah at 7:17 AM on April 8, 2005


massive sell off of US Treasury Notes

So where do they put all that money after the sell-off? Hint: rhymes with "U.S. fequities."
posted by ZenMasterThis at 7:31 AM on April 8, 2005


Articles like that give me the same heebie jeebies as watching those Nostradamus specials on TV.
posted by debralee at 7:59 AM on April 8, 2005


So where do they put all that money after the sell-off?

Amm.. Euro?
posted by c13 at 8:14 AM on April 8, 2005


I'm late to the debate, but one statement in the original article is so absurdly, grossly counterfactual as to call the entire analysis into question:

"The relentless subdividing of land in the late twentieth century has destroyed the contiguity and integrity of the rural landscape in most places."

The only way this is true is if your notion of "most places" is "most places that people who live in New York and LA would plan vacations or business trips" and you further assume that these are the folks who always take aisle seats on their transcontinental flights, the better not to view the geography of "most places."

The reality, of course, a few Long Island potato fields and northern Virginia taxi farms aside, the "rural landscape" is not only contiguous but is getting more contiguous all the time, as the patchwork of family farm landholdings is gradually erased in favor of larger corporate-operated spreads.

Measured as a percentage of formerly improved acreage, exurban development looks substantial. Measured another other way, as a percentage of the total arable land, the change is trivial. Weight that by the net productive capacity of the land and it becomes unrecognizably small -- most of the exurban development is occuring in areas with short growing seasons (the northeast, Colorado) or where production is structurally expensive due to required irrigation (California, Arizona).
posted by MattD at 8:15 AM on April 8, 2005


Look on the bright side, Metafilter. Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity?'"

Yes. 'Crisitunity!'

We have an awful lot of padding built in to our current oil-gobbling ways. Cheap oil has meant that we don't have to be particularly efficient (so we're not) and we don't have to look very hard for alternative energy sources (so we don't). The reason a number of the alternatives (solar, wind, geothermal, nuclear) aren't deployed on a much larger scale is that they're very slightly more expensive than good old oil right now. Oil goes up in price, suddenly a bunch of things make more sense than spending ever more to extract ever less oil that gets more and more expensive. Alternate technologies will only come down in price, while oil wil only go up.

So, assuming the peak oil theory is right, it's still not a doomsday scenario by any stretch of the imagination. Do the math and figure out what oil has to cost before it's more expensive than rolling out whacking great solar arrays and putting some serious money into greater energy efficiency, and that's your maximum energy cost. And if nothing else, we still have truly stupendous amounts of coal. Coal wouldn't be my first choice for the energy source of the future, but it is a lot cleaner today than it used to be, and could certainly tide us through some transitional times.

Saying that the end of cheap oil is going to be some kind of disastrous Mad Max style event is just utterly naive. I'm sure that when whale stocks started to crash there was this same crowd moaning about how we would all live in the dark in the years to come, because the disaster of Peak Whale Oil meant we would have no oil for our lamps. It would be funny if so many people weren't so taken in by it.
posted by rusty at 8:43 AM on April 8, 2005


Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for 'crisis' as they do for 'opportunity?'"

Yes. 'Crisitunity!'


So that's where the word "Christianity" must of come from!

I always appreciate a chance to bone up on my etymology...
posted by fairmettle at 9:03 AM on April 8, 2005


This thread is too funny, some folks can't wait for it to happen, they literally need it to happen. It's the End of Civilization meme. Don't bet your future on it, this is an industry, people make a lot of money playing up these scenarios.
posted by stbalbach at 9:27 AM on April 8, 2005


The people who are always going on about the end of civilization are the always the same people who hate civilization.

If only we could tap the endless supply of energy created by all this keyboard tapping.
posted by Mick at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2005


Speaking of industry, which one of you brilliant techy folks is going to invent cheap converters from gas cars to electric putt-putts? I'll invest.

And who's lobbying city councils all over to make all office buildings and homes (or all new construction) green and more energy-efficient?

Should i be looking to India and China, as Friedman says? Like that guy who invented the crank radio? Will they save us?

And i think solar and wind is definitely the way to go--to generate electricity--the greenhouse effect is only helping with that too.
posted by amberglow at 10:15 AM on April 8, 2005


The highly entertaining site, Exit Mundi, discusses peak oil, and adds at the end of its article:

Say we all stop using oil tomorrow. That would mean that suddenly, we will stop putting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Now, this is probably not a good idea. Over the years, we’ve got huge amounts of green plants and especially carbon dioxide-breathing plankton and algae on our planet, courtesy to the greenhouse effect. If we suddenly stop producing greenhouse gases, these plants and algae will suck up all carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

This will kickstart an instant, all-out Ice Age, as our planet is robbed from its protective carbon dioxide ‘coat’. The Earth would freeze over.


I know nothing about ecology and how weather works. Does anybody here know if this statement holds any water, or is it merely something they threw in to make Peak Oil sound extra horrible?
posted by Malachi Constant at 1:42 PM on April 8, 2005


Should i be looking to India and China, as Friedman says? Like that guy who invented the crank radio? Will they save us?

amberglow: yes, you should be looking at developing nations, exploring alternatives in Africa, discussion on China's options, as well India trying to negotiate it's way into an OPEC alternative for developing nations to access the oil they need.
posted by infini at 2:08 PM on April 8, 2005


Malachi Constant: sounds spurious at best. Ice ages don't happen overnight, no matter what. All an ice age is, really, is an extended period of time when the average temperature drops a few degrees, and over time (read:tens of thousands of years), there is more freezing in the winter and less melting in the summer. Glaciers begin to get bigger, and eventually start advancing. As you can imagine, this takes time.

Many believe we're in a short (warmish) breather in an ice age right now... they last ~10k years or so... ice ages last much, much longer.

We emit "greenhouse gases" through industry, sure, but even the most pessimistic estimates aren't enough to tip it so cataclysmically. Depending on who you listen to, either we're causing ice-cap melting or we're not. If we suddenly stopped using oil, I cannot imagine it affecting the world's average temperature in a negative manner.

Greenhouse gases are part of what keep the earth from freezing, sure, but they have always been here, pretty much as long as we've had life on the planet.

(So yeah, it's something they threw in.)
posted by exlotuseater at 2:58 PM on April 8, 2005


You make it sound like YOU are going to not be one of the ones 'contracted' or 'adjusted away in a violent manner

If history is any guide (and the fact that I am somewhat prepared) then I won't be... my children might, however.
posted by tkchrist at 5:01 PM on April 8, 2005


...the religious nuts own this world and we just live in it.
It seems that way because they care more about the minutiae they try to involve you in.

I would still prepare

Got a reading list tkchrist?
posted by Smedleyman at 5:26 PM on April 8, 2005


So where do they put all that money after the sell-off? Hint: rhymes with "U.S. fequities."

Wait, "gold" doesn't rhyme with... oh, right. Everyone will be buying stock in GM. Brilliant. Or were you thinking of the oil companies...
posted by sfenders at 6:02 PM on April 8, 2005


one of the big lessons of the live television event of the century was that if enough shit rolled downhill, the people living in it would figure out a way to bring it to your doorstep and set it on fire

Not as I see it. Those "living in the shit" (as they perceived it) wolud have been powerless without the leadership and sponsorship of a man who had the money and the will to act in retribution. The big lessons to be drawn are old ones: money is power; charismatic madmen are dangerous. But if we're talking about the end of oil, we're talking about the end of many Middle Eastern economies, we're talking about more war than ever in that region, and as a practical matter we're talking about the end of the ability of most of the people who live in that region to do any real harm to the Western world.
posted by kindall at 6:02 PM on April 8, 2005


The other is in order to finance our deficits, social programs and defense expenditures we sold treasury notes to ANY-FUCKING-BODY (The Kuwaiti's had a bunch in 1990 that they used as leverage to get us to fight a goddamned war for them - ironically getting us further in debt and forcing Clinton to sell more T-bills)

This is incorrect; we came out in the black for that war, because we had a president who valued international cooperation and got e.g. the Swiss to break 700 years of neutrality to help fund us.

"Say we all stop using oil tomorrow. That would mean that suddenly, we will stop putting huge amounts of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. Now, this is probably not a good idea. ... This will kickstart an instant, all-out Ice Age, as our planet is robbed from its protective carbon dioxide ‘coat’. The Earth would freeze over."

I know nothing about ecology and how weather works. Does anybody here know if this statement holds any water


"Instant" is extreme, but nothing like the tens of thousands of years claimed by another poster. Our last three mini ice ages (e.g. the one in the 1700s) followed periods of population decrease due to plague (e.g. Black), and hence farmland turning back into forest. Sinking that carbon takes more on the order of 100 years.
posted by Aknaton at 10:52 AM on April 9, 2005


Heywood, where'd you see the figures about the huge solar array equating to power usage of the US? Or know any links?
posted by uni verse at 11:53 AM on April 9, 2005


Found a link myself and some stats....
It is presumed that at "peak sun", 1000 W/m² of power reaches the surface of the earth. One hour of full sun provides 1000 Wh per m² = 1 kWh/m² - representing the solar energy received in one hour on a cloudless summer day on a one-square meter surface directed towards the sun. To put this in some other perspective, the United States Department of Energy indicates the amount of solar energy that hits the surface of the earth every +/- hour is greater than the total amount of energy that the entire human population requires in a year. Another perspective is that roughly 100 square miles of solar panels placed in the southwestern U.S. could power the country.

From a solar power designer, at http://www.solar4power.com/solar-power-basics.html
posted by uni verse at 12:04 PM on April 9, 2005


. . . . but nothing like the tens of thousands of years claimed by another poster.

Ice Ages are intervals of time when large areas of the surface of the globe are covered with ice sheets (large continental glaciers).
The term is used to describe time intervals on two very different scales. It describes long, generally cool intervals of Earth history (tens to hundreds of millions of years) during which glaciers waxed and waned. The term also describes shorter time periods (tens of thousands of years) during which glaciers were near their maximum extent. These shorter intervals are also known as "glaciations."


Many now believe that anthropogenic (ie. manmade) forcing from increased "greenhouse gases" would outweigh any Milankovitch (orbital) forcing; and more recent consideration of the orbital forcing suggests that even in the absence of human perturbation the present interglacial would last at least 50,000 years.

Scientists have identified two causes of the Little Ice Age from outside the ocean/atmosphere/land systems: decreased solar activity and increased volcanic activity. Research is ongoing on more ambiguous influences such as internal variability of the climate system, and anthropogenic influence (Ruddiman). Some have also speculated that depopulation of Europe during the Black Death, and the resulting decrease in agricultural output, may have prolonged the Little Ice Age.
posted by exlotuseater at 5:18 PM on April 9, 2005


We're going to see a fight over the table scraps of the 20th century. We'll be lucky if the immense failure of suburbia doesn't result in an extreme political orgy of grievance and scapegoating. The action in the years ahead will be in renovating existing towns and villages, and connecting them with regions of productive agriculture. Where the big cities are concerned, there is simply no historical precedent for the downscaling they will require. The possibilities for social and political distress ought to be obvious, though. The process is liable to be painful and disorderly. The post cheap oil future will be much more about staying where you are than about being mobile. And, unless we rebuild a US passenger railroad network, a lot of people will not be going anywhere. Today, we have a passenger railroad system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. Don't make too many plans to design parking structures...
Remarks in Hudson, NY, January 8, 2005 by James Howard Kunstler
Clusterfuck Nation: A Glimpse into the Future
The Clusterfuck Nation Manifesto
The Clusterfuck Nation Chronicle
posted by y2karl at 5:48 PM on April 12, 2005


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