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December 8, 2006 6:23 AM   Subscribe

This handy comparison guide can help you prepare for our turbulent future with lessons from other people's turbulent recent past.
posted by hexatron (48 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
10 points for incendiary content.
posted by jouke at 6:33 AM on December 8, 2006


I am not an expert or a scholar or an activist.

I am, how do you say, a crank with PowerPoint.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:42 AM on December 8, 2006


-100 for obvious thesis and incredibly sloppy and amatuerish defense of same.
posted by loquacious at 6:45 AM on December 8, 2006


I'm sure I don't agree with everything in there...but there are lots of individual points worth considering. I like the cut of his jib.
posted by gimonca at 6:48 AM on December 8, 2006


A more interesting roundup of oil-related news and analysis. Refreshingly powerpoint-free.
posted by clevershark at 6:54 AM on December 8, 2006


Bullet points should be, well, shot.
posted by DenOfSizer at 7:03 AM on December 8, 2006


(These similarities justify reasoning by analogy.)

Sign him up for a MeFi account.

I'd be a bit more impressed if he didn't ignore the glaring difference that we have elections that lead to broad policy shifts and a free press that keeps the public informed.

Bombast all you want about the Military/Industrial Complex and the Corruption of Media, but the US simply has a more agile, adaptable government than the USSR did.
posted by mkultra at 7:11 AM on December 8, 2006


So much of that is all "This happened to Russia, so it will happen to the U.S." A better example would be the collapse of European colonial empires, especially the U.K. The British Empire managed to "collapse" without any of the attendant chaos of the Russian collapse. No rampaging mafias fighting over table scraps and soforth. In fact it could be more accurately described as a "rollback" then anything else.

On the other hand, the people responsible for the worst of the Russian collapse, the IMF and their neoconservative advisors decided "shock therapy" would be the best way to move things to capitalism. It was certainly a good way to create an upper class oligarchy, which is what conservatives really want...
posted by delmoi at 7:20 AM on December 8, 2006


I'd be a bit more impressed if he didn't ignore the glaring difference that we have elections that lead to broad policy shifts and a free press that keeps the public informed.

He doesn't ignore it at all--he explicitly states that our elections don't lead to broad policy shifts, and that our "free press" doesn't keep the public informed. He actually spends a good bit of his time explaining how the two parties lead to little if any actual change on the fronts that really matter (consumption, energy policy, environment, etc.), as well as how the American "free press" is much more effective at keeping the public uninformed than the secrecy of the USSR ever was.

The British Empire managed to "collapse" without any of the attendant chaos of the Russian collapse.

Did the British empire really collapse? Sure, they lost de juris control of their colonies, but through agencies like the World Bank or the IMF, they're able to exercise broad de facto control of the same even today.
posted by jefgodesky at 7:36 AM on December 8, 2006


we have elections that lead to broad policy shifts

Say what you want about the USSR, but at least its leadership was never dynastic...
posted by runkelfinker at 7:38 AM on December 8, 2006


the US simply has a more agile, adaptable government than the USSR did.

very true ... the question of course is whether the people are adaptable ...

i saw this a couple of days ago and think it's best regarded as satire ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:38 AM on December 8, 2006


+1000 for each invocation of the 'In Soviet Russia . . .' cliche.

That said, I don't see how someone could really argue against some of his main points: eg. a debt-ridden conspicuously consumptive society living on the outermost extremity of sustainability will at some time falter, and that this collapse will make the Soviet collapse look like a cakewalk in comparison because most of your average Russian folks learned to do without, whereas your average western suburbanite has never really had to deal with true scarcity.

Who would be a better bet? The fat Roman, or the lean Vandal?
posted by isopraxis at 7:42 AM on December 8, 2006


He doesn't ignore it at all--he explicitly states that our elections don't lead to broad policy shifts, and that our "free press" doesn't keep the public informed. He actually spends a good bit of his time explaining how the two parties lead to little if any actual change on the fronts that really matter (consumption, energy policy, environment, etc.), as well as how the American "free press" is much more effective at keeping the public uninformed than the secrecy of the USSR ever was.

Did we look at the same presentation, because apparently I missed that in-depth analysis. Are you talking about slide 20? Well-considered, irrefutable points, those.

Who is this guy, anyway, and why should anyone care? I don't claim to be an expert on terrorism preparedness just because I happened to be in NYC on 9-11.
posted by mkultra at 7:52 AM on December 8, 2006


it sounds like it'll be a lot like Parable of the Sower, which is not good, to put it mildly.
posted by amberglow at 7:53 AM on December 8, 2006


Previous thread; compare and contrast.
posted by gimonca at 7:56 AM on December 8, 2006


1. Elect leadership that will make alternative energy (biofuels) a national agenda (rather than providing subsidies to oil companies).

2. Develop infrastructure to mass produce biofuels, on par with the Apollo program and the New Deal.

3. Stop importing foreign oil, which will shorten the trade gap.

4. Become a net exporter of biofuels, which will keep the demand for the greenback from falling too rapidly.
posted by Nquire at 8:09 AM on December 8, 2006


Become a net exporter of biofuels, which will keep the demand for the greenback from falling too rapidly.

5. Starve, because even if we dedicated 100% of our arable land to biofuel production, we wouldn't hit 35% of our oil consumption, much less have anything to export.

6. Never mind the carbon issues.
posted by eriko at 8:18 AM on December 8, 2006


By this logic the United Kingdon and Holland should've fallen to third world status by now.
posted by StarForce5 at 8:36 AM on December 8, 2006


I don't get it - I expected something altogether different from the text pf the post:

This handy comparison guide can help you prepare for our turbulent future with lessons from other people's turbulent recent past.

Seems like something that I could look at when I am doing something like buying a car or a new house, or whether or not to have another kid.

I would like to see a comparison tool for individuals based on individuals experiences, anyone know of such a thing? Like freeadvicefromoldpeoplewhovemademistakes dot com or something...
posted by Monkey0nCrack at 8:39 AM on December 8, 2006


OMG PEE COIL
posted by mr_crash_davis at 8:40 AM on December 8, 2006


Seems like something that I could look at when I am doing something like buying a car or a new house, or whether or not to have another kid.

I guess you missed the last few slides in which he advises us all to essentially quit our jobs, drop out of the economy, and live off the land. Afterall nothing prepares you for being poor and homeless, like .... actually being poor and homeless.
posted by StarForce5 at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2006


It was certainly a good way to create an upper class oligarchy, which is what conservatives really want...

Because conservatives can never act well-intentioned but ill-advised, unlike liberals.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 9:33 AM on December 8, 2006



I think the bullet points are funny.

We don't have to be poor and homeless, StarForce. I don't think the US economy is due for downright collapse, but there's a good chance it's going to have to contract quite a bit and that our standard of living is going to fall and that we won't get to pay slaves $5 an hour to serve us lattes and nasty salads! (The horror!) So, it might be a good thing to be less dependent on a disgusting service economy for everything and to re-localize economies, so that at the very least we know where our food comes from and how to cook it. Bad things happen to good people, folks. And also to Americans.

A better case for this is presented in The Long Emergency, by James Howard Kunstler. If even a fraction of it is correct we're fairly fucked. It's fun to read though and good writing.
posted by bukharin at 10:17 AM on December 8, 2006 [1 favorite]


His thesis seems to be that since the USSR was already mostly in the stone age, the collapse didn't harm them as much as it will the US. Yes, more stone age lifestyle here, please.

But I feel compelled to say... Mr Orlov, I find your ideas fascinating and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.
posted by GuyZero at 10:18 AM on December 8, 2006


eriko: Biofuel does not necessarily equal corn or other grown crops, though those are the most economically feasible at the moment, and will provide a stepping stone to other technologies. Specifically, I'm hoping for algae - vats on top of coal burning power plants, or grown in sunny south-east deserts. Good for the economy and good for the environment, because biofuels are carbon neutral. Anyway, there have been many previous threads on MeFi about this topic (which I'm too lazy to search for and link to at the moment).

But for a couple of examples indicating that private industry is already headed in this direction, there's GreenFuel Technologies and the University of New Hampshire Biodiesel Group. Since Mr. Orlov's argument centers around peak-oil, the current trade gap, and not to mention that the demand for the US dollar is tied to the demand for oil, it falls apart if the US can become the world's leader in energy alternatives to oil.
posted by Nquire at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2006


You guys, this is hilarious! I am ROTFL! Lighten up, will ya?
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:34 AM on December 8, 2006


I particularly like the "Hated Evil Empire Race" slide.
posted by blucevalo at 10:37 AM on December 8, 2006


We need more movies like Titanic.
posted by Brian B. at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2006


His thesis seems to be that since the USSR was already mostly in the stone age, the collapse didn't harm them as much as it will the US. Yes, more stone age lifestyle here, please.

I don't think that's really fair. He describes a public transit system that was extensive and able to keep running through the hard times. He also gives the Soviet education system higher marks than the United States. I don't think he'd describe the USSR as in the stone age.
posted by GalaxieFiveHundred at 10:54 AM on December 8, 2006


Friends More Important / Money More Important
Broke, But No Matter / Broke and Helpless


Yeah, a lot of these points can probably be written off as a lot of speculation. But give him credit at least for trying to think of something - while I don't see a lot of the parallels he's drawing, I also can't look at the way America is attempting to function and even pretend that it's sustainable.

Also, bits of this are just awesome

This is all very unhealthy, and the effect on the nation's girth, is visible, clear across the parking lot. A lot of the people, who just waddle to and from their cars, seem unprepared for what comes next. If they suddenly had to start living like the Russians, they would blow out their knees.

But then, we've known for awhile that fatties aren't prepared for the future.
posted by EatTheWeek at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2006


6. Never mind the carbon issues.

What carbon issues of switching to biofuels are you referring to?
posted by justkevin at 11:08 AM on December 8, 2006



Yeah, as far as Russia being in the stone age, it's part true, but as a student of Russian, I can tell you that in the 20th century elementary school students were reading and memorizing Pushkin and Mayakovski. Like us, the urban areas were a lot more educated than the rural. Economically, however, they were all but living in a medieval peasant economy until the 20th century, and the manic pace of industralization was only achieved by crushing the peasantry and forcing them into collective farms (a more violent version of our own agricultural collectivization in the 30s - we just did it through foreclosures). There's a wonderful book called The 900 Days by a guy named Salisbury, I highly recommend it, about the siege of Leningrad in which over a million people died of starvation and whatnot. Gives you a real respect for Russian tenacity and resourcefulness.
posted by bukharin at 11:13 AM on December 8, 2006


What carbon issues of switching to biofuels are you referring to?

Biomass + energy = transportable fuel.

While it's true that if you do things just right, you can make the biomass carbon input equal the fuel's carbon output, you still have that nasty energy factor. Where does the energy for the transformation come from?

If it's coal or oil, you've just lost badly. If it isn't, what's your energy source?

If you are dumping the biofuel into cars and trucks, forget the carbon balance as well -- it's impossible to keep millions of cars running efficiently. You'll be leaking carbon. If it weren't for the energy input to convert the biomass into fuel, it might not be that bad an issue.

Meanwhile, where's the biomass? The algae tanks don't add up, even if we convert Arizona into one giant tank, and news flash - we're nowhere near being able to deploy them en mass. Ditto various plant sources that are far better than corn and soy.

Right now, biofuel is, at best, a bad joke. The cost of converting the biomass we have now way too high -- we're better off burning petrodiesel directly than using it to make biodiesel, and the only reason we're only years from that equation flipping will be the rising cost of energy.

What we need isn't new fuel sources for the things that we can't use electricity for, what we need is far less of those things. Electricity is the only low pollution, high power energy transport we have, and are likely to have for at least twenty years, and anything that can't be directly driven by AC needs to go away.

Translation:

1) Intercity trucking needs to stop. Now. Period. No exceptions.

2) Car commuting needs to drop dramatically, by at least 50%. Ideally, 90%. Intercity car traffic drops to 1%, at most.

3) Short haul aircraft need to go away. Period. If it's not 750 miles, it's not flyable.

Do that, then suddenly, nuclear driven biodiesel makes a huge amount of sense. Done correctly, it's zero import, zero carbon.


We need intercity and intracity high speed rail. We need to double the freight trackage, as well as build out nearly the entire passenger trackage. We need to then electrify almost all of it, so we can sequester what carbon we do need to create to power the trains -- it's far easier to make one plant clean than thousands of cars, and sequestration is only hard at one plant -- it's impossible on thousands of cars. Meanwhile, cars go to bio-diesel hybrids, only until we find a way to go all electric, all hydrogen, or get rid of them, period.

Then, and only then, can you tell the Middle East to fuck off and have a hope of not having most of the Great Plains turning into a desert, destroying your food base.

Meanwhile, of course, the Trucking Industry has tied you to a stake, the suburbanites have heaped firewood about you, and Southwest Airline just tossed on the match to make *you* the carbon emission problem du jour.

None of this will happen. Period. The politician who even tries will be mocked, and if that doesn't stop him, killed.

That's why were fucked. We refuse to change, and we cannot survive without cheap energy and cheap capital, and we're losing both of them rapidly.
posted by eriko at 12:45 PM on December 8, 2006 [3 favorites]


5. Starve, because even if we dedicated 100% of our arable land to biofuel production, we wouldn't hit 35% of our oil consumption, much less have anything to export. (posted by eriko at 8:18 AM PST on December 8)

Biofuels are laughable in a warming world of six billion; in a warmed world of ten billion, they will be looked back upon as a tragic waste of resources and precious time.
posted by jamjam at 1:43 PM on December 8, 2006


Speaking of emission issues, let us not forget the cattle problem.
posted by mgorsuch at 1:49 PM on December 8, 2006


While it's true that if you do things just right, you can make the biomass carbon input equal the fuel's carbon output, you still have that nasty energy factor. Where does the energy for the transformation come from?

Umm.... From the sun?

Also, you can't "leak" carbon. There is only a finite amount carbon in the atmosphere. If anything we would "leak" carbon the other way, not all the CO2 taken from the air would be returned. Some would turn to soot or CO

It's amazing that you've built up this whole train of thought off of completely incorrect premises. There are tons of studies that show Ethanol (including corn Ethanol) does have a positive energy output.
posted by delmoi at 1:53 PM on December 8, 2006


I've been thinking for a while that our consumerist culture is a reflection of the Cold War, when economies were used as weapons of propaganda (We're providing free transportation, housing, health care, and jobs to all our people! Well we can buy jeans and go to rock concerts!). Placing a value on ever cheaper ever more abundant "stuff" was part of what defined our society as a success. It helped win the Cold War, but now we're screwed, too, because we're locked into an untenable economic model, just as unsustainable as the Soviet command economy. Sure, the Peak Oilers sound a lot like the Y2K-bug doomsayers, but I'm not sure who to throw in with: the ones arguing for a sustainable, though simpler and harder, lifestyle or the ones arguing that we (meaning mostly the USA) can keep using the lion's share of the planets current and future resources, with little negative effect to ourselves, forever.
posted by rikschell at 2:30 PM on December 8, 2006


also, people who lived thru the mid-20th century in the USSR knew how to share and to make do--we don't, and we're much more selfish because we've been able to be so. That won't last much longer, and many millions will have to change their lifestyles--when you have to get into your car to get milk and bread and all staples, you're utterly dependent on gas.
posted by amberglow at 2:50 PM on December 8, 2006


Beautiful and incredibly Russian.
He makes some good points, some not so good points and does much of it with tongue firmly in cheek.
Such a perfect job of s*** disturbing that one can almost forgive the presentation.
Thanks for the post Hexatron.
posted by speug at 3:32 PM on December 8, 2006


Crank or not, his personal recommendations in slide 27 are worthy, collapse or no.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:57 PM on December 8, 2006


Slide 5 sums up the problem here:

it's superficially accurate, seductive.

"Unwinnable wars Iraq, Afghanistan"-- so they're the same?

"Out of control military budgets" of course, I can buy stock in our military companies, and pay taxes on the profits

"Delusions of grandeur prevent honest discussion of problems"-- I see, so what's happening here on Metafilter doesn't count? We can't vote new guys in every two years?

And Meatbomb, slide 27 is the exact opposite of what you want to do. "Pull your money out of financial markets and put it into durable objects of lasting value" like what? If you pull your money out of the game, then you don't count. We can say that's terrible, but it's a fact-- and if the goal is change, how does this help?

I'm sure everyone has had this passing thought, but taking advice from this guy seems vaguely disingenuous? Perhaps like Cheney advising the Iranians to be less religious?
posted by tomrac at 5:36 PM on December 8, 2006


From the sun?

Ahh, the dumb way to covert sunlight to energy. Grow something (Fixing carbon, hooray!) then burn it (shoving it right back into the atmosphere. No help.) It's also very inefficient, and it takes a bloody long time.

I've not seen any credible evidence that the two big biofuels -- ethanol and biodiesel -- are anywhere near net positive. Every example that claims so tends to leave something out -- the biggest miss being the cost of taking all the biomass to the central spot that will convert it to biofuel. Another frequently missed aspect of ethanol conversion, esp. in E10 and E85, is you have to have azeotropic ethanol, which is not trivial to do. We won't even comment on fertilizer issues .

The one place that comes close is the sugarcane->ethanol production stream. Problems: 1) Sugarcane is hard to grow, and hard on the land. It's almost certainly not sustainable. Sugar beets may turn out to be better, and they certainly don't need the water than cane does, but they're even harder on the land. More fertilizer. Do you have any idea of the energy cost of fertilizers?

Nothing I've seen looks at the energy input to grow and gather the sugarcane -- a *not* trivial cost, as any farmer will tell you by showing you the fuel bill for hauling the crops to market.

The plants are being powered by burning the residue waste, which means that biomass isn't being replenished into the soil, thus, more energy is needed to keep the soil viable, and we're turning fixed carbon into gaseous carbon, which we simply have to stop doing, unless KILLING EVERYTHING ON THE PLANET is okay.

Lets say you win, and you, in fact, have a 50% positive cycle -- you make two liters of E100 by burning one liter. This would be a miracle, but hey, I'll grant it (poof!)

Guess what? To replace oil, you need to produce *twice* the energy in Ethanol, one half to power the cycle, the other to replace the oil. In terms of volume or mass, you have to remember that Ethanol has about 60% of the energy density of oil. Which means, really, you need to generate somewhere around 3.5x the total fuel oil production with Ethanol to replace oil totally. And, of course, move it around. You'll need bigger pipelines and tanks, because there's going to be more liquid to push. And so forth.

You can't do it. There isn't enough land. There isn't enough fertilizer to keep that land productive. There isn't enough leftover energy to push the fuel around. And burning up all the residue to make the cycle net positive is going to kill us all anyway.

I'm not bothering with Biodiesel, because the numbers are vastly worse.

The only place E85 economies are working is in the sugar belt, where land is cheap and sugar grows, and it is doubtful that they'll stay that way for long. It's very doubtful they stay energy positive, meanwhile, you are turning easy-to-stash fixed carbon into gaseous CO2 when you burn the Ethanol (C2H5OH + 3 O2 → 2 CO2 + 3 H2O + heat). We won't bring up the VOC problem with mass fermentation, because compared to the other ones, it's minor. We will point out that burning the residue biomass for heat is, once again, turning fixed carbon into gaseous CO2, and not helping anything.

Three problems, son: Economy, Ecology, Energy. You have to solve *all three, at the same time*, if you really want you kids to die of old age.

You cannot fix the problem on the supply end, because even if we posit oil prices holding steady, we can't afford to burn the fuel. We need to fix this problem on the demand end -- replace those items that demand an ultra-dense energy storage system that releases carbon with ones that don't.

This is going to require a massive change in societies that don't want to change.

This is why I die a little more every time I see a friend's child. It's a hell of a planet we have, and we're going to leave them with nothing but the hell.
posted by eriko at 5:45 PM on December 8, 2006 [3 favorites]


You cannot fix the problem on the supply end, because even if we posit oil prices holding steady, we can't afford to burn the fuel. We need to fix this problem on the demand end -- replace those items that demand an ultra-dense energy storage system that releases carbon with ones that don't.

This is going to require a massive change in societies that don't want to change.


Yep, and free market forces, coupled with the political will to require e.g. carbon markets, more efficient light-weight vehicles, and flex-fuel hybrids will substantially affect the demand for energy. Just look what's happened for the demand in hybrids over the last 3 years, while the demand for Hummers has dropped.

You have to slow carbon emmisions before you can reverse them. Carbon markets can be set up so it's profitable to plant acres of trees to act as carbon sinks. When it became increasingly expensive to locate and kill whales for oil in the mid 1800s, how many people exclaimed "We're fucked! No more oil-lamps! Go back to candles!" Forcing everyone to adopt an agrarian lifestyle just because environmentally safe technological advances aren't available right now is just a pessimistic cop-out. It's like saying "Nah, it's no use. Don't even bother trying to innovate. Here, drink the cool-aid now to save yourself the hardship later." It annoys the shit out of me.
posted by Nquire at 8:07 PM on December 8, 2006


So, Hated Evil Empire Race, eh? Who's winning?

I thought that the Germans took the gold for that back in '42.

(*ducks* *covers*)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 8:02 AM on December 9, 2006


"We're fucked! No more oil-lamps! Go back to candles!"

Just wanted to say that this made me laugh very, very hard.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2006 [1 favorite]


eriko: Thanks, I have been telling my friends that this generation is exquisitely fucked in every way, but could never put it so eloquently.
posted by tehloki at 9:42 AM on December 9, 2006


You have to slow carbon emissions before you can reverse them.

but Nquire, how do you tell 2 billion people (in India and China) not to burn fossil fuels like we did? there's no way to make them switch, and really no way in our current political system to make us switch either.
posted by amberglow at 6:55 PM on December 10, 2006


Well, we could always invade them and seize control of their resources.
posted by tehloki at 7:02 PM on December 10, 2006


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