Published Jul 6 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jul 6 2009

Deep thought - July 6

by Staff

Click on the headline (link) for the full text.

Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage

Bugging Out
(Simon Beer)
Richard Cooke, The Monthly (Australia)
Simon Beer has spent the past five years trying to convince himself that the Apocalypse will be fun. Not that he calls it the Apocalypse. His fellow survivalists call it TEOFTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) or the Long Emergency, the Collapse, the Shift or the Event, as in, "There may be marauding bands of cannibals post-Event." But Simon doesn't call it anything at all. "I guess I'd call it ‘When the oil runs out'," he says. "I don't really have a name for it." So far this nameless thing has been far from fun: it has cost him his job, his relationship and his health, and it hasn't even started yet.

In the back garden of a modest Blue Mountains home sit the remains of Simon's meagre preparations for the Event. Even before he became seriously weakened by fibromyalgia, a condition with symptoms that include whole-body pain, he was never the kind of survivalist interested in having a bunker full of tinned food and weaponry. "Those can just be taken from you by force," he says. "Skills, primitive skills, on the other hand, will be more valuable. If your value is in your head, they can't take it from you - and they can't kill you, because you're too valuable."

... Simon taught himself to read at the age of two. At ten, he could explain the sub-atomic workings of a semi-conductor. Later, his work in physics won him a university medal: "I discovered two new star nebulae. Very minor ones." But he was already disillusioned by the academy, because "a scientist is someone who finds out more and more about less and less, until they know everything about nothing." After September 11, he began to read about the theory of peak oil. He was compelled by the idea that vast population growth has relied on cheap oil and that vast populations will use all the oil, or at least make it very expensive, resulting in massive, rapid population decline. After a great deal of reading and thought, he could find no way around this impasse.

... The only real form of preparation left for Simon is mental preparation. "I'd almost like to become the survivalist version of [the self-help guru] Anthony Robbins: someone who can talk to people about these terrible things that will happen, but make them seem positive." He has stripped all the pessimism from his webpage, focusing instead on the rewarding skill set of the hunter-gatherer. He makes it sound like an endless camping trip. "I know I might have romanticised it," he admits. "But I need to. It's going to happen; I have to make the change seem positive. Happiness is all about the perception of growth, of going forward. So if our current use of resources is imbalanced, then getting that balance back will be an improvement."
(May 2007)
An old article, but just out from behind a paywall according to Leanan at The Oil Drum.

Simon's site is Survival, Self Sufficiency and Sustainable Living

How Politics Works and Why Activism is So Important

Dave Pollard, The Oil Drum
This is a guest post by Dave Pollard, an author and activist who blogs over at How to Save the World (Dave's always been one of my favorites in the blogosphere). I found this piece interesting because it elucidates many of the problems and lessons that we talk about in my interest groups/social movements course--and in turn those problems and lessons inspired some of the foundational goals that we set up The Oil Drum to fulfill: to educate and inform, and then to inspire and organize those educated and informed people to be a positive and persuasive force in a difficult, seemingly path-dependent world. Yes, that's right, you folks here at The Oil Drum are a small (and very informed) part of a larger sustainability/resource depletion social movement; and, even though we may all have different ideas about how to get to a better world, I hope that we can still agree that continuing an informed discourse about how to make it better is an important part of getting there. -
- TOD editor Professor Goose

... The role of the activist is to act as a counterbalance to this perversion, to speak truth to power, to bridge the distance, to hold those who are irresponsible and unaccountable, responsible and accountable. To intervene. To break down what is already broken. To enable what the people really want to be realized, despite everything. A step forward for every step back. A holding action.

This is thankless work. So I want to say thank you.

Without activists, the world would be full of gulags, torture prisons, brutalized, silent spouses and children. Without activists, the forests would all be gone, the air fouled, the oceans dead, the glaciers and ice-cap and permafrost melted into a brown sea. Without activists, women would have no vote and no right to choose, and people of colour would have no freedom. Without activists, the books with the most important ideas in human history would be banned, or never published. Without activists, the world's children would be working in mines, and the world's adults would be working in chains. Without activists, we would all be addicted to the poisons that Big Tobacco and Big Agribiz and Big Pharma and Big Energy try to convince us we cannot live without. Without activists, the only non-human animals would be farmed animals. Without activists, the world would be awash in billions of unwanted children.

All of us must be activists, if we are to give this world a fighting chance.

... you need to be for something, not just against something. Always fighting against, as important as that work is, will drain your energy unless you also have a vision of a better way, something to replace what you're battling. So you need to be not only an informed warrier but also an innovator, an entrepreneur, a visionary.

And you need to be prepared to search insatiably and undogmatically for the truth, because ultimately that is your most powerful, and sometimes your only, weapon. Without it, your belief and passion are not enough.

You also need to be able to articulate, simply, clearly and honestly, what you believe and why. There is power in intention and strength in numbers, but you will be unable to achieve either unless you are able to convey what is, and what needs to be done, to those who are ready to listen and to make common cause with you. You cannot do it alone, and you have to pace yourself. You need to understand too that many people will not be ready for your explanation, and that your response when you meet them is to be polite and to move on, not waste your energies trying to make them believe what they are not ready to believe. You must have faith that they will come around, in time, and you or one of those you have joined in common cause will be there, then, to welcome them.
(30 June 2009)

Risk Assessments: Playing the "What If?" Game

Robert Rapier, The Oil Drum
I spend a lot of time playing "What if?" It is an important aspect of my line of work, but we all do this to some extent. I do it when I am driving - "What if that car at the next intersection pulls out in front of me?" - when I am working "What if that high pressure line ruptures?" - and at home - "What if I wake up and find the house is on fire?" I also spend a lot of time pondering the question "What if there are energy shortages in the near future?"

When we do this, we are generally trying to understand the potential consequences of various responses to a given situation. This sort of exercise is a form of risk assessment, and it is a very important tool for making decisions about events that could impact the future. Sometimes the consequences are minor. If I choose not to take an umbrella to work and it rains, there is probably a small consequence. If I choose to pass a car on a blind hill, the consequence may be severe, and may extend to other people.

In this essay I will explore the implications of the question: "What if I am wrong on peak oil or global warming?"

What If I'm Wrong About Peak Oil?

I guess it was my training as a scientist that instilled in me the position that conclusions are tentative. (I was two years into a Ph.D. in chemistry before I decided the job prospects were better for a chemical engineer). They are subject to revision as additional data come in, and you have to always be willing to consider that your preconceptions may be wrong. But acknowledging that I could be wrong has to go hand-in-hand with the consequences of being wrong.
(2 July 2009)
Risk analysis is a preoccupation of Kurt Cobb's. See his 2007 post: Peak oil forecasts and asymmetrical risk . -BA

The Future of Transport

With Peak Oil just around the corner, humans are going to be faced with very few options for mobility in the future — stop travelling or find alternative forms of transport. Imagine travelling with dozens of balloons or in a futuristic-looking helium ship or maybe in a car made of vegetables and powered by chocolate. Sound too good to be true? Check out our collection of the craziest forms of green transport.

... Helios Concept Car

The Helios Concept Car, designed by Kim Gu-Han from Universität Duisburg-Essen in Germany, shows us just how quickly innovative ideas and concepts for more ecological transport are becoming commonplace. The electric off road vehicle is powered by solar energy produced from its photovoltaic panels. The large, wing-like solar panels increase the energy charging capacity of the car. The solar panels are retractable for driving, but the car’s solar panels also offer the ability to power your home when the car is not in motion – provided you park it outside the garage of course and point the panels toward the sun.

... Cluster Ballooning

If a child were to create a flying device, their fantasy of air travel would probably look something like cluster ballooning – enormous, brightly colored balloons attached to a lawnchair or other form of seating, slowly moving across the sky. Cluster ballooning is fascinating to watch and ever since Larry Walters captured the world’s attention in 1982 with his solo flight, people have become addicted to watching the sport and a few even dare to try it.
(1 July 2009)
Oddball article with striking photos. -BA

Dopamine Returned on Energy Invested (DREI)?

Jason Bradford, The Oil Drum: Campfire
On a steamy Friday night my 10 year old son and I headed over to the rodeo grounds. It is only about a mile from our home and within the city limits, though on the eastern edge where the town merges into the valley landscape of pastures and tree-lined creeks and ditches.

As we approached, it was obvious that a large crowd had gathered. A long line extended from the ticket booth and the stands looked nearly full. Friends had tipped me off about what was going on only 10 minutes earlier, while thousands of others had obviously been looking forward to this event.

It was a truck and tractor pull.

On a hot summer night truck pull fans fill the stadium at the rodeo grounds in Willits, CA. Behind the dust is a weighted sled, called Terminator, that eventually forces the truck to stall. Truck pull images by Ree Slocum.

I place this sport in the same category as NASCAR, demolition derby, drag racing, and motor cross: An internal combustion engine of one sort or another propels a vehicle with a driver. Speed, power, agility, longevity or luck may sort among winners and losers. In this particular version, a weighted sled steadily increases the resistance the further it travels. Vehicles pull until they stop, usually in an engine stall and a cloud of dust.

... The crowd was big. Ten times bigger, in fact, than any I had been able to attract with notions of peak oil, economic collapse, relocalization, renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, or a host of other hot topics. What should I make of that?

... Our brains were being whip lashed by dueling neurotransmitters. The neocortex was giving us one signal, namely “Polluting Earth Bad,” while the limbic system was giving us countervailing signals, specifically “THIS IS SO COOL!” In fact, that is the other phrase my son used often that night. So on a cycle that repeated every several minutes, I would pump my fists and shout “YEAH!”, but as the rush of dopamine waned, nagging concerns regarding the energy expenditure would re-emerge.

... Anytime I see gallons of fossil fuels being burned I realize that the btus released are enormous, dwarfing the potential power output of human bodies or domesticated animals. Without a renewable energy infrastructure in place before depletion of oil sets in, I fear social convulsions of the worst sort. For example, if we lose our energy slaves will we somehow justify human ones again?

And yet we burn it up so frivolously. This final quote from my son summarizes the situation aptly: "Dad, this is so crazy!"

... We like to share stories on Campfire. So I’d like to hear from you about the following:

1. Have you been able to move away from low DREI habits and replace them with high DREI ones?
2. What experiences have you had like mine and John Jeavons’, being simultaneously awed and disgusted by the excesses of our world?
3. Why should I deprive myself of the great hedonistic pleasures of the age of oil if I can still afford them since very few others willingly curtail?
4. Is information sufficient to change behavior, and if not, what does?
5. I recognized very few faces at the truck pull, even though I live in a small town. What does this say about the cultural diversity of society and does that diversity make it more or less challenging to adapt to change?
(1 July 2009)

Tällberg Forum 2009

Kjell Aleklett, Aleklett's Energy Mix
... the Tällberg Forum is a meeting place for the world’s NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations)

... The Tällberg Forum for 2009 is over and I must summarise four intensive days, my expectations, what I experienced and how this year’s forum influenced me and my future activities.

... When Bo Ekman opened his year’s forum the theme was “How on Earth can we live together, within the planetary boundaries?” He noted that the time factor for the progression of various events had changed, “The Change of Change”. One hundred years ago changes in nature were something that took a long time. Today we see changes of, for example, the Greenland ice sheet over a time period measurable in years. Today it is human structures - everything from nation states to infrastructure – that are more stable than natural world.

A simplified picture of reality is that the world today is organised so that the USA, Europe, Russia and China are the lead players in the global game. They do not allow new members into the Security Council and they guard their positions. An important driving force for the Tällberg Forum is to fight to see that other interest groups and nations are not excluded. Bo Ekman also noted that new technology is not a source of security but, rather, indicates change – change that can sometimes radically alter our reality. The future requires increased integration between relationships and technology and everything is needed to create increased freedom. On the horizon is a dream of a new nation, “Freedomia”.

Bo Ekman also asserted that global fiascos exist and the greatest are the Kyoto Treaty, the Middle East and the financial crisis. Simultaneously, the future maybe requires projects where we must artificially reduce the world’s average temperature, fix the global economy and undertake a massive storage of carbon dioxide. For me this is an impossible agenda. What may be closer to reality is that we must, in future, have a solar-driven economy.

The first one to describe the limits within we live was Emanuel Mori, the President of the Federated States of Micronesia, an island group spread over an area the size of the USA but only two metres above sea level. What will happen when the sea-level rises? In the last 100 years it has risen by 20 centimetres but if the coming 100 years brings a rise of one metre it will be a catastrophe. The current rate of sea-level rise is actively discussed in the research world. Many believe that it is human activity that has caused an increase in the world’s temperature and that this causes the glaciers to melt and the sea-level to rise.

For many of the world’s inhabitants it is current political activities that are more devastating than future catastrophes. A clear example is Rwanda.
(2 July 2009)

One Second After: A Book Review from a Prepper's Perspective

Jerry Erwin, Culture Change
... The new, apocalyptic novel One Second After deals with an extremely fast crash, being that of an EMP, or Electromagnetic Pulse attack on the United States.

I felt that a long intro to this book review was necessary, since many, to include peak oilers and other progressive visionaries may not be familiar with what EMP is.

... Electromagnetic Pulse can effect entire power grids, as well as anything solid-state (semiconductors, transistors, integrated circuits, etc.), particularly if it has an antenna connected. Regardless of this, the EMP wave will generally hit any and all circuitry at the same time, unless it is specifically shielded against it. Therefore, protective items like surge protectors, fuses, etc. don’t work.

... This book is forwarded by Newt Gingrich, and although some politically-oriented people might moan and groan at the thought of a former Republican Speaker of the House providing a forward to a work of fiction, he simply endorses the purpose of the book as a warning.

... The book makes very intelligent observations, regarding how a fast crash would manifest itself, most notably the fact that yes; we will be thrown into something resembling the 1800’s. Only problem is, we don’t have an 1800s-type infrastructure. Even worse, even if we did, it wouldn’t be able to support the current population, and population densities within the US. The result is an instant Dark Age, where feudal-type arrangements are made with other nearby communities, as waves of starvation and disease dominate this story.

... The main character is John Matherson, a retired US Army full-bird colonel, and history professor. This character is largely based on the author himself, in addition to taking place where the author lives.

The human die-off in this story occurs in waves. The first to go are all of the nursing home residents, as they lose their medications (particularly the ones that require refrigeration), dietary needs, etc. Next are all the people on various other medications, people suffering from their own obesity and lives of over-consumption, etc.

... On a subject dear to my heart, a short reference was made to us survivalists. Initially, the city council depicted in this novel wanted to confront a certain clan, living “up in the hills”. They are introduced, among others as “…the old survivalist types, the kind that were real disappointed when the world didn’t go to hell with Y2K. They’re just waiting for us to come up and try.” (p. 159)

Initially, they discuss this clan’s frozen meat, stored in a giant deep freeze, run off an old generator they were known to have.
archived July 3, 2009
(3 July 2009)

Ruins of a Second Gilded Age

Charles Wilson, text; Edgar Martins, photos; New York Times
Last fall, the New York Times Magazine commissioned Edgar Martins, a 32-year-old Portuguese photographer based in London, to capture on film the physical evidence of the real estate bust in the United States.

... [He] traveled from rural Georgia to suburban California, visiting large construction projects that began during the speculative boom years and then came to a sudden halt, often half-finished, when the housing and securities markets collapsed.

The abandoned or stalled developments .... can be seen as signs of the hubris (and occaisional criminality) that typified the boom and the economic and human damage that remained in its wake.

"The sudden shift in the economy unmasked such excess," Martin says, reflecting on the sites he visited. "People are present in these images, but not physically. You trace their action, the destruction they left behind."
(1 July 2009)
Carl Etnier points out that the NY Time has taken down the photo essay:
A reader ... discovered on close examination that one of the pictures was digitally altered, apparently for aesthetic reasons. Editors later confronted the photographer and determined that most of the images did not wholly reflect the reality they purported to show. Had the editors known that the photographs had been digitally manipulated, they would not have published the picture essay, which has been removed from"