Published Jul 7 2009 by Energy Bulletin
Archived Jul 7 2009

Web & media - July 7

by Staff

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Chat with a peak oil screenwriter

Amanda Kovattana (Earthworm), Flickr

Jon Cooksey, on the left, created the fun Boil A Frog video I just reviewed for the Energy Bulletin. EB editor, Bart Anderson, on the right, invited me to join them for breakfast. Jon lives in Canada, but works in the LA TV producing scene.

I was stunned to learn that he spent $300,000 to produce his little video and says he needs nearly as much to see that it gets distribution and that's going to be hard because he used so much copyrighted material. He also pitched to us an idea for a TV series with post collapse scenarios which I thought had a better chance of putting same message across given that he is involved in TV already. He says he only got one offer to buy the pilot of his idea which I gather is not much.

It was fun meeting with him. He's very knowledgeable, but not a numbers guy like most peak oil writers, so we had a bit of a brainstorming session on how to get away from numbers and get people to invest more time in preparation both psychological and in actual skills. The conclusion of Boil a Frog (after he delivers all the bad news very humourously) is to reduce consumption and grow food in your backyard.

We talked about the strangely myopic ASPO conference, where all the peak oil numbers people get together and hash out whether peak oil will happen 5 minutes from now or 20 years from now, or what, based on models they spend their lives perfecting. After our meeting Jon wrote up an alternative ASPO conference agenda which kindly included me as a speaker contributing my collapse scenario visions based on LGBT (ie: AIDS community die-off and recovery experience) and Thailand (developing country post globalization collapse experience). Apart from this very respectful inclusion, it was a hilarious send-up, so Bart posted it as a hoax style alternative. Bart and I both felt like we had just been transported to an LA sidewalk cafe to listen to pitches for entertainment industry. We were actually at the now defunct Printer's Ink bookstore space where the only thing left is the coffee shop. Ironically Jon had mentioned the Hollywood adage that no one reads anymore.
(1 July 2009)

Two pop thinkers and their fight about zero

Antonia Senior, Times Online

There was a life before the internet. It’s hard to imagine now, but when people wanted to find stuff out or read things, they had to stand up, walk to a bookshelf and brush away the dust. And, get this, people would, once upon a time, expect to pay for the movies they watched, the books they read or music they listened to.

The notion of media being free online, whether legally or illegally, is at the centre of Chris Anderson’s new book, Free: The Future of a Radical Price. Anderson’s first book, The Long Tail, was much fêted. But his second work has attracted a fierce critic in the shape of Malcolm Gladwell, the lauded pop-thinker and author of the seminal books The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers.

...Anderson argues that the ever-decreasing cost of processing, bandwidth and storage means that the annual deflation rate of the online world is nearly 50 per cent. Thus, the trend line of the cost of doing business online points the same way, to zero. This, the “freeconomy” model, means that if the cost of doing business is zero, pricing goods at zero is rational. Money can be made around the fringes of free. Google, or the “citadel of free” as Anderson calls it, makes extraordinary money out of advertising, but gives its services free to its customers. The more customers that it attracts by giving away free tools, the more money it makes.

This is where Anderson takes a battering from his rival thinker. Gladwell debunks the idea that the cost trend is toward zero. He points out Anderson’s admission that there is always a tiny marginal cost of distributing content. The cost of YouTube delivering one video to one consumer is, in Anderson’s view, “close enough to free to round down”. But as Gladwell points out, with YouTube expecting to serve up 75 billion videos this year, “close enough to free” adds up to pretty expensive. He also mocks Anderson’s attempts to imagine a future role for newspapers, in which much of the content is written for nothing by volunteers. Anderson’s obsession with cheap distribution ignores the costs of producing anything truly valuable. Gladwell ends with a withering comment: “The only iron law here is the one too obvious to write a book about, which is that the digital age has so transformed the ways in which things are made and sold that there are no iron laws.”

...The logic of Anderson’s argument, which suggests that only the best-content providers will be able to monetise their free content, leads to conclusions that he shies away from. Only a few will be able to make the conversion from free to a hybrid of free and paid, and there will be copious casualties across a range of media, from record labels to newspapers.

Gladwell, like Anderson, is a journalist, and perhaps wants to shoot the messenger. He may not like Anderson’s take on the way that the expectation of free goods is dictating the economics of the internet. But that does not mean Anderson is wrong. The brutal truth is that if consumers cannot be induced to pay for content, and the advertising does not pick up, much of the media as we know it is doomed.
(1 July 2009)

Former oil analyst Lundberg on Exxon's continuing to fund climate skeptics

Culture Change
Culture Change Editor's note:
As an oil-industry loyalist in the distant past, producing my "objective" and well-respected surveys and analyses, I did not have to deal with climate-change concerns. Until 1988, who did? The world's atmosphere and water seemed infinitely vast, though beset by smog and other "problems." Now that we all know so much, climate-change denialism is tantamount to something worse than Holocaust Denial. Can someone please suggest a good label for being an enemy of all life? I hate exaggerating, especially when I lived well off Exxon and Mobil et al for decades.

My last two clients for the oil industry were those two corporations before they merged. In 1988 I suddenly pulled the plug and did the unprecedented by turning my small firm into a nonprofit environmental group. Mobil was incredulous that I'd turn down steady money. Over at Exxon my chief contact sent me a letter whining that attacking oilmen was unfair, even though I was not attacking them as I carefully took on oil industry pollution. These firms may have eventually been placated by my sister Trilby Lundberg's becoming a blatant climate-change denialist. Trilby Lundberg took my prior family business, Lundberg Survey. She is quoted frequently by the business press in the U.S., thus enabled by and for corporate America far more than some oily grants to the industry hacks named below.
-- Jan Lundberg

ExxonMobil continuing to fund climate sceptic groups, records show
by David Adam, environment correspondent, Wednesday 1 July 2009
The Guardian

Records show ExxonMobil gave hundreds of thousands of pounds to lobby groups that have published 'misleading and inaccurate information' about climate change

The world's largest oil company is continuing to fund lobby groups that question the reality of global warming, despite a public pledge to cut support for such climate change denial, a new analysis shows. ...
(4 July 2009)