Friday, March 18, 2011

Links 3/18/2011

Japan and the Economy: What You Need to Know (by Daniel Gross, Yahoo! Finance):  A typically misleading mainstream media article on the potential impact of Japan's crisis on the US economy.  Most telling is how the article does not even mention the fact that Japan is a significant buyer of US Treasuries, currently holds some $800 billion in them, and will likely not only have to stop buying them but sell off their stock in order to finance reconstruction.  Also no mention of the way that Japan will likely begin importing significantly higher quantities of diesel in order to keep their lights on, thus pushing even higher demand on an oil market that already is stretched to its production limits.

The Vegetarian Myth (interview with Lierre Keith on Peak Moment Television): Interview with a former vegan on the myths of vegetarianism, specifically that it is a lifestyle that decreases violence by reducing harm to animals, when agriculture has proven to be one of the most biologically destructive processes ever designed by man.  If you doubt this point, just look at the current condition of the so-called "Fertile Crescent" where agriculture began.  Other points in this discussion will be the likely focus of a future post.

When the Lights Go Out (by Ashvin Padurangi, The Automatic Earth blog): Contrast this view with the Yahoo! Finance article above.  I tend to take something more seriously when it doesn't ignore energy -- the lifeblood of the global industrial economy.

George Will: Driving a Wedge (by Don Plummer, The Trillium Patch, accessed on Energy Bulletin):  I honestly didn't even bother to read the original Newsweek piece by Will cited in this article, but I'm all for anything that points George Will out as the fatuous gasbag that he truly is.  Having lived in Westchester County and commuted by train daily, I can state with pretty reasonable confidence that many traveling via rail had a conservative perspective, and that they didn't see the train schedules as leading to any kind of "collectivism."  It's probably more likely that they, like me, found the train to be a comfortable and convenient means of transportation.

The Limits of Incantation (by John Michael Greer, The Archdruid Report, accessed on Energy Bulletin): Greer describes how Americans seem to believe that incantation can relieve us from our current and future predicaments surrounding the availability of cheap, dense energy.  It seems to mirror some of the things that I wrote about in a recent post, American Ignorance on Energy, Part One, as well as a much older post (and one of my own personal favorites), The Myths of Historical Positivism.  

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Enemy of My Enemy Is My Friend

Here is a brief excerpt from the end of a Reuters article, "Gaddafi forces push forward as U.S. mulls air strikes," that appeared today on the Yahoo! News page:

Gaddafi, in an interview with the French daily Le Figaro, said his troops' aim was to liberate the people from "the armed gangs" that occupy Benghazi.
"If we used force, it would take just a day. But our aim is to progressively dismantle the armed groups, through various means, such as encircling cities or sending negotiators."
Asked if dialogue with the rebels was possible, he repeated his assertion that they were linked to the al Qaeda Islamic militant group.
"These are not people with whom we aim to talk, as al Qaeda does not talk with anybody." 
Wait a second.  The US Government is contemplating air strikes against the Libyan forces that their dictator claims are associated with al Qaeda.  I thought that al Qaeda was our international bogeyman behind everything nefarious (or against our "national interest) coming from the Middle East.  If so, then wouldn't it stand to reason that Moammar Qaddafi is actually our friend, since we both share in common the same enemy?

In all actuality, I find Qaddafi's claims that those opposing him are directly influenced by al Qaeda to be ridiculous.  I also find many of my own government's attempted linkages of those it claims to be enemies to al Qaeda -- such as Saddam Hussein as the most glaring example -- to be absurd.  However, it is interesting how readily those who wish to avoid public scrutiny or questioning will roll out such a hobgoblin in order to try and distract others from the real source of their actions, which is often more about holding on to or expanding their own power and control.

While Moammar Qaddafi may not be our "friend," this article also highlights how similar he and those who wield power in our own government may actually be....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

American Ignorance on Energy, Part One

"We have only two modes—complacency and panic."
- First U.S. Secretary of Energy James Schlesinger, describing American energy policy

For the past decade or so I have made a personal hobby out of following issues surrounding energy, especially oil.  I have read countless news articles, opinion pieces and books -- as well as following it on other media such as podcasts and news shows.  Since I have spent a considerable amount of time to inform myself on these matters, I am consistently left dumbfounded by the sheer ignorance exhibited by the political class, mainstream media and public-at-large regarding energy and oil.

I've gone ahead and labeled this post as "Part One," since I'm sure that this is a topic that I'll come back to revisit as events continue to unfold.  It's simply too deep a topic to be covered in a single post.

MYTH NO. 1: America has plenty of oil to meet our (current and future) needs.
I should start this one with a caveat.  If "needs" are defined as current trends extrapolated as growing at a continuous rate into the future, then this line of thought is absolute horseshit.  American discoveries peaked around 1930 with the discovery of the West Texas fields, and around 1970 our domestic production peaked, just as legendary petroleum geologist Marion King Hubbert predicted in 1956.  Although bringing the Alaskan North Slope into full production in the 1980s helped raise production, the US never again matched its peak production of around 9.5 million bbd.
Source: Jim Quinn, "Lies We Tell Ourselves," Naked Capitalism (, accessed March 10, 2011.

If anyone can look at the lines on this graph and explain with a straight face why we have not exploited these numerous sources of oil even as our reliance on imports has surged again over the past 25 years, please let me know -- I have a bridge connecting two of NYC's boroughs you might be interested in....

MYTH NO. 2: It's all those greedy speculators / oil companies!
Background for dispelling this myth can be found in point no. 1, as well as the following graph showing global oil discoveries and production.

Source: ASPO-USA, "Oil Discovery" (, accessed March 10, 2011.

Recall from the rebuttal to myth no. 1 the lag time between discovery peak and production peak for the United States?  Now, look at the time passed since global discovery peak on the above graph.  The simple matter is that as supply and demand of any commodity -- be it wheat, gold, or as so comically shown in the moving "Trading Places," frozen concentrated orange juice -- begin to converge, the price of that commodity becomes much more open to extreme swings through speculative investment.  As soon as speculation takes hold, the price begins to be driven more through emotion than anything else -- both on the upswing and on the downswing.  It seems that people have already forgotten how quickly the price rose to $147 per barrel and subsequently crashed into the $30s only 2-3 years ago.

MYTH NO. 3: We should open up the Strategic Petroleum Reserve!
Merriam Webster defines "strategic" as:

1 : of, relating to, or marked by strategy [strategic retreat];
  a : necessary to or important in the initiation, conduct, or completion of [a strategic plan];
  b : required for the conduct of war and not available in adequate quantities domestically [strategic materials];
  c : of great importance within an integrated whole or to a planned effect [strategic points];
3 : designed or trained to strike an enemy at the sources of its military, economic, or political power [strategic bomber]

Does a simple rise in the price of a commodity, no matter how precious that commodity is to conducting what we see as a "normal" life, meet any of the above definitions?  Hardly.
MYTH NO. 4: There are plenty of oil reserves out there, we just have to start pumping them.
The keys to understanding oil supplies lies not in looking at simple reserve numbers, but rather looking at production and energy return on energy invested (ERoEI).  For example, a field may contain reserves of 20 billion barrels.  But if you can only produce 100,000 barrels each day without the possibility of damaging the well (and impacting future production), then your production is only 100,000 barrels each day.  
As for ERoEI, the Canadian Tar Sands provides an excellent example.  These finds may indeed contain billions of barrels of oil equivalent.  They also take high amounts of energy to produce, with an estimated ERoEI of 5.  This means that it costs approximately 1 barrel of oil equivalent to obtain 5 barrels of oil equivalent from the tar sands.  By comparison, the West Texas fields had an ERoEI of over 50:1, in some instances approaching 100:1 (Note: I would like to provide a source for this last number, but I have read it in several places and can't readily find one with just a quick Googld search).  What this means is that although there may be a lot of potential oil in the tar sands, it also takes a tremendous amount of oil to get at it.  It's the equivalent of investing money toward the point that you only receive $1 for every $1 you put in -- at which point there's no longer any point in continuing.  Likewise, regardless of the amount of projected reserves of tar sands, the difficult process in turning them into usable oil places a cap on the possible production well below that of light, sweet crude with an ERoEI of 50:1 and upwards.

I'll leave it at those 4 for right now.  If anyone has any thoughts on this, I would appreciate hearing them.  I'll probably return to this topic again in the future as more ideas come to me. 

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sphere of influence vs. sphere of concern

I've become a big fan of podcasts over the past several months -- a trend driven largely by my 3-hour (sometimes more) daily commute to work.  One of my favorite podcasts has become "The Survival Podcast" with Jack Spirko (, even though there is at least one thing in almost every episode that I vigorously disagree with.

In several episodes, Jack has mentioned a concept from Stephen Covey's well-known book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  That concept is summarized best by the title of this post, although I believe that Covey refers to it as "circles" instead of "spheres".  There are several summaries of the concept of "influence" vs. "concern" on the internet.  Two of them can be found via these links:

I used to live primarily in the circle of concern instead of the circle of influence.  And I can speak from experience, that the more time you spend there, the more frustrated you feel at your lack of influence -- and the more your circle of influence shrinks as a result, just as Covey describes.  After moving more into the circle of influence, it is amazing the feeling of empowerment I feel as compared to before -- and how I can sense my circle of influence beginning to grow and expand outward.  Or at least, that's the way that it feels to me.

So, what does all of this have to do with the Survival Podcast?  Basically, I think it has to do with the focus that we all need to have in the midst of challenging times in regards to what Chris Martenson ( has described as the "Three E's" -- Economy, Energy and Environment.  What I love about Spirko's focus is that it is primarily about actions that we can all take "to live that better life if times get tough, or even if they don't."

In the spirit of living that better life, here are the things that I have been concentrating on over the past couple of months:
- Reading and researching about permaculture principles of food production
- Building some cold frames to get an early start on my garden season, as well as extend the season through the fall into the winter (I already have spinach sprouting up in one of them)
- Learning about rocket mass heaters in order to design and construct one in the summer
- Organizing a showing of Chris Martenson's "Crash Course" ( at my local library, where I was able to connect with other like-minded people in my area.
- Saving money and paying off debt through the principles embodied in Joe Dominguez and Vicki Robin's book, Your Money or Your Life.
- Making sure that I spend time playing with my daughter every day if possible, even if it's after a long work day, because it always brings a smile to my face no matter how tired I might be.
- Trying (and this is still a difficult thing) to focus on the things that I can get done in the time I have, instead of lamenting how I don't have anywhere near enough time to get the things done I want to do.
- Reminding myself every day of the reasons why I love my wife -- especially when her discomfort and raging hormones of being in her seventh month of pregnancy take over.

While writing this list, I am also forced to reflect upon the first session of my showing of Chris Martenson's Crash Course.  Immediately before the event we had a short period of discussion among the attendees, and a discussion following the video that lasted for a good ninety minutes.  One of the attendees there was what I would characterize as the archetypal liberal -- a type that I know well because I used to be that kind of person.  Like most liberals (my old self included), she was driven primarily by her sphere of concern.  As an example, she stated quite unequivocally that we needed to concentrate on the issue of population above all others, that if we would only address that issue that the others would be much easier.

Now, I'm not going to disagree with the notion that stresses on our ecosystems and natural resources have a lot to do with human overpopulation.  The simple fact is that during the past 30 years we have increased from a world population of 4.5 billion to 6.5 billion, and continue to increase at a rate of over 70 million each year.  The reality, however, is that aside from my own personal actions, there is little I can do about overpopulation -- and if I concentrate on that issue as this person suggested, I will end up likely alienating more people through coming off as preachy and controlling (as this person's point of view struck me) than persuading them to my point of view.

By concentrating on my circle of influence, however, and focusing my efforts on household food production, reduced home energy usage and reducing overall consumption -- I am able to serve as an example to others, perhaps bringing them to the conclusion that such actions can help lead to a better life.  This, in turn, can compel them to voluntarily undertake those changes on their own, thus helping to reduce pressure on the systems that we all depend upon for some semblance of a modern life, while still maintaining the more important aspects of that modern life.

Also, in the spirit of living that better life by concentrating on my sphere of influence over my sphere of concern, I will be resuming (or would that be starting) more blog entries over the coming weeks and months.  I am not doing this for the sole purpose of gaining a wide audience (although I admit that would be nice) but because the process of writing all of these things down is important to my maintaining focus on the sphere of influence and letting go of those things that exist solely within my sphere of concern.  If anyone out there is reading this, I would also very much appreciate any feedback you could provide on your own thoughts on this journey.