Archive for February, 2011

Don’t count on natural gas …

… to solve US energy problems

by gailtheactuary (February 07 2011)

Note: The original version of this article contains links to several additional sources of information. See URL at end.

We often hear statements suggesting that by ramping up shale gas production, the US can raise total natural gas production and solve many of its energy problems, including adding quite a number of natural gas vehicles, and replacing a large share of coal fired electricity generation. While there is the possibility that shale gas will allow US natural gas supplies to increase for a few years (or even ten or fifteen), natural gas is only about one-fourth of US fossil fuel use, so it would be very difficult to ramp it up enough to meet all of these needs.

One issue is whether a rise in shale gas will mostly offset other reductions in natural gas supply. In Annual Energy Outlook 2011, EIA forecasts that shale gas production will increase from 23% of US natural gas production in 2010 to 46% of US natural gas production by 2035, but that these increases will mostly offset decreases elsewhere. Even with this huge increase in shale gas production, the EIA only sees US natural gas production increasing by an average of 0.8% per year between 2011 and 2035, and US natural gas consumption increasing by an average of 0.6% per year per year to 2035 – not enough to make a very big dent in our overall energy needs.

Figure 1. EIA Figure from the Early Release Overview of Annual Energy Release 2011

I don’t know that the EIA forecast is correct, but below are some related issues I see. While we may see some increase in natural gas supplies, there is significant downside risk if shale gas cannot continue to ramp up considerably, because of cost, or fracking issues, or carbon dioxide, or any number of other problems. Even if shale gas does continue to ramp up as planned, the EIA forecast suggests that the overall increase in total US natural gas production is likely to be modest at best. It seems to me that steps we make to use this new supply should be made cautiously, being aware that the increased supply may not be all that much, or last all that long.

1. The US is a natural gas importer. It does not produce as much natural gas as it consumes.

Figure 2 shows the US has been a natural gas importer for many years, with Canada being the major source of imports. LNG has played a more minor role. The amounts imported have not been a large percentage of the total, but even now they are essential for keeping the prices down.  The import amounts shown are on “net of exports” basis. In other words, LNG imports have been reduced by LNG exports (from Alaska to Japan), and Canadian imports have been reduced by exports of natural gas to Canada.

Figure 2. US natural gas consumption, separated into US produced, LNG, and Canadian imports, based on EIA data.

2. The US supply pattern for natural gas has been quite irregular over the years.

A person can see how irregular the natural gas supply pattern has been in Figure 2. Figure 3, below, shows US natural gas production by itself. The irregularity of production over the years and the fact that current production is not much above 1970, makes a person wonder if the optimistic forecasts are really accurate. One factor that may have may have depressed production was price controls from 1954 until 1978, but even without price controls, there has not been much of an upward trend in production until recently.

Figure 3. EIA historical US natural gas production. Graph by EIA.

3. In the absence of shale gas, EIA’s forecast for US natural gas production would be a decline over the next 25 years.

This is clear from Figure 1, at the top of the post. EIA is forecasting an increase in shale gas, but to a significant extent it would act to offset a decline in other production. Note that historical shale gas production on Figure 1 is very small, but the EIA is forecasting a very large increase for this sector.  If declines in other production have been optimistically estimated, then it is possible that there may be a decline in total production, even if the shale gas estimate is correct.

4. The production of Canada, the US’s largest source of imports, is declining as its own use is rising.

Figure 4 suggests that at least part of the need for additional shale gas production is simply to offset declines in Canadian production. If Canada uses more natural gas in its oil operations, this could exert additional downward pressure on exports in future years.

Figure 4. Canadian Natural Gas Production, Consumption, and Exports from Energy Export Databrowser.

5. The much publicized report from the Potential Gas Committee relates to “resources”. Much of these resources may prove to be too expensive, or not technically feasible, to extract.

Figure 5 is the summary exhibit from the report, showing proved reserves and resources.

Figure 5. Summary Exhibit from the Potential Gas Committee Regarding Natural Gas Reserves and Potential Resources

US current consumption is about 24 trillion cubic feet a year. If we divide the “US Future Supply” of 2,074.1 TCF by 24, we get 86 years, which is the source of the statement that 100 years of natural gas supply is available. But it is not at all clear how much of this is economically extractable with technology that we have now, or will be able to develop in the future. If we exclude speculative resources, we are down to 61 years, assuming no growth in natural gas consumption. If natural gas use rises, we would exhaust those resources much sooner.

If we exclude both “Speculative Resources” and “Possible Resources”, then the number of years at current consumption falls to 29 (but much shorter, if production ramps up sharply). The shale gas portion of this is about a third of the total, or approximately ten years, at current consumption levels.

The EIA had access to the Potential Gas Committee report when they put out the “early release overview” version of Annual Energy Outlook 2011. They show an average annual growth rate of US dry gas production to 2035 of 0.8%, and an annual growth rate of US dry gas consumption to 2035 of 0.6%. (The latter would reflect lower expected imports over the time period.) So evidently, their expectations are quite modest overall.

6. If Texas experience serves as an example, shale production starts dropping fairly quickly after it starts.

Texas is the home of Barnett Shale, the first of the big shale resource plays. Data for the state of Texas indicates that 2009 production was down from the 2008 level, and an estimate I made for 2010 using data through November suggests it will be down even further in 2010.

Figure 6. Texas natural gas marketed production based on EIA data. 2010 estimated based on Jan-Nov actual data.

Based on Figure 6, It appears that Barnett Shale production reached a peak (of approximately two trillion cubic feet per year) in 2008, and has been declining since. According to Art Berman, initial plans were based on the assumption that the quality of reserves was uniformly excellent throughout the area, but as drilling proceeded, it became increasingly clear that there were only two sweet spots, and drilling contracted into those areas.

7. Shale gas drillers appear to need higher prices than are currently available to make production of shale gas profitable.

A big reason why natural gas looks so attractive now is its low price, but it is doubtful these low prices can last. Art Berman has shown that a well head price of over $7 per thousand cubic feet is needed for shale gas drillers to make a profit. He has also pointed out that estimates of well profitability are based on optimistic views of how long individual wells will be economic. If wells are taken offline more quickly than assumed, this will further raise the needed price. (I came to a similar conclusion using a different approach here also).

In the recent past, prices have been more in the $4 per thousand cubic price range, but over the long term, prices have been very volatile.

Figure 7. Monthly average wellhead natural gas prices based on EIA data, adjusted to current cost level using US Urban CPI.

Many who are expecting that natural gas use to grow are assuming that prices will stay low. It is doubtful this can happen. Prices will need to be much higher for shale gas production to grow greatly.

8. High (and volatile) prices tend to depress natural gas consumption for industrial use and for heating buildings.

Figure 8. US Natural Gas Consumption by Sector, based on EIA data.

Industrial use of natural gas has not been rising over the long term; it was higher in 1973 than it is currently. Industrial use rose to a peak in 1997, but when prices started becoming volatile, it dropped again. Natural gas for residential and commercial use is primarily for heating, hot water, and cooking. Its use has remained quite level over the years, reflecting increased efficiency of furnaces, better insulation, and growth in electrical substitutes (such as heat pumps). The only area of natural gas consumption showing real growth has been electrical use of natural gas.

Much of the enthusiasm for new uses for natural gas seems to be driven by its current low price. When this price starts rising again, past history suggests that enthusiasm may wane. Higher use for electrical consumption may continue regardless of price, but a low price makes it more attractive for this use too.

At some point, even electrical use may decline with high price. There is considerable evidence that high oil prices send the economy into recession. There is good reason to believe that very high natural gas prices might have a similar effect.

9. The amount of oil and coal consumption that needs to be replaced is huge in relationship to natural gas consumption.

Figure 9 shows that natural gas amounts to only a little more than a quarter of total US fossil fuel consumption. Trying to ramp its production up to replace coal, and to offset declines in oil availability would seem to be an extra-ordinarily difficult task. Natural gas production would need to be more than doubled – something no one is expecting.

Figure 9. US historical fossil fuel consumption, based on BP data.

10. There are a number of outstanding environmental questions.

With traditional gas drilling, most drilling seems to be in relatively unpopulated areas. Shale gas operations include more populated areas, leading to more chance of water pollution. Many people are concerned about the possibility of harmful environmental effects from fracking, especially if it is done close to the source of New York City water supplies. At this point, there is a six month ban on fracking of horizontal wells in New York. The EPA is also doing an analysis of the safety of fracking. It is not expected to be completed until 2012, however.

There is also an issue of whether fracking permits significant fugitive emissions of methane that could result in shale gas’s overall global warming potential being far higher than that of natural gas from conventional sources. The EPA has a technical support document on its website, suggesting that this might be the case. This is a summary graphic from that paper:

Figure 10. Summary Emissions factors from EPA Technical Paper.

According to David Lewis’s calculations, these high emissions would bring the global warming gas potential of shale gas at least to that of coal. Professor Robert Howarth of Cornell University has come to a similar conclusion, analyzing data directly. His article has been submitted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, but has not yet been published.

These findings are obviously preliminary. It may also be that even if the findings are true, there are changes to production techniques that can bring emissions down to an acceptable level, but these are things we don’t know. If this issue starts receiving much attention, it would seem to have the potential to reduce interest in shale gas production.


In summary, a review of information related to US natural gas production (and in particular shale gas production) does not give much confidence that it can ramp up by more than a small percentage over the next 25 years before it runs into some obstacle. The most likely obstacle is affordability, but there are others obstacles including the need to keep drilling (at high cost) to keep shale gas production up, or production will decline as it has done in Texas. Even if production can ramp up more, there is a chance that global warming gases associated with shale gas will suddenly become an EPA concern, and production will need to be scaled back.

There is little evidence that shale gas producers can make money at current low prices. At higher price levels, coal becomes a cheaper alternative, and substitution becomes more difficult. Coal and petroleum consumption are so large in relationship to natural gas consumption that trying to ramp up natural gas to replace more than a very small percentage of these fuels would seem to be impossible.

Shale gas is needed to offset declines in conventional production and a drop in Canadian imports, so one cannot assume that an increase in shale gas production corresponds to an increase in the amount of natural gas available for consumption.

I have not tried to look at LNG imports. To date, they have played a minor role. Based on EIA data, in 2008, LNG exports corresponded to about 7.5% of world consumption, and from Figure 2, it is clear they have only played a small role in US consumption. I would not expect this situation to change greatly. LNG terminals are expensive, and have to be financed whether they are actively used or not.


My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. The financial system is also likely to be affected.

View all posts by gailtheactuary at

Categories: Uncategorized

Energy: What Actually Matters

2011/02/22 3 comments

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (February 16 2010)

It’s not uncommon, when I give public talks about the end of the industrial age, for people to ask me whether I can offer them any hope. Now of course people mean many different things by the very indefinite word at the end of that utterance; some want me to tell them that I was only joking and industrial civilization isn’t really careening headfirst into hard planetary limits, others want me to tell them that when the crash is over and the dust settles, some kindly power or other will hand them an even shinier society than the one we’ve got, and still others will settle for being told that our civilization won’t drop dead until at least a few moments after they do.

To all these I have nothing to offer. Still, there are always a few who simply want to know if there’s some reason to believe that the next half century or so might not be quite as ghastly as it looks. I do have something to offer them, and it’s one of the ironies of our time that the reason for hope I’d like to discuss in this week’s post is also one of the most annoying features of contemporary society: the very common assumption that people in the industrial world can’t possibly scrape by without access to amounts and kinds of energy that few if any of our ancestors would have been able to figure out what to do with.

I’ve discussed more than once in these posts the fact that the average American uses around three times as much energy each year as the average European, to support a standard of living that by most of the standard measures isn’t even as good. That’s relevant to the point I hope to make, but there’s another factor as well. Most of the energy that’s directly used by a household in a modern industrial society consists of highly concentrated fuels and 120-volt alternating current electricity. The forms of energy that are actually needed to support a fairly comfortable human life, on the other hand, consist of food on the one hand, and a distinctly modest supply of relatively diffuse heat for cooking, water heating, and space heating during cold weather on the other.

Mind you, this is what’s needed to support a fairly comfortable human life. Most of our ancestors got by with a lot less, and a good many of our descendants will probably do the same. Still, most of our ancestors, and in all probability at least an equal share of our descendants, would or will see the point in a well-stocked pantry, a working stove, hot water on tap, and a home where the ambient temperature is well above freezing in winter, and it seems reasonable to aim for these things now – particularly because they are a lot less difficult to provide than most of the frankly less important uses of energy that get most of the press these days.

It’s worth being a bit more specific. Producing highly concentrated fuels and 120-volt alternating current electricity at home, in anything like the quantities most Americans use these days, with the sort of resources and equipment most Americans can cobble together readily, is a very challenging task; for most of us, “impossible” would be a better description. Producing the amounts of food and diffuse heat that’s needed for a comfortable lifestyle under the same conditions is a good deal less challenging, and in some situations it’s actually pretty easy. Most current projects for dealing with the harsh constraints on energy supplies in the wake of peak oil have fixated on finding ways to keep the highly concentrated fuels and electricity flowing, and a great deal of highly dubious reasoning and evidence has been trotted out in an attempt to insist that we can keep pipelines and gas tanks topped up and grids humming with power from renewable sources; meanwhile, by and large, the much simpler resources that human beings actually need to survive have been left out of the discussion.

The Green Wizard project was launched, in large part, to offer an alternative to this sort of thinking. We’ve spent much of the last six months talking about ways to produce at least some of your own food in your own backyard, using hand tools and readily available organic soil amendments in place of the extravagantly energy-wasting methods of food production indulged in by current agribusiness. There’s plenty more that could be said on that subject, and I’ll doubtless be saying some of it in passing as my own backyard garden begins another season, but the main focus of the posts to come will be on the other half of the equation: diffuse heat.

And this, dear reader, means that you need to get friendly with the laws of thermodynamics.

That may seem like an unlikely assignment, if only because the laws in question don’t seem particularly interested in making friends. Most popular presentations of the laws of thermodynamics these days tend to stress the negative side of these much-maligned rules. Still, as the word suggests, thermodynamics is simply the branch of physics that tells you how heat moves, and if you’re going to be moving diffuse heat around, you need to know how that’s done. The British musical comedy duo Swann and Flanders made this easy {1} some decades ago by explaining the first two laws of thermodynamics in a lively little song. (The link, I’m sorry to say, will play you the song but won’t show you Swann and Flanders singing it; for reasons that left me utterly baffled, the only copy I could find online has video-game characters dancing around and fighting monsters in tune to the music. And, inevitably, throwing around vast amounts of energy in the form of lightning bolts. Go figure.)

Got that? Okay, now that you’re tapping your toes to the melody, let’s apply it.

One of the pervasive mistakes made by people in the industrial world these days – oh, all right, made by most Americans and a much smaller number of people elsewhere – is the notion that the only thing that matters when you’re dealing with heat is having enough energy to produce it. Every autumn, accordingly, you can go to your local department store and find scores of portable heaters waiting for you in serried ranks, so that you can turn electricity or propane or what have you into plenty of heat wherever you want it. You can do that, but unless you do something to encourage the heat to stay around for a while, it’s not going to work very well, and it’s also going to cost you plenty, because producing heat is only the first part of what matters; the rest of the equation, which is in many ways the most important part, is keeping the heat from leaving the place you put it any sooner than it has to.

This is helpful even if you’ve got abundant fossil fuels or plenty of electricity handy. If you don’t, and you have to get by with the much less concentrated energy available from renewable sources, it’s not helpful, it’s essential. The maxim from my old Master Conserver classes was “weatherize before you solarize”, and the principle can be extended: unless you take steps to use heat effectively, if you try to get your heat needs met from renewable sources, you’re basically wasting your time.

So the first and most crucial step in making sure that you have enough diffuse heat in your life to get by comfortably in an energy-constrained future is to do a smarter job of using whatever heat you’ve got. In order to do this, you need to know how heat leaves the places where you want it – your home will do for now; we’ve already talked about the food you cook, and we’ll talk about hot water in a later post.

Swann and Flanders’ useful ditty could use just a bit of modification for our purposes, because the three ways that heat passes from a hotter body to a cooler body – conduction, convection, and radiation – aren’t equally important in green wizardry. Conduction is the most important of the lot, convection gets a look in here and there, and radiation is a minor factor; there’s also a fourth, combined factor, which is nearly as important as conduction, that’s called infiltration. This is air movement through leaks, and it’s the process by which cold air gets into your house. Technically speaking, infiltration is balanced by exfiltration, which is the process by which the nice warm air in your house goes outdoors so it can radiate its heat to the environment; in practice, since infiltration and exfiltration use the same kinds of leaks and can be fixed in the same ways, the label “infiltration” does for both.

This is a huge issue in most American homes – anything from a fifth to a half of the heating load on a house is typically accounted for by losses to infiltration and exfiltration – and in most cases, it’s also far and away the easiest and cheapest source of heat loss to fix. The gear you’ll need are a caulk gun, several (usually, quite a few) tubes of good weatherproof caulk, and an assortment of weatherstripping supplies for doors and windows; a sturdy scrubbing brush, cleaning supplies, and a pair of gloves you don’t mind ruining also belong on the list. Your local hardware store will provide you with everything you need.

If you’ve never used caulk or a caulk gun before, you’ll find detailed instructions in the fourth of the Master Conserver handouts available for free download at the Cultural Conservers Foundation {2} website, and you can also find good instructions in any decent book on home repair. Your goal is to find all the little cracks where air is leaking into and out of your home, and seal them with caulk. There are almost certainly a lot of them: along the baseplate where your house joins its foundations, along the frames of windows and doors, in the little holes drilled through the walls by the guy who installed cable television or internet service, around outdoor water faucets, and the list goes on. Search the inside and outside of your exterior walls, and find every crack and gap; make sure the surfaces are clean, so that caulk will stick to them, and then, to borrow a phrase from one of my instructors, caulk those puppies.

Now of course you’re not going to caulk the moving parts of your windows and doors, since you need to be able to open and close them. (Nonmoving parts of windows can and should be caulked; if the windows are old, they probably leak like sieves.) For doors and windows that open, you need weatherstripping. There’s a dizzying range of products available; most of them haven’t changed much since I studied this stuff in the 1980s – for that matter, most of them haven’t changed much since the 1950s- and 1960s-era home handyman books I collect started to include chirpy little articles on “Saving Money with Weatherstripping!” – but different door and window situations call for different kinds of weatherstripping, so take your time and explore your options. The Master Conserver handout mentioned above has a fair amount of info on the subject, and so will books, new or used, that cover energy conservation at home.

A few other details can help you close off other air leaks. Electric sockets and switches on the inside of exterior walls are often the places where the air that leaks in through openings elsewhere gets into your living spaces; your hardware store will sell you inexpensive foam gaskets that go behind the faceplates to take care of this. The hatch into your attic, if you have one, needs to be weatherstripped, since your attic is probably vented to outside – and if it isn’t, it should be; more on this in a later post – and can leak a lot of heat. Finally, if you’ve got an open fireplace, one heck of a lot of warm air is rising out through the chimney to warm the great outdoors. A set of glass doors or some other way of closing up the fireplace opening when it’s not in use will be well worth your while.

By the time you finish caulking and weatherstripping, not to mention putting in foam gaskets and installing glass doors on your fireplace, you may be wondering how any air is going to get into your house so you can breathe it. With the relatively simple technologies we’re using, that’s not an issue; if you do a good job, you’re probably going to be able to reduce the rate at which air flows through your house by something around half, which means that you’re going to save about half the money that infiltration currently costs you – roughly ten to twenty-five per cent of your heating bill, in other words – without causing any problems worth noticing with air quality.

There are high-tech methods out there that will save you a great deal more. Very thorough sealing is an important part of those methods, and so is air quality remediation. These aren’t things you can do yourself – you’ll need to hire a professional – and you’re going to shell out quite a bit of money to do it, but if you’ve got the funds to invest, free heat for life is a pretty good payback; the Passive House system, which was invented in Germany and has recently taken root on this side of the Atlantic, is one approach about which I’ve heard good things. Still, unless I’m very much mistaken, the vast majority of the readers of this blog don’t have the kind of spare income that would allow them to drop five figures on a passive house remodel, and even fewer will have that kind of money as the economic unraveling of our society picks up speed; furthermore, it’s exactly those among us who don’t have the funds to spare for that sort of project that have the most urgent need to save money and energy just now.

Cutting down on infiltration by caulking and weatherstripping, then, is the first step in getting your home ready for an age of energy limits. Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll discuss some of the other steps: all of them inexpensive, all of them easy enough that the average homeowner or renter ought to be able to do them effectively, and all of them important in cushioning the impact of rising energy costs in an age when most people will no longer be able to afford ignoring what kinds of energy use actually matter.


The book that needs to be listed at the very top here is one I haven’t been able to find: a good clear explanation of the laws of thermodynamics in language that a fourth-grader can follow, with plenty of colorful examples. If there is one, I’d be grateful if someone can point me to it; if there isn’t, there’s got to be a physicist out there who can write one, and I can probably even talk a publisher or two into giving it a look. In the meantime, there’s always Swann and Flanders.

Good detailed instructions on caulking and weatherstripping can be found in almost every guide to do-it-yourself home repair published since the end of the Second World War; your local public library can probably provide you with a couple of good examples, and so can your favorite used book store; review the details and then get to work, and you’ll be in a position to help your neighbors figure out how it’s done. The Master Conserver handouts mentioned earlier in this post are also useful.

If you’re interested in the Passive House system, a visit to is a good way to find out about it.

My books on peak oil and the future of industrial society, The Long Descent (2008) and The Ecotechnic Future (2009), are available from your local full service bookstore or direct from the publisher at these links {3, 4}. My forthcoming book on post-peak economics, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered {5}, will be available in June and can be preordered now from the publisher at a twenty percent discount.


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {6} and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (2008), The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World (2009), and the forthcoming The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out Star’s Reach, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future {7}. Set four centuries after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for our descendants tomorrow.









Categories: Uncategorized

An Ethical Tradition Betrayed

by Hajo Meyer (January 27 2010)

I was twenty years old when Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviet army 55 years ago. This occurred just in time because ten months imprisonment in Auschwitz-Gleiwitz-1 had weakened me considerably. One needed a hell of a lot of luck in order to survive that long under the circumstances in that camp.

Two important components of luck were on my side. First, during my first years as a refugee kid in the Netherlands I had learned to be a locksmith. So during the very strong winter of 1944 and 1945 I worked in the warmth of a factory. Second, I had acquired a very good and completely trustworthy friend, called Jos. We helped each other as much as possible. The two of us did indeed survive.

Another aspect of my friendship with Jos was that in spite of – or better, due to – the extremely high number of people per square foot in such a camp, one felt extremely lonely. Because of our friendship, mutual help and absolute mutual trust we were not lonely. This was vital to our psychological survival.

Psychological survival is at least as important as physical survival. In fact, the Nazi concentration camps were their attempt to dehumanize us Jews. If a prisoner became part of the oppression system by being Kapo, the dehumanization would be successful. Obviously, the non-Jewish members of the oppression system were also no longer fully human. I realized there that anybody from a dominating group who tries to dehumanize people from a minority group, can only do so if by education, indoctrination and propaganda he has already been dehumanized himself, independent of the uniform he wears.

It is a deep tragedy that in Israel this is not what one concludes from the experiences in Auschwitz. To the contrary, Auschwitz is elevated there into a new religion.

“In the beginning is Auschwitz”, wrote Elie Wiesel. “Nothing should be compared to the Holocaust but everything must be related to it”. This elevation has allowed it to be exploited for political ends. All that was once most valued in a rich and varied Jewish heritage – the centrality of the ethical tradition, for instance – disappears beside the Nazi attempt at annihilation. This Holocaust religion translates in the minds of many into the impossibility that Israel can do any wrong.

Auschwitz existed within history, not outside of it. The main lesson I learned there is simple: We Jews should never, ever become like our tormentors – not even to save our lives. Even at Auschwitz, I sensed that such a moral downfall would render my survival meaningless.

Like most German Jews, I was raised in a secular and humanist tradition that was more antagonistic than sympathetic towards the Zionist enterprise. Since 1967 it has become obvious that political Zionism has one monolithic aim: Maximum land in Palestine with a minimum of Palestinians on it. This aim is pursued with an inexcusable cruelty as demonstrated during the assault on Gaza. The cruelty is explicitly formulated in the Dahiye doctrine of the military and morally supported by the Holocaust religion.

I am pained by the parallels I observe between my experiences in Germany prior to 1939 and those suffered by Palestinians today. I cannot help but hear echoes of the Nazi mythos of “blood and soil” in the rhetoric of settler fundamentalism which claims a sacred right to all the lands of biblical Judea and Samaria. The various forms of collective punishment visited upon the Palestinian people – coerced ghettoization behind a “security wall”; the bulldozing of homes and destruction of fields; the bombing of schools, mosques, and government buildings; an economic blockade that deprives people of the water, food, medicine, education and the basic necessities for dignified survival – force me to recall the deprivations and humiliations that I experienced in my youth. This century-long process of oppression means unimaginable suffering for Palestinians.

It is not too late to learn a different lesson from Auschwitz. For example, in the last year, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network has become a means for many – including young Jews in the United States – to challenge the precepts of Zionism and support the Palestinian call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. Their goal, and mine, is to challenge the dispossession and exclusivity of a Jewish state, in their names and in mine. They understand the urgency of the classical Jewish concept of teshuvah, return from the wrong road. Further, they understand that the pursuit of justice and making ethically positive sense out of senseless suffering is not only part of an ancient Jewish interpretation and shaping of history, but is crucial for all of us in creating the world we want to live in, and to our moral survival.


Hajo Meyer is the author of The End of Judaism: An Ethical Tradition Betrayed (2007).

Categories: Uncategorized

Backward Arabs …

… or Navel Gazing Empire Loyalists?

by Trevor Selvam (February 17 2011)

Once again, the Media in the West is at its narcissistic best. In the over-dramatized “breaking news” style of analysis (to war drums in the background), they are imagining that “the backward Arabs” have finally come on board and are demanding “western style democracy”. “This is good for them. About time”, they say. From Tunisia and Egypt to Bahrain, Yemen and Libya. It’s a “revival, a much needed reform”, say some evangelist proselytizers.

Once again the Media in the West believe that this is a revolt against the old caliphate mentality, against brutal, medieval dictators, against baksheesh and corruption. As if pyramid schemes, Ponzi schemes, Enron book keeping, AIG-Lehman bailouts, pharma and defence lobbying, pork-barreling, the CDS-CDO inspired 2008 meltdown, the Wall Street mega billion toxic flips were Arab contributions to the world of international scammery!

Once again the Media and their sponsors and owners, Rupert Murdoch, GE Capital and Time Warner, are spreading the fib that this is a cry for democracy, for “modernity”, for the freeways of the “free world”.

Once again, the Media in the West are craning over each other worrying about Israel’s southern flank when Israel itself has not been particularly or demonstrably concerned.

Once again the Media in the West are wrong and incalculably out of touch.

For a media that in the space of fourteen days, unquestioningly rebroadcasted the White House dictum of describing Mubarak as a “stable ally”, “not a dictator”, “a good friend” and then devolved into talking about a “stable transition”, “an immediate transition” and finally “the people have spoken” – what can one expect? Talk about having your pants and skirts down to your ankles!

Once again, the careful, discerning eyes of the media failed to realize that there were Shias and Sunnis demonstrating together, most of the time united, secularist Egyptians and Tunisians, protecting each other and not having separate agendas. Once again, they failed to realize that Arab men and women, hijabed or in gelabyas, in jeans or cargos, old and young, workers, lawyers, engineers and teachers, locked arms and marched in protest. Once again they failed to realize that every stream of society participated in dignified, controlled protests and it was not only Blackberry and iPhone toting FaceBookers demanding a western mall-rat lifestyle!

In fact what they failed to realize was that this was really MORE of a revolt against the twenty or more years of the post Berlin wall era of pompous neo-liberalism, that spawned joblessness, hunger, environmental cataclysms – it was a revolt against tin-pot dictators aided and abetted by Washington DC who siphoned off the wealth of nations, food chains that disappeared, wars that were started on spurious grounds and police states who upheld the West’s cynical notions of stability, while protecting their geo-political strategies.

But this is good. Because every generation must see a sea-change flip of belief systems and false ideals. And that time has come, when the real monsters have exposed themselves. From the neo-liberalist trumpeters and evangelist proselytes of the tea-party variety and the fundamentalist extremists preaching suicide martyrdom, to the horrendously asinine sharia-ists in caves, they are all together in one conclave unaware and unconscious that there is a new wave of Arabs who are sick and tired of non-secular nonsense, unintelligent and backward incantations to obscure edicts and the abject failure of the Reagan-Clinton-Bush-Obama notion of a New World Order. This is a rebellion against the baloney that the West has passed off as “success”. It is a revolt against the hyperbolic triumphalism that free trade, globalization, de-regulation, structural “reform” has been promoting for too long.

It is a revolt against the Empire and not just against its chattel. It is also a revolt against those who have compromised too long about the Palestinian nation. This brings me to Israel. Israel is not at all concerned about Gaza or its own Southern extremity. It has the Palestinian Authority well trained to deal with all that. Peace Treaty? Israel really could not care two hoots. As a nation that survives on borrowed shekels from Washington DC and whose isolation in the world is increasing daily, Israel knows very well that it has to make a few idle threats about bombing Iran, attacking Lebanon and right away it will get more US, UK and French aid and support covertly. Israel relies on covert-ism as foreign policy.

So Arabs have spoken. The world is listening. The media in the West is navel gazing.

Categories: Uncategorized

What is True Sustainability?

by Matthew Stein (February 13 2011)

We have the capacity and ability to create a remarkably different economy, one that can restore ecosystems and protect the environment while bringing forth innovation, prosperity, meaningful work, and true security. The restorative economy unites ecology and commerce into one sustainable act of production and distribution that mimics and enhances natural processes.

-  Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce (1994, 2010)

Every day we hear about topics like sustainable growth and sustainable building, but what does it really mean to be “sustainable?” In broad terms, sustainability quite clearly means that each new year finds the earth in at least as good of a condition as the last one. No increasing degree of deforestation, no fewer fish in the ocean, no higher levels of toxic pollution, and the concentration of atmospheric pollutants the same or better the next year as it was the prior one. Classically, many native American tribes had a high respect for the sustainability of the world, making collective decisions about whether or not to continue a particular course of action based upon if it would have a negative effect seven generations into the future.

Two modern day thinkers, the economist Herman Daly and Swedish Dr Karl-Henrik Robert, have given sustainability much thought, offering us clear definitions to help us along our journey towards this goal. After all, if we are to develop an effective plan and roadmap for creating a sustainable world, we must first have a clear idea of what it truly means to be “sustainable”!

Herman Daly has suggested three simple rules to help define sustainability:

(1) For a renewable resource – soil, water, forest, fish – the sustainable rate of use can be no greater than the rate of regeneration of its source. (Thus, for example, fish are harvested unsustainably when they are caught at a rate greater than the rate of growth of the remaining fish population.)

(2) For a nonrenewable resource – fossil fuel, high-grade mineral ores, fossil groundwater – the sustainable rate of use can be no greater than the rate at which a renewable resource, used sustainably, can be substituted for it. (For example, an oil deposit would be used sustainably if part of the profits from it were systematically invested in wind farms, photovoltaic arrays, and tree planting, so that when the oil is gone, an equivalent stream of renewable energy is still available.)

(3) For a pollutant, the sustainable rate of emission can be no greater than the rate at which the pollutant can be recycled, absorbed, or rendered harmless in the environment. (For example, sewage can be put into a stream or lake or underground aquifer sustainably no faster than bacteria and other organisms can absorb its nutrients without themselves overwhelming and destabilizing the aquatic ecosystem.)

Another way of looking at sustainability comes from Swedish Dr Karl-Henrik Robert. Robert’s passion for sustainability developed in the late 1980s when he was working as a medical doctor and cancer treatment researcher. He felt a deep sorrow and fear in his heart concerning the destruction of the Earth’s environment. Working with his microscope, he saw that there were environmental limits that must be maintained within and around each cell and that when these limits are breached, the cell’s death is absolutely certain. The parallels to our Earth’s perilous condition of continuous environmental degradation became obvious, and Robert’s passion for the issue of sustainability turned into an obsession.

As Robert’s ideas began to crystallize into a formula for sustainability, he wrote a scientific paper on this subject, and shared it with numerous Swedish colleagues and scientists. After something like 22 drafts, this paper was published, and their consensus for a sustainability definition and guidelines became known as, “The Natural Step”. Robert recognized that our world is essentially a closed system, meaning that outside of the sun’s energy streaming to Earth, there are no new materials and resources to be found on this planet other than what was here to begin with. If we are to stand a chance of modifying humankind’s practices and industry in sustainable ways, then we must first understand what it means to be “sustainable”.

In two simple sentences, The Natural Step (“TNS”) defines four minimum environmental conditions as necessary elements for maintaining life sustainably in a closed-system world such as planet Earth:

In the sustainable society, nature is not subject to systematically increasing:

(1) Concentrations of substances extracted from the Earth’s crust;

(2) Concentrations of substances produced by society; or

(3) Degradation by physical means.

(4) And in that society, people are not subject to conditions that systematically undermine their capacity to meet their needs.

These four conditions provide us with a definition to help us determine whether a society is sustainable or not. TNS also provides a collection of strategic methods and resources for helping organizations, whether they are governmental or industrial, to make genuine progress on the road to sustainability. Robert’s sustainability conversations expanded beyond his circle of friends and the scientific community to public television, Swedish media stars, leading politicians, and even to the King of Sweden. Robert’s ideas have had a profound effect on many businesses, including IKEA, McDonald’s, Electrolux, and many others.

Let’s take a closer look at the four TNS conditions for sustainability:

(1) Stored deposits: In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to increasing concentrations of potentially toxic materials that have been “liberated” from where they were stored as deposits inside the Earth’s crust. Mankind has been refining natural substances, such as mercury, lead, and radioactive materials, in unnatural concentrations. These substances that were previously bound into stable, durable matrices, such as bedrock or coal, are now accumulating in the biosphere, where they are metabolized into living organisms at ever increasing concentrations. Nothing disappears from our world, and everything that is not bound into a solid, stable matrix eventually disperses into the ecosystem.

(2) Synthetic compounds and other unnatural material byproducts of society: In a sustainable society, nature is not subject to increasing concentrations of unnatural synthetic compounds. If this condition is not met, eventually the concentrations of these substances will reach concentration levels where irreversible changes begin to occur, with potentially dire consequences. The solution is to proactively substitute more common compounds, or ones that break down easily, for certain persistent and unnatural compounds, and for society to use substances efficiently. Remember that even using less of a toxic compound (improved efficiency) will still add up over time to too much of a bad thing, if this compound decomposes slower than the rate at which it is inserted into the biosphere.

(3) Physical degradation of ecosystems and natural resources: We must draw our resources from well-managed ecosystems. Our health and prosperity depend on the capacity of nature to restructure our wastes into new resources. Human activities need to work in harmony with the cyclic principles of nature.

(4) Human needs: Unless basic human socioeconomic needs are met worldwide through fair and efficient use of resources, it will be difficult to coordinate efforts and cooperation to meet conditions one, two, and three on a global scale. In a sustainable society, human needs are met worldwide.

(Source: Adapted from The Natural Step for Business, by Brian Nattrass and Mary Altomare, 2001)

From looking at both Robert’s and Daly’s definition of sustainability, we see that few things in our modern world are actually built, processed, or manufactured sustainably, including what is generally referred to as “sustainable building”, and that we have a long ways to go towards actually making our modern word sustainable.

Building a sustainable world will not be easy, but it is doable!

Green tip for the day: Fix it instead of throwing “it” away! When an item is manufactured, far greater inputs in the form of energy and raw materials go into making most items than meets the eye, and far more waste is generated in manufacturing and refining these raw materials than the item that sits in front of you. For example, according to a UN University study, 1.8 tons of raw materials are used to manufacture the average PC, and most of these materials are dumped somewhere as waste. So, when you repair an item rather than throwing it “away”, you are reducing your consumption and ecological footprint on the planet. It often seems hardly worth your time to sew a split seam on an item of clothing, upgrade a computer, or repair an appliance, but fixing something yourself, or spending a few bucks for someone else to fix it, is one more way of Doing the Right Thing. The exception to this rule is when the item is an old energy hog, such as a refrigerator that is more than ten years old, or a gas guzzling car. In these cases, the energy wasted by the old appliance over its lifetime is far more energy than what goes into making a new efficient one.

Categories: Uncategorized

Digging out the truth about Saudi oil

by Steve LeVine

Foreign Policy (February 09 2011)

Note: The original version of this article contains links to several additional sources of information. See URL at end.

A senior Saudi Arabian oil official said in 2007 that the kingdom has 388 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves, about 45 percent more than official public estimates. But about the same time, a retired Saudi Aramco executive met with US diplomats in Dhahran and asserted that the country’s figures in general are wildly overblown, and that it is headed for a production peak around 2020, followed by a slow decline according to new WikiLeaks cables.

The issue is pivotal. Put simply, the price of oil – the price you are paying at the pump, indeed the cost of everything in your home – is wholly determined by what oil traders think Saudi reserves and production capability really are. As an example, oil plunged yesterday to its lowest price of the year – $87.87 a barrel – when Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi suggested that the kingdom will put new oil supplies on the market to compensate for any uptick in global demand.

The thing is, the Saudis are highly secretive about these figures – unlike almost every important petrostate on Earth outside the Middle East, the Saudis will not permit their oil fields to be independently audited. One might wonder why that would be the case, and the late Matt Simmons, for example, made much hay suggesting that the reason is that the Saudis simply don’t have as much oil as they claim. I myself got ahold of documents back in 2008 suggesting the same. Sensible voices, however, said such are the thoughts of the conspiratorial-minded and that the Saudis genuinely possess what they claimed – they were denying the right to verify because … well because that’s just what they do. Here is classic Simmons:

In recent years, the Saudis have brought more productive capacity on line, giving them the capability of producing about twelve million barrels of oil a day. Since the Saudis are currently producing about 8.6 million barrels of oil a day, according to the US Energy Information Administration, that means they alone are providing the world about 3.4 million barrels a day of “spare capacity”, the key metric for oil prices. Basically, traders looking to earn really big money on the tick up or down of daily oil prices focus intently on global supply – for example, tons of money have been earned in recent weeks speculating on the question of what happens if events in Egypt spiral out of control, and force the closure of the Suez Canal, the transit route for about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day. But the existence of a healthy cushion of spare capacity works against such fruitful speculation, because even if the Suez Canal does become totally bottled up, the Saudis can turn up the spigot, and it won’t matter a whit. Which is one big reason why oil prices are down again.

Which brings us to the latest Wikileaks cables, so read on.

In December 2007, a US diplomat named John Kincannon, the US Consul General in Dhahran, reported on Aramco’s first-ever public drilling symposium, at which among the speakers was Abdallah al-Saif, the company’s senior vice president for exploration and production. I first met Kincannon when he was a junior press officer in Peshawar in the late 1980s. In his cable back to Washington, Kincannon wrote that al-Saif was exceptionally bullish about his country’s oil reserve base:

[Al-Saif] reported that Aramco has 716 billion barrels of total reserves, of which 51 percent are recoverable. He then offered the promising forecast – based on historical trends – that in twenty years, Aramco will have over 900 billion barrels of total reserves, and future technology will allow for seventy percent recovery.

That compared with the generally accepted Saudi reserve base of about 260 billion barrels of oil.

But just ten days earlier, Kincannon had heard a starkly different picture from Sadad al-Husseini, who held a similar position in Aramco to al-Saif’s from 1992 to 2004. Al-Husseini is no crank – in addition to his position as executive vice president for exploration and production, he sat on Aramco’s board of directors from 1996 until his retirement twelve years later.  Al-Husseini cast doubt on some forty percent of the 716 billion “total reserves”, Kincannon reported. In Kincannon’s account of the meeting, al-Husseini:

… believes that Aramco’s reserves are overstated by as much as 300 billion barrels of ‘speculative resources’. He instead focuses on original proven reserves, oil that has already been produced or which is available for exploitation based on current technology. All parties estimate this amount to be approximately 360 billion barrels. In al-Husseini’s view, once fifty percent depletion of original proven reserves has been reached and the 180 billion-barrel threshold crossed, a slow but steady output decline will ensue and no amount of effort will be able to stop it.

By al-Husseini’s calculations, approximately 116 billion barrels of oil have been produced by Saudi Arabia, meaning [that] only 64 billion barrels remain before reaching this crucial point of inflection. At twelve million barrels a day of production, this inflection point will arrive in fourteen years. Thus, while Aramco will likely be able to surpass twelve million barrels a day in the next decade, soon after reaching that threshold the company will have to expend maximum effort to simply fend off impending output declines. Al-Husseini believes that what will result is a plateau in total output that will last approximately fifteen years, followed by decreasing output.

So who is right, al-Saif or his predecessor, al-Husseini? One answer comes from al-Husseini himself. Two years later, he had been converted to those who think that actually Saudi Arabia is a reliable producer, as is made clear in the video below.

But al-Husseini goes on to say that this fact doesn’t change the overall supply picture – the world is still in trouble, he says, when it comes to its reliance on oil. Simply put, he suggests, those who think that the world is going to produce anywhere near the 100 million barrels a day and more projected by some are seriously misled. The short November 2009 video is interesting generally, and al-Husseini himself appears at 1:10 and again at 5:30:

Categories: Uncategorized

Oil ‘Demand Has Met Supply’

Saudi Arabia (via Wikileaks)

by Matthew Wild

Peak Generation (February 11 2011)

CounterCurrents (February 13 2011)

Wikileaks may have told us what we already knew – that Saudi oil reserves are greatly inflated – but the reports also portray leaders of the highly secretive petro-state feeling “under the gun” as they strive to move their economy away from dependence on oil.

Four diplomatic cables made public earlier this week, reporting meetings between Saudi oil officials and representatives of the US between 2007 and 2009, have generated headlines that reserves have been overestimated by as much as forty percent {1}. But taken as a whole, the documents are particularly interesting because they show leaders of both nations know “sufficient challenges” lie ahead. The Saudis appear increasingly fearful of the future – in turn, unsure of their ability to produce enough oil to maintain the price system, concerned about a runaway market for oil that does not follow the economics of supply and demand, and then worried about their own lack of diversification into other areas. Between the lines you can sense the growing dilemma: having to deal with the increasing costs of flushing oil out of mature fields just to keep in the game and the expenses of a ballooning, energy-hungry population, while all the while they would rather be investing in new industries – not to mention agriculture – that can take the kingdom into a sustainable future.

Over this period the Saudi officials go from worrying about other people’s demand destruction to asking for US help moving their industry away from oil dependence. That’s quite the turnaround.

As those that deny the importance of the releases strive to point out, suggestions of hyped reserves are nothing new. The late, great Matt Simmons {2} had been saying just that ever since the publication of Twilight in the Desert (2005), which despite occasional bursts of hyperbole cited an array of incontrovertible engineering reports. Yet anyone denying the importance of this Wikileaks information must overlook both the level of detail and the theatrical timing of their release – coinciding with Egyptian demonstrators overthrowing their own dictator, speculation over what is the next Middle Eastern domino to fall and recriminations about US intelligence failure {3} regarding the region. The markets are jittery enough about oil supply as it is.

But first, a look back in time. Taking the cables in chronological order, we first read of a November 20 2007 meeting {4} between US Consul General John Kincannon and Dr Sadad al-Husseini, recently retired executive vice president for exploration and production at Saudi Aramco. This states:

Al-Husseini, who maintains close ties to Aramco executives, believes that the Saudi oil company has oversold its ability to increase production and will be unable to reach the stated goal of 12.5 million barrels per day (“b/d”) of sustainable capacity by 2009. While stating that he does not subscribe to the theory of ‘peak oil’, the former Aramco board member does believe that a global output plateau will be reached in the next five to ten years and will last some fifteen years, until world oil production begins to decline. Additionally, al-Husseini expressed the view that the recent surge in oil prices reflects the underlying reality that global demand has met supply, and is not due to artificial market distortions.

According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is twofold. First, it is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes described and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as Aramco executives and energy optimists would like to portray.

It’s interesting to note that al-Husseini felt demand for oil could only push prices higher, as “recent oil price increases are not market distortions but instead reflect the underlying reality that demand has met supply (global energy supply having remained relatively stagnant over the past years at approximately 85 million barrels per day)”. He appears to have seen the 2008 price spike coming.

He also apparently wanted the American leadership to know the full story, and begin to make a transition away from oil:

He stated that the IEA’s expectation that Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will lead the market in reaching global output levels of over 100 million barrels per day is unrealistic, and it is incumbent upon political leaders to begin understanding and preparing for this ‘inconvenient truth’.

The next diplomatic cable in the batch, written about a May 6 2008 {5} meeting with Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud in the light of runaway oil prices, contains a telling Saudi refusal to open the spigots. “Contrary [to] a few months ago, Prince Abdulaziz promised no relief on production or pricing. He told the Energy Attache that the Ministry was ‘extremely worried about demand destruction’ in the US as a result of the latest financial crisis indicators.”

Next up on Wikileaks is a report following a meeting in June of that year {6}, reviewing that the oil market was not responding in the way that traditional economics would predict through the mechanism of supply and demand. This is because governments around the world are forced to subsidize petroleum costs in the wake of food inflation:

Market analysts in Riyadh point out widespread petrol subsidies in China, India, and the Middle East ensure price feedback mechanisms are broken; they therefore predict crude demand will continue to rise there. Governments are abandoning plans to roll back petrol subsidies in the face of escalating food inflation. Our contacts are concerned languishing refining margins are driving down refinery utilization. Recession may be the one brake on crude prices in the near term, but our contacts are divided on its impact. Their crude price forecasts range between $90 and $150 per barrel.

By November 2009 the world had fallen into recession, and the Saudis found themselves “confronting a number of difficult challenges”, according to the fourth diplomatic cable {7}.

While it has managed to weather the international financial crisis, Saudi officials are keenly aware of the need to foster economic development quickly to provide jobs for its rapidly growing population (more than two percent per year). They are also anxious to diversify the base of the economy away from its current predominant reliance on hydrocarbons, which directly provide close to fifty percent of GDP and indirectly account for much of the rest of Saudi industry. Saudi officials understand the challenges they face, including the need to make Saudi education more relevant to today’s workplace and the need to increase the role of women in the economy, both of which are controversial in the socially conservative Kingdom. Saudi officials are looking to the US to help them meet these challenges, both through increased engagement at the government level, including educational exchanges, and more Foreign Direct Investment, particularly in energy, high tech, and manufacturing. Saudi officials strongly welcomed the President’s Cairo speech and its promise of greater outreach, which provides a good context for your visit.

Saudi officials feel under the gun, as they are aware that a number of other countries are years ahead of them in pursuing the same strategy.

Putting it all together, then, we have the Saudis saying in 2007 that oil “demand has met supply” and prices would climb. When this apparently came to fruition the following year, they were unwilling (probably unable) to increase production, saying this would not work as “price feedback mechanisms are broken”. They clearly link the world’s need for oil-at-any-cost with the soaring price of food.

Speaking in 2008, they foresaw a coming recessionary drop in the price of oil, but forecast future prices getting back to $90 to $150 per barrel. By the following year, they felt even this price would not guarantee the kingdom’s future, and actually appealled to the US for investment in “in energy, high tech, and manufacturing” to overcome their reliance on oil.

The Saudis are holding onto a rising balloon, and they know it. Their state is being crushed between parasitical princes {8} enjoying an unbelievably lavish lifestyle and a growing population burning through oil like there’s no tomorrow. The playboy princes lack the wherewithal to lead the transition, while the masses can are now begining to realize that autocratic regimes across the Middle East are not as resistant to change as their own royal family would have them believe. According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there is “a new Middle East materializing” {9}, free of the United States and Israel – of course, said while trying to block protest in his own country with house arrests and intimidation {10}.

And it appears Opec cannot pump more oil to take the heat out of the situation. As the Canadian Globe & Mail newspaper reports, “With political tensions in Egypt roiling global crude markets, Opec producers are unwilling to boost supplies until bulging global inventories are reduced, a tough stance that will provide little relief from prices that have hit two-year highs”.

(This report goes on to mention that al-Husseini has been distancing himself from the Wikileaks reports, “saying he was merely distinguishing between proven reserves and the broader category of ‘resources in the ground’, and that he proved to be wrong in his pessimism about Aramco’s ability to increase production”.)

All this points to an uncertain immediate future for oil prices, according to an insightful report in Foreign Policy {11}. It contrasts two Saudi Arabian oil estimates from 2007: the public statement that the kingdom has 388 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil reserves, and al-Husseini’s private view that “the country’s figures in general are wildly overblown, and that it is headed for a production peak around 2020, followed by a slow decline”. (He actually reportedly suggested “a global output plateau will be reached in the next five to ten years”.) The item continues:

The issue is pivotal. Put simply, the price of oil  -  the price you are paying at the pump, indeed the cost of everything in your home  -  is wholly determined by what oil traders think Saudi reserves and production capability really are. As an example, oil plunged yesterday to its lowest price of the year  -  $87.87 a barrel  -  when Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi suggested that the kingdom will put new oil supplies on the market to compensate for any uptick in global demand.

The question of Saudi Oil reserves, even if we think we know the answers, remains central to our own economies. It’s more than just the physical size of reserves, as the matter includes how fast the Saudis can bring oil to market, and whether they even do – oil set aside for home consumption never makes it that far, for example. It is also linked to the cost of food, and with it, the security of governments across the globe.













Categories: Uncategorized

Fantasies of Hyper-Globalism

The WWF’s Energy Report

by Erik Lindberg

Transition Milwaukee (February 06 2011)

Energy Bulletin (February 06 2011)

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has recently unveiled a new report {1} which ambitiously declares the world can switch to 95% renewable energy sources by 2050. The report is meant to be both inspiring and reassuring in its claim that not only is it “technically feasible to supply everyone on the planet in 2050 with the energy they need with 95 per cent of this energy coming from renewable resources”, but also with its declaration that this is “practically possible” (23). The report further proposes that this can be done even with “projected increases in population, long-distance travel and increased economic wealth”, and with increased energy equity through greater “economic growth” in the developing world, all powered by renewable energy (56).

From a distance, the report – all 250 pages of it – might pass itself off as a substantial document. Rhetorically, it makes repeated efforts to appear cautious and realistic, refusing to rely heavily on undeveloped technologies, “allowing for feasible deployment rates” (103), and employing “a holistic view on the energy system accounting for all sectors, all regions, all carrier forms” (104). It is not, in other words, based on isolated fantasies of one new biofuel or an unprecedented increase in solar efficiency, nor does it isolate our energy supply from food systems, soil erosion, or land development. For this it does deserve credit.

That being said, the report and its ominous “The Scenario”, written by Ecofys Energy Consultants, is more impressive if one simply reads the section and chapter titles, rather than the text itself. On closer reading one wonders if the conclusion – one that would not threaten European and American readers with the possibility that they may have to abandon their quest for affluence – preceded the data, which seems shaped to fit the conclusion, adding some efficiency gains here, to make up for continuation of industrial growth there.

The Scenario’s most obvious shortcoming was the absence of any notions of embodied energy, as well as the essential issue of Net Energy or Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI). Because their inclusion would so drastically alter the energy picture, removing a substantial fraction of the available energy upon which The Scenario’s calculations depend, the net effect of The Report may in fact be to show precisely that we won’t be able to sustain economic growth and increased consumerism on renewable energy: all this work just to show that we are still twenty percent, thirty percent, maybe more, short once we make the necessary adjustments for Net Energy as opposed to the gross energy upon which The Scenario seems to depend.

While I trust that many of The Scenario’s projections and calculations will be scrutinized by those far more adept at quantitative analysis than I, its failure to include the constraints of net energy, or, for that matter, any awareness of Jevons Paradox, suggests that behind all the graphs and calculations we are witnessing the driving force of an ideological fantasy – the fantasy that saving our planet from catastrophic environmental damage and resource depletion need “not demand radical changes to the way we live” (23).

I have in previous posts discussed the way in which the Powered-Down world imagined by Transition also contains significant elements of fantasy, most of which will prove relatively harmless, many of which may be beneficial, if we in the Transition Movement retain a sense of humility and contingency. At least in its more self-conscious moments, Transition is aware of its use of narrative and fantasy as the tools of vision, imagination, and inspiration. Fantasy is, in itself, not an entirely bad thing. However the fantasy constructed by the WWF Report, and especially the way The Report implies it might be achieved, may not be so benign.

A Smarter Planet

Despite the projected nine billion people on the earth in 2050, people are remarkably absent from The Scenario. The ostensible reason is that the report is focused on what is “technically possible”, which is more about joules and btus than about human behavior. But the report does also claim that its conclusions are “practically possible”, which, it turns out, involves little more than calculating the sort of necessary investment levels (never more than two percent of GDP), with some recognition that this will be a difficult challenge that will interrupt a complacent, “business as usual” approach to energy markets and the environment. But beyond the use of pictures – a few of which represent people of the “developing world” enjoying the sweet fruits of globalism -  the report is faceless.

With this absence of people, the report is able to make abstract assumptions about changes in fuel use and efficiency. The one that stood out to me, perhaps because of my work in the remodeling industry, is the suggestion that all the world’s existing buildings can be retrofitted to “Passive-House” or “zero-energy” standards by 2050. This projection seems possible if the writers of The Scenario keep their attention confined to a world of numbers, calculating only the total world building numbers from which they draw the conclusion that this would only require retrofit rates of no more than 2.5% of floor space per year, something already achieved in Germany, and therefore technically, if not practically, possible. Absent from this sort of calculation, however, is sufficient attention to the nature of the world’s buildings and their suitability for retrofitting, not to mention their owners’ ability to find a high-quality licensed contractor at a reasonable price.

Despite the lack of flesh and blood in the WWF report – and thus of course, hunger, desire, discrimination, greed, entitlement, tradition, and all sorts of addictions and dependencies – present in it, nevertheless is an overriding subjective consciousness, whose presence made me feel increasingly uncomfortable as I read the report.

The phrase “we need to …” appears scores of times throughout the report. This is not entirely surprising, as one of the report’s purposes is to offer suggestions about how we might proceed towards this renewable future. There are of course many requirements that must be met for this to happen. Someone will need to make many things happen.

Despite the inevitability of some sort of subject/verb combination, we should not therefore neglect the analysis of its specific qualities. For the report is, through the repetition of this “we”, inviting us to join as readers a community of potential subjects, actors in the transformation to a renewable future. So what sort of community are we being invited into? Not, to be sure, one that favors open space meetings nor, I imagine, that includes people who are excited by compost or humanure. This “we” is certainly not composed of anyone who lives in the “developing world’s” growing slums. Their leaders, also, appear to be mainly the recipients of our recommendations. This “we” is largely white and European, though it may have some space for a few enlightened Americans. “We” are not indigenous people. “We” are technologically proficient. “Our” imagination is not troubled by the immediate affects of hunger or deforestation, but may be concerned whether an all renewable future will restrict “our” mobility and comfort. Most of all, this “we” is a group of people with profound confidence in our ability to be the subjects of knowledge rather than the object, the namers rather than the named; “we” are the people who believe we can act decisively upon the world, setting a course for the entire planet to follow. This is an imperial “we”.

Thus we see a parade of imperatives:

“We must introduce legally binding minimum efficiency standards world-wide”.

“We need strict energy-efficiency criteria for all new buildings”.

“Developing countries must phase-out the inefficient uses of traditional biomass”.

“We need to massively expand our capacity for generating electricity from renewable resources”.

“We need urgent investment into smart grids”.

“We also need efficient grid management”.

“We need to consider the rights of communities and indigenous people”.

“We need to carefully analyze, country by country, what land and water is available for bioenergy”.

“We should limit growth in areas that depend on liquid fuels”.

The list could go on.

The unembarrassed way in which The Report repeats the clear requirements of what “we” must impose, its repetitive incantation, confirms and reinforces the Imperial We’s fantasy that “we” have the knowledge and can employ it to design and control.

One needn’t have more than a rudimentary understanding of European and American colonialism and its legions of missionaries, technocrats, investors, philosophers, explorers, and engineers who have in the past carried out the latest fantasy of world improvement in order to see where this might all be going. Despite the emphasis on equity, the belief that “a sustainable energy future must be a fair one, in which the equal right of every person to benefit from the world’s energy resources is recognized” (56), what is imagined in The Scenario is in fact an expansion of European and American globalism to an unprecedented level of design specification. We might refer to it as hyper-globalism, Plan B on steroids, in which “we” provide the central intelligence needed to make “country by country” analyses, or to provide the “efficient grid management”. Indeed the report looks forward to a time in which not only is electricity shared within the world’s ten regions, but eventually between them (150, note 32).

Those of us who have not weaned ourselves off of television are likely to be familiar with IBM’s ad campaign about its work to “build a smarter planet”. The notion of “smart technology” has recently become a marketing buzz-word, with smart phones, smart cars, and, in The Scenario, as elsewhere, with the notion of a “smart grid”. As IBM notes on its website, a smarter world is one that is “Instrumented, Intelligent, and Interconnected”. More specifically, “intelligence is infused into the systems and processes that make the world work”.

This sort of world is the vision, also, of the WWF Report. The Scenario depends largely on increased efficiency and regulated flows of energy through a great system of interconnection. While it recommends “using precision farming and a closed-loop approach wherever possible” (163), for instance, precision farming has no connotations of a permaculture system of locally self-regulating interdependencies, unless the permacultural design model allows for a single global design space held together by a “smart network” that is synchronized by “real-time analytics”.

Gone, also, in this Instrumented, Intelligent, and Interconnected” world is a sense of modularity necessary for true resiliency. To its credit, The Scenario acknowledges the finite nature of at least some aspects of our planet. But with increased innovation and detailed analysis, any effective limits are too far in the future to warrant consideration. A world “that can do more with less”, is predicated on increased specialization: we can grow algae here, cut those forests back, give these people more efficient cook-stoves, put wind turbines in your region, and solar panels over there. Smart technology implies the preeminence of instrumental logic, a technocracy of data streams which are able to lift us above the vicissitudes of choice or motivation, of a local embodied understanding of local conditions. The world, as imagined by WWF, is gripped by a digital-mechanized fantasy.

It remains unclear what role the remaining nine billion faces, in all our awkward dignity and graceful limitations, might have. My concern is not that we will fail to maintain our growth economy on renewables – it is pretty clear we won’t. My concern is that the hyper-globalism suggested in The Report captures the imagination of those who will try.

Editor’s Notes

To see what Erik is talking about, we created a post for the WWF’s energy report: Brave new world fuelled by clean economical energy possible and imperative by 2050 {2}. – BA

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Categories: Uncategorized

Energy Funds, Energy Flows

by John Michael Greer

The Archdruid Report (February 09 2010)

It’s a safe bet that whenever I post something here discussing the limits to energy resources, one result will be a flurry of emails and attempted comments insisting that it just ain’t so. I’ve long since stopped responding to them, since the arguments they raise – they’re always the same – have been repeatedly addressed here and in my books on peak oil, and endlessly rehashing the same really rather straightforward issues isn’t that productive a use of my time. Still, I keep track of them; it’s a useful reminder of just how many people have never quite grasped the fact that the laws of nature are under no obligation to cater to our culture’s emotionally charged fantasies of perpetual progress and limitless growth.

That failure to come to terms with the realities of our predicament is by no means restricted to internet bloggers, to be sure. The World Wildlife Federation, to cite only one example, has just released a lavishly produced study {1} insisting that the world can replace 95% of its fossil fuel energy from renewables by 2050, with ample room for population increases, ongoing economic growth in the industrial world, and a boom in the nonindustrial world that will supposedly raise it out of poverty. The arguments in the report will be wearily familiar to anybody who’s followed the peak oil debate for any noticeable length of time; Erik Lundberg of Transition Milwaukee has already commented on these in some detail {2}, and his points don’t need to be revisited here.

Underlying all the grand and sweeping fantasies of endless economic growth powered somehow by lukewarm sunlight and inconstant wind, I’ve come to think, lies the simple fact that the human mind never quite got around to evolving the capacity to think in terms of the huge amounts of energy our species currently, and briefly, has at its disposal. It’s one thing to point out that a planeload of tourists flying from Los Angeles to Cairo to see the Great Pyramid, back when political conditions in Egypt allowed for that, used more energy in that one flight than it took to build the Great Pyramid in the first place. It’s quite another to understand exactly what that means – to get some sense of the effort it took for gangs of laborers to haul all those blocks of stone from the quarries to the Nile, load them on boats, then haul them up from the Nile’s edge east of Giza and get them into place in the slowly rising mass of the Pyramid, and then to equate all that effort with the fantastic outpouring of force that flows through the turbines of a modern jet engine and keeps an airliner poised in the thin air 40,000 feet above the ground for the long flight from LA to Cairo.

Like the age of the Earth or the distance to the nearest star, that torrential flow of energy is on a scale our minds are simply not capable of grasping in any but the most abstract sense. From the perspective we inherit from our evolutionary origins, where the effort needed to chase down an antelope or fight off a hyena lies toward the upper end of our imaginations, the power needed to keep a couple of hundred tons of aluminum, steel, fuel, luggage, and human flesh in midair for most of a day is so close to infinite that it’s all too easy to confuse the two.

As we prepare to navigate the rough waters of the immediate future, though, confusing the two is a major mistake. The fantasy of infinite energy is what’s behind the assumption, common throughout the industrial world, that using as much energy as possible in as many ways as possible is an unqualified good. Once supply limits enter the picture, unlimited use becomes problematic, but it’s important to grasp that there are two kinds of limits to energy availability and two kinds of problems that result.

The best way to think of the difference I’m addressing here is to borrow a metaphor from money. One kind of energy limit is a limit to energy flows, which works like the limit imposed by the amount of a weekly paycheck. If you make five hundred dollars a week, that’s how much you have to spend that week, and if the potential uses for that money amount to more than five hundred a week, you have to prioritize. So much has to be set aside for rent, so much for food, so much for utilities, and so on, before you decide how much you can afford to spend on whatever else you have in mind. Neglect to prioritize and you can end up scrambling to get by until your next weekly paycheck shows up.

The other kind of energy limit is a limit to energy funds, which functions like the limit imposed by the amount of an inheritance or a lump-sum lottery win. If you have ten million dollars in the bank from a winning lottery ticket, the kind of limit the fund’s size puts on you is very different from the kind that a weekly paycheck puts on you. Treated as a fund, that ten million dollars is all you’ll ever have to spend, and unless there’s less than ten million dollars’ worth of expenditures you’ll want to make in your entire life, you have to prioritize, just like the guy making five hundred a week.

Notice, though, that if you’ve got a fund rather than a flow, the temptation to ignore priorities and run amuck with your wealth can be very high, because payback doesn’t come midway through the week; it comes when your bank balance drops too low to cover your current expenses, and when that happens, it’s far too late to do anything about it. If you have more than the usual amount of brains the gods gave hominids, you can dodge this by turning the fund into a source of flow. In the world of money, this is called investing: you buy assets that give you a steady return, and the resulting flow becomes the bedrock on which you build your financial life; even if you mess up and have to scramble, there’s always the next check to help you out. Still, you have to make the decision to do that, and then keep your grubby hands off the funds you’ve invested.

Apply this to energy and you’ve basically got the history of the modern world. Until our species broke into the Earth’s store of fossil fuels and started going through it like a lottery winner on a spree, we lived from paycheck to paycheck on the incoming flows from the sun, and we got fairly clever at it. Growing food crops, raising livestock, building windmills and waterwheels, designing houses to soak up heat from the sun in winter and shed it in the summer, and a good many other ingenious tricks gave us the annual paycheck of energy we used to support ourselves and cover the costs of such luxury goods as art, literature, philosophy, science, and the occasional Great Pyramid.

With the transformation of coal from ugly black rock to energy resource over the course of the eighteenth century, that changed radically. Simply put, our species won the lottery, and it wasn’t a paltry little million-dollar prize, either – it was the great-grandmother of all jackpots, unimaginably vast enough that for most of three hundred years, the major constraint on how fast we used fossil fuels was the struggle to figure out enough clever ways to use it all. What nobody noticed at the time, or for a long time thereafter, was that we’d switched from a flow to a fund, and the faster our fossil fuel use accelerated, the faster the bank balance depleted.

We could have done the smart thing and converted the fund into a source of flows. That’s what the alternative energy scene of the 1970s was all about: figuring out ways to use the world’s remaining fossil fuel reserves to bridge the gap to a renewable energy technology that could last after the fossil fuels were gone. Even then, it was a gamble; nobody knew for sure if it would be possible, even using the world’s still-huge fossil fuel reserves, to create a renewable infrastructure sturdy and productive enough that it could keep providing ample energy into the far future. Still, it’s possible that it could have been done, if the initiatives launched in that decade had been pursued in the decades that followed.

The people responsible for the World Wildlife Fund study, and those people who deluge me with cornucopian screeds that aren’t simply chanting “Drill, baby, drill” or insisting that God Almighty will refill the world’s oilfields so that we can keep on living exactly the sort of life of extravagant luxury, wealth and pride their own Bible condemns in no uncertain terms, are basically insisting that this is still an option. It’s not, and the reason it’s not comes from the one major difference between money and energy resources: in the world of energy, a fund is also subject to restrictions on flow. It’s as though the bank account where you have your lottery winnings stashed has a regulation saying that you can only withdraw two per cent of your total balance per month.

If you’ve got ten million dollars in the bank, that limit hardly seems worth noticing at first, but as your tastes grow more extravagant and your bills mount up, the amount you think you need each month goes up, and the amount you can theoretically withdraw goes down as your balance depletes. Sooner or later those two lines cross, and once that happens only a drastic program of cutting expenses and prioritizing bills can save you from financial ruin. Unless you’re willing to suck it up and live very cheaply for a good long while, you certainly can’t afford to take the money you have left and sock it into an investment; you need the money to cover your bills right now, and the best you can probably hope for is that the remainder of your lottery winnings will clear your debts and maybe pay for some nice things you won’t be able to afford in the future, when you’re back to earning five hundred a week.

The restrictions on flow that affect fossil fuels are the product of geology and economics, not bank regulations, but the principle is the same. It’s simply not possible to extract more than a certain amount of oil from a given oil field per year – the amount varies from field to field due to fine details of geology – and trying to do so is a good way to exhaust the field prematurely, losing the chance to get some of the oil you might have had by doing things the right way. Despite all the ballyhoo about high-tech methods of extracting oil from the ground, in practice, those turn out to get about the same amount of oil as the old-fashioned method, just a lot faster; in practice, that means that the field keeps production at a higher plateau for a while longer, but runs dry sooner. The limits to coal and natural gas production are a bit more straightforward: neither one is cheap to produce, and the faster you want to produce it, the more it’s going to cost you and the sooner you run out of good places to dig or drill.

Thus you don’t have to run out of fossil fuels to end up in a world of hurt; you just need to get to the point where rising demand crosses decreasing potential flow. Worldwide conventional petroleum production passed that point in 2005; coal is closing in on the equivalent point, the point at which the cost of expanding production from depleting reserves will exceed the ability of the global economy to pay; natural gas is a little further off, though nothing like so far as the press releases from shale gas drilling companies hoping to buoy their stock prices would like you to think. In terms of the metaphor, our bills are mounting and our ability to withdraw enough cash to cover them from the First National Bank of Earth is starting to come into serious question.

Can we afford at this point to invest a very sizable fraction of what we have left in a project of the sort the World Wildlife Fund imagines? Not without a process of global economic retrenchment that would make the Great Depression – the last one, not the current one – look like a lawn party. Political realities being what they are, it’s not going to happen.

This means, as these essays have argued repeatedly already, that trying to find some new jackpot of energy to fuel our current lifestyles is not a viable response to our predicament. The foundation of any viable response needs to start from the other end of the equation, by changing our lifestyles to accept the drastic retrenchment that’s waiting for us anyway as fossil fuels continue to deplete. If our imaginary lottery winner wants to get out of the trap he’s made for himself, after all, the first thing he has to do is stop spending money so freely. Once that happens, the range of potential opportunities broadens significantly, but unless that happens, there’s no way that things are going to end well.

The distinction between funds and flows is important enough that I’d like to ask those of my readers who are working on the Green Wizards project to use it to expand on the list you made last week. That list, as you’ll remember, includes every way that heat enters into your house during the cold months of the year, and every way that it leaves. (If you didn’t think of the furnace, the stove, and other heat-producing appliances when you were coming up with ways that heat enters your home, by the way, you should probably do the list over again.) For this week’s work, take each of the ways that heat comes into your home, figure out whether it comes from a flow (for example, sunlight) or a fund (for example, natural gas), and if it comes from a fund, what restrictions affect your access to flows from that fund (for example, the cost of natural gas).

This may take you a bit of research. Your refrigerator, for example, puts a noticeable amount of heat into your home; if it’s electric, what energy source produces the electricity you use? If it’s coal or natural gas, it’s from a fund; if it’s hydroelectric, it’s from a flow; it may well be a mixture of these and more. Take the time to find out; it’s good practice, and will also give you a much better idea of what factors are likely to affect your electric bill in the future as different resources run short at different rates. More generally, go over your list from last week and see if you can expand on it. Next week, with the help of a pair of British musical comedians, we’ll begin applying this information to the next practical stage of the Green Wizards project.


My books on peak oil and the future of industrial society, The Long Descent (2008) and The Ecotechnic Future (2009), are available from your local full service bookstore or direct from the publisher at these links {3, 4}. My forthcoming book on post-peak economics, The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered {5}, will be available in June and can be preordered now from the publisher at a twenty percent discount.


John Michael Greer is the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America {6} and the author of more than twenty books on a wide range of subjects, including The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age (2008), The Ecotechnic Future: Exploring a Post-Peak World (2009), and the forthcoming The Wealth of Nature: Economics As If Survival Mattered. He lives in Cumberland, Maryland, an old red brick mill town in the north central Appalachians, with his wife Sara.

If you enjoy reading this blog, you might want to check out Star’s Reach, his blog/novel of the deindustrial future {7}. Set four centuries after the decline and fall of our civilization, it uses the tools of narrative fiction to explore the future our choices today are shaping for our descendants tomorrow.









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by James Howard Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (2005) (February 14 2010)

For a month, Egypt has been a magic mirror for America to behold its own wonderfulness, like a diorama of “Freedom and Democracy” out of a Kentucky creationist museum. In this, our hour of national narcissism, we imagine a replay of Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, and Yorktown – with a falafel on top – in the streets of Cairo in order to prop up our own disintegrating self-esteem, while committing arson on our national household.

Also conveniently forgotten for the moment – because there’s nothing dramatic about nothing happening – is that a particular corner of the Middle East remained stable for thirty-odd years. Did we fork over $70 billion to Hosni Mubarak during that period so he wouldn’t start another war? Could be. But it was surely money better spent than the even larger nut we dropped all at once on AIG, Goldman Sachs, and a few other domestic fungi on the tree of liberty back home. And we’re still shoveling billions from the Federal Reserve into a claque of Too-Big-To-Fail banks in the form of a ZIRP loan carry trade under the pretense that they can use it to shore up their “reserve ratios”. A lot of people from New Jersey to Seattle need their reserves shored up, too, but they can forget about running personal ZIRP carry trade rackets out of the Fed’s loan window.

Contrary to what some readers suppose, cynicism (as in, thinking the worst of everything about everyone) is really not my bag – though comedy is another matter. However, if ever cynicism was an appropriate response to something, it would be the initial throes of a political revolution. The early triumphs in and around Paris after 1789 must have been soul-stirring, but you could forgive a casual observer who caught the scent of trouble in the air – and what followed was a years-long dismaying merry-go-round of mis-rule that climaxed in the Reign of Terror and finally resolved a full decade later in the crowning of another absolute monarch: the emperor Napoleon. Gazing back at all that, it really took France nearly a century to get its act together politically from the moment that the governor of the Bastille surrendered his keys.

All forms of government in recent times find themselves in the same predicament: the mismanagement of contraction. Too many people and too many enterprises are competing for a contracting resource base. In many poor countries it expresses itself plainly as expensive food, or no food at all for some. The expensive food part of the story is already being felt in the wealthier countries, too, but the contraction expresses itself more in terms of money – many people do not have enough, or else much less than they were used to having, and at the same time the money that does circulate seems increasingly worthless. So we have the great debate over whether the contraction is deflationary or inflationary.

That debate could not happen if money retained its essential meaning as a reliable medium of exchange, but the idea of what exactly money is, is becoming increasingly clouded everywhere as compound interest fails in the face of contraction. And as compound interest fails – in the form of loans that can’t be repaid – the banking system implodes. This implosion has been artfully papered over with enough accounting tricks so that many citizens do not even perceive it as being underway. The results are insidious: falling living standards, no role to play in the economy (that is, a job), and a shocking array of social pathologies ranging from nearly universal family dysfunction to men acting like babies to obscene discrepancies in income.

The one thing that’s not contracting for now is the human population, inarguably in overshoot in relation to available resources, but population is a lagging indicator. Some people will still have sex, and produce the results of it, even when they’re starving. But meanwhile disease and strife creep into picture and you get the failure of public health systems, and military misadventures over oil or water, and after a while even a lagging indicator gets dragged into center stage. Of course, I’m persuaded that arguing about “overpopulation” is rather silly, since we are not going to do a goshdarn thing about it in terms of policies or protocols. (My own suggestion to make abortion retroactive has not been greeted with enthusiasm.)

You could probably pick the next location in the Middle East revolution derby by pitching a dart at the map. Just about all of them are ready to go up in flames for one reason or another – that really boil down to dwindling resources. And then, there are the various beefs, grudges, and jealousies that could prompt conflict between them, too. Lots of folks, for instance, are probably wondering what Hezbollah aims to do with its impressive collection of rockets.

I don’t blame poor Mr Obama for trying to keep the lid on all this – which is arguably a conceit in itself – since the country that he is most in charge of whirls around a very impressive drain of hopeless debt and vanishing prospects. But my guess is that the next big event in the center ring of current affairs will be a First World money crisis. It is true that the stock market only goes up. And then, one fine day, a large, angry, long-necked bird unfurls a set of elegant black wings and goes honking off into a red sun, and suddenly you are in a new realm where the stock market only goes down … and certain sovereign bond rates soar with that angry bird … and things Too-Big-To-Fail fall on their asses and fail … and everything changes.

We read this morning that Egypt is under martial law with a suspended constitution – a logical step, given the army takeover, but not something that makes you want to buff up your flag lapel pin and say a prayer for the ghost of Winston Churchill. Things are definitely in flux. Here in upstate New York, the sap is about to run in the diseased maple trees.


Mr Kunstler’s biography is at

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