Entropy revisited

You can’t win, you can’t break even, and you can’t get out of the game. Those kernels are my favorite descriptors of the Three Laws of Thermodynamics. Respectively, the clauses mean (1) energy is conserved (First Law), (2) entropy never decreases, thus precluding perpetual motion machines (Second Law), and (3) it is impossible to cool a system to absolute zero (Third Law). The Second Law in particular puts insurmountable, irreversible constraints on everything we do. Without the Second Law, there would be no heat losses in energy systems, and electricity would be far too cheap to meter and commodify.

One way of looking at our current set of predicaments is that we’ve been on a binge, consuming energy considerably faster than it can be captured and stored by Earth’s ecosystems. While fossil fuels once appeared limitless (and still do to deniers of peak oil), and though we’re literally bathed in energy (in the form of sunlight), the disappearance of the fossil-fuel storehouse accumulated over millions of years isn’t something that can be replaced with anything nearly as convenient as fossil fuels. Solar, wind, wave, geothermal, nuclear, and hydropower simply don’t pack the same punch as fossil fuels, either singly or in combination. In short, we’re falling off the net-energy cliff, and there’s no lifeline to grab onto, no known technology to break the fall.

Long before the Industrial Era, work such as growing food, manufacturing goods, and distributing materials was accomplished via the limited power of human muscle (the monuments of the ancient world all being built with slave labor) and draught animals. Later, water wheels and windmills enabled us to convert force into mechanical power. The steam engine and combustion engine now allow us to tap the huge energy storehouse represented by fossil fuels and perform work we could not have done before, which translates into the sudden, exponential rise in human population and rapid destruction of the natural world. The differential between muscle power and simple mechanical power versus that harnessed by the application of fossil fuels can hardly be overstated. The trend from animal slaves (including humans) to fossil-fuel slaves seems like a one-way street, considering the paucity of draught animals and sanctioned slavery relative to the human population, but it isn’t. Enslavement to fossil fuels ends when the now-abundant supply turns to scarcity, at which point radical austerity sets in.

Three attributes of fossil fuels are particularly noteworthy. First, fossil fuels — especially crude oil — have amazingly high energy density. If you’ve burned oak in a wood stove, you have witnessed the heating power of 6,000 Btu per pound. Depending on the type, coal contains 8,000–14,000 Btu per pound. The devil’s excrement blows away wood and coal at nearly 20,000 Btu per pound. Once found, coal and oil are much more convenient to extract and deliver than wood, which explains in part why so many more railroad hopper cars are filled with coal than with firewood.

The second characteristic favoring consumption of fossil fuels is energy return on investment (EROI, sometimes expressed as EROEI for energy return on energy invested). Charles Hall is the primary authority on this subject, and his primer at The Oil Drum illustrates the importance of EROI while also showing how rapidly EROI has declined for U.S. oil. Specifically, average EROI of U.S. crude oil dropped from 100:1 in the 1930s to 30:1 in 1970 and down below 20:1 today while EROI for coal has varied from 40:1 to 80:1 during the same period. Meanwhile, firewood has an EROI of about 30:1, much higher than nuclear or solar photovoltaic (PV) and about the same as hydropower (we’ve nearly run out of rivers to dam, at least in North America).

The third big issue regarding fossil fuels is their potential energy. Coal and oil are just lying underground, containing dense sums of energy, begging us to gobble it up for our own immediate use, leaving nothing behind in the quintessential capitalist game of heedless maximization (e.g., Daniel Quinn’s theory of leavers and takers). There’s no need to turn a turbine with the quaint use of wind or water to generate electricity. There’s no need to bust apart atoms through exotic, risky, and expensive means that produce the nastiest of all wastes. Insatiable vampires, we jam our fang-like straws into the ground to extract easily combusted ancient sun-blood.

It’s easy to understand why we committed to crude oil early in the industrial game. Its energy density, EROI, and convenience of combustion are irresistible. It’s small wonder, then, that we developed an entire civilization based on fossil fuels. The physics underlying the conversion of energy into heat, power, force, or work is a tangle of interrelated concepts not easily sorted out by nonscientists. However, whether various inputs and outputs are measured in watts, Btu, calories, joules, newtons, or volts, what’s clear is that civilization is currently engorged, literally feasting on fossil fuels. But it’s not anything close to a zero sum game, where resources stay constant and are only shifted around over time. Rather, the Second Law guarantees there is always a diminishing return.

Ultimately, all this points to a future in which we will be energy poor because we’ve used up the storehouse of cheap, convenient energy. In the not-so-distant future, the purportedly nonnegotiable American way of life, which is based on inexpensive and rapid movement of humans and materials via conversion of stored energy to mechanical power, will no longer be possible. Put in more immediate terms, there will soon be a time when old folks say with some nostalgia, “Oh yeah, I remember warm showers.”


The initial draft of this essay was prepared by Brutus, who contributed considerable editorial expertise toward later drafts.

This post is permalinked at BoilingSpot, Energy Bulletin, and Island Breath.

Comments 48

  • What better argument for keeping easily-accessed crude in the ground for later?
    You know; conserving it?

    Well, Guy, what are the odds we can dedicate any oil for non-military uses by, say, twenty years from now? Let alone what we ought be doing; burning that oil on infrastructure like rice paddies and irrigation and reservoirs, and moving ports uphill, and constructing residences connected to each other with work and food-producing nearby…

    on a lighter note, just yesterday I had the same exact thought while showering that you did: How to get this without a furnace? Of course, I live in Massachusetts now, where the sun don’t shine.
    But we have plenty of water.

  • Guy,

    I would like to try to tie several ideas together that have come as a result of reading your last two posts, the associated links, and readers’ comments.

    In your post “City living in a post-peak world” you state, “We should be developing a set of living arrangements focused on thriving, not merely surviving.”

    In this current post, “Entropy revisited,” you note, ominously, “The trend from animal slaves (including humans) to fossil-fuel slaves seems like a one-way street, considering the paucity of draught animals and sanctioned slavery relative to the human population, but it isn’t.

    At the “Energy Bulletin” Toby Hemenway posts an essay titled “The Myth of Self Reliance” in which he states that to achieve any measure of self-reliance is impossible. Further, he says that only through community will we be able to survive, noting that none of us can provide all the goods and services we need. He goes on to say, “…is there really a difference between a farmer exchanging the product of her labor—food—for goods and money, and me selling the product of my labor—education—for goods and money? We both are trading our life energy within a system that supports us, and I’d like to think we are making wise ethical choices.” Clearly in Hemenway’s future along with a class of drudges (farmers, serfs) to produce our food there should also be a class of intellectual elites (call them priests, perhaps) to think about stuff and come up with good plans so the drudges will be more efficient. Of course the priests (thinkers) should be paid for their work (“life energy” input) with the food the drudges produce at backbreaking labor. Maybe the priests should get a bonus, too.

    Vera on the other hand paints us a word picture of a central European village; compact, centralized, surrounded by fields and forests that are used individually but owned in common and from which the village residents gain sustenance. The village also has amenities that require specialization (school, store, pub…).

    Regarding Vera’s village, Vertalio notes that while sounding sublime it would require “a changed view of ‘property’…(and) an acceptance of some socialist values…” But then he asks, “What of lords and priests? They won’t take it lying down…”

    So, Guy, since we are about to “fall off the net-energy cliff” do you see the cliff as being vertical or will the slope be gentle enough for Vera’s sublime village to be replicated elsewhere? Using Yeats’ words, is “mere anarchy…loosed upon the world…and everywhere the ceremony of innocence…drowned” or do we have some chance of coming through with civilization in tact? If so, what form will it take? Can we hope for a Jeffersonian agrarian utopia or are we looking at strongmen and thuggery? Yeats again,

    “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

    Michael Irving

  • Michael Irving, I see the cliff as being very steep. We’ve been easing down the right side of Hubbert’s curve for five years, lately at 3% per annum (year over year). As a consequence, we’re surrounded by a plethora of bombs, any one of which could terminate the age of industry at any time. Consider, for example, the following merely-scratching-the-surface triggers for economic collapse: direct effects of energy decline, the large majority of U.S. states now insolvent, collapse of the stock markets, the depth and duration of the worst and shortest recession ever, the never-ending loss of jobs, Europe on the brink of default with the collapse of Greece serving as a dress rehearsal for the U.S., and the race to the bottom between the U.S. and China. I could go on, as you certainly have observed, but I think the point is clear. For many reasons, notably including lack of time, I see no way to build Vera’s villages, much as I’d like to believe otherwise.

    On the other hand, individuals have options, as always. In small groups, we can prepare for an ambiguous future. Toby Hemenway prefers the city route, believing self reliance a myth. In so doing, he ignores the first two million years of humanity, he discards Thoreau’s wise appeal to simplicity, and he chooses the fragility of imperialism over the durability of … well … any other alternative.

    Even John Michael Greer has come around to promoting the idea of collapse in this week’s essay. He then goes on (responding to comments in the same post) to equate his multi-century decline with James Howard Kunstler’s rapid collapse, thereby proclaiming that six months is equal to three centuries. Either druids don’t view time as linear, or Greer’s definition of industry includes the use of arrowheads hammered from coins.

    I’ve no doubt the decline into the post-industrial stone age will vary among locations, as it has to date. Detroit is further down that road than, say, Washington, D.C. But, at least in my opinion, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix are a lot closer to chaos than any town in Belize, largely because Belizean towns were never able to buy into the fragile, complex, and complicated arrangements that characterize cities in the arid American Southwest.

  • Aw, shucks, Guy, break my heart, will ya?! ;) Nah. Humans have been building villages for 10,000 years… and during the worst of times. Why not now? Besides, there’ll be lots of prime though somewhat besmirched land available once ag subsidies to agribiz dry up and fuel is twice what it is today.

    Good call on the Druid… whenever people point out some inconsistency he invariably tells them he’s been saying it for years. We all gotta remember… druids are always right. ;)

    Michael, good call on Hemenway! It did not sit right with me either. Same old same old. And… ain’t it peculiar that a man who makes it his business to extol permaculture wants to duck actually using it to grow food?!

    Vertalio, people get hot water attachments to their stoves. Works just fine I hear. In the winter, that is… Wood fired saunas are delightful, btw, any time of year.

  • Michael, as I see it there are the two scenarios going forward, neither of which, I’m sorry to say, is a Jeffersonian agrarian utopia:

    Conan Scenario: We return to the post-collapse anarchy of 6th century Europe, as the various barbarian tribes take turns pillaging the cities, raiding the farms and slaughtering each other. It sounds bad, and it probably will be, but if it’s anything like the first Conan movie it could also be rather fun.

    10,000 B.C. Scenario: We go back to animal skins, stone knives and primitive hunter-gathering. Life will be short and challenging, but on the bright side, stone age women in bearskins could be quite hot and you can dispense with all the hierarchical agricultural bullshit and get right down to business.

  • As always an interesting thread of discussion. I believe we are heading to a sharp, steep cliff.

    I don’t believe that the past is a model for the future (effectively, you can’t go back). And so, I am rather skeptical of models premised on quaint views of village to prehistoric lives.

    I think the lives we are more likely heading towards are impoverished slums (think Calcutta), surrounded by agro-business lands, and managed by corporate security firms (or single-party governments).

    I suggest that it isn’t likely going to be an end game either in small holding farms, eco-villages, or urban victory gardens. The future living model is being constructed today across the third world. Don’t look at these places as being developing nations – see them as previously developed nations in an advanced state of decline.

  • Vera,

    I find the fact that Toby does not think permaculture is the answer to be amazing too. What can be going on in his mind? The kindest thing to say would be that he just misspoke. If that’s not it then he’s just a snake-oil salesman pushing a product he doesn’t believe in simply because it’s paying his rent.

    As for your central European village, I’ve had a similar experience. We lived for a time in a Bavarian village during the mid-60s (thanks to Uncle Sam). The house we lived in accommodated two families, us on top and the homeowner’s family below. They were farmers with land outside the village. The house and barn were two ends of the same building (we could hear the cows through the wall) that was L-shaped and made of stone. The yard was enclosed with a wall and in the center of the courtyard was a big cistern that was actually a septic tank for the humanure and the effluent from the barn. Periodically my landlord would open the top of the tank and pump it out into his “honey wagon.” He would then spread on his fields as fertilizer. He also had a carp pond and when he harvested carp he would bring them home to swim in the bathtub for a while to clear the mud out of their systems (they tasted great). Throughout the area were large forest tracts noteworthy because all the fallen branches had been removed for firewood. I don’t know about land ownership, I was too dumb to ask questions then, but I do know that village was the norm for agrarian society there at that time. I don’t know what the situation is today. I think it sounds a lot like your description. Did the storks nest on the chimneys in central Europe too?

    Anyway, it seems like a picture from a future book titled “Post-peak Utopias,” that is if there are any books in the future. Would that it were possible. As I look ahead I am afraid Andrew’s view of the Calcutta slums is more likely in the near term, with the surrounding agro-business lands being worked by Guy’s animal slaves (people). Cities are not sustainable in a post-peak world and it is hard to imagine that when the refugees start flowing into the countryside the locals will meet them with open arms. But on second thought, maybe that is what Toby Hemenway was talking about; serfs will work the land, priests will think about things, and people with appropriate skills (Blackwater/Xe) will maintain order. I guess that is what Sean Taylor is suggesting with his Conan scenario. I would question how much “fun” it would be unless your one of the guys busting heads. It doesn’t seem real pleasant if you’re a woman either.

    As you point out, however, people have been building villages for the last 10,000 years, through good times and bad, so it is possible for the future too. I was in Europe just 20 years after WWII and it was thriving. People make the best of things, they adapt to new conditions. I’m reminded that every middle-aged German man I talked to fought on the Eastern Front.

    Michael Irving

  • Vera, I’m not saying we can’t get to your Utopian countryside. I’m suggesting, however, that we won’t reach the nirvana of agricultural anarchy because the requirements are too great at this point in the industrial era. We’d need a commitment from governments and the corporations they serve, for beginners. Maybe we’ll get there a few years post-collapse, in a few places, after the corporatocracy gets out of the way.

  • Sean, I think it’s likely that it will similar to the fall of Rome… some Vandals running around, sacking what they can. Folks who have outlying hard-to-get-to latifundia have a chance. Lots of folks in Rome itself die. But not all by any means, and the exodus to Gaul and other places continues over the years. The empire’s tentacles shrink dramatically, and once the outlying areas get it together, they’ll be able to live. Thugs do best looting urban areas… that’s where all the concentrated wealth is. They do not fare so well against rural guerrillas who know the landscape. The empire will hang onto what it can… using serfs, and focus its energy on key areas, letting the rest go. Tribals who have survived so far will be able to recoup. Some of them already are.

    Andrew, the question I would pose you is… why would empire support supply lines to impoverished slums? That would drag them down and reduce their chances. They will support some shabby-towns, mostly of former middle class servicing types, but the rest? The empire will find a way to get rid of them, one way or another. Those that do not join the ranks of the ag serfs, I mean…

    Why would remote ecovillages not make it? They’ll have a chance… along with the other remote ag types.

    Michael, I doubt Toby mis-spoke. His attitude stretches all the way back in history through medieval days and further. I actually looked into the medieval attitudes toward the peasants… pretty appalling. Even though the official line was that the two other orders (priests and warriors) could not exist without them, and that the right thing was to protect them, everybody knew they were an easy target for abuse and exploitation. And the priests and warriors would not be caught dead toiling in the fields. This is part and parcel of the civ mindset.

    Ah… bathtub carp! I can only dream. Some of the best fish ever. My village was in northern Moravia. But many are back there as you describe it. The houses touching, the yard el-shaped or u-shaped, with all the animals right there. And garden/orchard in the back. We had the storks in chimneys too, but by the time I was a teenager, they were decimated. Too many dying on the way up north. But I hear the populations have recovered somewhat.

    Let’s not forget it: the village is a very sturdy invention, and those people who laid in a rural livelihood through past upheavals, whether in WWII or earlier, were the ones most likely to make it. Solitary farms, though, no so much… That is what is worrisome about the American rural landscape.

  • One problem with the medieval Euro model is the diseases caught living in proximity to farm animals. Of course, those that survive improve the gene pool, and kill strangers who come in contact with you (see: North Americans, when the Euros landed) so maybe that’s going to have to do.
    Anyone here know how to drive oxen? Me either.
    But I’m guessing I’ll be dead when the Correction arrives, or soon thereafter. Atheists and pacifists and socialists will be targeted along with the others, under President Mrs. Todd Palin. But I jest!
    Disease is much more likely.

    I care less about how governments will fare than whether changes in the weather harms the ability of seeds to sprout, grow, be harvested, or migrate. Five or six degrees warmer, and the modern Rome is soon an abandoned ruin. Vandals wandering dazed toward the poles.
    No wonder Revelation is such a hit with the superstitious.

    In the meantime, I hate to say it but those villages we wax nostalgic over might want to incorporate keeps or stockades or fallout shelters with tunnels, and plenty of bows and arrows on hand. The squeamish will not inherit the earth.
    Even if we have stove-heated hot water. (Yes, I’ve used such a system. Loved it, except for the smoke; it burned coal and driftwood.)

  • While growing up in West (now Pakistan) and East (now Bangladesh) Pakistan, I never had a warm shower – my first 24 years. In the winter months, a bucket of water heated over a charcoal or wood stove would have to do.

    Had my father emulated his eleven siblings and migrated out of East Pakistan, I might have been yet another one of the Calcutta slum-dwellers.

    Nevertheless, I would be quite loth to give up warm showers, even in the middle of the summer in Fresno, CA when & where a cool day is one with a temperature of 100°P. Yet the prospect of giving up showers altogether looms ominously.

  • Vertalio,
    Regarding oxen: I read somewhere in Vananda Shiva that you get more bang for the buck out of donkeys (power/hay) as opposed to horses, camels, or oxen. Of course there is no comparison in terms of sheer power. No, I know nothing about driving oxen. The drovers make it look easy, but you could also say that about people who handle elephants and those that fly 747’s.

    Regarding Revelations: I found this quote as a chapter heading today in the book “A Gift Upon the Shore,” by M.K. Wren. In a letter to Thomas Allsop from Samuel Taylor Coleridge (ca.1820), he writes, “Not one man in a thousand has the strength of mind or the goodness of heart to be an atheist.”

    Regarding disease: In the same book the next chapter heading had this quote from Malthus (Principle of Population [1790]), “Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to provide subsistence…that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” This could just as well have gone under the heading “Regarding Revelations,” what with the four horsemen and all. It is interesting that many people who embrace Revelations reject Malthus. What’s the reasoning there? Pestilence, War, Famine, and Death are worthy topics of discussion if they come as a result of god’s wrath but not if they result from overpopulation and resource depletion. Of course I just read four or five ways various members of the priest class interpret Revelations, each rejecting the other, so why shouldn’t they reject Mathus too?

    Robin Datta,
    I’ve spent several years heating bath water on a stove too. We stood in an old washtub. I just remembered that I thought it was important to put in a hot water heater and shower several years before I figured an indoor flush toilet was important.

    Michael Irving

  • Guy,

    I would like you to explain your comment to Vera about utopian agrarian villages. I think you are saying that we can’t get there from here because we can’t put together sufficient resources for the transition. Then you say it is governments and corporations that are standing in the way. Then you say post-collapse we may reach there after all. Would you please amplify on that? Specifically, what is keeping us from a change? If it’s insufficient resources then how will they become available later? I think you are saying it is simply that governments/corporations control the resources and refuse to commit them. Is that right?

    Michael Irving

  • Michael Irving, thanks for seeking clarification. I think we do not have resources sufficient to create Utopian agrarian villages for 300 million Americans, much less all the people on the planet. Further, I don’t think governments, corporations, or even the general public would allow development of such a set of arrangements. We would have to stop invading and occupying other countries and get to work building, plowing, and educating the masses.

    Ultimately, culture stands in our way. We’re committed to economic growth at all costs, even extinction of our own species. The problem is not that we’re fish out of water — it’s that we’re fish in a river, and we don’t even know there is an ocean, much less a landbase. We’re just swimming along, unaware of the water in which we are immersed.

    But, a few years down the road, when the human population has fallen dramatically, we might be able to pull it off because, at that point, (1) resources will be sufficient for a much-reduced human population, (2) people will be motivated, and (3) no large entities will stand in the way (because they will no longer exist).

  • Guy,

    Duh. Of course! I was just thinking about the world ending because there were seven billion people when I was responding to what Vertalio said and then “boink” —brain fart.

    I was trying to ferret out the complexities of what exactly it was “they” were doing to rig the situation in such a way that resources were unavailable (e.g., bail out the banks and there is no money to upgrade infrastructure). Thanks for reminding me of Pogo meeting the enemy.

    Michael Irving

  • How strange that folks here have taken to referring to vera’s utopian villages, when the villages I speak of have been very much a reality. ;)

    I don’t think there is a chance in hell that they will be created in this land (U.S.) by any top-down processes. But then, these very real villages never were. They arose from the grassroots because they worked. They can arise today too, if those of us favoring the rural alternative lose our allegiance to the American model of singular outlying farms a la Astyk or even rural eco-villlages like Loudoun County Coho or Cobb Hill where the purchased land gets carved up for sizable individual homesteads (albeit with some common areas). We can switch instead to close clusters of dwellings with a bit of private land to satisfy the urge for “building one’s own little kingdom” while leaving the rest of the land not as just ecological commons but also agricultural commons cared for together.

    Been reflecting that when American land began to be carved up into the large give-away homesteads of the western push, the casualties of this approach must have been tremendous. The people who clustered around small towns and forts likely survived, and those that lived “outlyingly” often perished, from Indians or rogue palefaces, accidents, wild animals and all the various misfortunes that plague humans cut off from community. I figure it was like those generals in Civil War and WWI who just threw warm bodies at the enemy with disastrous results, knowing there was plenty more where they came from.

  • Oops: a clarification: local top-down processes could help, like changing zoning laws and such. Eventually, I think they will get on board or be overruled. But even there, it’s slow going…

  • Vera-ville may well appear, willy-nilly, all across the planet. People need to eat, but, maybe more importantly, people are apes and need a tribe to define their self. As a species, we are not often loners. And if things go to Hades in a handbasket, we’ll band together and evolve hierarchies and work to solve problems.
    There ought to be enough to keep us busy.

    Thanks for the Coleridge quote, Micheal. It’s not at all easy, growing up un-believing in a nation of the ostensibly devout. On the other hand, it is so easy…reality is there, at all times, staring us in the face.
    I find Revelations hilarious, as a result.

    And, Guy, you’re so right…growth must ever occur, according to conventional wisdom, that we may thrive. Yet unchecked growth could be also called “cancerous.”
    Because it is.

  • Guy —

    You nailed it again, and perhaps even moreso than you expected to. I just saw a commentary about the energy development and production problems now experienced in Venezuela, resulting in lower national revenues and lower exports. Hugo Chavez is quoted as saying that Venezuelans should be satisfied with a 3 minute bath — it’s long enough! The point of that article was that both Mexico and Venezuela are increasingly unable to maintain past petroleum export levels to the US market, which will be hard to replace with increased competition from China. Also, Venezuela’s own export problems due to technical insufficiency in developing its resources will likely be solved by Chavez turning to contractual deals with China and Iran that will send exports to them, ultimately freezing out the US. This is imminent.

    The US consumer is surely going to miss the artifacts of prosperity caused by depauperizing the planet much more than they/we seem to miss the natural bounty we have squandered. We have overfished the oceans for tuna and cod (and everything else). Populations of so many species are mere relicts of past grandeur, and the average school age child in the US cares more about his Blackberry and text messaging apparatus than he does about the loss of polar bears and spotted owls.

    Our civilization’s institutional memory of the past bounty of the planet is mostly missing in action, and we saw miles of subdivisions with houses on block after block as more natural and desirable than miles of pristine grasslands, prairie dog colonies, and flocks of (now missing) passenger pigeons measured in the hundreds of billions. People today do not know what is missing, and thus do not care. They want another hourly “fix” of technology, entertainment, and or electronic social networking. My own brother, a year younger than me, visited me on an emergency basis to help me deal with a newly-broken tibia and he could not drive a mile without looking at his I-phone for Dow Jones, textmails, etc. He literally could not go to the potty without his I-phone in hand.

    But, as Guy so nicely pointed out, the Laws of Thermodynamics cannot be waived the way Federal envioronmental regulations can. The piper must be paid, and he will. The debt burden will have to be settled eventually. The accounting of natural processes will have to occur. It can be forestalled for a bit, but the longer that occurs, the steeper the accounting debt.

    Americans want it all and they don’t want to pay for it. They want to have their cake, eat it, too, and pre-order seconds and thirds while not gaining weight or paying the bill. Yes, they have gotten away for a blip of geological time. A system out of equilibrium must return to such, and it will do so at its own pace.

    Might as well enjoy that hot bath while it is possible. Hard times are ahead. Panic is lying in ambush, just ahead. Reality intervenes. Nature Bats Last.

    Stan Moore

  • Response to Vera –

    Good point. I think slums will only be supported as the source material for new serfs. Unless they are tied to powerful interests, they won’t be supported by corporations.

  • Our Stan has made apposite points on crude oil.Venezuela is our second
    largest source of imported oil.There are 14,000 CITGO stations in the US.The company is entirely owned by Venezuela.For years China has aggresively sought to tie up every source of crude that they could.I’ve
    commented at length here about that subject.

    Good to hear from you Stan–take care of that broken bone.

    Frank Mezek

  • Stan,

    Good points to think about, especially regarding Venezuelan oil and ocean fisheries depletion. I was thinking about the fish in response to our comments and thought about the propagation of freshwater tilapia. I mean, what could be wrong with that? However, a very minimal search leads me to believe that most of the food used to raise these fish comes from agricultural products that could be used directly by people (soybeans, rice, wheat). Where do you get that in a post-peak world where people will be scrambling to get enough to eat? I sounds like a replay of the ethanol fiasco; pump in a bunch of oil and get an agricultural product out the other end that is of lesser value. But they do generate subsidies. In addition, there is the water contamination problem. What do you do with all the high nitrogen (i.e. poop filled) water? It’s the same problem associated with any feedlot system.

    Sorry to hear about your leg. I hope it wasn’t a bike accident. Hope you heal quickly.

    Michael Irving

  • Tilapia, eh? I caught 700 one day at a friend’s fish farm out in Hyder AZ. Funner than the filleting, I assure you.
    Salination was a big issue for the tilapia there, too…evaporation concentrates it, it pretty much overrode the poop issue. And it took a lot of clean water.
    And machinery, aka oil. Preferrably Citgo.

  • I’ll say it once and I’ll say it a hundred times: think carp. No need to feed them anything… they eat the muck on the bottom of the pond. They are hardy, they are tasty, and they’ll keep the pond clean for the other critters. :) P.S. They call’em sable at the deli, and charge an armenaleg.

  • vertalio:

    How do you like the Hyder valley and the Agua Caliente Mountains ?

    By the way,there is going to be a birthday party for me at my favorite
    Mexican restaurant–Caramba,6661 W Bell Rd.,on Tuesday, March 9,2010,starting at 5:00 PM. I’ve requested the staff to sing “Las Mananitas” to me.It’s a
    beautiful song and far better than the insipid “Happy Birtday to you,ect.”

    Everyone is invited,so if you can make it I’d love to meet you.

    They also make the world’s best Margarita.

    Hope to see you there.

    Frank Mezek

  • Venezuela also shares a border with Columbia, Stan, one of our vassal states these days. So I’m not sure how that plays out if Chavez and China go past third base.
    Our new president knows the business of America is war, although he may have to call up the Boy Scouts to get enough troops.
    Is that Hope, or Change?

    I’d love to attend your birthday bash, Frank, but it’d have to include a time machine. I lived in Tucson in the 80’s; now I’m a townmate of the fabulous Senator and former male nude model Scott Brown, R (MA). Whose ego is the size of the entire state of Arizona. He’ll run for president soon, and then we’ll have a POTUS with the 3,000 posters he had printed of himself, posing nude for Cosmo, stored in his basement.
    The modern statesman.

    Carp. Fine. You and I live on the same side of the native vs. alien fence, Vera, since carp will one day rule the continent, with the multiflora rose and the starlings and Japanese Knotweed and that chinese fish that eats every living thing and can crawl between ponds. But all god’s childrens have to eat something, and while I eagerly anticipate The Correction as much as the next Guy, I’d rather not have to kill and cook my neighbors.
    Everything, everywhere, I say!
    As if we haven’t scrambled things enough already…do you suppose the oceans are also depopulated of fish because we dammed, and polluted, and drained the rivers so many fish breed and feed in?

  • Vertalio,

    Only all five kinds of salmon, plus steelhead, sea run cutthroat, Dolly Varden trout, sturgeon, lamprey, and two kinds of smelt that spawn in fresh water are in trouble up in this neck of the woods (Pacific northwest). Introduced Atlantic salmon is uncommon (may they rot in hell along with the people who brought them here). Introduced shad is sea run too and is common, so add them to the weeds and starlings. 100 pound king salmon used to run up the falls right through the middle of Spokane until they decided electricity was more important and built a dam.

    Michael Irving

  • Heh. Well, tilapia is invasive too. But carp are sturdier and can live very well in small ponds and greenhouse fishtanks … think koi and goldfish… perfect protein for the strapped homesteader. They are growing tilapia up in Colorado’s San Louis Valley and heating the water for them! Howz that for insane?

    Speaking of eating our neighbors… just read a book on the siege of Leningrad, and was astonished how poorly the whole thing was handled…
    Some lessons:
    * official lies confuse people and create a false sense of normalcy where people focus on the wrong sort of stuff (millions of pieces of art was packed and carted off to safety) but…
    * centralized food storage was an easy target for German planes, in fact this is the first thing they targeted… if the food had been distributed to the people beforehand, a lot of lives would have been saved
    * they could still eat glue in those days, as well as many other things that we no longer can as it’s all synthetic; and they could still drink river water; gives a new meaning to resilience
    * yup, cannibalism reared its head amidst all the famine, war, and pestilence (the true 4th horseman of the apocalypse)
    * they were burning furniture to keep warm, but coffins were still being built for the dead! Nuts.

  • Dear Guy —

    As an alternative to thinking about our predicament in an energy/entropy context, I propose also thinking in terms of utter bankruptcy. Think about the financial cost of the KNOWN US military/defense/warmongering expenses, PLUS the “Black Budge”, the nuclear aspects, etc.” Is the cost of energy and even raw materials for manufacture worth it when one calculates the expense of putting all those Smedley Butlers out there in the US military to make the world safe for US commerce for all these years? Why could we not be neutral, like Switzerland and buy our materials and energy at market rates and keep the military budget low and strictly for homeland defense?

    But think of how we have ripped ourselves off by deferred accounting in our treatment of our natural resources on the homeland. We overgrazed, overharvested timber, over fished the fisheries, polluted land and water, depleted aquifers, lost topsoil, depauperized biodiversity, warmed the climate, changed the chemistry, and deferred all the costs to the indefinite future, for future generations to pay.

    It may seem like a bargain when you can temporarily live beyond your means and enjoy luxury. The American people watched too much of Bob Barker’s “The Price is Right” and thought they could forever get something for nothing. Las Vegas became the model for accounting and taxes were not viewed as a necessary evil, but simply as unnecessary at all, because as Dick Cheney said, “Deficits Don’t Matter!” Imagine that being the mantra of conservatives!

    We went on a consumption binge unparalleled in world history and threw away our accounting procedures as if a “see no evil” approach, a blindness, negated reality.

    And the “wise men” of economics cheered it all on. Greenspan, the “BubbleMaker” mildly eschewed irrational exhuberance while tacitly making it the preferred means of driving the economy and greatly enriching the institutional investors he clearly represented.

    This bankruptcy is now on a scale that is humanly impossible to comprehend. It involves sophisticated, computer-driven calculations of frenzied speculation that drove the bankruptcy beyond the boundaries of remedy, and all that remains is for the utterly corrupt managers of the paper wealth to stuff their pockets in a last orgy of theft before they head for their lifeboats and abandon ship.

    The worst part of it all is that soon lives will be on the line. The orgy resulted in literal human reproduction beyond the sustainable. We are not only overfed and overconsuming, but we are overabundant and equal to yeast in a vat. We are detrivores, swimming in the temporary detritus of a planet that once was rich and swimming with life, but which is soon to be starved of fuel, lacking in oxygen, and incapable of sustaining us at current numbers.

    Bankruptcy Sucks! would be a mild way of looking at what lies ahead. Bankruptcy Kills! will be more like it. And our vast military assets will very likely be used to settle scores with other nations, who have their scores to settle with us.

    Bankruptcy will be ugly, mean, heartless, cruel, and it will drag on because we have depleted the carrying capacity that led us to our high points in the past.

    On an individual level, people, survivors, will be able to succeed and eventually to thrive. On a society level, we are bankrupt and all that remains will be to tally the final score. Nature Bats Last. The game seemed lopsided against nature a couple of decades ago, but the starting pitchers are out, the tide has turned, and the rout will be of epic proportions. The game is already over, but the crowds remain milling around in the stands, hoping to score a foul ball.

  • It all comes down to this:

    Two very unfortunate biological events/accidents/mutations/evolutions
    occured to the human species that allowed it to ravage the planet,and
    destroy every other species that got in the way.

    1.The human animal is in permanent estrus.

    2.The human brain allowed the resultant fun sex babies to be kept alive,
    as “advances” in medical science and sanitation overrode the natural process of kill-off to keep populations of any species in line with the
    ability of it’s environment to sustain the species.

    Reminded once again that all technology is self defeating and the ghastly results of human overpopulation resulting from these two events,
    has been brilliantly expounded above by Our Stan.

    Frank Mezek

  • To ‘survive’ the coming crash we will need some form of law and order, humans don’t function without it, sooner or latter someone has to maintain some form of order, be it an orderly que at a tap or gruel pot.
    Unfortunately those that end up in position of power also end up corrupt and self centered, human life becomes cheep as food etc starts to run out. Humans have always been disgusting creatures, we kill for fun, maybe a domestic cat is the only other creature that enjoys this kind of ‘sport’.
    The ‘haves’ will be fighting the ‘have nots’, the ‘have nots’ will be way more desperate – with nothing left to lose, so there will be lots of killing.
    I don’t think there will be any ‘order’ in the world until ‘we’ get the numbers of humans down bellow the pre fossil fuel carrying capacity, because to maintain law and order we need a surplus of food and water.
    The only ‘institution’ preparing us for this inevitable future is Hollywood, with near accurate movies out recently such as The Road http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0898367/ or The Book of Eli http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1037705/
    Alas ‘I told ya so’s’ sound hollow and empty when they shut the shower room doors and the pipes start hissing gas, which is the point humans start to react, it is that kind of urgency that motivates us.
    In the 17th (?) century we were warned that a tiger was coming over the hill, in 1970 we found tiger crap at the cave door, in 2005 the children started disappearing, unfortunately throwing children at the problem isn’t helping, so now, due to our procrastinating ways, it is our turn.

  • Vera,

    Your link led me to a paper titled “Radically Rethinking Agriculture for the 21st Century” by a team headed by Nina Federoff, Hillary Clinton’s Scientific Advisor. It says, essentially, that we are going to have a lot more people, that global climate change is going to make feeding them harder, and so the answer is, TA TA, genetically modified organisms and fish farming. While giving lip service to exploring in the genetic range of existing non-GM crops, the bulk of the paper deals with the safety and production potential of GM crops. How is reducing the genetic diversity of our food supply helpful in a changing climate? It is well documented that it is harder and harder to keep open pollinated non-GM plants free from contamination by GMs. Soon we will have most of our food production locked up by the multination agribusiness corporation who are selling only their one kind of seed, thus virtually eliminating biodiversity in our food industry.

    As for fish farming, she thinks its a good thing too, we just have to clean up a few niggling details, like massive water pollution and the fact that the farm fish themselves are fed wild caught fish that are the waste products from huge factory trawlers that destroy the ocean bottom as they drag their nets along.

    (There, I feel better.)

    I’ll bet you had a different article in mind.

    Michael Irving

  • Nah, I had the science blog in mind. The comments there. Need more voices against those who are always going, OMG, we need to grow MORE FOOD! :-)
    Sorry bout the confusion.

  • No, Micheal, that’s the one. It reminded me of that old saw; if you find yourself deep in a hole; first step is to put down the shovel. (Maybe we should convince Al Queda that if only they destroyed Monsanto, our entire culture would crumble?) Didn’t someone there opine that we need to develop plants that could exist outside of the influence of insects? We can’t come up with affordable toasters that work well, but can be trusted to genetically modify life wisely?

    I’d call that Reality-Impaired.

    But of course, this from a culture that believes we were given dominion over all life by an invisible being who, making us in his image, must look rather like an invisible ape. Except all-powerful. And jealous. Hmm.
    All without a shred of actual, um, you know…evidence.

    Vera- did the Leningrad book mention the folks at the seed bank who starved to death rather than eat the seed potatos in storage there?
    Talk about nobility amidst chaos.
    Also: since carp don’t bite fishhooks, how do you catch them? Nets? Wrestling?

  • Michael, don’t follow the link to that article, just scroll down for the discussion on Tomorrow’s Table.

    Well, vertalio, I must say that when it comes to genetic meddling, the atheistic types seem to be the ones more reality impaired here.

    Did not know about the seed bank. That is awesome. Personally, eating humans would have been my preference. Over dying or eating seed potatoes, I mean… Wiki says the Soviets organized patrols to stop people from eating the dead…

    Carp? Nets, definitely. Fish traps might work individually though. Be sure to let them swim in clean water for a while, to get the muddy taste out.

  • reference: http://www.postcarbon.org/blog-post/66078-open-letter-to-president-obama

    I like the PostCarbon Institute’s letter to Obama and call to reality. We must forget about economic growth and the old paradigm altogether and focus on saving something. If we had started wisely during the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970s we could have transitioned the civilization at its then size to a sustainable, but still smaller one. Now, we must take urgent action to avoid extinction and settle for mere catastrophe. That is how serious it is, and America is the worst of the worst, leading the world down the path to oblivion because we still are not willing and able to face reality.

    I would ask Guy McPherson to travel to Washington and slap Obama in the face to get his attention, but I like Guy and am not sure it would work, anyways. But Guy can use his voice through the ether to help a number of people and we have to reconcile ourselves to saving one mind and one life at a time for as long as we can.

    Stan Moore

  • That’s Our Stan !!

    Frank Mezek

  • vera:

    Is it true that human flesh tastes like chicken?

    Frank Mezek

  • I hope not, Frank… For the sake of all the misanthropes among us, I hope it tastes like human… ;-)

  • Stan,

    Thanks for the link to the Post Carbon letter to Obama. I agree with the thrust of their argument, however, I have read other places that even if we were to start today and ramp up to the equivalent of a war footing (ala WWII) we still may not be able to get there from here. Post Carbon says that distributed solar and wind is the only answer to achieving a sustainable energy future. Such a future would also be a green future in that it would be less destructive than our current energy paradigm. However, some of the experts are telling us that the cost, in resources (rare earths, lithium, etc.) and money (we are trillions in debt—a debt that we will never be able to pay off) is beyond what we (USA) can afford. I hope Post Carbon is not peddling magical thinking like Obama Inc. surely is.

    Michael Irving

  • reply to Michael Irving —

    If I read PCI correctly, they said that no anticipated combination of energy solutions could totally replace what is in the process of being lost. Energy density as well as return on investment is simply too low, and those pesky laws of thermodynamics are the reason why. But any informed adjustment will be better than denial and fantasy. Catastrophe is a relative thing, and some are worse than others. Each life is precious to its owner and one thing I especially like about the Post Carbon Institute is the sense of equity in how to approach universal problems. This is what democracy should ensure, but we see that even in the public arena of health care and other pending issues there is no universal call for equity in our “democracy”. Still, every step we take towards it and towards a realistic view of our predicament, the better off we are, the better off someone, somewhere is.

    By the way, I don’t have a way of making an attachment to blog postings, but I located a book review in a journal called “Austral Ecology” of a new book about the collapse and transformation of our world from an evolutionary perspective. Guy McPherson used his library connections at UA to get me the pdf file of the book review, which is pertinent. If anyone wants the review in pdf form, contact me at stanmooregabboon@yahoo.com and I can send it directly as an attachment to a private email. I think the review is worth reading, and wish I had access to the book itself.

    Stan Moore

  • Human is supposed to taste like pork, ergo the phrase “long pig”, sadly enough via cannibals who contracted Creutzfeld-Jakob (sic) and died. Mad cow, more or less.
    Don’t eat the brain or spinal column, if you eat your neighbor, is the lesson here.

    Wind requires a large carbon input to get a return, I assume solar on a large scale also does. True? Anyone?

  • Will it make the color of the stretch mark go away?