How Energy Transition Models Go Wrong

Yves here. I’m a big fan of Gail Tverberg, who is always carefully reasoned in her analysis. She’s long thrown red flags for happy talk about green energy and the migration off our nasty carbon emitting power sources. This piece recaps and extends her considerable body of work. Even if you don’t agree, she forces you to examine your priors.

By Gail Tverberg, an actuary interested in finite world issues – oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Originally published at Our Finite World

I have written many posts relating to the fact that we live in a finite world. At some point, our ability to extract resources becomes constrained. At the same time, population keeps increasing. The usual outcome when population is too high for resources is “overshoot and collapse.” But this is not a topic that the politicians or central bankers or oligarchs who attend the World Economic Forum dare to talk about.

Instead, world leaders find a different problem, namely climate change, to emphasize above other problems. Conveniently, climate change seems to have some of the same solutions as “running out of fossil fuels.” So, a person might think that an energy transition designed to try to fix climate change would work equally well to try to fix running out of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, this isn’t really the way it works.

In this post, I will lay out some of the issues involved.

[1] There are many different constraints that new energy sources need to conform to.

These are a few of the constraints I see:

  • Should be inexpensive to produce
  • Should work with the current portfolio of existing devices
  • Should be available in the quantities required, in the timeframe needed
  • Should not pollute the environment, either when created or at the end of their lifetimes
  • Should not add CO2 to the atmosphere
  • Should not distort ecosystems
  • Should be easily stored, or should be easily ramped up and down to precisely match energy timing needs
  • Cannot overuse fresh water or scarce minerals
  • Cannot require a new infrastructure of its own, unless the huge cost in terms of delayed timing and greater materials use is considered.

If an energy type is simply a small add-on to the existing system, perhaps a little deviation from the above list can be tolerated, but if there is any intent of scaling up the new energy type, all of these requirements must be met.

It is really the overall cost of the system that is important. Historically, the use of coal has helped keep the overall cost of the system down. Substitutes need to be developed considering the overall needs and cost of the system.

The reason why the overall cost of the system is important is because countries with high-cost energy systems will have a difficult time competing in a world market since energy costs are an important part of the cost of producing goods and services. For example, the cost of operating a cruise ship depends, to a significant extent, on the cost of the fuel it uses.

In theory, energy types that work with different devices (say, electric cars and trucks instead of those operated by internal combustion engines) can be used, but a long delay can be expected before a material shift in overall energy usage occurs. Furthermore, a huge ramp up in the total use of materials for production may be required. The system cannot work if the total cost is too high, or if the materials are not really available, or if the timing is too slow.

[2] The major thing that makes an economy grow is an ever increasing supply of inexpensive-to-produce energy products.

Food is an energy product. Let’s think of what happens when agriculture is mechanized, typically using devices that are made and operated using coal and oil. The cost of producing food drops substantially. Instead of spending, for example, 50% of a person’s wages on food, the percentage can gradually drop down to 20% of wages, and then to 10% of wages for food, and eventually even, say, to 2% of wages for food.

As spending on food falls, opportunity for other spending arises, even with wages remaining relatively level. With lower food expenditures, a person can spend more on books (made with energy products), or personal transportation (such as a vehicle), or entertainment (also made possible by energy products). Strangely enough, in order for an economy to grow, essential items need to become an ever decreasing share of everyone’s budget, so that citizens have sufficient left-over income available for more optional items.

It is the use of tools, made and operated with inexpensive energy products of the right types, that leverages human labor so that workers can produce more food in a given period of time. This same approach also makes many other goods and services available.

In general, the less expensive an energy product is, the more helpful it will be to an economy. A country operating with an inexpensive mix of energy products will tend to be more competitive in the world market than one with a high-cost mix of energy products. Oil tends to be expensive; coal tends to be inexpensive. This is a major reason why, in recent years, countries using a lot of coal in their energy mix (such as China and India) have been able to grow their economies much more rapidly than those countries relying heavily on oil in their energy mixes.

[3] If energy products are becoming more expensive to produce, or their production is not growing very rapidly, there are temporary workarounds that can hide this problem for quite a number of years.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, world coal and oil consumption were growing rapidly. Natural gas, hydroelectric and (a little) nuclear were added, as well. Cost of production remained low. For example, the price of oil, converted to today’s dollar value, was less than $20 per barrel.

Once the idyllic 1950s and 1960s passed, it was necessary to hide the problems associated with the rising cost of production using several approaches:

  • Increasing use of debt – really a promise of future goods and services made with energy
  • Lower interest rates – permits increasing debt to be less of a financial burden
  • Increasing use of technology – to improve efficiency in energy usage
  • Growing use of globalization – to make use of other countries’ cheaper energy mix and lower cost of labor

After 50+ years, we seem to be reaching limits with respect to all of these techniques:

  • Debt levels are excessive
  • Interest rates are very low, even below zero
  • Increasing use of technology as well as globalization have led to greater and greater wage disparity; many low level jobs have been eliminated completely
  • Globalization has reached its limits; China has reached a situation in which its coal supply is no longer growing

[4] The issue that most people fail to grasp is the fact that with depletion, the cost of producing energy products tends to rise, but the selling prices of these energy products do not rise enough to keep up with the rising cost of depletion.

As a result, production of energy products tends to fall because production becomes unprofitable.

As we get further and further away from the ideal situation (oil less than $20 per barrel and rising in quantity each year), an increasing number of problems crop up:

  • Both oil/gas companies and coal companies become less profitable.
  • With lower energy company profits, governments can collect less taxes from these companies.
  • As old wells and mines deplete, the cost of reinvestment becomes more of a burden. Eventually, new investment is cut back to the point that production begins to fall.
  • With less growth in energy consumption, productivity growth tends to lag. This happens because energy is required to mechanize or computerize processes.
  • Wage disparity tends to grow; workers become increasingly unhappy with their governments.

[5] Authorities with an incorrect understanding of why and how energy supplies fall have assumed that far more fossil fuels would be available than is actually the case. They have also assumed that relatively high prices for alternatives would be acceptable.

In 2012, Jorgen Randers prepared a forecast for the next 40 years for The Club of Rome, in the form of a book, 2052, with associated data. Looking at the data, we see that Randers forecast that world coal consumption would grow by 28% between 2010 and 2020. In fact, world coal consumption grew by 0% in that period. (This latter forecast is based on BP coal consumption estimates for 2010 and 2019 from BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy 2020, adjusted for the 2019 to 2020 period change using IEA’s estimate from its Global Energy Review 2021.)

It is very easy to assume that high estimates of coal resources in the ground will lead to high quantities of actual coal extracted and burned. The world’s experience between 2010 and 2020 shows that it doesn’t necessarily work out that way in practice. In order for coal consumption to grow, the delivered price of coal needs to stay low enough for customers to be able to afford its use in the end products it provides. Much of the supposed coal that is available is far from population centers. Some of it is even under the North Sea. The extraction and delivery costs become far too high, but this is not taken into account in resource estimates.

Forecasts of future natural gas availability suffer from the same tendency towards over-estimation. Randers estimated that world gas consumption would grow by 40% between 2010 and 2020, when the actual increase was 22%. Other authorities make similar overestimates of future fuel use, assuming that “of course,” prices will stay high enough to enable extraction. Most energy consumption is well-buried in goods and services we buy, such as the cost of a vehicle or the cost of heating a home. If we cannot afford the vehicle, we don’t buy it; if the cost of heating a family’s home rises too high, thrifty families will turn down the thermostat.

Oil prices, even with the recent run-up in prices, are under $75 per barrel. I have estimated that for profitable oil production (including adequate funds for high-cost reinvestment and sufficient taxes for governments), oil prices need to be over $120 per barrel. It is the lack of profitability that has caused the recent drop in production. These profitability problems can be expected to lead to more production declines in the future.

With this low-price problem, fossil fuel estimates used in climate model scenarios are almost certainly overstated. This bias would be expected to lead to overstated estimates of future climate change.

The misbelief that energy prices will always rise to cover higher costs of production also leads to the belief that relatively high-cost alternatives to fossil fuels would be acceptable.

[6] Our need for additional energy supplies of the right kinds is extremely high right now. We cannot wait for a long transition. Even 30 years is too long.

We saw in section [3] that the workarounds for a lack of growing energy supply, such as higher debt and lower interest rates, are reaching limits. Furthermore, prices have been unacceptably low for oil producers for several years. Not too surprisingly, oil production has started to decline:

Figure 1 – World production of crude oil and condensate, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration

What is really needed is sufficient energy of the right types for the world’s growing population. Thus, it is important to look at energy consumption on a per capita basis. Figure 2 shows energy production per capita for three groupings:

Figure 2 World per capita energy consumption by Tier. Amounts through 2019 based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2020. Changes for 2020 based on estimates provided by IEA Global Energy Review 2021.

Figure 2 shows that the biggest drop is in Tier 1: Coal and Oil. In many ways, coal and oil are foundational types of energy for the economy because they are relatively easy to transport and store. Oil is important because it is used in operating agricultural machinery, road repair machinery, and vehicles of all types, including ships and airplanes. Coal is important partly because of its low cost, helping paychecks to stretch further for finished goods and services. Coal is used in many ways, including electricity production and making steel and concrete. We use coal and oil to keep electricity transmission lines repaired.

Figure 2 shows that Tier 2 energy consumption per capita was growing rapidly in the 1965 to 1990 period, but its growth has slowed in recent years.

The Green Energy sources in Tier 3 have been growing rapidly from a low base, but their output is still tiny compared to the overall output that would be required if they were to substitute for energy from both Tier 1 and Tier 2 sources. They clearly cannot by themselves power today’s economy.

It is very difficult to imagine any of the Tier 2 and Tier 3 energy sources being able to grow without substantial assistance from coal and oil. All of today’s Tier 2 and Tier 3 energy sources depend on coal and oil at many points in the chain of their production, distribution, operation, and eventual recycling. If we ever get to Tier 4 energy sources (such as fusion or space solar), I would expect that they too will need oil and/or coal in their production, transport and distribution, unless there is an incredibly long transition, and a huge change in energy infrastructure.

[7] It is easy for energy researchers to set their sights too low.

[a] We need to be looking at the extremely low energy cost structure of the 1950s and 1960s as a model, not some far higher cost structure.

We have been hiding the world’s energy problems for years behind rising debt and falling interest rates. With very high debt levels and very low interest rates, it is becoming less feasible to stimulate the economy using these approaches. We really need very inexpensive energy products. These energy products need to provide a full range of services required by the economy, not simply intermittent electricity.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, the ratio of Energy Earned to Energy Investment was likely in the 50:1 range for many energy products. Energy products were very profitable; they could be highly taxed. The alternative energy products we develop today need to have similar characteristics if they truly are to play an important role in the economy.

[b] A recent study says that greenhouse gas emissions related to the food system account for one-third of the anthropogenic global warming gas total. A way to grow sufficient food is clearly needed.

We clearly cannot grow food using intermittent electricity. Farming is not an easily electrified endeavor. If we do not have an alternative, the coal and oil that we are using now in agriculture really needs to continue, even if it requires subsidies.

[c] Hydroelectric electricity looks like a good energy source, but in practice it has many deficiencies.

Some of the hydroelectric dams now in place are over 100 years old. This is nearing the lifetime of the concrete in the dams. Considerable maintenance and repair (indirectly using coal and oil) are likely to be needed if these dams are to continue to be used.

The water available to provide hydroelectric power tends to vary greatly over time. Figure 3 shows California’s hydro electricity generation by month.

Figure 3. California hydroelectric energy production by month, based on data of the US Energy Information Administration.

Thus, as a practical matter, hydroelectric energy needs to be balanced with fossil fuels to provide energy which can be used to power a factory or heat a home in winter. Battery storage would never be sufficient. There are too many gaps, lasting months at a time.

If hydroelectric energy is used in a tropical area with dry and wet seasons, the result would be even more extreme. A poor country with a new hydroelectric power plant may find the output of the plant difficult to use. The electricity can only be used for very optional activities, such as bitcoin mining, or charging up small batteries for lights and phones.

Any new hydroelectric dam runs the risk of taking away the water someone else was depending upon for irrigation or for their own electricity generation. A war could result.

[d] Current approaches for preventing deforestation mostly seem to be shifting deforestation from high income countries to low income countries. In total, deforestation is getting worse rather than better.

Figure 4. Forest area percentage of land area, by income group, based on data of the World Bank.

Figure 4 shows that deforestation is getting rapidly worse in Low Income countries with today’s policies. There is also a less pronounced trend toward deforestation in Middle Income countries. It is only in High Income countries that land areas are becoming more forested. In total (not shown), the forested area for the world as a whole falls, year after year.

Also, even when replanting is done, the new forests do not have the same characteristics as those made by natural ecosystems. They cannot house as many different species as natural ecosystems. They are likely to be less resistant to problems like insect infestations and forest fires. They are not true substitutes for the forest ecosystems that nature creates.

[e] The way intermittent wind and solar have been added to the electric grid vastly overpays these providers, relative to the value they add to the system. Furthermore, the subsidies for intermittent renewables tend to drive out more stable producers, degrading the overall condition of the grid.

If wind and solar are to be used, payments for the electricity they provide need to be scaled back to reflect the true value that they add to the overall system. In general, this corresponds to the savings in fossil fuel purchases that electricity providers need to make. This will be a small amount, perhaps 2 cents per kilowatt hour. Even this small amount, in theory, might be reduced to reflect the greater electricity transmission costs associated with these intermittent sources.

We note that China is making a major step in the direction of reducing subsidies for wind and solar. It has already dramatically cut its subsidies for wind energy; new subsidy cuts for solar energy will become effective August 1, 2021.

A major concern is the distorting impact that current pricing approaches for wind and solar have on the overall electrical system. Often, these approaches produce very low, or negative, wholesale prices for other providers. Nuclear providers are especially harmed by such practices. Nuclear is, of course, a low CO2 electricity provider.

It seems to me that in each part of the world, some utility-type provider needs to be analyzing what the overall funding of the electrical system needs to be. Bills to individuals and businesses need to reflect these actual expected costs. This approach might avoid the artificially low rates that the current pricing system often generates. If adequate funding can be achieved, perhaps some of the corner cutting that leads to electrical outages, such as recently encountered in California and Texas, might be avoided.

[8] When I look at the requirements for a successful energy transition and the obstacles we are up against, it is hard for me to see that any of the current approaches can be successful.

Unfortunately, it is hard for me to see how intermittent electricity can save the world economy, or even make a dent in our problems. We have searched for a very long time, but haven’t yet found solutions truly worth ramping up. Perhaps a new “Tier 4 approach” might be helpful, but such solutions seem likely to come too late.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Unfortunately I’m in a bit of a rush so I can’t do a more detailed response on this. I’ve been reading Gail Tverberg since the Peak Oil days and I agree with a lot of her perspective and arguments, but I find myself increasingly frustrated with many of her conclusions. Many of the predictions she was making a decade and a half ago have not aged well.. Put very simply, the energy world has changed dramatically since around 2010, and her analysis hasn’t moved with it. In particular, many of her assertions and statements – on hydroelectricity for example – are flat out incorrect. She also has failed to notice the enormous drop in costs in wind and solar, far beyond what was predicted a decade ago (and with only a fraction of the government support afforded fossil fuels and nuclear). Unfortunately, she also extrapolates the US experience worldwide which is often widely appropriate. For example, this statement:

    It seems to me that in each part of the world, some utility-type provider needs to be analyzing what the overall funding of the electrical system needs to be. Bills to individuals and businesses need to reflect these actual expected costs. This approach might avoid the artificially low rates that the current pricing system often generates. If adequate funding can be achieved, perhaps some of the corner cutting that leads to electrical outages, such as recently encountered in California and Texas, might be avoided.

    Would be met with incredulity by energy grid managers in many countries around the world. What on earth does she think they actually do? The US systems is hampered by a grossly outdated regulatory system and a failure to invest in grid capacity for decades. Every country faces problems with its energy supply, but they vary widely, there is no ‘one theory fits all’. Extrapolating the US experience worldwide is like trying to improve the Korean car industry by examining the experience of Proton of Malaysia.

    Her statement on the interrelationship between energy prices and growth are also not supported by the evidence. Some of the highest electricity (and other) energy prices in the world are to be found in countries like Germany, Japan, South Korea, Ireland, Portugal, etc. Some of the cheapest are in countries like Argentina or Iraq or Russia. Which economies have been doing better over the past few decades? Economies adopt to their energy availability, so the outcomes are complex, but seeing the linkages as direct is simply not backed up by the historical data. It is probably truer to say that cheap energy is a necessity for high growth development (although Japan would be an obvious counter-example), but thats not quite the same argument. Whether a developed economy can adopt to much lower overall energy use is a more complex question, but the evidence from the past few decades in Europe would suggest that it is possible.

    Technology is also having a significant impact in changing the goalposts. The focus on batteries as a ‘solution’ to intermittency has moved on. In reality now the focus is on using surplus grid power to produce liquid energy products such as hydrogen and ammonia, which can then be mixed in with existing fuel sources for industrial purposes. Not far from where I’m sitting now there is a hydrogen plant under construction. It will make hydrogen from surplus grid electricity and sell it to the industrial users within close proximity. She is, incidentally, absolutely correct to say that the energy costs of a rapid transition to renewable electricity is unsustainable. But she completely ignores the possibilities of adopting and managing existing plant and processes during the normal cycle of product replacement. This isn’t theoretical – this is what is actually happening now. Whether it is going fast enough is another question entirely (almost certainly not).

    I know I sound like a techno optimist sometimes when responding to these posts – nothing could be further from the truth. But I do follow closely the trends within the energy industry as much as its possible and its clear that so many of the ‘big picture theorising’ that people like Tverberg and others are so fond of are so often not reflected by the reality on the ground. Wind and solar and storage are huge success stories, their cost/power ratios are outdoing the most optimistic projections of just a few years ago. The problems of intermittency are hugely exaggerated. These have been faced by island grids for decades and have been addressed through good management. The problem is not that they don’t work, or that we can’t do a transition, the problem is that we are almost certainly too late. We are like the bus driver who discovers where the brake is as soon as he’s gone over the cliff edge.

    1. Ignacio

      I am 100% with you on this. The complexity of the energy supply is too large and the hand-picked examples cannot be generalized, not even within the US where depending on the region/state the energy mixes can be quite different and the problems and limitations they face are different. Compare Texas and Washington for instance.

    2. Steven

      Without distributed generation and storage (DGAS), even “Good management” isn’t going to solve our energy problems. And what stands in the way of DGAS is Hudson’s age-old economic problem of rent-seeking. Prior to the development of photovoltaics and more recently battery storage technology, centralized production and transmission of electricity was economically justifiable. Today, with the introduction of vehicle-to-home (V2H)-capable electric vehicles, it is not.

      But, as with rooftop solar, there is every reason to expect the utility industry to resist transitioning to a new legitimate business model based on grid management. As with rooftop solar, the utilities are likely to argue that distributed storage will ‘work’ only if they ‘own’ it. Their argument is likely to be that they can ensure low cost electricity and a reliable grid only if they possess absolute control over energy distribution and generation infrastructure.

      What the utilities really want is the revenue stream tied to the ownership of that infrastructure, apparently even if that stream is tied to continued use of planet-destroying fossil fuels. Rooftop solar coupled with V2H-capable EVs may not be the answer for densely populated urban areas. But for much of the world it still is.

      For most of us it is far more important to keep the lights on – and now the air conditioner running – at home than it is to ensure businesses won’t have to curtail their power use during the occasional black swan event. If indeed there are resource constraints in the transition to renewable energy, we need to ensure priority is given to uses facilitating DGAS – not sustaining the profitability of planet-destroying technologies.

    3. Jeremy Grimm

      I cannot find fault in Gail Tverberg’s reasoning, but as she stated in one of her comments to this post in the comment flow at “Our Finite World”: “I am talking about a predicament. … a predicament is not something fixable…” … “There is no way that the current method of energy transition can come to a good conclusion.” Her conclusions are deeply troubling, though her predictions have not aged well. But what about the predictions of Malthus and Paul R. Ehrlich? In the mid twentieth century world population was estimated to be 2.58 billion souls, 3.7 billion in 1970, and 7.8 billion in 2020. In 2021, food production and fresh water show signs they are stretching thin. The timing and numbers are off, but there has been almost exponential population growth as predicted and that population is pushing up against limits.

      “We may therefore conclude that the peak oil predictions were considered incompatible with the commonly held views that see economic growth as always necessary and desirable and depletion/pollution as marginal phenomena that can be overcome by means of technological progress. That was the reason why the peak oil idea was abandoned, victim of a “clash of absolutes” with the mainstream view of the economic system. In the clash, peak oil turned out to be the loser, not because it was “wrong” but mainly because it was a minority opinion.”
      “Peak oil, 20 years later: Failed prediction or useful insight?” Ugo Bardi

      I do wonder about one assumption: “I would point out that there really is no way the economy can exist apart from growth. Thus, the reason we have developed the ‘set of institutions, expectations, and other social mechanisms fundamentally based on and dependent on the assumption of continued growth’ is because this is the only way the economy works. It is growth or collapse.” [This is from another of Tverberg’s comments to this post at “Our Finite World”.] I believe this assumption that an economy must constantly grow is relatively recent, originating around the times of Neutron Jack, the beginnings of TINA, and the shift in investment strategies — the search for stocks positioned for exponential growth. Weren’t there times when a business might provide a reliable steady return, times before money supply and interest rates became Fed playthings, a time when dividend returns mattered.

      1. Steven

        Why Wall Street financiers, Washington politicians and their bankers need infinite growth: they create money as debt. This goes beyond loans. Retirement accounts are nothing more than promises to pay in the future for wealth the holders of those accounts relinquish to acquire financial assets. The only way that debt can be repaid with real wealth is for the people to whom they sell or loan their paper wealth to produce it or cause other people to produce it. Money is created for wealth that doesn’t exist. If the economy stops growing you have Hudson’s “debts that can’t be repaid won’t be.”

    4. rjs

      re: “Put very simply, the energy world has changed dramatically since around 2010, and her analysis hasn’t moved with it. ”


  2. KD

    Thank you for this article. Very enjoyable. Once you recognize an economy is a physical system subject to physical laws, and the most fundamental input is energy, it really clarifies things in a way that mainstream economics is designed to obscure. Sort of like the impact of private debt!

  3. KD

    Hudson often writes about “real economy” versus “financial economy” but it would seem that “real economy” by necessity has to correlate to per capita energy consumption, and that could form the basis for quantifying the real production of goods and service versus wealth effects from money incestuously copulating with itself.

  4. farmboy

    long form analysis by Gregor McDonald gives in depth look. “…read Oil Fall, a now completed series that shows how wind and solar power will jailbreak the powergrid, and find their way into global transportation.” 3 part series, paywalled.

  5. John Steinbach

    I’ve been reading Gail’s essays since she was a regular on the Oil Drum. Her focus is on the affordability of fossil fuels as the limiting factor, not so much availability of oil. She is tireless in explaining why intermittent “renewables” can’t replace oil and coal. She speaks from a background as an actuary. Highly recommended. Be advised that the comments are not up to NC standards.

  6. William Hunter Duncan

    Well, when we don’t get that glorious renewable future that looks like a pristine clean version of eternal progress, I suppose Republicans will console themselves that it was for sissies, and Liberals will blame knuckle-draggers and Trump.

  7. Tom Pfotzer

    I really want to like and support Gail Tverberg. But a lot of her work that I’ve read reads like something an accountant would write, e.g. past predicts (defines) future, rules must be followed, imagination isn’t a highly valued/expressed trait.

    Gail was a big proponent of “end of fossil fuels”. Well much to our disappointment, it didn’t happen that way; like many of us (including me) we didn’t see fracking coming. Should have, but didn’t. We didn’t see natGas running coal out of biz. It did. Didn’t see electric cars; they happened, and waaaaaayyyyy faster than anyone ever imagined.

    These are important events which served to clearly show that the energy puzzle is not linear; it’s greatly affected by technology and social phenomena (just like econ is).

    Not linear. Multi-variate, and white swans (innovation) happen.

    With respect to the current article, her concerns tend to focus on supply, and not demand.

    Covid showed us that we can adapt (change demand patterns) much faster than we thought. WFH was an eye-opener for all observers. Most oil is used for transportation, and a great deal of transportation is moving people. A lot of electricity (coal and gas) goes for heating and cooling of buildings. That is rich ground for reductions, and WFH can provide a lot of demand reductions. Where’s Gail’s commentary on this?

    The creation of electric cars is another case in point. It takes _way_ less energy to build and operate electric cars than internal combustion cars. Where does this show up in Gail’s analysis?

    So instead of excluding innovation and social or end-user shifts in demand, maybe we should be asking “how can we find mini-max (min input, max impact) opportunities, and focus our collective fire-power on those problems?”

    Mini-max opptys like: WFH, electric cars, well-insulated houses, Uber-alikes (better asset utilization). Plenty of these mini-max opptys exist now, and we can evolve them way faster than we currently are. I’m certain there are many more.

    We need most is imagination, and the technical skill (engineering, materials, consumer new-thing-uptake) to convert the new ideas into reality. The most underutilized asset we have is our minds.

    My question to Gail Tverberg is: how do you harness all that under-utilized mind-power in our society and get it focused on solving a short list of mini-max opptys?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I have a longer response to this which hasn’t popped up yet, but essentially I agree with the general thrust of your comment. Tverberg has been a very interesting commentator since the Oil Drum days, but hasn’t caught up on the latest technologies and is taking a very US-centric perspective.

    2. The Rev Kev

      I myself have little faith in new technologies to bail us out. It is not so much the technologies deployed but associated costs to the environment. As a quick example, lots of people say how great wind power is but what they do not talk about is what happens to those blades when they wear out. Because they are so difficult to dispose of and take so much energy to recycle, you have fields where these blades are just being stacked up. In my book, unless you take account of the full cycle of a technology, you are not being honest.

      Unsaid is talk about scaling back the amount of energy that out society consumes. Sorting out what is necessary (e.g. lighting) to what can be eliminated with little or no effect (e.g. bitcoin mining). It would make a interesting survey to ask people two questions. The first would be whether they would be willing to cut back on energy consumption to help stop cooking the planet. If they say yes, then ask them would they be willing for society to revert back to mostly a 1920s technology in our lives to do so and watch their reactions.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        The Rev: Of course you’re right about tech having “problems”. I see “tech” as an iterative process instead of an outcome or something static. The blade problem will get addressed; those blades are expensive. Think for a sec how long it took the space business to re-use their rockets. The “works” in a turbine, on the other hand, last a long time. Bearings wear out, and are designed to be easily replaced. I’d be interested to hear from any windmill maintenance techs about what the maint costs actually are. Bet they’re low.

        I agree with you and Gail on the point re: must factor in all the lifecycle costs.

        I hope Gail wasn’t implying that the new solutions had to ding all her “requirements” at the git-go, because that won’t happen, of course. Solar panels, for ex. probably didn’t meet any of those requirements early in their development cycle.

        1. lordkoos

          We have wind farms in our area, 48 turbines. Two or three of them are not turning, I assume because of some mechanical or electrical failure & these non-working units have been in that state for well over a year. It’s strange to me that repairing them doesn’t seem to be a priority. These installations have yet to pay for themselves after over ten years (a $220 million investment), but perhaps that is because we are in an area of inexpensive hydro-power.

          1. synoia

            I suspect one cannot “repair” a large broker wind turbine. One has to “replace” or “rebuild” it.

            That is: Repair Cost > or >> New Turbine cost i.

      2. Pelham

        Good point about those wind turbine blades. An even better point is that their production from composites is horrendously energy intensive, requiring about 17 times as much energy as the already-intensive production of an equivalent mass of steel — huge quantities of which are also required in building the turbine towers.

        I’m a pessimist on both the political and techno fronts. However, if Tverberg and Plutoniumkun are right and we either can’t produce a viable energy solution or we could but it’s too late to do so (and evidence suggests they’re right, in some combination), the rational thing to do would be to focus our minds elsewhere.

        For that I would suggest two areas: carbon capture and carbon extraction from the atmosphere. There are existing technologies to accomplish both. And, yes, carbon extraction in particular would entail enormous costs in terms of the energy it would take to build the thousands of plants that would be required. But this is the only technology that ultimately provides a firm promise of being carbon negative.

        I know this is far-fetched. But the record of massive investment in wind and solar over the past 50 years is far from encouraging, and the outlook down this path suggests we’re way too late even if these technologies only lately and at long last are viable — an assertion at this sorry stage that merits a big dose of skepticism.
        Given all this, we’re at a juncture at which far-fetchedness is probably our only hope.

    3. tegnost

      Uber-alikes (better asset utilization)

      shouldn’t that be “other peoples asset utilization”?
      I understand the criticisms of the post but the debt isn’t being addressed and the cost structure tech solutions rely on are expensive both in terms of actual production, and also intellectual property payments demand sufficient payoffs or the tech lords won’t bother doing them as they’re accepted to be in it for the money. So more debt.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        shouldn’t that be “other peoples asset utilization”?

        In this one instance, tegnost, I was making a cynicism-free remark.

        “Why would you do that, Tom?”

        Well, because – after a review of my own situation, and then generalizing outward – I’ve discovered that most people control or own lots of resources, some of them very expensive, that lie fallow most of their life.

        Cars, computers, bedrooms, basements, machinery and tools, savings, time, skills and knowledge, land….people possess a lot of resources that are very underutilized.

        May I add: not all tech is the same. “Technology” is what humans know how to do.

        Some technology is really “fit” and hammers it on all dimensions of performance, incl environmental impact.

        Organic gardening is “technology”, for ex.

        1. deplorado

          >> “most people control or own lots of resources, some of them very expensive, that lie fallow most of their life”

          Why do we all have to own cars? Better question is, why do we all have to use cars? — I think because we are made to do so. The idle cars are not some incidental abundance that happens upon us, like the gifts of nature, but are a deliberate outcome of an economic system that was looking to make money by upselling us on more and more “resources” like that. So those are not resources available for use, those are wasted resources.

          So if you look at it this way, it will become clear that even sharing those “resources” does little in eliminating the waste.

          Why should we need cars and not be able to get everything we need within walking distance? Most of the world STILL lives this way.

          Let’s look at the bigger picture please. The “sharing” economy will solve nothing, because it is not about solving anything other than how to make more money for some people.

          1. d w

            well, renting cars on need (or what are essentially taxis) for many things we do, like going the grocery store, or shopping. never mind getting what you bought home, would not be cost effective. now why cars? well. go back to the days before cars, you had horses. you might think that was better. it wasnt. cause back in the day, when a horse died they were basically left where ever it died. which meant that in cities that there might be dead horses where ever you were walking. no we have almost always had a way to get around, walking/running, but dont expect to go far, we moved onto horses etc, to get around because we could faster, and go much further. cars (and like) came along after that because we could go even farther and faster (many people didnt die because they could get to a hospital. which wasnt possible to do with out cars. the places that you might be able to just walk, includes places like Germany. all it takes to see that not working is look at the geography of the US and Germany. another way to do it, would be to make all humans were on cities, that were built for them to walk places. and no one lived out of the city (or very very few). now that might only include people in agriculture. but not likely to, as there are many other industries that you wouldnt want to live next door too.

        2. tegnost

          It’s me who’s the cynic, of course…
          My point being that the household infrastructure, i.e. the excess vehicles in the driveway, are being depreciated for the benefit of the owners of uber’s intellectual property.

    4. R

      I think you need to evidence the claim that electric vehicles consume less energy to build and operate than ICE ones. My understanding is that the embedded energy in the battery represents many years of operating fuel / CO2 savings.

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Of course.

        Here’s one about maintenance:

        Here’s a few about batteries:

        For me, the main considerations are:

        a. ICE has many more moving parts than an EV
        b. The EV tech is only a few decades old. 100 yrs for ICE, 20 yrs for EV (roughly)
        c. The battery is the most expensive part of an EV. Battery prices are still falling fast

        To your point, tho, there IS a big energy investment in the EV; more goes into the car at point of manufacture .vs. ICE. This is the learning I did based on your questioning me, and thx. I definitely was a little too exuberant….but not much.


        Turns out that the key “polluter” of EV mfg is the battery – specifically what power source (hydro, nuke, fossil) is used during mfg of the battery.

        The main reason I think EVs will really cost less to mfg and operate is that all the majors are getting out of ICE and into EV. They know better than anyone what the relative costs are. It seems like they’re getting out quickly.

        Hope that helps.

        1. Mikerw0

          Just a brief comment from an industry participant. Batteries prices are not falling fast anymore. The law of diminishing returns in electrical and chemical engineering are asserting themselves. The big, easy gains have been made, now as with every other technology reductions in costs will be slower and smaller in magnitude.

          Additionally, for the last 10 years these batteries have benefited from a material reduction in the key metals (Cu, NI, Co) used to make them. These metals are now in very tight supply and their prices a rew rising. If this is a secular trend in metal prices, too soon to tell and the supply response from mining is very slow, then to efficiency will need to offset increased material prices.

          The same thing, right now, is happening in solar PV cells due to an significant increase in material costs.

          1. R

            And we need to distinguish between $ cost and real costs. If the real costs (energy, CO2, pollution etc.) are not priced in, the batteries may be a cheap way to make things worse!

            I’d like EV’s to be the answer, it’s just that there are too many assumptions about EV battery life and utilisation compared to ICE vehicles to be confident. My understanding is that the “break-even” point of utilisation is several years – and ironically more for little old ladies and lighter drivers, who are the ideal users from the perspective of range anxiety.

      2. d w

        well how do we calculate amount of energy used for either?for each you must include any thing is done to make, or use the vehicle right? so for EV, you have things like batteries. and electric power generation to propel the vehicle. other than fewer total parts, EV’s have some of their own, such as the battery for propelling the car, it still has a 12 volt battery, there are also some other unique parts, like parts to charge the battery up. and of course power plants to charge up the batteries. are there others of course, there is mining to get materials exclusive for EVs. course there also mining to generate the power to charge the batteries up. now for ICE cars, there is engine with all of its needed parts(filters, pumps, gas tanks, oil tanks many others). now you need include mining /drilling for oil, getting the oil from where you got it to a location to refine it (cant burn it straight out of the ground), tankers among others things, then after you get the oil to refinery, you need electricity to refinery (its not a small amount of electricity to drive that), course after oil is refined, you have to ship it to where it can be used (gas station, etc), now it takes either electricity to get it there by pipe lines (also used to transport oil) , or ICE trucks (with all of the same things that are needed for cars, only bigger), there is the need for electricity to provide gas to ICE cars/trucks, now some of these things might be smaller than others, not sure if the gas station networks use more electricity than the EV charging network, or if one of the electricity providers is more ‘dirty’ than the other. probably impossible to find out which actually uses more. this is why figuring out which is really more clean. but if we an get electricity without needing natural gas or coal, or oil. but since we can get electricity better. yes we can. will happen next week, or month or year? no

        and there are lots of things that both require? like tires, brakes, etc

    5. William Hunter Duncan

      There is a thing too called the Law of Diminishing Returns. Every tech advance seems to come at an ever greater cost, with ever greater inputs necessary to make it happen. Each advance in physics is many billions more than the last, with seeming decreasing impact on society. Nuclear and Hydrogen advances seem to be ever ten years down the road and more expensive to realize every day. The resources necessary for a lithium revolution in batteries proliferating in vehicles is so far beyond the technical and cost challenge than was the internal combustion engine that it beggars reality. Even if you call the smart phone a white swan, when my pocket computer no longer rings or vibrates or pings to notify me of texts and calls after a year and a half, I am hard pressed to call that progress from my flip phones.

      As for fracking, speaking of diminishing returns for higher costs. As for radically reducing costs in heating and cooling homes, and transportation, ASTRONOMICAL costs for middling returns, not to mention people not thinking it looks much like progress if they have to turn in their gas powered personal vehicle for some scaled down glorified scooter that can only travel 300 miles a day, or mass transit, or they have to keep their thermostat at 82 in the summer and 64 in the winter.

      Fact is, mo’ people, less energy, nothing to do but scale down. But more likely it’ll be status quo until it can’t be, and people will fight to maintain the life they have grown accustomed to with every fiber of their being.


      “Gail was a big proponent of “end of fossil fuels”. Well much to our disappointment, it didn’t happen that way; like many of us (including me) we didn’t see fracking coming. Should have, but didn’t. We didn’t see natGas running coal out of biz. It did. Didn’t see electric cars; they happened, and waaaaaayyyyy faster than anyone ever imagined.

      “These are important events which served to clearly show that the energy puzzle is not linear; it’s greatly affected by technology and social phenomena (just like econ is).

      “Not linear. Multi-variate, and white swans (innovation) happen.

      “With respect to the current article, her concerns tend to focus on supply, and not demand.

      “Covid showed us that we can adapt (change demand patterns) much faster than we thought. WFH was an eye-opener for all observers. Most oil is used for transportation, and a great deal of transportation is moving people. A lot of electricity (coal and gas) goes for heating and cooling of buildings. That is rich ground for reductions

      1. Tom Pfotzer

        Yes, there are diminishing returns, technology life-cycles, S-curves and the like. The answer to an end-of-lifecycle technology is to find new ones.

        But it’s tempting to over-imbibe the gloom and thereby numb ourselves so much we’re reluctant to try yet again to be creative. You clearly understand this – I’ve seen many of your posts.

        I think we also need to avoid the tendency to expect too much too soon from technology. It’s iterative, pesky, elusive and very hard.

        You are not going to hear me extol the advantages of fracking, nor of smart phones, so not too much addnl testimony on those points is required.

        I will, however, point out the astonishing productivity of that tiny little hand-held computer. If it wasn’t so mis-used, I’d love it.

        Where are you getting your ASTRONOMICAL costs for improving building envelope thermal performance? I made some major improvements in my house’s thermal performance for a few thousand dollars, and it’s been a very good investment. At least 2x return over 10 year period. If I’d known what I do now when we built our house, it would have cost a lot less and delivered a lot more benefit.

        1. William Hunter Duncan

          As a builder I say Astronomical because there is no envelope to cure most of the houses in Suburbia, and urban core and rural can’t afford it – particularly in the north in winter and the south in summer. Yes indeed, we could have built this infrastructure to be vastly more energy efficient, but the paradigm was and still is mostly waste-based. And even if we spent all that money for a 2x improvement over a decade, is a very expensive kicking of the can down the road.

          Likewise with the motor vehicle, once built there is no changing it out to be electrical. Changing out the whole fleet, not to mention all those big rigs? Can you run heavy material transport on electrical?

          That said, I don’t have an answer necessarily, except to suggest American and global society a hundred years from now is going to be less complex, by necessity.

          Otherwise, when you said this ‘The answer to an end-of-lifecycle technology is to find new ones.” I’m wondering if you have an example that would in any way relate to the energy required to run a complex society?

          1. William Hunter Duncan

            In short what I am saying is, I think we need to put a lot of that creativity into scaling down, but that is contrary to the very core of the primary myths about ourselves and our nation. It is surely achievable on the personal level, though. That is why I appreciate Greer’s reply, “Collapse now and avoid the rush.”

          2. Tom Pfotzer

            Let’s agree that downsizing, conservation, re-design of settlement and work-related transport patterns are where we’ll probably end up.

            Let me also reiterate my definition of technology: it’s what humans know how to do.

            Settlement patterns, comm networks, distributed power systems (incl solar), HVAC systems, a shovel, language..examples of technology.

            So, we don’t like our existing solutions. Fossil fuels, big ag, debt-based binge consumption. A case can be made that these systems are approaching end-of-lifecycle, because their operational benefits have become less than their operational costs.

            So, you come up with a new design that retains the good of the old system, and has upgrades to fix the problems of the old system. If the old system is bad enough, you chuck it and build an entirely new one.

            So let’s review, for example, the suburban house. You say “no cure”. Here’s some cures:

            a. New HVAC. zoned (only heat/cool the part of the house that needs it), drop delta-T so less heat moves into or out of the house. Cheap to do. Better AC compressor – lot of improvement there in last decade. Beef up attic insulation – heat moves upward. Removable covers (curtains, insul panels) on windows to slow heat transfer (windows transfer heat better than walls – R2 .vs. R15+ in the walls). Attic ventilation. Most attics are ovens in summer, transfers heat down into house.

            b. Solar on rooftop. Many suburban houses can pull this off, have OK or better orientation with South. Gov’t already subsidizes this, and the cost/benefit for solar has improved a great deal over the past 20 yrs

            c. Make better use of trees, porches to shade house in summer

            That’s a decent start, and most of those mods are ones the homeowner can do for themselves, except upgrade the HVAC unit – need refrigerant license to do that in the U.S.

            “Can you run heavy mat’l transport on electrical?”. Railroad locos have electric traction motors. So the question comes to “can you store enough energy in a battery? (truck or locomotive) ” or “Can you electrify the railroad?”

            Store enough energy in a battery pack to move a 50-ton truck 300+ miles requires a fuel source, like hydrogen. That’s why the “Hydrogen” economy is so attractive – it’s a new tech that can replace the battery. Let me agree in advance that storing hydrogen is a tough problem, and may not get solved. But a lot of heavy hitters are working on that.

            Where’s the energy come from to power all this stuff? By my calcs (10 years ago) the continental U.S. receives, each day, about 10,000 times more energy from the sun than it consumes – all forms, all uses. So, the energy is present, but it is not yet not captured and distributed.

            New realms for technological evolution. The solutions – like the solar panel and wind turbines – will start out gimpy and expensive, and will gradually get better. It is a fact that this evolution has occurred. Do we have further to go? Sure.

            You may – and if you don’t, I will – assert that further industrial and societal consumption intensification will ultimately tip the canoe over, so it might be better to just eliminate the demand, and find better ways to enjoy life as we rebuild the planet.

            That’s going to take technology, too, and any organic farmer will be eager to point that out. The tools that organic farmers have to work with are primitive .vs. those that conventional farmers have. It’s just one example, and I could go on quite a while. There is an _enormous_ amount of innovation that’s going to be required to achieve the “fix the planet as I make my living” ethic.

            There is no way out of this box without a mountain of new innovation, and that is why I am a proponent of “technology”.

  8. Dave in Austin

    I’d never heard of Gail before today. Thank you Yves.

    An international (or even national) trade regime which allows high pollution and high CO-2 emiting places to export to low emiting/high cost-of-production places acts like Gresham’s Law- high pollution/low cost producers drive low pollution/high cost producers out of business. Californians rave about thier reduced pollution but they import high pollution refined oil from my state, Texas. Virtue signalling and high demand for polluting resources like oil require cognative dissonance… which the U.S. has in spades.

    Likewise no American solar-cell-level silicon producer can compete with Chinese producers which dump the polluting byproducts on the ground, preferably in minority areas of western China (read the wikipedia article on solar cell silicon for the details).

    And there is little the U.S., now well under 25% of the world economy, can do about the CO-2 issue except 1) refuse to import goods from high polluters, and 2) raise the cost of the goods used to support the U.S. lifestyle and consequently lower the standard-of-living of U.S. voters. Neither are likely to happen- in the short run. All this is happening while China and India follow the U.S.’s 1850-1914 “Damn the pollution; full speed ahead!” model of development.

    The crunch will come when climate change costs go through the roof and low population/ high resource places like Australia and Canada alone can support the existing standard of living. To some extent the WW I blockade of Germany and the resource advantage of the traditional western European colonial powers led to the logical- and half insane- response by Germany in the 1930s: gain colonies in places like the Ukraine where the British navy can not intervene; reduce the existing population of the new colonies in Russia to peonage; reduce the number of “useless mouths” (read: “non-Germans) by whatever means necessary. If you think immigration is an issue now, just wait until the resource shortages become all too obvious to the natives.

    Real climate change is not only an economic challenge, it is a moral and ethical challenge. And Gail lays bare the bones of the choices we have, which are not pretty.

  9. Zamfir

    The key sentence seems to be this:

    “We have searched for a very long time, but haven’t yet found solutions truly worth ramping up. ”
    Wind and solar are currently getting ramped up, at an accelating rate, at costs that are comparable(or even lower) to other sources, with still potential for further cost reductions.

    That might not last. Intermittency might at some point turn this trend around. But at least in this article, I don’t see Tverback make an argument for that, she just puts it as an undisputed fact.

    All the other points in that article rest on that though. If we can handle the intermittency of wind and solar, at costs that are comparable to the historic costs of other energy sources, then the remainder of the article loses much of its strength

  10. Eclair

    I read and was enlightened by Gail back in the Oil Drum days. And I totally agree with her contention that the planet has finite energy-producing resources, from coal and oil to timber to potable water to arable land. But we have been acting as if those resources are infinite. And as if areas of the planet, from deserts to oceans, are our very own waste dumps.

    Here in western New York, we have many Amish neighbors and friends. Spend some time with them and you realize how much we take for granted the easy life that fossil fuel use has enabled. I roll out of bed, grind coffee beans in my electric grinder, turn on the tap for water (and the electric pump in the water well insures a steady supply,) put the pot on the stove and turn the knob for an instant gas flame. I pop a bowl of rolled oats and water into the microwave and my breakfast is ready in a few minutes. My Amish friend, gets out of bed, grabs some kindling and starts a fire in the wood stove. If she grinds coffee beans, it is in a manual coffee mill. She is fortunate that she has a cold water tap in her kitchen, but if the water tank is empty, she will have to wait for her nephew to refill it. There is no electric pump in her water well, it’s hand operated. When the stove heats up, she can make coffee and oatmeal. The milk might be sour, because it’s been hot and the block of ice (cut from a local pond in the winter by the family men and boys) has melted.

    Don’t even think about laundry day! Haul wood to heat the boiler in the wash room. Pour heated water into the manually operated wringer washing machine. Wash, rinse, etc. Hang up on outside line; hope that it doesn’t rain, or snow, or freeze.

    And, farming. Because farm equipment is horse-drawn, there is a limit to how much land can be worked by an Amish family. Here in western NY, that limit is about 100 acres; usually farms run about 60 to 80 acres. And, you need a lot of sons! Preferably ready to work before you hit your forties and your body starts to wear out from long days of manual labor.

    Note that even the Amish rely on modern, high-energy, manufacturing and distribution techniques; they use kerosene in oil lamps, metal in washing machines and boilers and stainless steel canning equipment and farm implements. They rely on an ‘Amish Uber’ network of ‘English’ drivers, to ferry them to produce auctions and family gatherings in other states.

    Their supportive communal social structure, based on small ‘parishes’ with everyone within easy buggy-driving distance, has evolved to deal with their low energy-use life. While the English can rely on their health insurance (if they are lucky enough to have it) to provide care in sickness, and on 401k’s and pensions to support them in their old age, the Amish have each other.

    In our modern capitalist society, we use money to buy comfort and convenience from our energy-using machines. If the energy feeding these machines (from computers, to washing machines to cook stoves to tractors to trucks), our social structure will evolve (or devolve) to cope. We can go communal, like the Amish or like most Indigenous groups, where work is shared. Or we can go master/slave, where a small group lives lives of ease and luxury and the rest of us are sweated labor.

  11. Susan the other

    I do think that climate change requires that we change our use of fossil fuels. But GT is correct by saying agriculture (for example) will need to be subsidized because oil extraction costs keep rising as consumption keeps falling. Creating the green industrial revolution will take another 50 years and in the meantime we will have to subsidize everything we still need but are phasing out. The question is, Which things? Is it energy effective to phase out IC cars, or is it 6s, or do electric cars pollute just as much. Or maybe the pollution associated with electric cars can be captured; scrubbed. The best way to organize the transition away from fossil fuel is to control where it goes. If we can set priorities it would be fairly simple to allocate energy. But it requires more than subsidies at the factory or the farm; it requires strict control at the well. So to carry that thought, it will preclude doing business the old fashioned way. Energy, not just fossil fuels, will have to be nationalized. There will be no other way to make it cheap enough and clean enough to be the engine of a capitalist economy. Imo. Want capitalism? Subsidize energy.

  12. Alan Kirk

    Gail Tvberg is required reading for anyone who wants some balancing skepticism to the techno-optimism of the MSM. Not many other bloggers consistently make the point about how close we are to running out of cheap fuels and how there is no way to replace the majority of fossil fuel energies with alternatives. And how there are no true alternative energies or energy systems; all rely heavily on fossil fuels. In addition, she often highlights the important roles of debt and credit in extending our fantasy existence just a little bit longer. As others has stated, her commentariat is about the same level as Kunstlers, which is too bad.

  13. R

    This is a really interesting article.

    A few commenters see what I see in it: that if you take the trends she asserts about energy pricing and economics as true, you would expect an economy to be on the path of our current economy:
    – ZIRP + debt slavery
    – expanding a low-wage, low skill workforce
    – disinvestment, at the level of both the enterprise (negative capital formation by listed companies) and of the individuals (renting houses, cars, furniture etc.)
    – central control of energy use (EV’s, “Smart” thermostats”)

    A tin-foil hat wearer would think that, unwittingly, we are walking back into the solar-bounded age of, as noted above, sweated labour for the masses and eating grapes fanned on a couch for the few.

    Of course, PK points out a lot of potential technical solutions to her constraints. But what if the technofixes can only slow the rate of change and are not sufficient to maintain the growth in energy usage that we were used to? Where then are we headed?

  14. deplorado

    “Ground temperature hits 118 degrees F, inside the Arctic Circle. I’m sure nobody is concerned.”

    and please read this thread, as a companion comment to the article:

    Replying to
    2. I asked you to pretend something earlier. Here I go again.
    Pretend I’m the President’s chosen advisor. Pretend we have an actual functioning legislature. So what I say, goes. OK?
    Here we go.
    Jeff McFadden
    3. The Federal government would acquire all the large farms possible. First, they would buy all farms in bankruptcy sales. Second, they would offer market rates to willing farm sellers nationwide. No forced sales.
    Lots of bankrupt and retirement age farmers out there.
    Jeff McFadden
    4. Third, the government would write up a set of low energy bylaws modeled partly on Amish church district Ordnung (Ordinances) and partly on suburban / condo HOAs. Enforceable, land title linked. These would require biological energy, human or animal, with wind-down provision.
    Jeff McFadden
    5. Fourth, the government would subdivide its land base acquired above into 5 to 10 acre smallholdings with community commons along waterways and other places where appropriate.
    Jeff McFadden
    5. Fifth, the government would subsidize hardware, clothing, and food stores within walking distance of every smallholding created above.
    Finally, the government would offer a stipend, a donkey (from US feral stock), and small house materials and assistance, on a smallholding,
    Jeff McFadden
    6. to Americans who would apply for the program.
    That’s it. That’s what I would do.
    We guarantee profitability to companies all the time.
    Anyone who can’t stick with the agreement can go back to the high energy world. No punishment, just – live like this or somewhere else.
    Jeff McFadden
    7. Obviously, this is short. But – this nation desperately needs people to heal its land. We have an entire hardscrabble lower class living in cars and cardboard boxes. Offer them better, with help, and let them fix it.
    Jeff McFadden
    8. Build and support local, low energy, food producing, land healing, zero emissions or nearly so, communities where thousand acre soybean or corn deserts are now. See which lifestyle wins. Make it so people aren’t forced to have cars and buy insurance and gasoline.
    Then see.
    Peter Kurze
    Replying to
    One of the things I am always acutely aware of is that a time constrained society is a wasteful society. I watch myself make little wasteful decisions every day because I’m pushed for time. The time vice and the money vice are the same machine. I wish you well my friend.

    1. Tom Pfotzer

      There’s a lot to like in your post, deplorado. This is more or less where I am heading.

      I don’t expect top-down assistance, tho, and therefore am not waiting around for it. I’m just going to do it the best I can, and see how far I get.

  15. Taurus

    Gail’s analysis has one fundamental flaw. She is reducing a very complex system to a few rules that she chooses and then shows that this highly simplified model of reality does not work. Her analysis of the individual parts of her model are not wrong but her conclusions are weak.

    The world’s energy system is a chaotic beast and try as we might, positing a grand unified theory theory of how it should work is something of a fool’s errand.

    Instead of navel gazing and pontificating why we are doomed to fail, I would like to propose that tackling smaller scale problems on a regional scale is a much more productive approach (even if there may be a non-trivial chance that we are doomed to fail).

    Here is a problem I am familiar with – residential oil consumption. Currently (2019 numbers), this represents 3% of oil consumption in the US out of this, the Northeast has 86% share

    If we massively install solar driven heat pumps through the region, we would be able to reduce meaningfully consumption of oil on a regional scale.

    If we take this approach, we would discover that a lot of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles the author describes are not there. Like – the technology exists and production capacity is there to accomplish this in a very reasonable timeframe. How about money and objections? Well – 86% of the problem is concentrated in “progressive “ one-party Northeast – tap the Fed, borrow at the State level. And if you made it free to homeowners, all objections are going to melt away. It is truly a distributed solution, so the rickety grid problems do not come into play either.

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