A blog by Mel Riser about LifeBoat Permaculture and Solar Villages

Monday, July 31, 2006

Peak Oil, Ghawar


Another sobering look at reality...

coming to a planet near you soon...

got solar?

Ghawar Is Dying
by Chip Haynes

August,2001--"Ghawar is dying." Could those three simple words signal the beginning of the end for the industrialized human civilization on Planet Earth? No one in a position of knowledge or authority has uttered them publicly yet, nor are they likely to for a few years to come. So we do have some time--but not much. Then again, they may have been said quietly two years ago and we would never know. Life's funny that way. Too bad this isn't a laughing matter.

Some two hundred kilometers east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, is a stretch of uninhabited and unremarkable desert in the Empty Quarter. This hot, desolate landscape sits above the largest oil field in the world: the Ghawar. It's a big chunk of nothing one hundred and fifty miles long and twenty-five miles wide, but thousands of meters below its surface lie seventy billion barrels of oil patiently waiting to be pumped out. They've waited for millions of years. A few more won't matter. And after that? After that, Ghawar will no longer be dying. It will be dead. Nothing left but sand and sinkholes.

Before you sit back, all smug and comfy with that seventy billion barrel figure, let me do a bit of quick math for you: that's only an 875 day supply of oil for the world at the current rate of use. (And that rate rises every year, just as the Ghawar's not unlimited oil reserves get lower.) Admittedly, the Ghawar is not our only source of oil. (And unless you happen to be Saudi, its not even your oil at all, now is it?) Still, the Ghawar is The Big One, and when it goes, things will change--forever. The only questions are: When will it happen, and how will we know?

The when is easy, if vague: it could happen at any time from two years ago to twenty years from now. But how will we know? That's a far more difficult question to answer.

I can picture a Mercedes Unimog lumbering alongside pipelines in the desert, stopping at each well head. At each stop, a man climbs down from the machine and walks over to the well. He looks and records a number from the gauge, then returns to the truck. This scene plays out over and over. It would take days to record all the numbers from the wells in the Ghawar. Still, it must be done. Those hand-written numbers are given to a field technician who dutifully records them, one well at a time, in a computer database. All that data gets sent to the Saudi government, where the numbers are studied, analyzed, and agonized over. If the figures are the same as or higher than the last figures, life is good. If not, then what?

What if the Ghawar IS dying? It would be easy enough to play with the numbers for a year or two--until the decline rate starts to speed up and the loss can't be hidden. After that? Plan B might call for a declared "voluntary reduction" in oil production to "stabilize the market at the optimum level." Yeah, right. How in the world would you ever know exactly how much oil is being pumped or shipped from a country half way around the world to other countries you've never seen? The answer is obvious: You wouldn't. You never will. C'est la vie.

Somewhere in Los Angeles, on quite literally the other side of the world, an SUV pulls into a gas station and the driver gets out. The pump is turned on and a gas tank is filled. Sure, it cost more here at this big, fancy franchise than it did over at that little independent station, but the indy was closed today. Matter of fact, hasn't it been closed for about a week now? What's up with that? Ah, well. At least it's not that much more. What's an extra buck or two to fill the tank? No big deal. Unless Ghawar is dying, in which case it is a very big deal indeed--and will get considerably bigger before it's all over. Maybe this was a sign of a weakening pulse?
You're Invited to the Funeral
Measured up against the big scheme of things, the death of Ghawar and our oil-powered industrial civilization will fall somewhere between the Black Plague of 14th Century Europe and the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. Unlike the plague, this will effect humans world-wide, but unlike the meteor, it will effect only humans. Chickens may some day cross the road with impunity. Animals both large and small will prosper (Hey, you try whaling in a row boat!) And the earth will undoubtedly cool off a bit. Too bad we all won't be here to enjoy it.

With the death of Ghawar will undoubtedly come the deaths of humans. Many humans, it would seem, the result of probably unavoidable wars for the last remaining oil to the much-predicted pandemics and mass starvation. Estimates on the sustainable limit to humans on this planet have ranged from an utterly dismal 1/70th of the current population (about 100 million) to an almost cheerful (by comparison) two billion. Keep in mind there's six billion of us here right now, so some of you will have to leave. You'll stay for the funeral, though, won't you? I mean, after all, Ghawar is dying.

I don't expect to be told. Politics and the global economy being what they are these days, I really can't picture anyone standing up in front of a row of television cameras and announcing to the world that the largest field of crude oil known to man is, in fact, drying up. What's Arabic for, "Ghawar is dying"? It doesn't matter. It's a phrase we'll never need to know--or hear. If it is the biggest, it will also be the last. By the time Ghawar begins to die--and by the time we hear about it--hundreds of other oil fields all over the world will also be dead and gone. Ghawar will still be pumping crude oil at an impressive rate as the industrial world of man comes to a creaking, painful halt. That's the irony of it, you see: by the time the Ghawar starts to run dry, we will have either found another way to get things done or simply stopped doing them. There's a very good chance that the last of the oil in the Ghawar will remain in the ground, untouched and unneeded, forever.

Traffic in Los AngelesSo is the Ghawar dying? Does it matter? There may come a time when all the SUVs in Los Angeles will roll to a tank-dry halt. After the riots and the wars, after the yelling and screaming and dying, what's left of humanity (if we have any humanity left) will stand up, dust itself off and get on with Life. The Ghawar, virtually unknown today, will be all but forgotten by then. The troubles of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East will cease to be a common feature of the nightly news, as they would no longer have anything to offer the West--nothing left to fight over. Just footnotes in a history book.
Cries and Whispers
Click Here to Spread the Word!Maybe what's called for here, as Blutto Blutowski so eloquently put it, is a stupid and futile gesture that could serve as a mind-bite for the masses--some bit of mysterious innuedno that could spread like backfence gossip or a clever teaser ad. Tell people the world is running out of oil and they glaze like a donut. We know the direct approach doesn't work. We have to be subtle. Devious. Underhanded. But without any actual outright lying. (The truth is, after all, so much more annoying!) So how about bumper stickers? Everybody reads them when they're stuck in traffic or stopped at a light. You do. I do. And if you read it on a bumper sticker, it must be true, right? All we need now is a whole pile of "Ghawar is Dying" bumper stickers. It need not say any more than that. The truth is always mysterious and seldom obvious. Let 'em figure it out for themselves. Of course, the ultimate irony would be to see that bumper sticker on a big SUV--the very thing that's draining the Ghawar to death. That's right up there with "Honk if you hate noise pollution"! HA!

Ghawar is dying. If you whisper it quietly, maybe people will listen. If not, the approaching silence will get their attention soon enough.

Chip Haynes

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Photonically Speaking of Light ( Indoor Light ) manmade

as opposed to cosmically made...

but then again everything is connected to the cosmos is it not?

Jul. 23rd, 2006 10:50 am Light Information ( photonically speaking )

I have been compiling some information of light...


Light & Photosynthesis

Light is the only plant food. All the other things we give a plant are just to help it digest and use the light. The more light a plant gets, the bigger and fatter it will become, provided all its other needs are being met. If there is not enough light, nothing else will make the plant bigger or produce more.

The main thing that keeps an indoor garden growing is lots of available light, and the most important is the light density. Small lights in a large greenhouse will not do much at all for the light density except for sending day-length signals to the plants.

Knowing about lumens, or light density, is very important to the indoor gardener because the big secret of a supercharged garden is based on light density and how it is used to benefit the plants. It is vital to know the light intensity of your garden to be able to work out how much CO2 to give it.

Lumens are a measure of the light intensity striking a surface. A first idea for understanding lumens is to say that the number of lumens is just a convenient measure equal to the number of candles lighting up an average book held 1 foot from the light. A hundred years ago this was absolute reality and our grandparents had to line up many candles in order to read at night. Today, we define 1 lumen as the amount of light 1 candle
will shine on 1 square foot of white paper held 1 foot away from the flame:
1 LUMEN = 1 foot-candle or
1 candle of light intensity per square foot held 1 foot away.

The metric unit is the lux, the amount of light falling on one square metre: 1 LUX = ... metre-candle or
1 candle of light intensity per square metre held 1 foot away

1 square metre is about 10 square feet, so the lux number is 10 times the lumen number: 1 LUMEN = 10 LUX (lux is the metric system) .
1 lux is only 1/10 of a lumen because the same amount of light on 1 square foot now has to fall on 10 square feet, so it is diluted 10 times.

A photographer's light meter measures the light reflected off a surface in foot-candles, which is the same as lumens independent of any specific area. The camera lens has a very small opening, and the area of light it is photographing could be millions of square feet.

Never point a photographic meter at a light. As an example, measuring 20,000 lumens on a 500 foot-candle light meter can burn out the equipment. For this reason, you should always measure the reflected light from 1 foot away with the photographic meter.
Getting the most out of artificial lights

The light illuminating from a source is not fully utilized. To illustrate, one candle actually puts out a total of 12.5 lumens in all directions, but only one of those twelve lumens actually falls onto a square foot of paper held one foot away from the candle. Thus, there is only "1 lumen" on the paper, and the other 11.5 lumens are shooting into space. Think how bright two candles would make the same page of the book you are trying to read in the dark. This would be two lumens, or two candles shining on 1 square foot.

Your table lamp will be putting 175 lumens on the book, and with 175 candles, you can read your book very well. But if you took the book to the other end of the room, you would not be able to read it because the 175 lumens that were shining on the page when you were one foot from the
lamp hardly even light the page now some many feet away from the light source. There is, in fact, less than 1 lumen actually shining on the page the other 174 are shining on all its surroundings.

Mirrors and reflectors can be used to re-direct many of the photons of the other 174 lumens that shine into space. In fact, mirrors and reflectors can make a big difference in an indoor garden.

Because light is expensive, you should get as much value out of the electricity as possible. Here are some pointers:
1. Keep lights as close as possible to the plants.
2. Use mirrors and reflectors to utilize as much light as you can.
3. If your indoor garden is in a large room where the walls are 10 feet
(about 3 metres) away from the plants, you can be sure that most of the light is being wasted into space. To contain the light, build an enclosure
not more than 1 foot (30 em) away from the plants all around the garden.
The Efficiency of Lights

The main reason to really get familiar with lumens is that the "wattage" of any light bulb in an indoor garden is a totally meaningless number.

Look at the following example: An incandescent 1 DO-Watt table lamp shining on a book held one foot away will put 175 lumens on the book. Replacing the table lamp with a 1 DO-Watt Mercury light will put 600 lumens on the book. Again, replace the Mercury lamp with a 1 DO-Watt High Pressure Sodium street light (if you were standing on a ladder and held the book one foot from the light) will put 1,400 lumens on the book. As you can see, bulb wattage has nothing to do with light intensity, but bulb type does influence the amount of illumination.

Certain types of light bulbs are more cost efficient than others. For example, with a standard house filament bulb, only 10% of your money is going to
producing photons of light, and most of what you paid is wasted as heat. I
Fortunately, you get "more bang for your buck" out of the HID (high intensity discharge) lamps.

There is not yet an extremely efficient bulb, but some are better than others.
The rates from the chart Relative Efficiency of Some Bulbs would be good if the bulbs gave all light and no heat. The percentages shown here are the heat wastage that is not turned into light. Unfortunately, 100% of the electricity has to be paid for even though one only gets at best about 60% of it in light.

The relative lumens of artificial lights can be illustrated as follows. Assume that 6 similar wattage bulbs were hooked up to the power and a measuring instrument was put in front of them. Lumen values are referred to at this stage to illustrate how the various types of light bulbs differ. (* Note that these are not PAR values unless we measure with a very special meter that does not count the very blue light below 400 nm, does not count most of the green light that the leaves are reflecting, does not count the very red
light above 730 nm, and only counts half the light in the orange colour. PAR stands for photosynthetically active radiation. It is different values for different types of light source. The PAR value is the amount of light usable by plants, since plants can utilize only a small percentage of the artificial light.)
Light 1 : Regular House Incandescent - the meter shows 17.5 foot-candles
Light 2 : Mercury Street Light type - the meter shows 63 foot-candles
Light 3 : Fluorescent type - the meter shows 83 foot-candles
Light 4 : Sulphur type (1997 model) - the meter shows 98 foot-candles
Light 5 : Super Metal Halide - the meter shows 125 foot-candl es
Light 6 : High Pressure Sodium - the meter shows 140 foot- candles
Multiply the corresponding bulb reading above by the wat age of your bulb, and this will be the amount of light leaving the bulb, not the light reaching your plants.

There are additional losses if the light is behind a glass panel or in a water jacket. Each glass surface light passes through can lose 10%, and passing through a water jacket can lose 20-30%, mostly in the red spectrum.

You can see that an HPS bulb gives 140 lumens per watt. If you are reading a book from a 1,000-Watt High Pressure Sodium light placed 1 ft away, that bulb is shining an equivalent of 140,000 candles (140 x 1,000). This 140,000 lumens of light is spreading in all directions, and only 10% of the lumens is heading for your book; the other 90% is shining on the walls, the ceiling, and mostly the floor. Thus, a 1,000-Watt HPS lamp fixed at the one-foot distance places only 12,000 lumens (some losses calculated) on your book.

Similarly, the usable lumens from a 1,000-Watt (100,000-lumen) MH lamp at this one-foot distance are only about 9,000 lumens on the page (there is also a 10% loss of light as it passes through the glass of the bulb); the other 90,000 lumens are shining on the rest of the room. With a reflector, many of these 90,000 lumens can be captured and sent down to the page.

As discussed previously, a 100-Watt table lamp shining out 175 lumens actually gives less than 1 lumen per square foot towards the other end of the room, and this makes the bulb wattage per square foot an even more meaningless number. The following shows how distance affects light density.

Upper next page illustrates a square of paper held 1 foot from a light source,
casting a shadow of 4 ft x 4 ft (16 ft2) on a floor 4 feet below the light. If the light source is the above-mentioned MH lamp, you get 9,000 lumens shining on the paper at the one-foot distance. Spread these lumens over the 16 ft2 on the floor, and now there are only about 500 lumens on each of the 16 squares. This means that light at the 4-foot level is only 1/16 as intense over anyone square foot because the original 9,000 lumens is now spread out over 16 square feet. In fact, with every extra foot (30 cm) that light has to travel, light intensity is reduced by half. Things look worse in an 8-ft high room: the light is down to 1/64 its original intensity at the floor level- about 140 lumens on each square foot.
The Sun and Lights

The noon Sunlight in Davis, California is around 5,000 lumens per square foot. Similarly, a 1 ,OOO-Watt HPS lamp with its inner arc tube 2 feet above a table is shining about 5,000 lumens on every square foot of that table. Although this HPS lamp appears to be equal to the Sun, it is not the same because its colour spectrum is poor. The Sun has another advantage over artificial lights in that Sunlight is just as intense at all distances. This is because the powerful Sunlight has already travelled some 93 million miles (149 million kilometers) to reach Earth, so the extra few feet or metres it has to go to reach the bottom of plants do not lessen its light intensity.

To put light over distance into perspective, the stars are actually brighter than our Sun, but their light decreases by half every million miles. So by the time the starlight reaches us, it is not even bright enough to read by.

Luckily for outdoor gardeners, the mighty Sun is giving 5,000 candles of light intensity to both the tops and the bottoms of tall trees. But with artificial lights, it is a different story. The first foot of light below an HID lamp is more intense than Sunlight. Unfortunately, artificial light also drops off by half with every foot it travels, so at 3 feet, it is only 1/9 the intensity of the first foot. This is why the bottoms of a 3-ft plant gets only about 10% as much artificial light as the tops. Therefore, the shorter an indoor plant is under artificial lights, the more light the entire plant receives.
The Difference between the Sun and Lights

The real difference between the Sun and lights is that the Sun has full spectrum light from red to blue at equal intensities. This giyes maximum energy to the plant pigments and makes the plants grow well.

Artificial lights have not equalled the Sun for full spectrum. On each lamp spectrum graph under Light Bulbs in ChapterS, compare the "light usage by plant" curve with the shaded area "light available from bulb." You can see that all artificial lights have very low intensity over most of the useful spectrum for plant growth. The best one can do is to find lights that have the best compromise.
The problem for the indoor gardener is that no HID bulbs give enough red frequencies - HID's have very low 680-700 nm peaks. High Pressure Sodium bulbs emit a very strong orange light - some of which is absorbed by carotenes and phycobilins pigments, which are then passed down the
electron funnel to the sugar factory. Some fluorescent lamps have a good red spike, but they have no power at all compared with the HID's. The best one can do is to blast the leaves with MH and HPS lights at enormous lumen power so that there is enough red spilled over to do the job.
Look at the various spectrum graphs again. Notice just what a compromise they are. The truth is that all the HID lamps are equally poor at the vital frequencies. The best frequency coverage is a standard incandescent bulb, but it is so inefficient that it is not usable for high output lamps. As mentioned before, an HID at close range puts out more lumens than the Sun but at many less important frequencies, so a large portion of its light is just wasted. Luckily, plants are able to make the best of a poor situation and use whatever photons fall on their leaves.
Water-Cooled Lights

Water cooling the HID lights allows plants to be placed close to the illumination (for greater light intensity) with minimal heat build-up. Unfortunately, the water surrounding the bulbs and the containers or jackets surrounding the water absorb much of the red spectrum that is the
plants' main sugar producing frequency. Light losses through water-cooled jackets can be 20-300/0. Plants grown under water-cooled I lights will have a corresponding loss in yield compared with open lights. However, the lack of heat generated by water-cooled lights can be used to a greater advantage where open lights generate excessive heat.
The Magic :Is Here Photosynthesis

The leaves perform photosynthesis in a most amazing way. The leaves have special cells in them called pigments. The main pigments are: chlorophyll-a, chlorophyll-b, carotene, phycobilin, and phytochrome. Each of these has the ability to absorb a certain frequency of light and extract energy from the light by converting photons to electrons and then sending the electrons to energy centres.
The main pigments involved in photosynthesis are the chlorophylls. Chlorophyll-a is the primary pigment for photosynthesis, but cellular plants have developed a helper pigment called chlorophyll-b.

In the advanced cellular plants, there is a second step to this photon energy conversion. A second reaction centre, which is sensitive only to light at 700 nm (P700), boosts the electrons a second time to make chemical energy in the form of NADP (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate).

At the end of this process, the light energy that has been trapped has now converted many photons into usable chemical energy that is the basic energy of all life on earth. This energy is now used totally independently in a process called the carbon-fixing reaction, where carbon dioxide (C02) is split, and the resulting carbon (C) and hydrogen (H) atoms are made into sugars and starches. The best known example of plant sugar is maple syrup, which comes directly out of trees. Most astoundingly, the newest research has shown that this entire process takes 3-20 trillionths of a second, which would make any computer chip proud.

Because sugars are energy, the more sugars a plant can make and store, the more a plant can yield. The plant needs a blue light source,The blue light has a double involvement in the
creation of plant energy as explained above. The plant specifically needs blue light for some enzyme and hormone activation; blue light from i 400-500 nm is absorbed by an internal pigment, and this is an active fIrequency for auxins. Blue light is also active in chloroplast control blue light stimulates the stomata to open, and so does red light.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Peak Everything


Thinking the Unthinkable, By Norman Church

Editor's Note: The following lengthy speech was given at the "Peak Speak 2" Peak Oil conference, held on July 15, 2006 at Bedzed, Wallington, UK.

Oil depletion is just the first of a series of resource crisis humanity is about to face because there are just too many of us! This century we will face peak resources, period.

There are many fascinating and exciting renewable energy developments. Wind turbines, solar energy, geothermal, biomass, wave and tidal power schemes which are all important energy sources for the future - and could at least help keep the electricity grid going to some degree!

The popular assumption is that these renewable energy sources, perhaps also including uranium, plutonium and just possibly nuclear, which seems to be coming back on the agenda, will smoothly replace fossil fuels as these become scarce, thanks to our inherited technological expertise. However, although these all produce electricity they are not liquid fuels.

Unfortunately, these popular assumptions could hardly be more wrong. The energy budget must be positive. Output must exceed input. Too much tends to be expected of renewable energy generators today, because the contribution of fossil fuels to the input side is poorly understood.
For example, a wind turbine is not successful as a renewable generator unless another similar one can be constructed from its raw materials using only the energy that the first one generates in its lifetime, and still shows a worthwhile budget surplus.

Or, if corn is grown to produce bioethanol, the energy input to ploughing, sowing, fertilizing, weeding, harvesting and processing the crop must come from the previous year's bioethanol production. Input must also include, proportionately, mining and processing the raw materials and building the machines that do the work, as well as supporting their human operators.

There is nothing that can replace cheap oil for price, ease of storage, ease of transportation and sheer volumes in the timeframe we need. There is continuing debate over whether a suitable energy alternative might be found to replace the energy from oil as it runs out, but there is certainly no compelling evidence that a comparable substitute will be found.

It is difficult to think about 'how things will play out' when an oil-based global economy loses its cheap energy source. It has never happened before.

It will never happen again. Many of the solutions to Peak Oil that are discussed revolve broadly round 'sustainability' and 'sustainable development', including replacement technologies and finding an alternate source of 'sustainable energy'.

What is Sustainable Development?

A Definition of Sustainable Development: Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. There are tremendous shortcomings in this definition as there is no requirement to conserve specific resources. It does not matter what mineral resources (e.g. fossil fuels, minerals) are depleted so long as something is
found to replace them. From an economic perspective, all that matters is market value, cost per unit, and economic output.

Any attempt by one generation to leave the world as it found it is unlikely and infeasible. Instead, all that is required to comply with this definition is that non-renewable resources that are used up must be replaced with something else. When one resource is depleted or destroyed, just find a different way of doing things, or do something else. Everything is expendable, everything is replaceable. All that matters is economic output and economic efficiency. Another way to put all of this is that any group of beings (human or nonhuman, plant or animal) who take more from their surroundings than they give back will, obviously, deplete their surroundings, after which they will either have to move, or their population will crash.

The Future Mirrored in the Past

"The farther backward you can look the farther forward you are likely to see." - Winston Churchill
'Collapse' is the language of the apocalypse and we find such issues difficult if not impossible to deal with. The long-term consequence of Peak Oil will take decades to unfold as a series of rolling and interconnected crises, each one more difficult to cope with than the previous as resources become scarcer and as more and more systems break and infrastructure decays.

However, let us be clear: overshoot created by a lack of energy means the human population of the earth will have to shrink to a sustainable number. Ecologists use a technical term, "die-off", to describe what happens when a population grows too big for the resources that sustain it.

People are always saying the world will end and it never does. Maybe it won't this time, either. But, frankly, it's not looking good. Almost daily, new evidence is emerging that progress can no longer be taken for granted, that a new Dark Age is lying in wait for us and our children. By some estimates, 5 billion of the world's 6-1⁄2 billion population would never have been able to live without the blessed effects of fossil fuels, and oil in particular. We also need to remember that when a civilization goes splat, the technologies that supported it tend to go with it. This is particularly true of systems that are based on highly interdependent technologies such as ours today.

Greer states in his paper Facing the New Dark Age: A Grassroots Approach: "Finally population die-off begins as the wrecked industrial system no longer produces enough to meet even the most basic human needs. The process ends with impoverished survivors a century or so from now scratching out a meager living amid the crumbling ruins of a once-great civilisation"'

This "Die Off" scenario makes a shocking contrast to the cozy fantasies of perpetual progress most people cherish. Those who study history, on the other hand, will find it much more familiar.
The same process has happened dozens of times before, and our present predicament can best be understood by paying attention to the past.'

Another crucial lesson is that the common notion of holing up in a cabin in the hills with stockpiled food and enough firearms to outfit a Panzer division. This is not a realistic response.

It takes time for a civilization to come apart, and the process is like rolling down a slope, not like falling off a cliff. We face a future of shortages, economic crises, disintegrating infrastructure, and collapsing public health, probably stretched out over a period of decades. A few years of stored food and an assortment of high-tech paramilitary gear are hopelessly inadequate preparations in the face of this reality.

Stockpiles of precious metals, another common hedge against collapse, are even more useless. All the gold in the world means nothing unless people value it enough to trade scarce resources for it.

Problems with Progress

How many people nowadays can't light a fire without matches or butane lighter from some distant factory?
The skills necessary to get by in a non-industrial society, skills that were still common knowledge a century ago, have been all but lost. Knowledge is critical and currently, there is little knowledge of basic survival skills, and even less knowledge of the scope of the problems that are looming.
It's clear that whatever the future holds, it will hold many fewer people than today's world, and the road there won't be easy or pleasant. If there are problems with holing up in a cabin in the hills, what about self sufficiency?

Community Survival During the Coming Energy Decline

"Those who already enjoy a measure of self-sufficiency, such as ecovillages and other kinds of sustainable intentional communities will already have some of the skills and experience needed for re-localization." In Powerdown, Richard Heinberg notes that small, self-sustaining communities may become cultural lifeboats in times to come.

He says, "Our society is going to change profoundly-those of us who understand this are in a position to steward that change. We are going to become popular, needed people in our communities."
But no matter how prepared an intentional community or organized neighborhood may be, it will be adversely impacted in some way.

But is Community Enough?

Experts suggest several possible scenarios for the coming energy decline and any of these scenarios will present significant challenges for intentional

Even in the "soft landing" scenario, there will still be massive structural changes in society and being in debt may be the undoing of many.

Common advice among many Peak Oil experts is to get out of debt! Let's say for example, that a community is deeply in debt, and is still paying off its property purchase loans.

Let's say the community loses its financial resource base-if members lose their jobs or if a weak economy reduces the market for the goods and services the community produces-the group could default on its loan payments, and may have its property seized by the bank or other creditors.

A property-value crash may worsen the debt situation for intentional communities. If a community's property value falls below their equity in the property, they won't be able to save themselves from defaulting on loans by selling off their land, which is typically the last resort of farmers in debt.

All the shortages and systems failures that can affect mainstream culture can affect intentional communities as well. A community may not have enough foresight, labour, tools, or funds to create alternatives to whatever their members use now for heating, lighting, cooking, refrigeration, water collection, water pumping, and disposal utilization of gray water and human waste.

Then there's the matter of community security-a subject many find "politically incorrect" to even consider. If the government fails; if the law and order system falls apart, there can be various kinds of dangerous consequences. Desperate, hungry people can loot and steal and take what they want from others.

Vigilante groups can form to either deal with the lawlessness, and/or take what they want themselves. Government may declare martial law, rescind constitutional liberties, and send in troops to restore order and/or take what they want from others. Having supportive neighbors and good networking in the greater community may help. The social fabric has been unraveling for several decades, and the lack of solidarity or social cohesion is another one of the reasons there must be a collapse -- after all, do you see community-spirit on the rise and an actual transition underway to a sustainable and ecological society?
So would it be possible to rebuild Civilisation after a collapse? Jason Godesky wrote in It Will Be Impossible to Rebuild Civilisation: "The current state of civilization is dependent on resources that are now so depleted, that they require an industrial infrastructure already in place to gather those resources. We can fetch this fossil fuel only because we have fossil fuels to put to the task."

He goes on to comment on metals.

* That to maintain civilization, only some metals are useful.
* They must be strong enough for agriculture or war.
* They must keep an edge.
* They must occur in economically feasible quantities.
* They must have a melting point low enough to be worked.

Gold, silver, etc. immediately fail as the quantities are insufficient, and they are far too soft.
There are many other metals which are basically all alloys and would be all but unworkable in a post collapse society. The metal that probably deserves the most attention is iron. He says that iron although problematic is not impossible and may well be the only metal that survivors will have access to.

(1) Ore,

Most near-surface iron deposits were exploited long ago. What remains is deep in the ground and is unlikely to be accessible without fossil fuels, except in rare exceptions.

(2) Scavenged iron.

Scavenged iron is, especially in the immediate aftermath of collapse likely to be the most abundant source although [working] most of the sophisticated alloys we use now rely on the kind of high temperatures attainable only with fossil fuels. This shouldn't matter too much as there's still enough that can be done with heated and reworked scavenged metals. After a few decades the scavenged metals will become more and more rusted and even worn out and the metalworking will begin to diminish as it becomes harder and harder to make poorer and poorer metal weapons and tools.

(3) Bog Iron.

The final source is bog iron which is actually a renewable resource. About once each generation the same bog can be re-harvested but it may be up to a century before today's bog iron deposits are refilled; after that, it may enter the cycle of once-a-generation per bog.
We should be aware of this factor because of one other necessary resource that we have so far only touched on briefly: knowledge.

The knowledge of how to work iron and many other processes was accrued over centuries.
Those who know, no longer do; those who do, no longer know. This may well end applying to a lot of knowledge.

How much knowledge will manage to survive the post collapse period, for the time that comes after when it may become useful again?

If it is insufficient, we will be starting from scratch again. This will apply to all knowledge and knowledge is a powerful thing, difficult to relearn from seed, and easily lost.
How plausible would agriculture be after the collapse?

Civilization is only possible through agriculture, because only agriculture allows a society to increase its food supply--and thus its population--and thus its energy throughput--and thus its complexity--so arbitrarily."

Plants, like any other organism, take in nutrients, and excrete wastes. In nature, what one plant excretes as waste, another takes in as nutrients. They balance each other, and all of them thrive.
But monoculture--planting whole fields of just one crop--sets fields of the same plant, all bleeding out the same nutrients, all dumping back in the same wastes.

The ecological effects of fossil-based food production have been catastrophic, particularly with respect to agriculture. As a result, the complex ecology of the living soil is being destroyed, leading to increased wind and water erosion. In the near-term, most arable land has long been depleted, and is now utterly dependent on fertilizers made from fossil fuels. In the course of our civilization we have used up all of the surface and near-surface deposits of all the economically viable fossil fuels and minerals. The lack of metals will continue to limit technological development after the collapse--and by limiting technological development, it will also limit all other forms of complexity. We are therefore talking about a complete break with the end of our current civilization. Whole generations will pass before civilisation becomes feasible again. What, then, of the distant future?

The Distant Future

After the passage of millennia, the soil may well heal itself, and the necessary climate may return. In that scenario, agriculture may be possible in those same areas, and under the same conditions, that it first occurred. With the passage of geological ages, though, this will pass. Fossil fuels will be replenished, and metal ores will rise to the surface.

Then, if there are still humans so far into the future--this is a matter of at least tens of millions of years, far longer than humans have so far survived--then there might be another opportunity to rebuild civilization.

So after the collapse, we may see a brief Iron Age, but it seems more likely to fade away within the next two centuries.

Living without oil, if we don't start to prepare for it, will not be like returning to the pre industrial world, because we will have lost the infrastructure that made that life possible. We have also lost our basic survival skills.

Today, the UK population is about 62 million. In 1750, when the Industrial Revolution was beginning, it was about 6 million. It had never exceeded this figure, although during the Dark Ages
and after the Black Death it fell to one or two million.

Most people lived and died in poverty. Pre-industrial farmers were pushed to the limit to feed so many. The population increased slightly in years with good harvests, but starvation and malnutrition cut it back to the 6 million norm when harvests were bad. Food is energy. And it takes energy to get food. These two facts, taken together, have always established the biological limits to the human population and always will.


The topic of Peak Oil is at present enveloped by a great silence and the
public seems unprepared for rational discussion

This reminds me of a comment made by Sherlock Holmes in A. Conan Doyle's story "Silver Blaze."
Inspector Gregory had asked, "Is there any point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

To this Holmes responded:

"To the curious incident of the dog in the night time."
"The dog did nothing in the night time," said the Inspector.
"That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock Holmes.
By asking himself what would repress the normal barking instinct of a watchdog, Holmes realized that it must be the dog's recognition of his master as the criminal trespasser.

In a similar way we should ask ourselves what repression keeps us from discussing something as important as survival long term after Peak Oil.

Curious, but understandable - for the foreseeable future I think that our survival demands that we govern our actions by the ethics of a lifeboat. Posterity will be ill served if we do not.

Those who attended "Peak Speak 1" in London last year may remember the lifeboat analogy I mentioned.
Greer uses a similar point in The Coming of Deindustrial Society: Imagine that you're on an ocean liner that's headed straight for a well marked shoal of rocks. Half the crew is dead drunk, and the other half has already responded to your attempts to alert them by telling you that you obviously don't know the first thing about navigation, and everything will be all right.

At a certain point, you know, the ship will be so close to the rocks that its momentum will carry it onto them no matter what evasive actions the helmsman tries to make. You're not sure, but it looks as though that point is already well past. What do you do? You can keep on pounding on the door to the bridge, trying to convince the crew of the approaching danger. You can join the prayer group down in the galley; they're convinced that if they pray fervently enough, God will save them from shipwreck. You can decide that everyone's doomed and go get roaring drunk. Or you can go around quietly to the other passengers, and encourage those people who have noticed the situation (or are willing to notice it) to break out the life jackets, assemble near the lifeboats, take care of people who need help, and otherwise deal with the approaching wreck in a way that will salvage as much as possible.

Although there is growing awareness of the problem, there is also widespread ignorance and denial, even by people who should know better. Mankind has, it seems, an infinite capacity for denial. The evidence is overwhelming that we are in the "overshoot" phase of the industrial life cycle, yet most people and most organizations refuse even to discuss this matter, let alone acknowledge it.

The world after the industrial age will be very different from the world of today. For most people on Earth (if mankind escapes extinction), it will be similar to the world of the past millions of years - a primitive, natural environment (although perhaps less bountiful and beautiful than before).
Although most people will not survive the collapse of the industrial age, it will belong, in concept and structure, to those who prepare for the great change that is about to happen.

The arrays of skills necessary for people to 'thrive' and not just 'survive' in a non-oil economy are many. Most people do not have the essential skills to reproduce (or even repair) the technology on which we depend today.

We seem to be in a state of delusional thinking and the only thing we're debating is how we're going to keep the cars running without oil.

What I have said above is not, as some one said after my talk last year, to get you all to wear brown underwear. It is to try to show you that, even at this late stage, if we all do not think seriously, realistically and logically about the consequences of our inaction then what I have suggested may well become fact. We will be faced with the necessity to downscale, rescale and reorganize all the fundamental activities of our daily lives; the way we grow food, the way we conduct commerce, the way we manufacture things and school our children. We must learn to do this tomorrow....at the crack of dawn. We should seriously think of breaking out the "Life Jackets" and "manning the lifeboats" which is as I said last year at least one step before "deploying" the lifeboats.

References and sources quoted:
1. Greer. J.M., How Civilisations Fall: A Theory of Catabolic Collapse.
2. Godesky, Jason., It Will Be Impossible to Rebuild Civilisation.
3. Godesky, Jason., Collapse is Inevitable.
4. Greer, J.M., Facing the New Dark Age: A Grassroots Approach.
5. Godesky, Jason,. Post Collapse Metals.
6. Jan Steinman and Diana Leafe Christian, Community Survival During the Coming Energy Decline.

If you have any comments on this, my e-mail address is: Norman@noidea.me.uk

Thursday, July 13, 2006

What is valuable to YOU?

I gleaned this from another blog...

but will do the exercise myself to see what goes on my lawn...

I have a book called Material World by Peter Menzel in which average families from around the world put everything they own on their lawn and you get to see what they own and how they live. While I purchased the book as a way to demonstrate to my kids 'just how good they have it' there are also some lessons for us survivalists.

I went through the poorest nations where per capita income was usually far less than $1,000 USD per year (and in the case of Mali, Africa, $251 per year). What I noticed was a pattern in both the kinds of belongings these families had as well as what was considered their 'most valuable possession.' I will now share with you these observations.
The possessions even the poorest could not do without were containers and blankets.

Moving up the income level came rugs, farm tools, spare shoes, mosquito nets and livestock.
When asked what their most valuable possessions were, answers were:
radios, bicycle/moped, treadle sewing machine, jewelry, holy book(s) relevant to their religion, an anatomy book, family heirlooms/photographs, and insecticide sprayers.

When can be gleaned from this information? These are real live survivalists trying to live in some of the most difficult situations imaginable. Most of their basic possessions revolve around food and warmth. Luxuries were a method of transportation, spiritual inspiration, information and entertainment (radio), portable wealth and a way of dealing with insects.

I already own a small insecticide sprayer (never used) which I was going to use as a backup shower (a luxury I find difficult to be without), but now am considering a second one for actual insecticides. I will also need to find out which flowers can be brewed for use as home grown pest killers (I'm not into toxic chemicals). How frustrating (dangerous?) to get your heirloom seeds into the ground and have them eaten by bugs before harvest. I'm also reconsidering a mountain bike. I have plenty of spare shoes in multiple sizes for my kids but I need to look at containers and farm tools again.

One last observation was that I don't recall seeing one weapon in the poorer countries. Not even an old WWI rifle. Even a Kalashnikov can be had for the price of a quart of milk in many parts of the world. While some might argue that that means that they didn't find it necessary, I would counter that their lack of weaponry was perhaps the cause of their poverty. Case in point, Switzerland with one of the highest per capita incomes in the world mandates an automatic rifle and ammo in every home in their country to protect against invasion.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Long Term Issues

The Fading of the Oil Economy

Transition of the industrialised countries of the temperate zone into a post-fossil-fuel world

"The first half of the oil age now closes...It lasted 150 years and saw the rapid expansion of industry, transport, trade, agriculture and financial capital, allowing the population to expand six-fold. The second half now dawns, and will be marked by the decline of oil and all that depends on it, including financial capital."
- Colin Campbell, co-founder of the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre
The Human Animal has burnt most of the black sunlight from long ago
For the last 2,000,000 years or so we were literally wild animals, gathering and hunting food, living in rock or vegetation shelters. Daily life was our work. The sun and fire were our only energy sources.

150 or so years ago, we transitioned into the petrol and diesel age.

Using internal combustion engines, we in the industrialised countries have unleashed huge 'horsepower' to create our oil based economy. Today, we burn over 700 000 barrels of oil every 10 minutes. We burn about four times more oil than is being discovered to replace it. We haven't run out because of the truly enormous reserves in the Middle East. Within 5 to 10 years from now, we will have used over half those reserves. Oil will become permanently expensive as supply diminishes and demand continues to grow.

Eventually it will become prohibitively expensive for all but the most essential purposes.

The actual timeframe of just when this inevitability will cut in is fuzzy, as the data is not very good. Estimates may be out by a few years in either direction, but these errors are trivially small. The huge facts are true. We have used up close to half the existing oil reserves, demand is huge and will exceed supply very soon, and only relatively small oil deposits are left to find. The only option then left is to look for energy sources and human practises that are sustainable - that can continue over time without depending on a resource that will be used up. The options are limited and cannot re-create our existing lifestyle.

Tropical countries are less affected
Tropical countries are generally far less developed, and are much closer to a peasant land-based economy. When oil-based industries become uneconomic, it is much easier for significant numbers of people to return to village life. Tropical countries do not have to consume huge numbers of calories in burning fuels to stay warm in sub zero temperatures. No expensive insulation is needed for housing. Tropical countries can take two crops - or more - a year from the land, where temperate countries can only take one. Intensive agriculture using human labour and thousands of years of knowledge has made village scale tropical rice agriculture the most truly efficient and sustainable agriculture on earth. So long as land is protected from erosion, and nutrients are returned from the cities and re-cycled, it is a self-sustaining system.

Some tropical countries are overpopulated due to a high birthrate. This is a seperate issue, as no amount of cheap oil can solve the issues that arise from of overpopulation.

Industrialised temperate zone countries are most affected
The increases in population of the industrialised countries of the temperate and warm temperate zones have been underpinned by cheap food from cheap energy. Cheap energy has enabled vast crops of grain from the plains of USA, Canada, and Australia. Unlike many tropical countries, small scale, labour intensive production is simply not an option. The entire industrial-manufacturing base and all its support services is predicated on cheap oil. Heating, electricity, car ownership, travel, holidays, comfortable housing - almost all our experiences of daily living that we take for granted - are due to cheap oil.

We are unprepared for the shock of adjustment to 'doing without'. The dissonance between what we thought was normal and would go on forever, and a different, upsetting, reality will be much greater if we don't think about it now. The idea that we are going to experience dramatic and painful changes to our familiar and comfortable conditions of life seems utterly absurd, an alarmist fantasy. The data is hard to refute. Examining the data, a reasonable person cannot but conclude "I certainly don't like it, but it looks like we're stuck with it". The next thing to do is to try to deal with it as effectively as we can.

And that is why this site exists.

Short outline of the unfolding situation
Oil prices have risen recently, and some people have complained bitterly about oil company 'price gouging'. The prices seem to have been pushed up by futures traders. Traders only push a price upward if they reasonably expect prices to continue to rise. Why should they believe that?

Probably because they have followed the analysis of the depletion of finite oil reserves in an industrial world whose demand for increased output has gone up year on year.

Easiest to find and most profitable giant fields and large fields have all been found, pump pressure is falling as they deplete
The essence of the analysis is based on the prediction made many years ago by a geophysicist from Shell oil that the amount of oil that was physically able to be pumped out of the US oilfields would rise as new wells came on stream, but as the oldest fields were the biggest (oil geologists go for the largest basins first as this brings most profit quickest), and as all major oil reservoirs had been found, then when the large fields passed the mid point of production (the peak of production) total production must decline in spite of new mid sized and smaller fields being drilled.

Compounding it, as older reservoirs go past the 'half-drained' point, they start to lose pressure in the reservoir and yeild progressively less - no matter how large a quantity is still in the reserve waiting to be sucked out. There is no longer enough pressure. The rate of production of the remaining half then tails off. Once substantially drained, the residual oil in the field may even be too expensive to extract. He described this bell-shaped production curve in 1956, and calculated the US national oil resource would peak sometime between 1965 and 1972.

As Hubberts theory predicted, US oil production peaked in 1970. And as predicted, in spite of best efforts, the US oil fields have produced progressively less since that time, so that they can now yeild only half the amount produced in 1970, at the top of the bell curve for US oil production. This curve could be extended out a little if there were major new oil deposits found in USA. The US is one of the most oil-explored countries on earth. There are no significant or economically extractable significant reserves in USA. A reasonable sized field exists in an Arctic national park, and this will almost certainly eventually be produced. But it only adds half a million barrels a day to the US (declining) production of 5 million barrels a day.

The fields with the vast reservoirs and high pressure to pump huge volumes are losing pressure. New fields are too small to pump at high volume for long.
The situation in the USA is simply an illustration of a universal principle. The same early drilling of major and even 'giant' fields happened all over the world. Most of the large fields in Venezuela, Canada, North Sea, Russia, China and Indonesia have either reached their peak point, or are about to peak within the next few years. Some giant fields in Saudi Arabia and Iran have peaked, but others will not peak for many years yet. Even so, most of todays oil is 'old' oil.

Most world production is supplied by 'old' fields. 70% of oil put on the market every day of the week comes from fields that have been producing for 30 years or even longer. Around 20% of world supply comes from truly massive 'giant' fields mostly discovered in the 1950's (the Saudi Ghawar field alone provides 5% of world oil consumption). By definition, the remaining 80% of fields are not 'massive', although a few are large. These relatively smaller fields will reach their halfway point (peak of production) sooner than the giant fields. The more demand for oil, the sooner these medium and small fields will peak. This means that giant fields with giant pumping capacity are of crucial importance in meeting world demand.

There are no giant fields left to find. Oil companies have spent billions recently, and with superior technology, trying to find them. They appear now to be unwilling to throw good money after bad, and the number of exploration rigs has fallen dramatically. While more fields will come on stream, some quite big, the best seismic technology has found what would be expected in a well prospected world - relatively small fields.

World oil consumption has increased to levels which in theory will empty all reserves within 40 years
The world consumed 25 billion barrels of oil in the year 2000. By 2004 the figure had risen to about 30 billion barrels consumed. At this rate of consumption, all existing global oil reserves will be gone in less than 40 years.

Oil is added to reserves as new medium and small fields are found, but the rate of draw off of existing fields is such that for every barrel of oil added to the reserve pool, 3 barrels are withdrawn from the pool.

The real crisis is a pumping crisis
Obviously, freeflowing oil in abundance will cease long before the pool is emptied down to equal the tiny refill rate. The primary determinant of a happy world market is a situation where the world demand is met by the pumping capacity. Demand is far less than the amount under the ground that is in theory available to be pumped. But as demand increases, so pumping capacity must increase. But it physically can't. Some mega fields are only still pumping at historic pumping levels because they are being pressurised with millions of gallons of salt water every day. There are physical limits to this process. Oil can only be drawn from reservoirs at a rate that the unique physical characteristic of each reservoir allows. Initial pumping is of pooled 'easy' oil. Trying to accelerate pumping can leave oil 'stranded' in the formation as it doesn't have time to trickle into reservoirs from sponge-like rock, resulting in the well ultimately producing much less than it would otherwise if it were pumped at a safe rate.

The pumping capacity limitation is the real crisis. Virtually all global oilfields are pumping at safe full capacity right now. But taken as a whole, the oil fields of the world are able to pump 3%-5% less volume every year. Every percentage increase in world demand can only come out of unused existing pumping capacity.

Fortunately, in 2004, world demand was 100 million barrels less than current pumping capacity. No problem.

Growth in world oil demand will almost certainly be greater than the100 million barrel buffer that existed in 2004. Worse, the maturing fields lose ability to pump relative to their peak production. They lose from 2% to 3% of their pumping ability ever year after peak. Indications are that most non - OPEC fields large fields have either peaked, or will peak soon.

World demand will therefore exceed ability to supply. The oil will be there, in the ground, but 'unproducible' at the rate the world wants. Big problem.

When will demand exceed supply?
Big question. It depends on the accuracy of figures on pumping rates. It depends on the accuracy of figures on expected reserves for fields due to come on stream over the next few years.It depends on the accuracy of claims about the pumping capacity of the mega fields. It depends on whether world demand continues to rise, or goes flat - in other worlds, if there is a global 'economic slowdown'. Usually, when uncertainties are co-influential, the confidence in the prediction becomes weaker than might be thought. We can be almost certain it will occur within 20 years. If all information to hand is fairly true, and if consumption continues at the present rate, there are sound arguments to estimate it a supply/demand mismatch somewhere around the end of 2005, or early in 2006.

Put it this way - at the end of 2004, oil demand (which equals consumption) was 83 million barrels per day. On present demand projections, 86 million barrels a day may be required by the end of 2005. The maximum physically possible global oil pumping rate is said to be in the region of 89 million barrels a day. 3 million barrels a day of that rate is an unused pumping capacity claimed by Saudi Arabia. They have not demonstrated that this 'spare pumping capacity' really exists. If it doesn't, supply and demand about match by the end of 2005.

This is only the beginning of the story, not the end. How governments do - or don't - respond to a situation that will cause both immediate and imperative societal failures will starkly mark out their respective abilities to analyse, strategise, prioritise and lead.

Later, absolute supply will be the crisis
As oil can't be produced as fast as the world wants it, there will be a shortfall. The laws of supply and demand say this will increase the price. Recession inevitably follows. Demand drops. Price per barrel falls again. Demand increases. Slowly falling pumping capacity at some point once more means demand - even lower demand - can no longer be met. Prices rise again. And so the cycle continues. But at each point, there is less and less oil to in the reservoirs. While prices of oil rise dramatically and then fall, they will not fall right back. Every price fall is to a higher plateau than previously. Eventually, oil will be available to anyone who wants it. But relatively few will be able to afford it. Oil will never run out. But the ability of most people in the world to pay its ever-increasing scarcity value will certainly run out.

There are still people who say that if oil prices rose too much (whatever that may mean) oil would price itself out of the market; but it is perfectly obvious that there is no ready substitute for oil to take its place on a quantitatively significant scale, so that oil, in fact, cannot price itself out of the market.
-E.W.Schumacher, author of 'Small is Beautiful', 1973.

No other source of energy can substitute for cheap, energy-dense oil
We reflexively think "some other" power source can be used. Maybe electricity from nuclear power, hydro electricity, or coal or gas fired power stations can be used to split water into hydrogen gas, which can then be used to power our cars the same way compressed natural gaas is right now. Sadly, much of the Wests' electricity creation is itself dependant on burning diminishing supplies of suitable coal and gas. It will have it's own supply crisis in years to come. There is absolutely no 'spare capacity' left over to make huge amounts of hydrogen gas to run vehicles.