The End of the Oil Age

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The end of an era? [Jay Hanson / Die-Off]

We know that oil is in high demand and short supply these days, especially since Hurricane Katrina wiped out refineries along the Gulf Coast. Even President Bush, long the oil industry’s biggest champion, called, twice now, for Americans to drive less and conserve fuel.

But if you take a step back, and look beyond the weekly, monthly, or even yearly fluctuations of oil price and availability, a bigger picture starts to emerge. At its most extreme, it’s a picture of ever dwindling supply, of a countdown to what some are calling the end of oil. The time when we’ve gotten as much oil out of the earth as we’re ever going to get.

If these doom-sayers are right, it’s a truly terrifying prospect. Everything in modern life is made from, by or with oil. The clothes we wear: manufactured in oil-powered factories, shipped from Mexico or South Asia by oil-powered freight. The food we eat: grown with oil-based fertilizers, pesticides and other petrochemicals, sowed by oil-powered tractors and machinery. Even our cities, which form the basis of where and how we live, are laid out according to the logic of cars, on the presumption that you can drive from place to place to place.

Tonight’s audio comes from the 1956 American Petroleum Institute-sponsored Destination Earth, in which a Martian explorer returns to tell of the wonders of oil and capitalism on Earth [Prelinger Archives on the Internet Archive]

If oil goes (they say), so goes with it a special, hundred-year period in human history: the age of oil. The age of cars and of highways, of electric lights and manufactured goods and consumer society. Of agribusiness. Of recorded music. In short, everything we identify as modern life. And it could well be accompanied by massive social, political, and economic upheaval, as the world scrambles for the last of the oil, struggles to figure out alternatives, and undergoes massive reorganization.

Are you scared yet? Or do you think these folks are crying wolf? Are we really at the end of the oil age? What would that even look like? And can anything (more drilling, alternative energy sources, something, anything) possibly save us?

James Howard Kunstler

Author, The Long Emergency

Blogger, Clusterf*ck Nation

A condensed version of Kunstler’s book was published in Rolling Stone Magazine.

[In studio in Albany, NY]

Michael Lynch

President, Strategic Energy & Economic Research Inc.

[On the phone in Amherst, MA]

Related Content

  • More generally the end of extraction.

  • Bren

    I saw a quote on this topic recently. I believe it is apropos;

    “The stone age didn’t end for lack of stones.”

    The technology exists to end our dependence on oil. Whether we choose to exercise said technology is another issue. Anyone ever heard of Biodiesel? Fuel Cell? Hydrogen?

    The idea that the end of the “Oil age” will equal the end of modern society seems rather naive. I suppose with theocrats in power it IS possible that we will see another dark age, with a similar regression in technological ability. It seems unlikely.

  • mulp

    “The stone age didn’t end for lack of stones.� is a statement that suggests that we will move to some form of energy besides oil because there is a cheaper alternative. However, if there is a cheaper alternative, then we should be switching now.

    The stone age was a period defined by using stone tools, tools made by shaping the stone to the appropriate shape for the job. Metals replaced stone because a metal tool can be more readily shaped than a stone tool, and being more readily shaped it is cheaper.

    A better comparison for the oil that matters the most is that between horses and oil. The horse and buggy age didn’t end because we ran out of horses, but because oil offered competitive advantages; in the short term oil was cheaper. Before that, coal was more competitive than wood which had to be processed into charcoal for industrial use, because it was cheaper in the short term.

    We are now approaching the long term cost of coal and oil: environmental damage and a price that causes demand to grow exponentially. As environmental damage is related to satisfied demand, both damage and demand are growing exponentially and exponential growth eventually produces an increase so great that it is beyond man’s ability to cope.

    The demand is not tied to population because so many lag far behind the developed world mean which lags far behind US demand.

    The price of oil is just far too low to keep demand within reason.

    In considering the work of Hoteling and Solow, and the free market approach, I suggest that the price of oil and oil products be raised whenever demand increases to achieve a constant demand, and be raised slightly more to achieve a decrease in demand of 1% or 2% per year. A 2% annual decline in demand would halve US oil consumption by 2040.

    The simplest way to raise the price is with a tax which goes into a fund which is redistributed to all citizens at a flat rate. This makes sense to me as fossil energy is a legacy created by Gaia long before man emerged; who else should profit from consuming forever this legacy than all men.

    If the best we can manage to replace oil and coal are horses and wood, we will find the cost of energy to be far higher than it is today, especially in terms of the manual labor involved. Of course, that might not be a bad thing for the health of the people of America.

  • ulwan


    You may find Mr. Kunstler’s book an interesting read. He addresses the idea that “The technology exists to end our dependence on oil.” His conclusion seems to be that none of the existing alternatives you mentioned will come anywhere close to meeting our current needs. Fuels like biodiesel are made from agricultural products that depend on cheap oil to till, plant, harvest, and ship the grain, not to mention the huge amounts of natural gas used to produce the required fertilizers.

    Hydrogen is also problematic for, among other reasons, the challenges of distribution.

    The reality is that fossil fuels (and oil especially) contain a truly astounding amount of energy per volume. None of the current alternatives come even close.

    Kunstler argues that one of the reasons our society is “sleepwalking” into this crisis is that people continue to believe that technology will bail us out. In in reality, that point is far from certain.

    Of course wind, solar, hydroelectric, atomic, etc., will all play a role, but they can only deliver a fraction what we use now and many of these technologies require a great deal of oil to manufacture.

    It may happen that we perfect nuclear fusion and can provide virtually unlimited electrical energy to whole planet, but if that doesn’t happen, we are facing a colossal change in the not too distant future.

    I don’t think anybody really believes a future without oil will look like the stone-age, but keep in mind that modern industrialized farming has allowed the world’s population to balloon alarmingly over the past 150 years. The result of the “age of oil” is that we have been able to artificially raise the caring capacity of the planet to 6 billion people. Some estimates are that without cheap oil we will only be able to feed 2 billion.

    So while the future may not be anything like the stone age, if 4 billion people end up starving to death, the stone-age might end up looking like a good time.

    The point is that the stakes in all this are extremely high and believing blindly that some miraculous technological fix is just over the horizon, might putting all our eggs in one basket. While I do remain hopeful, I’m not ready to plunk all my eggs in the technology basket. To reassure people that technology will save us, may encourage the kind of passivity in the public that has led us to this brink.

  • ed

    On Wednesday 12, Coast to Coast AM will discuss “Peak Oil,” this time with an objective that has reversed from the show’s earlier consideration of the issue. Host George Noory gave James Howard Kunstler three hours (in May 2005) to present his pessimistic summation. But now CtCAM has Alex Jones, an independent and interesting conspiratorialist, claiming that Peak Oil is an organized corporatist strategem for boosting oil prices.

    In my experience with CtCAM, apocalyptic motifs don’t detract from useful information. Kunstler’s Peak Oil made for good late-night radio, on a program dubbed “The National Campfire.” It’s very curious, however, that Peak Oil, has shifted from the apocalypse of its deficit, to an apocalypse about government and corporation.

    Ed Lawrence

  • sk

    There’s plenty to talk about re oil, but the end of the supply is not even interesting. I think it’s approximately true that in the history of oil, the proven reserves have been constant – about 20-25 years at the then-current consumption rates. True then. True now. But the proven reserves keep rising, not falling. And there’s every reason to imagine that will continue. Saudi Arabia just announced a doubling of theirs. And we’ve not even touched the ‘deep oil’ hypothesis – the radical Russian hypothesis that oil is not a fossil fuel at all, but has abiotic origins at the earth’s core. If true (and the deep Russian oil fields suggest it might be), then the supply of oil is far greater than ever imagined.

    Moreover, even if not a drop more oil is discovered, there are about 100 years of shale oil in the United States alone, and although the cost of production is quite high, and the environmental protection complicated, the supply exists, and there is nothing to fear.

    Then, of course, there’s coal – which can be liquefied for transportation needs, and there again, the United States alone has about a 100 year supply.

    The end of oil is nowhere near, but the re-discovery of nuclear power is. It’s the only true “green” alternative. It’s the only source that has enough “gas” in it to power us, China, and everyone else. And connect nuclear to electric distribution to home generation of hydrogen (electricity plus water equals hydrogen, no pollution, no waste) to hydrogen cars – in one stroke we’ve got all the big problems licked: greenhouse gases, none. pollution, localized and contained. military protection of Arabia, unnecessary. supply, large…

  • mjking

    Bruce Sterling responds to J. H. Kunstler’s Rolling Stone essay:

    Lest someone think that Sterling is slagging Kunstler, I would like to point out, first, that Sterling calls him “smart” and a “Cassandra”. He seems to agree with many of Kunstler’s underlying assertions.

    What I find worth taking away from Sterling’s reading of Kunstler’s piece is that this is also an opportunity. Life as we take it now may well crack wide open, but in that happening are chances for us to live more wisely.

    Sterling points out inventions such as the cotton gin and the combine harvester as inventions which extended human reach without needing massive energy input. We might use those as examples or inspiration (the cotton gin’s aid in making American slavery more profitable notwithstanding, or, instead, something to temper post-oil utopianism).

    At any rate, I would like to hear Mr. Kunstler speak to the opportunities for a more just way of living that we might find in the days ahead.

    I look forward to the show.


    M. J. King

    p.s. Or, to ask, as Mr. Sterling does, “Why not sing now?”

    p.p.s. If it qualifies these comments at all, I have read The Long Emergency.

  • Potter

    I’d like to clarify something that mulp said in response to Bren about the stone age not ending for lack of stones. We can argue about metal replacing stone because it was cheaper. I am not so sure. Metal tools replaced stones when the knowledge developed of how to extract metals from the earth. That also means the knowledge of how to extract metals from their ores and how to make alloys through the use of fire. Fire had to achieve the right temperatures for that. We left Eden, so to speak, at that point because we began to change our environment more profoundly. The uses of fire, combustion, have brought us to this day where we are in danger of suffocating ourselves, ending life on earth. So, we should hope that there is an end to oil because we cannot go on burning and so far we don’t seem to be moving very fast ( or fast enough) to turn things around.

    I would not mind scaling back civilization somewhat, not to the stone age, but seriously. This is a suggestion for another show.

  • ben

    sk: Peak oil has nothing to do with oil running out. It means that we can’t pump oil out of the ground at a fast enough rate. The world uses about 83 million barrels of oil every day, and every single year we will need to consume an additional 2-3 million barrels of oil every day. We can’t just pump that oil out at any given rate because pressures inside the oil well decrease and it gets harder and harder to pump out. By 2020 the US is relying on Saudi Arabia to be pumping out twice what it already is today…that’s not going to happen, and it has even been acknowledged by the ex head geologist of Saudi Aramco. Without an extra 2-3 million bbl/day of oil every single year, then our economies will not be able to grow. Worst still, the daily production will also start to decline, so some day (most people agree within the next 20 years) Saudi Arabia will actually be pumping out less than they are today.

    Those other sources of oil will help, but they will come nowhere close to the millions of barrels that we need every single day. We have find a way without oil.

  • Griflet

    These discussions usually suggest bio-fuels as part of a sustainable solution. In a 1996 paper, Marty Bender of the Land Institute ( reported that to produce enough fuel for tractors or horses to run a farm requires approximately one fourth of the land on the farm. More detailed information by Bender on the economics and ecology of producing bio-diesel for farm use is contained in other papers on this site.

    Three quarters of the remaining farmland clearly isn’t sufficient to produce fuel for everyone else to drive their cars if it takes one quarter of it just to run the farm. We also loose thousands of acres of our best farmland per year to development and thousands more to erosion and other degradation. The food needs of increasing populations of humans domestically and around the world also weighs heavily against the likelihood of major agricultural production for energy. Using waste oil for bio-diesel and agricultural byproducts for ethanol production can contribute a small percentage of our energy needs but agricultural production for energy won’t work in the long run.

    There are cogeneration plants that use tree limbs etc. from the urban landscape that are chipped and burned along with natural gas to produce a significant amount of electric power. They depend on charging a tipping fee similar to what one would have to pay at a landfill to break even. Small trees thinned from fuel reduction operations can be chipped and used in cogeneration plants provided they don’t need to be transported too far. Doing this without commercial timber harvest requires a lot of hand work; expensive, but much cheaper per acre than fighting fires. Offsetting the cost with cogeneration would help. Unfortunately, the tendency will be to cut and burn much more than is needed for forest health using facilities that are much too large to utilize only what is available locally over an extended time period, contributing to deforestation rather than preventing it. Transporting wood chips very far was shown to be uneconomical in as study done years ago in Oregon before oil prices went up.

    There has also been a lot of talk about improving automobile efficiency. Not a bad idea, but it won’t solve the problem in the long run. Over ten years ago the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute and Michigan AAA announced that the average cost of operating a car was $0.50 per mile, I couldn’t find a current figure on their site but you can bet its more now. If one drives a vehicle only 10,000 miles per year at this old rate, that’s $5,000 and most families have more than one car. Americans spend a huge percentage of their income on transportation unless they are wealthy; probably equal to or greater than their taxes in most cases. If a family could eliminate one of their cars they might not need that second or third job. If they invested the money it might pay for the kids college or their retirement. We have to stop building more and more infrastructure for more and more cars.

    When Dubya asks people to conserve energy he means all the little things people can do and should have been doing since the ‘70s. I don’t mean to discount these things but they just won’t solve the problem. We need to make a massive investment in public transportation. There need to be lots of busses within our urban areas so most people can get to work, school, and stores without using their cars. They are available in natural gas models so we don’t have the local air pollution from the diesel, bio-diesel from local waste sources could be used to keep some of the old ones buses going. Subways, light rail, etc. make sense in some cases where they are practical but not at the expense of buses as may be the case in Portland. We have already spent billions on the streets and highways, we may as well use them. We also need busses and rail between cities, especially for shorter and medium distances where air travel consumes more travel time and fuel than it’s worth. For example, a rail line between Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo Michigan was allowed to revert to local land owners. There is a lot of commuting between these two cities but flying is ridiculous. Busses would be practical, trains would have to reestablish a right-of-way. Potter is right in pointing out that we are way behind the curve on this.

  • jc

    You say the president wants us to use automobiles less to conserve oil based fuels? I understand the president rides a bicycle. Well, the president is the leader. I suggest the president replace his usual use of automobiles whenever and wherever he goes anywhere along the ground less than twenty miles round trip with the use of his bicycle instead. I further suggest the president require ALL his staff and retinue do the same. Then I suggest we follow the example he and they set proportionately.


  • A little yellow bird

    Peak oil is probably a ruse by those in a position to benefit financially by manipulation of the crude and fuel markets. Oil is not running out: it is continually produced deep below the earth’s crust, in what Professor Thomas Gold (deceased) coined “The Deep, Hot Biosphere” in his book of that title. Alexander Cockburn, a lefty by any measure, just discussed his support of Gold’s thesis in a column this past weekend. I practically beg people to read this absorbing and readable book which one doesn’t need to be an all-out techie/scientist to understand (but which will excite scientists and annoy partisans). I found it at a public library out here in North Attlebubba, MA, so it’s findable for free… Peace, da Bird

  • Potter

    It is about setting an example because otherwise we cannot convince the rest of the developing world not to follow in our footsteps.

    I live in the suburbs, or the exurbs, and drive a regular car. Today I went to the supermarket which used to be 4 miles away, now that market was eaten by a larger company and I have to go 8 miles each way and equal distances to get other supplies. When I pulled into the parking space on one side of me was a Chevrolet Expedition. On the other side a Ford Surburban. These are enormous “cars”. I can’t get used to it. It’s shocking!

  • I’d like to call in but calls to the 877 number provided are not allowed from my area code!!! Is there a non toll free number?

  • LeeJudt

    I like the proposal of restarting the rail commuter system.

    Mass transport could play a significant role in bringing down the price of energy.

  • How much oil gets used for surface transportation? 2/3 in the US??? How can we get around without oil? Does provide some answers that satisfy you, Mr. Kunstler? How about, a new center hosted at the Crisman (Petroleum) Institute at Texas A&M?

    Would someone please tell the Department of Energy that they have misappropriated $1.5B for the hydrogen “FreedomCAR” program?

    Would someone please tell (former CIA director) Woolsey at that there’s more to it than plug-in hybrids???

    Would someone please tell the President to follow Thomas Friedman’s lead and create an energy/transportation program with hope of succeeding?

    Would someone please teach the people about the basics of things like thermodynamics so that we don’t allow our governments and our car companies and our oil companies to keep making dumb choices?

    Make a pledge and say “bamMIT” to get the story from Chris Lydon about how we can (and must) engineer our way out of the oil era.

  • Chris Williams

    I’m frustrated by how much uncertainty there is about how long the rate of oil production will continue to increase. I grew up worrying about the end of fossil fuels, and the crisis never seems to arrive. Yet the peak must come; even the optimists seem to grudgingly agree, although Michael Lynch seems to feel it’s far enough away that we needn’t worry about it. Mr. Lynch, how far away do you think the global peak is, and how much of our current way of life will we be able to maintain after it arrives?

  • ben

    I think one of the problems is that Saudi Arabia is very protective of their oil field production numbers. The world depends so much on oil, how can any energy policy be made without having access to those production numbers?

  • dougmilbourne

    If there is so much oil left to be discovered then why are big oil companies like Chevron and BP admitting there is a problem?

    Chevron’s Peak Oil site:

  • jc

    From reading all of the above, it is obvious that the real problem is also the easiest to resolve. The problem, the REAL problem, whether you want to think so or not, is that there are WAY too many people using these resources everyone is so worried about. But that is really no problem at all. A fifty percent reduction can be achieved in only forty years by each woman waiting until she is forty years of age before bearing her first child. Since the average age of child bearing in this world is about twenty years of age, we have skiipped an entire generation by waiting another twenty years to have the next generation. We’d have one generation instead of two. Voila, a fifty percent reduction in the use of ALL resources and a fifty percent reduction in production of ALL pollutants. And it didn’t cost anyone anything, not a penny. Nobody had to buy anything. Nobody even had to DO anything. Regarding having a child, all anyone had to do for forty years is NOTHING. Everyone spends years of one’s life while not having children yet satisfying the appetite for sex, so everyone knows how to do that.

    Even better, since everyone wanting a child has satisfied that want upon the birth of their first child, by not having any more children, the size of that generation mentioned above will be only half of the generation before (given that not more than half the people are being replaced.) Hence, when attrition deletes the prior generations, the population will be reduced by seventy five percent. All the required people needed to provide for each other will still be there since proportions have not changed…. there are fewer needing anything. The only thing that has changed per capita is a HUGE increase in all physical resources. All for free without the need for anyone doing anything except being sensible regarding the premise/problem.

    Wanting more than one child is no problem as long as a similar number of women have no children.

    By the way, this is one circumstance where women have complete control and the opportunity to be the greatest of all heroines and heroes – very likely the savior of world from this species’ idiocy.

    Anyone care to deny this?


  • James Howard,

    Big houses can be heated with very little or no external energy if they are built and retrofitted correctly. We can keep driving 50 miles/person/day in the suburbs and exurbs as long as we use electric power to do it.

    People like more private space for good reasons. (But we don’t have to encourage further growth of lower density areas either.)


    PS Phoenix’s growth may be limited by water but it is certainly not going to dry up and blow away. Solar power is great way to drive A/C in the desert…

  • malcolm

    Interesting discussion on Open Source. Regardless of who is correct, or partially correct (and I favor Mr. Kunstler; Lynche is apparently in some serious denial), the fact is, we’re wasting a lot of time waiting to see how long oil will last.

    Clearly, oil and other fossil fuels are problematic, even if they are not going to run out anytime soon. Think global warming.

    While we wait for wonderful new technologies to be perfected, there are many things we can do to conserve what fossil fuels we have left. One very easy, but apparently very unpopular, technique is called a solar clothes dryer. Ha ha; it’s also called a clothes line. According to the DOE, clothes drying is the third biggest energy use in residential applications. In fact, during the California oil “crisis” a few years ago, i read that, if everyone in that state were to start using a clothesline instead of an electric dryer, something like 19 power plants could be shut down.

    Other fairly easy methods of conserving fossil fuels are 1) proper house design; in most temperate latitudes, this involves building with a longish east west axis, leaving trees on east and west sides for shade in summer and sun in winter, and placing most/all our windows on the south side. I won’t go into why in this forum, but I have been designing passive solar houses for twenty plus years, and it works.

    My son recently had a home built in Flori-duh. I was amazed to learn that Flori-duh, and also Texas (Hmm; George and his Bro come to mind here) have no requirement for even thermopane windows, and virtually no insulation requirements, either. My son’s contractor says “well, we doesn’t need no insulation here; we don’t hardly ever turn on our heaters” Duh-insulation keeps heat out of the house in hot weather just as well as it keeps heat in the house in the winter.

    I have built solar water heaters for my houses for 29 yers now; I can build one for under two hundred bucks. Water heating is typically the second biggest power draw in this country. My systems work exceptionally well for six to eight months per year. I drain them during the winter, as they could possibly freeze here, plus winters here in Orygun don’t provide much in the way of sunshine anyway. But for those folks who live in more southern/subtropical parts of the country–southern Calif, southern Texas, Lousisiana, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Flori-duh, and Hawaii, there is no reason why everyone should not have solar hot water year round. The payback period, for anyone concerned about that, is less than one year generally speaking, and certainly less than two years in most these areas.

    One other issue; it seems patently ridiculous to burn fossil fuels any longer than absolutely necessary. As pointed out on Open Source today, many many products we depend on, e.g. chemical fertilizers, plastics, etc. come from oil or gas. We should be saving these resources for things we badly need in the future, rather than letting them go up our tailpipes in smoke.

    jc’s idea of reducing population growth is interesting. I’m a population stabilization enthusiast, and could probably be convinced to that a smaller population is the way to go. Certainly he/she is correct that a lower population is better for our environment and for conservation of resources.

    Yet, some European countries, whose population is shrinking, are allegedly getting antsy about it, and actually requesting people to have MORE kids!

    I’d be very interested in hearing comments on how countries/economies can best deal with shrinking populations. I see lots of challenges there, and at least one bonus: housing prices should become much, much more affordable.

    ONE LAST ISSUE: most the discussion on Open Source today dealt with the automobile. It should, as it’s certainly a huge player in the fossil fuel problem.

    One possible solution to the majority of problems caused by our current, car centered, transportation scheme is called “personal rapid transit”. I recommend googling those three words, in quotations, and plan on some very exciting reading. I won’t go into it here, but I believe one or more of these fascintating ideas may be our transportation salvation.

    Don’t confuse this with “mass transportation”, as it’s very different. Very superior even to light rail, and I am a train lover.

    I hope you folks will go read about it!

    Malcolm, Grants Pass, Oregon

    PS, i actually managed to ring through to the program today, for once, only to be kept on hold for almost twenty minutes, before being told there was not enough time for me to speak with Chris,Kuntsler and Lynch. BUMMER!

  • jc

    Malcolm – I said to myself, “No, it couldn’t be!” And I was right… it wasn’t (I must cherish whenever I find I am right.) I’m referring to a friend of mine down the road named Malcolm who has spent his career designing “earth sheltered buildings,” and, if he were outgoing, would probably express opinions not too far from yours. But he refuses to have anything to do with computers in spite of his website (imposed on him by a friend who knows html,) which is why I got a shock seeing his (and your) name attached to familiar ideas being conveyed via computer.

    This blog is where Open Source has a leg up from other call-in radio shows – it allows us to vent our spleens when we don’t get on and even get a response albeit, perhaps, from a smaller audience.

    Politicians get all up tight when reducing populations is mentioned. But who wants to be a VIP in a little country with few of the adoring hoards when one can be affiliated with a prestigious, large, powerful country with all its flamboyance when one has a deficient ego which, though considered extremely necessary by such people, needs constant inflating. These silly people insist on believing in things that must expand in order to exist, which is obviously inane in a finite system. One merely needs to realize that, with an organism such as a society that has been, on average, expading ever since its beginning (ie has always been smaller for however many millions of years,) it has obviously been doing just fine to arrive here and now. But exploiters love a large population, also called a large work force, so increased competition among them can be fostered, keeping them always on edge, off balance, appreciative of any little favor and more easily kept under one’s thumb.

    I believe your comment regarding the fact that housing prices might drop to more reasonable levels in the fanciful scenario I portrayed could possibly be somewhat conservative. I would almost be willing to bet dollars to dogfish that if the population were to become 25% what it is now in only 40+ years, you could take your pick of several houses without anyone much caring.

    A 75% reduction in population may sound excessive and extreme, but consider that that only goes back to about my great grandfather’s time and the world was hardly underpopulated then. It was the largest it had been for something like three million years? Actually a 90% reduction would be far more appropriate to get in a more proper balance with resources.

    I put a couple of long-winded “wishful thinking” comments regarding trains, in a very general way, in a blurb in the “Rebuilding the Mississippi Coast” blog of Open Source.

    The “personal rapid transit” sites look interesting and fun. I see some of my favorites mentioned there. I have been trying to convince the powers that be regarding regional planning for several decades of the benefits of community owned shared two passenger electric or “true” hydrid pickups for local use (as well as community owned bicycles) combined with hovercraft for town-to-town commuting in this hooked, 60 mile strung-out peninsula of Cape Cod. I tried, and failed, to interest city fathers in Cambridge, MA in community bicycles back in the late ’60s and Seattle in a monorail/gondola system which would serve well the hills and lakes of Seattle. But they wrecked Seattle with freeways and diesel busses replacing those amazingly good electric busses that were there. For the world’s fair in ’64, I proposed a model train set-up of the entire city (like every house and building) running in real time so people could see just exactly how long it would take which trains to get them wherever they wanted to go. The model was to be in lieu of that stupid one mile long monorail from downtown to the fair grounds which cost a mint but, as soon as the fair was over, went nowhere. I got nowhere with that either. So it is interesting to see how interested they are in such ideas at the U.of W. now.


  • hilary

    Chris I listened to the first big chunk and really enjoyed the discussion. You felt that Kunstler was being too severe or apocalyptic.

    The reason that the “peak” leads to rather sudden large scale results requires an understanding of what peak means—When increasing demand exceeds supply!. Once that point is reached there will be imediate shortages and disruptions.

    It has been pointed out that each new oil field/discovery brought into production reaches its individual peak production more rapidly than the last and serves a shorter useful life in years. Why? Because the demand is far greater than ever before and growing larger daily as China and India start to gulp vast quantities of oil (ie it represents a smaller wedge of a bigger pie).

    If we were intelligent beings we would be making mostly Prius type economy hybrid cars instead of bigger gas guzzling SUVs so as to extend the time left and slow down the negative effects of the coming crisis. We are like lemmings rushing into the sea or a drunk heading toward a wall who steps on the gas instead of the brake. We would be accelerating the development of non fossil fuel such as wind and solar.

    Spread the word.

  • Potter

    This was a good discussion and the blog entries, some very thoughtful posts, really added a lot.

    It would be great to devote a show to ideas about how we can even slowly change our lives.

  • Steven

    So when the show’s over, is the conversation over? I couldn’t add my two bits during the show because I was consuming natural gas and electricity and water. (Cooking dinner and washing dishes.)

    What bugs me about the Lynchs of the world and the paternally reassuring “it’s all in the numbers” kind of response to the Kunstlers of the world: which numbers? I’d like to see an economic model that takes anything but “economic growth” measured by big-business profit into account. What about poor people? They’re the ones that get steamrollered by catastrophic shifts in prices. If “we” are going to be alright, who is this “we?”

    I had a melanoma several years back (I’m fine now) and the reassuring number I was offered was this: 95% of those with your kind of melanoma survive it. Very reassuring, to be told you have a 1 in 20 chance of going down the road of metastasis, chemo, radiation, and death. I pulled through just fine; not even chemo, so I was one of the 19. But what of number 20? The Lynchs of the world always seem to be able to turn a blind eye to number 20. Or number 100. Or number 1000. The Lynchs of the world are the ones who said of nuclear fallout in the tests out west: no problem! What they meant was the probability of radiation damage was low, maybe 1 in 10,000. The trouble with numbers like that is that we all want to believe we’re among the 9,999. If 100,000 were exposed to the fallout, the math is simple: it’s a death warrant for 10 people.

    So it’s all well and good for Lynch to question Kunstler’s version of apocalypse. I have my doubts about apocalypse as well. (Apocalypses sell books.) But to insist that we’ll all be alright is ridiculous. We won’t. It’s just a matter of what we define as “we.” The 9th ward isn’t alright. And the working poor won’t be alright this winter. Lucky for Mr. Lynch that he’s one of the 19. Or the 9,999. Life is good in Amherst.

    And now that I’m finally taking the time to post something: Enough about population!! For god’s sake, the US has over 700 vehicles per thousand in population. India has 4. That’s right: 4 vehicles per thousand in population, compared to 700. Let’s quit going on about human population, and start addressing the problem, which is absurdly excessive per-capita consumption by the US of A.

  • oystercatcher

    I just finished kuntsler book and one other that I recommend called the end of oil.

    by paul roberts. I agree that kuntsler has a prejudice against the suburbs but that doesnt change the basic arguments of the book that oil supply declines will have consequences which he has tried to speculate about in his book.

    If you havent been thinking about our dependence on oil you really arent paying attention so there isnt much point in trying to help. But if you are concerned there are some personal options available. The survival nuts are probably saying I told you so but they are a poor model for the future. It is easy to find examples of what things may be like by looking at impoverished islands with no resources but what we really need is a model of cooperation and resource conservation. Perhaps the amish have some lessons to teach us.

  • This is the kind of debate that makes one’s head spin. The problem is that there are smart people on both sides of this issue.

    Last August, journalist Peter Maass wrote in the Times Magazine that essentially, the Saudis are the ballgame when it comes to oil. Saudi Arabia has by far the biggest known reserves in the world with about 25% of known oil. He says that the Saudis themselves think they can move from their current production of 10 million barrels a day up to about 12.5 million barrels/day. The US has them slotted up to 20 million barrels. Privately, the Saudis say “Uh-uh.” Moreover, Maass writes that we’ll run into supply problems, well before we start to run out of oil, because the geology of oil wells means you can only pump out so much, so fast. Moreover, he says that those Saudi production estimates to which Michael Lynch referred during the show may be overly optimistic because Saudi officials don’t want to see alternative energy sources developed, which would kill the goose that laid the golden egg.

    On the other hand, Daniel Yergin, author of the Pulitzer Prize winning history of oil, The Prize, says that his firm’s analysis indicates an additional 60 million barrels of oil/day coming online in the future. He says that the tar sands in Canada will be a major source of petroleum, as will the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Russia, West Africa (offshore), Brazil (offshore) and Libya. It will be more costly and difficult to get the oil out, but the issue isn’t a lack of oil under the ground. He notes that, in the 1920s, the US geological service estimated that the supply of oil would run out in just over nine years, and that this current discussion of peak oil is about the fifth time in the last century that we’ve worried the gas would run out. He says that additional capacity along with greater efficiency in the use of oil will preclude the sort of “long emergency” James Kunstler predicts.

    So… who to believe?

    After listening to Kunstler and Lynch, I found myself unpersuaded by either side. Chris was right on in sussing out Kunstler’s agenda: he hates the ‘burbs. Kunstler’s argument was based on external events he thinks indicate that oil is running out: price spikes, wars in the Middle East, etc… I think Yergin would say that Kunstler is responding to the geopolitics of oil, rather than the geology.

    I got no comfort from Lynch, though. Chris summed up the most common sense argument for peak oil: they’re not making any more of it, and we’ve got over 2 billion people in India and China singing “zoom, zoom, zoom.” Lynch’s response, “China has been coming online for 20 years now and production keeps going up,” was absurd. We haven’t scratched the surface with India and China. It seems ridiculous to think that there won’t be enormous repercussions. Lynch’s perspective basically adds up to “Well, things have always worked out before…”

    This debate reminds me of the show Chris did on the housing market. Some people think it’s a bubble. Some don’t. What I wrote then about housing applies, I think, to oil: it doesn’t have to be a bubble (or a peak), before it’s really bad news. Yergin’s analysis seems fairly solid. We probably will get oil from the tar sands and develop hybrids, yadda, yadda. But it’s going to cost more and more to get that oil out of the ground. And anybody checked out the cost of a Prius lately? Increased demand for a limited natural resource will have a huge impact on geopolitics and, more practically, how we live on a day-to-day basis.

    Personally, if it means no more aircraft carrier sized SUVs on my ass when I’m trying to bike someplace, I’m okay with it.

  • malcolm

    Jc, i might be your neighbor, as i have designed one earth sheltered house, which i am living in, but only if you live near Grants Pass, Oregon, which it seems you do not 🙂

    You say, *These silly people insist on believing in things that must expand in order to exist, which is obviously inane in a finite system.*. I would agree with you; however, there are those who believe that **all we have to do** when we’ve overpopulated this planet (like, we haven’t already?) is to start emigrating to other planets/solar systems.* Since the universe is, in fact (according to some theories) infinite, this gives these folks peace of mind, knowing we will never have to be accountable to constraints considered normal by those of us with less farsighted visions.

    To them I say, *Why wait until you’ve finished screwing up this planet to emigrate? Get the hell outta here, so the rest of us can live sustainably*

    I love where I live, but unfortunately it is a logging, or former logging, community. There have been bumper stickers appearing from time to time which say, *Earth First! We’ll log the other planets later.* I believe they are meant to be humorous…

    Re large populations equating to large work forces, I would add that a large work force equals low wages, all else being equal, so of course the greedy folks want a large population. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying things, but basically, I see society as being composed of two types of individuals. One type wants things. Things for himself, e.g. security, power, things, etc. The other type wants to live in a civilized society, one in which we work together, where satisfaction can come from giving a helping hand to those less fortunate than ourselves.

    The first type can also be called, inho, sociopaths, and are found at all levels of society, and in all political parties, though there appear to be more in the Repubs and Libertarians than others I’m familiar with.

    JC, I think that having a population reduction of 75% sounds like very good idea, were it to happen with good planning, good design, and with great creativity. It would certainly require serious changes to our current modus operandi. I cannot see this happening sooner than several generations, though, short of an enormous natural or not so natural disaster. Perhaps Mama Nature will present us with this condition with a well placed asteroid or avian flu. This would be very bad for very many people, though, and I can’t support it, even if my support meant squat, which it does not.

    I agree that, with the 75% population reduction you are suggesting, housing would become mroe or less free. But with smaller reductions, prices would drop drastically, but not to zero.

    I am impressed with your efforts to get a train going in Seattle. Is that where you live now, or Cape Cod?

    I love trains, and never, never drive to see my inlaws in So Cal anymore, since becoming hooked on the Coast Starlite. But the only way, as far as I can tell, for trains to make a big difference in the number of cars on the road would be to have trains passing by any given point every two or three minutes, and only stopping at the ends of the line, perhaps at the Canadian and Mexican Borders, where they would not actually stop, but swing around a loop to immediately begin the return trip

    Here’s why I say that. A four lane freeway, two lanes in each direction, at about 70 mph, or 100 feet per second, will have a space in front of, and behind, each car of approximately 200 feet, following the so-called two second rule. In case you are unaware of this rule of thumb, it’s the idea that you should maintain enough space behind your car and the one in front of you so that two seconds time elapses between the time the car in front of you passes a point and the time you pass the same point.

    So, assuming your car is fifteen feet long, that means you’ve got a car in-each lane-passing a given point every 2.15 seconds. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll assume that the cars are driving SLIGHTLY aggressively, and use the figure 2.00 seconds instead of 2.15 seconds.

    Thus, since my hypothetical freeway has two lanes going in each direction, we have TWO cars going past any given point every 2.00 seconds, or one car per second.

    Let’s be generous, and assume two people per car. Like we should be so lucky! This means we have two people per second passing our point along the edge of the highway.

    Now, for the Amtrack train I ride so often: the Coast Starlight. It carries approximately 350 people, and happens to be about 800 feet long. I don’t remember how exactly how many cars, or how long the cars are, even though I did count the cars (10?) and lenght of cars (80-90 feet?). REgardless, I believe I’m close enough for what I’m trying to prove.

    To continue, the train in question, if it’s able to maintain 70 mph-a very unlikely scenario, alas-will be carrying 350 people 800 feet in 8 seconds, or 44 people per second passing our spot along the side of the railroad.

    Sounds good, eh? 44 people per second on the train, compared to 2 people per second by car on two lanes. HOWEVER, the Coast Starlight only runs once per day. We’d need LOTS of trains following each other to equal the number of passengers carried by a two lane freeway at capacity. I’m running short of time, here, so I’m not going to figure out how far apart-or how close together-the trains would have to be to carry as many people per unit of time as a freeway would carry. Suffice to say, they’d have to run a helluva lot more frequently than once per day!

    And there’s the benefit of most of the PRT (Personal Rapid Transit) systems. They generally have small, electric, cars whizzing along at at least seventy mph, and generally faster intercity, with only one foot between them, instead of 200 feet, like cars on the freeway. So they can carry 215ft/16ft or 13 times as many people as a freeway can, in the same amount of space, and can do so safely, without the *driver* having to pay attention to traffic!

    gotta go; sorry I was so wordy. I’d have had to be even wordier to make it clear enough for most folks to understand. sorry.

  • jc

    Malcolm – I fear an effective reduction in population will never happen resulting from the intentional action of people. It would require the concerted action of enough women as to be inconceivable given that the only time any bodies of people, men or women or both, act in concert seems to be when they blindly do as told to do by the confidence men of the world such as politicians and other scam artists. Remember, the practice of politics, diplomacy, etc. is the art of deceit, the practice of protocol, manners, politeness, etc., ie. of smiling and speaking niceties while trying to get a knife in someone’s ribs so it can be twisted before the someone becomes aware s/he’s been had. It seems we have enough of that and not enough of people acting cooperatively in sensible activity. But that seems to be the nature of the beast.

    The most devastating assaults on the numbers of people on this earth, whether the actions of man as in wars or those natural disasters of pestilence or physical forces such as we have witnessed in varied demonstrations of nature recently, seem inevitably to fail to make significant reductions of the numbers of people inhabiting this earth, but seem to actually accelerate their growth. Although during both World Wars, the bubonic plague and some times of famine, the populations of the affected areas diminished somewhat, afterwards there occurred an upward spike of population such that, after the spike dropped back to a lesser, more normal rate of growth the result was more people than had the reductions never occurred and the curve of rate of growth been extrapolated to the time following the growth spike which occurred. Such a spike within memory of some was enough to warrant the name of Baby Boom. As with the American Indians decimated by disease introduced by invaders of their home territories and to which they had no immunities as well as the invader’s conscious efforts of their extermination, it may not be the decimated people who ultimately peopled the area in greater numbers, but others who moved in exploit the area. I’m afraid it would take a singleness of purpose and resolve unprecedented in human history to accomplish the reduction I proposed.

    I don’t believe any management or special precautions need be prescribed. Life would merely go on in similar proportions but with fewer participants. There are those who worry that customers would decrease; true, but not relative to providers. Some lament that towns would become too small to function. Perhaps so, but moving to another town which now has a larger area to serve and can afford some help obviates that concern. The result is merely fewer towns and cities with more land between them. I believe no change in the modus operandi would be necessary.

    Yes, live on what is left of Cape Cod. I see nothing attractive here any more, but it still appeals to people. I went to Seattle in the late ’50s to see whether Oceanography ala U. of W. seemed attractive. It did and didn’t. I worked both as part of the scientific staff and as part of the ship’s company, depending who was needed most at the time we went to sea. I captained chartered vessels for the U.W. when additional ships were needed for occasional projects. I was captain of a vessel working in offshore oil exploration. I also did some tugboating in S.E. Alaska hauling cargo on barges where there were no facilities for freighters. I worked up and down the coast with these various ships from Santa Barbara to Yakutat, the Gulf of Alaska to Prince William Sound, the North Pacific to Dutch Harbor on Unalaska, the Bering Sea, the Chuckchi Sea and the Arctic Ocean north to the arctic ice cap.

    A train system, including the attendant complementary local conveyances, in order to entice people out of their cars, will have to be more convenient, faster and cheaper than an automobile. Being convenient means being available whenever wanted within a reasonable waiting period till the next train, having just missed one. I don’t think people using trains, streetcars, buses, or 2 person vehicles often throughout the day will tolerate a wait for each or any of them for more than 10 minutes on a regjlar basis. This standard should be for 24 hours a day. To keep the time interval between trains short, they will have to be fast. When passengers are few, trains need few cars and without stopping where no one is waiting, they can cover more distance at high speed and maintain the short wait interval. Automatic distance regulators will prevent one train getting too close to the one ahead. When more passengers need the service, additional cars are added as needed. To keep load/unload times short the entire side of the car should slide up onto the roof to allow people to enter or exit the car wherever they are in the car or on the platform, or the car should have doors the whole length of the car, as in England at least in the past. Loading and unloading should be only a matter of a few seconds. Baggage should be placed where it is loaded and unloaded just as quickly automatically or by attendants. Radio ID tags for the destination are attached to bags so they can be found instantly by scanners on telescoping booms in the baggage section of the train which will pick up the appropriate freight and deposit it on the platform. If the service is good enough to keep the cars essentially well filled, the cost should be far less than that of automobiles.

    Our local Malcolm here in Brewster, MA is retired and no longer available for designing, engineering or consulting, but one can get an idea of his interests by visiting his website which is maintained so people can order any of his past books if there is any interest. His website is:


  • jc

    After the fact P.S. Referring again to mass transit systems, I might as well get some other things out on the table: In the late ’60s, I devised a radial and circumferential system of mass transit for Boston, MA using the surface vehicles already in use. Such a system is ideal for asymetrical cities without the streets being laid out on a grid based on roads and streets being 90 degrees to each other such as Boston. It changed priorities for the use of main commercial avenues using the entire 24 hour day. This would be such that, since the area and the buildings are lighted all night, NO commercial traffic, no loading and no unloading would be allowed except between midnight and 08:00 AM which allows a full working day to accomplish. Hence the area is relieved of the traffic and numbers of people involved with stock rooms, warehouses, stocking shelves in retail concerns and the clerks involved in inventory and other stock taking. NO private vehicles will be allowed on these commercial streets at anytime except to cross at the intersections of other streets. Hence the only traffic on these corridors from 08:00 AM till midnight will be public transit vehicles and pedestrians with a complete absence of anything to cause congestion. This solves the problems of busses and streetcars coming in bunches with long, long waits between bunches, especially trolleys that are unable to pass another one stopped for whatever reason. People will soon learn that such a transit system is much faster than their cars to go anywhere in the city without parking problems. You will notice, since there are no private vehicles on these commercial avenues, there are no vehicles parked anywhere except between midnight and 08:00 AM, the only vehicles being the transit system vehicles constantly proceeding on their rounds with all the room in the world. With no vehicular traffic other than the transit system vehicles and no parked vehicles anywhere, these thoroughfares become ideal for bicycles With no need to use private cars in such a city, all the parking garages can be used for something not so idiotic. But was Boston interested? Of course not. Any such changes always get beat down by the influential vested interests in current conditions.


  • jc

    P.P.S. As will be noticed in the above paragraph, daytime traffic will essentially be mostly to do with business and retail. The evening can be used for such as well. Whatever decrease in these uses, however, will relieve the area for entertainment venues to the public’s heart’s content. Hence, maximum use of the all the facilities are available for a period of an 8 hour working day.


  • malcolm

    Hi, JC; how about that; I wondered if it was Malcolm Wells, but assumed it was not. My mistake. I have studied some of Well’s books, years ago, when I first seriously considered earth sheltered housing. He was, as you know, an important pioneer in many areas, including earth sheltered housing. He saved me a few mistakes by making them himself, not to mention saving me other mistakes just due to his superior knowledge.

    Your statement *It would require the concerted action of enough women as to be inconceivable *… was pretty funny (unintentionally?)

    You are likely correct that changes in birth rates are mostly driven by government policy. We’re a bunch of sheep, or ewes, as the case may be.

    I think we’re pretty much on the same track, as it were, re trains. Your idea of rapid loading and unloading of passengers and baggage is a good one. Sort of like the shuttle trains at airports, which require only a few seconds to unload.

    My own idea is to have secondary trains/train cars on parallel tracks, which would accelerate passengers to match the speed of a never stopping (more or less) train. The secondary one would lock on to the primary one, passengers would do their boarding or exiting the train, then the secondary train would stop, back up to the station, and wait for the next train to come along.

    your idea is certainly simple than mine, and might be almost as effective, if multiple through rails were installed at each station, so that a train which did not need to pick up/drop off passengers could zip on through.

    One other issue to consider with trains: they would have to travel much faster than autos in order to get people from point a to point b out here in the mountainous west, as they currently only pull a one percent grade, I think, whereas autos can climb must steeper grades, with freeways typically maxing out at 6%. Thus, a train must travel six times as far to climb up to a ridgetop.

    When the train pulls up a nearby grade here in s. Oregon, I can actually ride my mountain bike faster than the train, for a short distance anyway.

    Of course, a passenger train could go up a grade much quicker than a freght train, if given an adequate number of engines.

    One big problem with trains, at least Amtrak. The Coast Starlight adds approximately 3 hours extra time between Eugene Oregon and San Luis Obispo, Calif just for delays caused by the owner of the rails, Union Pacific (maybe Southern Pacific, I forget) This freight service only railroad seems to take pleasure in causing delays for Amtrak. Faster railroads would also need to have their own tracks.

    What you are talking about, JC, with your fast trains, and lots of them, is pretty much what at least one type of Personal Rapid Transit is, by the way, though there are many other ways to design PRT.

    Your radial/circumferential scheme is brilliant! I think it would be an excellent system, at least until such time (I’m not holding my breath) as PRT could be installed, and perhaps instead of PRT.

    I suspect that people came up with some sort of examples of why it would not work, didn’t they, rather than just saying “no”? I assume there would be expected and unexpected problems show up if it were actually designed, wouldn’t it? Not that they would necessarily be show stoppers, of course.

    My wife had the idea of putting monorails, or “straddle cars” on top of the concrete freeway dividers, thus adding mass transit to the existing right of ways. Clever girl.

    Now that our traffic seems to have gotten even worse than in the late ’60’s, do you suppose any city planning types would more likely to seriously consider your idea?

    Another question: what do you think of the idea of elevating these radial and circumferential thoroughfares, and utilizing the space underneath for other things? That way, one could zip around and through town without having to stop on them.

  • Golgo 13

    I see there are a lot of misconceptions flying around here.

    First, a refutation of the “abiotic” myth.

    Oil isn’t coming back anytime soon. In another 25 million years or so and the right conditions, yeah. But other than that, no.

    The reality of petroleum is the depletion model, which explains the fact that the U.S. peaked as an oil province in the 1970 right on schedule with Dr. M. King Hubbert’s calculation. More and more nations are reaching peak capacity and terminally declining capacities of petroleum production, and the world as a whole is approaching peak capacity of petroleum production. When this happens (if it hasn’t already), this will mean the end of cheap oil, less availability, and outrageous fuel prices, amongst other things.

    Unless someone believes that the oil fairy is going to come down and magically refill a trillion barrels worth of lightsweet surface crude on fields that have been depleted for several decades or something equally crazy, then abiotic oil theory isn’t a solution.

    Abiotic oil theory predicts that oil is a renewable resource, which is demonstrably false, and it predicts that oil reserve wells will refill themselves, which they have shown no trend of doing so upon further inspection.

    The Myth of “Renewable/Sustainable” Oil

    Of late, there has been a widely circulated “urban myth” that oil may be a renewable resource. This myth is based on the hypothesis of the late Thomas Gold that oil has an abiotic (non biologic) origin. The myth frequently cites the “refilling” of the Eugene Island Field in the Gulf of Mexico.

    In practice the Eugene Island Field is a complex of over 100 separate reservoirs – some of which are connected by faults. (See the very technical article at In the past, oil and gas have been pumped out of some of these reservoirs, thus reducing their internal pressure. Nearby reservoirs that had not been tapped yet still had their original pressure. Oil and gas subsequently flowed along the fault zones from the untapped high-pressure zones into these produced areas that now had a lower pressure. This “refilling” is the source of the myth about “renewable” oil. Jean Laherrère has a short analysis of the Eugene Island Field on page 14 of his Zurich presentation the “Future of oil Supplies” ( His conclusion for the “abiotic renewal” of oil is: “It is really nonsense”.

    In Sweden a well was drilled 4 miles deep in search of “abiotic” oil. It turned out to be one of the world’s deepest “Wild goose chases”. Dale Pfeiffer has concluded: “The proposed proofs of evidence of abiogenic origin in the Dnieper-Donets basin and in refilling fields are dismissed in front of real data.”(See: Richard Heinberg (author of “The Party’s Overâ€?) has also debunked the abiotic oil myth. (

    Finally, let’s assume full credibility for “renewable oil” by assuming that the earth’s 2 trillion barrels of oil (total discoveries) had an abiotic origin and have accumulated over the 4 billion years that the earth has had its present crust. This yields an accumulation/renewal rate of 500 barrels per year. We are currently using oil at 80+ million barrels per day. The “renewal rate” wouldn’t be of much help.

    Isotopic evidence provides a clear link to the organic origins. No one in the industry gives the slightest credence to these theories: after drilling for 150 years they know a bit about it. Another misleading idea is about oilfields being refilled. Some are, but the oil simply is leaking in from a deeper accumulation. (

    We’re consuming 4 barrels of oil for every 1 we find and more and more fields are in or approaching terminal decline rates. We have dropped way down to this from the days where oil was so plentiful it was cheaper than water, and it’s getting worse. The deficit of consumption/discovery is getting wider and wider.

    Renewable commercially signifigant sums of oil are pipedreams at best, not a science. Oil is a finite resource formed in the geological past by ancient biomass. We’ve known this for over a hundred years, and now that reality is rearing it’s ugly head, people would like to rewrite the facts to allow them to believe in unlimited growth and infinite energy. Well reguardless, reality is not going to agree, and we will slam into the wall where the ideals that people like to believe goes against the unimpeachable facts of geological science. That will be in a time short compared to the previous era of big oil.

    Incidentally, I don’t see any of these advocates of abiotic oil scrambling to buy up these long-depleted oil fields.

    It’s pretty damned obvious that consuming more than you find by a 4:1 ratio will ultimately catch up to you.

    So those that want to believe in endless, inexhaustible supplies of oil are welcome to do so, but I think they’ll have a hard time convincing the professionals in the petroleum sector who have been cutting their losses in light of the facts.

    When oil companies are cutting and consolidating like they’re living on borrowed time, it’s a big sign of things to come.

    The oil that powers economic activity is the lightsweet surface crude. This is what runs the global market. As this stuff diminishes, we will be facing issues.

    Unless one can refute the laws of thermodynamics, which some economists seem to think (as demand increases, entropy will decrease to meet market demands), then oil will deplete.

    Next there’s the shared misconception by both Mr. Kunstler and Mr. Lynch that nuclear will be the fuel of the future.

    Check out these two articles which go into explaining a lot about uranium production and consumption.

    Uranium production is nearing the halfway point

    Current uranium demand almost twice production

    The following chart sums up the the problem:

    Check out the reactor requirements line and then the production levels.

    Notice a disturbing trend there?

    Peak uranium.

    It’s like Jim succinctly stated. There are no combination of so-called “alternative” fuels that are going to allow this perpetual growth racket to continue.

    We need to become a sustainable society, and the first law of sustainability is that growth in populations and/or consumption of resources cannot be sustained.

    There was also a generic appeal to the “massive” coal reserves in the U.S.. Yes, we do have a lot of coal, but a lot compared to what? If we were to liquify it and use it as a source of fuel for the car culture, we would use up those “massive” supplies in a time short, providing we could even extract and liquify it at an appreciable rate since it has a whole host of issues unexperienced by petroleum.

    That’s the unsustainable exponential consumption trend that Dr. Bartlett warned us about in his lecture on energy:

  • jc

    Malcolm – I don’t know if you are still monitoring this blog …. We

    had a lot of clouds here through Oct. and my little PV panel (found in

    a  marsh many years ago – it is probably off a navigation buoy) can’t

    keep up with this ten year old Mac laptop which uses electricity three

    times as fast as the PV panel produces it on a bright, sunny day. The panel is the only

    electricty I have so sometimes this machine has to wait.

    I don’t suppose Brandon wants these blogs used for private

    correspondence but there were a lot of questions and ideas in your last post

    here to respond to, so I’ll try to be brief.

    Q.)  Your statement *It would require the concerted action of enough women

    as to be inconceivable *… was pretty funny (unintentionally?)

    A.)  Yep, unless I am unsuspectedly witty subconciously.

    Idea.)  My own idea is to have secondary trains/train cars on parallel tracks,

    which would accelerate passengers to match the speed of a never

    stopping (more or less) train. The secondary one would lock on to the

    primary one, passengers would do their boarding or exiting the train,

    then the secondary train would stop, back up to the station, and wait

    for the next train to come along.

    Comment.)  It just goes to show that great minds run in the same rut. I sometimes imagine what sort of restraint devices would be effective but convenient to passengers experiencing some heavy accelerations in stop-&-go trains trying to maintain a high average speed (zero mph really knocks the bottom out of an average speed) or, from a standing start, trying to catch another which just flew by. Best, I think, if we start before the other arrives. It should be no problem, with todays sensors and computers, to exactly match speeds just as one draws alongside the other. We have such choices as aircraft carrier launching machinery (steam?) or rocketry or just powerful motors or magnets or ram-jets. I have no idea what means would be best.

    Idea.) One other issue to consider with trains: they would have to travel

    much faster than autos in order to get people from point a to point b

    out here in the mountainous west, as they currently only pull a one

    percent grade, I think, whereas autos can climb must steeper grades,

    with freeways typically maxing out at 6%. Thus, a train must travel

    six times as far to climb up to a ridgetop.

    Of course, a passenger train could go up a grade much quicker than a

    freght train, if given an adequate number of engines.

    Comment.) Which is why I advocated ski lift type cable car gondolas every two city blocks in Seattle to get to the monorail track or channel which skirted the hills about a third or half way up the hills. There was to be no need to walk in Seattle’s rain or drizzle for more than a block before being able to step aboard a covered gondola. A train would never need, as a jet airliner does, to climb within minutes to 35,000-40,000 ft. altitude while accelerating to what? 500 plus mph? An airliner uses most of its fuel just accomplishing that feat. But engine power is obviously within our means. The fuel consumption is another consideration With the reduced air resistance at those altitudes and straight and level flight, the rest is almost coasting by comparison. A high speed train will try to obtain as comparable conditions to straight and level flight as possible as they always have. For as fast accelerations as possible, booster engines such as rockets or jets mentioned above would be used intermittantly when needed and then shut off with smaller engines better tuned for more efficient running at the constant cuising speed of maybe 300 mph. Mountain ranges that cannot be skirted would be tunneled through. Underground stations could be linked to towns above by high speed elevators (pneumatic?) or cable car lifts that would need a horizontal vector to its travel to the surface?

    Idea.) Faster railroads would also need to have their own tracks.

    Comment.) Or monorail channels or whatever they are called, or mag,-lev./ mag. induction runways or hovercraft troughs or, at least, high speed, banked, tracks on appropriate road beds, etc. etc. ???

    Q.) I suspect that people came up with some sort of examples of why it

    would not work, didn’t they, rather than just saying “no”? I assume

    there would be expected and unexpected problems show up if it were

    actually designed, wouldn’t it? Not that they would necessarily be

    show stoppers, of course.

    A.) Most seemed to have considered such things so little that they had no thought-out arguments and were discouraged to embark on such considerations because of the problems inherent in any pioneering or new (read as “untried”) concepts. Also, not myself being an engineer of any sort or, even more important, certainly not a salesman, having no credentials to spread out before them, the authorities and bureaucrats I ran into certainly didn’t want to take my word for anything and they weren’t interested in evaluating the ideas for themselves. I usually met an attitude that the whole idea was impractical. The most specific arguments I ever got was that hovercraft are noisy and the ride is bumpy. When people think of ferries or that sort of conveyance, they think of big, slow things resembling some sort of local cruise ship that they can stroll the decks of with a cocktail in their hand even though they think nothing of spending twice as long to get the same place in a cramped, slow bus where they should wear seat belts, but don’t, and certainly would not be out strolling the deck.

    Idea.) My wife had the idea of putting monorails, or “straddle cars” on top

    of the concrete freeway dividers, thus adding mass transit to the

    existing right of ways. Clever girl.

    Comment.) Another great mind in a rut with the rest of us. For thirty years I have been trying to convince the Cape Cod Regional Transportation Authority or whatever they call themselves to put a monorail on pylons down the median strip (unused otherwise) of the present Rt. 6 (which highway goes from Provincetown on Cape Cod on an Atlantic beach to the Pacific Ocean in San Francisco and only has, or at least had, one end because this end is a loop)… as I was saying, Rt. 6, or the Mid-Cape Highway, which is a limited access highway at the upper half of the Cape. The median strip is not even used to prevent injuries from vehicles leaving the pavement. The Cape is covered with at least a dozen kinds of vines and more than that of shrubs that, if the car were rolling over or ploughing into it, would bend over, forcing the car to go over the mat of it while the vines were being ripped apart or ripped out at the roots by the hundreds, causing resistance and slowing the car, while the bent mass of brush gradually but quickly lifts the vehicle off the ground, bringing it to a gradual but quick stop even though the car is in gear and the engine racing, probably without a crushed top in a rollover. Such vegetation would, being higher, before being mashed down, than headlights, prevent any headlights ever to be visible from oncoming traffic going the opposite direction, thereby allowing any driver to keep his lights on high beam, if not so close as to hinder a car in front, which is important at today’s highway speeds. A car cannot stop within the visibility allowed by low beams at 60 plus m.p.h. At the lower half of the Cape, from Orleans down to Provincetown, the median strip doesn’t exist, so the monorail’s track would be attached to arches over the road. The commuters on their two hour trip by car to Boston would be on the train the next day after watching one after another train whiz by them at better than twice their speed.

    Q.) Now that our traffic seems to have gotten even worse than in the late

    ’60’s, do you suppose any city planning types would more likely to

    seriously consider your idea?

    A.) Yes, I think there are probably lots of people working on such concepts, but how long it will take for the public and city fathers to start  realizing the benefits and start calculating ways to implement them is an open question. The concepts probably will get watered down and the results may well be farcical adulterations built strictly for show to benefit some politician (ala the Seattle monorail) rather than a really effective mass transit system for the benefit of the public.

    Q.)  Another question: what do you think of the idea of elevating these

    radial and circumferential thoroughfares, and utilizing the space

    underneath for other things? That way, one could zip around and

    through town without having to stop on them.

    A.)  I have always stipulated that all train travel should be elevated, and where it isn’t, it should be underground, let’s say under an earth and vegetation covered arched tunnel (ferrocement probably) as also should all limited access highways/freeways. Thus there will be no impediment to cause congestion, the main cause of accidents, and no grade crossings. They will also not be barriers to any other traffic trying to cross to the other side, vehicular, pedestrian or WILDLIFE and stray cats and dogs, thereby allowing access to their rightful habitats and reducing road kill to the point that someone like me and the crows and vultures and other little scavangers will have to look elsewhere and not become victims ourselves. I believe the same is true for all so-called light rail and dedicated mass transit bus thoroughfares, etc. or they should be underground. I would think elevated would be less expensive. But the uncovered pavememt in this country results in an immense area absorbing heat and affecting local climate, as do cities as well, and being exposed to inclement weather causing accidents and costing huge sums of money to clear of snow and melt ice with SALT. When I think of high speed trains, I almost always think of monorail trains suspended from their track, but that’s just an esthetic quirk of mine. Of course, I think it’s preferable for magnetic levitation vehicles and such to ride on top!


  • jc

    Man! It’s a good thing I wasn’t long winded!

  • jc

    Malcolm – So as not to clog a blog, any reply can be sent to: