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Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

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Why The Coming Oil Crunch Will Shock The World

And why we need a new energy strategy — fast.

My years working in corporate strategy taught me that every strategic framework, no matter how complex (some I worked on were hundreds of pages long), boils down to just two things:

  1. Where do you want to go? (Vision)
  2. How are you going to get there? (Resources)

Vision is the easier one by far. You just dream up a grand idea about where you want the company to be at some target future date, Yes, there’s work in assuring that everybody on the management team truly shares and believes in the vision, but that’s a pretty stratightforward sales job for the CEO.

By the way, this same process applies at the individual level, too, for anyone who wants to achieve a major goal by some point in the future. The easy part of the strategy is deciding you want to be thinner, healthier, richer, or more famous.

But the much harder part, for companies and individuals alike, is figuring out ‘How to get there’. There are always fewer resources than one would prefer.

Corporate strategists always wish for more employees to implement the vision, with better training with better skills. Budgets and useful data are always scarcer than desired, as well.

Similar constraints apply to us individuals. Who couldn’t use more motivation, time and money to pursue their goals?

Put together, the right Vision coupled to a reasonably mapped set of Resources can deliver amazing results. Think of the Apollo Moon missions. You have to know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there to succeed. That’s pretty straightforward, right?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

10-Minute Neighborhoods: The Low-Tech Solution to Almost* Everything

10-Minute Neighborhoods: The Low-Tech Solution to Almost* Everything

What if it were possible to make headway on all these issues with simple changes to our neighborhoods?

What if we could cut our medical costs in half? What if we could give the average American an added five years of healthy life? What if we could cut our energy use, our water use, and our greenhouse gas emissions by more than half while improving our happiness and prosperity? What if we could provide affordable housing for millennials staggering under student loan debt? What if we could help elders age gracefully in a connected community, with their mobility and cognition intact? What if we could create communities where children can experience both safety and independence? What if we could cut in half the cost of essential services provided by cities and towns? What if we could prevent prime farmland from becoming suburbs and McMansions? What if we could create biodiverse greenbelts and wildlife corridors around our towns and cities? What if inside our cities we could create calming tree canopies, community vegetable gardens and open spaces for all to benefit from?

All this can be achieved with 10-minute walkable neighborhoods, neighborhoods where everyone can step out their front door and reach a wide array of goods and services within ten minutes by foot. All it takes is enough density within a half-mile radius of a commercial shopping street to allow the businesses and services there to prosper. We’re not talking Hong Kong or Manhattan density, just 16 or so housing units per acre, which can be easily achieved by allowing again the “Missing Middle” of housing that was so common before World War II. What is the Missing Middle?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Economy Is Cooked

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The Economy Is Cooked

The growth cycle has peaked

Hours ago, European Central Bank chief Mario Dragho conceded: “The growth cycle may have peaked”

Of course, those paying attention to the data already knew this. Our politicians and central planers have been peddling to us the fantasy that the global economy is strengthening, finally ready to fire on all cylinders after nearly ten years of dependence on monetary stimulus.

That just ain’t so.

The Federal Reserve of Atlanta’s GDPNow measure, which gives a forecast of Q1 2018’s expected GDP, is currently coming in at 2.0%, down from the much more vigorous 5.4% growth predicted as recently as early February:

Generating this growth, meager as it is, has required a tremendous amount of new debt. So much more so that the US will soon have a worse debt-to-GDP ratio than perennial fiscal basket-case Italy:

U.S. Debt Load Seen Worse Than Italy’s by 2023, IMF Predicts (Bloomberg)

In five years, the U.S. government is forecast to have a bleaker debt profile than Italy, the perennial poor man of the Group of Seven industrial nations.

The U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio is projected widen to 116.9 percent by 2023 while Italy’s is seen narrowing to 116.6 percent, according to the latest data from the International Monetary Fund. The U.S. will also place ahead of both Mozambique and Burundi in terms of the weight of its fiscal burden.

The numbers put renewed focus on the U.S. deteriorating budget after the enactment in December of $1.5 trillion in tax cuts, and the passage more recently of $300 billion in new spending. President Donald Trump’s administration argues that the tax overhaul combined with deregulation will help the economy accelerate, which in turn will generate enough extra revenue to avoid any fiscal fallout.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

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The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be

Looks like we’re in for a much rockier ride than many expect

This marks our our 10th year of doing this.  And by “this”, we mean using data, logic and reason to support the very basic conclusion that infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible. 

Surprisingly, this simple, rational idea — despite its huge and fast-growing pile of corroborating evidence — still encounters tremendous pushback from society. Why? Because it runs afoul of most people’s deep-seated belief systems.

Our decade of experience delivering this message has hammered home what behavioral scientists have been telling us for years — that, with rare exceptions, we humans are not rational. We’re rationalizers. We try to force our perception of reality to fit our beliefs; rather than the other way around.

Which is why the vast amount of grief, angst and encroaching dread that most people feel in western cultures today is likely due to the fact that, deep down, whether we’re willing to admit it to ourselves or not, everybody already knows the truth: Our way of life is unsustainable.

In our hearts, we fear that someday, possibly soon, our comfy way of life will be ripped away; like a warm blanket snatched off of our sleeping bodies on a cold night.

The simple reality is that society’s hopes for a “modern consumer-class lifestyle for all” are incompatible with the accelerating imbalance between the (still growing) human population and the (increasingly depleting) planet’s natural resources. Basic math and physics tell us that the Earth’s ecosystems can’t handle the load for much longer.

The only remaining question concerns how fast the adjustment happens. Will the future be defined by a “slow burn”, one that steadily degrades our living standards over generations? Or will we experience a sudden series of sharp shocks that plunge the world into chaos and conflict?

It’s hard to say. As Yogi Berra famously quipped, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  So, it’s left to us to remain open-minded and flexible as we draw up our plans for how we’ll personally persevere through the coming years of change.

But even while the specifics about the future elude us today, “predicting” the macro trends most likely to influence the coming decades is very doable:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Core


Jerome Liebling May Day Union Square Park New York City 1948
Dr. D. peels the American political onion to get down to what it’s all about. I’m impressed. He explains America better than just about anyone. Turns out, there ain’t much left. So yeah, what happened?

Dr. D: The news cycle runs so frenetically it’s easy to lose track of the bigger tide. Let’s go back a week and look at something the Automatic Earth has been talking about since the beginning.

This weekend at a speech in Mumbai, Hillary Clinton said:

“If you look at the map of the United States, there’s all that red in the middle where Trump won. …I win the coast….I won the places that represent two-thirds of America’s gross domestic product. So I won the places that are optimistic, diverse, dynamic, moving forward. And his whole campaign, ‘Make America Great Again,’ was looking backwards.”

There are many ways to look at this: for one thing, by number, over 90% of the counties are Red. Yet over 50% of the population is concentrated in the cities and Blue counties. Clinton officially won the popular vote. Yet the United States has always had a geographical Electoral College system. A compromise of representation between small, weak states and strong, large states, and the rules of the 2016 campaign were no mystery or surprise. Yet that’s only the middle-sized picture.

The Big Picture is Mrs. Clinton saying she’s representing the important people, the right people – even the working people – and that 2/3rds of those people live exclusively in Blue districts on both coasts. While this is arguably true, it wasn’t always true. NYC or San Francisco have always been important, but from their founding until now, places like Dayton, St. Paul, Pittsburgh, or New Orleans were considered vital, important places, places where their own specialty happened: tires or flour, steel or shipping, lumber or mining.

What Happened? In a way the election was a referendum on “What Happened?” What happened to my community, my country, my area, and all the vital work those long-abandoned areas used to do, what happened to the massive GDP those areas used to contribute, and the answer is simple:

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dr. Charles Hall: The Laws Of Nature Trump Economics

It’s all about Energy Retun On Energy Invested (EROEI)

Dr. Charles Hall may not be a name you instantly recognize, but it should be.

Now a Professor Emeritus of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry, Dr. Hall is a rigorous researcher of energy, oil, biophysical economics — and was a critical early pioneer in developing the key resource metric of Energy Returned On Energy Invested (EROEI).

Here’s how Hall describes EROEI in layman’s terms:

These energy investment ideas are everywhere in nature.

Certainly business people know about investments, but you’ve got to realize that anytime that you’re investing, you investing not only money, you’re investing energy. And, in fact, we consider money to be a lien on energy, a promissory note on energy.

So, if, for example, you buy in New York City a bagel for $1, that bagel cannot possibly get there without the use of a considerable amount of energy. And that energy is, for example, energy used in Louisiana to take natural gas and turn it into nitrogen fertilizer. And then it’s put in a barge and barged up  the Mississippi River to Nebraska. And then a tractor spreads in on a field. And then it plows up the field and plants wheat seeds. And then later comes along and tills the soil and maybe takes care of the weeds or whatever and certainly harvests it. And then more energy is used to take the harvested wheat and grind it up and turn it into flour. And then they put it in a sack and put it on a railroad train and ship it to New York City. And there somebody boils a pot of water to cook the bagel. Oh, and they use electricity to mix the batter. And then you have a bagel.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Energy, Money and Technology–From the Lens of the Superorganism

Energy, Money and Technology–From the Lens of the Superorganism

During Nate Hagens’ #WEP2018 keynote, he discussed how all of our lives will be influenced by how we react to the coming era of harder to extract and more costly fossil fuels that will be combined with cleaner but more stochastic energy types.

Ed. note: The video starts in the middle of the presentation. You will need to adjust the player to go back to the beginning of the talk.

Art Berman: Like It Or Not, The Future Remains All About Oil

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Art Berman: Like It Or Not, The Future Remains All About Oil

And competition for it is heating up 

Art Berman, 40-year veteran in the petroleum production industry and respected geological consultant, returns to the podcast this week to talk about oil.

After the price of oil fell from its previous $100+/bbl highs to under $30/bbl in 2015, many declared dead the concerns raised by peak oil theorists. Headlines selling the “shale miracle” have sought to convince us that the US will one day eclipse Saudi Arabia in oil production. In short: cheap, plentiful oil is here to stay.

How likely is this?

Not at all, warns Berman. World demand for oil shows no signs of abating while the outlook for future production looks increasingly scant. And the competition among nations for this “master resource” will be much more intense in future decades than we’ve been used to:

Since the 1980s, we simply have not been replacing reserves with new discoveries. So how does that work? Well, obviously, we’ve got a lot of oil on production and in reserves, so we’re essentially drawing down our savings account if you want to think about it that way. You can do that for a long time if you’ve got a whole lot of money in your savings account, and we as a planet do. But you can’t do it forever.

Eventually, you either have to stop spending as much so you don’t draw down your savings, or you need to put some money back in the account. And it doesn’t seem like we’re doing much of either, and haven’t been doing much of either for a long time. So the concern is tremendous, at least, in my estimation(…)

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

10 Years Automatic Earth


Winslow Homer Mending the nets 1881
 

Yes, it’s 10 years ago today, on January 22 2008, that Nicole Foss and I published our first article on the Automatic Earth (the first few years on Blogger). And, well, obviously, a lot has happened in those 10 years.

For ourselves, we went from living in Ottawa, Canada to doing a lot of touring starting in 2009, to support Nicole’s DVDs and video downloads. We visited Sweden, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Austria, Denmark, US of course, with prolonged stays in France, Britain, New Zealand, Australia, times that I miss a lot here and there, to now with Nicole settled in New Zealand and my time divided between Athens, Greece and the Netherlands.

We met so many people both online and in the flesh in all these countries it’s impossible to remember everyone of them, and every town we found ourselves in. Overall, it was a humbling experience to have so many people share their views and secrets, especially since we never stayed at hotels (or very rarely), we were always invited to stay with our readers. Thank you so much for that.

Since we started publishing 8 months before the fall of Bear Stearns, and we very much predicted the crisis that followed (we had been doing that before as well, since 2005 at the Oil Drum), we were the first warning sign for many people that things were going off the rails.

There are still to this day people expressing their gratitude for that. Others, though, not so much. And that has to do with the fact that governments, media and central banks came together to create the illusion of an economic recovery, something many if not most people still believe in. Just read the headlines and the numbers, on housing markets, stocks, GDP, jobs. Unfortunately, it was an illusion then and it still is now.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Gail Tverberg: The Coming Energy Depression

Gail Tverberg: The Coming Energy Depression

The math is straightforward, but cruel

As most PeakProsperity.com readers know, we fully agree with the statement: Energy is THE master resource.

Without it, nothing can get done.

Energy analyst and professional actuary Gail Tverberg returns to the podcast this week to revisit the global energy outlook. And fair warning, Gail warns it’s quite grim.

To her, it’s a simple math problem. We have too many people placing too much demand on the world’s depleting energy resources. The cost of energy is rising, which we are compensating for in the short term by using financial gimmicks to make “affordable” — when all we’re really doing is creating future promises that cannot possibly be repaid.

The increasing cost of energy is manifesting in higher prices (for everything, not just fuels) and lower real wages, a divergence she sees only worsening from here. This path leads to another Great Depression-style crisis from which she does not see a clear path out of:

What we really live on is what we pull out of the ground each year, in terms of oil or coal or natural gas or whatever. So what we have is just what we pull out.

Now, you accurately point out that we’re making too many claims on the future using debt. We’re actually doing this via a couple of different ways, which are pretty much equivalent. One of them is by issuing equity. This has the equivalent effect as using debt because what you’re saying is I’ll pay you dividends, and you’re going to get a higher price in the future. This is simply different kind of claim on the future. Another way to borrow from the future is through government promises.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

If The Saudi Arabia Situation Doesn’t Worry You, You’re Not Paying Attention

A key geopolitical axis is swiftly shifting

While turbulent during the best of times, gigantic waves of change are now sweeping across the Middle East. The magnitude is such that the impact on the global price of oil, as well as world markets, is likely to be enormous.

A dramatic geo-political realignment by Saudi Arabia is in full swing this month. It’s upending many decades of established strategic relationships among the world’s superpowers and, in particular, is throwing the Middle East into turmoil.

So much is currently in flux, especially in Saudi Arabia, that nearly anything can happen next. Which is precisely why this volatile situation should command our focused attention at this time.

The main elements currently in play are these:

  • A sudden and intense purging of powerful Saudi insiders (arrests, deaths, & asset seizures)
  • Huge changes in domestic policy and strategy
  • A shift away from the US in all respects (politically, financially and militarily)
  • Deepening ties to China
  • A surprising turn towards Russia (economically and militarily)
  • Increasing cooperation and alignment with Israel (the enemy of my enemy is my friend?)

Taken together, this is tectonic change happening at blazing speed.

That it’s receiving too little attention in the US press given the implications, is a tip off as to just how big a deal this is — as we’re all familiar by now with how the greater the actual relevance and importance of a development, the less press coverage it receives. This is not a direct conspiracy; it’s just what happens when your press becomes an organ of the state and other powerful interests. Like a dog trained with daily rewards and punishments, after a while the press needs no further instruction on the house rules.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

BITCOIN vs. GOLD: Which One’s A Bubble & How Much Energy Do They Really Consume

BITCOIN vs. GOLD: Which One’s A Bubble & How Much Energy Do They Really Consume

If you are investing in either Bitcoin or Gold, it’s important to understand which asset is behaving more like a bubble than the other.  While it’s impossible to understand how the market will value these two very different assets in the future, we can provide some logical analysis that might remove some of the mystery associated with the market price of Bitcoin versus Gold.

I’ve read some analysis on Bitcoin profitability and energy consumption that seemed unreliable, so I thought I would put my two cents in on the subject.

For example, many sites are using the Digiconomist’s work on Bitcoin energy consumption.  However, I believe this analysis has overstated Bitcoin’s energy consumption by a large degree.  According to the Digiconomist, Bitcoin’s annual electric use is approximately 24 TerraWatts per year (TWh/yr):

In a recent article that was forwarded to me by one of my readers, How Many Barrels Of Oil Are Needed To Mine One Bitcoin, the author used the information in the chart above to calculate the energy cost to produce each Bitcoin.  He stated that the average energy cost for each Bitcoin equals 20 barrels of oil equivalent.  Unfortunately, that data is grossly overstated.

If we look at another website, the author explains in great detail the actual energy cost to produce each Bitcoin.  According to Marc Bevand, he calculated on July 28th, that the average electric consumption of Bitcoin was 7.7 TWh/yr, one-third of the Digiconomist’s figure.  Here is a chart and table from Marc Bevand’s site showing how he arrived at the figures:

This graph shows the increase in Bitcoin’s hash rate and the efficiency of the Bitcoin Miners at the bottom.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Museletter #304: Energy and Authoritarianism

Download printable PDF version here (PDF, 148 KB)

This is an extended version of the article. An edited version was delivered in the email Museletter.

Could declining world energy result in a turn toward authoritarianism by governments around the world? As we will see, there is no simple answer that applies to all countries. However, pursuing the question leads us on an illuminating journey through the labyrinth of relations between energy, economics, and politics.

The International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Energy) anticipate an increase in world energy supplies lasting at least until the end of this century. However, these agencies essentially just match supply forecasts to anticipated demand, which they extrapolate from past economic growth and energy usage trends. Independent analysts have been questioning this approach for years, and warn that a decline in world energy supplies—mostly resulting from depletion of fossil fuels—may be fairly imminent, possibly set to commence within the next decade.

Even before the onset of decline in gross world energy production we are probably already beginning to see a fall in per capita energy, and also net energy—energy that is actually useful to society, after subtracting the energy that is used in energy-producing activities (the building of solar panels, the drilling of oil wells, and so on). The ratio of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for fossil energy production has tended to fall as high-quality deposits of oil, coal, and natural gas are depleted, and as society relies more on unconventional oil and gas that require more energy for extraction, and on coal that is more deeply buried or that is of lower energy content.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

There’s No APP for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss

THERE’S NO APP FOR THAT: TECHNOLOGY AND MORALITY IN THE AGE OF CLIMATE CHANGE, OVERPOPULATION, AND BIODIVERSITY LOSS


It has become something of a mantra within the sustainability movement that innovations in technology will save the world and all of us in it, but we tend to forget that technology played a big part in getting ourselves into this mess in the first place. In a manifesto released back in August, author Richard Heinberg, who is also the Senior Fellow-in-Residence of the US-Based Post Carbon Institute, explains why technology, which is widely heralded as our saviour, is not the secret sauce to solve all our environmental troubles. He joins us to discuss his arguments in the manifesto which is titled, “There’s No App for That: Technology and Morality in the Age of Climate Change, Overpopulation, and Biodiversity Loss.”

Energy and Authoritarianism

Could declining world energy result in a turn toward authoritarianism by governments around the world? As we will see, there is no simple answer that applies to all countries. However, pursuing the question leads us on an illuminating journey through the labyrinth of relations between energy, economics, and politics.

The International Energy Agency and the Energy Information Administration (part of the U.S. Department of Energy) anticipate an increase in world energy supplies lasting at least until the end of this century. However, these agencies essentially just match supply forecasts to anticipated demand, which they extrapolate from past economic growth and energy usage trends. Independent analysts have been questioning this approach for years, and warn that a decline in world energy supplies—mostly resulting from depletion of fossil fuels—may be fairly imminent, possibly set to commence within the next decade.

Even before the onset of decline in gross world energy production we are probably already beginning to see a fall in per capita energy, and also net energy—energy that is actually useful to society, after subtracting the energy that is used in energy-producing activities (the building of solar panels, the drilling of oil wells, and so on). The ratio of energy returned on energy invested (EROEI) for fossil energy production has tended to fall as high-quality deposits of oil, coal, and natural gas are depleted, and as society relies more on unconventional oil and gas that require more energy for extraction, and on coal that is more deeply buried or that is of lower energy content. Further, renewable energy sources, especially if paired with needed energy storage technologies, tend to have a lower (some say much lower) EROEI than fossil fuels offered during the glory days of world economic growth after World War II. And renewables require energy up front for their manufacture, producing a net energy benefit only later on.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
In progress...

Olduvai II: Exodus
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