Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Somewhere, near the Adirondacks...

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I'm taking a break.

Friday, May 27, 2005

On Kunstler's Long Emergency

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So we’ve got the idea.

1. Our western ‘way of life’, is based on cheap and abundant oil, even if like me, you don’t own a car.
2. Oil is a limited resource that is increasingly in demand, yet quickly diminishing in supply.
3. Current efforts to fill the gap with alternative energy sources are sporadic at best.
4. Putting the above three points together, the world, as we know it, is going to change within our lifetimes.

The underlying question and insecurity of all the Peak Oil books, blogsites, websites and articles is not “if” this will occur, but “how” and “to what degree.”

Salon recently conducted an interview with James Howard Kunstler, author of the book, “The Long Emergency.” If you don’t know about Kunstler, read the Rolling Stone article that synopsizes the book. This is the article that set me off and inspired me to begin this blog. In the interview Kunstler spells out our dour future, but he is more in favor of the idea that this event will unfold gradually.

“What we're talking about is the process of heading down the arch of depletion, not the catastrophic cutoff of oil”

Also, like me, he is an optimist about our survival as a race.

…“Kunstler believes the human race will survive as we slip down the other side of Hubbert's Oil Peak. But the high standard of living we've built by gorging on cheap oil will not. America, as a political entity, will be history too.”

As if it were not already self-evident, my studies in medicine point to the fact that most of what we see in hospitals, doctors offices and clinics are diseases of excess. One of the upsides of a decline in our ‘way of life’ is that the diseases – diabetes, obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular, lung , gastro-intestinal etc - will also decline. If we are indeed literally toiling in the fields for our daily bread, we are not likely to be obese. Lack of access to the candy-iced cream-sweetened cereal-soda isle in the now abandoned grocery store will go a long way toward ‘curing’ diabetes.

Kunstler has additional insight on how our imminent fall, in a backhanded sort of way, will be for our own good.

“American life will be much more about staying where you are than about ceaseless and endless and pointless mobility.
And that will resonate. We're afflicted by so many places that are simply not worth caring about anymore. This is having a tremendous effect on us. It's corroding our spirits. And, if pressed, I would have to say that it's led directly to the idea that it's possible to get something for nothing and if you wish upon a star your dreams come true. “

I will miss a lot of the convenience and abundance our way of life has offered me, such as flicking on a light switch, going out to the movies, restaurants and hot showers. I will miss flying in an airplane. (As I write this, I am on a plane going 650 miles an hour, flying at 33,000 feet - amazing). However, much of what is out there is over-rated and frankly has done, to us and our world, more harm than good. To these things I say, “Good riddance.”

(image courtesy of www.intellexual.net)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Do you feel a draft?

[Finals are over and that party was a bender; I hope there is no video evidence]
Check out the great article posted on the Daily Kos today about large scale wind power.

(image courtesy of www.coenergy.info)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Be Prepared

On the ferry coming in..3/00

I have been asked recently concerning the doomy and gloomy prospects for our future and my tack on it, “Why so extreme Mike?” While people seem to acknowledge that we have been living excessively, as a rule they think the most we will notice, in the inevitable depletion of oil, will be a gradual reduction in our standard of living with time to adjust. “Sure, riding in cars will be more of a luxury activity, but I will still be able to get to work; public transportation will pick up the slack.” I only hope it turns out that way.

I recently went to the Mission district and spoke with a pawnshop owner, a large bearded backwoods looking fellow. I was shopping for a good knife and I thought for sure this man knew a thing or two about survival, so I brought up Peak Oil. As I conjured up the anarchistic scenarios, he laughed in that ‘I’ve-heard-it-all-before’ way, and said, “Look, when it becomes too expensive to use oil we’ll switch to something else; we could go solar anytime we want, and as for cars, we’ll just switch to hydrogen.” My hopes for getting good advice from Grizzly Adams were dashed.

We cannot go solar anytime we want, and hydrogen comes from natural gas (like petroleum, a limited supply) or by electrolysis, an electrical process (where does the electricity come from?) Transiting into any alternative mode of energy production is going to take time and effort with binoculars on the long-term. The current powers-that-be are clearly not interested in the long term. As Jerome a Paris points out today, if there is little incentive to invest in the basic maintenance of the infrastructure that we depend on so heavily, is there going to be any momentum toward such visionary projects as the solarizing or wind-turbining of America?

I would love nothing more that to be on a beach in Hawaii twenty years from now with my friends all laughing at me. “Hey Mike,” they will say, “Why don’t you go catch me a fish with your homemade lure?” “Oh, and while you’re at it, see if there is a tasty grub under that log over there.” There will be laughs and drinks all around (on me, I promise) as they recall my days of survivalistic paranoia. In that day-dreamy future, the fact that I am in Hawaii implies that the aviation industry still exists and is usable by the common person. By extension, other fuel dependant industries must still exist. That I have time to be leisurely implies that I have a job and I have saved a little money to blow extravagantly. I could live with that alternative future.

What I am about these days is for being prepared. If we are prepared for the worst, and it turns out that we were extreme in our predictions, then we will take our ribbing at some future beach party. However, should the fan be hit by that dark and smelly substance, we will be ready, calm and wearing a raincoat.

[Soon to come: Note to my fellow nursing students and To stash or not to stash]

(photos courtesy of http://www.bradthegame.com and http://www.kingshepherd.com/)

Monday, May 16, 2005


In line with my emerging thesis that we are soon to return to our roots, there is an excellent post on the Kos today by DarkSyde regarding our ancestral origins. Check it out. Gastro-Intestinal Exam tomorrow!

Friday, May 13, 2005

Stand by

Please stand-by while I study for finals, because, here at City College, time stretches on and on and finals week lasts for months, sometimes years...

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

New Age Lemons

Artwork © - Jonathon Earl Bowser

I spoke with a friend recently about Peak Oil. As I was bringing up the facts and figures in support of it, she cut me off and said, “Look, I’m okay with dying.” The statement effectively ended the conversation but I wondered how many others out there had similar feelings.

I’m not ok with dying. My friend was coming from the point of view that spirit is immortal and why not drop the body when it gets to be too much? It is a sentiment I understand because she and I came from the same New Age school of logic; reincarnation, white light, angels etc. It may all be true, although as I drift closer to Zen Buddhism with the passing years, I am less inclined to believe so. Regardless, there are appropriate times to ‘drop the body’; theists and atheists alike will shout, “Let me go!” after a few months of bone metastasis. Peak Oil, however, is not bone metastasis.

For me, this desire to live comes from seeing this event as a daunting yet interesting puzzle to be solved. Peak Oil is a threat, no (non-metastasized) bones about it. It is a threat to the way we have lived for at least a few generations, and because of this generational complacency, it is a threat to our very lives. That being true, we can still meet this challenge; certainly a few hundred million of the willing.

The evidence is compelling that four of the six billion people currently on the planet are here only through the magic of cheap energy. Time for an analogy. We have all looked into the depths of our refrigerator and spotted the forgotten lemon way in the back and said, “I have to use that soon,” and then days later, noticing the green cast on the rind said, “I have to get rid of that soon.” The mold penicillium digitatum, had wandered into a cheap and easily accessible energy source, a lemon rind. Its peak population quickly became billions or trillions of times the size of the original inoculation set, but its days were numbered. Soon the entire rind was spongy and the lemon began to dehydrate. Before too much longer, what remained of the lemon is a dry and dusty little ball. Did any of those active spores know that the end was near? Hell no, they were in full party mode when the rind supply ran out, and when it did, they died-off. ‘Die-off’ is a commonplace occurrence in the bacteriological, plant and animal kingdoms. It is what Thomas Malthus was hinting at 200 years ago. It is so common that many microscopic organisms (including mold) have evolved endosporulation, a process whereby they put themselves into hibernation, until the next big lemon rind comes along. We are in the same boat folks, our lemon rind is running out but we do not have the luxury of hibernation.

Rather than be spores that are ‘okay with dying,’ I am proposing that we figure a way to drift from lemon to lemon; that we survive. How, you ask? Well, that is going to be a discovery process with me a blogging, mold-spore guinea pig. My ideas have to do with primitivism, so if you were hoping for me to gradually reveal plans for a free energy device that would ensure that our way of life would go on and on, I'm sorry. There are quite a few free energy sites already out there.

Here we go!

It seems that, even as we sit here drinking our coffee, Opec can no longer meet world demand, even at full capacity. By the way, while you were sleeping, a new Axis of Energy began forming to consolidate what oil does remain and, would you look at that, the United States was not included. Don't worry though, everything is under control. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Both of these stories are diaried at the Daily Kos by our friends, Jerome a Paris and Spiderleaf. Take a look.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Real Security

In the face of any disaster scenario, of what are we afraid? The first thing that comes to mind is the safety of those we love. Here in San Francisco, in the back of everyone’s mind lurks the question, “when is the next quake coming?” In truth though, San Franciscans do not spend very much time thinking about it. (Hmm, that would make an interesting diary on collective denial). After the safety of loved ones and ourselves, let’s face it, we are afraid of losing our things and perhaps the niche in society we have made for ourselves. The more stuff and status we have, the more we have to lose. The vagabond friend crashing on your couch has nothing to lose but his backpack when the quake takes your house. He will say something like, “Whoa, dude. Sorry about your house,” and be off to Seattle. You will have lost the fruits of many years of hard work. You will likely have to find a new neighborhood to live in. If your place of work was destroyed, you will find yourself hunting for a new job. Paradoxically, it seems the more affluent we are, the more disaster has the ability to claim us. Moreover, what is the pursuit of affluence about anyway? Aside from the societal jockeying-for-position aspect, is it not about creating a cushion of security?

In 1971, Marshall Sahlins wrote an excellent essay on the meaning of affluence. Here is one excerpt. [Emphasis mine]

“There are two possible courses to affluence. Wants may be "easily satisfied" either by producing much or desiring little. The familiar conception, the Galbraithean way- based on the concept of market economies- states that man's wants are great, not to say infinite, whereas his means are limited, although they can be improved. Thus, the gap between means and ends can be narrowed by industrial productivity, at least to the point that "urgent goods" become plentiful. But there is also a Zen road to affluence, which states that human material wants are finite and few, and technical means unchanging but on the whole adequate. Adopting the Zen strategy, a people can enjoy an unparalleled material plenty - with a low standard of living.”

Later, he says of our hunter-gatherer ancestors and present day cousins...

“a pristine affluence colours their economic arrangements, a trust in the abundance of nature's resources rather than despair at the inadequacy of human means.”

We can be secure without being affluent. There is much that we can work with using our own bare hands. What is this sense of security we can develop for ourselves that would survive any disaster; where we could lose everything and fear not about starting fresh? I think it is in cultivating skills, specifically, basic skills, that we can gain this sense of security. Learning how to build a canoe, or a bow, or solar water condenser may have no practical value today, but having taught yourself how to make them, imparts a sense of well being, a sense that, “Yeah. If I ever need this, I know how to make it.” I am student of a Filipino martial art known as Escrima Serrada. It is a very practical form of hand-to-hand self-defense. Will I ever need it? Maybe not, but I know that against the average mugger, I will fair very well. That skill gives me a sense of security that the affluent have to pay dearly for in the form of bodyguards.

With the potential chaos ahead, defend yourself by learning a skill. Learn how to fish, especially with a homemade fishing pole. When you get that fish, learn how clean it. Then prepare it and have it for dinner. Learn what edible herbs live within your area and then go find them and eat them. You will sleep well. You will be proud of yourself, even if you make six figures at your day job.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Enjoy the Ride

How do you bridge two worlds? I was reflecting on my prior diary (in the ‘blogosphere’, one’s essays, articles and other musings are often called diaries). I have been thinking lately of the things that we have given ourselves through our civilization. The ability for the common (U.S.) person to leave San Francisco and be in New York in time for dinner is astounding. To think that millions travel a daily distance, to and from work, that would take the better part of the day on horseback. They do it while eating breakfast, talking on the phone, putting on make-up, sometimes even while reading. They expend as many calories doing it as they would watching a sunset. I have a bunch of organically grown bananas on my table with a label from Ecuador on them. Ecuador! It is 5:00 am and my apartment is as bright as noon. It is an amazing and wonderful dream that I do not want to end.

My blogmate, Ran Prieur over on his own website, is preparing in his own way for the transition to a petroleum free world and I note that he is also feeling a sense of loss.
Says Ran...

“Is survival worth it? Do I really want to live another 50 years hanging out with the same people on the same piece of land, without ever again listening to Hawkwind's PXR5 album or eating chocolate ice cream or watching Brazil or walking down the sidewalk on a warm summer day surrounded by faces I've never seen before and hearing an old Boston song blasting from a passing convertible? Of course, my kids won't miss that stuff, and they'll get even deeper pleasure from immersion in reality, or "nature." But I'll miss that too, because it's alien to what I grew up in. I'll be an immigrant to the future, with one foot in each world, but belonging to neither.”

I was getting a ride home from school the other day from a fellow nursing student. She has a sweet little BMW convertible like the one above and I remarked about what a nice garden planter it will make when there is no more gas, of course after we remove the tires for cooking fuel and pull the alternator and belts for the homemade windmill. We laughed and I relaxed into the ride.

We should enjoy this. We should enjoy the toys we have while we have them, yet periodically practice roughing it. Take that luxury cruise, and then when you get home, try washing your clothes by hand. Go ahead and buy that plasma screen TV, then one night, shut off the electricity and read stories to your children by candle light.

If Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief can be overlaid onto all of life’s disappointments and not just death, then I have definitely entered the ‘acceptance’ stage. I am okay with what lies ahead. Complacent, however, I am not; among my summer projects - making a solar furnace and a bow and arrow by hand.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Conservation and Deaquisition

I am a nursing student and a few months back, before I discovered that my career might be short lived, my dad and I were discussing what I would do with my newfound wealth. The fabled starting salaries of nurses in San Francisco to me are staggering. After all, I have learned to live on $20,000 a year and that includes rent. Dad jokingly suggested that I buy a house in the Berkeley hills and I confessed that I would like to try, for one year at least, renting a flat on the top floor of some downtown high-rise. Toss in a lease on a Jag or some other extravagant vehicle, fine restaurants, frequent vacations - ah, the dreams of avarice. Whatever happened to the young man who grew his own sprouts and was proud of his large compost pile? Wasn’t he into French intensive gardening, solar power and recycling. Seems he’s been asleep.

What does it mean to conserve? This definition is from a website aimed at residential water conservation in Arizona and serves as well as any:

“Conservation is the management of resources such as water so as to eliminate waste or maximize efficiency of use. A related and complementary concept is sustainability. Activities are sustainable if they can be maintained over time without depleting the natural resource base….”

I remember a man named John Anderson running for President as an independent between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in 1980. He proposed a “conservation ethic” to deal with our energy woes, which appealed to my compost pile/solar panel mindset of the time. Do we need to revive the idea of a conservation ethic?

In relation to petroleum, the obvious flaw in the above definition of conservation is in the words, “sustainability” and “maintained.” The supply of petroleum can never be sustained or maintained; it was always destined to vanish. These past thirty years since Reagan dismantled Carter’s energy reforms, conservation could have been used to jumpstart alternative energies. Wind, oceanic, solar and even nuclear alternatives could have been brought up to a level to where we would no longer need oil (at least for our energy needs). It seems to me that, at this point, conservation is really just a palliative measure, tapping the brakes as we head over the edge like Thelma and Louise.

I have an addendum to the definition: conservation - the practice of 'deaquisition.' In contrast to the practice of acquiring things, as our western culture has honed to a fine edge, I propose developing the art of letting things go – deaquisition. We will in the near future, likely be forced to do without. By practicing deaquisition, the psychological blow will be lessened. Why not spend a day or two in your house with the electricity off? (Remember to empty your refrigerator first). What is it like not having a refrigerator? What do you do when the sun sets? What is it like not having a TV on for three days? I have had no TV for nine months now. I remain current and well connected via the internet. Hmmm, that would be a stretch for me - no internet.

I will detail this more in the future but I am just thinking, would you rather be pushed off the top of a four-story building or be given the option to walk down the stairs?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Jimmy Carter al la Jerome

Here's a fellow I would like to meet. Jerome a Paris is a frequent contributor over at the Daily Kos. He is one of the resident energy experts there. Today he paid a little tribute to Jimmy Carter who I have always thought was a visionary president.

Says Jerome...
"This is a President who has vision, who has the best interests of his country and of ALL his citizens in mind, who has ambitious goals and did not shy from asking for all to contribute to them. In essence, he was launching a "Manhattan Project" for energy (and that was after having already created the Strategic Oil reserve, launched house insulation efforts, kickstarted solar energy development, and reinforced CAFE standards). He said it would require efforts and sacrifices from all, but that it would be worth it in terms of efficiency, quality of living and jobs - and freedom."

This, however, is not a visionary President.

It would be incredibly easy, and oh so cathartic, to wax political on this blog. There is so much material out there that I would have to quit school just to get out the details of the abject corruption that permeates this administration. I’ll leave it to my fellow Kossacks over at the aforementioned Daily Kos.

One of the things I have come to see is that we cannot fully blame Shrub and his ilk for the impending energy disaster. We were always going to run out of oil someday. A case could be made for the 30 wasted years post Carter having sped the process up significantly. Surely, the sight of the President of the United States holding hands with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah does not inspire confidence. Yeah, right, I’m sure we're looking at alternative energy sources.


We really need to blame ourselves, and we need to hand the blame back several generations. We should never have become so complacent.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Mission Statement

This is an exploratory process for me. Originally, this blog was to be a web-based way for me to collect my observations and my experiments with living beyond the peak; an online diary for me to refer to. In the end, it may remain only that, because I am not going to be giving people any more than just one invitation to read, and the list will be rather short.

To me, the bread and butter issue with Peak Oil is largely that - food. When you realize how our food gets to us and how utterly dependant we are on petroleum to make and deliver this food, you can see what fools we have been to allow ourselves to be so dependent on a hopelessly limited resource. Oil permeates our lives like our little friend above, a victim of the Exxon Valdez. I will not be going into an exhaustive treatise into the evidence for Peak Oil, its short and long range effects. Others, more capable than myself, are already doing that well. I will post links on the front page as I come across them or provide links within my own articles.

A month or so went by after the epiphany of our demise (salvation?); a month, for me, of survivalistic foment. It was difficult. I am sure my grades in school experienced a temporary dip as I tried to rewire myself. Before long, I realized that we have had the answer in front of us all the time. It is my contention that we will be saved, on many fronts, by embracing our Paleolithic roots. We have lived this way for so long, it is what we are. The whole flirtation with a cheap and abundant energy source like oil was, unfortunately, just that, a flirtation - 100 years out of one million; unfortunate, because I still have dreams of the stars.

We could represent the past million years of our human existence in length, let’s say 10 meters. In terms of football field length, that is a little more than from the goal post to the 30-yard line. Look down the field to that line and now look down at your toes. Four days of fresh toenail growth of the big toe would arguably amount to one millimeter. This represents the effective length of the industrial revolution, that little piece of toenail.... It really has not been that long a time.

I also submit that humankind will run the entire length of the field. There is no doubt. Will your genes be part of that mix?

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Fred or George Future?

Don't get me wrong, this is the kind of future I have always envisioned for humankind. I assumed before long that viable, factory scale space stations would be in orbit, and within a century asteroid mining would be a viable industry. Soon the "Belters" would obtain independance from Earth and form a nation of sorts of their own. How long before a visit to Alpha Centauri?

Ah, so much more to say but I have an early lecture tomorrow and my Lab Final.


Sunday, May 01, 2005

If, When and How.

Unfortunately, I have chosen to start this blogsite right in the middle of finals crunch. I have been pondering the repercussions of Peak Oil for I guess a month now and I have so many things I need to get out. I read that there are something like 8.5 million blogs like this out there. I wonder if the bulk of them have this 'I-gotta-get-it-out-there' energy curve where you see massive daily postings that gradually taper off to nothing. Maybe having to share finals with my need to elucidate will help flatten the curve.

The best bloggers I have seen take the time to quote others who have already written about the topic at hand. For now, when I talk about Peak Oil, I am going to assume that you have read some of the essays in the "Inevitable" column off to the right, or articles as you find them out in the main stream media. I just do not have the time right now to write but off the top of my head.

For me it is not a matter of 'if' this will happen. It seems that, even looked at simplistically, we are in a bind. The rate of new oil discoveries has been on decline since 1964. While they say there is still a lot of oil left, it is getting technologically harder to get out and economically less profitable - supply is on decline. On the demand side? Go out and look at traffic. Count the SUV's. I remember the day (you knew that was coming) when the car ads boasted the MPG's of the advertised vehicle at the bottom of the ad. Oh yes, China and India are joining the oil consuming world and they are both very thirsty. Oh, and p.s., we have done NOTHING as a nation to avert this disaster since Jimmy Carter first pointed that we need to look at it.

It is more a matter of when and how, specifically. After spending weeks in a 'the end is near' froth after reading essays like Kunstler's, or Bagaent's, or any of the numerable dismal websites devoted to this topic, I came across one written by Ran Prieur. It was like a glass of cool water on a hot day. The difference was in the timing of this event. On the one hand the potential immediacy and severity of the event, on the other, a more gradual sliding down. As Prieur puts it, “It won't be like falling off a cliff, more like rolling down a rocky hill." I'll let you read as I need to get going.

I e-mailed Prieur to thank him…

I just read your essay The Slow Crash and I think you
may have saved me. I have recently discovered the Peak Oil literature and had my paradigm shifted in a big way. Your essay is very well reasoned and the crash will probably be less dramatic than I had imagined.

I won’t be buying guns at any rate.

Thanks again,

Mike Plank

hi mike,

well, if i'm right i saved you, and if i'm wrong, and
it's a sudden hard crash, i may have killed you! :)
one thing i didn't mention, that makes me think it
will be slow, is that i think women have better
survival instincts than men, and none of the women i
know are worried, even if they've seen the peak oil
stuff. only very mechanical-thinking males are


I have noticed a similar phenomenon with some of the women with whom I have spoken.