Friday, July 29, 2005

Washington, D.C.

Sorry folks, I've been here for the past week. I will post soon.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


(image courtesy

Here is an article that shows promise for small-scale fusion. Scientists at Purdue have acheived results indicating that they have produced a successful nuclear fusion reaction in a small laboratory setting.

“’The two key signatures for a fusion reaction are emission of neutrons in the range of 2.5 MeV and production of tritium, both of which were seen in these experiments..’”

The mechanism for producing the reaction in this experiment is called ‘acoustic cavitation.’ Sound waves are used to cause the formation of micro bubbles in a fluid. When these bubbles implode, they produce tremendous heat and pressure, albeit on a small scale.

“Researchers have estimated that temperatures inside the imploding bubbles reach 10 million degrees Celsius and pressures comparable to 1,000 million earth atmospheres at sea level.”

These conditions mimic the fusion reactions within the sun and also - what scientists are trying to duplicate on a larger scale - the Tokamak (magnetic confinement fusion) and high energy lasers (inertial confinement fusion).

The development of ANY form of small scale controlled fusion would be fantastic:

“Development of a low-cost thermonuclear fusion generator would offer the potential for a new, relatively safe and low-polluting energy source. Whereas conventional nuclear fission reactors make waste products that take thousands of years to decay, the waste products from fusion plants would be short-lived, decaying to non-dangerous levels in a decade or two. For the same unit mass of fuel, a fusion power plant would produce 10 times more energy than a fission reactor, and because deuterium is contained in seawater, a fusion reactor's fuel supply would be virtually infinite. A cubic kilometer of seawater would contain enough heavy hydrogen to provide a thousand years' worth of power for the United States.”

Is it time for Mr. Fusion?

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Is Congress getting a clue?

(Winston Churchill addressing congress Dec. 26, 1941)

While I have grown permanently cynical about our elected officials caring for anything beyond the bidding of their corporate masters (see snark at the end of last post), Sterling Newberry points out today that Congress is more than ever interested in Peak Oil.

While much of the focus has been on the Supreme Court, something else has been making the rounds in Congress, and on both sides of the aisle.

Interest in Peak Oil.

It may be something which has slipped under the radar screen, but it is also a reality: in the last 6 months the group think of Washington DC has changed dramatically, and various politicians are now feeling around for higher ground.

The bricks of this consensus are:

  • Iraq is a dry hole.
  • The tooth fairie has not found another Saudi Arabia.
  • The Chinese are seeking to secure oil at source.
  • Something has to be done about all of this.

The Saudi’s are admitting that the days of the light sweet crude are coming to a close, what is left is the sour crude which requires much more refining, an ability we do not have, hence the push for more refineries. Combining this with some healthy competition from other countries...

Nothing like a Sputnik crisis to light a fire, I always said.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Household finance

In my observation, in spite of excellent home finance software like Quicken and MSMoney, people have no idea how much they are spending in any category of their financial lives.

It was over ten years ago that I was introduced to Quicken. I was enamored from the start. I had a job at the time watching over master control of a local TV station in south Florida between the hours of 11:00pm and 7:00am. The station was largely automated at night so I had time to play with the office computer and its programs. It was there that I learned how to categorize my financial life. Within a few months, I was tracking and categorizing everything I spent down to a cup of coffee. What happened was that, over time, I really got a handle on how I was spending my money. I could see where I was spending frivolously. I saw the how the category 'restaurants' would spike during an intense stretch of dating, prompting me to be a better cook at home. I could also see that my caffeine addiction cost me $750.00 annually, and has only worstened over the years.

Households are often run paycheck to paycheck and the definition of a “budget” is something on the order of, “Learning what we can get for our money and do our best to live within that amount.” The expression, “not enough month at the end of the money,” is an all too common situation in consumerist America.

I personally know of no one that tracks their expenses this way, though I am sure there are those that do. The shame of it is that this kind of detailed household financing would show, in nicely colored graphs, how something like the increasing price of oil affects the household bottom line. Without a monthly report showing a spike in their ‘personal transportation’ category, people will not change their habits as the prices rise. They will fill up the tank, note in passing how expensive gas is getting, toss the receipt on the floor and forget about it.

The insidious problem as I see it, is that by not having a firm grasp on how last month’s expenses differed from the month before, there is no motivation, no sense of panic to make the (possibly drastically) needed changes to the family lifestyle. As the months roll on there is only the sense that, for some reason, they are further behind than ever; or a straw - like a protracted illness or a layoff - breaks the camels back and the family is suddenly facing foreclosure.

How can this help with the Peak Oil phenomenon? Not much directly, but tracking how much we are spending on gas and noticing that the price of everything is rising more quickly than usual, might personalize Peak Oil. The more people are personally affected, the more voices we will hear telling our elected officials that the alternatives need to be developed, NOW.

And we all know that our elected officials have our best interests at heart don’t we?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The simple life

One of my sisters' today e-mailed me this cute little story. It has apparently made the internet rounds with a few versions.

A boat docked in a tiny Mexican village. An American tourist complimented the Mexican fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took him to catch them.

"Not very long," answered the Mexican.

"But then, why didn't you stay out longer and catch more?" asked the American.

The Mexican explained that his small catch was sufficient to meet his needs and those of his family.

The American asked, "But what do you do with the rest of your time?"

"I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, and take a siesta with my wife. In the evenings, I go into the village to see my friends, have a few drinks, play the guitar, and sing a few songs. I have a full life."

The American interrupted, "I have an MBA from Harvard and I can help you! You should start by fishing longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra revenue, you can buy a bigger boat."

And after that?" asked the Mexican.

With the extra money the larger boat will bring, you can buy a second one and a third one and so on until you have an entire fleet of trawlers. Instead of selling your fish to a middle man, you can then negotiate directly with the processing plants and maybe even open your own plant. You can then leave this little village and move to Mexico City, Los Angeles, or even New York City! From there you can direct your huge new enterprise."

"How long would that take?" asked the Mexican.

"Twenty, perhaps twenty-five years," replied the American.

"And after that?"

"Afterwards? Well my Friend, That's when it gets really interesting," answered the American, laughing. "When your business gets really big, you can start selling stocks and make millions!"

"Millions? Really? And after that?" said the Mexican.

"After that you'll be able to retire, live in a tiny village near the coast, sleep late, play with your children, catch a few fish, take a siesta with your wife and spend your evenings drinking and enjoying your friends."

I realize that this is one of the conclusions to which I have been coming: The transition to the post petroleum world will be messy to a greater or lesser degree. At some point, a stasis will be reached and I argue that we will find that the quality of our lives will have actually improved. It behooves us in the west to really define what quality of life means. I think it is something other than technology and money, and that is coming from an avowed techhead and someone who has made a little money in the stock market.

These days, I’m with the simple Mexican portrayed in the story.
(Gaugin- Siesta 1894)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

More mainstream acknowledgement

Our peak oil champion, Jerome a Paris, over at the Daily Kos and the European Tribune, has once again pointed to something notable. It seems that Chevron, is publicly acknowledging Peak Oil, and beseeching us to work together. Such a pronouncement ought to make us suspicious, says Jerome, but we should ignore that urge, take this as a talking point and let it be yet another rallying cry. Here is Jerome’s article.

Something to note: when I started this blog in March, petroleum was below $50.00 a barrel. It has passed $60.00 and it is mid July now. Tick-tock-tick-tock.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

At ease man!

I have been noticing, especially on long walks, when I have lots of time to think, that I am becoming more at ease with the potential disaster that faces us.

Like many of you readers, I have been on a self-taught, mini-internet-based-peak-oil-seminar since March when I first became aware of just how ‘impending’ this crisis is. I have learned that there is much for which to be hopeful. The alternatives are out there. Biodiesel from algae, Solar-Zinc-air batteries and the new high energy dense, fast charging Lithium Ion batteries are portable energy alternatives to gasoline that can be produced in equivalent quantities to gasoline.

Coal and Nuclear energy can and will fill the gaps we get from the missing petroleum from the grid. We have enough coal for 200 years at present consumption. Nuclear will make a comeback, especially if we are to be doubling our national electrical output charging up all those cars and trucks.

There is much to be optimistic about, but I do not think that is why I am feeling more at ease. These alternatives hinge on one thing: that we get moving right now on developing the new infrastructure. It should be all too evident that this is not getting the attention it deserves. Very likely, the realization will come very late in the game. It will be rough on us climbing out of that hole, but climb out some portion of us will.

That, I think is partially were my burgeoning sense of ease lies. Primarily, however, the sense of control I am getting has come from my pushing my own envelope. I am realizing that I will survive this and probably bring a few along with me. Getting that Walton feed order was a big relief. Provided fire or an earthquake does not take the building in the near future, there will be food and there will be water. I am learning archery; in fact bought a good bow and arrows today. I have been playing with snares. I have been continuing my self-defense studies in earnest. I have been eating and exercising like our Paleolithic ancestors, and find that I am feeling quite healthy these days. Finally, by staying involved with my fellow humans via my volunteer work at the Emergency Department, I am able to keep a sense of connectedness with people in the midst of their own catastrophes.

There is something to be said for covering one’s bases, for planning for lean times, for practicing what one might do in a variety of emergencies. It makes you feel that you have at least a little control in an increasingly out of control world.

[update 7/10]
I am also feeling the urge to relax my bleating and feeling like less like a Cassandra as the notion of peak oil becomes more mainstream. In addition, I am seeing evidence that the ruling neocons’ tightly bound ball of yarn is beginning to unravel, and the little kittens that are doing the unraveling are the republican party itself and the long slumbering mainstream media. I love it, and like any true Cassandra, I knew it would happen all along.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

A Tale of Two Wookiees

(with much homage to the great George Lucas)

A tale of two wookies; a close approximation of the pronunciation of the acronym “TEOTWAWKI” a word that is cropping up more and more in the Peak Oil blogosphere. If you do not already know, it is short for The End of the World as We Know It. The word may conjure images of survivalistism and anarchy, because I think people have been focusing on the “End” part and not on the “as We Know it” part.

TEOTWAWKI is not the end of the world, only of the way we have come to know it. The death of a spouse, losing one’s job as well as severe climate or economic changes would qualify as TEOTWAWKI events.

What is important to remember that with preparation and practice these events are all survivable, if you so chose. I have been told on several occasions something on the order of, “I would rather die than try to have to figure out where I’m getting my next meal.” I think this is just laziness. It is too uncomfortable for people to imagine themselves in survival situations, so they just don’t think about it. I would be willing to bet, however, that should the grocery stores empty out, and the government food lines begin forming, they would chose to queue up with the rest of the town for their loaf, rather then die in their apartments.

Part of the process of surviving is just imagining our way through it. I think, not being caught completely by surprise, is paramount to avoiding the shell shock of finding out that your life has permanently changed. I remember a documentary I saw once about the Loma Prieta quake that occurred in the bay area in ’89. There was one young woman being interviewed a few weeks after it had occurred. She had an apartment in the Marina district which was pretty heavily hit and her apartment had been completely flattened. What got me was the look in her eyes and her listless affect; she could not get past everything she owned being destroyed. In her own words she had, “lost her identity.”

I am not trying to be unsympathetic, nor am I saying that we can imagine ourselves out of life and death situations. However, as a people, we are rather complacent and lack preparedness; we lack training.

I practice a Filipino martial art called Escrima Serrada. In Serrada, you learn two to three defenses against each of a variety of angles of attack. There are only so many directions from which an attacker would feasibly come at you, so in effect the defenses are few and can be learned in a short time. The real mastery comes from practicing regularly for years, to the point that when you see something coming at you from the attacker’s right hand, for instance, be it a fist, a broken bottle, a stick, you reflexively defend in the most appropriate manner. It is a thoughtless process. We ought to be practicing alternate ways of living too, not necessarily until they are reflexive, but at least until they are familiar.

How many of us could improvise a solar distiller? They are quite easy to make, and could save your life. What about a snare? You can easily get your dinner in the wild with a whittling knife and some heavy fishing line. Those are some extreme examples, but what would you do if the electricity was off for a week and the stores were empty of batteries – no flashlight; no radio. Well, there exists a wind-up radio and a flashlight that generates two hours of light if you shake it for a minute. Do you have these devices?

By taking the Boy Scout motto – ‘be prepared’ – seriously, the changes brought about by TEOTWAWKI might not challenge our very identity, but rather might actually be welcome.