Category Archives: Natural Gas Peak Production

Bloom Box not an Energy Game Changer

Here is good technical overview of the Bloom Box from Green Chip Review.  I’d would agree that the “Box” is not an energy game changer, but potentially a slightly more efficient and greener way to convert natural gas into electricity.  If it gains traction and gets rolled out in scale, it is likely to peak in tandem with the world wide peak of natural gas.

The Obama Energy Plan and our Homes

How will Obama’s energy polices affect our homes?  We won’t really know until his proposals are debated and enacted by congress, but we can get a sense of what might happen from his campaign’s position statements.  From his campaign website’s fact sheet his stated position on building energy efficiency is as follows:

“Obama…will establish a goal of making all new buildings carbon neutral, or produce zero emissions, by 2030.  [He] will also establish a national goal of improving new building efficiency by 50 percent and existing building efficiency by 25 percent over the next decade to help us meet the 2030 goal.”

This is straight from the playbook of Ed Mazra’s Architecture 2030 Challenge.  As evidenced by the following quote from the 2030 website, the 2030 Challenge is predicated on climate change and the reduction of green house gas emissions associated with the Building Sector.

“Rapidly accelerating climate change (global warming), which is caused by greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, is now fueling dangerous regional and global environmental events. Data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration illustrates that buildings are responsible for almost half (48%) of all GHG emissions annually. Seventy-six percent of all electricity generated by US power plants goes to supply the Building Sector. Therefore, immediate action in the Building Sector is essential if we are to avoid hazardous climate change.”

I have two issues with the 2030 Challenge.

One is that the 48% responsibility for GHG emissions attributed to buildings is overstated.  The emissions assigned to the building sector are primarily the indirect result of drawing on electrical power generated from coal and natural gas fired power plants, so the question becomes whether to focus our resources on the building “demand” side, or the power plant “supply” side, or some combination of both.  In that broader context, we may find that it is much easier to deal with a few hundred power plants than to transform 150 million residential and commerical buildings.  From a public policy perspective, both the demand and supply side should be considered as a synergistic whole.

My second issue is more fundamental.  Architecture 2030 asks and answers the wrong question.  The question that Architecture 2030 asks is what actions should we take to mitigate the effect of the building sector on climate change.  However, the greater question is what actions should we take to render the building sector sustainable.  Once sustainability is on the table then we have to consider carrying capacity and carrying capacity overshoot at which point climate change is just another canary in the coal mine.

Carrying capacity is all about the ecological limits (capacity) of our planet’s resources and sinks.  By considering GHG emissions as the primary driver for building energy improvements, policy makers are overlooking the much more immediate and serious resource issues of peak oil and gas.  Since both of these peak events will be evident as early as 2010, all buildings should be built or retrofitted to a net zero energy and carbon standard NOW, not 22 years from now.

However, I digress.  Since it will take the actual emergency of these peaking events to mobilize the political will to enact a national zero energy standard, the question is what can we expect when Obama takes office next year.

The first likely step will be to start the process of improving building efficiency by 50% through our building codes.  A significant improvement is already in the works for the residential sector with the IECC 2009. However, at this time, the 30% improvement authored by the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition, will only be a voluntary appendix to the next release of the code.  In addition, once the new code is released, it has to be reviewed and adopted by hundreds of city, county, and state authorities.  In the process, these authorities often dumb down new energy code provisions in response to local politics.  We can also expect a major push back from a decimated housing sector deeply concerned about adding any new code mandated building costs.

My best guess is that under Obama, the voluntary 30% improvement provision authored by Energy Efficient Codes Coalition will be supported by Obama’s Grant Program for Early Adopters policy proposal.  This proposal creates a competitive grant program for states and localities that “take the first steps in implementing new building codes that prioritize energy efficiency, and provides a federal match for those states with leading-edge public benefits funds that support energy efficiency retrofits of existing buildings.”

The grant proposal creates a policy that respects local politics and helps to support those areas of country that have the political will to move forward with improving building energy efficiency.

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The Pickens Plan

I have nothing against wind power and think it will be an important part of our future energy mix.  However, I think The Pickens Plan is misleading and will not lead to the advertised reduction in oil imports.

The Pickens Plan

  • The goal of the plan is to replace 1/3 of our oil imports in 10 years.
  • We would first replace existing natural gas fired power plants (20% of our generating capacity) with wind turbine power.  According to Pickens, this will cost about $1-trillion for the wind turbines and another $200-billion for additional grid/transmission infrastructure.
  • We would then take the natural gas displaced from power generation and use it to fuel compressed natural gas [CNG] cars and trucks instead of using gas and diesel fuel.

All this sounds simple enough, but as usual the devil is in the details.  I see three main fallacies.

Fallacy One – A variable and uncontrollable power supply like wind cannot replace a flexible, on-demand power source like natural gas.   The following is from the DOE’s July 2008 report titled “20% Wind Energy by 2030”:

“There are two separate and distinct power system challenges to obtaining 20% of U.S. electric energy from wind. One challenge lies in the need to reliably balance electrical generation and load over time when a large portion of energy is coming from a variable power source such as wind, which, unlike many traditional power sources, cannot be accessed on demand or is “nondispatchable.

Transmission system operators must ensure that enough generation capacity is operating on the grid at all times, and that supply meets demand, even through the daily and seasonal load cycles within the system. To accommodate a nondispatchable variable source such as wind, operators must ensure that sufficient reserves from other power sources are available to keep the system in balance.

However, overall it is the net system load that must be balanced, not an individual load or generation source in isolation. When seen in this more systemic way, wind energy can play a vital role in diversifying the power system’s energy portfolio.”

Translation:  There is a limit to how much of a variable power source like wind can be accommodated by the system and the DOE estimated that limit to be about 20% of the total electrical power generated.  In addition, after adding this new wind power, the system will continue to need natural gas fired, on-demand, dispatchable power to achieve a balance between supply and demand.

The bottom line – Few if any gas fired power plants can be displaced by wind power.

Fallacy Two – Utilities are unlikely to decommission any of their gas fired power plants.   In 2009, congress will probably enact a Cap & Trade policy for greenhouse gases.  Since coal fired power plants emit 2 times more CO2 than gas fired plants,  to reduce emission costs, utilities are much more likely to decommission older coal plants as new wind generation capacity comes on line rather than gas plants.  It’s even more likely that they’ll just use the additional capacity to meet growing demand.

The bottom line – Few if any gas fired power plants will be displaced by wind power.

Fallacy Three – In the near future, we will not be able produce enough natural gas to meet current demand let alone meet any new demand for transportation.

U.S. natural gas production peaked in 1973 and we have just managed to maintain production levels at near 1973 levels by extracting “unconventional” gas from tight sand and shale formations, deep water sources in the gulf of Mexico, and by tapping into coal bed methane gas.  We are now working almost twice as hard to extract the same amount of gas, and since 1990 the number of active wells has increased from 250,000 to over 450,000.  In addition, since 1996 production per thousand feet of well drilled has fallen from 350 MMcf/1,000ft to 60 Mmcf/1,000ft.  Based on the current trends, U.S. production may soon fall off a cliff.

U.S. Natural Gas ProductionAs a result, 20% of our needs are now met by imports. Canada provides most of these imports with a much lessor amount coming in the form of liquid natural gas [LNG] from Trinidad and few other sources.  Unfortunately, Canadian production is now in decline [~3% per year] and may be unable to supply our import needs as early as 2010.

The arctic pipeline of Sarah Palin fame will be capable of supplying 8% of our current demand, but will not be on line until 2018 at the soonest.  Our best near term option is to import and compete for LNG on the global market at more than twice the cost of our existing supply.  This will put us at the mercy of Middle Eastern and Russian suppliers which control more than 50% of the global supply.  In addition, it is doubtful the the current LNG infrastructure of tankers and de-gasification terminals is adequate to meet U.S. demand.

Bottom Line – Don’t run out and purchase that compressed natural gas [CNG] vehicle any time soon

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Fossil Fuel Whack-A-Mole

“I believe strongly that this country has to get off oil … The electrification of the
automobile is inevitable.”

Bob Lutz, GM Vice-Chairman, in Newsweek magazine, 2007

“Our view is that oil production will peak in the near future. We need to develop power train(s) for alternative energy sources,” to “move beyond petroleum.”
Katsuaki Watanabe, President of Toyota, June 2008

Our pattern of dwelling in America would not be possible without the everywhere, anytime mobility of the automobile. The initial catalysts for our grand experiment with suburbia were abundant and cheap gasoline, the GI bill of 1944, and the vision of William Levitt who brought land outside of cites like New York and Philadelphia and constructed “towns” made of thousands of low cost homes. Levitt’s invention would be duplicated all across America and gradually devolve into the suburban sprawl, traffic jambs, and one hour commutes of the 21st century.

I spent my early childhood in a Southern California version of one of these post WWII developments. We lived amid thousands of homes laid out in military grid formation with wide asphalt streets, concrete sidewalks, and the occasional park and school. We ate 25¢ hamburgers at America’s first drive-in restaurants and fell asleep eating popcorn in the back of our family station wagon at the local drive-in theatre. Cars where central to our lives and Detroit was still king of the automotive world. Like a Paris fashion event, the annual introduction of new car models was exciting news and we all looked forward to how our nation’s car designers would drape and color the latest in sheet metal fashion for America’s showrooms. Everyone in the neighborhood could play “name the make, model, and year of that car” and when a new model arrived in someone’s driveway, we all gathered around to admire and compare.

However, today the shine is off the Studebaker. Levitt & Sons has gone bankrupt. A victim of overreach and the sub-prime mortgage crisis. What’s left of the Detroit auto industry is hemorrhaging cash as they scramble to survive in a $130 per barrel, SUV killing world. In an effort to save our vast investment in suburbia and our automotive lifestyle major auto companies and a few entrepreneurial startups are designing and beginning to promote plug-in hybrid, all electric, compressed air, and hydrogen fuel cell cars as the answer to rising gas and diesel prices.

I have to question whether we will just transition painlessly to the next generation “power train” or will this new autopia be a game of fossil fuel whack-a-mole before we have to face up to to the unsustainable reality of suburbia? In the short term the answer is a tentative maybe as we navigate the two decades between today’s emerging crisis of peak oil and tomorrow’s crisis of peak coal.

Understanding and Comparing A New Generation of Automotive Power Trains
Nothing is free when it comes to energy and transportation, and all of these new automotive power trains will merely transfer the current demand for gasoline into a new demand for electricity. In America, that means we’ll be trading off oil against coal and natural gas which together comprise the base fuels for about 80% of our electrical capacity.

Electric, compressed air, and hydrogen cars often get promoted as super clean, zero emission, technologies and I still get the occasional email from friends who seem to think that the laws of thermodynamics have been suspended for these new technologies and that we’ll be driving around burning water for fuel.

The truth is that all of these new power trains will require fossil fuel inputs to get us to work and back. Electric and plug-in hybrid cars will depend on lithium ion batteries that will need to be plugged into the national electric grid every evening for a recharge. Air cars will depend on high pressure storage tanks of compressed air that will have to be re-pressurized every evening using electrical power. The one question that usually goes unasked and answered for hydrogen cars, is “where does the hydrogen come from?”. The unfortunate answer is that hydrogen will come from the electrolysis of water and that will require an energy input of either electric power or the burning of natural gas. In addition, after creating the hydrogen, much like air, it must be compressed to store enough usable energy for the fuel cells to convert hydrogen into DC electricity for the power train.

Although there are cost tradeoffs between the three options, based on the efficiency of converting electrical power into miles driven, lithium ion electric cars have a clear advantage. A study by the Institute for Lifecycle Environmental Assessment based on incorporating each of the three drive trains into the equivalent of a Ford Taurus gives the lithium ion technology a three to one advantage in miles per kwh of electrical input.

Based on electrical rates in Denver, and 18 miles/gallon for a Taurus, the “equivalent gallon” costs of all three technologies easily beats our current national average of over $4. However, when you compare the CO2 emissions, based on 1.8 lbs/kwh in Colorado, only the electrical car emits less greenhouse gas than the equivalent gasoline powered Taurus.

A Game of Fossil Fuel Whack-A-Mole?
We get about 60% of our electrical energy from coal and about 20% from natural gas. The good news is that coal plants, which provide most of our base load power, have excess capacity after about 10 PM at night, and ased on a study by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory that assumes plug-in hybrids gain a 50% market share by 2030, we’ll only need an additional 8 large power plants to meet that new electric car demand. The bad news is that if we plug in at 5 PM instead of 10 PM, we’ll need an additional 160 large power plants to meet demand.

In either case, we’ll be burning millions of tons of additional coal to power the electric, hybrid plug-in, compressed air, and hydrogen cars of the near future. In the process we’ll be driving up the cost of coal and electricity and hastening coal’s eventual depletion.

An October 2007 report by the Energy Watch Group estimates that we’ll be facing a world wide peak in the production of coal sometime around 2030. This study does NOT factor in a new generation of automotive power trains that rely on electricity. Since electrical power generation is the primary end use of coal, this peak in coal production will only move closer.

I agree with Bob Lutz that “the electrification of the automobile is inevitable”, but if we think coal is the answer then we’re just playing a pathetic energy endgame of Fossil Fuel Whack-A-Mole.

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Natural Gas Shortages and the coming CHILL in America’s Living Rooms

Conventional, easy-to-get natural gas in the U.S. has already peaked and natural gas from all sources will peak in North America around 2010 and globally between 2030 and 2035.
Dr. Michael Smith, Energy Files Ltd., 2004“

The North American outlook for natural gas production is not good. Mexican production has been in decline since 1999. U.S. production has been in a plateau for some time. All the big finds have been tapped and are in decline. Currently, we are bringing new wells online at a maddening pace just to keep our domestic production flat. And the new wells are declining at rates as high as 80% in the first year. The size of the new finds is also diminishing. Over the past decade, the amount of gas found per foot drilled has declined by 50%.
Dale Allen Pfeiffer, The Natural Gas Cliff, October 2005

Since natural gas is used to heat over 60% of the homes in America and in about 70% of new homes, its important to know how it gets to our homes and how fragile natural gas is as a source of both direct heating energy and as an indirect source of electrical generation for cooling.

Natural gas consists mostly of methane. Conventional natural gas is found in underground formations of porous rock, and conventional, easy sources of NG in the U.S. peaked in 1973. To keep up with demand, we are now frantically drilling and keeping our supply heads above water with a combination of shale gas, tight gas(from non-porous rock formations), deep gas (from wells over 15,000 feet in depth), sub-sea gas, and coalbed methane gas. These “unconventional” sources all require more risk and capital for extraction. Nearly 20% of U.S. demand is filled with imports from Canada through our existing pipeline system and to a much lessor extent via imports of liquid natural gas (LNG) from Trinidad and Tobago.

Natural gas gets to our homes through a complex system of pipes or “lines”. Gathering lines connect drill rig production areas to natural gas processing or refining plants which separate out natural gas liquids, water, carbon dioxide, sulfur, and inert gases such as helium which would reduce the energy value of the gas. The refined gas is then piped into a 280-thousand mile North American transmission network. This network consists of 20 to 42-inch diameter pipes with compressor “boost stations” located about 75-miles apart to maintain sufficient working pressure.

Local distribution companies tap into to this network, providing a storage buffer, and metering the gas through a system of more than one million miles of mains and smaller trunk lines that bring gas to our homes.

Much of the soil in the Great Plains is little more than a sponge into which we must pour hydrocarbon-based [natural gas] fertilizers in order to produce crops.
Dale Allen Pfeiffer, Eating Fossil Fuels, 2004

Looming Natural Gas Shortages

No one knows how and exactly when shortages will occur, but shortages are inevitable, even in the context of exploiting new arctic natural gas sources and the building of a massive LNG (liquid natural gas) infrastructure. Both of these sources will take years to develop and to have an impact and will require billions of dollars in capital expenditures. LNG is our best hope of avoiding severe shortages, but dependence on LNG will thrust us into the international gas market, forcing us to compete for Middle Eastern and Russia gas with Europe and the emerging economies of India and China, at prices two to three times what we pay today. By the time arctic gas and imported LNG become available in meaningful quantities, we will have already begun a steady and irreversible decline in our current North American sources of production.

A few years ago people looked at L.N.G. as a solution to North America’s gas needs. But
today we see that there is less L.N.G. around than people expected, and there is more
competition for that L.N.G. from markets that are willing to pay more than the United States.

Nikos Tsafos, analyst with PFC Energy, 2008

At first higher prices will cause demand destruction in the industrial sector and manufacturers will convert to other energy sources like coal or move production to locations in the world where natural gas is still plentiful. Eventually, because modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fertilizer, and natural gas in the primary fertilizer feedstock, we may be faced with the dilemma of either heating our homes or putting food on the table.

Just as we will be forced to find new ways to configure and power a personal transportation system, we will have to find new ways (or revert to old ways) to moderate the internal environments of our homes. The equivalent of 500 HP forced air furnaces lumbering away in the basements of our poorly constructed and insulated homes will no longer be sustainable in a world of rapidly depleting fossil fuel supplies. In many ways the inertia of transforming over 100 million existing homes will be more difficult than transforming our transportation system and onus and urgency for change will fall on the homeowner.

There are about 2,000 drilling rigs in the U.S.  That’s one rig for every 150,000 people, an
increasingly dicey formula. Last winter we Americans collectively consumed more than 2 trillion cubic-feet of natural gas each month, one-fourth of it from the Rockies. Due to accelerating decline rates in older fields, we now need to replace with new drilling one-third of the gas we used the year before. Charlie calls this the “depletion treadmill,” and he is chained to it. If guys like Charlie stopped working for a year, you’d have to turn a few things off, big things like, say, New York and Ohio.
– Peak Oil Review 8/25/08

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State of the Union 2010

“[The President] shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
The United States Constitution, Article II, Section 3

Members of Congress, madame Speaker, distinguished guests, my fellow Americans…as many who have come before me, I stand before you this evening to fulfill a constitutional obligation. The first State of the Union address was delivered in straight forward manner to a newly formed congress by George Washington on January 8th, 1790. However, some two century’s latter, this time honored tradition has in devolved into political theatre with standing ovations predictably limited to one side of the aisle and political points cynically won from guests planted in the gallery. The American people deserve better, so this evening I will depart from my prepared remarks and tell the people of America and of the world what they need to hear rather than what they either want or expect to hear. Many will not like what I have to say, but this union and the world stand at a cross roads and there is no better forum than this to address this critical moment in history.

When George Washington delivered the first address in 1790 the population of the world stood at approximately 1 billion and the population of our new fledgling country was less than 4 million. Our nation’s borders had yet to reach the Pacific and many parts of the earth, including our great western states were still unexplored. Mankind’s footprint on this world was still relatively small. At the beginning of our nation’s life, it was just and reasonable to limit the focus of this address to our new and fragile union. However, today we cannot understand the state of our union without first putting it in both its historical context and in the context of the state of our planet. To do otherwise, would be to put us in grave danger.

In contrast to the time of Washington’s address, the population of the earth today exceeds 6.6 billion and our country’s population stands at nearly 304 million. As a result of that growth, mankind’s footprint on this world has in many ways begun to exceed the limits of the earth’s carrying capacity. We see the effects of these limits manifested in record high natural gas and heating oil prices, $200/barrel oil, $10/gallon gasoline, climate change, a persistent and prolonged state of financial crisis, the ongoing military conflicts in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, and in the continuing food shortages and riots in both our country and around the world. But these issues, as serious and troubling as them may seem, are merely symptoms, not the root cause of the problems we face today.

When America’s space program provided us with the first photos of our planet from the perspective of space, we were awed not only by the beauty of our planet, but by it’s lonely isolation. One small planet providing an island oasis for humanity in an infinite universe. We can easily grasp the limitations of an island, but we have naively thought of the earth as an infinite source of life nurturing resources. The truth however, is that every planet like every island has a limited supply of natural resources and our planet is no different. As the world’s population and economy has grown, our natural resources have been systematically exhausted to the point were we can no longer depend on their increasing supply to fuel our economic growth and standards of living. Our undeniable reality is that we will have to accept and adjust to the limits imposed by the closed system we call Earth.

The challenge these natural limits will impose on our nation and the world will exceed any that we have faced either as a nation or as a community of nations. Our state of the world is that we have outgrown and exceeded the capacity of the earth to sustain the current level of population at current levels of consumption. Every other problem we face today is but a symptom of this one undeniable fact. Our choice is simple, we can either chase after symptoms and descend into a death spiral of conflict over dwindling resources, or we can use what remains of the earth’s resources to create a sustainable world for thousands of future generations. As a community of nations, we will have one chance and one chance only to accomplish this transition and the time is now. This is our moment to fail or succeed. If we fail to use what remains of our fossil fuel and other resources to successfully make this transition, the consequences will be dire and the world will return to a pre-industrial existence capable of sustaining only a fraction of the world’s existing population. Time is not on our side and we have only two, perhaps three decades to complete the task. It is incumbent upon this union, and the people of this nation to lead the world in this transition.

Our union began with a simple declaration penned by Thomas Jefferson.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness

Historically, as we pursued these simple Rights, we have much we can hold with pride and much we must hold with shame. As a country we have been both a shinning beacon of hope, opportunity, freedom, and prosperity; and we have also practiced slavery, committed genocide against our native populations, and covertly and overtly meddled in the affairs of other sovereign nations. We have won wars justly fought in the name of freedom and lost wars with murkier political and moral aims. Today we are no longer the the republic our founding fathers envisioned. We have become the most powerful nation in the history of the world….a virtual empire with over 800 foreign military posts and bases and a military budget exceeding the next 46 countries combined. If you add all of the money spent to maintain and support our worldwide empire by the DOD, the CIA, the Treasury, the FBI the State Department, Homeland Security, the Veterans Administration, and the interest we pay on past military expenditures, it amounts to well over $1-trillion per year and growing. This figure does even include the “supplemental” funds being spent on our current middle east conflicts. These expenditures are not sustainable, and the slow creeping growth of this overreaching empire has turned us into the world’s largest debtor nation and moved us far from the founding principles and ideals of our nation.

The economic success we experienced for the better part of the last century has given us the highest standard of consumption in the world, but by many measures, not the highest quality of life. For many of us, our pursuit of happiness has become a frantic, costly, and unsatisfying pursuit of the trivial and meaningless. In just a few decades we have managed to transform the strongest, most dynamic manufacturing economy in the world into a economy completely dependent on consumerism and debt. In a country with a negative savings rate, record high credit card debt, and declining home values, our consumer led economy is long past sustainable.

Yet it is from this point in our history that we must face our greatest challenge. If we continue to look at symptoms, our situation to many will seem hopeless and out of desperation and fear we will be tempted to blame others for our problems. Demagogues have and will call for pre-emptive military action against those that control what remains of the world’s rapidly depleting natural resources. But there can be no peace in the context of scarcity and no pursuit of happiness without peace. The root cause of our problems will not and cannot be solved by military action.

No other resource defines our current state than the world’s declining reserves of oil. Beginning with the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1865, our country rapidly became the world’s first oil economy and this cheap and abundant energy resource would be the fuel and engine of growth that enabled us to become the world’s greatest economic power. However, U.S. production of oil peaked in 1971 and the petroleum power center quickly moved to middle east. Today it is painfully evident that oil production has peaked world wide and at current rates of consumption and depletion only half of what the world uses today will be available in just two decades. We will face similar “peaks” and painful declines in the production of coal, natural gas, and even uranium in the not so distant future.

Transitioning to a post fossil fuel world will not be easy. It will require sacrifice, high levels of cooperation, leadership, and the personal effort of every citizen of both this nation and of our community of nations. The last time our nation and much of the world was called upon to truly join together for a common cause was during WWII. That generation met it’s challenge and now it is our turn. The stakes have never been higher and the future of humanity literally hangs in the balance.

There will be some that say that “the market” will naturally adjust to the decline in fossil fuel resources and that all we have to do is stand back and trust in the magic of free markets. There is an element of truth is that view and one could point to recent growth in the renewable energy segment as proof of the validity of that position. However, like it or not, government is an integral part of the “market” and decades worth of federal and state laws, tax codes, and zoning and building regulations have been erected in direct or indirect support of our fossil fuel dependent economy. These laws, codes, and regulations will have to be rapidly deconstructed and rewritten to support a new sustainable, steady state economy fueled by renewable energy sources.

I have referenced population size several times in this address, and now I must return to this difficult and sensitive topic. The topics of human life and family size in this country have always been sacred, however as a nation and as a community of nations, we must face the very real limits of our planet to sustain life. The earth has a limited carrying capacity and can only support a reasonable standard of living for a given population size, and this capacity has already been exceeded. The world’s population can now only grow at the expense of our collective living standards and at the risk of increased and severe suffering. The only rational and humane course of action, is to limit and then reverse population growth in both the U.S. and the world.

The political, economic, and technical challenges we are facing are unprecedented and nothing we have faced in the past has prepared us for this moment. For the first time in human history we cannot meet these challenges and expect to succeed merely as individuals, or political parties, or as religious groups, or as nation states or as blocks of nations. To meet this challenge at this time, the entire world of nations must all join together in order to succeed or risk the catastrophic collapse of civilization.

Over the coming days I will be outlining a broad range of programs to meet this challenge. There will be no time for the usual political posturing or distractions, or for the interference of vested interests. Reason and events tell us that we all share the same vested interest and that our very survival is at stake. The american people will expect Congress to act boldly and decisively. The world will be watching.

First, to free up the required capital and additional engineering and R&D talent required to make the transition, I am proposing that we begin to aggressively reduce the expenditures of our military empire. A reduction in our current defense budget by 50% would still leave us spending as much as the next 5 countries combined. We can no longer afford to have our military robbing us of the nation’s industrial capital and technical talent. We must and will create a new manufacturing economy in America based on renewable energy and other sustainable technologies.

This new economy will be powered by electricity derived from solar and wind for our peak power demands, and most importantly by geothermal energy for our base load demand. In order to meet the challenge of making the transition to a post fossil fuel economy, I am proposing a government funded and fast tracked “Manhattan Project” to replace all of our coal fired power plants with geothermal energy by the year 2030.

Since we can only meet our future energy needs by addressing both the demand and supply sides of the equation, we must aggressively revise our tax codes to provide both credits and write-offs for a much broader array of energy conservation technologies and products. For example, we currently provide no incentives for solar hot water heating and rather than leading the world, as we must and should, the U.S. ranks behind both Solvenia and Albania in the the application of this technology.

The challenge of transforming our food supply may be one of our greatest. Food in U.S. travels an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table and we are dangerously dependent on oil and natural gas which supply the feedstocks for the pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers on which our centralized and mechanized industrial food system depends. As evidenced by our growing food crisis, this system is rapidly becoming unsustainable and to help bridge the transition to a more localized food delivery system we will reinstitute the “victory garden” program of WWII and create millions of citizen farmers to secure our nations food supply.

Our residential, commercial, and industrial buildings consume 73% of our electricity and 20% of our natural gas. Easy and cheap energy has made building designer’s environmentally complacent and for the last 100 years we have relied on brute force heating and cooling solutions to prop up building designs totally inadequate for their environment. That practice must end and I am proposing that all new buildings in this country be designed to a zero energy standard and that tax incentives be put in place to help convert our existing building stock into some semblance of energy efficiency.

The pattern of our homes, cities, and transportation systems was created in a time of cheap and abundant fossil fuels. As oil and natural gas become increasingly scarce we will have to reshape our patterns and style of living. The new plug-in hybrids that are just appearing on the market will help to replace our use of liquid fuels for driving, but this new technology will soon cause us to exceed our electrical generation capacity. Our one car, one person pattern of commuting from isolated suburbs to work and shopping centers will have to be transformed. As a start, I am proposing that all knowledge workers be allowed the right to telecommute and to write off the the use of their home offices on their individual tax returns. We must also divert much of our unproductive defense budget and aggressively invest in light rail transportation systems and in our national rail system. In addition, our residential zoning laws will have to eased so that our pattern of suburban sprawl can naturally evolve new centers and nodes of commerce within walking and bicycling distance of our population.

However difficult, we must begin to face the limited carrying capacity of earth with regard to population. As a beginning, I am proposing that our tax codes be revised to support and reflect a stable and sustainable population, and that the tax credit for dependents be limited to one child. Out of fairness this new policy will not be retroactive nor apply to adopted children.

Lastly, we must change the way we keep score. One of the reasons we are in this mess is that classical economics assumes that natural resources like oil are infinite and makes no accounting of their depletion nor of the negative environmental effects of their use. We can no longer count the clean up of a super fund site as having the same positive impact to our gross national product as the building of a 747. To make matters worse, for decades our government has cooked the books to make things look considerably better than they appear. If we were held to the same accounting standards as our fortune 500 companies our annual deficits would actually be about ten times what is normally reported and we would have had to declare bankruptcy long ago. If we are to successfully transition to a sustainable way of life in the next 20 years then we must be able to accurately and reliably measure our progress and to that end I am proposing that we upgrade our national accounting practices to comply with a more realistic and accurate ecological economics standard.

The next two decades will be extremely disruptive and difficult and it is unlikely that any of us will emerge without great hardship and sacrifice. If there was ever a time for courage, for hard work, for faith, for strength of character, now is that time. I am counting on the people of this nation, on the people of the world, and on our community of nations to meet these challenges for the benefit of our children and grandchildren and for a thousand generations to come.

Thank you all and may God bless our nation and this planet.

This “address” is obviously a fiction and although much of what I say is factual even today, I doubt that any politician would have the courage the be this honest until things were well beyond the point of no return.

The market has begun to respond and it is not by accident that plug-in hybrids will begin to appear just as the general public is becoming aware of “peak oil”. The basic story line will run its course and we may just muddle through and make the transition in time to prevent a significant die-off of the world’s population. My guess is that it will be a messy transition with much political posturing, great suffering, and considerable military mischief.

Whether or not we do manage to muddle through, in the end, the world will no longer resemble the one we know today.

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Peak Oil, Food, and Eleanor Roosevelt

“No unemployment insurance can be compared to an alliance between man and a plot of land.”
Henry Ford

“A lot of … us … have been kidding ourselves, believing that if we just buy the organic apples we’re doing something to make the world a better place, believing that we can consume our way out of the problem by buying the right things.
But we cannot buy our way out of peak oil – all of us [will] need to take more responsibility…”
Sharon Astyk, 2006 Peak Oil and Community Solutions conference

At the beginning of World War II resources of all kinds were diverted to support the war effort. Because only processed foods and dry grains could be reasonably transported to our troops and allies, canned foods and meats were heavily rationed. As the war began, America was in the middle of an agricultural revolution and productivity was increasing dramatically due to mechanization and the introduction of pesticides, herbicides, new hybrid crops, and synthetic fertilizers. However, the conversion of farmers into soldiers and the rationing of gasoline was putting a strain on both food supplies and our ability to transport fruits and vegetables to market.

A grass roots home gardening movement has begun to take hold, but Claude Wickard, the Secretary of Agriculture believed in a top down, industrial approach to food production and that home gardens would be an inadequate “feel good” attempt to feed the country and our war machine. However, one woman would change the course of the war and prove that massive amounts of food production could quickly and efficiently be de-centralized. Eleanor Roosevelt would plant a “victory garden” on the front lawn of the White House.

Under the not so subtle political pressure of this extraordinary woman, Secretary Wickard would relent and 20-million “victory” gardens planted and nurtured by 50 million inexperienced, first time citizen farmers would soon produce 9 to 10 million tons of fresh fruits and vegetables, providing nearly 50% of the nations needs. Pressure cooker sales would grow from 66,000 in 1942 to 315,000 in 1943 as a new nation of urban and suburban “food producers” would can their own fruits and vegetables. Ironically, the euphoria of the war’s end would cause us to abandon our victory gardens resulting in the worst food shortages of the era.

What does the example of Eleanor Roosevelt and the lesson of WWII victory gardens mean to us today? What hope does it provide in a time of bountiful choice and plentiful food?

The agriculture of today has reached the point of diminishing returns as brute force technology is no longer able to produce any meaningful increases in productivity. We have created a highly centralized food delivery system that has rendered us both obese and completely vulnerable to disruptions in the fossil fuel supplies that power our farm equipment and provide the feed stocks for our pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizer. On average our food travels 1500 miles from farm to table. We currently input 10 calories of fossil fuel energy for every one calorie of food energy we produce and as we pass over the peaks in both oil and natural gas production and slide down the slope of rapid depletion and diminished supply the disruption of our existing food delivery systems will be prolonged, painful, and severe. $100 per barrel oil, the loss of agricultural land to bio-fuels, and the rising costs of food are just the early warning signs.

Dismantling and transforming our centralized, monocultured, industrial agricultural complex will take considerable time and expose us to the very real potential of severe food shortages. However, hope lies in America’s 37 million suburban homes built in many cases on what used to be prime agricultural land. With a median lot size of 0.38 acres, we can bridge and soften the painful side effects of this inevitable transition by turning the ornamental landscape of suburbia into an edible permaculture of self reliance and community spirit. Much like the home generated PV and wind power that will democratize our national grid, home food production will democratize our food delivery system.

Imagine a new suburbia. Imagine backyard chicken coops, rabbit hutches, and fruit and vegetable gardens nurtured by tens of millions of part time, suburban farmers. A true and sustainable garden community of homes generating its own power and food.

Eleanor Roosevelt would be proud.

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