Oct 192019
 October 19, 2019  Posted by at 7:48 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Rembrandt van Rijn Landscape With the Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1647


Hmm, energy. Is it a good idea I be drawn back into the subject? We used to do so much on the topic, Nicole Foss and I, in the first years of The Automatic Earth, and before that at the brilliant Oil Drum, where we had all those equally brilliant oil professionals to guide us on. So why revisit it? Well, for one thing, because a friend asked.

And for another because things -may have – changed over the past 15 years or so. Not that I think the peak oil idea, which is that we reached the peak in 2005 or so, changed. Yeah, unconventional oil, shale, fracking etc., came about, but that has nothing to do with peak oil. Just look at the EROEI (energy return) you get from shale. You go from 100:1 to, if you’re lucky, 5:1. You can’t build a complex society on that.

It’s not an accident that shale oil firms are going broke all over; even ultra low interest rates can’t save them. But all that still doesn’t come close to scratching the surface of our energy -or oil, for that matter.- conundrum.


I’ve never understood what the idea behind the Extinction Rebellion is. Or, you know, that they know what they’re talking about. Do they know the physics?

The general idea, yeah, but not how they aim to reach their goals. Far as I can tell, it’s about less CO2 -and methane, supposedly- emissions, but I don’t get how they want to achieve that. I’ve read some but not all of their theories, and it’s not obvious. It feels like they want less of various things, only to replace them with something else. Like they think once oil is gone, you can put wind and solar in its staid, and off we go. Tell me how wrong I am. Please do.

I have the same with the various Green New Deals. What do they want? How do they aim to achieve their lofty goals? I looked at the Wikipedia page for a Green New Deal, and it tells me it’s an American thing, “invented” recently by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and some other people. But I know that’s not true, because other people had the same idea with the same name in the UK 10-12 years ago.

And then Yanis Varoufakis also has a thing he labels “Green New Deal”, a global one no less, but in a recent article, I didn’t get many specifics of that either.

Let’s go with AOC and friends’ points as Wikipedia lists them:

“Guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States.”

What’s not to love?

“Providing all people of the United States with (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) access to clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and nature.”

I’m in.

“Providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States.”

Sure, Why only the US though?

“Meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources.”

Now, wait, there are no zero-emission sources. And none that are fully renewable.

“Repairing and upgrading the infrastructure in the United States, including by eliminating pollution and greenhouse gas emissions as much as technologically feasible.”

Okay, yeah. But what does “The Infrastructure” mean? Is that just power lines, or does it include all roads, highways etc.?

“Building or upgrading to energy-efficient, distributed, and smart power grids, and working to ensure affordable access to electricity.”

Right. Great. Sounds good. Where would the electricity come from, though? From so-called zero-emission sources., which don’t exist?

“Upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximal energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.”

Not sure I like the term “Electrification” in there, but yeah, bring it on. The term “Upgrading” is not what we use, however, we say “Retrofitting”.

“Overhauling transportation systems in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as is technologically feasible, including through investment in (i) zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing; (ii) clean, affordable, and accessible public transportation; and (iii) high-speed rail.”

Now you’re getting serious. But what does this mean? We already covered the zero-emission thing, that’s obvious nonsense, but how about public transportation? Do you envision closing down cities to cars? Or do you actually think electric cars are zero emission? Alternatively, do you know they’re not but you use the word regardless?

“Spurring massive growth in clean manufacturing in the United States and removing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing and industry as much as is technologically feasible.”

Sure, if you want to clean up your environment, “Spurring Massive Growth” is just what you want to hear. Good lord.

“Working collaboratively with farmers and ranchers in the United States to eliminate pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the agricultural sector as much as is technologically feasible.”

Call me nuts, and I have no reason to believe you haven’t already, but the no.1 thing that has to vanish from US Ag is not pollution or emissions but the chemicals used to kill all other life so that your lettuce can grow. And don’t get me started on antibiotics or the creatures they are used on.


That, Green New Deal, may be your biggest fault line. But you know, overall, you give me the idea that you don’t understand the territory you’re operating in. You’re just saying stuff that you think people will believe in and follow. Like Trump or Hillary or any politicians do.


Best rest assured, we haven’t even started yet. There’s still the trifle little matter of how all systems, all organisms, deal with energy (sources). Now, according to Alfred J. Lotka and Howard T. Odum, in what they and others have labeled the 4th law of Thermodynamics, all systems and organisms of necessity (DNA/RNA driven) seek to maximize their use of energy, for pure survival reasons: the one that’s most efficient in its ability to exploit and utilize -external- energy sources will survive. (another word for this is: Life)

And then you say you must use less energy? Or you want to shift from oil to energy sources with less density, like solar or wind? Be careful, because this says you’re putting your odds of survival at risk.

This is what my teacher Jay Hanson, who tragically died earlier this year before I ever had the chance to meet him, said about this in 2013:

Today, when one observes the many severe environmental and social problems, it appears that we are rushing towards extinction and are powerless to stop it. Why can’t we save ourselves? To answer that question we only need to integrate three of the key influences on our behavior: 1) biological evolution, 2) overshoot, and 3) a proposed fourth law of thermodynamics called the “Maximum Power Principle” (MPP). The MPP states that biological systems will organize to increase power generation, by degrading more energy, whenever systemic constraints allow it.

Biological evolution is a change in the properties of populations of organisms that transcend the lifetime of a single individual. Individual organisms do not evolve. The changes in populations that are considered evolutionary are those that are inheritable via the genetic (DNA/RNA, etc.) material from one generation to the next.

“Natural selection” is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution, along with mutation, migration, and drift. Natural selection explains the appearance of design in the living world, and “inclusive fitness theory” explains what this design is for. Specifically, natural selection leads organisms to become adapted as if to maximize their inclusive fitness. The “fittest” individuals are those who succeed in generating more power and reproducing more copies of their genes than their competitors.

You’re in tricky territory, guys. Reversing the history of (wo)mankind or the system that gave birth to her/him is not easy. Perhaps not impossible, but certainly very hard. You’d have to go against the DNA/RNA embedded in you, and then rephrase it at a molecular level. Like you all, I have certain -perhaps illogical- hopes that it can be done, but my hopes are not high. How do you beat nature? And would you really want to if you could?

There’s so much more to say on the topic of energy, but if you’ll excuse me, I’ll leave it at this for now. I’ll get back to it soon. Of course I understand that the jump from Greta and AOC to “Maximum Power Principle” is a big one, but for some people perhaps that’s just what they need. And for others it’s not, I get that. But it’s still what it is.


Note: nowhere in the Green New Deal et al do I see that we should do less, use less, move less, but shouldn’t that be the no.1 priority? Build gadgets, cars, homes, cities, that use much less energy? Retrofit everything to use 90% less energy?

The thing about that is, however, that it appears to violate the Maximum Power Principle. See what I’m getting at?





Home Forums Energy vs DNA

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    Rembrandt van Rijn Landscape With the Rest on the Flight into Egypt 1647   Hmm, energy. Is it a good idea I be drawn back into the subject? We us
    [See the full post at: Energy vs DNA]


    Line of least resistance, lead us on…

    We do what the glowing screens tell us to. They know the sacred Disney memes that leads the lemmings to the Cliffs of Safety.


    It seems many of these groups agitating for a more sustainable future have more in common with the larger culture than they appreciate in that their rhetoric largely contains the meta narrative of Progress. That civilizations do come to an end and their wane may be just part of a larger cycle, similar to the rise and fall of other species with the availability of resources, seems a missing chapter to these green new dialogs. Perhaps if humanity avoids a real catastrophe such as full-scale nuclear war it will awake to its new reality as it slides down the other side of the energy curve and adapt itself to a humbler existence.


    Refreshing read, in lieu of the scourge that is politics these days. Would be nice to see more of the “old” TAE, and less of the futile quest for “Sanity in politics,” which is akin to discovering a skittle shitting unicorn.

    V. Arnold

    @ Ilargi
    I share your skepticism.
    We’re on an inevitable downhill slide, and I see nothing in history that will stop or keep us, from our nature…


    Look at Hillary Clinton, Corporate Democrats and Syria. It is simply impossible to see reality when your livelihood and status rests on corruption. The two peaks in inflation adjusted crude oil prices were December 1979 and June 2008. After the first peak cost cutting and the plutocrat counter revolt stopped wage growth and de-industrialization led to the current political polarization. The current recession starting in 2008 has bred constant wars, rising inequality and digital quantitative easing for the rich.

    We are adapted by evolution to live on African savannas powered by solar energy. Language, culture and education allowed humans to live anywhere on the earth except Antarctica. Fossil fuels built suburbia. We can go back to Africa but there are too many people living there already to do it peacefully. The first steam engine was built in1698. As long as there are libraries, humans can adapt but live using much less energy – the 1700s – except more efficiently. This requires planning, healthcare and education for all and small families; (preserving civilization as much as possible) but above all peace. This is counter to the schemes of the elite to get even richer by stealing any remaining wealth from everyone else.

    Dr. D

    Maybe great subject make for better thinking and better comments. Thanks for Oblique who says things better than I (but most do). Glad to see the Professor again.

    Not sure why we’re picking the hard when it’s so easy: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” And this is by no means a human or DNA problem. This coffee-table Darwin is applied all kinds of places it shouldn’t go, most recently in pointing out what primates eat is nothing like their teeth structure, nor us neither.

    The natives here had an endless forest for building and burning: all the energy, the BTU’s they could dream of. Coal was flopping out of the riverbanks into the river, and they knew it burned but didn’t bother. More humbly, animals by the millions, could be extracted to extinction. Doesn’t happen. Never happened. Why? Different culture, different values. SAME DNA. Same “life,” essential to all life. And so with men for the 100,000 years before Babylon. So why give up and say it’s inevitable? Even Europe didn’t act like this not until Rembrandt’s time, or let’s say until the Romans.

    You can do this too. It’s a rich life. Honest. Just different. Don’t give up, just stretch outside your culture. Like the Mayans, we’re going there anyway, why not beat traffic?

    John Day

    Planetary Life Is A Russian asset
    We Need an Ecological Civilization Before It’s Too Late
    ​ ​In the face of climate breakdown and ecological overshoot, alluring promises of “green growth” are no more than magical thinking. We need to restructure the fundamentals of our global cultural/economic system to cultivate an “ecological civilization”: one that prioritizes the health of living systems over short-term wealth production.​..​
    ​ ​In practice, transitioning to an ecological civilization would mean restructuring some of the fundamental institutions driving our current civilization to destruction. In place of an economy based on perpetual growth in GDP, it would institute one that emphasized quality of life, using alternative measures such as a Genuine Progress Indicator to gauge success. Economic systems would be based on respect for individual dignity and fairly rewarding each person’s contribution to the greater good, while ensuring that nutritional, housing, healthcare, and educational needs were fully met for everyone. Transnational corporations would be fundamentally reorganized and made accountable to the communities they purportedly serve, to optimize human and environmental wellbeing rather than shareholder profits. Locally owned cooperatives would become the default organizational structure. Food systems would be designed to emphasize local production using state-of-the-art agroecology practices in place of fossil fuel-based fertilizer and pesticides, while manufacturing would prioritize circular flows where efficient re-use of waste products is built into the process from the outset.
    ​ ​In an ecological civilization, the local community would be the basic building block of society. Face-to-face interaction would regain ascendance as a crucial part of human flourishing, and each community’s relationship with others would be based on principles of mutual respect, learning, and reciprocity. Technological innovation would still be encouraged, but would be prized for its effectiveness in enhancing the vitality of living systems rather than minting billionaires. The driving principle of enterprise would be that we are all interconnected in the web of life—and long-term human prosperity is therefore founded on a healthy Earth.
    We Need an Ecological Civilization Before It’s Too Late

    Dr. D

    Sounds like the Middle Ages. Or in our case, Neo-feudalism.

    Diogenes Shrugged

    Fractional distillation of crude oil generates gases like methane, ethane, propane, butane — useful for myriad applications unrelated to motor vehicles. Then you get volatile liquids useful in making solvents like paint thinners. After that, slightly heavier liquid hydrocarbons are recovered to make gasoline and diesel. “Cracking” breaks down even heavier hydrocarbons, the products of which include all of the above.

    At the end of the process, all you have left is a sticky black sludge that can’t be cracked any further economically. That stuff is called “asphalt.” Since road and highway construction are the chief “rationales” people point to when trying to justify the very existence of government, I have just one question.

    Without the internal combustion engine, how will governments pave the roads and highways?

    Either AOC is working for the concrete lobby or didn’t she properly think things through. Millions of snappy electric cars going zero to sixty in four seconds on gravel highways probably wasn’t the panacea Rachel Carson or even Karl Marx had in mind.

    Dave Note

    In what seems like another life, I was once involved in building the Washington DC mass transit Metro system in the early 1970’s.

    At the time, the full Metro design, which was later cut down to just half the size of the original plan, was the most expensive public works project in U.S. history. More than the Hoover Dam, etc…

    It was suppose to relieve the nightmarish commute into DC from the growing suburban jungle surrounding The Swamp.

    The Metro Authority had commissioned a psychological study ($200,000+ in 1970 dollars) to assess whether anyone in the commuter gulag pool would actually use the subway system we were about to build.

    When polled, 85%+ of the proles said, “No, I’m not going to use the subway because anyone else will start using it, and then I can my car drive in with the lessened traffic load.”

    Well, that was a problem.

    Sure enough, when the Metro system finally got up and running a couple years later, the initial ridership was only 15% of the commuters.

    So the Metro authority ordered that the DC traffic authority, unbenounced to the tax paying commuters, stop timing the traffic lights and do anything and everything possible to make the morning commute into DC as painful and slow as humanly conceivable.

    The psychological study had reveals most commuters mental break point to abandoning their cars, was if it took more than 2 hours to travels the average 10 mile commute distance from the beltway to the city core. You can almost walk 10 miles in 2 hours.

    The plan of screwing up the traffic lights etc.. over time worked great. Ridership jumped from 15% to 65% to eventually 80%.

    Mission Accomplished.

    Even diehard auto users have psychological limits of pain.

    Eventually I was thinking of a graduate engineering degree in Mass Transit design, you know, for all the new Mass Transit systems the U.S. was going to then build, using DC as a template for national mass transit.

    That was before a fateful meeting on Capital Hill in the Senate cafeteria that I attended with the top congressional staff members of leading Democratic Senators of the time. (All the Republican Senators of the day were very opposed to Mass Transit.)

    I assumed I was in friendly company with thae Democratic staff heads so I had asked the chief of staff of a very prominent liberal Democratic Senator, are you,( i.e. the Congress), going to fund more mass transit systems for the rest of the country after this triumph of the DC Metro, I’m thinking of making a career out of it.

    I was stunned and speechless at the time hearing his answer.

    “Congress will never fund another Mass Transit System ever in this country because only Communists and Socialist use Mass Transit. Real Americans drive cars to work. Congress only funded the Metro for DC because the Soviets had such a good Subway in Moscow that it made DC look like a third world ‘shithole’ and we, the.S., had to ‘show them’ we could build a better mass transit system than them.”

    That ended my career path of ever thinking the U.S. would embrace mass transit in my lifetime.

    Here we are almost 50 years later and we still have a third world ‘shithole’ mass transit infrastructure.

    Ironically the money will never be there for classic mass transit in the U.S.

    Y’all are stuck with Uber and Lyft


    John Day

    “Coke” is the stuff really left over after refining, and there are power plants that burn it.


    Canada’s Green Party is selling the same narrative (we have a federal election today so it has been a top news item recently). I have been berated by some fellow online commenters when I suggest the story being sold to the public is along the lines you are suggesting: a disingenuous story that leaves out not only the complexities of what is being shared, but the virtual impossibility.
    No where do the politicians who are suggesting a total ‘green’ transformation of the economy (and, yes, a growing economy with jobs for everyone, free post-secondary education, and elimination of inequality) challenge the status quo narrative of chasing the infinite growth chalice.
    Not only do these people seem to not understand (or are just ignoring) the biophysical limitations of what they are suggesting, but they totally misunderstand the economics as well. I like what Charles Hugh Smith wrote today on his site, Of Two Minds: without changing the way we create and distribute money, we change nothing! A credit-/debt-based fiat currency requires we pursue infinite growth.


    Finally getting around to researching online how all the work gets done, in the first days of 2001 I ran into Jay at dieoff.org. Some not many months later my distant family members and friends, if I ever had any, became quite unimpressed by my chicken little story. Jay probably served as an important information source fo lotta people.

    Some nineteen years and uncountable yards of surveillance tape later, this shooting star that some refer to as industrial human society is about to sparkly burn out, it seems, and the Earth will probably indeed be greener for it, in part, simply as a result of fewer herbicides being broadcast ubiquitously. All the political chatter, news I guess, is eminently worthy of being totally ignored, I would say, because apparently still most people are not supposed to know that this shit is going away [and therefore, are being lied to night and day].

    Energy. Yes, I say, ENERGY. The Universe IS energy. Matter is simply bundles of energy banging into each other. So, I don’t have to do very much to have a lot of stuff and mobility. Machines do “all” the work running on massive amounts of solid, liquid, and gaseous hydrocarbons that the machines dig out of the ground. So, I have no idea what the nut tards are gabbing about but it sure as hell ain’t about energy, is it?

    Does it seem like we just went into an unplanned holding pattern? That’s tough to do when you’re falling out of the sky. Perhaps, we have dissension in the ranks in the Great Halls of the upper hierarchy. Wouldn’t that be a grand state of affairs, the rulers contesting one another? Jay may yet be “correct” in his long held [forever, it seems to me] belief and prediction that IT all ends in nuclear war. That was the one point with Jay that I always intently wished that he was completely off the mark; nuclear war seems worse than flying porcupines. Well, regardless of the possible cause, from acrimony to harmony, nuclear war opens up the entire set of extreme possibilities – hell, I could see that we might have some additional company in few years when it’s time to go topside and because the wind shifted right there unexpectedly, the fallout wiped out the food production capabilities in a certain area leading to an unfulfilled promise of fresh veggies at the opening festivities that never occurred.

    False Progress

    Since you’re referencing a Rembrandt landscape, how about mentioning one of the biggest flaws in the Green New Deal? It’s known as energy sprawl, namely from industrial wind turbines in the “green” realm, but they have little ability to replace the carbon fuels that build them. Viewsheds are being spoiled at great distances and we’re supposed to accept it as the new normal.

    Environmentalists used to fight FOR open space, scenery and wildlife. Now they make smug excuses for sprawling new machinescapes. It’s grim to see these pervasive attitudes. They presume to be solving AGW while mostly just posturing and enriching the construction industry. Same old growthism, new branding.

    Blight for Naught: Wind Turbines and the Rationalized Desecration of Nature


    No civilization has ever moved to a less dense energy source, but that is exactly what we have been doing with ff. To move to renewable will only make matters worse.  99% of civilizations have collapsed, due to diminishing returns on complexity.  -Joseph Tainter

    False Progress

    And of course energy sprawl is inversely proportional to energy density, flying in the face of long-held environmental tenets. Those who challenge it get called NIMBYs or climate change deniers, though some are unfortunately the latter (thanks a lot, Trump).

    So-called environmentalists have become major developers of open space and try to hide behind terms like “clean energy.” The word “clean” is dishonestly vague when infrastructure built with fossil fuels keeps invading natural or bucolic places. Calling a turbine-spiked mountaintop “beautiful” is evil to me (e.g. Laurel Mountain, WV as a prime example). Sellouts seem to outnumber ethical environmentalists now.

    Green New Deal: Energy Sprawl Destroys Scenery, Wildlife and Rural Ambience

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