Posted by Big Gav

Isaac Asimov's "Foundation" series looked at some themes common to the peak oil world - the end of empire and collapse (as well as the flip side of my favourite topic of propaganda - psychohistory). It seems Isaac also considered the idea of peak oil itself when he was a youngster (PDF) - via Energy Bulletin.

I read that [science fiction story "The Man Who Awoke"] when I was thirteen. I started thinking. I didn't think in syllogisms then, but I now realize as I look back on it that it amounted to a syllogism:

Major premise: The Earth's volume is finite.
Minor premise: The total volume of coal and oil on the Earth is less than the total volume of the Earth.
Conclusion: The volume of coal and oil is finite.

You would think this was so obvious! Now, let's start and make this conclusion the major premise of the next syllogism.

Major premise: The volume of coal and oil is finite.
Minor premise: We are burning some every day.
Conclusion: We will use it all up eventually.

Well I got that in 1933.

The FCNP continue their series on peak oil with a look at the military and peak oil (a common theme in recent weeks). Some of the points made don't sound that disimilar to those considered in the tinfoil world in recent years (though the spin is a lot different of course) - we may all start to see a lot more military intervention in internal affairs than is healthy in a democracy.
Among the largest consumers of energy in the world is the US Department of Defense (DoD). It uses about 4 percent of the fuel consumed in the US . Planes, ships, tanks, trucks, bases— the list of uses for oil, coal, natural gas and electricity the US defense establishment has discovered in the last century is endless. However, for an organization that prides itself on planning and more planning, DoD has, until recently, been silent about just how they are going to get along when the oil starts running low. They have had an "Assured Fuels Initiative" going since 2001 seeking to encourage US industry to produce liquid fuel from domestic coal, but little else is readily evident.

Last week, however, Congressman Roscoe Bartlett brought a DoD-sponsored report to the world's attention during one of those late night special orders speeches on peak oil he has been giving recently. It seems that somebody in the Army Engineers' Research and Development Center is charged with worrying about how to keep all those Army bases running in the decades ahead. That person must have heard energy might be getting a little tight, so a study was commissioned on “ Energy Trends and Their Implications for US Army Installations.” Last September the study came in and, believe it or not, the contractor reported, with all the appropriate citations, that not only is peak oil imminent, but that the Army better get onto this right now. The report concludes with a lot of sensible recommendations about conservation and renewables.

One report, however, does not change an institution the size of DoD. It is doubtful that, prior to last week, more than a handful of people had read it and still fewer had grasped its import. You have to start somewhere, so just examining the problems of keeping bases running with diminished energy supplies is as good a place as any. While this report and the Assured Fuels Initiative are a beginning, they do not seriously address the potential consequences of peak oil or the role DoD will have to play in the coming crisis.


Nobody knows what American society, or others, would look like after a few years of declining oil and natural gas supplies, but there are a number of books out there predicting very bad things. If even a fraction of these come to pass, America, and of course, most other countries, are going to need some very solid, well-disciplined institutions to get us through the decades between the age of plentiful oil and whatever is to follow. If, as many believe, there will be much social disorder, then there may develop a need for DoD help in insuring the domestic tranquility.

For DoD, we are talking about a very big paradigm shift. Throughout history, armed forces have existed to insure the security of their political entity either by offensive or defensive action or simply by deterrence. This may be about to change.

Some believe the first of the "oil depletion wars" already have begun and are predicting that we shall see more of these as governments struggle to get a share (fair or not) of whatever oil is left.

ENergy Bulletin points to a pair of articles on Saudi Arabia - Michael Klare considering "what if" Saudi Arabia has less oil than is commonly imagine (the evil twin of my old theory - what if Iraq has a lot more oil than we imagine) and another on the Saudi connection to the breakfast you'll be eating tomorrow morning.

Neal at Cleantech has a report on Kleiner Perkins' plans for investing in green technology. Interestingly KPCB have already invested in ultracapacitors (a possible foundation of the smart grid, via EEStor) and thin film solar cells (via Miasole).
Cleantech IX is in full swing at the Marriott in San Francisco this week. The largest turnout yet. Among the best received speakers were John Doerr and John Denniston of Kleiner Perkins. Kleiner Perkins, one of the best known players in venture capital, recently announced that they would be spending $100 mm on cleantech investments of their new funds. I don't usually blog on other people's thoughts, but theirs were certainly well received, and worth repeating, as well as informative summaries of why Kleiner is interested in investing in Cleantech, and what they are looking for. They described three core global problems driving their interest in Cleantech (or green technologies, as their press quotes have described it):

* Oil Addiction
* Urbanization
* Climate Change

And called for joint efforts of private sector and policy to solve them. As part of this high level discussion, they gave a big plug to author and journalist Thomas Friedman (whose books I heartily endorse), quoting his statement "Green is the New Red, White, & Blue", and referring to a recent OpEd piece he wrote (I haven't read it yet) on 6 threats to national security that our oil addition has caused. The ones they mentioned 1) When the US exports dollars to "unaccountable" countries in return for oil, we risk those dollars coming back to haunt us, 2) Rises in oil prices impact poor countries more than rich ones, and provide recruiting fields for terrorists, 3) Globalization amplifies these risks, and 4) We are in a new flat world where we compete for oil with developing nations, too.

I liked Neal's closing piece on successful management teams - having seen plenty of mercenary managers in my time (and probably just one genuine missionary, though a few others probably thought they were), I'd have to say that their analysis seems spot on. Personally, I've always been entirely mercenary I'm afraid, even during my one stint with a real missionary, and I think I'm starting to pay the price for it - though bizarrely, I'm soon to spend a day working on a sustainable inner city farm run by a homeless group, courtesy of my present client, who seem a bit unusual for a corporate behemoth (I can't imagine too many companies pay consultants to go and do that sort of thing).
One other theme that I found interesting in their speech, they said that after the tech bust happened, the partners at Kleiner sat back and tried make sense of why some internet deals survived post boom and others failed, and what lessons they could learn. Their conclusion, the key ingredient for success (and lesson to be learned) was in the values and culture of the management team. They referred to it as businesses with missionary vs. mercenary management teams. According to them Missionary vs. Mercenary means:

* Driven by passion vs. driven
* Strategic vs. opportunistic
* Whole life plan in work/life balance vs. "deferred life plan"
* Concerned about the big idea vs. concerned about the pitch or the deal
* Looking at the long-run vs. looking at the short-run
* Obsesses with customers vs. obsessed with competitors
* Meritocracy focused culture vs. Founder focused culture
* Focused on the mission statement vs. the financial statement

Values count. Even in venture capital.

Past Peak has one of those tales which always make me shudder at the hypocrisy of the likes of Bush when they talk about being in favour of free markets (when in actual fact they simply seek to enable cartels of well connected corporation to act in anti-competitive ways - so long as these cartels support the party). In this case the soviet style bureaucracy that governs US agriculture has deemed testing for mad cow disease to be forbidden to meat producers who want to guarantee the quality of their product.
This is one of those stories that's so outrageous it just leaves you sputtering. Just to be clear, Creekstone wanted to do extra testing, not replace the USDA's testing. And it wanted to do the extra testing on its own dime. It wanted to respond to a market need. It wanted to produce a safer product.

Four companies — Tyson, Smithfield, Swift & Co., and Excel Corp. — control 80 percent of US meatpacking. Government "regulators," the White House, and much of the Congress dance to their tune. Who's looking out for consumers? Nobody.

Whenever big business and their hired guns in government start mouthing platitudes about competition and the free market, remember this story. And put your hand on your wallet.

Syndey Peak Oil organiser Dave Lankshear is stepping down to concentrate on some other interests after putting in a lot of good work over the past year or two. Ian and Rowan are now running the show...

WorldChanging has a look at which US cities are the most Oil Crisis-Ready (which is no doubt a relative term - I'm sure most cities aren't ready for a real oil crisis at all).
WorldChanging friends SustainLane today announced the initial results of a study of the fifty largest cities in the United States, ranked on the basis of readiness to respond to an extended oil crisis. SustainLane revealed the top ten cities today, and will provide the full ranking next month. In June, they will present a longer study of overall sustainability rankings of the same set of cities (we covered their list of most sustainable cities last year).

The top ten cities are: New York; Boston; San Francisco; Chicago; Philadelphia; Portland; Honolulu; Seattle; Baltimore; and Oakland.

TreeHugger has an an interview with green architect Rick Cook.
Of the many rising stars in the field of green architecture, Richard Cook is arguably the brightest. He has a theoretical rigor and passion for sustainability on par with William McDonough. He has the design ingenuity of Frank Gehry. So it’s not surprising that Cook is quickly making his name known among the vanguard of 21st century architects.

In 2003, Cook joined forces with Bob Fox, one of the original pioneers of green architecture who designed the ultra-glamorous Conde Nast building in Manhattan’s 4 Times Square -- the first skyscraper in the country to incorporate green-design elements and rooftop solar panels. Known as Cook + Fox, their firm is now constructing one of the world’s most ambitious sustainable building projects: A 54-story tower of glass and steel at One Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan. It will include high-performance green elements ranging from copious natural lighting and waterless urinals to on-site electricity generation and laser sensors that turn off lights and appliances when not in use.


LIME: Describe your vision for an urban utopia in the future -- say, 2050.

COOK: Using the word “utopia” is always scary, since these visions of the future never seem to work out as intended. But going forward, for the sake of the future, we must attack the way we build our environment and address CO2 emissions from buildings and the potential catastrophic impact of carbon loading in our atmosphere. I believe we must strive for net-zero CO2 buildings that will be healthier, happier places to live and work.

I think we will make great strides in energy use and developing renewable strategies, but the real key is CO2. In transforming how we think about buildings and architecture, we’ll start to see buildings that listen to nature, and learn to coexist with and even restore the natural environment. This is what biomimicry means, to learn from nature rather than thinking of ways to deny our place in it. It’s the only way we can have a long term, sustainable future.

To close, a reflection from Warren at TreeHugger on the passing away of a 255 year old tortoise in India. The creature was apparently given to General Clive as a pet when it was young - who would have guessed that it would outlive the British Empire by over 50 years back then ?
Aeons ago I read an interview with a person of significance (whose name alas escapes me), in which he was asked a question that went along the lines of, “If there was one thing you could do to improve the health of the planet, what would it be?” His answer was: make it so humans lived to see 500 years pass. He reasoned that we commit so many environmental blunders mostly due to our own short-sightedness, thus creating mess for following generation to try and clean up. If we lived long enough to be faced with the consequences of our actions, he argued, we’d make more responsible decisions. Was reminded of this thought, with news that one of world’s oldest known animals has just died. A favourite at the Kolkata zoo in India for the past 131 years, ‘Adwaitya’ (The Only One) was thought to have been born between 1705 and 1755. His real age will now be determined via carbon dating. What choices would you make ... if you knew you going to be around for 250 years?


"His real age will now be determined via carbon dating."

How do they do that? As far as I know, tortoises eat plant material all their life...

I'm just guessing, but presumably some parts of the toroise develop when young (bones ?) and therefore can be carbon dated ?

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