Thursday, May 31, 2007

The 55 MPH Speed Limit Revisited

Uh oh, someone else has now thought of this...remember when Chaos suggested that a prudent nation would be doing something really simple and easy, like lowering the speed limit to 55mph, in response to the impending energy shortage? Well, Chaos would now bow to a much more eloquent writer on the subject, but would also have to point out that the citizens of the Empire are still no more likely to do this than stand on their heads in heavy freeway traffic....nice work, though.

Two New Houses

In the news today are a couple of interesting examples (from both ends of the spectrum) of some "alternative" houses" you might consider, if you are certain that you are in a locale you have decided has a decent chance of surviving the coming energy apocalypse. The first is a conventional-looking 2400 sq foot property located in (where else?) California, whose owners have contrived to have it completely off the "grid" due to their solar panels, battery banks, and inverters. Interesting, if somewhat conventional. Next up is the fascinating idea of building a house using living trees, pictured above. The thing appears to be a mere concept (no customers yet, but maybe soon, in Cali...) but who wouldn't want to live in an actual treehouse? Human ingenuity knows no bounds (well, except for physical limits, which the species seems to have trouble with).

Where Oil Comes From...A Story in Pictures

Did you wake up this morning wondering where the gasoline in your vehicle originated? Didn't you spend many sleepless nights thinking about where oil comes from? Did it just get deposited in the ground by magic or wasn't there something about dinosaurs? Chaos knew you did, and now there's an actual video (yes! no reading! because people just learn better with pictures!) showing just exactly how oil got made, many long years ago. Although it is quite long, with many parts, Chaos recommends you view it. Maybe it will change your perspective; who knows?

Introduction to Tom Whipple

This writer, who scribes for the Falls-Church News Press, of all places, is a consistent and effective reporter of the effects of peak oil and the Empire's lack of response to it. Today's piece, reproduced here in its entirety since Chaos has become aware of just how difficult it is to 'click' on a 'link,' gives one both a sense of the scope of the changes necessary to deal with the looming catastrophes and the ever-onrushing deadlines which will not even be acknowledged until the last minute. Something for both doomers and the kumbaya crowd, in other words. Here's the article:

"News on the gasoline stockpile situation was delayed this week due to the Memorial Day holiday. As gasoline consumption figures over the long weekend won’t be available until the middle of next week, we may get a better insight into prospects for this summer then. While waiting, however, it seems like a good time to start thinking a bit about the years ahead and what we should be doing to get ready for them.

There are two areas of energy consumption we, as individuals, can do something about: transportation and buildings. The cost and availability of our food is something that few of us have much control over. If food becomes too expensive, then we simply reduce or forego eating out; reduce our use of prepared, packaged, and expensive foods; or even reduce the quantity we consume until the costs of food meet our budget.

Commercial use of energy to make and distribute things will be sorted out by the market – here again, there is little most of us can do to effect change other than generally reducing consumption either because we are trying to save the world’s resources, or, more likely, we simply can’t afford to pay what stuff is going to cost.

Unaffordable gasoline will affect each of us differently depending on how dependent we are on our automobile and what our alternatives are. In the U.S. we have something on the order of 210 million cars and light trucks in service and, even if the resources are available to replace a fleet of this size, it will be many decades before they can be replaced with vehicles that use little or no gasoline. Worldwide, the situation is even worse.

It probably won’t be too long before we figure out whatever supplies of motor fuel are available will be better spent on growing and distributing food and maintaining vital-to-civilization systems such as water, sewers, electricity, and communications rather than being burned in private cars. For the immediate future though, unaffordable gasoline will be coped with through a combination of increased public transit and a lot more ride sharing.

Soon, there will be lots of room for changes in public policy as we tackle the job of reworking our transportation systems. For now, we are not ready to think seriously about changes, for the reality of imminent oil depletion is not widely recognized. Another three or four dollar increase in gasoline prices should do the trick.

Buildings, however, are another matter -- be they offices, factories, commercial space, or homes. In the developed world, most use prodigious amounts of energy. Although our electricity and natural gas bills currently are not increasing as fast as gasoline prices, price increases for other forms of energy won’t be many years behind. Unlike a gas guzzler which can be parked, used infrequently, or scrapped for a more efficient vehicle, few of us will have the opportunity to replace our buildings for more efficient ones.

A couple of hundred years ago most homes were heated and lit by wood plus a little candle wax. That’s obviously not going to work anymore. My guess is that most people’s access to firewood, if any, would be sufficient for a couple of days or, at best, a couple of weeks. For awhile, there will be a rush to huddling around electric heaters, but just as natural gas, oil, propane will soon be too expensive to for many to afford, large amounts of electricity will not be far behind. We are going to have to transition to solar and maybe a little wind energy to control our personal climates.

One of the redeeming features of our current living and work place arrangements is that we waste prodigious amounts of energy in heating, cooling and lighting them, so that there is a lot to be saved. We all know by now that eliminating incandescent bulbs and moving first to compact fluorescents and then, as they become more affordable, to LED’s most of the lighting costs in homes and offices can be eliminated.

Equally big jumps in household efficiency can be achieved by disconnecting clothes dryers and going back to clothes lines. Pulling the plug on the central air would be the third big energy saver.

Given the trends in fossil fuel availability, it is clear that our goal will have to be zero net energy for all our inhabited buildings. This means that the preponderance of the energy used in buildings will soon have to come from the sun, wind, water power, and perhaps a little biomass and will not be delivered in by pipe and power lines or in trucks.

The course from our current building stock to highly efficient ones will be long and difficult. Starting on this course is not difficult or particularly expensive. Plugging air leaks, adding some more insulation, and perhaps improving the window and doors is a good place to start provided one knows what to do, where to start and is physically and financially capable of taking action in the face of rapidly rising energy costs.

Later steps on the way to zero net energy buildings, such as major insulation and window upgrades, solar heating and electric panels, new heating and air conditioning equipment will be very expensive and perhaps unaffordable for many in an inflation-wracked world of depleting oil.

It is at this point that governments at all levels will need to get involved. First they must recognize that the bulk of our inhabited buildings will need to be overhauled to be useful in a world of very high priced energy. Cost/benefit ratios for steps to improve the efficiency for nearly every existing building need to be worked out.

Building codes will need massive overhaul to prevent further construction of buildings that are premised on cheap energy and that will have a very short useful lifetime. Construction of sub-divisions that do not take into account optimum sun angles should come to an immediate halt. Obsolete laws and covenants that frown on efficiencies from clothes lines to solar panels must be abolished as soon as possible.

There is much to be done and the time is growing short."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Global Heating Review

Well, here we are again...with yet another "ice melting" story. Chaos is somewhat loathe to present such repetitive material, but it seems to recur again and again. Well, at least the National Geographic story that this derives from is accessible (it has pictures! cool!) and thought-provoking. Be a dear and actually read the link. Oh wait, sorry...this article is just someone's opinion. Never mind.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Another Sign of Peak Oil

Also from the "you just can't make this stuff up" department...subtitled "Scootin on the Strip," seems able-bodied visitors to Las Vegas have taken to using scooters meant for the handicapped to navigate the oh-so-long four mile Strip. Chaos could probably make some remarks about how this reveals the true American character and why the nation will continue its fossil fuels fiesta as long as possible, but why bother? It pretty much speaks for itself, and really isn't all that shocking in the context of the entire ridiculous and wasteful insanity any thinking sentient being can discern just by looking around.

It Really Is the Health Care, Stupid

Ok, not really, and of course this has been covered before here on the Edge, but just to show faithful readers that Chaos is not just blowing smoke, here comes a seemingly objective and unbiased look at the American healthcare system, compared to five other Western nations. It should surprise no one by now that, among Germany, Great Britain, Australia, Canada , and New Zealand, the US ranks last or next to last in all categories evaluated save one subcategory (the categories were quality care, access, efficiency, equity and healthy lives). Of course, the US leads all nations in per capita expenditures in healthcare, so apparently spending money on the problem isn't working. Note: the link contains both the executive summary, which should be enough for the casual reader, and a pdf link to the entire report. The report was mentioned in today's New York Times, in the form of a guest columnist editorial. Chaos' own editorial spin on this is that the US public gets the healthcare it deserves, i.e., since there are many fine examples of alternative (and better) ways to address the issue, it isn't lack of knowledge, but lack of caring or will, if you will, which prevents the people of the nation from demanding better options.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Where To Live, The Continuing Series

Chaos has mentioned previously that thinking beings, particularly those young ones who reside in the Empire, may want to consider relocating to a safer, happier, less-prone-to-collapse country. Here's an interesting dimension to get one started: the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, which ranks countries according to their perceived level of corruption. If nothing else, this makes for interesting reading. More thoughts on emigration tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Overshoot Primer: The Elephant in the Room

For those who have not the time to read the classic "Overshoot" but would like to know what terms like "carrying capacity," "sustainability," "dieoff" and of course, "overshoot" mean, and why overpopulation is really the problem we need to address, but won't (of course, those who have viewed Prof. Bartlett's video will already be familiar with this issue), this post from The Oil Drum (by contributor Guilder Guider) is probably the best short tutorial. If you have time, you might read the many and varied comments at the end, and note how uncomfortable some persons are with these ideas and how they attempt, vainly, to dispute the principles. Very entertaining, and sobering. It is, of course, exactly why any "solutions" will be fruitless.

Investment Ideas From Matt Simmons

Those in the know about Peak Oil, know Matt investment banker, and author of vastly important book on Saudi oil reserves (hint: they aren't as large as stated, and are probably declining more rapidly). For those readers who are interested in investment tips, here (pdf file) is Simmons' latest slide and bullet point presentation. Even if you have little or nothing to invest, the peak oil points are significant.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Collapse Scenarios Revisited, Defined

Chaos has mentioned Dmitry Orlov several times in the past, and in truth there is not very much that is completely new in this latest presentation of the US v. the Soviet Union; nevertheless, it is still a highly entertaining presentation (with slides and bullet points), which gives one an interesting perspective of someone outside the vast US media bubble. Pursuing the theme a bit more is this summary of approaches to collapse in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia; an entertaining page for those who are interested in the concept. Finally, here is a fascinating piece on the spirituality of collapse which incorporates some Buddhist and Jungian principles in assessing the likely effects of such an event.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Survey Says....US Public Infantile, Delusional

To continue on yesterday's theme (or perhaps embroider it just a bit), as gas prices head up, the clueless population of the Empire starts to whine and complain. Something must be done, they say. Of course, by "something" they mean "something that doesn't cause me pain or cost me money." If you think Chaos is being oh, a little mean, perhaps, consider these findings from a national survey undertaken for the Civil Society Institute:

"The vast majority told researchers from Opinion Research Corp. that they want sharp increases in automotive fuel economy standards, as well as new windfall profit taxes on oil companies, with the proceeds used to develop alternative fuels and to reduce dependence on unstable Mideast oil supplies." Although Americans can talk the talk, recent history demonstrates, unfortunately, that they don't walk the walk:

"Whether consumers will actually adjust their driving behavior is an open question. In the past, despite rising prices, American motorists have tended to gulp, complain, and continue their old patterns. Despite the publicity given to hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius, they still make an insignificant dent on the sales charts. And as Solo noted, during the news conference, there are now fewer cars rated at 40 mpg than just five years ago.

'People want (their) problems solved for them,' conceded Civil Society spokeswoman Ailis Aaron Wolf."

Need Chaos remind readers at this point that this national infantilism and cluelessness is likely to be a hindrance when oil begins to decline?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The World Capitol of Ignorance Marches Determinedly Backward

For those who have been paying attention to the US gasoline situation recently(the best place to follow this is, of course, The Oil Drum), it is apparent that this summer will be a painful one. Gasoline stocks are at historic lows, while consumption is up, and refining capacity remains very tight. All these signs, on the eve of the "summer driving season," (what a ridiculous concept: it's summer! let's go drive!) point to ever higher gasoline prices in the next few months. Surely in a city of approximately 1.5 million, someone other than Chaos would have noticed that more people, houses, and cars is not a particularly good idea. But wait! No, it appears the region is undergoing yet another unsustainable round of explosive, sprawling growth, as evidenced by this thoughtless article: "Population is booming in that quadrant of the county, and it's expected to grow seven times over by 2030, to more than 98,000 residents. [Other areas in the region]are growing nearly as quickly."
The key to the issue lies in this language:
"Families in each household make about 10 trips a day, according to city planners. And people living in far-flung sprawling areas tend to drive farther and more often." No, really? Could that be a characteristic of suburbia, profligate energy use? You don't say! Well, wonder how high gasoline prices would affect a suburban population who feel that it is their (Constitutional, non-negotiable, god-given, birth-, or whatever) right to continue to drive as much and as far as they like? To recap Chaos' rather mild and unremarkable conclusion, geography matters. The population of the World Capitol of Ignorance are among the most clueless of any, and their angry reaction when gasoline really goes through the roof will be massive and scary.