Tag Archives: peak oil

Friday Linkage 4/7/2017

At what point do we look into the abyss and see nothing but Donald Trump’s searing ineptitude staring back at us?  Every time the man goes to the podium with a world leader to his right he stumbles through a word salad of “very this” and “tremendous that” without ever actually saying something of substance.

Every time he steps to the podium I am reminded of Robin Williams’ line in Dead Poets Society:


Unfortunately laziness is now the currency of the land.

On to the links…

The Question I Get Asked the Most—Take a moment and read the entirety of Bill McKibben’s piece at Resilience.org.  Think about the meaning and do something.

Can Steve King be Defeated? History Says Probably Not—People in his district love Steve King.  He is one of the most embarrassing human beings in politics and the people in his district will reelect him in a walk in 2018.   Why?  They are also the same people who are probably standing behind Donald Trump and Bill O’Reilly.

Why Is Trump Ignoring These Good Heartland Jobs?—Why?  It does not fit his easy narrative and the man is lazy.  It does not matter that renewable energy employs more people than coal and that the renewable energy jobs sector is growing.  It also is a narrative that does not line the pockets of Koch Industries and other Trump lovers.

6 Charts That Show Trump Isn’t Stopping the Renewable Energy Revolution Any Time Soon—I hope the conclusion is right.  I just hope that there is enough inertia to overcome the amazing level of stupidity coming from Washington D.C. right now.

US Coal Production Hits 38 Year Low—Here is the thing.  As coal production volumes fall there is a self-perpetuating cycle of decline that follows because it is a capital intensive business.  As coal gets more expensive to mine it gets more expensive to make coal fired electricity, which leads to utilities closing down coal fired power plants.  This causes coal demand to fall further which causes the price of mining coal to increase.  So on and so forth.

While Trump Promotes Coal, Chile and Others are Turning to Cheap Sun Power—Again, it does not fit his lazy narrative.  Plus, solar jobs don’t allow you put on cool hard hats and gesticulate:


Wastewater: The Best Hidden Energy Source You’ve Never Heard Of—I hesitate to call this renewable energy, so why don’t we go with recovered energy.  Nonetheless, in a system where we are looking for every kilowatt hour that can be generated from non-fossil fuels this is a potential source of goodness.

What Pollutes the Urban Mississippi? Lawns, Dogs and Lots of Pavement Runoff—We may not be able to make rural communities do something about the runoff from farm fields because the rightward lurch of those areas has made progress a daunting task, but there is a lot that can be done in our urban watersheds.

Pot’s Cousin Explored as Viable Crop Option for Minnesota—Illinois is talking about legalization and Minnesota is exploring hemp.  Paying taxes and giving rural communities another crop option is the death knell of federal prohibition.

Ten Cool Facts About Hemp From the NoCo Expo—Did you have an acquaintance in college who spent hours telling you all the cool facts about hemp that “the man” would not allow to become mainstream because reasons?  That person is mainstream now.

Peak Auto? These Charts Point to Industry, U.S. Economy Concerns—We may be “over auto-ed” as a country.  The implications for the economy are fairly dramatic.

The Couple who Coaxed 300 Acres of Barren Farmland Back into Lush Forest—It’s only 300 acres, but it is also only two people.  We have the tools to make the world a better place.  Let’s get cracking.


Friday Linkage 12/2/2016

It’s December.  The snowpack is slow to build—damn you climate change—but there is hope that by the holidays lots of terrain in the mountains will be open for skiing and riding.  We still live in Trumplandia.  However, it is important to remember that there are still many good things in this world to celebrate amidst the doom and gloom.  It is also critically important to remember that we need to fight the agenda of man who got over two million fewer votes than his opponent and a man from Wisconsin who wants to roll back the safety net to resemble some sort of Ayn Rand wet dream.

On to the links…

Under Trump, NASA May Turn a Blind Eye to Climate Change—The thing that scares me the most about the next few years is that there is going to a chilling effect on scientific inquiry through the executive and legislative branches use of their budgeting and bullying powers.  The House may not end up holding hearings on Trump’s many conflicts of interest, but I am almost certain that scientists will be dragged before committees to testify about science by people with no knowledge of science.

Outdoor Industry will be Added to the Calculus of the US GDP—Inclusion in this calculation will allow for the outdoor industry to make the same claims to job creation at the national level like other industries.  It is a major win because it gives the industry additional clout when lobbying for legislation.

These 6 Unexpected Countries Are Going Renewable—Despite what happens in the United States over the course of the next two years—I am hoping for some electoral retribution related to an extreme right wing agenda spearheaded by Paul Ryan—the world is moving forward with a clean energy revolution.

What Happened To Germany’s Energy Transformation?—The answer is…nothing.  It is happening.  It just happens to be maturing as would be expected.  In 2015 the entire country generated more than 31% of its electricity from renewables and policies are in place to get to 45% by the middle of the next decade.  Even if growth stops it is not like solar panels and wind turbines stop producing clean electricity.  The demand destruction for fossil fuels has already occurred.

Yet Another Country, and Two Huge Utilities, Finished with Coal—Here is why coal is dead.  No one wants to use the stuff except for ass clowns like Don Blankenship…oh wait, he’s just a convicted criminal living in a hilltop mansion now instead of a coal company baron.

Want to See Why Trump will Struggle to Save the Coal Industry? Look at Michigan.—The real answer to the question is that Donald Trump has no idea how to “save” the coal industry and he has no intention of actually trying to reemploy coal miners.  He cares about himself, first and foremost, with fellow billionaires, assuming he is actually a billionaire before raping the United States from the Oval Office, coming in a distant second.

From Peak Oil to Peak Oil Demand in Just Nine Years—Oh my, how times change.

Have We Reached Peak Gasoline?—As EVs, plug-in hybrids, and more efficient vehicles proliferate combined with fewer miles driven per person the demand for gasoline has to stagnate at some level.  At what point does this stagnation begin to destabilize the fundamental economics of gasoline refining?

Copenhagen Now has More Bikes than Cars—Copenhagen is a dream city for many people.  It can also serve as a model for many urban centers.  It is not a place of ideal mild climate, yet pedal power is becoming the dominant mode of transportation through policy encouragement.

The Colossal African Solar Farm that Could Power Europe—It has been a dream of Europeans for many years to develop massive solar farms in sunny North Africa where land is plentiful for transmission back to Europe.  Maybe now that idea is coming to fruition.

University of Minnesota Study Identifies Key Culprits in Cropland Greenhouse Emissions—Rather than try to tackle all of the sources of greenhouse gasses, why don’t we try and lock up the 60 to 70% of bad actors that will return a great deal of “bang for the buck?”

Canada Just Took a Big Step Toward Banning a Nasty Pesticide—The rest of the world will march on and the United States will stagnate under Trump.  What we can hope for is that a tide of anger will sweep our sclerotic political culture aside, much like the progressives did, and enact truly forward thinking legislation.

Scientists Discover Why Diet Coke Is Probably Undermining You—File this under the “You Can’t Fool Your Body and Expect Positive Results” heading.  Just another reason to stop buying water, which makes up something like 99% of a bottle of diet soda, in disposable plastic bottles.

The Power of Pee

Are we entering an age where our supplies of certain commodities have reached their utmost production and are bound to decline inexorably?  I could easily be talking about peak oil, the concept of which has been much discussed for the past forty years or so.  Instead, I am talking about the potential for the era of peak fertilizer.

Peak fertilizer?  Really?  Not really peak fertilizer, per se, but peak potassium and peak phosphorous which are two thirds of fertilizer’s chemical building blocks alongside nitrogen.  The always excellent Tom Philpott over at Mother Jones has done an excellent job explaining the issue in an article from November of last year.

The basic issue is that potassium and phosphorous cannot be synthesized like nitrogen, which can literally be made out of thin air in a nearly hundred year old process.  The other two elements must be found in the earth and large deposits are scattered in very few sites.  Some of these sites are in regions where ownership is hotly contested or the locals are not very friendly to western nations.  In essence, we are reaching a point where our ability to make fertilizer, the backbone of modern industrial agriculture, is threatened by many of the same geopolitical forces that impact oil.  Yet no one is really talking about this in a serious way because we do not fill up our SUVs with phosphates.

However, the problem of peak fertilizer does have a solution.  It requires the recycling of nutrients in the soil and the building up of the organic matter in soil.  These are the central tenants of biodynamic or sustainable or organic agriculture.  So, industrial agriculture’s future is not so certain because the inputs that make it possible are threatened by scarcity themselves.

Closer to home there is a free and easy solution…your urine.  Generally, urine is composes of approximately 95% water, 2% urea, and the remainder is trace elements like minerals, salts, hormones, etc.  Check out the chemical composition:


Do you see that urine already contains potassium and phosphate?  Where is the nitrogen?  Urea is the source of nitrogen.  So, your pee already has the chemical components to be an excellent fertilizer.  It also happens to be sterile when fresh.  After about a day the urea will turn into ammonia and give off that awesome smell you remember from shady bars in college.  Nothing like the smell of stale beer and urine in the evening!

If you’re like me, that is to say living in a suburban neighborhood, your neighbors would probably frown on you just dropping your trousers and taking a leak on the lilacs.  Plus, to make sure you do not “burn” the plants with too much nitrogen it is a good idea to dilute your urine with water.  Some sites suggest a 10 to 1 water to urine ratio, but I have never been that scientific.  I just pee into a watering can—the benefit of being male is apparent here—and dilute with water in the morning or afternoon every day before pouring it on one of my plants.  Sometimes I just pour it out onto the grass.  It really is that simple.  If you live in a more arid climate than me there might concerns about salts from your urine accumulating in the soil.  Eastern Iowa gets enough rain where the soil is cleansed of salts.

As an aside, I avoid pouring this DIY liquid fertilizer on any plants where I might be eating the fruit just to be safe.  It seems like a simple precaution to take.

If your urine gets old and smells like window cleaner, just pour it on the compost pile and let nature break that stuff down into the wonderful black gold.

A further benefit to using your urine in this way is that you are saving water in addition to recycling nutrients.  I used to be obsessed with dual-flush toilets because I thought it was so wasteful to use over 1.5 gallons of clean water to whisk away some pee.  Guess what?  I do not use any water—1.5 gallons or otherwise—now because I pee in a watering can.  Now, it’s just the solid waste that goes down with the fresh water.  I have not broached the idea of humanure with my wife quite yet.  Next year…

A group based in Colorado, the dZi Foundation, is working with villages in Nepal to utilize human urine in agriculture.  The system is not much more complex than what I have described.  Instead of using watering cans, urine is collected centrally, diluted, and applied using drip irrigation directly onto the soil rather than broadcast to avoid contact with food.

As the world tries to figure out what to do when industrial methods of production begin to fail, we can look closer to home for solutions to solve problems.  It’s amazing!

More on the Price of Gasoline

After posting my rant on the use of the price of a gallon of gas a political cudgel, I sat back for a moment and thought about the relationship some more.

Using the same data sets available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration I came up with these two charts that show the close coupling of the price of a gallon of gas and the price of a barrel of oil:

How coupled?  How about a correlation coefficient of 0.921.  These numbers can be interpreted a lot of different ways, but anytime a correlation coefficient is above 0.9 in the social sciences, which is where I place economics, it is considered “strong.”  In this case, I will take it as fact that there is a strong correlation between gasoline prices and the price of a barrel of oil.

At this point, most people would leave things well enough alone.  However, given the political heat that the President is taking on the price of gas and the rhetoric from the right—again “drill, baby, drill”—I feel it is necessary to go one level deeper.  If the price of gasoline and the price of oil are strongly correlated, it begs the question—what is driving the price of oil up?

If you are Sarah Palin or any number of politicians on the right, you automatically assume that the problem is a lack of domestic production.  Really?  In the U.S. the production of crude has remained relatively stable from the period starting in January 2008 and ending October 2011:

In fact, if you look at U.S. production in January of 2008 compared with October of 2011 the U.S. is actually producing 10.8% more crude oil.

What about demand?  For the same period as the two previous charts here is gasoline demand in the U.S.:

From January of 2008 to October of 2011, the same period for which the U.S. production of crude rose 10.8%, demand decreased 8.4%.  Yet, over the same period the price of gasoline rose 10.3% and the price of oil actually declined 2.0%.  No one ever said ferreting out root cause would be easy.

The key to this riddle resides in the fact that oil and, to some extent, gasoline are commodities traded on the world market.  A barrel of oil pumped out of the ground in Alaska can be sold in California or China or India or Botswana.  Again with these crazy ideas regarding the free market.

The International Energy Agency’s Oil Market Report estimates that worldwide demand for crude oil will increase from 86.6 million barrels per day in 2008 to 91.2 million barrels by the end of 2012.

Therefore, the demand for oil globally is rising despite a decline in demand in the U.S.  Thus, the price for a barrel of oil will continue to rise because demand will likely outstrip the ability of oil producers to meet the increases in demand barring major new discoveries of easily extracted energy.

I realize that this can get a little dense at times, but given the times I think it is necessary to take a reason and global outlook on events in order to cut through the fog of stupidity that envelops our country from time to time.  It seems to happen in four year cycles.  I wonder what that is correlated with?

The Price of Gas Chimera

Recently, Newt Gingrich—desperate to reverse his political fortunes now that he is looking up at both Mitt “My wife drives a couple of Cadillacs” Romney and Rick “Really, please don’t Google me” Santorum—is trotting out the Sarah Palin approved attack of gas prices.  It’s not the Rent is Too Damned High Party, it’s the Gas is Too Damned High Unless it’s Our Guy Party.

For the party that claims to be business minded—witness George W. Bush tanking the value of an MBA degree by claiming to be the first president with such a degree to hold office—one would think that the simple concept of supply and demand would not escape cognition.  However, when it comes to electoral politics nothing is easy and even the most accepted of facts suddenly become political footballs.

The price of gasoline in the U.S. is less a function of domestic production—the “drill, baby, drill” solution—than it is a function of total world production and total world demand.  It does not matter how much the U.S. produces because China or India or Brazil or Djibouti are going to be demanding oil on the world market at a pace that is growing faster than production.  Therefore, price will rise.

The price of a gallon of gasoline is even more complex still because gasoline is a product refined from crude oil.  Refinery capacity, blending requirements, transportation load factors, seasonal demand…and more are all factors that drive the price of a gallon of gas up or down independently of the price of crude oil.

Using data available from the U.S. Energy Information Administration one can spend hours creating relationships between the price of oil and the price of a gallon of gas or diesel or ethanol or whatever.  Just to give you an idea.  In January of 2001 the price of a gallon of gasoline nationwide was $1.43 on average and a barrel of oil was $27.44 on average—the gallon of gasoline being 5.19% of the barrel of oil.  In February of 2012 the price of a gallon of gasoline nationwide was $3.59 on average and a barrel of oil was $105.88 on average—the gallon of gasoline being 3.39% of the barrel of oil.

The common complaint that one hears from the Sarah Palins, Glenn Becks, and Newt Gingrichs of the world is that the price of a gallon of gasoline before President Obama took office was $1.65 a gallon and its $3.59 now.  Okay, but that $1.65 a gallon price was the result of near historic demand destruction in the United States following the onset of the financial crisis and not related to domestic production of oil.  In July of 2008 the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the U.S. was $4.11.  So, in approximately six months the price of a gallon of gas declined by almost 60%.  Furthermore, the highest prices seen during the oil friendly George W. Bush administration have not been matched by the current administration.  Just look at the dramatic decline graphically:

The red line represents a simple trendline to show that the current price is not out of the historical norm for the increase in the price of a gallon of gasoline going back to the beginning of the George W. Bush Administration.

Going back to August of 1990—when the data set I was using ends—one can see that the period prior to about 2002 was one of price stability:

What to take away from all of this?  A lot of people who get their faces in front of cameras have absolutely no idea what they are talking about, select facts to fit their narrative, and conveniently ignore the truth.  Sounds like a night of Fox News programming.

Too bad for the Republican harpies that there is little correlation between the price of a gallon of gasoline and electoral success.  There’s always the culture wars.  Or Allen West filling up his Hummer.

Friday Linkage 7/8/2011

It’s a short week of work following a long holiday weekend.  The July 4th holiday was nothing short of a spectacular Midwest summer experience—sunny days, temperature in the 80s, low humidity, a minor league baseball game…it rarely gets better.

Plan Issued to Save Northern Spotted Owl—No environmental issue was more at the forefront of my formative years than the controversy over the spotted owl.  I was too young to remember the snail darter, so it was the spotted owl.  To see this still playing out twenty years later is sad.

Peak Care Use Already Here?—Maybe just maybe, we are realizing that a lifestyle based on continually and needlessly hurtling ourselves all over the planet by various means is not only unsustainable, but also insane.  Granted, this is just for the developed world and does not apply to India or China.

The Bicycle Dividend—Governments at all levels in the United States spend inordinate amounts subsidizing the use of automobiles, all the while lambasting any spending on mass transit or alternative forms of transport like bicycles.  However, no one really talks about the money it costs to keep our automobile based system going or the true cost of alternatives.  This is the start of a real cost benefit analysis discussion.

Piet Oudolf: Plantsman for all seasons—For anyone who has watched the evolution of the gardens at Millennium Park in Chicago this is an interesting look at the man behind the plants.  The gardens were a surprise on my first visit because there was none of the overwrought neon annuals so common to modern public spaces.  It is a subtle beauty that will age well.

How to Continue “Ferocious Cost Reductions” for Solar Electricity—For anyone who thinks that solar photovoltaic systems are a niche play in the energy mix of the future this is required reading.  Not only are the PV panels getting cheaper, but the balance of system (BoS) costs are being driven down as well leading to dramatically cheaper systems in total.  I read articles like this and I cannot wait to put panels on my house.

First Quarter 2011 U.S. Solar by the Numbers—Required follow up reading to the article above.  Versus the same quarter in 2010: system cost down by 15%, installations up by 66%, total installed solar at 2.85GW, and more.  Solar is definitely part of the mix.

The Eco-Friendly Wallaby—Apparently, if we could somehow get cows to have stomachs that behaved like wallabies a lot less methane would be released.  Maybe we should just skip a step and start eating wallabies.  Or, more radically, just eat a lot less meat.  I know, crazy talk.

Friday Linkage 7/1/2011

Another Friday has come and gone.

Battle over shark fin soup heats up in California—Shark fin soup has to be one of the worst culinary creations that I can imagine.  Sharks are caught for just their fins and then dumped back into the ocean to die.  The demand comes primarily from Southeast Asia and Asian communities in the United States, although the self-righteous Alice Waters was not immune to the perverse pleasures of shark fin soup.  Maybe California will take this issue on.  Hawaii’s shark fin ban starts today!

Google Energy Innovation Study—When a company like Google takes a look at the energy issue I think everyone should pay some attention.  Why?  Google has a habit of being at the forefront of ideas—although they totally missed the social media bandwagon—and the company puts its money where its mouth is more often than not.  Look at its deal with Solar CityAnd look at what it is doing in terms of eco-action across the company.

The explosive truth about veggie burgers—On the cusp of the July 4th weekend this little ditty will scare anyone away from the meatless alternatives in a flash.  Not that the option of factory farmed beef makes one any less queasy.

The dollar value of clean air—Not to put a price on clean air…who am I kidding?  In this video the deputy administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency does just that.  Not that anyone at the Koch brothers little retreat is listening.

Transition Network empowering local action—I love the work that the Transition movement is doing across the globe.  Rob Hopkins explains how the movement is working to empower local action to avert the worst of the coming post-oil future.