/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

And Indonesia keeps on burning...

In 2015, about 100,000 forest and peat fires were started in Indonesia to clear land for oil palm plantations. Palm oil is a valuable commodity used as an automotive fuel, for cooking, in shampoos, creams, lipsticks, mascaras, ice cream, chocolate, and so on.  We consume ever more palm oil.

The Indonesian fires blanketed the entire region with haze and emitted more carbon dioxide than the U.S. Here is a good summary.  I know you are busy and you probably will not devote 31 minutes of your time to watching something that might impact negatively your country and you. Please look at least at the first 10 minutes of this hard-hitting Coconut TV program.  At nine minutes and 41 seconds you will hear about personal threats and thugs sent to dissuade activists from ever mentioning the criminals who run the largest Indonesian racket and pay off the government officials. These criminals work for several large corporations controlled by other nations, mostly rich Western democracies. In many ways, they represent you and me, and our pension plans.  And so it goes...

An image taken from NASA's Terra satellite on Sept 24, 2015, shows smoke from fires in Indonesia over the coasts of Borneo and Sumatra. I used similar images from the same satellite at the OECD meeting in 2007.
If one burns the dried-out swamp peat and tropical forests, what's left is an unmitigated environmental disaster that will leave the Indonesian islands denuded of fertile soil and unable to feed the ever-growing population.  The problem is becoming similar to that of the Easter Island and there is no solution in sight.  With the forest and agricultural soil gone, and the coastal mangroves silted out and dead, there will be a dramatic shortage of food for the Indonesian people and fish.  In short, there will be a massive migration problem and the near-by Australia will become the next  Germany for the environmental refugees from Indonesia. Only Australia is no Germany, and their refugee problem can be 10-50 times bigger.  In a few years, many governments will cry out loud: "Who could predict this!" Just don't say that my son and I did not warn you in this short popular paper.

Eight years ago, I gave an impassioned speech at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Ministerial Round Table in Paris.  I also left a paper manuscript, and told the hapless, unimaginative European bureaucrats that the burning of Indonesia and equatorial Africa is our problem that can be quantified from satellite images.  Surprise, surprise! The glossy-paper manuscript disappeared within two hours grabbed by everyone in the room.  It was the most popular publication of the conference, I was told. Of course almost nothing has been done since then to address the problem of environmental degradation of Africa and Asia Pacific and the ensuing massive human migration that has already begun.

Since 2007, the list of transnational corporations that eat alive Indonesia and many other places has been growing longer by the year. These corporations give us cheap soybeans from Brazil and Argentina and palm oil products from Indonesia, Malaysia, and equatorial Africa. We then devour the planet without ever thinking about it. Got lipstick? Want a hamburger?

The current mythology does not allow most to even see the problem in all its seriousness and complexity.  The standard free-market line is: "Oil palm plantations in Indonesia create jobs, perhaps 6 million jobs."  Yes, true, but these six million people and their families will not want to live in a devastated country, surrounded by pollution and starvation.  Lack of tropical forest cover will exacerbate the effects of global warming more that the current giant emissions of carbon dioxide from burning peat and wood.

China's experiment in exchanging their environment for cities and money is sputtering out as I am writing these words. In their zeal to pursue unchecked capitalism, Chinese rulers forgot that first people breathe, drink, and eat, and only then they watch TV or buy things on the internet.  In other words, we are a part of the environment, not the other way around, as our insane current narrative would have it.  An unhealthy damaged environment means no highly organized humans societies, just roaming gangs and warlords.  Please look at the broader Middle East after 4000 years of agricultural civilizations.  But that's a completely different story...Or is it?

P.S. 11/12/2015. As serendipity would have it, my dear friend, Dr. Charlie Sing, the just retired human geneticist from Ann Arbor, Michigan, emailed me an essay by another dear friend, Wendell Berry,  a famous American poet, writer, and philosopher.  Here is one of many possible quotations pertinent to this blog:
...But once greed has been made an honorable motive, then you have an economy without limits.  It has no place for temperance or thrift or the ecological law of return.  It will do anything.  It is monstrous by definition.
Wendell Berry, "Faustian Economics, Hell hath no limits," Harper's Magazine/May 2008, page 36.

In 2008, Wendell was thinking the same thoughts as I did after a five-year quest against biofuels and planetary destruction. In August 2008, I resigned my Berkeley faculty position after concluding that my beloved university went mad.  In 2007, Berkeley signed a 500 million dollar Faustian bargain with BP to fund a new Energy Biosciences Institute (EBI).  This genetically-modified switchgrass-for
-biofuel Institute was headed by a Monsanto representative, Dr.  Chris Somerville, who was hired by Berkeley's Chancellor with no consultation with the Academic Senate.  After more than 5 years of happy activities, EBI delivered nothing - as science predicted at the onset - and the BP funding stopped.

Otherwise, almost nothing has changed since then, only the universal destruction of ecosystems has progressed nicely, just in time to amplify the negative effects of global warming. In the next blog, I will comment on us, the human pack-men and other monsters trashing the planet everywhere.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Progress Traps

I just arrived in Saudi Arabia after 17 hours of flights from the U.S.  My wife and I attended our son's beautiful wedding in Sonoma, California, bonded with our children, students and many friends, and I attended the largest Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE) conference in Houston, where I realized that I knew most people over fifty.  Kind of scary, but what can one expect after being an SPE member for 33 years?

The Patzek family in Sonoma, California, just before the latest enlargement.
You may ask what are my impressions from America after a nine-month absence?  There are many positive impressions and some are mixed.  First, we miss America. I loved the lush green trees in Texas, and the beautiful live oaks everywhere I looked in my Austin neighborhood.  I loved being with my children, friends and neighbors.  I did not like the rampant inflation of the cost of food and most living necessities.  This inflation has been at least 10% per year in most metropolitan areas, and is not captured by the highly misleading consumer price index (CPI), which registered only 0.4% over the same time period.  I did not like the ever-smaller and more expensive meals often prepared from shoddy food stocks.  The prices of good food in the U.S. are now on par with Europe; not long ago they were one half.  The over-the-counter medications in the U.S. are 2 - 3 times more expensive than in Europe.  I did not like paying $475 for a single night in a rather low standard hotel in San Francisco.  It was "market pricing" for that particular night, I was told, and the next rooms up were $600 - $1100 per night. That's absolutely crazy!

The high inflation in almost everything one needs to live as a civilized human being is coupled with the very noticeable impoverishment of the American society, and that's really bad news.  Why is it happening?  Perhaps now I should mention progress and progress traps.

The idea of progress is at most three hundred years old.  For more details, please read the exquisite short book by Ronald Wright, "A Short History of Progress." Progress is defined as an irreversible chain of events that with time make our lives continuously better.  These events have been mostly linked to the ever-improving technology and social systems that make us live longer, smell better, be happier, and expect more from the future.  The latter expectation has been especially strong over the last 20-50 years, depending on where you live. The myth of progress is strongest in the U.S., where technology has delivered more than in other places.

According to Wright: "Myth is an arrangement of the past, whether real or imagined, in patterns that reinforce a culture's deepest values and aspirations... Myths are so fraught with meaning that we live and die by them.  They are the maps by which cultures navigate through time."  Thus, it is almost impossible to debunk a partially true myth, but let me poke a few holes.

The social myth of progress is curiously at odds with the thermodynamic direction of time that coincides with increase of entropy.  In other words, as time progresses the overall mess must increase too.  In fairness, most of our mess is exported by the Earth as heat into the cold universe, but all chemical waste stays here, continues to react, and demolishes all living systems on the planet.  This deterioration is now very visible wherever I go, including my neighborhood in Austin, where the last 500 acres of pristine land are being stripped of wild oaks and paved with concrete for streets and house slabs.  So let's talk about progress traps.
The last two square kilometers of the mostly untouched land are being demolished in my neighborhood in Austin.  The wild animals will be chased out, the groundwater level lowered, the water wells all around will dry up earlier, and there will more flash flooding in addition to traffic congestion, but otherwise progress will triumph. Such progress is defined by the Hays county officials, whose minds never left the nineteenth century and myth of the wild conquest of endless new territory.  This is exactly how quality of life for all diminishes because a few convert the local environmental services into dollars and run.
The seductive promise of technological progress leads into progress traps.  Let me begin with Austin, Texas.  In 1983, it was a wonderful place with roughly 350,000 people, so livable that it became the most desirable city in the U.S.  By 2015, Austin had 900,000 people, and the great Austin area 1.5 million and counting.  Austin is congested beyond belief, very expensive to live, running out of water, and the people who work there are the fifth most unhappy bunch among workers in all American cities.   Austin fell into a progress trap by not noticing that if 1x is beautiful, 5x usually is a disaster.

Perhaps the most classical progress trap is weapons.  Spears were better than clubs, arrows better than spears, guns than arrows, and bombs than guns.  Nuclear warheads are better than all other weapons, and they can extinguish humanity and most life on the Earth.  Technological progress has lead to a deadly and irreversible progress trap.  Humans have become smart enough to terminate themselves in a few hours.

On a retail scale, fire arms killed 406,396 Americans between September 11, 2001 and December 31, 2013, when the national gun-death statistic stops.  Only 3,380 Americans were killed by terrorists, including 2,990 in New York, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. The technological and social progress traps - the myth of unbounded personal freedom won with arms and the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution purchased by the gun lobby - have led to a 120 times higher likelihood that an American dies from a fellow citizen's fire, including himself, rather than from a terrorist's hand.  The factor of 100 separates speeds of running and flying a jet (6 vs. 600 miles per hour).

If you live in Chicago, you are 20 times more likely to die from a bullet than a civilian in the last Afghan war that also started in 2001.  When you live in Washington, D.C., this ratio is six!  Just the massacres in the Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the Umpqua Community College killed 85 people.  Now, that's progress!

The second technological progress mega trap is agriculture.  Much of agriculture started across the Fertile Crescent in the Middle East about 5000 years ago, but there are glimpses of plant domestication going back perhaps another 5000 years. Regardless of what enthusiasts of the "Green Revolution" and GMOs claim, no new major plant species has been introduced for massive cultivation relative to those cultivated 5000 years ago.  Five or six top cultivar crops that colonized humans just as much we colonized them represent most of agriculture on the planet, with an area equal to that of the Indian subcontinent. And those cultivars that were improved, got better through the painfully slow plant breeding, not through instantaneous genetic manipulations.

Today, much of the Fertile Crescent is a parched desert, most of the fertile soil went to the sea, and salt built everywhere because of irrigation.  Half of all soil in Iraq is dead because of salination. In Egypt this fraction is one-third.  The Central Valley in California is well under way into oblivion, while ground water there is being robbed everywhere and sea water is encroaching on the aquifers along the coast.  Have we learned anything from the Middle East history's wrecks?

One can ask why did agriculture explode around the world just 5000 thousand years ago?  The most plausible answer is that climate on the Earth calmed down sufficiently to allow this to happen.  Earlier climate was too unstable, switching between warm, dry, and ice on a geological dime.  Today the seven billion people on the Earth totally depend on industrial agriculture for their survival.  More than 1/2 of humans today owe their lives to chemistry as nitrogen fertilizer and field chemicals.

The agriculture progress trap is as final for humanity as the nuclear weapons are.  We have become narrowly specialized in obtaining and moving food supplies around the world to keep us alive.  All cities of the world must import vast quantities of food from equally vast areas elsewhere.  We are as finely tuned to the current calm climate as the mammoths and sabre-tooth tigers were to their climate before they went extinct.  Now what if our climate becomes unstable again, and agriculture starts failing at the same time in too many places around the world?  Here I must remind you about chemical entropy generated by us as time progresses.  Regardless of all other causes of climate change, the gigantic volumes of greenhouse gases generated by humans can not be helping in climate stabilization. 

This brings me back to the high rate of hidden inflation, and the increasing poverty and social instability everywhere.  As humans are exploding in numbers thanks to their agriculture and life-saving technologies, the entropy bill for all of this progress also explodes.  This bill appears as depletion of clean air, drinkable water, fertile soil, rich mineral resources, and all other environmental services that keep us alive.  For a while, we have been pretending that finance can replace the physical earth.  Well, it cannot and this impossibility translates itself into the degradation of living conditions everywhere, including the insular America.  We have had an excellent ride and will continue for a while, but in the end time and entropy will win over anything else.

So how many more years do we have without a major war to control the dwindling environmental resources or lebensraum defined by a last century classic? Notice that if this war is for water and food, it cannot be nuclear.  Talk about progress traps.

P.S. Technological complexity is yet another important progress trap described in our book.  BP could not properly handle the complex drilling process for the Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico, and the resulting environmental disaster cost it 62 billion dollars and counting.  Volkswagen armed its diesel engine cars with millions of lines of computer code to make them more efficient.  But the new engines did not deliver and Volkswagen decided to cheat on emission tests by hiding the much higher GHG gas emissions than those falsified from the sensor readings.  This technological and environmental fiasco might cost Volkswagen 87 billion dollars.  Both companies will emerge broken from their self-inflicted disasters rooted in system complexity and inability of humans to grasp this complexity.

By the way, how is your closest friend, Smart Phone, doing?  It must feel good to caress him/her/it tenderly in your loving hand, doesn't it?

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Peak of Gas Production in the Barnett Shale

An ocean of ink has already been spilled on pros and cons of using Hubbert curves to model production from a large collection of wells in one or many reservoirs.  In 2010, I published together with my last graduate student in Berkeley, Dr. Greg Croft, a highly cited paper on this subject. I have also commented multiple times in this blog on the different aspects of the Hubbert curve analysis, its limitations, and predictive power.

Since I cannot out-talk or out-convince the numerous critics of this type of analysis, let me give you a simple example of its robustness. This particular story is as follows.  At the end of the year 2010, Greg Fenves, at that time Dean of UT's Cockrell School of Engineering in Austin, asked me to make a presentation to the School's Engineering Advisory Board (EAB).  Using the results of our recent paper with Greg Croft, I chose to speak about my new work on unconventional resources in the U.S.  On April 09, 2011, I made the presentation, which was then internally published by the Cockrell School.

The first two Barnett shale plots shown below were based on the Texas Railroad Commission data through October 2010. In the presentation, I called these plots the "high production scenario."  The Hubbert curve with which I matched the production data ending in October 2010, went right between the two local peaks of the data.  Of course there was an element of luck, helped by two decades of my experience as a reservoir engineer.  Such experience or - for that matter - any other knowledge of reservoir engineering is absent among the economists, political scientists and journalists, who are paid to criticize this type of work.   
To see this image in full resolution, please click on it. The total rate of gas production in the Barnett shale through October 2010, was matched with a single Hubbert curve.  1 EJ/year ~ 1 trillion standard cubic feet (TCF)/year.  This "high production case" was presented in April 2011, at the Spring meeting of the Cockrell School Engineering Advisory Board (EAB) at the University of Texas in Austin. It was also made available electronically to the EAB members.

To see this image in full resolution, please click on it. Cumulative gas production in the Barnett shale through October 2010, was matched with a single Hubbert curve (an integral of the bell curve shown above).  The projected ultimate production was at least 27 TCF. 1 EJ/year ~ 1 TCF/year.
In fairness to lay people, the respected reservoir engineers who saw these curves in 2011, smiled at my naïveté and predicted 60, 100 plus, or more TCF of gas production from the Barnett. In short, most experts were also amused.
Cumulative drilling permits issued by the Texas Railroad Commission for (the mostly horizontal) wells in the Barnett shale.  Note that the cumulative permit curve follows a logistic S-curve similar to the cumulative gas production above, only shifted in time.  Peak wells (4,065 at the inflection point in 2008) were drilled ahead of peak gas production in 2012.  We are beginning to see the ultimate "carrying capacity" of past drilling in the Barnett. To change this S-curve, we need a brand new Hubbert cycle of drilling.

What did I do?  I used a two parameter curve (height and width) to describe and extrapolate production from close to 20,000 wells in the Barnett. I knew two things: (1) this production could be matched with one Hubbert curve or 2-3 of them, and (2) I had to go above current gas production (overshoot it) because this production had not already peaked.  The first observation is based on the Central Limit Theorem explained in our paper, and the second one is an admission that more wells will be drilled and production will increase further, we just do not know by how much.  Experience and intuition allow one to reasonably guess the size of this production increase.  Guessing is an art and not all experts are artists. 
To see this image in full resolution, please click on it. The total rate of gas production in the Barnett shale through March 2015, is matched with a single Hubbert curve.  1 EJ/year ~ 1 trillion standard cubic feet (TCF)/year.
To see how good this December 2010 prediction was, fast forward five years. I should remind you that the Hubbert cycle predictions of future production of a very large number of wells and/or reservoirs are remarkably stable - the Central Limit Theorem makes sure of this, but I would not be happy if I predicted gas production in the Barnett shale with a 50% error.  Luckily, as the plot above shows, I was right on the money, and no corrections were needed.  Nevertheless, I could not resist tweaking the peak almost imperceptibly and increased the ultimate gas production from the Barnett by less than 1 TCF.  Call it a reservoir engineer's decease.
To see this image in full resolution, please click on it. Cumulative gas production in the Barnett shale through March 2015, is matched with a single Hubbert curve.  The projected ultimate production is at least 28 TCF. 1 EJ/year ~ 1 TCF/year.
In summary, given the current number of wells in the Barnett shale (over 25,000 drilling permits by now) and the already traversed peak of gas production, it is unlikely that I will have to adjust this prediction in the future, but let me play devil's advocate.

The Barnett shale is most unusual in that it has two sets of fractures in the hydrofractured rock surrounding horizontal wells. One set is formed by the stress relief cracks from shear rock failure during hydrofracturing. Think of these cracks as being almost parallel to main hydrofractures and extending some distance away from both sides of these hydrofractures. But the Barnett shale is also likely to have another set of critically stressed (ready to pop), cemented natural fractures perpendicular to the hydrofracture planes. Together these two sets of fractures link during hydrofracturing and form large complex fracture systems that also communicate with the main hydrofractures. Thus, one could use this wonderful property of the Barnett mudrock, not replicated in other major shales, to create in the future many better and cheaper wells in the Barnett. If this happens, I will add a new Hubbert curve to my Barnett shale production model to account for the new wells, and happily report a significant increase (but not by 50%) of gas production there. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

There Must Not Be a Peak of Anything

I could start from telling you about my own impressions of human delusions, but I could not possibly introduce the subject better than the ENCYCLICAL LETTER, LAUDATO SI’ OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME.  Here is a short fragment of the Preamble pertinent to what I want to say later:

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.
“Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs.”
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us

3. More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

4. In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity:
“Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”. 
He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations about the potential for an “ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of industrial civilization”, and stressed “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity”, inasmuch as
“the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man”.
When you dry up your eyes, please continue reading this amazing document and don't be ashamed to shed more tears for our very sick Mother.

So what did you get from reading the opening four paragraphs of the preamble to the Pope Francis' Encyclical?
You just learned that everything is a part of the environment and everything is intertwined.  
I spoke and wrote about this very subject many times. Apparently, however, the journalist who wrote the next piece is so indoctrinated by the religion of the supremacy of human economy over the environment that he entitled his reflections as follows: Pope Francis' Call to Action Goes Beyond the Environment. So here is another reminder for you:
All Earthlings exist and thrive by the consent of the Earth's environment.  We wound the environment and we perish.
Among others, the journalist - whom I generally like - says:
For instance, he [the Pope] doesn’t grapple sufficiently with evidence that the global poor have become steadily less poor under precisely the world system he decries — a reality that has complicated implications for environmentalism.
I, for one, have grappled with this "evidence" and was not convinced. The economic progress of the poor is like this: In 2011, four billion people survived on less than $10 per day, and one billion on less than $2 per day.  That's twice as many people as the entire world population when a majority of people was outside of cash economy. Today, those people would be considered "poor," but they were not.  The number of middle-class people - those making between $10 and $20 a day -  increased to 784 million people in 2011.

In general, you will agree with what the Pope says, unless your religion is The Market, and your pet project is carbon credits, a harmful nonsense the Pope decries. An example of this attitude is the next piece, also from the New York Times,  Pope Francis' Climate Error.

Carbon tax credits are usually given to people who really pollute place A, e.g, Europe or China, and get a dispensation by putting, for example, sugarcane plantations or corn fields in place B, e.g., in Zimbabwe or South Africa.  If they also plant a few trees, they can make a handsome profit from their real air pollution in one place and - at the same time - from soil degradation and water pollution in another place.  And they do it by bullshitting the public and lawmakers.  Nice, but not a way to go.

Yes, you might object, but the Pope doesn't really like the holy Free Market:
To understand the pope’s position, remember that, even though he is adopting a progressive stance on the environment, he is not a liberal. Indeed, he rejects one of the central tenets of liberalism, which is a willingness to acknowledge genuine disagreement about the good.
The fundamental problem with markets, in Pope Francis’ view, is that they cater to people’s desires, whatever those desires happen to be. What makes the market a liberal institution is that it does not judge the relative merits of these desires. The customer is always right.
No, the customer is not always right in the absolute moral sense. If you eat the living planet by consuming cheap crappy goods you don't need and by trashing other countries, you are not right, not even close.  And that's the Pope's point, missed it seems by the good philosophy professor from the University of Toronto.

Now on to a more obvious environmental delusion, popular among the public and environmental propagandists, from the New York Times again: Animal farm waste and animal fat will help power a United Airline jet.

From reading articles elsewhere, you can learn that the United Airline (UA) agreed to buy 15 million gallons of biofuels over three years from a California-based biofuels producer, AltAir Fuels, that “makes biofuels out of nonedible natural oils and agricultural waste.”

In a single year, UA uses 3.6 billion gallons of jet fuel and purchases, say, 15/3 = 5 million gallons of fuel. The ratio is 3.9 billion gallons / 5 million gallons = 780. By analogy, if you use 780 kWh per month of electricity in your house, 1 kWh will be generated from a different fuel source. This amount of electricity will power one 100 W bulb for less than 10 hours. In other words, the contribution of biofuels to UA's fuel supply is in the noise, and certainly does not warrant a front page article in the New York Times.

If planes ran on biofuels, there would not be a global airline industry. Thus, I must conclude that our propensity for self-delusion is simply too strong to resist. And to hell with the environment, which is getting hurt by biofuel farming and production.

An apt metaphor for the state of health of the Earth's major ecosystems.  Source: Melody Newcomb, The New York Times, July 7, 2015, "A Knockout Blow to the American Fish Stocks."
No on to the true evil doers: A Knockout Blow to the American Fish Stocks. These people, who apparently have no conscience and imagination, want to negate the small improvements in fish stocks along the northeastern American coast.  They work for the New England Fishery Management Council and their bullshit motto is splattered on their webpage as follows:
Conserving and managing fishery resources by relying on sound science, promoting public participation, and balancing competing interests.
They balance competing interests along these lines: Forget the fish and the healthy ocean, and food for us, our children and grandchildren.  Instead, lets' allow people who give us money to make a quick buck from destroying the environment for all:
..., the council is preparing to drastically reduce the amount of protected habitat in New England waters, including by nearly 80 percent around the Georges Bank. The plan would allow for expansion of bottom trawling and dredging, two of the most destructive fishing methods, into protected habitats.

In addition to gutting habitat protections, the council wants to suspend a program that places observers on fishing vessels to monitor compliance....
On a lighter, but related note, Tom Selleck, a popular American actor was accused of stealing many truck loads of water from a public hydrant to quench thirst of his 60-acre ranch; the rest of the drought-stricken neighborhood be damned. What did the Pope say about "the harm we have inflicted on our Mother by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her?  Have we come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will?

"And so it goes...", as my soulmate, the late Kurt Vonnegut, would say.

P.S. 7/11/2015. Here is another sad commentary on the Pope's statement that "[t]he violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life."  The very people who swore not to harm others, helped instead in justifying torture: Psychologists Who Greenlighted Torture. This evil originated at the very top of the otherwise respectable medical organizations, among people who were trained by the top U.S. universities. Their behavior makes Monsanto, which foreswore to harm the environment in every conceivable way, a part of the same big family of evil doers. Just as the Pope said.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

There Must Not Be Peak Oil

In this post, I explain the logic of wishful thinking and plain denial that rules on the Earth in most matters that matter (population growth, power (= energy per unit time) supply, water supply, food supply, progressing destruction of planetary ecosystems, and so on).  
I imply throughout that without an ample and continuous supply of power as liquid fuels, chemical feedstock and electricity, the societal activities we take for granted are impossible.
I start from formulating a grand postulate that is self-evident, given the finite volume of the Earth's lithosphere and the law of mass conservation:
(The Grand Postulate) If all hydrocarbon resources in the Earth’s mantle are finite (= A) then
there is peak rate of hydrocarbon production  (= B) [as these resources are gradually depleted]: A implies B or A B

This Grand Postulate is logically equivalent to its contrapositive: if not A then not B:  (not A = ~A)  ~B:
If hydrocarbon resources are infinite (= ~A), then there is not peak production rate (= ~B). 
But the following two statements are also always true:
If hydrocarbon resources are infinite (= ~A)  then
there is (=B) or there is not peak hydrocarbon production rate (= ~B) 
We could stop producing ever more hydrocarbons year-on-year, but we don't have to because the resource is infinite.

Instead, we wish that this statement were true, because we don’t like or fear B: 
Even if hydrocarbon resources are finite (= A)  then
there is not peak hydrocarbon production rate (=~B):  A ~B
In view of the law of mass conservation (The Grand Postulate) this statement seems false to a few people who understand science, so we have to find additional “evidence” for the validity of ~B.  The best strategy is to find a new shiny ~A.

Here is where shale oil/gas and/or Arctic oil/gas and/or new technology or anything else come to help.

Let’s try to “prove” the no peak of hydrocarbon production (~B) with shale oil and gas, and technology: 
(The Grand Not Postulate) Since we know that there is a practically infinite amount of hydrocarbons in shales and new technology of recovering hydrocarbons from these shales exists in the U.S. (= a substitute ~A) then
there is not peak hydrocarbon production rate ( = ~B)   Q.E.D.
As you can see, I have diverted your attention from the real problem (the finite Earth and low production rates (power) from shales) by postulating something that is evidently false as true.  Then I followed with what you really wanted to hear: There is no problem. So you happily glossed over the patent untruth of my argument. This is how most media and political proclamations work.
In the U.S., it is now commonly understood that the Grand Postulate is false, because of so many “false” predictions of peak production rates, at least on the scale of few months or years. 
You understand, I hope, that I simply wished away the problem, and used you as dupes to justify my false conclusion.  

Now, if you believe my lies, you are essentially crazy, because you see things that do no exist and non-crazy people cannot see. So the following questions arise:
  • What are people in the U.S. to do when they have been convinced that the silly statements of peak oil [and gas] power production are false?
After a few months of lower oil prices, they are buying again the same old monster trucks and SUVs, and they are driving again a record number of miles. The U.S. is also setting out to export more natural gas. Call it a complete relapse of an old drug habit.
  • What are the now convinced Americans to do when the price of gasoline relative to their (almost uniformly) declining incomes becomes too high? 
They will be very angry and blame others for misleading them.  Heads will be rolling. The absolute prices of gasoline and heating oil do not have to become much higher in magnitude.  It is sufficient that the real incomes fall just enough to prevent people from simultaneously eating, paying bills, and driving to work and to acquire necessities. In the U.S., most people must drive to subsist. 
  • What are [the American] politicians to do when they too have been convinced that the silly statements of peak oil/gas power production are false?
Politicians abhore the giant effort of planning and building an altogether new national infrastructure of small but complete towns, surrounded by their own agriculture/ranches, and possessing a decentralized, partial generation of electricity from wind and photovoltaics, as well as heat from passive solar heaters and geothermal heaters/coolers.  These towns must also have sufficient water supplies from rain catchment, rivers, and groundwater. They must be connected with a sparse network of electrical train rail lines.  Almost all trains are not very fast, because there is little need to go long distances, except for transporting [ever fewer] goods.   There will be plenty of electricity left in the existing base power generation system to propel these trains.

The new houses/apartment complexes are not built in the woods, where they will almost certainly burn and be never replaced, or on high quality agricultural soil.  Today, almost 2 out of 3 new houses in the U.S. are built in places with high fire danger and/or insufficient water supply.

The new housing units are not built on or near the beaches, where they will be swallowed by the swelling seas or destroyed by hurricanes. (Oh, that pesky non-existent climate change!)  They are not built in the flood planes of rivers and streams, where they will be destroyed and there will be no money to rebuild them.

I definitely see a new post entitled: "There must not be climate change."  Yes, climate change is so very inconvenient and scary. We must wish it away.

Unfortunately, the problem of peak production rates of anything has been wished away in the U.S. and so many other countries that grow in population much faster than the U.S.  I will not bore you anymore, because I have written, spoken, and published on this subject for many, many years; to little or no avail it turns out.

P.S. Fresh from my friend, Art Berman: The Grand Not Postulate has also been published by my favorite Wall Street Journal, albeit in more poetic language: "Now Hubbert’s Curve has been trumped by Moore’s Law. There will be no limits to growth in the global economy in a few years when, thanks to American ingenuity and entrepreneurship unleashed upon shale formations world-wide, oil—like transistors—becomes, for all practical purposes, free. And the lower oil prices go, the more money the frackers can make."

To verify your sanity, you really need to read Chapter 2 in the "Philosophy of Deception" or "On Truth" by Harry Frankfurt.

For the record, I regard the Wall Street Journal as a newer, gentler, and smaller-circulation version of the old tried Völkischer Beobachter or Pravda.

P.S.P.S.  6/8/2015.  If you want to be confused by reality, please verify that the global production of conventional crude oil and lease condensate has remained essentially flat for the last 11 years, as depicted by the the blue area in the magnified Figure 1 in "A New Peak in Conventional Crude Oil Production."  Even at $140 per barrel of oil, cold facts do not support the paradigm of no limits to growth of oil production around the world. This paradigm seems to rule in the U.S.

P.S.P.S.P.S.  07/03/2015.  Here is a somber assessment of shale oil production from the Economist, which is not the Wall Street Journal. Stay tuned in October 2015, when most of the current profitable oil price hedges expire.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Letters from Saudi Arabia - II

My Dear Western Friends,

Many of you have read my previous letter, dated May 4, 2015, and responded by email. Thank you.

I think we still have a little problem: Your replies have been much too U.S.-centric.  Unfortunately,  the world today is far too interlinked, in good part because of the U.S. policies over the last 35 years, and all problems are global.  Please parse the last sentence again and try to understand that you can no longer get away with being over there and ignoring what is happening here and everywhere else.  The cheap clothing and industrial products you buy in the U.S. come at a very high price to all other parts of the world.  High price means environmental and social deterioration.

Since hardly anyone cares about the environment until they can't breath, have no water to drink, food to eat, drown in floods or mudslides; or alternatively fall sick with cancer, Ebola, cholera, AIDS or Hepatitis, let's focus on the social deterioration and project it onto the U.S.  Then, I hope, what I say might interest you.

Among other things, I am an expert on foams.  Foams are collections of gas bubbles of different sizes immersed in a liquid, say water with a surfactant.  A long time ago, I wrote a beautiful but difficult paper, "Self-similar collapse of stationary bulk foams," that very few people ever read and even fewer cited.  Please look at Figure 2 for a nice 3D picture of a foam, but do not try to read this paper. You'd only get a headache from all these math equations.

Almost all foam bubbles collapse because of a universal phenomenon, called "Ostwald ripening," (a 30s movie) and water being drained by gravity from the bubble walls. In short, the smallest bubbles disappear and transfer their gas to the larger bubbles, while the bubble walls are getting ever thinner.  This process goes on until very few very large bubbles remain, or the entire foam catastrophically collapses, which is more likely.  You can look for a few seconds at a foam in your beer or champagne glass to see what I mean. Some foams can be made rigid and long-lasting with an appropriate surfactant or polymer that prevents or slows down gas inside each bubble from crossing the bubble walls.

Let's translate this understanding of bulk foams at rest into the stationary society foams made of people with different amounts of resources.  The small bubbles in this model are the poor people, the intermediate size bubbles are the middle class, the larger bubbles are the rich, and the few largest bubbles are the super-rich.  Each class of bubbles has a bubble size distribution.  In other words, different people in each bubble category have different amounts of resources. The polymer on the bubble walls that slows down or prevents foam collapse is the pristine environment, plentiful resources, good education for all, a stable happy society, good labor laws, health insurance for everyone, good governance, etc.

Now let's globalize these social foams, that is let's remove most of the polymers and put all foams into a single huge container, so all foams (countries) can contact each other directly.  Ostwald ripening will then happen everywhere, and only the super rich will remain with almost all of the global resources, or the world will go down in flames.  The U.N. today is one of the few global institutions trying to inject some polymer here and there, but their resources are woefully inadequate, because we, the Bubble People, don't care.  We eat organic food, fly to meetings, go to concerts, and think that nothing can ever happen to us.

But you are not interested in anything outside of the U.S., are you?  So, let's look at the social foam in the U.S.  With the stabilizing polymer missing increasingly since 1980, the small bubbles disappear first, then the intermediate bubbles.  In other words, by now, most of the poor have become completely destitute and the middle class almost disappeared.

We, the Bigger Bubble People, have been gaining from the disappeared poor and our bubbles have been growing nicely at their expense.  So we felt good over the last 30 years, not suspecting that it is our turn now to succumb to the merciless logic of Ostwald ripening with almost all polymer removed by the friends of globalization.  Therefore, only now, the inevitable progression of social foam collapse in the U.S. is getting interesting to us, as we, my friends, have been really quite the upper middle class.  Well, we must disappear as well, given a sufficiently long time, and only the super-rich will remain holding all power and resources, or the entire foam collapses and the U.S. society goes down in flames.
The super-rich already control all politics in the U.S. Source: Sunday Review, New York Times, 5/10/2015.

In case you haven't noticed, the super-rich already hold all power in the U.S., but they still do not own all resources, just 80 percent of them. Will they inject some stabilizing polymer to hold our much smaller bubbles intact for a while?

I doubt it.  And that's because the super-rich always think that their huge bubbles are untouchable.  That's how they always acted throughout human history.  With the exception of the few of you, my friends, most Americans know no history, so they will have to take my word for it. 
The Jungle, a homeless encampment of tents and shacks in San Jose, Calif., was cleared in December of last year. Jim Wilson/The New York Times
That's where we are now.  Our personal bubbles are under stress, even when we don't see homeless in the Silicon Valley or around our wealthy neighborhhods:
One notorious example took place in 2013, when Greg Gopman, then the chief executive of AngelHack, a code start-up, lamented on Facebook, “why the heart of our city has to be overrun by crazy, homeless, drug dealers, dropouts, and trash I have no clue.” (He later deleted the post.)  Source: The Shaky Moral Compass of Silicon Valley, The New York Times, May 6, 2015.
Here is the punch line:  
  1. The border and social policies implemented, for example, in the U.S., E.U., and Israel, prevent us from contacting the smallest external bubbles (the illegal emigrants), while removing the polymer from the insides of our national containers and pumping gas (resources) through the walls.  This means that our societies will undergo an accelerated Ostwald ripening, while the rich will feel safer in their fast growing bubbles.  That feeling of safety is of course erroneous, because now the internal poor and displaced (the internal disappeared resource bubbles) will stir the national foams with ever fewer bubbles and accelerate their collapse.
  2. An ample, renewable supply of small bubbles (immigrants) is good for the social foam stability against sloshing (big external upsets).  The small bubbles dampen sloshing and stabilize the society. But for security reasons we forgot about this physical requirement of regenerating our societal foams.
  3. The U.S. super-rich remain in direct contact with other huge bubbles elsewhere, which may exist in more rigid foams.  Thus, some of our biggest bubbles may also be sucked out into oblivion.
In summary, the outcomes of the inevitable Ostwald ripening or social rearrangement in the U.S. are far from certain.  Such is the ever-surprising wealth diffusion in the global economy.

Wishing you a little more happiness in our disappearing bubbles, Tad

P.S. Since a theory of self-similar collapse of social foams could be developed, I challenge a graduate student of economics or a similar discipline to contact me to jointly develop such a theory.  The capillary suction due to gravity could represent job and capital flight abroad and/or loss of tax revenue from the corporations and individuals, who have been paying off politicians in exchange for tax avoidance.

P.S.P.S. 08/18/2015 And here is how Ostwald ripening works for the top employees of top-ranked firms (and universities), but then for the firms themselves, as all are sucked out down to the last winners and then pop!

P.S.P.S.P.S. 08/25/2015.  Do you see now what I meant by the globalized social foam?  The suction causing social foam collapse is now present literally everywhere.  It is truly scary for me that my own conceptual model of global economy has been so successfully tested by the global market collapse. "Tumult leaves analysts seeking explanations," shouts the New York Times.  Wow!  This tumult was a predictable instability of the global foam and $3 trillion worth of bubbles just disappeared by collapse, not Ostwald ripening. Collapse is worse, because the entire foam may disappear in the end.

And here is Roger Cohen: "This is a season of radical discontent. People believe the system is rigged. They have good reason. Rigged to favor the super-rich, rigged to accentuate inequality, rigged to hide huge increases in the cost of living, rigged to buy elections, rigged to put off retirement, rigged to eviscerate pensions, rigged to export jobs, rigged to sabotage equal opportunity, rigged to hurt the middle class and minorities and the poor. Increasingly unequal societies have spawned anger, an unsurprising development. The anger is diffuse, in search of somebody to articulate it, preferably in short declarative sentences."

How about this? It is the ever faster drainage and collapse of the global society foam, stupid!