Limits to [Economists] Brains
by Jay Hanson
I have been working on a twelve step program to introduce the laws of thermodynamics to economists, here are the first few steps:
# 1. The candidate economist must go to a library. There he or she will notice spheres sitting on wooden stands. These represent the planet we live on: Earth. Spheres like Earth are by definition finite -- they only hold just so much stuff. Economists are required to memorize this key point and say it over and over, "The Earth only holds just so much stuff because it's a sphere. The Earth only holds just so much stuff because it's a sphere. The Earth only holds just so much stuff because it's a sphere. ..." Economists are required to say it over and over until he or she can remember it without peeking at notes.
Next, the economist is ready for his or her very first BIG scientific experiment! The economist is advised to stay calm, and be sure to get a good night's sleep before attempting the experiment.
# 2. Put a piece of cake on a plate.
# 3. Eat the cake.
# 4. See if you still have the cake.
Economists aren't used to empirical science and will have to do the experiment (#2 through #4) a few times before the implications finally sink in.
Well kids, that's the First Law (the Conservation Law). Isn't science fun!!! Can any economist tell the rest of the class what he or she has learned? ... Anyone? ... Nobel Laureate Friedman? ... Professor Nordhaus? ... Nobel Laureate Solow? ... Nobe Laureate Samuelson? ... Anyone? ...
Well perhaps we should just move on to the Second Law (the Entropy Law). Gee kids, guess what happened to that cake...
Energetic Limits to [Economic] Growth
by Jay Hanson – www.dieoff.com
Appeared in ENERGY Magazine, Spring, 1999
By definition, energy "sources" must generate more energy than they consume; otherwise, they are "sinks".
In 1972, the Club of Rome (COR) shocked the world with a study titled The Limits To Growth. Two main conclusions were reached by this study. The first suggests that if economic-development-as-we-know-it continues, society will run out of nonrenewable resources before the year 2072 with the most probable result being “a rather sudden and uncontrollable decline in both population and industrial capacity.” [] The second conclusion of the study is that piecemeal approaches to solving individual problems will not be successful. For example, the COR authors arbitrarily double their estimates of the resource base and allow their model to project a new scenario based on this new higher level of resources. Collapse occurs in the new scenario because of pollution instead of resource depletion. The bottom line is traditional forms of economic development will end in less than 100 years – one way or another. The COR study has been much belittled but proof of the COR's thesis can readily be found in the real-world concept of “net energy” and that is the focus of this article.
Net-energy analysis became a public controversy in 1974 when two stories made the news. In the first, Business Week reported that Howard Odum had developed a “New Math for Figuring Energy Costs.” Among other results, this new math indicated that stripper oil well operations were energy sinks rather than energy sources. According to this analysis, these operations could be profitable only when cheap, regulated oil was used to produce deregulated oil. The other net-energy story of 1974 was the study of Chapman and Mortimer asserting that a rapidly growing nuclear program would lead to an increased use of oil rather than to the desired substitution (see Net-Energy Analysis by Daniel T. Spreng, Oak Ridge Assoc. Univ. & Praeger, 1988).
As we know from physics, to accomplish a certain amount of work requires a minimum energy input. For example, lifting 15 kg of rock 5 meters out of the ground requires 735 joules of energy just to overcome gravity – and the higher the lift, the greater the minimum energy requirements. [] Combustion engines that actually do work – so-called “heat engines” – also consume a great deal of energy. [] The efficiency of heat engines is limited by thermodynamic principles discovered over 150 years ago by N. L. S. Carnot. [] Thus, a typical auto, bulldozer, truck, or power plant wastes more than 50 percent of the energy contained in its fuel.
One seldom thinks about the energy that is utilized in systems that supply energy – such as oil-fired power plants. But energy is also utilized when exploring for fuel, building the machinery to mine the fuel, mining the fuel, building and operating the power plants, building power lines to transmit the energy, decommissioning the plants, and so on. The difference between the total energy input (i.e., the energy value of the sought after energy) minus all of the energy utilized to run an energy supply system equals the "net energy" (in other words, the net amount of energy actually available to society to do useful work).
We mine our minerals and fossil fuels from the Earth's crust. The deeper we dig, the greater the minimum energy requirements. Of course, the most concentrated and most accessible fuels and minerals are mined first; thereafter, more and more energy is required to mine and refine poorer and poorer quality resources. New technologies can, on a short-term basis, decrease energy costs, but neither technology nor “prices” can repeal the laws of thermodynamics:
- The hematite ore of the Mesabi Range in Minnesota contained 60 percent iron. But now it is depleted and society must use lower-quality taconite ore that has an iron content of about 25 percent. []
- The average energy content of a pound of coal dug in the US has dropped 14 percent since 1955. []
- In the 1950s, oil producers discovered about fifty barrels of oil for every barrel invested in drilling and pumping. Today, the figure is only about five for one. Sometime around 2005, that figure will become one for one. Under that latter scenario, even if the price of oil reaches $500 a barrel, it wouldn't be logical to look for new oil in the US because it would consume more energy than it would recover. []
Decreasing net energy sets up a positive feedback loop: since oil is used directly or indirectly in everything, as the energy costs of oil increase, the energy costs of everything else increase too – including other forms of energy. For example, oil provides about 50% of the fuel used in coal extraction. []
One of the most important characteristics of energy is its “quality”. Fuels come in varying qualities. For example, coal contains more energy per pound than wood, which makes coal more efficient to store and transport than wood. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive wastes only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil’s many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal. []
Oil is the highest quality energy we use, making up about 38 percent of the world energy supply. No other energy source equals oil’s intrinsic qualities of relative ease of extraction, transportability, versatility and cost. The qualities that enabled oil to take over from coal as the front-line energy source in the industrialized world in the middle of this century are as relevant today as they were then.
Unfortunately, forecasts about the abundance of oil are warped by inconsistent definitions of “reserves”. In truth, every year for the past two decades the industry has pumped more oil than it has discovered, and production will soon be unable to keep up with rising demand. Almost 50 years ago, the geologist M. King Hubbert developed a method for projecting future oil production. Hubbert found that when approximately one half the Estimated Ultimately Recoverable (EUR) oil had been produced in an oil basin, production “peaks” and then declines towards zero. He calculated that oil production in the lower-48 states would peak about 1970. His prediction has proved to be remarkably accurate. Both total and peak yields have risen slightly compared to Hubbert's original estimate, but the timing of the peak and the generally declining production trend are correct.
For the last 50 years, many geologists and oil companies have published estimates of the total amount of crude oil that will ultimately be recovered from the Earth over all time. Remarkably, these assessments of EUR oil have varied little over the past half century  and global oil production is now expected to peak around 2005. []
The End of the Consumer Economy
Although economists are trained to treat energy just like any other resource when it comes to “supply and demand”, it is manifestly not like any other resource. Net energy is the pre-condition for all other resources. The coming peak in global oil production signals the end of the consumer economy because nothing can replace conventional oil.
Economists frequently cite Canada's Athabasca oil sands as a handy replacement for conventional oil. [] But oil sands and tar shale are very energy-intensive, environmentally destructive, and not all that large anyway. For example, back-of-the-envelope calculations show that the Athabasca oil sands could supply less than three years' worth of oil for the global economy. Three hundred billion barrels of oil (AEUB) gushing out of a pipe would only last 12 years at present World consumption of 70 million barrels a day. Oil sands would last just three years if we super-optimistically assume 25 percent net energy for the digging, etc. over the entire resource. “The mining operation involves stripping off the overburden; separating the bitumen with steam, hot water and caustic soda, and then diluting it with naphtha. After centrifuging, liquid bitumen at 80°C is produced, which is then upgraded in a coking process and subjected to other treatments, eventually yielding a light gravity, low sulphur, synthetic oil.” (The Coming Oil Crisis, p. 121, Campbell, 1997)
How about natural gas? Unlike oil, natural gas can not easily be shipped by sea. It must be liquefied prior to shipment, then shipped in specially designed refrigerated ships destined for specially equipped ports, and then regasified for distribution – at an estimated 15 to 30 percent energy loss. [] Moreover, natural gas cannot be easily stored like oil or coal. Global natural gas production is expected to "peak" sometime between 2010 [] and 2020. [] Hopes of exploiting the ice-like methane hydrates from the ocean floor also appear doomed because the solid is unable to migrate and accumulate in commercial volumes. [] Today’s euphoria over methane hydrates reminds me of that which surrounded oil shale and tar sands a couple of decades ago. With regard to coal, U.S. coal production rose to a record high of 1,118 million short tons in 1998. U.S. coal, however, is expected to become an energy "sink" – not worth digging out of the ground – by 2040. []
What about nuclear energy? The fraction of energy produced by conventional nuclear plants can not be significantly increased because of a shortage of fuel. [] Moreover, all but one of the new "fast breeder" reactors have been abandoned because they are "too costly and of doubtful value". []
The expansion of solar energy systems is limited by the availability of land. Estimates are that about 20 percent of U.S. land area (about 450 million acres) would be required to support a solar energy system that would supply less than one-half (37 quads) of our current energy consumption (80 quads). []
Fuel Cells to the Rescue?
The automobile industry is planning to put fuel-cell-powered automobiles on the road by 2004. But the new cars won’t be on the road for long because these fuel cells use hydrogen via methanol that is made from fossil fuel. [] Hydrogen is not a “source” of energy – it’s an energy “carrier” (like electricity). About 95 percent of the hydrogen used in the U.S. market is produced by a chemical process known as “steam methane reforming”. [] A carbon-based feedstock (usually natural gas or coal) is combined with steam under high pressure and temperature to produce hydrogen at about a 35 percent energy loss. Methanol is usually produced from natural gas or coal at a 32 to 44 percent net energy loss. [] In the U.S., oil production "peaked" in 1970 and is declining towards zero. Scenarios for widespread use of hydrogen are therefore likely to include steam reforming of gasified coal or biomass. But the coal will be gone in 40 years and there just isn't enough land for biomass!
Money Is Not Energy
Energy companies are in business to make money – not energy. For example, economic subsidies allow ethanol companies to waste energy while making a profit. Specifically, about 71% more energy is used to produce a gallon of ethanol than the energy contained in a gallon of ethanol. [] Obviously, alternative energy technologies that require energy subsidies are only viable as long as we don't need them!
From the standpoint of achieving society’s goal of a long-term solution to our energy problems, profit is simply the wrong objective for energy companies. Even without direct and indirect subsidies of $650 billion a year [] it's conceivable that energy companies could make money – but lose energy – by burning one $10-barrel of oil today in order to pump one-half of a $50-barrel tomorrow. The price of oil is expected to rise sharply – and permanently – when global oil production peaks in less than ten years.
Economists Can't See It Coming
"Energy" is defined as the capacity of a physical system to do work. Over a hundred years ago, scientists pointed out that energy – not money – is the true source of the capitalist's wealth:It is, in fact, the fate of all kinds of energy of position to be ultimately converted into energy of motion. The former may be compared to money in a bank, or capital, the latter to money which we are in the act of spending ... If we pursue the analogy a step further, we shall see that the great capitalist is respected because he has the disposal of a great quantity of energy; and that whether he be nobleman or sovereign, or a general in command, he is powerful only from having something which enables him to make use of the services of others. When a man of wealth pays a labouring man to work for him, he is in truth converting so much of his energy of position into actual energy...The world of mechanism is not a manufactory, in which energy is created, but rather a mart, into which we may bring energy of one kind and change or barter it for an equivalent of another kind, that suits us better - but if we come with nothing in hand, with nothing we will most assuredly return. [Balfour Stewart, 1883] []
But economists still do not study energy [] – they study money and prices. Physics incorporated thermodynamics – moved from “production” to “circulation” – over 100 years ago. But modern economic texts, such as McConnell & Brue, 1999, and Samuelson & Nordhaus, 1998, still do not discuss thermodynamics or entropy! Money isn’t a measure of anything “real”, like joules or kilograms. Money is merely social power because it "empowers" people to buy and do the things they want – including buying and “doing” other people.
Economists frequently point to “prices” and make claims about the real world. This or that is “better off” they say, and go on their way. But the price of a thing does not reveal its quantity or its quality, particularly in the energy business. At best, the relationship between prices and natural resources is nonlinear. A good analogy for the oil market is the float in a carburetor: as the engine demands more gas, the float falls and allows more gas to flow in from the tank. But the float has no information concerning the amount of gas left in the tank until the fuel line is unable to keep up with demand. So it is with the market. As the demand for oil increases, the increase in price signals oil companies to pump more oil out of the ground – which lowers prices again. But the oil market has no information about the amount of oil left in the ground until production is unable to keep up with demand. In October 1980, Julian Simon challenged Paul Ehrlich and colleagues to a $1,000 bet that in ten years the price of any raw material they selected would fall (measured in constant 1980 dollars). In October 1991, Ehrlich paid up. The prices of the five minerals chosen (copper, chrome, nickel, tin and tungsten) had dropped substantially. [] Obviously, though, prices did not reflect the fact that ten years’ worth of minerals had been taken out of the ground! One concludes that prices give no warning of approaching resource exhaustion.
How much is $10 worth of oil? It depends upon when and where you bought it. What's the net energy of $10 worth of oil? If oil costs $10 a barrel, how much is left in the ground? Who knows? Prices simply measure states of mind. This means that economists issue opinions on opinions. In short, economists are pollsters with an attitude. Based on the best information we have at hand today, sometime during the coming century the global economy will “run out of gas”, as fossil energy sources become sinks. One can argue about the exact date this will occur, but the end of fossil energy – and the dependent global economy – is inevitable.
Imagine having a motor scooter with a five-gallon tank, but the nearest gas station is six gallons away. You can not fill your tank with trips to the gas station because you burn more than you can bring back – it’s impossible for you to cover your overhead (the size of your bankroll and the price of the gas are irrelevant). You might as well put your scooter up on blocks because you are "out of gas" – forever. It's the same with the American economy: if we must spend more-than-one unit of energy to produce enough goods and services to buy one unit of energy, it will be impossible for us to cover our overhead. At that point, America’s economic machine is “out of gas” – forever.
I’ll conclude with an observation of Cosmologist Fred Hoyle who stated,“It has been often said that, if the human species fails to make a go of it here on Earth, some other species will take over the running. In the sense of developing intelligence this is not correct. We have, or soon will have, exhausted the necessary physical prerequisites so far as this planet is concerned. With coal gone, oil gone, high-grade metallic ore gone, no species however competent can make the long climb from primitive conditions to high-level technology. This is a one-shot affair. If we fail, this planetary system fails so far as intelligence is concerned. The same will be true of other planetary systems. On each of them there will be one chance, and one chance only.”
» » » » [DieOff]
by Jay Hanson
For purposes of defense, reality can be distorted not only in memory but in the very act of taking place. Throughout the year of my imprisonment in Auschwitz I had Alberto D. as a fraternal friend: he was a robust, courageous young man, more clearsighted than the average and therefore very critical of the many who fabricated for themselves, and reciprocally administered to each other, consolatory illusions ("The war will be over in two weeks", "There will be no more selections", "The English have landed in Greece", "The Polish Partisans are about to liberate the camp," and so on, rumors heard nearly every day and punctually given the lie by reality). Alberto had been deported together with his forty-five year old father. In the imminence of the great selection of October 1944, Alberto and I had commented on this event with fright, impotent rage, rebellion, resignation, but without seeking refuge in comforting truths. The selection came, Alberto's "old" father was chosen for the gas, and in the space of a few hours, Alberto changed.
-- Levi, Drowned, pp. 33-34, Hope
Once upon a time, Daddy Economist, Mommy Economist, and a litter of little Economists were in a mountain cabin, sitting in front of a small coal-burning stove to keep warm. Although most people know that when coal burns, it's gone forever, Daddy Economist isn't worried because he was trained -- like a mindless robot -- to believe that when the coal is gone, a substitute will magically appear. So when the coal is gone, he looks around, and his furniture pops into view -- just like magic! So Daddy Economist decides to maximize his utility by breaking up his furniture and burning it in the small stove.
Now the Economists must sit on the floor, but heck, it's better than the alternative: dying. Then one day, SURPRISE!!! All the furniture is nearly gone. But Daddy Economist isn't worried because he believes a substitute will magically appear. So when the furniture is gone, he maximizes his utility by ripping the boards off the walls of his cabin and burning them in the stove to keep warm.
Now the Economists must sit on the floor very close to the stove, but heck, it's better than the alternative: dying. Then one day, SURPRISE!!! The Economists' cabin is completely burnt up. But Daddy Economist was trained not to worry. He decides to maximize his utility by pulling the clothes off his family and burning them in the stove to keep warm.
Now the Economists are forced to stand right next to the stove and constantly turn, but heck, it's better than the alternative: dying. Then in a few hours, SURPRISE!!! All the Economists' clothes have been burnt in the stove. But Daddy Economist isn't worried because he is going to maximize his utility by...
The Hope That KillsDespite the madness of war, we lived for a world that would be different. For a better world to come when all this is over. And perhaps even our being here is a step towards that world. Do you really think that, without the hope that such a world is possible, that the rights of man will be restored again, we could stand the concentration camp even for one day? It is that very hope that makes people go without a murmur to the gas chambers, keeps them from risking a revolt, paralyses them into numb inactivity. It is hope that breaks down family ties, makes mothers renounce their children, or wives sell their bodies for bread, or husbands kill. It is hope that compels man to hold on to one more day of life, because that day may be the day of liberation. Ah, and not even the hope for a different, better world, but simply for life, a life of peace and rest. Never before in the history of mankind has hope been stronger than man, but never also has it done so much harm as it has in this war, in this concentration camp. We were never taught how to give up hope, and this is why today we perish in gas chambers.
-- Borowski, pp. 121-122 [Spectacle: Hope]
Los Sangre Es en Tus Manos [sic]
By Jay Hanson, DieOff.org
Second Quarter 1999 Issue
Economists have become a plague as dangerous as rabbits, prickly pear or cane toads. Economists have become the cultural cane toads of Canberra, oozing over the landscape and endangering myriad indigenous species. Not only the economy but also mental health would be greatly improved if we could lift the fog of obfuscation on things economic. The first step is to take economists from their pedestal and to see them as the curiosities they are. The first step to reducing their power is to reduce their legitimacy. How is this to be achieved? First, economists' outpourings should, as a matter of principle, be met with laughter, derision, benign paternalism. They should cease to be employed as media commentators. In the long term they should cease to be hired. Let them be pensioned off and die out. Extinction is a worthy end for a profession whose brief is rotten to the core.--Dr. Evan Jones, Economics Department, University of Sydney, 1991
[The Chicago School of Economics is] a great center of contemporary scholasticism. The economists working there and produced by it are as important to the stagnation of useful thought as the Schoolmen of the University of Paris were at the height of the Middle Ages… Like that of the Paris scholastics, their mastery of highly complex rhetorical details obscures a great void at the centre of their argument… A large number of America's economic problems could be solved by shutting down the Chicago School of Economics… The purpose of closure would be simply to disentangle a tendentious ideology from its unassailable position within contemporary power structures. The same sort of liberating shock treatment was applied to European civilization in 1723 when the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was disbanded. The effect was to set free the ideas of the Enlightenment.
--John Ralston Saul, 1994
In 1972, the Club of Rome rocked the world with a study titled LIMITS TO GROWTH (LTG). Two main conclusions were reached by this study. The first suggests that if economic-development-as-we-know-it continues, society will run out of nonrenewable resources before the year 2072. The inevitable depletion of natural resources will result in a precipitous collapse of the economic system and massive human die-off.
The second conclusion of the study is that piecemeal approaches to solving individual problems will not be successful. For example, the authors arbitrarily double their estimates of the resource base and allow the model to project a new scenario based on this new higher level of resources. Collapse occurs in the new scenario because of pollution instead of resource depletion. In other words, traditional forms of economic development will end in less than 100 years -- one way or another:Finally investment cannot keep up with [physical] depreciation, and the industrial base collapses, taking with it the service and agricultural systems, which have become dependent upon industrial inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hospital laboratories, computers, and especially energy for mechanization). For a short time the situation is especially serious because population, with the delays inherent in the age structure and the process of social adjustment, keeps rising. Finally population decreases when the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services. 
TO THE FLAMESWhen we run over libraries, persuaded of these principles, what havoc must we make? If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.
--David Hume, 1748
The distinction between a judgement of fact and a judgement of value has become one of the corner stones of philosophy ever since Hume.
--Stanislav Andreski, 1972
Many economists have attempted to refute the LTG scenarios -- all have failed. Economists employ two tactics against LTG. Their first tactic is to simply misrepresent the study. (Perhaps economists are too busy dispensing advice to actually read a study before criticizing it.) Their second tactic is to claim that market prices have somehow refuted LTG. But the price of a thing does not reveal its quantity or its quality. Prices simply measure states of mind. This means that economists issue opinions on opinions -- mere sophistry and illusion. In other words, economists are nothing more than pollsters with an attitude. 
How much is $10 worth of oil? (It depends upon when and where you bought it.) How much energy was required to mine $10 worth of oil? How much energy will $10 worth of oil yield? Who knows? Prices measure human perception -- not things. In principle then, economists can't know anything about the real world by studying prices, and we are free to commit all price-based claims about the real world to the flames.
Although economists are trained -- like mindless robots -- to believe that capitalism is powered by money, scientists pointed out over a hundred years ago that capitalism is powered by energy:
It is, in fact, the fate of all kinds of energy of position to be ultimately converted into energy of motion. The former may be compared to money in a bank, or capital, the latter to money which we are in the act of spending ... If we pursue the analogy a step further, we shall see that the great capitalist is respected because he has the disposal of a great quantity of energy; and that whether he be nobleman or sovereign, or a general in command, he is powerful only from having something which enables him to make use of the services of others. When a man of wealth pays a labouring man to work for him, he is in truth converting so much of his energy of position into actual energy...The world of mechanism is not a manufactory, in which energy is created, but rather a mart, into which we may bring energy of one kind and change or barter it for an equivalent of another kind, that suits us better - but if we come with nothing in hand, with nothing we will most assuredly return. [Balfour Stewart, 1883, pp. 26-7; 34] 
Economists, please note the date and the profound shift of metaphor from production to circulation. Stewart’s book was in its sixth edition by 1883! But over one hundred years later, economists still believe that available energy is a function of money price!
Capitalism burns "net energy" to make money -- there is no substitute for energy. Although economists are trained to treat energy just like any other resource, it is not like any other resource. Net energy is the pre-condition for all other resources.
Since energy is the basis of the economy (indeed, of all life on this planet), economists should know a lot about energy. Let's take a look. Guess what? Nobel Prize Winner Paul Samuelson of MIT (who has been publishing university texts since 1948), and Professor William Nordhaus of Yale don't seem to know any more about energy than twelve-year-old children [see the quote from their textbook below].
The key to understanding energy issues is to look at the "energy price" of energy. By definition, energy "sources" must produce more energy than they consume; otherwise they are called "sinks". This thermodynamic law applies no matter how high the "money price" of energy goes.
We use up or "waste" energy in systems that supply energy -- such as oil-fired power plants. Energy is wasted when exploring for oil, building the machinery to mine the oil, mining the oil, building and operating the power plant, building power lines to transmit the energy, decommissioning the plant, and so on. The difference between the amount of energy generated and the amount of energy wasted is known as the "net energy".
One of the most important aspects of energy is its "quality". Different kinds of fuel have different qualities. For example, coal contains more energy per pound than wood, which makes coal more efficient to store and transport than wood. Oil has a higher energy content per unit weight and burns at a higher temperature than coal; it is easier to transport, and can be used in internal combustion engines. A diesel locomotive uses only one-fifth the energy of a coal-powered steam engine to pull the same train. Oil's many advantages provide 1.3 to 2.45 times more economic value per kilocalorie than coal. 
Oil is the most important form of energy we use, making up about 38 percent of the world energy supply. No other energy source equals oil's intrinsic qualities of extractablility, transportability, versatility and cost. These are the qualities that enabled oil to take over from coal as the front-line energy source in the industrialized world in the middle of this century, and they are as relevant today as they were then.
Forecasts about the abundance of oil are usually warped by inconsistent definitions of "reserves." In truth, every year for the past two decades the industry has pumped more oil than it has discovered, and production will soon be unable to keep up with rising demand.
According to a March, 1998, Scientific American article by Colin J. Campbell and Jean H. Laherrère, global oil production is expected to "peak" around 2005. 
Unlike oil, natural gas is not transported cheaply. It can be piped around a continent, but must be liquefied for transport by sea. Moreover, natural gas cannot be easily stored like oil or coal.
According to Colin Campbell, global natural gas production is expected to "peak" a few years either side of 2020.  Franco Bernabé, chief executive of the Italian oil company ENI SpA, is more pessimistic and sees the peak in global natural gas production about ten years earlier: 2010. 
The US Department of Energy says we have enough coal to last for 250 years:
"... total coal resources of the Nation are large and that utilization at the current rate will not soon deplete them ... [ DOE-EIA ] estimated that the United States has enough coal to last 250 years." 
Gee, that's a lot of coal, and they ought to know! Right? Wrong! It seems that the Department of Energy forgot to consider the energy costs of mining coal when computing the size of this energy resource.
According to Gever et al., by 2040 it will require more energy to mine domestic coal than the energy recovered. In other words, if present trends continue, domestic coal will be "depleted" (will become an energy "sink") in 42 years -- not 250 years! 
Indeed, nothing can replace fossil fuels. The coming "peak" in the global oil supply -- in about five years -- signals end of the consumer society. For a comprehensive review of our energy options, see Titanic Sinks
IGNORANCE… wherein it is set forth that the doctrine attributed to Copernicus, that the Earth moves around the Sun and that the Sun is stationary in the center of the world and does not move from east to west, is contrary to the Holy Scriptures and therefore cannot be defended or held. In witness whereof we have written and subscribed these presents with our hand this twenty-sixth day of May, 1616.
--Robertro Cardinal Bellarmino
There are no...limits to the carrying capacity of the earth that are likely to bind any time in the foreseeable future. There isn't a risk of an apocalypse due to global warming or anything else. The idea that we should put limits on growth because of some natural limit, is a profound error and one that, were it ever to prove influential, would have staggering social costs.
--World Bank chief economist, Lawrence H. Summers, Nov., 10, 1991
Of all hatreds, there is none greater than that of ignorance against knowledge.
--Galileo Galilei, June 30, 1616
On December 1997, THE ECONOMIST ran a typical piece of ignorance:So, according to the Club of Rome, reserves should have been overdrawn by 50 billion barrels by 1990. In fact, by 1990 unexploited reserves amounted to 900 billion barrels -- not counting the tar shales, of which a single deposit in Alberta contains more than 550 billion barrels.
The Club of Rome made similarly wrong predictions about natural gas, silver, tin, uranium, aluminum, copper, lead and zinc. In every case, it said finite reserves of these minerals were approaching exhaustion and prices would rise steeply. In every case except tin, known reserves have actually grown since the Club’s report; in some cases they have quadrupled. 
But THE ECONOMIST is just plain wrong! None of the Club of Rome's predictions failed. The Club of Rome expected known reserves to quintuple:
Table 4 lists some of the more important mineral and fuel resources, the vital raw materials for today's major industrial processes. The number following each resource in column 3 is the static reserve index, or the number of years present known reserves of that resource (listed in column 2) will last at the current rate of usage. This static index is the measure normally used to express future resource availability. Underlying the static index are several assumptions, one of which is that the usage rate will remain constant.
But column 4 in table 4 shows that the world usage rate of every natural resource is growing exponentially. For many resources the usage rate is growing even faster than the population, indicating both that more people are consuming resources each year and also that the average consumption per person is increasing each year. In other words, the exponential growth curve of resource consumption is driven by both the positive feedback loops of population growth and of capital growth.
We have already seen in figure 10 that an exponential increase in land use can very quickly run up against the fixed amount of land available. An exponential increase in resource consumption can rapidly diminish a fixed store of resources in the same way. Figure 11, which is similar to figure 10, illustrates the effect of exponentially increasing consumption of a given initial amount of a nonrenewable resource. The example in this case is chromium ore, chosen because it has one of the longest static reserve indices of all the resources listed in table 4. We could draw a similar graph for each of the resources listed in the table. The time scales for the resources would vary, but the general shape of the curves would be the same.
The world's known reserves of chromium are about 775 million metric tons, of which about 1.85 million metric tons are mined annually at present. Thus, at the current rate of use, the known reserves would last about 420 years. The dashed line in figure 11 illustrates the linear depletion of chromium reserves that would be expected under the assumption of constant use. The actual world consumption of chromium is increasing, however, at the rate of 2.6 percent annually. The curved solid lines in figure 11 show how that growth rate, if it continues, will deplete the resource stock, not in 420 years, as the linear assumption indicates, but in just 95 years. If we suppose that reserves yet undiscovered could increase present known reserves by a factor of five, as shown by the dotted line, this fivefold increase would extend the lifetime of the reserves only from 95 to 154 years. Even if it were possible from 1970 onward to recycle 100 percent of the chromium (the horizontal line) so that none of the initial reserves were lost, the demand would exceed the supply in 235 years.
Figure 11 shows that under conditions of exponential growth in resource consumption, the static reserve index (420 years for chromium) is a rather misleading measure of resource availability. We might define a new index, an "exponential reserve index," which gives the probable lifetime of each resource, assuming that the current growth rate in consumption will continue. We have included this index in column 5 of table 4. We have also calculated an exponential index on the assumption that our present known reserves of each resource can be expanded fivefold by new discoveries. This index is shown in column 6. The effect of exponential growth is to reduce the probable period of availability of aluminum, for example, from 100 years to 31 years (55 years with a fivefold increase in reserves). Copper, with a 36-year lifetime at the present usage rate, would actually last only 21 years at the present rate of growth, and 48 years if reserves are multiplied by five. It is clear that the present exponentially growing usage rates greatly diminish the length of time that wide-scale economic growth can be based on these raw materials.
Of course the actual nonrenewable resource availability in the next few decades will be determined by factors much more complicated than can be expressed by either the simple static reserve index or the exponential reserve index. We have studied this problem with a detailed model that takes into account the many interrelationships among such factors as varying grades of ore, production costs, new mining technology, the elasticity of consumer demand, and substitution of other resources. 
What about The Economists claim for "tar shales"? More sophistry and illusion! Here are some back-of-the-napkin calculations with respect to Alberta oil sands:
It has been estimated that Alberta oil sands contain about 300 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Syncrude is presently producing over 200,000 barrels of oil a day.  Oily waste water is a byproduct of the process used to recover oil from the tarry sands. For every barrel of oil recovered, two and a half barrels of liquid waste are pumped into the huge ponds. The massive Syncrude pond, which measures 22 kilometers (14 miles) in circumference (25 sq. km.), has six meters (20 feet) of murky water on top of a 40-meter-thick (133 feet) pudding of sand, silt, clay and unrecovered oil. 
To replace conventional crude -- present consumption is about 70 million barrels a day -- would require about 350 such plants. If each of the 350 plants were the size of the present plant, they would require a waste pond of 8,750 sq. km -- about the half the size of Lake Ontario. But oil sands are less than half as "energy efficient" as conventional oil, so perhaps one would need 700 plants and a pond 17,500 sq. km -- almost as big as Lake Ontario -- to replace conventional oil.
If global energy use continued to double every 30 years or so, five more doublings would put Alberta entirely under oily waste water. But even at 100% efficiency, 300 billion barrels of oil sands would only last 12 years at present consumption of 70 million barrels a day. Moreover, because of the decreasing energy efficiency of existing energy sources, and because the mining of oil sands is so environmentally destructive, it seems unlikely that all 300 billion barrels will ever be recovered:Since opening its operation in 1978 one company, Syncrude, has excavated 1.5 billion tons of so-called overburden, the 20 meters deep layer of muskeg, gravel and shale that sit atop the actual oil sands. More soil has been excavated by Syncrude than from the construction of the Great Pyramid of Cheops, the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal and the 10 biggest dams in the world combined. Syncrude has possibly created the largest surface mine in the world. 
At an optimistic average of 25% efficiency over all 300 billion barrels, Alberta could supply about 3 years of oil for today's economy. More likely, quite a bit less.
TRAINED TO TORTUREPinochet "has supported a fully free-market economy as a matter of principle. Chile is an economic miracle"
--Milton Friedman, Newsweek, Jan, 1982
"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable...because foregone earnings from increased morbidity" are low. He adds that "the underpopulated countries in Africa are vastly underpolluted; their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles.... "
--World Bank chief economist, Lawrence Summers, The Economist, Feb. 8, 1992
Last November, a thousand protesters marched outside a Georgia military base to demand the closing of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, where opponents claim that Latin American soldiers are trained to torture. The protest outside the sprawling Fort Benning military installation, about 85 miles southwest of Atlanta, has been an annual event since 1990. It has been held each year to mark the Nov. 16, 1989, massacre of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.
The School of the Americas trained 19 of the 26 Salvadoran officials implicated in the massacre by a United Nations investigation. The school trains more than 900 U.S. and Latin American soldiers each year. Many of the protesters held banners reading, "Close the School of the Assassins," "Los Sangre Es en Tus Manos [sic, the blood is on your hands]," and "Stop the Oppression of Latin American Peasants." A man wearing a skeleton costume strode through the crowd on stilts.
But the operatives trained at the Chicago School of Economics have killed and tortured far more innocent victims than the operatives trained at the School of Americas. Isn't it time to close the Chicago School too? Does the world really need any more cultural cane toads like Mr. Friedman or Mr. Summers?
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