Sunday, February 20, 2011

The truth about peaks and populations (fuck my opinion too)

The universal truths are best explained through the use of mathematics.   People like Stephen Hawking are far more likely to "hear" the voice of "god" then say.... oh, Pat Robertson, or the Pope, or the guy strung out on smack on the corner.

Our mastery over what we call "nature" (something the industrialized people try very hard to separate themselves from) is nothing but mathematical equations and formulas of various complexities playing themselves out with manipulation from us.

One of the things we learned was that gold could not be spun from straw... but a small amount of uranium could level a medium sized Japanese city.  We learned that the earth was in fact round, and that there was not limitless land over the next rise to conquer.  We learned things that we perceived incorrectly, (or better yet, provided unnecessary inflammatory verbiage to) such as Darwin's "theory".  "Survival of the fittest" when applied to man's attempt at political structure, and race/class divisions take on a genocidal twist, "The species that most rapidly adapts to changing circumstance is likely to evolve" is a far more thought out inappropriate summary of a body of work then the almost new speak "survival of the fittest".

What's missing from the verbiage is the math (in this case the study of genetics) and the freedom from religion, and freedom from the body politic, for the body of science. 

Another scientific "theory" that is often misused, in conjunction with Darwin's for political gain with the result being genocidal in nature are those of Malthus, a man who correctly saw "The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man" he also "Saw this situation as divinely imposed to teach virtuous behaviour" and for the lack of numbers (pardon the pun) it was as reasonable (if not simplistic, and superstitious) summary of where we sit now.

For the past 70 years starvation has not been about the food supply at all (there has been plenty of food) it has been about distribution.   The combined forces of capitalism (restricting distribution by income), war (restricting distribution for political purposes of an external nature), and totalitarianism (restricting distribution for political purposes of an internal nature), have joined forces, at the only time in history we as a species were able to wipe out our own hunger, and they kept that goal from ever being attained.

Last week on the CFN comment string I got into it with some guy who wanted to yowl at Jim about using the word "inarguable" when describing a possible population overshoot.  This person was all wrapped up in some study he read once that said we would run out of oil and be starving by 1992... this person couldn't let go of this study being wrong.   Being of a nature to discard old studies that didn't pan out as not worth hashing out, I didn't look up the websites the person was howling me to see as some kind of proof of something.

What I do know about the carrying capacity of the planet is that it is a rather complex math problem that most likely, can be worked out.   One must first figure out how much arable land is needed to support 1 person (if you are describing people with different lifestyles such as vegans on bicycles , or the BBQ crowd with an SUV then you come up with an average) then you figure out how many arable acres there are on the planet (not hard to figure out) then you figure out how oil has effected your equation... and the right researcher will come out with a pretty good estimate of the long term carrying capacity of the planet.   I should imagine that that number would be about half as many people that were present when oil was first used on a large scale, but not possessing anything other than 30 some years of observation and an active imagination is hardly enough to qualify on specifics.

A quick trip to the supermarket will tell you (or an alien visitor from another planet) that the population is probably being propped up by some saved up energy source.... you have grapes from Chile, Avocados from Florida, Cheese from England, and France, and Wisconsin, and NONE of it came to the store on the back of a mule.  A visitor from another planet who had been observing the planet for 500 years, and running tests on our available resources would most likely note the rise of population and link it directly with the use of oil.

That same visitor could in turn hypothesise that the using of oil at a much faster rate then it is being replenished might lead to a decline in population as the access to easy energy becomes lessened over time.

All of mankind's prophecies, knowledge, and observations can be put to a numbers test.  The numbers test may even pan out as a "self fulfilling prophecy" (for instance the bible... start in Genesis "be fruitful and multiply" (1+1=2+1=3+1=4+1=5..... ) will eventually become the book of Revelations and the end of time (7billion+1) with massive overpopulation (especially if the species in question is "successful").

Mathematics could be used to figure out exactly how much oil might possibly be here ( with or without taking geologic formation into account) by taking the age of the earth, and figuring out approximately how many calories (for lack wanting of a less understandable energy term) worth of sunlight have fallen on to the planet.  Once you have that figure you start taking out reflected light, light that didn't get used by the living systems of the planet, etc... then factor in the geologic land structure needed to capture usable amounts of hydrocarbons.  A good team of researchers and a brilliant mathematician could reverse engineer the Hubbard curve.   Then there is the math that Dr Marion King Hubbard himself came up with... that production follows discovery and that when new oil finds start to ebb, then within about 20 years production follows.  

I cringe when I read comments on CFN that say that "peak oil is a hoax engineered by oil companies to make you pay more".  Humans when acting or voicing the desired mass view will say one thing, but when it comes right down to they on an individual level will do another; case in point, Green River, Utah.

If you drive West on I-70 outside Green River you will see big blue and white state signs that warn.... "No Service on I-70 Next 108 miles".  Green River has a population of 973, they have 484 hotel rooms and 6 gas stations.   That's one gas station for every 162 residents!  The thing about Green River is that no matter how good you feel about your car's ability to make the 108 miles to Salina on half a tank, most people stop and top off (or at least get a Snapple or cigarettes) at the tiny Utah outpost of civilization.

Since Americans aren't really willing to take chances with their own lives in the Utah desert, I have to wonder where this "the American way of life is not negotiable" or "peak oil is a lie from the oil companies" bravado swells up from?  This is the same America that will spend a night in Green River (as opposed to pushing on to Vegas) as dusk approaches, rather then chance a night on the wild interstate of "no services next 108 miles"?.... This is the America that will top off the tank, grab an Arby's and a Snapple even though they ate an hour and a half ago, and gassed up 100 miles before?... This is the America that will ALWAYS err on the side of caution when driving cross country, rather than risk having to get out and push for miles.... except when it comes to our long term energy prospects? 

What I am describing here is the behavior of an addict in denial.... not a self preservationist, and it should not surprise me at all.   The oil junkie providing the folks of Green River with a reason to get out of bed is just that... a junkie stopping at the dealer's before the big snowstorm.  A alcoholic going to the liquor store to stock up before election day... or Sunday.  

If peak oil "theory" were a plot by the oil traders to drive up price based on scarcity then you can bet your bottom dollar that the PBS NewsHour would start with a sponsorship blurb from Exxon stating that Exxon is really really trying to keep prices low... BUT." They would be seeking to restrict imports (like they were in the seventies) because oversupply would destroy demand.  There would be new production quotas, and cartels.... but there aren't.  

Gas has never made any secret of when there has been plenty around... When there is a fuel glut Denver, Houston, and Calgary have " see through" glass office towers (no tenants).  When there is a glut (like there was when the North Slope and North Sea came in) the most idiotic politician looks like a economic genius (take Reagan and Thatcher, who are credited with saving the economies of the US and Britain through optimism and trickle down economics), once the glut is gone, Denver, Calgary, and Houston have a surge in office tenant's, and the stupid practice of borrowing tax cuts for the rich stops working out while the bubbles start popping like champagne at a charity ball...

The oil industry is giving us other nonverbal cues as well.  Exxon recently sold ALL it's corporate owned gas stations (while retail fuel sales is a low margin business, the pop, candy and snacks that accompany them make this a most profitable proposition for the oil companies), they also sold their in house credit card operation, and they are busy buying back stock from mutual funds.  

The other nonverbal cue: there has not been an increase in oil refining capacity in the US since 1976.
"There have been calls every year this decade for new refining capacity, yet no new projects initiated," said Geoff Sundstrom, a spokesman for AAA, the motorist organization. "Refining capacity has not kept pace with demand for gasoline."

Think about that for a second.   "Refining capacity has not kept pace with demand for gasoline"
Can you think of any industry that does not increase capacity to keep pace with demand?  Even the cocaine production and supply industry manages to keep pace with demand despite a multi billion dollar war being waged against it.

You don't see any other industry on earth (save for luxury products, and gas is hardly in the league of designer handbags) that intentionally doesn't keep up it's infrastructure to suit demand.  So what could all those non-verbal cues coming from Exxon, Shell, BP, Sinclair, Chevron, Marathon, etc.... mean?

What indeed.... to be continued

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