Seen on the trail to Taughannock Falls (near Ithaca NY) a couple weeks ago:
What do you see?
I found myself reminded of scenes like this.
Seen in Beirut in August: what if Opcode and Emagic had merged?
New York: longest daily commute, highest rate of mass transit use
California: worst air pollution, safest for workers
Massachusetts: worst drivers, most college graduates
New Jersey: highest taxes, lowest suicide rate
Nevada: most crime and most liberalized prostitution laws
Utah: highest rate of porn usage and highest reported well-being
Bill Black noticed the same thing I did about Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and elaborates, in What Is President Obama’s Sputnik Moment and What Is His Apollo Response?:
President Obama never even attempted to explain why his space metaphors were apt. If energy dependence on the Mideast and climate change pose an existential threat to the U.S.—as Senator Obama believed and argued—then President Obama needs to make the most powerful case possible to convince the American people of the need to spend over $100 billion in additional federal funds to support development in renewable fuels. Instead, President Obama’s mention of these matters in his address was so cursory and opaque ("an investment that will strengthen our security [and] protect our planet”) that he seemed almost embarrassed to even raise the dangers that Senator Obama warned endangered our nation and world.
He goes on to criticize the lack of a national plan, in terms that are sadly familiar to anyone who’s seen projects flounder due to poor management.
A friend recently pointed me to A Physicist Solves the City. It’s fascinating in quite a number of ways, but this sobering part stuck with me in the days after reading the article:
“A human being at rest runs on 90 watts,” he says. “That’s how much power you need just to lie down. And if you’re a hunter-gatherer and you live in the Amazon, you’ll need about 250 watts. That’s how much energy it takes to run about and find food. So how much energy does our lifestyle [in America] require? Well, when you add up all our calories and then you add up the energy needed to run the computer and the air-conditioner, you get an incredibly large number, somewhere around 11,000 watts. Now you can ask yourself: What kind of animal requires 11,000 watts to live? And what you find is that we have created a lifestyle where we need more watts than a blue whale. We require more energy than the biggest animal that has ever existed. That is why our lifestyle is unsustainable. We can’t have seven billion blue whales on this planet. It’s not even clear that we can afford to have 300 million blue whales.”
This figure shows the situation of the biophysical economy subsequent to the increase in energy costs to extract energy (larger red arrow feeding back into the energy extraction process) and the shrinkage or depletion of the fossil fuel energy resources (e.g. sometime after peak oil). The net energy available to run the rest of the economy is shrunk so that asset production as well as biomass production (after shrinkage in food production) must decline in response. Worse yet, the reduction of net energy flows means losing the ability to maintain current stocks of biomass (increased death rate) and assets.
This is what is staring us in the face right now. We have reached, by all reasonable indications, the peak of oil production in total barrels pumped. We seem to be on what is called a bumpy plateau rather than a definitive peak owing to the response of the economy (contraction or recession) that lowers demand for energy and thus slows the pumping rate temporarily. As the economy has seemed to pick up growth momentum (don’t try to sell that to those whose jobs went missing or lost their homes to foreclosure of course) the speculation of higher demand and a non-ability to actually increase production over what the likely peak number was appears to be elevating the futures price for oil and thus we find ourselves back at the 2008 situation once again.
In this context, President Obama’s State of the Union speech struck me strangely (I heard about the first half hour of it). It seemed that he had some awareness of the gravity of the energy situation and the slow-motion crisis that is unfolding. But he didn’t talk about that crisis at all; he spoke with what came across to me as some urgency, of goals like wanting 80% of the U.S.'s energy to come from renewable sources by 2030. I don’t know how practical and achievable this goal is, but the benefits would be not only economic. We would also reduce carbon emissions and take a step towards world peace (fewer military adventures for control of oil). That seems worth a try.
Saw Unstoppable Sunday night. The plot, characters and acting were all fine. It was a good action movie, like a slow-motion train wreck without the slow motion, except that, well, sometimes the trains were supposed to be going 60 or 70 miles an hour and I’m sure they weren’t going more than 30.
Saw John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension in Santa Cruz last night. Had second row seats in a small theater; it was pretty special to be 15 feet away from John at times; the intensity he puts into the music is palpable. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a group play with such rhythmic intricacy and precision. The interplay, especially when Gary Husband played the second drum kit, was outstanding too.
Copyright © 2009 Douglas S. Wyatt, all rights reserved