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« Spring is Springing | Main | Time to Retire (from Education)? »

May 17, 2015

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murray g

Thanks George. It's always good to read your posts. Then it's always hard to look around at the spin-swallowing mass, and wonder.

Desmond Smith

Hi George,

You're just totally misreading the material, over and over again. I'm astonished at how badly you're misreading the material.

"In this statement you simply claim that it is a mistake by saying that it is consumption rather than investment (the embodied energy). This is a strange claim given that when we build a refinery, for example, we consume resources"

That's just a drastic red herring. I wasn't talking about refinery costs. That's not even related to what Hall wrote, or to my objection.

As I pointed out in my article, Hall et al were counting all energy production for Spain when converting money into energy units. Here is a verbatim quotation from Hall's presentation: "We have used 170.94 Toes/MEuros as the ratio Primary Energy/GDP, for Spain as a whole." During those calculations they are counting all energy production for Spain as part of energy investment.

I just have no idea how you misread that so badly to refer to "refinery costs" specifically, or anything like that.

"Hall et al have explained very reasonably the ways in which they count embodied energy in infrastructure apportioned to energy production (that portion of a road cost used to transport fuels for example)."

No, that's just totally wrong. Again, you are severely misreading the material here. On pp 41 of Hall et al's paper which I was referring to ("What is the minimum EROI that a society must have") they are counting all costs of transportation infrastructure as energy investment.

Again, here is a verbatim quotation: "Table 2 gives our estimates of the energy cost of creating and maintaining the entire infrastructure necessary to use all of the transportation fuel consumed in the US... "

Again, I just have no idea how you misread that as "a portion of a road cost used to transport fuels ".

"makes a factual claim of any kind they be ready to back it up with evidence"

George, I have backed it up with evidence, over and over again. I'm pointing it out to you, clear as day. You just don't respond to it.

"The website you suggested would not meet the standards of rigor for scientific work."

George, I'm sorry, but this stuff is just totally crackpot. This stuff is totally unserious, and what you're doing definitely does not resemble a valid, scientific response.

This stuff is filled with severe mathematical errors. When those errors are pointed out to you, you either make irrelevant personal remarks, or you just dodge the criticism, or you totally misread the source material. Those are not valid responses.

The point stands. This material is refuted.

Incidentally, there are many legitimate researchers who've looked into this issue. Read any of the papers from Fthenakis et al, for example. They carry out these calculations correctly and reach conclusions very different from those of Hall et al.

-Tom S

Desmond Smith

Hi George,

You're just totally misreading the material, over and over again. I'm astonished at how badly you're misreading the material.

"In this statement you simply claim that it is a mistake by saying that it is consumption rather than investment (the embodied energy). This is a strange claim given that when we build a refinery, for example, we consume resources"

That's just a drastic red herring. I wasn't talking about refinery costs. That's not even related to what Hall wrote, or to my objection.

As I pointed out in my article, Hall et al were counting all energy production for Spain when converting money into energy units. Here is a verbatim quotation from Hall's presentation: "We have used 170.94 Toes/MEuros as the ratio Primary Energy/GDP, for Spain as a whole." During those calculations they are counting all energy production for Spain as part of energy investment.

I just have no idea how you misread that so badly to refer to "refinery costs" specifically, or anything like that.

"Hall et al have explained very reasonably the ways in which they count embodied energy in infrastructure apportioned to energy production (that portion of a road cost used to transport fuels for example)."

No, that's just totally wrong. Again, you are severely misreading the material here. On pp 41 of Hall et al's paper which I was referring to ("What is the minimum EROI that a society must have") they are counting all costs of transportation infrastructure as energy investment.

Again, here is a verbatim quotation: "Table 2 gives our estimates of the energy cost of creating and maintaining the entire infrastructure necessary to use all of the transportation fuel consumed in the US... "

Again, I just have no idea how you misread that as "a portion of a road cost used to transport fuels ".

"makes a factual claim of any kind they be ready to back it up with evidence"

George, I have backed it up with evidence, over and over again. I'm pointing it out to you, clear as day. You just don't respond to it.

"The website you suggested would not meet the standards of rigor for scientific work."

George, I'm sorry, but this stuff is just totally crackpot. This stuff is totally unserious, and what you're doing definitely does not resemble a valid, scientific response.

This stuff is filled with severe mathematical errors. When those errors are pointed out to you, you either make irrelevant personal remarks, or you just dodge the criticism, or you totally misread the source material. Those are not valid responses.

The point stands. This material is refuted.

Incidentally, there are many legitimate researchers who've looked into this issue. Read any of the papers from Fthenakis et al, for example. They carry out these calculations correctly and reach conclusions very different from those of Hall et al.

-Tom S

Desmond Smith

I would also like to respond to your incorrect remarks about solar PV lifespan:

"And Hall etc did not just choose the warranty period as representing the life cycle for useful energy production. "

Yes he certainly did. As I pointed out clearly in my article, both Hall et al and Weissbach's paper assume a lifespan of 25 years for solar cells, which corresponds exactly to the standard warranty period. It's found In Weissbach's paper on pp 13, as follows: "Assuming 25 years lifetime and 1,000 peak-hours...". It's also found in Hall et al's presentation, pp 18.

"There is, however a strong correlation between warranty period lengths and actual average life times for panels so 25 years is not arbitrary."

I'm sorry, but that's just totally wrong. There's an NREL paper on this issue (Photovoltaic Degradation Rates: An Analytical Review, pp 18) which summarizes all of the research in this field. There have been more than 31 long-term studies of solar PV degradation, and not one of them shows anything similar to what you say. They all show degradation over time, but not one of them shows outright failure for most of the cells, even after decades.

-Tom S

George Mobus

@murray g.,

Thanks.

--------------------------------------
@Desmond Smith aka Tom S.,

This will sound dismissive. Well that is because it is. What I read in your comments is something close to hysterical ranting. Here is what I suggest. You write a scientifically formed paper and bring it to the Biophysical Economics conference in Vancouver BC in October. It's too late to submit a paper, but bring copies to distribute around. Face the people you criticize directly and make your claims (hopefully substantiated by more than more claims that others are misreading what you wrote). Better still get published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal. And then let us know where we can read your work. A blog doesn't cut it. I don't expect anyone to read what I write here as if it were peer reviewed, except for the papers I have posted that have undergone peer review. This blog is me trying to inform interested readers about what is happening from my perspective and report on the important scientific work that applies. It is not a forum for pseudo-science debate.

So I will say goodbye to you. You can post more if you like. I will let readers decide for themselves what your words are worth. But I will not be responding to you any more.

------------------------------------------

George

George Mobus

@All,

This blog has generated some good commentary but it has also seemingly generated a flood of e-mails, and requests to friend on Facebook or link on Linkedin.

As far as social media is concerned I have a pretty strict policy. Facebook is restricted to family and a few good friends (that I know in real life!). Linkedin is reserved for people I actually know personally and professionally. That means mostly former students and business/academic associates.

Please refrain from asking me to make a connection via these media as I am flooded with such requests and simply do not have the time to filter through them to see if any are from people that fit this policy. I would really appreciate your consideration on this.

As for e-mails, I try to respond to all legitimate queries about the blog or my research/book. But the volume of these has gone up since the publication of my book. Since I still work and have plenty of emails from that arena, I am finding I too often am passing over emails from readers. So again, I request that you consider carefully whether you really need to contact me. At least carefully word the subject line so I can understand the priority I need to assign it.

Respectfully, but pleadingly yours,

George

Desmond Smith

George,

I'm sorry, but there's just no science happening here. It's not sufficient to say the word "science" and to use scientific-sounding terms like "biophysical". Those kinds of things are also common within pseudoscience.

What is required are specific, falsifiable, risky predictions of things which weren't happening anyway. Then those predictions must be confirmed by subsequent evidence. That is the first step toward actual science, and it has never happened and is not happening within this group.

This group has all the hallmarks of pseudoscience. It has never produced any risky, falsifiable predictions which were confirmed by subsequent evidence, not even once. There have been massive failures of prediction, over and over again, but the theories remain totally unchanged, and the failures of prediction are not even addressed. Failures of prediction are handled by making the theory less and less falsifiable ("there is now a long descent which is difficult to see", see John Greer). Members do not respond to criticism, and leave errors uncorrected when they are pointed out. Notably, this group is ignored by legitimate researchers. There is almost no interconnection between this group and actual legitimate fields of study, and this material is rarely cited outside this group. Notably, it appears that this group settles its conclusions in advance ("civilization is about to collapse"), then generates theory after theory which all lead to that conclusion, but then the predictions all fail.

If you guys want to start doing science, then you need to respond to criticism without badly misreading it, modify your theories in light of failed predictions, and make falsifiable, risky predictions which are confirmed by subsequent evidence. Those things would be the first steps toward actual science, but those things are just not happening here.

-Tom S

Tony Noerpel

Hi George
Garrett's stuff is pretty good. He's an atmospheric physicist. one of his papers:
T. J. Garrett, No way out? The double-bind in seeking global prosperity alongside mitigated climate change,” Earth System Dynamics, 3, 1-17, 2012.

Daneil Dennett: “What we have to understand is that free will is our capacity to see probable futures, futures which seem like they're gonna happen, in time to take steps so that something else happens instead.”

What is wisdom, sapience, moral judgment or ecolacy but free will? and we seem to be lacking.

regards your question, there are lots of cool things some of us humans are doing which are sustainable but none of them scale.

best

Tony

George Mobus

@Tony N.,

Thanks for the pointer. RE: Dennett's quote, the difference between prediction and anticipation is that in the former you need to see it happen in order to be successful, whereas in the latter you need to take action to prevent it from happening in order to be successful. E.g. predicting the prey will get away doesn't put food in the stomach.

On your last point, another reason why localization is our best hope.

Thanks

George

Rodster

"The other part of the problem of per capita decline in energy is the increase in population that drives the “need” for growth of the economy. The simple fact is that as long as we keep making more people while working hard to prevent their demise the population will continue to grow and put increasing stresses on the resources we extract from the Earth."

Unfortunately that's a result of the money system we use, globally. Everything must grow exponentially including the population to support the money system and to pay for future debt. This is why civilization collapse is unavoidable. The truly troubling part is that there's no substitute for fossil fuel to power the global networked economy. The other major concern is that for the first time in recorded history, every nation and economy are all in on the same game.

Desmond Smith

Hi Harry Gibbs,

I just read through the comments again, and came across yours. You said:

"Could you be very kind and point me to some of those suggestions? I am about to radically decouple!"

Harry, are you going to radically decouple because you expect civilization to collapse soon? If so, you're about to throw your life away. Civilization is not collapsing for these reasons. The most recent collapse predictions from this group are no more scientific, and no better founded, than any of their other collapse predictions over the prior decades.

This material is just totally wrong. It's littered with severe errors that invalidate its conclusions, it's ignored by almost all relevant experts, it does not meet the minimal criteria of a valid scientific theory, and it's characterized by massive, repeated failures of prediction without any corresponding correction of the underlying theories.

There have already been many people who moved out into the wilderness circa 2005 in expectation of a drastic collapse of civilization, for these reasons. They wasted ten years of their lives on a fringe doomsday theory. Do you really want to join them? Of course, you can do whatever you want, but you should clearly envision what you will feel like when five or more years have passed and civilization hasn't collapsed and not that much has happened other than you living in the middle of nowhere.

Best of luck,
-Tom S

Desmond Smith

Hi Rodster,

"Everything must grow exponentially including the population to support the money system and to pay for future debt. This is why civilization collapse is unavoidable."

That's totally mistaken. Debt is paid from income, not growth. The idea you're espousing is based upon a fundamental misconception of how debt is paid.

"The truly troubling part is that there's no substitute for fossil fuel to power the global networked economy."

There are obvious substitutes for all uses of fossil fuels. It will be a very long time before the economy transitions away from fossil fuels entirely, but there are no absolute technological barriers which prevent it.

-Tom S

Ian Sutton

I just came across this post — I hope that it is not too late to reply. I found the post interesting, if maybe a little downbeat. It seems that three possible futures are envisioned.

1. We decline to eventual extinction, probably taking many other species with us.
2. We evolve into a genetically different type of being (or multiple species — interesting idea) that fit the new world.
3. We adopt a Wilkins Micawber attitude and believe that, “Something will turn up” and things will return to normal.

I like the Micawber solution, along with his magnificently cheerful speech, at a point in his life when everything has gone wrong,

“Welcome poverty! Welcome misery, welcome houselessness, welcome hunger, rags, tempest, and beggary! Mutual confidence will sustain us to the end!”

Regretfully, I suspect that his optimism is misplaced in our current situation.

But I wonder if there is fourth future, one that I am trying to sort out in my posts “Engineering in an Age of Limits”. At Peak Forests (https://peakengineering.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/2-peak-forests/) I note that, in the year 1712, Thomas Newcomen invented the first industrial steam engine. Why then? The idea of steam power had been around for at least two thousand years. So why did it suddenly go from being a toy to the foundation of a totally new way of life?

I think that the answer is that the people of that time, just like us now, were running out of their principal source of energy; in their case the ancient forests. Therefore they had to find a solution. And that solution was coal. But the catch was that most of the coal was underground so it had to be mined. But this is England, where it rains a lot. So the mines flooded, so they needed a means of removing the water, so — necessity being the mother of invention — Newcomen and his successors invented the steam engine to pump the water out of the mines.

But one solution leads to new problems. Coal is more dense than wood and was needed in large quantities. Trying to carry it in wooden carts on the mud roads of the time was a hopeless proposition, so, necessity being the mother of invention, they said, “Why don’t we put the new steam engine on a frame, put the frame on wheels, and then put the wheels on steel tracks”. And, lo and behold, they have started the industrial revolution. One consequence of these inventions was that a system for analyzing and understanding these new technologies was needed. So, necessity being the mother of invention, the discipline of engineering was created.

It is vital to stress at this point that none of this is either good or bad. Was the Industrial Revolution good or bad? Well, child labor in factories was bad, but sewer systems were good.

The key point is that the brilliant minds that created the intellectual framework for this new world, men such as Bacon, Déscartes and Newton, never visualized the society that would be created.

I use the above example as an analogy to what could occur now. Many writers have thoroughly explained the limits of the Mechanical World View. The next step is to figure out what our new society (“The Entropic World View?”) might look like. I suggest that none of know. But is it is possible that, necessity being the mother of invention, that “Something will turn up”. So maybe Micawber has it right but without the final clause, “. . . and things will return to normal”.

Maybe we are heading for a new world whose nature none of us can visualize.


hitssquad

[Edit: This one was tagged as spam for some reason, possibly since no email was provided.]
@George Mobus

energy is in decline


It doesn't seem to be:
http://www.eia.gov/cfapps/ipdbproject/iedindex3.cfm?tid=44&pid=44&aid=2&cid=regions&syid=1980&eyid=2012&unit=QBTU

Total World Primary Energy Consumption (Quadrillion Btu):

1980: 283.147
2009: 480.005
2010: 508.120
2011: 520.272
2012: 524.076


What makes you think energy is in decline?

George Mobus

@Rodster,

There does seem to be a positive (reinforcing) feedback loop between wealth representation (money) and population, but it isn't totally clear what the relation is. People were making more people long before there was even money. The biggest single factor was net energy per capita. When we went from hunting with stones to hunting with spears that took a big leap and led to the success of Homo over other extant genera, e.g. Australopithecus.

About 200 years ago there was a really strong correlation between the money supply and the availability of net free energy. Debt was limited so the multiplier effect on money was minimal compared with the overall economies of the time. So, again, the relation between money and population might have been more straightforward. But today, with the extreme versions of debt-creation of money the relation is terribly distorted. Also, it seems that the more nominal wealth that someone has (e.g. "owning" a heavily mortgaged house) the fewer children they have. Wealthy nations (those still hiding their sins behind massive debt) have the lowest birth rates! So granted there is a relation, but it just isn't clear how it works.

-------------------------------------
@Ian S.,

I got a 404 error when trying your link. Better check the spelling.

The stages of civilization and engineering you describe cannot be denied, but what made the dynamic possible was the progressive finding of cheaper energy sources, that is much higher EROI sources with substantial net gains. With coal and then oil, we could afford to start out with fairly inefficient machines because the fuels had progressively higher energy content per unit weight so we could afford some slop in the efficiency ratings (and we learned a lot about thermodynamic efficiency in the process!)

My question is what would be the next high energy content source after oil and natural gas? In spite of all the hype about alternatives my own reading of the data is that they are a long way off from the kinds of net energy gains that would be needed to even power a much reduced form of current technological society. In my view the jury is still out on the verdict of go or no-go for alternatives. Extreme reduced consumption and a very low energy lifestyle (with lots of liberal conservation thrown into the mix) is a certain winner.

----------------------------------------
@hitssquad,

I'm talking about net free energy per capita, not raw energy produced (primary energy consumption includes the energy used to get more energy). The numbers you quote do not take into account the amount of that energy it took to obtain that amount. Subtract that amount (use average EROI for all sources as a rough approximation) from the numbers and then divide by the population to get the free energy per capita. That is the number that tells how much wealth or prospective wealth there is per person in the world. Even though the primary (gross) numbers have been climbing, the net numbers have barely kept pace. And if certain results on declining EROI hold then even net energy may be declining. Population has been increasing, even if not as fast as it use to. So with slowing net energy increase and increasing total population the amount of usable energy for the economy per individual is in decline.

George

Desmond Smith

George, you said:

"I'm talking about net free energy per capita, not raw energy produced... The numbers you quote do not take into account the amount of that energy it took to obtain that amount...So with slowing net energy increase and increasing total population the amount of usable energy for the economy per individual is in decline."

No, that's clearly wrong. Let's do the math. According to the EIA's numbers, world energy consumption has increased from 480x10^15 to 524x10^15 btu, between 2009 and 2013 (inclusive). At the same time, world population increased from 6.83x10^9 to 7.08x10^9 people (http://www.geohive.com/earth/his_history3.aspx). That means that per-capita energy consumption has increased from 70.27x10^6 btu/capita to 74.01x10^6 btu/capita in that time. In other words, per capita energy consumption increased by 5.3% in 4 years, which is a compound growth rate of ~1.3% per year.

Now let's look at the prior 29 year period, from 1980-2009 (inclusive), using the same sources of data. Per capita energy consumption increased from 63.63x10^6 btu/capita to 70.27x10^6 btu/capita over 29 years, which is an increase of 10.4% over 29 years or only ~0.35% per year.

In other words, per capita energy consumption is not only increasing, but the rate of increase accelerated. The growth in per capita energy consumption was much faster during the period of 2009-2013 than during the prior 29 years.

Those figures are not EROI adjusted. It's impossible to find reliable statistics on worldwide average EROI.

However, it's totally implausible that average EROI worldwide has dropped by an amount sufficient to erase that acceleration in energy consumption. Even if EROI had been stable and had not declined at all over 29 years, and then suddenly dropped from 30 to 15 (a decline by half, which is totally implausible) in only the 4 year subsequent period, the EROI-adjusted per capita energy consumption still increased faster (0.5% vs 0.35%) during the period from 2009-2013 than during the prior 29 years.

The straightforward conclusion from this, is that per capita energy consumption is increasing, and the rate of increase has sped up, no matter what you think happened to EROI (within reason).

I don't know how you arrived at the conclusion that "usable energy ... per individual is in decline". Your statement is not compatible with the data which hitssquad just presented.

This is exactly the opposite of what energy doomers had predicted. They had confidently predicted a sudden collapse of civilization in the late late 2000s and rapid declines in energy consumption. What happened was the opposite of what they had predicted, yet again.

The consistent and severe failure of prediction from these theories implies that there is something seriously wrong with them. It's long overdue to start asking what is wrong.

Best,
-Tom S

Ian Sutton

George:
Thanks for the correction. The link had the final parenthesis in it. It should be:
https://peakengineering.wordpress.com/2015/04/17/2-peak-forests/

You ask, “My question is what would be the next high energy content source after oil and natural gas?” My response is that there isn’t one. Solar power is progressing fast and getting much cheaper but it does not have the energy density to directly replace oil. Nor does it provide the chemical building blocks we need to make products such as plastics and medical drugs. I suppose that there could be a breakthrough with nuclear power, but time is getting very short.

Even though we are moving into a world where we have to live without the energy provided by fossil fuels I don’t see us simply reverting to a pre-industrial life style. The invention of the steam engine led to our current Mechanical World view. Prior to that most (European) thinking was organized around a Theological World View. We seem to be creating a new type of thought which we can call the Entropic World View. One of the foundations of that world view will be low energy usage, but it will go beyond that. I have started exploring your site and you have some very interesting thoughts on this topic (for example, The Goal — Episode 1).

I don’t see us suddenly becoming wise and, as a society, implementing top-down solutions. So I tend to ignore answers that involve words such as ‘should’. We should do all sorts of things, but we don’t. We will simply respond to changes that are occurring anyway. Which is why I state that, “Engineers did not invent the steam engine — the steam engine invented engineers. What will a post-oil society invent?”

By the way, I liked your comments about Facebook and LinkedIn. I don’t use Facebook but I do use LinkedIn and so get many requests to “Connect”. If I don’t know someone personally then I will generally ignore the request.

Michael Murphy

War deaths as a percentage of global population has definitely decreased over time, so maybe this is a one bright spot in our cloudy sky (as long as we keep our fingers off the nuclear buttons).

https://player.vimeo.com/video/128373915

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