Wednesday, September 19, 2007

My new column on Scitizen

I was recently asked to do a monthly column for the Paris-based science news site, Scitizen, for the Future Energies section. Scitizen is a general science site written by scientists and science writers and aimed at the lay public. My first column, "The Trouble with Predictions," has now been posted. Readers of this blog will notice that I touch on themes already discussed here. And, they will notice that the tone is a bit more formal and the writing more compressed since I am limited on length. But Scitizen provides me with an opportunity to introduce my way of thinking about energy and sustainability to a different audience. Take a look and see what you think.


Anonymous said...

I look forward to the replies over there. My question here would be about the jump from:

"we might face very serious consequences that include persistent economic contraction, the breakdown of transportation systems, steeply rising food prices and mass unemployment."

To the summary:

"Given the catastrophic nature of the consequences .."

Now "might" versus a flat grouping of outcomes as "catatrophic" ... is that warranted?

Remember Stuart Staniford's old article at TOD about a slow squeeze, and how shallow production declines (should we get them) might be manageable?

Do we know that declines will be in the unmanageable range? Or are steep declines themselves "predictions?"

Anonymous said...

BTW, I like your article much in general, I'm just looking for a slightly different perspective.

I think it's important to present this as an "insurance" case against possible bad consequences. We shouldn't buy into a false certainty that the outcome is sure to be (very) bad, and that the only argument is over how (very) bad.

yooper said...

Hello Kurt, I very much liked your article. Like you, I wonder about many so-called predictions from any govermental agency. It really concerns me when such predictions are made so far out in the future. When these predictions break or have no regard of natural laws, then they soon loose merit. It takes energy to make energy....Any thoughts of a technological fix to save the day, is dreaming.

odograph, having said that, I don't buy into the Black Swan's main agruement, that something unseen will come by to save the day. It takes energy to power technology. However, there may be no "limit" of divine intervention..

Thanks, yooper.

Anonymous said...

What? The Black Swan never said that!

It's central idea is that we won't really know our Swans until we see them.

Anonymous said...

BTW, I would guess yooper that if you make the "X will not save us" argument you must expect a steep production decline.

Perhaps Kurt does as well.

That's one of our unknown Swans though. Some informed people talk about "undulating plateaus" lasting decades. It that's true (and we don't know) then we will certainly get a chance to see society's response after society understands "limits to production."

It's important to remember that darker scenarios are "if"s. That is if we get a steep production decline and if we are unprepared.

The direness is basically contingent on the steepness and the preparedness.

yooper said...

odograph, "limited" indeed. No I do not believe that there will be an "x" factor or Black Swan to save this industrial society. Furthermore, I believe that we have searched the world over,(including the moon), looking for a alternative energy source to power this society. It takes energy to make energy, it's just that simple, and when it's gone, it's gone. Moreover, it's my view that innovation has only exasperated the problem some of us see.

I don't pretend that I know what will happen, not now or even just a little further out. I just don't know. I can imagine a decline in production, as energy prices increase.

I can also imagine two or three future sceniaros. One of these, entitled, "The Royal Flush in Spades" involves what could happen if the electrical power should go out suddenly across the entire country and could'nt be brought back up, "in time".

I described this sceniaro over at BNB, Bull not Bull. Acutally, it was somewhat of a debate between Greer, myself and other peak oil writers, that can be found on Energy Bulletin, and the like.

By using natural scientific fact and population dynamics, I came across a very plausible sceniaro where the world population was reduced to 300 million in just two years! How does that grab ya? I might add, that this "vision" completely over shadowed my counterparts views, this is a very large site with thousands of hits a day. Although, I don't think this scenario is "likely", it could happen, and those involved, almost whole heartedly agreed with my analysis. In fact, by an overwhelming majority, most would choose this over the, "The Long Emergency". Now, is'nt that something?!!!!

Kurt, at the time, I likened this to writing an obituary of someone who has'nt died yet....

I choose to relate this message, after reading a peak oil scenario (involving a permenet black out), written by Carolyn Baker. She has since pulled this article. John Micheal Greer, has came back, with "Adam's story" a sceniaro 50 years into the future.

Kurt, I mentioned, that if you're going to write of such things, you better know what you're talking about. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting, that you don't know what you're talking about,(quite the contrary), but, be as percise as you can be, in communicating this message to others.

Thanks, yooper

Anonymous said...

To be straight up with you Yooper, I think it is irrational to "decide" on a steep production decline now. There are no, and never have been any, models that predict future oil production with 100% accuracy.

What people do, when they want to chart a Greer-like future, is make assumptions.

yooper said...

odograph, I'm sorry to differ with you, but I have always been under the impression that oil production was and continues to be predictable. Perhaps, you don't believe in Hubbert's Peak theory..

Granted, I totally agree with your thoughts about people charting into the future are making assumptions. Surely, it's not fact, it has'nt happend yet. Are we to assume that global oil production will fall only 2 or 3 percent yoy after peak? I'm not. I would rather think, that if that happened, it would perhaps be one of those best case sceniaros, involving some type of "Long Emergency".

I was educated to never make assumptions, unless they could be backed up by a long list of theories, facts, scientific and mathematical certainies.

I was educated to never make an assumption after the onset of die-off.....My instuctors thought to do so would be udderly ridiculous. The class was not permitted to ever venture beyond this event...We were never to make any assumptions beyond this point.

So when I speak of "future sceniaros", I'm basically talking about or making assumptions that would lead up to the die-off.

The instructors invisioned this event to be "catastrophic".

Thanks, yooper.

Anonymous said...

When I was a frequent Oil Drum reader, I thought that people would pop up and say that Hubbert's method had not worked for all reserves, or for all countries.

The proponents of Hubbert's methods, from what I recall, acknowledged this.

That means that it sometimes produces "false positives" for peaks, yes?

Anonymous said...

BTW, it is probably fair to note that M. King Hubbert himself predicted world peak in 1995.

Now, "peakers" give him a break on that, because "technologies have changed" ... but remember, in a little bit of cognitive dissonance, "peakers" also say that their current predictions are good, no matter what the political or technological changes.


yooper said...

odograph, perhaps we sould be discussing this over at you're site?

I suppose "false peaks" are common, but in the grand scheme of world wide production, perhsaps, Hubbert's Peak might be a close resemblence, up to the peak...Perhaps we are past peak now and in the future only realize that 1995 was the beginning of it? Perhaps, we'll never know, and really what difference does it make?

Perhaps, I put the cart before the horse, suggesting that price would drive down production? Suppose it's the other way around?

New technology has made "cheap oil" continue further, as had new discoveries, however, as you know,has seen a steep decline since the 1970's. However, to add fuel to you're arguement, I believe that oil reserves are greater than ever before in this country. I could be very, very wrong about this. Really, all this amounts to, it's a very short "survival", at this point.

Perhaps, what I mean by "survival" is that this country would be able to wage golbal war and maintain this event. Lessons learned from Nazi Germany are not forgotten.

Another point which I'm in total agreement with you is that no one knows what the future might bring. I'm certainly not going to advocate another source of energy, replacing the power of oil. Most certainly not at the population level the earth currently substaines. It would most certainly fall way below this to levels that could substain life without it. Any other assumption otherwise, you see, would be breaking "natural law". However, as I mentioned before, "devine intervention" may have no limitations and can creat natural law. This has been happening for centuries and even for thousands of years!

This is the most complelling part of my agruement! This is what endures people to accept into what I'm presenting......

Think about that, will you Kurt?

Thanks, yooper

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I think my comments are in line with the "science guys" over at Scitizen. That is, favoring uncertainty.

Maybe other viewers would read me differently.

(Not in the mood to maintain my own blog. It is fallow.)

yooper said...

Hello odograph, I'm sorry, it's not your comments that may be out of line, but my own, with the science guys over at Scitizen.

I fear perhaps I've offended some "pals" who contributed posting on Kurt's last article, with the Paul Chefurka site. Perhaps, I'm not the sort of personality Kurt, would perfer to contribute to this site.

Kurt, my message is a very bitter pill to swallow, "science guys" not withstanding, it isn't for everyone.....I'll respect your wishes....

Thanks, yooper.

yooper said...

Ok, Kurt, you asked me to clarify what I meant or my position. I've done so to the best of my ability.

Now, I've a question to you... You said, and I quote,"I would say that thre message from those concerned about sustaniblity is more along the lines of: A difficult transition lies ahead and we need to get started."

My question to you, how would you suggest going about this?

Thanks, yooper

Kurt Cobb said...


I think if you read by blog site carefully you will see that I have been a consistent proponent of relocalization as a major strategy for addressing both peak oil and global climate change. If one believes in the bleakest predictions for the human trajectory--I don't, but that doesn't mean I'm right--then perhaps there is no point in attempting any response. Since none of us, however, can be sure of what the future will hold, I choose to attempt some response.