My Daughter

My Daughter
Remember when you learned how to do this?

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Sustainability: An Elusive Goal in an Entropy World

I have lived on this planet for 54 years. Much of that time has been spent observing and protecting nature, while developing a great respect for the intricate complex web of Mother Nature. To many, it has been a great party; but is that all man will ever be able to say of himself? He partied well? Face it, we found a "stash" of easy, cheap, party material in 1859, and we have been living it up ever since while ignoring the consequences with an utterly cavalier attitude that I have found repugnant and unbelievingly short-sighted.

One evening in Yellowstone NP, where I worked as a park ranger, I was having dinner at the Yellowstone Lake Hotel; a magnificent old framed structure that was built in 1892. Most of the conversation seemed to be steeped in how far and how fast the diners had come to be there. Few, if any, seemed to be concerned one way or another about what might be out there in the wild expanse of protected wilderness. But is it any wonder, really, when you stop to think about it?

Our civilization has grown increasingly alienated from the processes of nature, and therefore hardly knows where to begin thinking about the likes of ecology, much less the consequences of increased entropy due to the use of fossil fuels and the technology that came with them. To them, the park experience is enjoying some scenery, gawking at a few geysers, roadside stops to set to Kodak the often seen elk or bison herd, and dealing with crowded campgrounds and slow motor homes. In fact, it is viewed much like a trip to Disneyland, where wild animals should be kept locked up if they are dangerous. I recall a woman trying to photograph her grandchildren not ten feet from a 1500 lb. bison. When I warned her to move away, that the bison was a wild animal and quite dangerous, she replied with obvious indignation, "Well! If they're so dangerous, why do you let them out?"

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that no one cares about the wilds of Yellowstone. Of course they do. But of the three million plus visitors to Yellowstone National Park each year, the vast majority of them see the park through their windshield in about four hours. Cars and motor homes clog the roadways. By ten in the morning, all of the campgrounds are full, every day. Conversely, if you go more than a quarter of a mile off the road, you are alone.

I guess the point I'm trying to make is that the American citizenry's conscious relation to the park is woefully inadequate to insure it's long-term protection, much in the way that it is inadequate to truly comprehend the ramifications of peak-oil. Yellowstone, to continue to be Yellowstone must be appreciated as more than a place to go camping, fishing, and rollerblading.

Think about it. Do you really know what must be preserved and how to do it? If Yellowstone was kept safe and nice, it would cease to be the place we set aside to preserve. After all, Yellowstone didn't require any human guidance to become what it is before the ignorant intervention of mankind. This same kind of ignorance of the natural and physical world is going to plague us with the crisis of peak-oil and finding a sustainable solution. So, I am going to make my case once again and do it really simple. You 2nd Law purists can go pound sand if you don't like the analogy.

If you drop a plate in your kitchen and it breaks, does it take more energy to bend over and pick up the broken plate that it did to break it? Of course, we all can agree on that. Does it take more energy to use a broom to sweep up the same pieces? Many will say, no, the utility of the broom makes it easier and faster. Now if you go get the vacuum and suck up the broken pieces, does this take less energy? Sure, you say. Even easier and much faster.

Which method produced the least amount of entropy increase? Using your hands, of course. You converted sugars to ATP and burned it exerting physical effort. The broom, however, required that a tree be felled for the handle, or oil to be extracted and made into plastic for the bristles and handle, and all the other myriad of energy conversions that gave off wasted energy in the process (2nd Law). The vacuum required plastics, steel, cooper, rubber, etc, all to be mined, manufactured and assembled. Think of all the energy conversions that took place. The more complex the technology, the more entropy was increased, and the more energy it will take to combat the entropy increase somewhere else. We have stepped on the gas (pun intended). We clean up one mess and make a bigger one somewhere else as a result. In a finite world of limited energy resources does continuing this make sense? Is it sustainable? We know it is not.

In an entropy world, nothing is actually sustainable; but somewhere between using our hands and using the vacuum, there is an increase in entropy that we can live with without exceeding the carrying capacity of our world.

Our goal is to find it. How long an existence, with how many people, and at what standard of living should we desire for mankind?

We are hopefully smarter than bacteria in a Petri dish, but we are susceptible to the same laws that limit growth in a finite world.

"There is no such thing as a free lunch."

Doubling Time & the Limits to Growth

3 1/2 % growth per year means the original quantity doubles in 20 years.

Is there anyone left who thinks that by 2025 our world will be consuming 170 million barrels of oil per day?

... or even 100 MBPD?

We have reached the limits of our most productive source of energy.

The black ceiling.

Since it is this expanding base of hydrocarbon resources which has enabled the growth of world economies these last 100 years, it becomes obvious that expectations of further growth are unfounded.

This is our achilles heel.

Our economies require growth to function.

From ancient barter economies, through 10,000 years of growth into today's massive markets, yesterday's debts are paid with tomorrow's growth.

So what if growth is over?

With the inertia of hundreds of generations of rolling debt, what happens when these debts come due?

Last one out, please turn off the lights.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Drilling for Oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

George Bush said recently that drilling ANWR would increase our domestic energy supply and help lower gasoline prices and utility bills.

I'm not so sure about that. Let’s do the math, shall we?

The first lease sales will not be issued until 2007, followed by development seven to 10 years later.

This puts it in the realm of 2014-2017 when USA demand is projected to be 40% higher at 29.4 mbpd with about 80 percent of the increase expected in fuel use for transportation. ANWR can only produce and deliver via the Alaskan pipeline approximately 1 mbpd as the 2 mbpd pipeline is running about half full ( 908 thousand barrels per day) with Prudhoe Bay oil. Depletion of the oil resource base in the North Slope, NPR-A, and southern Alaska oil fields is expected to lead to a decline in the State’s total production to about 610,000 barrels per day in 2025.

An EIA analysis projects that if drilling were allowed in ANWR, production would start 10 years later and reach 900,000 barrels per day in 2025 if the area contains the mean level of resources (10.4 billion barrels) estimated by the U.S. Geological Survey.

In the EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook 2005 with Projections to 2025, released in January 2005, they estimated that lower 48 production would not drop until after 2009, and then it would be from 5.4 mbpd to 4.1 mbpd in 2025. 5.4 mbpd was the total USA production at the end of 2004.

Factoring in oil prices, they projected total USA production from high world oil prices at 5.2 mbpd, and at low world oil price, 4.5 mbpd in 2025. And average of about 4.9 mbpd.

Current total USA crude oil production is a little over 4 mbpd, down from 5.4 mbpd in August, 2005. Much of this drop can obviously be attributed to the hurricane damage.

1 mbpd is a little over 3% of projected US oil consumption in 2019. Not only will it not lower gasoline prices, I doubt it will even offset domestic decline, much less increase supply.

43 minutes of oil supply per day is the bottom line.

And now a tiny band of moderate House Republicans stands in the way.

Republicans? What is the world coming to?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

The Persian Gulf Address

Over one hundred years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new energy source, conceived in Pennsylvania, and dedicated to the proposition that all resources are not created equal. Now we are engaged in a great energy conflict, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that oil might flow.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this oil, underground, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that energy of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Aaron Dunlap

BP Investment Strategy

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Tyranny of Leisure

Idle hands are the Devil's Workshop.

We are at our best, when things are at their worst.

Change is often frightening & painful.

Progress is more often the result of failure, than success.

You never really know how far you can go... until you fall.

All these ideas have a common theme... the hardest steel is forged by the hottest furnace. As a species and as individuals, we are pushed to greatness through adversity. The more difficult our circumstance, the greater the motivation to change.

So what happens when you're satisfied?

Absent the "cattle-prod" of difficulty to spur us to change... we don't.

Should it then be a surprise to any of us that the opposite condition is true as well? That mediocrity is fueled by success. When things are going well... don't rock the boat yes? Why would you?

We recognize and even celebrate those individuals who overcame great adversity. But how many of them actually sought out this adversity intentionally? Precious few...

Pain, it seems, produces tempered steel.

Pleasure produces cookie dough.

It is the inescapable tyranny of leisure which defines our plight today.

Makes cookie dough of us all.

It is the difference between competence and comfort, balanced against each other, which drives the process. We are truly victims of our own success.

The diminishing returns of past triumphs, are the failures of tomorrow.

Our greatest strength, and our greatest weakness... where fear & fruition meet.

Our prosperity is a beacon; a harbinger of things to come. Having overcome many of the difficulties of the human experience, we seemed poised to face our age old nemesis. This pendulum between failure & success. A never ending battle between the forge of adversity & the tyranny of leisure.

What is the greatest source of human suffering?

Our happiness.