Friday, February 28, 2014

Tumbling Tide: Cardinal Newman Interviews Peter Goodchild

Newman: Mr. Goodchild -- ave, amice. Welcome to my humble oratory.

Goodchild: Thank you, Your Eminence. Don't worry about it, my place is a lot humbler.

Newman: Peter -- I may call you Peter? -- your new book, Turbulent Thighs. What have been the initial reactions?

Goodchild: You've read it?

Newman: No, my receptionist grabbed it, but I have some idea.

Goodchild: Well, John Henry -- I may call you John Henry?

Newman: Except that my namesake's hammer lost out to a steam drill.

Goodchild: You've always been a Luddite -- we're birds of a feather. To get back to the book: I'm beginning to find that one-on-one discussions are rarely an efficient use of my time. De profundis clamavi with less despair with some sort of a crowd to hear that primal scream. Surely the eighth deadly sin is stupidity.

Newman: Quite so, my son.

Goodchild: Three times in the book I explain that industrial society is a triad of fossil fuels, metals, and electricity. Fossil fuels are the blood, metals are the bones, and electricity is the nerves. Yet there's always someone to proclaim that great advances are being made in lunar power, which will allow us to put nightlights, mere electricity, in all the world's bathrooms by 2050, thereby ensuring that civilization will survive another million years. Although it's been dead for a long time already.

Newman: How so?

Goodchild: You will no doubt recall that Alfred the Great, in his Preface to Gregory's Pastoral Care, says that learning had so declined that many priests did not know Latin, and that some had fallen so low that they could barely read or write English. Yet today one stands in line in a drugstore and listens to the squeaky-erotic voice of "so he goes so I go so he goes so I go."

Newman: Lunar power will at best provide us with a nervous system, but not the blood and bones to keep the organism alive?

Goodchild: Exactly.

Newman: What else?

Goodchild: We live in the age of more, bigger, faster. On the rare occasions when people read entire books, they manage to finish a volume in a single day. But it's just glorified skimming and scanning.

Newman: Which are?

Goodchild: One skims a text to get the broad picture. One scans a text to get a particular piece of data.

Newman: Is there anything wrong with this?

Goodchild: We've reduced it to skinning and scamming.

Newman: Which are?

Goodchild: Cheating, by two similar words.

Newman: Bag and baggage. Alliterative pairs. Very Germanic.

Goodchild: Aber Sie sprechen kein Deutsch.

Newman: Barbarisms aren't my strong point. And?

Goodchild: So I ask, did you read the Appendices? And they say no. Then they stare at me, wondering why anyone should read something labeled "Appendices." But if I'd put all that number-crunching at the front, mild as it is, they'd have gone back to reading high-school romances.

Newman: They're not reading the book properly.

Goodchild: They read my book the same way they read a glossy magazine at the checkout counter, thinking if they're buying a hundred dollars' worth of TV dinners they shouldn't have to pay for a magazine they're merely flipping through at high speed.

Newman: Flipping and skipping.

Goodchild: Very good. Your barbarisms are fine.

Newman: When they need to assimilate.

Goodchild: Exactly. They need to stop having convulsions about the first four chapters and get used to the fact that they have twenty-six to go, plus those forbidding Appendices. Not to mention more than a hundred References, many of which are on the Internet, for those who aren't fortunate enough to own a library card.

Newman: They get stuck where? On fossil fuels? On alternative energy?

Goodchild: Maybe somewhere in the middle. They call me at midnight and want to talk about poultry poop power, which I haven't even mentioned. For good reason.

Newman: Rhode Island Methane? That's a fossil fuel? Or it's alternative energy?

Goodchild: Depends on how old it is. I look forward to the day when North Americans will have to learn how to calculate with their fingers and toes.

Newman: Non est propheta sine honore.

Goodchild: Nisi in patria sua et in domo sua. As true as it was long ago.

Newman: Peter, it's been a pleasure. Keep in touch. Drop in at the scriptorium some time.

Goodchild: Will do.

Newman: And keeping the candles burning.

Peter Goodchild
Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Survival Gardening: Starting a Garden

Some food plants are essential parts of your diet, others are not. You don't eat grains and peppers in the same quantities. Your garden should be laid out in two main areas: one for the "major" crops and another for the "minor" crops. The major crops provide most of the carbohydrate, protein, and perhaps oil in your diet, as well as vitamins and minerals. The minor crops provide other vitamins and minerals, and their varied flavors add pleasure to our meals. The area for minor crops is what is sometimes called the "kitchen garden"-- a small plot, close to the house.

About 90 percent of the cultivated land should be devoted to major crops. Major crops are grown differently from minor crops. Grains are generally broadcast, although corn and sorghum should be planted in rows; it's also possible to broadcast beans. All of the major crops are grown without irrigation, even on the day of seeding, whereas minor crops (vegetables) may be more sensitive to a lack of irrigation.

The other 10 percent of the land will be devoted to minor crops. Vegetables (in the narrower sense of the word) don't make up much of the human diet, whether we are vegetarians or omnivores. For a typical vegetable, an adequate planting for one person might be something like 20 feet (6 m). If we multiply that figure by 3 feet (1 m) for an average row width, and multiply that by about 10 for the number of kinds of vegetables, we get a figure of 600 square feet (50 m2) per person. That's only a very rough figure, but it gives the general idea. Some people might prefer more vegetables in their diet, some might prefer less. Some people might like a real variety of vegetables, whereas others would be content with a smaller number. Perhaps the main reason for variation is digestibility -- I once tried to live on rutabagas, and I gave up after the first day!

A third area you may want is for perennials: fruits and certain herbs, such as those mentioned above. This is the only piece of ground on which you will not be practicing crop rotation, so it must be separate from everything else.

New land should be broken with a plow, a device that generally requires either a tractor or a draft animal, but a fair amount can be done with hand tools. Much depends on the time of year and the weather. In the spring after a good rain, it is possible to dig up about 500 square feet (50 m2) in a day, even if you are not especially muscular. In August after a long drought, however, digging even about 50 square feet (5 m2) in a day might be hard. But there are ways to the task easier: if the grass is long, it can be cut with a scythe before the digging begins, and hot weather can be avoided by starting work at sunrise. When the sod has been dug up, it can be shaken thoroughly to release the soil, and then piled up and burned.

You might want the type of spade that is most common in Europe, with a D-shaped handle and a flat rectangular blade. The very opposite would be the American-style shovel, with a long, straight handle and a pointed blade. (The terms "spade" and "shovel," however, are used somewhat interchangeably.) The reason for using a flat blade is that you can make 4 cuts into the sod, at right angles to one another, so that the sod can be lifted out in neat squares. With a pointed shovel, the sod is cut into less-workable semicircular chunks; however, the long handle gives you more leverage. You'll need to get that spade or shovel well into the ground, so that you get to the bottom of the roots. When you've made those cuts, lift the sod up as if you were removing a carpet. If you shake off most of the dirt from the bottom of each piece of sod, it will be lighter to carry, and you won't be depleting the garden of so much topsoil.

Whichever tool you use, give it a good sharpening at least once a day. The cutting edge of the tool should be pointing towards you as you press the file into that edge (in a forward direction only). A spade or shovel is filed only on the "outside" curve (the side towards you as you dig), whereas a hoe is filed only on the "inside," the side facing toward you as you work. (Some "experts" will tell you the opposite.) Files don't last forever, so get a feeling for when a file has outlived its usefulness.

In spite of its slowness of cutting sod into squares rather than merely chopping it up, there are a few advantages to this method. In the first place, it means that you can use a section of land as soon as you've finished removing the sod, instead of having no garden for your first summer. What is more important, you're doing a thorough job: the task will never have to be repeated, except for a certain amount of vigilance. Yes, the sod will try to come back, but it would be easy to spot and remove an occasional blade.

It's possible that the ground is so irregular that the sod will rarely come up in neat chunks, and in that case you may find it easier to use a hoe. I don't mean the ordinary light-weight type, but what is sometimes called an Italian hoe, a heavy tool with a blade 6 inches by 8 inches (15 x 20 cm). On even tougher ground you might want to use a mattock or even a pickax.

Since breaking new land can be so difficult, you might consider using an old pioneer trick for your first year or so. In Ontario 200 years ago, it was common for settlers to leave their fields unplowed for the first few years, simply because the abundance of stumps made plowing impractical. Even the heavy, mattock-like hoe of those days could barely get through the root-filled soil. The ground was disturbed only by a primitive harrow, consisting of a crooked branch or the top of a tree, dragged over the land before wheat or oats were scattered. By poking holes at intervals of several feet, the pioneers could also plant corn on unplowed land. Potatoes were planted by a similar technique: 3 or 4 pieces of potato were dropped on the ground, and a hoe was used to heap soil over them; these "hills" were separated by about 2½ feet (75 cm) in all directions

Another way to get rid of sod is to cover the ground with black plastic sheeting (3-mil is fine; you don't have to use 6-mil) weighted with rocks. Do this as soon as possible in the spring. If you leave this plastic in place throughout the spring, summer, and fall, you'll kill most of the sod. Because the land is covered so long, it will be out of production for an entire season. On the other hand, the technique is neither expensive nor laborious.

You might want to consider digging up the ground before you cover it with plastic; that isn't entirely necessary, but it will help to kill the sod. Besides, the rocks you turn up will be very useful for holding down the plastic; you'll need perhaps a 10-pound (5 kg) rock every 3 feet (1 m) if you're going to resist the occasional strong wind.

When the ground has been plowed, tilled, or dug, you'll still have to deal with weeds to some extent. One way of dealing with them is to start with another crop and crowd out the weeds before they get a chance. You could, for example, plant clover or alfalfa and dig it back into the field before it flowered. By doing so, you'd be adding a lot of nitrogen to the soil (because these plants are legumes), increasing the organic component of the soil (as the plants decay to become organic matter), and loosening the soil (as the roots dig deeper), as well as smothering the weeds. Or you could plant buckwheat, which would not add nitrogen but would create plenty of organic matter and provide you with excellent grain itself, before your principal grain crop.

If your land has too many trees, you could use an ax or a saw to cut them down, or you could just ring the trees -- cut a ring around the bark, so that the trees slowly die -- and later chop them down. Five years later, the stumps will have rotted enough to be pulled out of the ground.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse (London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Oil and Gas: How Little Is Left

"If we're doing things like fracking, it just shows how little is left of all this stuff, and how desperate we are to get at it." -- Anonymous

Global production of conventional oil is past its peak and is now beginning its decline. A mixed bag of unconventional fuels (shale oil, tar-sands oil, natural-gas-liquids, etc.) is keeping the total on a slight rise or a rough plateau.

The hottest discussion in the US over the last few years has involved the fracturing ("fracking") of shale to extract both oil and gas, but production by this method is already slowing or in decline. The costs of fracking are considerable, and so is the environmental damage.

The price of oil is still about $100 a barrel, far above that of the 1990s, in terms of both nominal and real dollars. The failure of the price to go down is an embarrassment to those who think unconventional oil is really solving any problems. But the high price is due not just to increased demand or to geopolitical risk. It is because of trying to squeeze oil out of places where it makes little sense to be squeezing.

The following data are "annual" and "global" and are from BP's 2013 report unless described otherwise.

Laherrère: "The plots of these data start flattening in 2005, followed by a bumpy plateau. The post-2010 increase is mainly caused by the increase of liquids from US shale gas and US shale oil."

Hughes: ". . . Politicians and industry leaders alike now hail 'one hundred years of gas' and anticipate the U.S. regaining its crown as the world's foremost oil producer. . . . The much-heralded reduction of oil imports in the past few years has in fact been just as much a story of reduced consumption, primarily related to the Great Recession, as it has been a story of increased production."


Hughes: "The metric most commonly cited to suggest a new age of fossil fuels is the estimate of in situ unconventional resources and the purported fraction that can be recovered. These estimates are then divided by current consumption rates to produce many decades or centuries of future consumption. In fact, two other metrics are critically important in determining the viability of an energy resource:

"• The rate of energy supply -- that is, the rate at which the resource can be produced. A large in situ resource does society little good if it cannot be produced consistently and in large enough quantities. . . . Tar sands . . . have yielded production of less than two percent of world oil requirements.

"• The net energy yield of the resource. . . . The net energy . . . of unconventional resources is generally much lower than for conventional resources. . . ."


For conventional oil, the peak annual global production was about 27 billion barrels, or about 73 million barrels per day. The peak date of production was about 2010.

BP shows global oil production still increasing in 2012, although much more slowly than before -- an annual increase of about 1 percent between 2002 and 2012, as opposed to about 9 percent annually between 1930 and 2001. Laherrère's Figure 10, on the other hand, shows an actual peak at 2010. The difference is due to the fact that the BP figures include unconventional oil (shale oil, tar-sands oil, natural-gas-liquids, etc.).

According to most studies, the likely average rate of decline of oil production after the peak date is about 3 or 4 percent, resulting in a fall from peak production to half that amount about 20 years after the peak. However, there is also evidence (Höök et al., June 2009; Simmons, 2006) to suggest that the decline rate might be closer to 6 percent, i.e. reaching the halfway point about 10 years after the peak.

Per capita, the peak date of oil production was 1979, when there were 5.5 barrels of oil per person annually, as opposed to 4.4 in 2012.

Laherrère: "The confidential technical data on [mean values of proven + probable reserves] is only available from expensive and very large scout databases. . . .

"There is a huge difference between the political/financial proved reserves [so-called], and the confidential technical [proven + probable] reserves. Most economists do not believe in peak oil. They rely only on the proved reserves coming from [the Oil and Gas Journal, the US Energy Information Administration], BP and OPEC data, which are wrong; they have no access to the confidential technical data. . . .

"The last [International Energy Agency] forecasts report an increase in oil production from 2012 to 2018 of 8% for Non-OPEC (+30% for the US) and of 7% for OPEC, which is doubtful. . . ."

US OIL PRODUCTION peaked in 1970 at 9,637 thousand barrels daily, declined in 2008 to 5,000, and rose in 2013 to 6,488.


GLOBAL GAS PRODUCTION rose from 2,524 billion cubic meters in 2002 to 3,370 billion cubic meters (95 trillion cubic feet) in 2012, an average annual increase of 3%.

Laherrère: ". . . [Global] production will peak around 2020 at more than [100 trillion cubic feet per year]." [emphasis added]

"Outside the US, the potential of shale gas is very uncertain because the 'Not In My Back Yard' effect is much stronger when the gas belongs to the country and not to the landowners. . . . Up to now, there is no example of economical shale gas production outside the US. The hype on shale gas will probably fall like the hype on bio-fuels a few years ago. . . .

US GAS PRODUCTION rose from 536 billion cubic meters in 2002 to 681 in 2012, an average annual increase of 2.5%.

Laherrère: "Natural gas production in the US, which peaked in 1970 like oil, is showing a sharp increase since 2005 because of shale gas. In 2011 unconventional gas production ([coal bed methane], tight gas and shale gas . . . .) was higher than conventional gas production . . . .

"This . . . leads to a peak in 2020 at 22 [trillion cubic feet] and the decline thereafter of all natural gas in the US . . . should be quite sharp. [emphasis added] The goal of exporting US liquefied natural gas seems to be based on very optimistic views. . . .

"The gross monthly natural gas production in the US has been flat since October of 2011, after its sharp increase since 2003, with only shale gas production rising. . . ." [emphasis added]

"Some claim that the US can export its shale gas as [liquid natural gas] even though conventional gas . . . is declining fast and will be quite small in just a few years."

Hughes: "Shale gas production has grown explosively to account for nearly 40 percent of U.S. natural gas production; nevertheless production has been on a plateau since December 2011. . . . The very high decline rates of shale gas wells require continuous inputs of capital -- estimated at $42 billion per year. . . . In comparison, the value of shale gas produced in 2012 was just $32.5 billion."


Laherrère: "Shale oil is now called light tight oil because the production in Bakken is not from a shale reservoir, but a sandy dolomite reservoir between two shale formations. . . . In Montana, production from Bakken is mainly coming from the stratigraphic field called Elm Coulee, which is decline since 2008. In North Dakota, production from Bakken has sharply increased."

Hughes: "Tight oil production has grown impressively and now makes up about 20 percent of U.S. oil production. . . .More than 80 percent of tight oil production is from two unique plays: the Bakken in North Dakota and Montana and the Eagle Ford in southern Texas. . . . Tight oil plays are characterized by high decline rates. . . . Tight oil production is projected to grow substantially from current levels to a peak in 2017. . . . [emphasis added]


Hughes: "Tar sands oil is primarily imported to the U.S. from Canada. . . It is low-net-energy oil, requiring very high levels of capital inputs (with some estimates of over $100 per barrel required for mining with upgrading in Canada). . . . The economics of much of the vast purported remaining extractable resources are increasingly questionable. . . .


Laherrère: "World NGPL production . . . may peak in 2030 at over 11 [million barrels per day]. . . ."


Hughes: "Other unconventional fossil fuel resources, such as oil shale [kerogen], coalbed methane, gas hydrates, and Arctic oil and gas -- as well as technologies like coal- and gas-to-liquids, and in situ coal gasification -- are also sometimes proclaimed to be the next great energy hope. But each of these is likely to be a small player. . . .

"Deepwater oil and gas production . . . would expand access to only relatively minor additional resources."


Laherrère: "Peak oil deniers claim that peak oil is an unscientific theory, ignoring that peak oil has actually happened in several countries like France, UK, Norway. They confuse proved reserves with the [proven + probable] mean reserves. . . . It seems that world oil (all liquids) production will peak before 2020. . . The dream of the US becoming independent seems to be based on resources, but not on reserves."


BP. (2013). Global statistical review of world energy. Retrieved from

Heinberg, R. (2013). Snake oil: How fracking's false promise of plenty imperils our future. Santa Rosa, California: Post Carbon Institute.

Höök, M., Hirsch, R., & Aleklett, K. (2009, June). Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production. Energy Policy, Volume 37, Issue 6, pp. 2262-72. Retrieved from

Hughes, J. D. (2013, Feb.) Drill, baby, drill; Can unconventional fuels usher in a new era of energy abundance? Executive Summary. Post Carbon Institute. Retrieved from

Klare, M.T. (2012).The race for what's left: The scramble for the world's last resources. New York: Picador.

Laherrère, J. H. (2013, July 16). World oil and gas production forecasts up to 2100. The Oil Drum. Retrieved from

Simmons, M. R. (2006). Twilight in the desert: The coming Saudi oil shock and the world economy. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.

Peter Goodchild

Author of Tumbling Tide: Population, Petroleum, and Systemic Collapse(London, Ontario: Insomniac Press, 2014)