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Standing on the Edge

by Luis de Sousa Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 04:42:37 AM EST

We're standing on the edge
The edge of time
And it is dark, so dark on the edge of time

These lines open a poem by Michael Moorcock entitled “Standing on the Edge”. Although written in a completely different context, they somehow summarize my feelings of what the beginning of XXI century looks like.

This is my first log entry and collects a few thoughts on how I see Europe and the World today.


Without looking hard for it you haven't seen it the news, or in any political/scientific agenda, but it will be the defining event of this century, scarring my generation like no other - The Hubbert Peak. Before I reach retirement age, the production of Oil, Coal and Natural Gas will all peak in succession and go into terminal decline.

The Hubbert Peak represents an interruption on a long period of economic growth in the West, notably since the terminus of the II World War, but that can be traced back to the midst of the XIX century. Modern Man is at the edge of the Oil Age and will for the first time come to terms with the finitude of its habitat.







The latest mid-term assessment of the Hubbert Peak for Oil at TheOilDrum.

Some people see the Hubbert Peak as the end of progress and technological civilization, unfolding the ultimate Malthusian catastrophe. My personal view is different, I think that given the will to, we can in fact surpass the problems ahead, or at least ameliorate their effects; energy is not going to end, we know what the alternatives are. Unfortunately Oil is not solely an energy source; it is today the most important primary commodity for the Industry and Agriculture. So if the outcome is bright, right now there's no way to avoid the hard road ahead.

What makes the Hubbert Peak perilous is the way that stakeholders have left it completely unattended for the past 30 years, since it became a clear reality. We were left in the dark, and it's the uncertainty of what's to come, of how a growth interruption of this nature will look like, that can make the Hubbert Peak scary.

 --

On the political ground these last decades of plenty produced a political vein that dominates the present spectrum: Liberalism. It is a simply realization where the individual and its rights are always above the state or the community. Liberalism was made possible by the fountain of wealth unleashed by the fossil fuels (especially Oil). The individual became ever more self-sufficient, relying less and less in its surrounding community for the things he needs - all he has to do now is order.

Liberalism represented a departure away from the traditional values of Solidarity and Equality that marked the political discourse (especially in Europe) up to the first half of the XX century. The Liberal sentiment penetrated deeply in the core of the traditional political parties, veering their politics towards an Individual centric agenda. This is quite visible in Europe where Christian Democrat and Socialist parties succeed in government without changing the core executive course.

Parallel to Liberalism another political movement took shape, partly as a response to Liberalism, partly as the acknowledgment of the Earth's finitude. It is the revival of Agrarian-Anarchism, excelling for a society materially disposed, intertwined with nature and down-scaled to the rural level. Today it has become a highly influential movement calling for the protection of the Environment and for the reversing of Globalization.

Agrarian-Anarchism became so powerful that in recent years managed to penetrate the Liberal movement, integrating the environmental doctrine in liberal politics (creating such things as Carbon Trading). It had (and still has) profound social impacts, creating a new moral concerning the Environment - carelessness for the protection of the Earth became one of the most socially condemnable acts.

I don't review myself neither in Liberalism nor in Agrarian-Anarchism for none of these movements managed to acknowledge the Hubbert Peak; to some extent, they even worsened the situation by veering way from possible answers. Given the broad reach these two movements have today, voting rightfully has become an increasingly hard task to me.

In all likelihood both Liberalism and Agrarian-Anarchism will succumb to the Hubbert Peak (or so I hope).

 --

And what about Europe? Unfortunately Europe faces the difficulties imposed by the Hubbert Peak in a very uncomfortable situation. After the monetary union took shape the European Construction reached a standstill.

After 50 years of integration, the European Union is still functioning like a Confederation, where progress is achieved strictly by Unanimity. Instead of breaking the deadlock of Unanimity, the Union put the progress on hold and continued its expansion, going from 15 to 27 members in less than 10 years. Confederations are not known for lasting, much less in the face of events like the Hubbert Peak.

I am a Federalist. There simply is no other known lasting administrative setting for a bundle of states that chose to take on the future together.

Federalism is a forbidden word where I live, and claming for it is the ultimate political heresy. Such is the consequence of the relentless Liberal sentiment reigning in, that can't possibly take the idea of institutions above the sacro-saint Individual.

Some people think that Federalists advocate the mimicking of the US Federation in Europe. That's not the case; the US Federation was formed more than two centuries ago, much of its fabric is quite old for today's standards, and become more and more centralized as the North/South disputes demanded and as the Oil progress allowed. Still it is interesting to observe that it broadly continues to function.

An European Federation will look very different from that. Possibly more decentralized, possibly with lighter institutions and more citizen-centered. It'll have to be a dynamic project in constant development.

Can Europe be saved from the Deadlock before the Hubbert Peak sets in? I hope so, but this is the greatest challenge the Union has faced to date.


And so this is how today, June the 18th of 2007, I see politics and Europe.








Display:
The European Union will have a harder time dealing with the Hubbert Peak than the US because it is more densely populated (less renewable energy potential per capita), it has a counple of centuries' lead on depleting its resources (the US still has substantial coal reserves, for instance) and it is, on average, farther to the north (meaning: less sunlight). Plus, it is quite likely that the US has a higher wind potential per unit area as a result of the Great Plains.

I don't see any serious effort to really think about how to get Europe through the coming energy shock.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 10:56:18 AM EST
The EU probably has more wave power potential, and a smaller physical size means that transport and distribution issues aren't quite as pressing as they will be in the US, where a significant proportion of the population is simply too far from anything to survive an oil crash, in an environment that's implacably hostile without massive energy and water input.

The solar issue could partly be solved by working out an arrangement with North Africa, which has more sun than it needs or wants and is hardly likely to turn up its nose at some sustainable income. Spain is also quite sunny for rather a lot of the year.

I don't think any of the problems are insoluble. (Apart from making plane travel sustainable - that seems like a no-hoper without a revolutionary new energy storage technology.)

But the current crop of politicians and marketeers, in their infinite vapid stupidity, are the wrong people to be looking after the changes that are coming.

And democracies are too driven by posturing and superficiality to elect the right people.

The real problem is political, not practical.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 12:37:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree.

Another Murray Bookchin quote:

"To speak of 'limits to growth' under a capitalistic market economy is as meaningless as to speak of limits of warfare under a warrior society. The moral pieties, that are voiced today by many well-meaning environmentalists, are as naive as the moral pieties of multinationals are manipulative. Capitalism can no more be 'persuaded' to limit growth than a human being can be 'persuaded' to stop breathing. Attempts to 'green' capitalism, to make it 'ecological', are doomed by the very nature of the system as a system of endless growth." (from Remaking Society)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murray_Bookchin

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 04:46:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is the configuratin that people live in better suited for survival in Europe than the US (and Canada)? If I needed to get around by walking, I know where I wouldn't want to do it.

aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 06:05:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I guess it depends on what you're walking towards.  If it's a market that's empty, it doesn't do much good to go there.  If it's towards a field to plow, plant or harvest, then maybe it would be better if it were reasonably close. The US and Canada have a lot of open space (albeit owned by someone) left that could be used for something useful other than housing, such as subsistence farming.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:38:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe has already started to make policies to dematerialise energy production and is already much more efficient in producing and consuming energy than the US is, where vast swathes of the population can't survive in their suburban and exurban homes without a big car. Plus we have stagnant population growth.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:35:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU has much les room to cut its energy use, which is clearly still excessive.

So, in relative terms, I think the US will have an easier time making sizeable incremental improvements.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 03:27:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The EU has much les room to cut its energy use, which is clearly still excessive.

Isn't this just saying that the current energy consumption in the USA is done with such squander, they will have less difficulties to make an energy cut?

The EU has perhaps less room in absolute terms, but I'd agree with TBG that the relative compactness in Europe (and it's relatively extensive coastline) will significantly aid.

My current concern would be commodities prices...

Also, have there been diaries on energy & connectivity?

by Nomad on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 05:47:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
All I am saying is that the US has the natural resources to make it through the transition on its own, which the EU doesn't.

And the US population seem to still be rather densely concentrated, and mostly near waterways.

People may need a car, but not a big car. The problem is that people are not being encouraged now to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, or to reduce the number of vehicles per household. The US vehicle fleet could be replaced at the normal pace in what? 10, 15 years?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 06:48:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
People may need a car, but not a big car. The problem is that people are not being encouraged now to increase the fuel efficiency of their vehicles, or to reduce the number of vehicles per household. The US vehicle fleet could be replaced at the normal pace in what? 10, 15 years?

I'd guess something around that, yes. The problem is also in the social structure. People need to load their big SUV full of goodies at the Wal-Mart once a week to save time on shopping, so that they can keep up their 60-70 hour work week. Similarly, they need place for their big bodies which have gotten fat due to saving time on eating (fast food) in order to do more work (mostly office work that doesn't involve moving). There is a kind of mutually reinforcing effect in traffic that if you aren't in a higher driving position, you can't see as much on the highway because of all the SUVs.

Of course you could just gradually raise the fuel tax to $10 a gallon and that would force most people to change the car size when they renew. But it's not going to happen.

So I think the point is first, what you said, that the US has more resources to make it through a transition to an economy without oil. But, second, the political momentum is already there in Europe to begin with a transition, it is not there in the US, and it is not particularly likely to emerge in the US until there is a big crash.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 08:03:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think people underestimate just how bad North American suburbs really are, and how prevalent they are. They are economic deserts dependent on an input energy resources to function. They destroy valuable farmland and an amazing rate. They are extremely expensive to provide any sort of public services to them. Some have been carefully designed to prevent public services from being provided to them. The classic example would be underpasses leading to the suburbs. The bridges in some cases have been carefully arched to prevent busses from using these roads. Over time most of these bridges have had to be rebuilt to allow busses, but it gives an idea of the scope of the problem. Let me take it back a bit: Suburbs prevent economic activity by design. That is their big attraction.

Part of an extreme melt down would probably require mass migration of North American population out of the suburbs. Too dense to farm and not dense enough to provide any sort of self-sustaining society. Suburbs located in and very close to cities would in effect need to be re-built. Los Angeles would become the classic nightmare, being a city that is mostly suburb.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:48:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey nanne, you're getting personal!  I'm not that fat -- yet.  I may be the only person in the US that keeps a car 10-12 years though.  My neighbors seem to buy a new one every couple of years.  I think/hope that by the end of this summer petrol prices will reach over $4.00/USG forcing everyone (else) to re think their fat SUVs and uh - bodies.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:47:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hey, I'm just looking at the averages!

$4 a gallon petrol will not be enough to force a major shift in the choice of vehicles. We in Europe almost have $7 a gallon petrol right now. If you'd have that, you would get a real shift. If the vehicle fleet becomes more like Europe, you get more small cars and less cheap SUVs and pickup trucks; luxury SUVs will remain more or less the same as people driving them still have enough money to pay for that kind of petrol.

Could be that the US market functions differently from the EU market in various ways (due to poorer public transport and the aforementioned social factors in driving SUVs). So even with $7 petrol the shift towards a smaller vehicle fleet could be quite slow.

Also see this post by Atrios plus the comments.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 01:35:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not the absolute level that matters, only the rate of change. We stopped increasing gas taxes in Europe 10 years ago, and look at the results - we're back to big SUVs and increasingly heavy cars. Fuel efficiency is barely a concern, because gas is again cheap, relatively speaking.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:54:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
With regard to cars, I think car taxes, yearly but especially on new cars, are much more promising (because they're less politically dangerous) than fuel taxes.

The eco tax in Germany was introduced in 1999 and ramped up until 2003 (increasing taxes on petrol by 30% and on diesel by 50%). Since then fuel prices have continued to rise. Still, I see hordes of Cayenne, Touareg, M Class, X5, Q7 SUVs all around me. The problem is that European SUVs are largely luxury SUVs and the people who can afford them, the haves and the have mores, can also easily afford higher gas prices.

The kind of fuel taxes that you need to curb this kind of luxury consumption are just not going to get a political majority. Atrios is right on that in the US and his point also goes for the EU. We can talk about what would work as if we are detached from the need to command political majorities and detached from the constraints of existing institutions, but I don't think that is very useful.

Fuel taxes in the EU will first require a new treaty or a two-speed Europe because they now require unanimity. And even then, I think it is very optimistic to even hope for an increase of 50 eurocents, phased in slowly.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 06:54:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The fuel tax was raised at the height of the second oil price shock in then West Germany. Admittedly, Kohl came... but with a coup, not an election victory.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 10:05:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think Jerome is correct instating that it's not the amount of the price of petrol overall that causes a shift in vehicle type but the amount over a short period of time.  Two examples:

(1)  The 1973 Yom Kippur War and ensuing petrol price increases and shortages caused a major change of vehicle usage in the US.  The congress enacted legislation in 1975 that mandated increased mpg and this did rise until 1987 to 26.2 mpg. (http://uspolitics.about.com/od/energy/i/cafe_standards.htm ) All of this occurred due to the "shortages" and doubling of the price per gallon.  If I recall correctly the price was about .32 cents per gallon and rose to something like .79 cents give or take.  The prices in GB, where I was at the time were already hitting a quid for a UK gallon - about $2.40.  Upon our return to the US in 1976, we were able, by 1978 or so to buy a Honda Civic than got 42-48 mpg, and the trend was definitely downsized foreign made vehicles.  I've never bought anything but Honda sedans or hatchbacks since and the Honda became for a time the most popular car on the road.

The unfortunate loophole in the 1975 legislation was that it exempted small trucks, thus over time even though petrol prices have risen, so have wages, and people became accustomed to paying more (still only $1-$130) until a year or two ago.   The small truck loophole led to invention of "cars" built on truck frames, thus the SUV with no cap on mpg.

(2) One of my relatives manages a small business providing a line of products including installation. The business runs on a shoestring budget in order to make a profit because the products are probably considered non-essential luxury items, but lots of people that don't make huge salaries want them.  Most of the companies employees are basically unskilled workers when hired on but they receive training and are paid relatively low wages.  When the price of petrol started to rise dramatically a year or so ago quite a few employees said they would have to quit because they could no longer afford to commute from outlying areas (lower housing costs).  The company held fast and the price of petrol gradually became lower.  Now, even my relative is worried that the company, which uses a fleet of inexpensive relatively low petrol mileage vans, will not be able to afford the price of petrol soon.  He has to replace the fleet soon, but there are no real choices on the market that meet the company's size requirements.  Should the price of petrol suddenly hit $4-$5 this summer, the company (typical of many I suspect) and its employees will face a major crisis.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 10:57:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a reminder that those Coal reserves you show for the US are political, not technical. The real numbers are considerably lower.

Russia, China and Germany are probably still overstating their Coal reserves also.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 09:11:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, good, like the OPEC oil reserves.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 09:26:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another example is the wind potential, which is larger in the US than in Europe:



Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 09:39:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You forget the Sea on that assessment.

I'm not saying that the situation is bad for the US, just that it isn't that bad in Europe.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:26:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is a lot easier in Europe because the North Sea has very low water depths over huge surfaces. If it becoems necessary, you can build a LOT of wind farms in an area which is not very far from very big population centers.

Wind power is not yet the cheapest, but it gives us a wonderful hedge as the price will NOT increase once capacity is installed (cost at the time of installation can vary as raw materials to build the farms vary, but it's still not that resource intensive to build anyway).

Current plans are in the UK for offshore wind to provide 13% of total electricity by 2020. A lot of it is already permitted, or in the planning phase. And that's without a crash programme, just the current framework.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:17:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That is not only true of the North Seam it is true also of the Hudson Bay, Newfoundland and the US Eastern Seaboard
The edge of the Caribbean basin would work too, were it not for those pesky tropical cyclones.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:29:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is a difference between depth below 100m and depth below 40m, in terms of how easy it is to build fixed structures there.

The North Sea is really a lot more convenient in that respect.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:04:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
for failed rifts.

Let's remind everyone that during the last ice age people could walk to England across the North Sea shelf. Archaeologists generally suspect there were communities making a living on the shelf, before the rising tide washed them away.

by Nomad on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 04:15:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And as of today, there are only 2(!) wind turbines developed specifically for offshore operation deployed in the North Sea.

This is in fact a huge resource waiting out there.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:30:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There are more than 10 large wind farms in operations - below only the bigger ones:

Denmark
Middelgrunden 40 MW (2001)
Horns Rev I 160 MW (2002)
Nysted-Roedsand 165 (2003)

UK
Barrow 90MW  Apr-06
Kentish Flats 90MW Nov-05
Scroby Sand 60MW Dec-04
North Hoyle 60MW Jul-04

Netherlands
NoordZeeWind 99MW (2006)

Lots more info in this this pedf presentation on offshore

The 2 turbines you refer to are the 5MW REpower turbines installed on the Beatrice project, I presume.


In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 04:22:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, off course, all the others are onshore turbines tweaked to function at sea.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 02:34:29 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Jérôme forgot Arklow Bank in Ireland, which consists of developed-for-offshore 3.6 MW GE turbines.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:53:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I only took the big ones - that work. Alklow Bank has been an unending series of problems - so much so that GE has effectively abandoned this turbine model.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:55:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I knew of several technology-related delays before opening, and the lack of new orders for the model spoke volumes (as did the abandonment of any talk about the planned second phase of Arklow Bank), but is it off-line now?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 06:15:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
They've stopped marketing it. They are working on a new model now, as far as I know.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:01:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry, I meant Arklow Bank, not the turbine type. Is it still operational, or was the type such crap that Arklow Bank is idle?

By the way, have you heard anything about Vestas's plans for a biggie (V120)? there is total silence on that, too.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Jun 21st, 2007 at 06:14:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Europe has already started to make policies to dematerialise energy production

Can you make that a little more precise?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 08:17:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have agreed to a 20% CO2 reduction (possibly 30%). Also a 20% renewables target and 20% energy efficiency increase by 2020, which, as at least someone from the German BUND (Friends Of the Earth affiliate) claimed, will in combination already come quite close to a 30% reduction. This means a real decrease in the total amount of material inputs we use (under the assumption that renewables and nuclear use less inputs, which by my understanding they do).

In addition, we have agreed to what will work out to a total fleet average of carbon dioxide emissions of 130 grams/km by 2012. That would be a 20% improvement over today's total average. This figure will probably be decreased again before 2020 (to, say, 100 g/km). The total amount of cars on the road is stagnating in Western Europe, I think. At least I know it is in Germany, it's even decreasing slightly. See e.g. this graph, which runs up to 2003 (hard to find good up-to-date info, last I remember is some lecturer mentioning this in 2005/early 2006). So this 20% decrease will likely translate into a real reduction of a similar percentage.

I tried to find some comparison of the data between the US and the EU and all I could come up with is this Pew Climate report (.pdf) from 2004. It shows that the US fleet average is around 258 g/km, which is pretty wild compared to what we have in the EU (163). But it's kind of disheartening to read that since 2002, we in the EU have only managed to cut 2 more grams, as it seems the industry was still on target to its voluntary target of 140 g/km by 2008 at that time. I blame this on the rise of luxury SUVs.

Real reductions of CO2 emissions - and thereby of fossil fuel inputs - in industry should kick in during the next phase of the emissions trading scheme in 2008. The Commission has pressured countries to come up with allocations that promise real scarcity.

Whether you see this as too little, too late or as promising but insufficient steps towards a real transition depends upon when the 'shock' will come and what the 'shock' will look like. If we get a plateau for oil during the next 20 years before oil production really drops, and prices just increase gradually due to increasing demand instead of shooting up, then the EU's policies are not so bad. If we get a sharp drop starting in the next 5-10 years, and global markets for all fossil fuels break down as each country tries to secure its own for its own economy (which seems to be the strategy of the Cheney cabal), then we are screwed.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:47:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
We have agreed to a 20% CO2 reduction (possibly 30%). Also a 20% renewables target and 20% energy efficiency increase by 2020

I guess that makes "Energise Europe 2020" obsolete.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:31:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. Yeah. But the goals could be better. And I don't know if putting up goals is such great politics. I suspect it delays action because of the rate of time preference, which could also exist in politics. We should rather have concrete action plans.
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:42:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am more concerned about the "sharp drop in 5-10 years" scenario. What can be done to prepare for that?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 12:44:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Your guess is as good as mine. But to guess...

We have to hope that there is a Democrat in the White House and that the US does not make a naked grab for resources that might be countered by China. We have to hope that our long-term contracts with Russia are worth the paper they're printed on.

It's too late for planting trees that we can use to heat our homes, I guess. But we should still plant more trees. Nuclear power plants take about 10-15 years to plan, run the legal procedure, and build.

What do you do? Draw up emergency plans. Think of ways to ration energy supply. No idea if that can be done. Try to secure critical systems, like hospitals. How do you do that? The aggregates run on oil. You might want to construct a separate grid for supply to such systems.

Right now I see no way to push through the kind of measures you would need to make a less drastic transition if we're facing a precipitous drop in supplies in an unfavorable political situation. Because the measures would have to be drastic right now. So, contingency planning and precautionary securing of the most critical systems that rely on energy may be the best that can be hoped for.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:15:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's too late for planting trees that we can use to heat our homes, I guess. But we should still plant more trees.

And insulate, insulate, insulate (but beware so that you do not create to bad ventilation at the same time). Heating is mostly a function of heat loss, with good enough insulation the excess heat from your electronic appliances and yourself will be enough.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 08:01:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's few Coal left in the EU, Oil has peaked and Natural Gas is peaking now.

What will be difficult is not to reduce the CO2 emissions by 20% - we are totally dependent on imports to continue current trends.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:45:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the EU primary energy production potential?

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 05:00:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I detect a grave lack of faith in the miracles of free trade in this thread...

No, but seriously, I think a lot of the consequences of peak oil when it occurs worldwide depend upon whether the oil trading system survives. Basically that's the question of whether everyone accepts prices that increase manifold or if some countries try to limit trade to take possession of the oil (and gas, and coal) for themselves, at a lower price.

Although it would be nice for the EU to move towards a much higher degree of energy independence right now, no more sudden moves in that direction are going to happen until the energy markets send price signals that are high enough (What's high enough? Let's start with $100 oil. But in real terms that used to be more and our exchange rate is also much better than it was two years ago. So maybe $125 oil.). Or until the markets are destroyed.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 06:37:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bingo!

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:55:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
is nothing - it's just a symbolic level. But in practice, it's only 50% above current levels, which are 250% above what they were a few years ago. So $100 oil won't make a material dent in our behavior. $500 oil might, for a while.

What matters is not the absolute level, but how fast it changes - changes that we notice (i.e. overnight 50% increases, or steady 20% per year increases) make us change our behavior.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 05:52:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
So you're saying that people don't consume like rational economic actors...
by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 07:39:59 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Economic actors act, at best, on expectations. So it's all about managing the expectations. Psychological barriers like $100/barrel tend to be repellers: prices will "resist" approaching them from below and then race away once they are above.

And I don't think Jerome's point implies people are not rational. What he's saying is that it's the rate of change of the price that matters, not the price. And that makes sense. If you're going to buy a car that you'll have to fuel for the next 10 years, it probably matters more what the rate of inflation for fuel is than the absolute price level. Again, expectations.

Because, despite textbook economics always happening at a single point in time, or at equilibrium (which is just a single point in time, too, the point at infinity), time considerations at various time scales are essential to economic actions. And economic games are not only played once, but are repeated over and over again, which also changes the optimal strategies.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 08:39:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
 
Economic actors act, at best, on expectations

Now there's a good point.

We are led to believe that Joe Public, suppliers and all the rest work (or rather make their wage claims) on expectations of FUTURE inflation.

My view of the real world is that most people are interested in the rises in prices they have recently experienced as opposed to those they EXPECT to happen ion the future...

But what do I know....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 03:13:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, yes.

The simplest (zeroth-order) expectation one can have is that things will remains as they are.

The first-order approximation is that trends will stay as they are. But what trends are today depends on what the state of affairs has been in the (recent) past.

Anything more sophisticated is too complex, and probably not worth the extra effort.

So, if people have experienced inflation recently, they will assume inflation will stay constant. They can't assume both that prices and inflation will stay the same, and they choose the assumption that the trend will stay constant. And their expectation is based on recent past experience.

But expectations it is. People don't buy houses because they are more expensive now than a year ago. They buy houses because they expect them to be more expensive a year from now than they are now. And they expect them to be more expensive next year because they were cheaper last year.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 03:21:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sure people buy assets because they see prices going up.

But do people ask for wage increases because they see prices increasing in the future or because their purchasing power has been reduced by x% this past year because energy prices went up, food got more expensive etc etc.

I think we are looking at chalk and cheese here (as between capital and revenue expenditure), not for the first time.

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Wed Jun 20th, 2007 at 03:59:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Nice diary.

I don't see a Federation: I see a Confederation, strcutured as a "Partnership of Partnerships"

What's needed I have heard described as "functional sub-regionalism".

ie carry out everything at the lowest possible level, and bring together functional partnerships as necessary.

So to use UK Health as an example, we would get Neighbourhood GP's; Area Casualty; Regional Oncology  and National Tropical Disease treatment.


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Mon Jun 18th, 2007 at 08:46:48 PM EST
Has I wrote, Confederations are not lasting institutions, they usually collapse from the deadlock of unanimity (readin the news lately about Poland?)

Naturally a Federation in Europe will have to be build as you describe "at the lowest possible level". A centralized Federation like the US' isn't likely to work for us.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 09:02:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
..as I wrote, Confederations are not lasting institutions

Aren't you missing something?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland

Is 700 years "lasting"?

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:59:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Tell a lie.

It was only a Confederation for about 500 years....and then went off the rails....

"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson

by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:05:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A confederation, in modern political terms, is usually limited to a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states.

In fact it was the formation of Switzerland that created the term Confederation, but the Helvetic Confederation technically functions according to the modern concept of Federation.

I can't find my preferred article on that, so I'll just direct you to the Wikipedia's article on the subject.

Switzerland is often used by Federalists has an example of the lasting characteristics of Federations.


You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 02:41:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I have mentioned before that Switzerland and India should be used as case studies to plan for the EU's political organisation.

Can the last politician to go out the revolving door please turn the lights off?
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 05:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Back at the end of the 1960s issues surrounding Peak Oil were part of my school education.  Plainly my teachers thought my generation would be undertaking the job of thinking about what to do about it.  

But the big guys--and the big money guys--thought otherwise.  

We didn't, and here we are.  

The collapse of civilization no longer worries me (well, accept for those nagging concerns about physical survival).  When I read on what is being developed in Informaton Technology for surveillance and human control, it starts to look like collapse is far and away our best hope.  

The Fates are kind.

by Gaianne on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 01:59:55 AM EST
Great diary and comments. Everyone deserves 4s on this one.  I kept making stupid remarks and screwing up my ratings.  Happens when one gets in at the end all the time.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Jun 19th, 2007 at 10:59:57 PM EST


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