The Montreal Student Protests: the Argument For, the Argument Against

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The (summarized and paraphrased) Case for, from Andrew Rousseau, writing in the Huffington Post:

montreal protests-the issue isn't just raising tuition fees, it's whether or not the only solution to economic challenges is to cut public services and raise user fees, such as tuition.


-viable alternatives to raising tuition have been kept out of the conversation:


Alternative 1: Tax the Super rich.

-in Quebec's current tax scheme someone earning $85 000 a year pays the same rate as someone who earns $850 000 a year.

-people who earn $40 000 a year pay a lower percentage - why not apply the same progressive bracketing to the other end of the spectrum?

-in Ontario, the 2% surtax on income greater than $500 000 is expected to generate $500 000 000 annually for public coffers. A similar measure in Quebec could pay off the province's structural university deficit, estimated at $500 000 000.


Alternative 2: Raise Corporate Taxes

-In 2011, Quebec eliminated the corporate tax on paid-up capital, denying itself hundreds of millions in annual revenue.

-Quebec's general corporate tax rate is one of the lowest in North America - lower than those of California, Florida and Texas.

Montreal protests-US subsidiaries in Quebec have to remit the difference in corporate tax to the IRS anyway. Why not keep that money in Quebec?

-Corporations benefit from a skilled, educated workforce. It's in their interest to fund public education.


Alternative 3: Mining royalties

-Quebec has vast mineral and natural resources, but ranks near the bottom in terms of collecting mining royalties: only $114 million was paid in taxes from an annual revenue of $5.6 billion.

-Premier Jean Charest was touring the province selling off Quebec's northern riches only a few months before the student protests started.


-the automatic, one-sided, pro-rich, pro-corporate logic is what the protests are really about.

-the students aren't refusing to "pay their fair share" and let the province sink into debt.

-a progressive tax system would have the students pay for their education as members of the workforce.

-In many European countries, university education costs nothing, or close to nothing.


-we should be thankful for the students and other protestors for bringing this subject into the conversation.




The Case Against, by Andrew Coyne, writing in the National Post:


montreal protests-the protests are not about the issues anymore, they're about the thrill of defying the law in the name of a higher purpose

-read: the students are intoxicated by a sense of self-importance


-the striking students can't claim to be the victims of injustice.

-Raised fees would bring tuition up to the equivalent level they were at forty-four years ago. What's the big deal?

-this isn't about poverty - these changes wouldn't affect any student with a family income less than $100 000 a year.


-the conflation of the Charest government's Bill 78 with the War Measures Act is a gross exaggeration. It imposes two obligations:

-don't prevent dissenting students from attending classes

-if you're going to block streets with a protest, let the police know (you don't need to get their permission, just tell them when and where you're going to do it)


montreal protest-the strikers' original aim, and those of their union backers, to roll back tuition, has been superseded by the goal to cripple the Charest government and prevent it from "trimming the size and scope of government in the continent's most heavily taxed, heavily indebted jurisdiction."


-if they succeed, these are the precedents they'll set:

-a democratically elected government can be prevented by force and intimidation from enacting laws in the public interest

-the law can be defied or broken, openly and at length, without consequence

-the beneficiaries of public spending are entitled to veto legislation that would reduce it.




The case for, the case against.


Which argument seems stronger to you?


Are there any valid points in the side you agree with less?


What's been left out of this brief summary?


What's your take on the subject?



Update I: Chris


Good friend of Beams, Ian MacKenzie, passed along this video, titled Generation Wise, on his FB profile. It's a short film interviewing a number of those participating in the Quebec protests (with English subtitles). A number of folks respond to the kinds of criticisms mentioned above. It also provides a great window into the feel on the street, including the casserole protests that Trevor took part in and discussed last week. Check it out. 

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  • Comment Link TJ Dawe Tuesday, 05 June 2012 00:48 posted by TJ Dawe

    A friend posted this link on Facebook, - a truly extensive resource for more information on the topic. Here's the text fro the link - and if you go there, you'll be able to click on those headings.

    There are a lot of documents to wade through on this site. We know. So if you are just learning about the Quebec conflict, or if you are looking for more information, we have compiled a list of some of the posts that might be a great place to start:

    What is the student movement about anyway, and what has been going on until now?

    This video explains the movement in general very clearly: Red Square Revolt

    What is the significance of what is happening?

    A Great Thunder. An Open Letter to Striking Students.

    Fed up with neoliberal notions

    The Founding Act of the Barbarian Age

    The 8 Myths of Tuition Hikes

    What is the historical and political context of all of this?

    To Misters Pratte, Dubuc, Facal and all the others who do not understand

    Law 78: The Freedom to Study and the Freedom to Work

    Gaetan Maudit

    What is Bill/Law 78, and what does it mean?

    Speech by Véronique Hivon, MNA for Joliette and Parti Québécois justice critic, on Bill 78

    Bill 78: Abuse of Power

    The Quebec Bar Expresses Serious Concern

    Resisting Loi 78: 15 Points

    Law 78: A Heinous Deviation from the Spirit of the Charter

    [CLASSE] Declaration: Somebody Arrest Me

    What’s wrong with how the police have been handling the protests?

    First-hand account of May 23, 2012 mass arrest of peaceful protesters

    Restaurant owner arrested inside of his own restaurant

    Student Protests: Nearly 700 Arrests

    Witness Account of Police Violence

    Letter to my Former Military Buddies

    What’s this about casseroles (pots and pans)?

    A Great Din Against Bill 78

    An Open Letter to the Mainstream English Media

    If you have gotten a ticket in a demonstration:

    Information for how to contest it from lawyer Denis Poitras

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Tuesday, 05 June 2012 18:00 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    I really appreciated the Conflict 101 resources, lots of good stuff there. There's a fair bit of writing about the neoliberal worldview and the central underlying role it plays in all this. This is something I've focused on in a comment on my own piece around the Quebec protests. It's too big to reprint on this thread, but if others are interested they can read that here:

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 06 June 2012 03:58 posted by David MacLeod

    I'm not up to speed on the Montreal student protests, but nevertheless I will offer a partial answer to the question "What's been left out of this brief summary?"

    I don't want to minimize the ways that the pervasive neoliberal system is creating havoc in our society, but I believe something even more fundamental is going on.

    The wealth of humanity is built on the wealth of our ecosystems (our "natural infrastructure"), and the quantity and quality of energy flows.

    When ecosystems become crippled, our material well-being is affected. When energy flows become constrained, the economy takes a downturn (as demonstrated by economist James Hamilton).

    Oil is the lifeblood of our economy, and oil production has been on a plateau since 2005, regardless of price. Being that we live on a finite planet, we have likely reached the End of Growth (see books of that title by Richard Heinberg and Jeff Rubin).

    When growth ends, contraction usually comes next. How do we handle it? Do the elites continue to try to get bigger pieces of a shrinking pie, causing more pain and suffering by the masses than is necessary? Do the masses rebel at every attempt made to reduce entitlements to more realistic levels? It's not always easy to make unbiased evaluations in a contracting world.

    Some interesting threads to pursue:

    1) Goodbye Faculty: What's the Point of a University Anyway?
    "The Arc of Oil Growth

    Education has followed the arc of fossil fuel growth
    On the wave of oil growth we chose to expand the availability of advanced education (with the GI Bill) to nearly everyone (of the right gender)
    Cheap public universities rode that wave of oil-led growth through the 50s-60s
    Now as real growth has slowed and peaked we have gradually abandoned publicly funded education (healthcare, social security, and unemployment insurance)
    The neoliberal economists say, for the majority of you, society can no longer afford to educate your children beyond the 12th grade
    Public funds, shared contributions (taxes) from all adults, will no longer be available for higher education because we need your (shrinking) tax dollars to buy high-tech weaponry to maintain control of resource flows and in general to project power in a world that is growing ever more rebellious
    But this creates another problem
    The US/EU economies need specialized workers with skills to support especially the health and information industries
    We can get them over there!"

    2) Information Storms and the Limits to Information
    "Is our information system in a dome of overshoot similar to a supercell? Has information accumulation peaked, as the figure above showing the history of science journal publishing suggests? ... Does information devolve into another instance where a digital divide dictates who has access to college education and internet access–and what does that do to society? What parts of our information storm are of value, and how do we retain those parts in long-term information storage if the digital information systems fail us? Is digital information detracting from long-term information storage in a durable format? Where is the consolidation of knowledge and simplification of principles for all of this information that we have created? What do we preserve, and how do we preserve it? How do we teach more efficiently? Can we maintain cooperation and global information sharing in a prosperous way down?"

    3) Occupy Yourself
    "Occupy Yourself" says it's important to put yourself into the driver's seat, pay attention, educate yourself, and don't waste all your energy blaming corrupt government, and corporate CEOs for what has happened. They're a large part of the problem and the culprits should have been prosecuted years ago, however, throwing them in jail and making new laws or reviving old ones that have been ignored will not deliver us from our current predicament.

    We're in trouble because we've been attempting to defy the law energy conservation. This physical law is inviolable and cannot be countermanded by congress, the president, or anyone else. It states, in lay terms, that you can't get something for nothing...

    The sad fact is, any system that defies the law of energy conservation must sooner or later collapse. Our system was brought to the edge more quickly by greed and ignorance, but it actually was doomed from the start. It worked well when there was plenty of low-cost energy available in the form of oil, plenty of other natural resources, such as minerals, vitamins (oops, I mean forests), fish in the sea, unpolluted water, air, etc. But we're to the point that the availability of low-cost hydrocarbons is on the wane, and this, beyond anything, means we're in big trouble. It means that our economic system, whose functioning has been predicated on growth, CANNOT continue in its present form. You can't grow without fuel, and the fuel supplies, along with other resources (water being of prime importance) are getting tight. And for numerous reasons, alternative energy sources are unlikely to be able to take up the slack as oil depletes. See This link. (

    ...If you don't want to pay taxes [or tuition], then the roads can't be built or fixed because to do so requires a finite and measurable amount of energy. We trade tax dollars for that energy. Because of the law of conservation of energy, we can't create the energy needed to build or fix the roads out of thin air. It has to be dug out of the ground, and we need to trade dollars that are still worth something for that energy, otherwise we won't get it.

    Hence money, when a monetary system hasn't been abused, is equivalent to energy, in that it can't (or shouldn't be able to) be created or destroyed. Money is actually LENT into existence, and the money that is lent must be paid back to its creator, namely the government. If you aren't willing to pay for what you get, or pay with dollars that have been inflated by a government that has created more dollars than there is true value for them to stand for, then basically you're attempting to defy the energy conservation law. The consequence is systemic collapse, which is right were we are just now."

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 06 June 2012 16:12 posted by Matthew Lewis


    I think what you present here in regards to energy/oil is an updated Malthusian argument. Also, I've looked at the Energy Trap link. The whole argument is predicated on diminishing availability of fossil fuel energy. Sadly, this is hundreds of years off. Hundreds. Please see 'Sustainable Fossil Fuels' by Mark Jaccard for further information.

    In that book, Jaccard details the availability of coal on the planet. There is a massive amount of coal. Huge reserves capable of fueling the global economy for a long time, all on it's own (coal can be converted to synthetic oil and gasoline) as a fuel let alone in an integrated energy system. This book was also published prior to the recent innovations in shale gas/oil extraction.

    This is not to say that we shouldn't be pursuing a transition to cleaner energy sources. And for evidence that this is happening, Germany recently took 50% of it's daily electricity requirements from solar. Granted this was on a weekend, and Germany experienced a very sunny day across the country, but still. The persistence and determination with which Germany has pursued solar power is striking. Solar is also continuing to come down in cost per kilowatt, including innovations in technology and manufacturing processes.

    The doom and gloom arguments regarding resource depletion and collapse are not new, but at this point, based on what I have read, there does not appear to be a collapse in fossil fuel resources in the near to medium term. Fossil fuels should be treated with reverence in that they are a geological inheritance that we will never receive again. But I'm not sure that suggesting dire consequences to our further use of energy is reasonable (based on available information) nor effective in championing the transition to a more sustainable economy.

    Lastly, asserting you cannot grow without fuel is false. Although economic growth is associated with energy and resource extraction, it is not the case that it is solely dependent on these things. Economic growth can come from ideas and new organizational structures.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 06 June 2012 18:55 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    David, thanks for these links, and for offering that important layer of context around ecology and energy, I spent last night diving down the rabbit hole of those links and some offshoots, and appreciated recalibrating my thoughts with this context in mind.

    I followed a link at the bottom of the Tom Abel article to a site called Health After Oil, and was really struck by the author's recent article on the situation in Greece. Here's an interesting passage:

    "From the limits to growth perspective Greece is a harbinger of economic contraction and debt deleveraging that is a logical outcome of net energy decline –or the arrival of unaffordable energy prices- in industrial societies.[xviii] The energy status of Greece, Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Italy, all deep in debt, shows that each nation produces little or no domestic oil. Bluntly put: they have been borrowing to buy increasingly expensive oil; and the cost (oil was $10 a barrel in 1998, now it fluctuates around $100 per barrel –and it can crash with further economic decline) now exceeds the potential for wealth and value generated by using the oil to manufacture goods and deliver services. Greece, as one of the world’s energy poorest nations, is the canary of forced energy[xix] decline[xx]and, it follows, reaching the limits to growth".

    From a more philosophical perspective, I also appreciated this passage:

    "Van Egmond and De Vries describe how the limits to growth is likely to unfold and, by implication, be misunderstood:

    'As any system approach would indicate, the crisis does not show up in a clear and visible way – instead, it will appear as a slow erosion of the capability to manage adequately an ever more complex and interdependent reality. It will take the form of a manifold of ecological, financial-economic and social crises'.[vii]

    This perspective is incomprehensible to institutional leaders. Instead they have reflexively turned with alacrity/desperation to austerity to restore the economic and financial cosmos in which they were socialized, came to power and (for many) continue to profit...

    All indications at present are that national governments –while having access to sobering viewpoints about the limits to growth[xxii]- are engaged in massive “extend and pretend”[xxiii] propagandistic activities, hoping that soothing words and magical thinking placebos will eventually produce a return to economic growth on this finite planet".

    He also offers what I think is an important meta-frame:

    "This definition of the situation [energy decline and the limits to growth] is not obvious because modern societies function within a paradigm (cognitive dimension) and a mythology,[iv] (affective dimension) whose cardinal metaphors are: the naturalness of perpetual economic growth and the ultimate control of humans over nature and all that is non-human. These metaphors no longer generate solutions to problems nor do they adequately supply meaning and identity to humans because the world economy no longer has access to a platform of cheap energy to operate, maintain itself and expand".

    So Matt when I hear you talking about coal and fracking as solutions going forward, I personally hear more of this modernist myth in action (I could be wrong, but that's what I'm hearing). Where's global warming in this discussion of coal? And fracking? I recently heard someone describe fracking and the extraction of the tar sands as akin to the behavior of the addict, frantically trying to get at the last drops of this form of energy to keep the addiction going. I've heard crack addicts talk about being out of crack, and desperately combing through the carpet to find any traces that might be around (and smoking lint and other materials in the end). I think this metaphor of addiction is more than just a metaphor. At any rate, you guys know more about this intersection of economics and energy than I do, so I'll leave that discussion to you and look forward to that.

    David, I just wanted to push back a little bit in regards to neoliberalism and this situation (in general, and cycling back to the student protests as well). If I agree to the underlying premise of energy decline and general systems descent/turbulence- and my readings last night make me feel comfortable holding that premise in place for now- does it not still make sense, in terms of immediate tactics moving forward, to put some emphasis on reducing the power, reach and authority of neoliberalism?

    It seems to me that if we're in descent or freefall, this whole process could be hugely softened by throwing off this "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money", to use the now famous Matt Taibbi line. Again, just in terms of sheer tactics, it seems like we'd have far better chances of making a successful transition to other forms of energy and societal organization if we could rid ourselves of this one particular component of the problem.

    I should also add that neoliberal policy and the era of neoliberalism has had dramatically negative effects on the environment. David Harvey writes:

    "The general balance sheet on the environmental consequences of neoliberalism is almost certainly negative...[It] has a rather dismal record when it comes to the exploitation of natural resources...It is only when states and other interests are prepared to buck the neoliberal rules and the class interests that support them- and this has occurred on a significant number of occasions- that any modicum of balanced use of the environment is achieved". (Brief History of Neoliberalism, p.172)

    So I was just wondering how you view the importance or non-importance of confronting neoliberalism when it comes to the overall ecology of this transition we're going through. cheers, appreciate the discussion.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 06 June 2012 21:54 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @ Trevor

    In regards to coal and fracking, these are not how we are going to overcome global warming and I am not suggesting they are solutions to anything in particular. They merely exist as energy sources. My argument is against alarmist ideas like 'peak oil' or 'the end of energy'. Moving towards renewable energy should be motivated for it's own sake and for reducing dependency on fossil fuels, not out of fear of an impending collapse of traditional energy supplies.

    Something I like to quote. Just as the stone age didn't end for lack of stones, the fossil fuel age will not end for lack of fossil fuels.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 06 June 2012 22:09 posted by David MacLeod

    Hi Matthew,

    Yeah, to call it an updated Malthusian argument is fair enough. I think Malthus had a lot of great points, though his timing was off, for various reasons. And thanks for taking the time to look at the Energy Trap link.

    I haven't read the Jarrard book, but I did just now read a review (

    Granted I didn't make the case for energy descent and the end of growth. To do so would require a lot more space than is reasonable for a comment on a tangentially related topic. So instead I approached it as a given, but very well aware this is only one perspective, and a partial truth at best. But it is a conclusion I have come to after much research, and having initiated and served on an Energy Resource Scarcity task force.

    It would be pointless for us to try to convince each other in this small space, but I can point to a few resources, for those who want to begin their own investigation and come to their own conclusions. I could be wrong, and I don't own a crystal ball.

    On coal, Richard Heinberg's book "Blackout," and this more recent blog post:

    On alternative technologies:
    Heinberg's "Searching for a Miracle: Net Energy Limits and the Fate of Industrial Society."

    On the fact that the current energy crisis is primarily a liquid fuels crisis and the problems associated with turning sources other than oil into liquid fuels, the 2005 Hirsch Report for the U.S. Dept. of Energy (Peaking of World Oil Production: Impacts, Mitigation, and Risk Management).
    Brief overview:

    Full report
    "The peaking of world oil production presents the U.S. and the world with an unprecedented risk management problem. As peaking is approached, liquid fuel prices and price volatility will increase dramatically, and, without timely mitigation, the economic, social, and political costs will be unprecedented. Viable mitigation options exist on both the supply and demand sides, but to have substantial impact, they must be initiated more than a decade in advance of peaking."

    Big picture, systems view on the relationship between energy, ecology, and economy (and how even ideas and organizational structures are, in the end, built upon previous flows of energy - embedded energy or "emergy") - books by systems ecologist Howard T. Odum: Energy Basis of Man and Nature, A Prosperous Way Down, and Energy, Society and Environment for the 21st Century. Or see Odum's classic article written in 1973, Energy, Ecology, and Economics (republished in Mother Earth News, 1974):

    And finally, a masterful sweep, looking at different possible scenarios of our future through an energy lens, "Future Scenarios" by David Holmgren

    Matthew, I really appreciate this comment you made: "Fossil fuels should be treated with reverence in that they are a geological inheritance that we will never receive again."

    I don't think "dire consequences" are a given at this point. Realistically they are a possibility we should recognize, but my focus is on finding "a prosperous way down," or at least a gentler descent than what the Mad Max option represents.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 06 June 2012 22:16 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @ Trevor

    This argument by Tom Abel that Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Italy are all deeply in debt because of no domestic oil production is not a good one. Actually, it's logic is bad as he is cherry picking data. I can suggest countries like Switzerland, Morocco and Czech Republic as counter examples. Each of these countries produces very little oil (less than 0.01% of world production) and each country has debt as % of GDP of less than 55%.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Wednesday, 06 June 2012 23:44 posted by David MacLeod

    Hi Trevor,

    I really appreciate that you put some quality time in to follow the links in my earlier comment.

    What is going on in Greece illustrates well that when energy is scarce it does not get distributed evenly. Different entities (whether they be countries, corporations, or individuals) will have different price points at which they can no longer compete for available energy. Using Tim Winton's PatternDynamics, the "Exchange" pattern can get out of whack. When there is an interruption to the "Flow" of an ingredient upon which you've come to depend, affecting "Trade" and "Balance." (

    As Howard Odum wrote in 1976: "The country with less internal energy must export more of what it produces to get what it needs, so that it develops less assets. It becomes economically disadvantaged, sending the yield of its work to further increase the assets of the country with the larger internal energy base." (Energy Basis for Man and Nature)

    I really appreciate this quote you brought forward: "'As any system approach would indicate, the crisis does not show up in a clear and visible way – instead, it will appear as a slow erosion of the capability to manage adequately an ever more complex and interdependent reality. It will take the form of a manifold of ecological, financial-economic and social crises'."

    This is what I see - it's extremely hard for the general public to connect the dots of what is happening to the economy to the fundamental underlying energetic realities.

    And I absolutely agree with the meta-frame analysis, which is another way of saying what you said in another post: "we need to make this economic subject, object."

    You asked, "If I agree to the underlying premise of energy decline and general systems descent/turbulence- and my readings last night make me feel comfortable holding that premise in place for now- does it not still make sense, in terms of immediate tactics moving forward, to put some emphasis on reducing the power, reach and authority of neoliberalism?"

    Yes, Trevor, I agree that it does still make sense to put some emphasis in that direction, which is partly why I liked your Nevermind Gay Marriage, It's the Economy Stupid" post so much.

    Neoliberalism "worked" very well during the time of abundant energy, because of the Maximum Power Principle. "That system survives which gets most energy and uses energy most effectively in competition with other systems." (Odum, ibid. See also

    Neoliberalism worked in the past for those who had power, as a means for getting more power. It didn't work for the good of everyone, and you've shared arguments as to why. In an energy constrained world, the negative effects of neoliberalism begin to multiply, so absolutely, we need to understand and oppose it.

    However, I doubt that putting a lot of energy into directly "speaking truth to power" is going to yield much results. In my mind it will be more effective to assist bringing it down by disengaging as much as possible in the formal economy, and increase working in the new economy we want to see be more developed. Name neoliberalism as the cancer (or tapeworm) that it is (in as nice a way as possible), and work towards development of local, living economies (see the Gay Marriage comments for ideas).

    The good news is that I think energy constraints will result in neoliberalism being hoisted on its own petard. Odum, again: "When energy is rising, there is more tendency to grow and to expand influence on surrounding units. There may be a tendency toward more war when energy is large and rising - certainly there is a tendency toward more destructive war. When energy decreases, there may be less energy available for warfare and less tendency to try to spread influence."

    Neoliberalism and neo-conservatism have no strategy for dealing with the end of growth, because, as said before, it cannot be made an object for that worldview. They just can't see it.

    There is a fascinating discussion that I found, in all places, in the book "Breakthrough" by Nordhaus and Schellenberger. They discuss Fukuyama and his book "The End of History and the Last Man."

    "Fukuyama rejects outright the idea that we can overcome global warming because to do otherwise would challenge the foundation of his End of History argument. To understand why this is the case, we must first understand that for Fukuyama, supposedly following Hegel, what drives history forward is something called 'the Mechanism.' Simply put, the Mechanism is humankind's domination of nature through science and technology. The end of history would arrive at the moment humans learn how to completely dominate nature.

    "...For Fukuyama, the Mechanism is indivisible from the market, the means by which human societies most efficiently create the wealth and technology that allow us to dominate nature.

    "...Both the Mechanism and the market depend upon reductive views of human nature. The Mechanism depends on the idea that the human drive to domnate nature is an essential aspect of our nature, and the market depends on the idea that the rational pursuit of our self-interest is essential. to constrain or otherwise interfere with teh market in order to deal with global warming would be to interfere with the Mechanism - and that would be ecologically futile and economically destructive. the market and the Mechanism will punish those who attempt to interfere with them, Fukuyama warns."

    Fascinating! He can't see nature as the source of our wealth, but rather as something we are hardwired to overcome!

    Contrast again to Howard Odum:
    "The great conceit of Industrial man imagined that his progress in agricultural yields was due to new know-how... A whole generation … thought that the carrying capacity of the earth was proportional to the amount of land under cultivation and that higher efficiencies in using the energy of the sun had arrived. This is a sad hoax, for industrial man no longer eats potatoes made from solar energy; now he eats potatoes partly made of oil (1971, p. 115)

    When the resources are scarce, obtaining costs are higher… and the market puts a high value on the product. … Market values are inverse to real wealth … and cannot be used to evaluate environmental contributions or environmental impact (1996, p. 60).”'s-energy-economics strategy for opposing neoliberalism might be to follow the example of Hamlet:

    "There's letters seal'd: and my two schoolfellows,
    Whom I will trust as I will adders fang'd,
    They bear the mandate; they must sweep my way
    And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
    For 'tis the sport to have the enginer
    Hoist with his own petar; and 't shall go hard
    But I will delve one yard below their mines
    And blow them at the moon: O, 'tis most sweet,
    When in one line two crafts directly meet."

    Wikipedia: "After modifying the letters, Hamlet escapes the ship and returns to Denmark. Hamlet's actual meaning is "cause the bomb maker to be blown up with his own bomb", metaphorically turning the tables on Claudius, whose messengers are killed instead of Hamlet. Also note here, Shakespeare's probable off-color pun "hoist with his own petar", i.e., flatulate, as the reason for the spelling "petar" rather than "petard"."

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Wednesday, 06 June 2012 23:58 posted by Matthew Lewis

    @ David

    Thanks for all the links/info! As usual on beams, I tend to find that once more discussion is broached that people's positions and knowledge are closer aligned than previously thought. I will poke through what you have posted here and think about things some more.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Thursday, 07 June 2012 01:02 posted by David MacLeod


    The article Trevor referred to was by Dan Bednarz (which he found via a link from Tom Abel's blog post).

    Bednarz does not say that Greece's debt problems were the result of a lack of domestic oil production. Glad you brought it up, because this is an important point. Bednarz could have been a little more clear when he wrote the paragraph that led to your interpretation.

    Debt leveraging works when there is a growing economy. An economy can grow when there is energy available at an affordable price.

    When you have a country like Greece, which is heavily in debt, and you try to enforce austerity measures to raise funds to go to pay off the debt, and then you have to import energy to be able to produce goods, so that you can sell those goods so you can pay off the debt...

    Then, if energy becomes constrained, the price of energy goes up. If you have to pay more for the energy, then you have to charge more for the goods you're selling. But...the austerity measures/debt payments means less $$ available for reinvestment in the domestic economy. If you can't sell your goods for more money that it costs for energy AND debt payments, then you're screwed.

    So it becomes a double whammy and much harder to compete with other countries that don't have the debt burden, and are better able to pay the higher energy prices, and therefore better able to compete in the world economy.

    As a result, for countries like Greece, high oil prices combine with other factors like the existing austerity measures, and as a result the debt burden then grows exponentially. Bednarz writes about the price of oil and it's affect on Greece: "$100 per barrel –and it can crash with further economic decline) now exceeds the potential for wealth and value generated by using the oil to manufacture goods and deliver services."

    As I said in my comment above to Trevor, when energy is scarce it does not get distributed evenly. Different entities (whether they be countries, corporations, or individuals) will have different price points at which they can no longer compete for available energy.

    The price of oil, and how much of it can be produced domestically is just one factor. Other important factors are how much debt the country is carrying when the price of oil spikes, and what other resources a country has that they can bring to market to make effective exchanges.

    I think you'll find, if you examine Tim Winton's meta-pattern of Exchange, and the subordinate patterns of Cycle, Balance, Capture, Trade, Uniqueness, Process, and Flow, these would be the elements to keep in balance for the enduring health of the system.

    I'm sure it could be said in a clearer way than I have above as well. The primary points Bednarz is making, I think:

    1) "the rapid decline of Greece’s health system –and socioeconomic conditions throughout the nation- is proximately due to a fiscal/economic crisis that political and financial leaders have chosen to address by imposing draconian austerity measures upon most of the Greek people so as to: a.) protect the wealth, status and power of dominant elites, and b.) shield and resuscitate a moribund financial system. The distal cause of the deterioration of Greece’s health system, however, lies in reaching the earth’s physical limits to perpetual economic growth"

    2) "attempting to restart growth –the taken-for-granted panacea- is not working and the case of Greece demonstrates that “austerity” has pernicious costs."

    3) "as energy decline (colloquially “peak oil”) and other natural resource pressures and ecological crises emerge, industrial economies will hit the limits to growth. Then the debt-based economy and financial system will no longer function properly and socioeconomic activity will begin to contract and show signs of collapse."

    4) The health crisis in Greece is really bad.

    5) "’d like to arrest these “proponents of austerity” on charges of moral turpitude and gross malfeasance. “Social pain” is justified by the culturally contingent belief that debt repayment is sacrosanct; it is not[xvi]. This pain is purportedly didactic and will insure that other nations soon to be in Greece’s shoes toe the line.[xvii] Omitted is the fact that Germany and France, among others, encouraged Greece’s debt binge to keep their mercantilist-like economies going. Furthermore, these next in line nations are no more capable of paying off their debts than is Greece."

    6) "From the limits to growth perspective Greece is a harbinger of economic contraction and debt deleveraging that is a logical outcome of net energy decline –or the arrival of unaffordable energy prices- in industrial societies."

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Thursday, 07 June 2012 03:17 posted by Matthew Lewis

    There's a lot to parse here. I do appreciate your efforts to explain the arguments and the interpretation of what is happening in Greece. But I'm not sure if I can continue to discuss parts of it as I do not buy the limits to growth thesis. It is not obvious to me what the limits to growth might look like and how it is related to the price of oil/energy. A lot of broad connections are being drawn between money, energy, debt and economic growth, and I'm not sure these connections are accurate descriptions of the world.

    Regarding austerity and points 2 and 5, getting the Greek economy to grow again will be difficult as they have no currency of their own. With a floating exchange rate and it's own currency, a country has a natural shock absorber in place. Taking on the Euro and getting rid of the Drachma has destabilized Greece in exactly the way macro economic theory would suggest.

    Without it's own currency, Greece is going through a period of painful 'internal devaluation'. Instead of having a devalued currency, wages and prices in Greece have to come down. Hence the 'internal devaluation'. Falling wages and prices is not a pleasant situation and takes a rather long time to boot. In contrast, if the Greeks had their own currency, prices could adjust over night. Imports would become much more expensive, but tourists would start showing up as Greece becomes a cheap holiday.

    Navigating this period of internal devaluation is up to the Greeks and the rest of the Euro, as I completely agree with point 5. As an exporter, Germany has benefited by the devalued Euro, and so it should take on more of the burden of helping Greece stabilize it's economy. If there is a burgeoning health crisis, then it is important that Germany and France own up to the responsibility that they have within the Euro to aid Greece in this transition period.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Saturday, 09 June 2012 00:25 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Here's a link which goes over past dire predictions around the limits to growth/peak oil/etc.

  • Comment Link Andrew Baxter Saturday, 09 June 2012 14:39 posted by Andrew Baxter

    So, what's actually happening on the streets of Montreal these days?

    I'm not sure that is has much to do with fracking and peak oil. While I do appreciate the entanglement of energy flows, economy, democracy, and whatever else one might care to throw into the mix, a discussion such as the one above I feel fails to address anything beyond the abstract, the REALLY big picture. And while I do again appreciate that these sorts of discussions are important, they are just far too easy to enter into and almost impossible to get out of.

    This is what turns me off about academia and academics to be honest, about the vast majority of theological and religious talk that centres on big G God, and most theoretical work that talks in generalities and certainties. This is what makes me somewhat weary of the Integral world as well. Most of it fails to connect the big picture vision with the practicalities of real life, with the details on the ground, and speaks in a vocabulary that doesn't mean what it says!

    We can debate all day if peak oil is real - it is - and discuss neoliberal power flows or what-have-you, but this only distracts us from what's actually happening on the ground. I'm as guilty as anyone else in this regard, so I'm not casting stones. It's just that there seems to be no real attempt to understand and contextualise what’s actually happening on the streets on Montreal. It’s important, in my mind at least, to see this unrest not as some symptom of an ‘entitled’ and vain-glorious group of students or as simply a symptom of a collapsing global order. I liked Trevor’s piece on the banging of pots – nicely done – but again beyond the ‘important aside’ about the neoliberal state and increasing authoritarianism, where is the discussion about what this continuing (and its seems growing) unrest actually means in Quebec, in Canada?

    So, as a challenge to conversers here, I repose TJ's original question and would ask you what you might think about the sources and proximate causes of Canada’s only popular rebellion.

    I certainly have some thoughts on the issue. What ‘er yours?

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Saturday, 09 June 2012 15:51 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Summing it up, the people of Canada no longer see themselves reflected in their government. It follows in the footsteps of the Arab Spring, Wisconsin and OWS.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Saturday, 09 June 2012 15:56 posted by Matthew Lewis

    I received this yesterday as a message on Facebook from a good friend. He's a smart guy, but fairly apolitical and generally content with his lot in life. I might describe him as a small 'c' conservative, but we've never really discussed politics. The frustration and anger in his message is palpable.

    "Good on you for keeping up on letting us all know what's going on with this Bill C-38 fiasco. I can't believe how controlling and non-democratic this Harper regime is. No consultation (with anyone outside of their fundraising base, i.e Enbridge) on any of their policies and decisions in the past year since they got majority. And it’s clear they’ve been planning this from the start, not to mention that cleary they’ve hid behind religion to get into power and now turned around and done very un-Christian things. Unbelievable, I thought we voted for a Canadian government not this “Harper Government”. Where did the Canadian in all of this go? For example, when they first came to power they gave tons of money to snow mobile groups and the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters… now these groups are standing behind the DFO habitat cuts, etc. that are included in the C-38 bill even though this will end up hurting the fish and wildlife they are collecting membership money to protect. Money, money, money- screw the public services and environmental issues that matter to Canadians seems to be the way this government sings themselves to sleep at night. Anyway, I sound bitter. But keep up the good work"

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Sunday, 10 June 2012 17:34 posted by Matthew Lewis


    I keep returning to this thread, and am slowly building up some awareness around some of the arguments.

    One thing I would like to tackle in particular is the assumption made by Odum that growth is dependent on energy/fuel. You mentioned that Odum contends that growth from ideas is dependent on embedded energy and previous energy flows. Well, this is a neat way of dismissing my argument that ideas can create growth. Contesting that ideas and organization structures depend on embedded energy/energy flow avoids a substantial examination of trying to characterize economic growth that stems from ideas and gains in productivity.

    Suppose I write a computer program that can organize Canadian air traffic in such a way that is simple and eliminates all delays from today onwards. This would save time for all air passengers from this moment forward, reduce resources used by airlines and airports, and be valuable to society in general. Granted, this computer program relies on me having a computer and the embedded energy flows within that computer, but what of it? My computer exists and there's nothing I can do about the energy flows needed to fabricate it and design the technology within. Moving forward though, my computer program will increase productivity and create economic growth without further use of fossil fuels.

    If I take as a given that nothing can be done to mitigate previous energy flows, then I argue that ideas can contribute to economic growth. This is my problem with the underlying assumption surrounding many of the limits to growth theses I have been looking at.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 10 June 2012 20:31 posted by David MacLeod


    I didn't mean my comment to dismiss or avoid examining the role of ideas in economic growth. Just to temper it by adding the concept of the energy costs of ideas and information, which most people tend to overlook.

    Beams contributor Daniel O'Connor has written an important series of articles on his own website on the topic of sustainable growth. He attempts to balance the physical dimension of the economy with the mental dimension, and he has worthwhile comments about this non-physical, mental dimension.

    O'Connor writes: "The mental economy is inextricably linked to, and entirely dependent upon, the physical economy, which is, in turn, governed by the natural logic and limits of the Earth's physical systems. However, the mental economy is not a sub-system of the Earth's physical biosphere and it is not governed directly by the rules of the natural world. The mental economy, for better and for worse, is where we make all our economic decisions and direct the economic growth in two-dimensions—mental depth and physical scale. But this mental economy is a sub-system/culture within a more encompassing mental super-system/culture that we might define as the non-physical, depth dimension of human civilization."

    This is an interesting perspective, and I have not yet fully digested and integrated it.

    However, the perspective that I'm currently trying to bring more awareness to is the extent to which our mental structures are dependent upon continuous inputs of high quality energy, including embodied energy.

    You as a computer programmer writing a program to better organize Canadian air traffic is a great example. You mention the embodied energy in the computer, that required a previous energy flow to both design it and fabricate it, which is good to note. You also mention that it has already been made, which you can't undo, so why not use it for the best available use (opportunity costs, etc). True enough, this sounds like a great use of available resources.

    The point is, we're beginning to acknowledge that physical energy resources are being used in this "weightless" information economy. Now think about the fact that you need to be fed and clothed and housed and transported. You as a physical system need a flow of physical energy for you to be able to contribute work, even mental work.

    Now think about the mental work you are doing. How are you able to do that? How many years of schooling were required? How many books needed to be available to you? How many other people needed to be previously trained well in order to train you? How much embodied energy went into the entire network of systems that was able to feed, clothe, house, and educate you for how many years before you became productive enough where you are now able to feedback quality energy into the system to in turn make it a little bit more efficient by way of better handling of Canadian air traffic?

    This is why Odum emphasizes embodied energy ("Emergy" in his system), energy quality, and energy transformity. In an energy hierarchy, large quantities of low quality energy can get continuously upgraded/transformed into lesser quantities of higher quality energy. For example, from sunlight to wood to peat to coal to electricity to information. He sees information at the top of the energy food chain.

    In 1976 Odum wrote, "The heat budget of the food-consumption processes within a person is about 2500 Calories a day. The energy base for all the special necessities is much larger, since it requires many materials and processes that are highly concentrated and upgraded. In primitive societies, the average energy flow per person per day in fossil-fuel equivalents was about 50,000 Calories. In the modern high-energy culture of the United States, the energy flow per person per day is about 250,000 Calories. The high-quality education and complex activities of the modern world are made possible by these large energies."

    Is any of this making any sense?

    I wanted to respond to your previous link to the post by Graham Strouts (a really interesting guy I've followed off and on for several years). There was just too much I wanted to say, too little space, and too little time. It did lead me to some interesting thoughts and further reading, so something may eventually come from it - thanks for the link. I'll just say that a) the peak oil communities and end of growth communities do not speak with one voice; b) in general I think the peak oilers have been closer to the mark in terms of projections than more optimistic prognosticators (compare predictions made by Daniel Yergin of CERA); and c) generally trying to make specific predictions is a fool's game. Trends, trajectories, scenario planning, however, can be useful for planning. Perhaps I will someday write an End of Growth essay, but I think its hard to beat Albert Bartlett's "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" presentation.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Sunday, 10 June 2012 21:20 posted by Matthew Lewis


    Thanks for that link by O'Connor. I think he does a great job of articulating the physical and mental aspects of the economy. My major concern with the limits to growth theses was that, to my reading, they seemed to ignore the mental aspects of the economy, which Daniel does not. Later on in the post, Daniel looks at the monetary aspect of the economy. I have struggled with the monetary side of things, so I won't delve further into it here.

    All of what you are saying here regarding embedded energy makes perfect sense to me. Lastly, I will have a look at the final link later on to see what it is all about.

    Thanks again, I appreciate you taking the time to further explore this topic.

  • Comment Link Bill Tubbs Monday, 11 June 2012 01:16 posted by Bill Tubbs

    Hi folks. Matt invited me to join this discussion.

    I don't know much about the Montreal student protests but maybe I can comment on the energy scarcity and 'limits to growth' debate that this seems have strayed into.

    I started by taking on David's challenge: "I think its hard to beat Albert Bartlett's "Arithmetic, Population and Energy" presentation.

    He's right, you can't beat it because it is straight math - it's indisputable. But what does the math say about non-renewable energy resources and depletion?

    If you go to the 30.5 minute mark in the lecture (, there's a table showing years of consumption before depletion of US coal reserves for a range of fixed annual growth rates.

    40, 100, 170 or 400 years if annual growth in US coal production/consumption is fixed at 7%, 2%, 1% or 0%.

    So this confirms that the duration of continued coal use depends on future consumption rates and could be anywhere from 40 to hundreds of years as Matt has suggested in one of his posts above.

    For reference US coal production grew 1.4% on average between 2000 to 2005 and -2.0% between 2005 to 2010. It's anybody's guess as to what future growth of coal production will need to be to sustain US demand but let's ignore the last few years when there was a recession and assume growth will return to somewhere between 1 and 2% and continue at that growth rate until depletion. At these rates the US would be self-sufficent in coal for 100 to 170 years. (I'm not sure why Bartlett keeps talking about a fixed growth rate of 7%. I don't think the use of any fossil fuel is growing at anything like that rate in the US, neither is population or even GDP. Maybe in China but for how long?).

    Focusing only on resource scarcity (i.e. ignoring environmental/health issues of fossil fuel consumption), the only question then is whether during whatever time remains for non-renewable resource consumption (e.g. 100 to 170 years for coal) we have enough time to (and the inclination) to avert a crisis if and when they run out.

    But there are dynamics to depletion: As any particular resource becomes more scarce, its price rises; this rise of price creates an incentive for people to discover more of the resource, ration it and, eventually, develop substitutes. I don't see why any or all of these processes couldn't happen for coal over a period of 100 to 170 years and lead to a smooth decent down the production curve.

    Furthermore, there isn't much of a debate about population projections: US population growth is slow and global population is expected to stabilize sometime around the end of this century (in 2100 at about 9 billion) when incomes in developing economies reach a high level and birth rates decline. (So the analogy that Bartlett uses of ever re-producing bacteria in a bottle does not apply to humans).

    So I don't see a real energy scarcity problem, or at least not one that is likely to cause a major global crisis or breakdown in society or anything like that.

    What concerns me is climate change. I think we should stop focusing on the possible negative consequences of peak fossil fuels. The environmental/health problems of even trying to exhaust fossil fuels would likely cause bigger problems long before any scarcity crisis.

    Or am I missing something here?

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Monday, 11 June 2012 05:14 posted by David MacLeod

    Hello Bill,

    Thanks for joining the conversation...although I do feel kind of bad that we've kind of hi-jacked the Montreal Student Protest thread here, - it wasn't my intention to go this deep into this sub-topic.

    The point of Bartlett's presentation, as he stated, "What I hope to do is, I hope to be able to convince you that the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

    I think the first reason Bartlett focuses on 7% is because it provides a convenient example, in that a 7% fixed growth rate means a doubling every 10 years. The second reason is that I think a 7% growth in production/consumption of fossil fuels in the U.S. was fairly standard up until the energy crisis of the '70s, and people of the time generally expected it would continue (I have not verified this).

    Bartlett's goal is to wake us out of a conventional belief that growth can go on forever: "Well, maybe you're wondering, does it make any sense to imagine that we can have steady growth in the rate of consumption of a resource till the last bit of it was used, then the rate of consumption would plunge abruptly to zero? I say no, that doesn't make sense. Okay, you say, why bother us with the calculation of this expiration time? My answer is this: every segment of our society, our business leaders, government leaders, political leaders. at the local level, state level, national level - every one aspires to maintain a society in which all measures of material consumption continue to grow steadily, year after year, world without end."

    Or, as I like to quote Nixon's adviser Herb Stein: "Things that can't go on forever don't."

    Coal isn't a near term supply concern for the U.S. Conventional light sweet crude oil is. Its been a while since I've read the Bartlett transcript all the way through, but I think his discussion about oil, with focus on discovery is pretty close to the mark (world oil discoveries peaked in the '60s).

    Regarding the economics of price, and substitution - yes, to a point. But the substitutions in recent years have still been on the backs of fossil fuels. This is a whole 'nuther can of worms or rabbit trail. And we don't have a comfortable cushion in which to transition from oil to other liquid fuels.

    I'm concerned about climate change too, for sure. But I think peak oil and climate change are best addressed together as one issue. Peak oil is the 'into the gas tank' issue, and climate change is the 'out of the tailpipe' issue. I agree with James Howard of Powerswitch who said "failure to incorporate a full understanding of Peak Oil into the solutions for Climate Change would be an abject failure."

    Bryn Davidson (via Rop Hopkins 'Transition Handbook') has pointed out that when Peak Oil is viewed in isolation, you get solutions like coal to liquids, gas to liquids, relaxed drilling regulations, massively scaled biofuels, tar sands and non-conventional oils, resource nationalism and stockpiling. When Climate Change is viewed in isolation, you get climate engineering, carbon capture and storage, tree-based carbon offsets, international emissions trading, climate adaptation, improved transportation logistics, and nuclear power.

    When both problems are dealt with together, the focus tends to be on building resilience PLUS cutting carbon emissions. The responses include planned relocalization (building local resilience), tradable energy quotas, decentralized energy infrastructure, the Great Re-skilling, localized food production, energy descent planning, local currencies, and local medicinal capacity.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Tuesday, 12 June 2012 04:22 posted by David MacLeod

    FYI, a nice collection of articles posted at the Energy Bulletin today, covering some of the themes discussed here. Reviews of 3 End of Growth Books; a "where are we know" update by one of the End of Growth authors (Richard Heinberg) and a video interview of the other (Jeff Rubin, former chief economist of CIBC World Markets). Also, another article about information/ideas, by Herman Daly; a video interview with Bill Rees of Ecological Footprint fame, on "Why We're In Denial"; a number of entries on debt/Greece/et al; interview with Charles Hall on Biophysical Economics; something on the farm bill coming up in the U.S. Senate; Stuart Staniford with a good piece on oil prices from 2005 to the present; and many more.

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Friday, 15 June 2012 20:17 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Here's a pro growth, pro technology, pro environment perspective on the US economy, which outlines how the US might go to zero consumption of oil by 2050, brought to you by the Rocky Mountain Institute.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 17 June 2012 19:30 posted by David MacLeod

    I think Amory Lovins and the Rocky Mountain Institute have some really great ideas that we should have begun scaling up 20 years ago.

    The "pro growth, pro technology, pro environment perspective" (sometimes referred to as 'Plan B') of Lovins, Jeremy Rifkin, Lester Brown, and others offers important contributions regarding approaches that are much more environmentally friendly than the current Business As Usual (Plan 'A'). One of the books I'm currently reading is Rifkin's "The Third Industrial Revolution: How Lateral Power is Transforming Energy, The Economy, and the World." Rifkin powerfully lays out the challenges we face in this video:
    I think some of the ideas Rifkin lays out in the book are really great, especially this idea of moving from hierarchical power to lateral power - "hundreds of millions of people producing their own green energy in their homes, offices, and factories and sharing it with each other in an 'energy Internet,' just like how we now create and share information online." (There are some parallels to points TJ makes in his presentation on "An Experiment in Collective Intelligence"

    However, I also think there are serious shortcomings in general with the 'Plan B' approach, and so I tend to place myself within the 'Plan C' camp ("Community and Curtailment":

    Again, I want to emphasize that these folks have some important ideas that need to be considered (in my view to cushion the downward curve of energy descent); but there are also some caveats that need to be addressed. Some of the general concerns that have been expressed about the 'Plan B' approach:

    1) Not enough time. The Hirsch Report for the U.S. Dept. of Energy stated that we need 10 to 20 years of concerted effort (on the scale of the Manhattan Project or Apollo Project) to transition our energy infrastructure if we want anything like a smooth transition.

    2) Pay strict attention to EROI (Energy Return on Investment). Many alternative energy approaches do not yield net energy, or have very low net energy yields. It takes an energy investment to develop more energy, and it's very easy to do the math wrong here or not do the math at all.

    3) Not much of a role for the average citizen to play. These plans are usually centered on ideas for governments and corporations. That's not a bad thing, because govt. and corp. can accomplish things on a scale that individuals and communities can't. The concern, however, is that the tendency then is for us to do nothing other than wait for "them" to figure it out and correct it - our duty is done when we vote. But "they" are not doing anything of consequence with all the great ideas of Lovins, et al. It'll be too little, too late.

    4) Jevons Paradox/Rebound effect. As efficiencies improve, consumption actually tends to increase. "Improved efficiency lowers the relative cost of using a resource, which tends to increase the quantity of the resource demanded, potentially counteracting any savings from increased efficiency. Additionally, increased efficiency accelerates economic growth, further increasing the demand for resources."

    5) Limits to Growth. Yes, we're back to this. The 'Plan B' folks generally do not recognize limits. No lifestyle changes required; Lovins says we can support an economy that is 158% bigger than the one we have now!

    Even if there does turn out to be enough energy to grow the economy by another 158%, how does the rest of the biosphere support that? And what happens when we reach that limit?

    According to William Catton, we're already in "Overshoot" and are now facing a "Bottleneck."

    I'll quote Howard Odum again:
    "In looking to the future, we have considered the steady state and the state of slowly declining energy. We see little evidence that any existing or proposed energy sources will yield sufficient net energy to cause major growth after fossil fuels are gone. We could be wrong about this. There is the possibility that large new energy sources will develop from nuclear fusion or from other theoretical concepts not now considered. In that case, we will have explosive further growth, environmental pollution on much larger scale, and a much greater likelihood of creating conditions unfavorable for human beings on earth...

    "If some new energy source were developed, the maximum-power principle would operate, and the high-powered system would displace lower-powered ones. If a major growth period should develop, it may not be favorable to humanity. One wonders how the specialists who are so infatuated with the idea of new sources of power can push so hard to use our remaining capital, storages, and net energy for this possibility.

    "We could make a mess of our transition if we fail to understand its nature. The terrible possibility before us is that there will be a continued insistence on growth, with our last energies, by economic advisors who do not understand. There would then be no reserves with which to make a change, maintain order, and cushion the impact on human life of a period when population must drop. At some point, great gaunt towers of nuclear power plants, oil wells, and urban cluster would stand empty in the wind for lack of enough technology to keep them running. A new cycle of dinosaurs would have gone its way."

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Sunday, 17 June 2012 19:56 posted by David MacLeod

    So, what does "Plan C" look like?

    Pat Murphy, of Community Solutions wrote an outline called "Community and Curtailment" which eventually turned into a book, Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change.

    Murphy writes,
    "Plan C differs from Plans A and B by assuming that the relatively recent availability (a blip in geological time) of fossil fuel energy has caused a temporary detour in the evolution of humankind. Fossil fuels have led to a two-century long addictive fascination with oil-based technology and machines, which in the future can no longer be sustained.

    Under Plan C, the first priority for society as a whole is to drastically reduce our consumption of fossil fuel energy and products derived from it. We must “curtail.” That means buying less, using less, wanting less and wasting less. Curtail means to “cut back” or possibly to “downsize.” It is more reflective of the seriousness of our current situation than the probably more politically acceptable word “conserve.” Conservation often implies a relatively small reduction in consumption, possibly recycling or buying compact fluorescents or maybe buying a hybrid car. If conserve is to be used as a synonym for curtail, it would be appropriate to preface it with some modifier such as “radical” conservation or “extreme” conservation or “rapid” conservation."

    The Transition movement would fall under the 'Plan C' category. Rob Hopkins' evaluation of Robert Socolow's "Wedge" approach to climate change, along with alternative approaches (adding the localization wedge) is another good summary of a Transition/Plan C approach.

    What Is a Transition Initiative?

    Another example is the energy descent/earth steward approach of Permaculture founder David Holmgren:

    Others advocating for Plan C/Transition/Energy Descent/Powerdown/post-carbon/green wizardry:

    Post Carbon Institute and Richard Heinberg and

    Blogger John Michael Greer

    Then there's my own fledgling blog:

  • Comment Link Matthew Lewis Tuesday, 19 June 2012 16:51 posted by Matthew Lewis

    Peak Oil? Warning, small sample bias ahead.

    Also, an estimate on shale gas EROI

    Both of these suggest to me that theses based based on declining availability of oil and/or high value energy are premature.

  • Comment Link David MacLeod Saturday, 23 June 2012 19:20 posted by David MacLeod

    Of course you could be right that some of us might be premature about the declining availability of oil and/or high value energy. But that to me is much better than being caught off guard and unprepared (think Pascal's wager), and the things I recommend doing are things I think we should be doing anyway.

    In regards to peak oil and the graph you shared showing Texas oil production - the linked graph shows Texas oil production beginning in 1981 at around 2.5 mbd, and ending in 2011 at approx. 1.7 mpd. A nice little up curve recently, but I feel confident in saying Texas will never again come near 1981 production levels, which were already 1 million barrels per day less than what they were getting a decade earlier in 1971. See this chart showing production from 1965 to 2005 – definitely a peak and then a decline, despite some ups and downs in between.

    The reason for the recent increase in U.S. oil production? Steadily increasing oil prices in past years that caused oil companies to approve a number of new projects that didn't make economic sense for them when prices were low. It has taken several years for these projects to make a dent in production numbers. These resources are harder to get, more expensive, and more damaging to the environment (and more damaging to the economy).

    What we really care about is oil production on a global scale. Statistically, oil supply has been flat since 2005, although production world wide has also shown a small uptick in the last two years. We are in a period that has been called "a bumpy plateau."

    See this graph, showing production of crude oil and condensate from 2005-2012 (excluding unconventional liquid fuels):

    The declines expected by some peak oil writers have not yet occurred, but their predictions have been much closer to the mark than the pie in the sky projections of the EIA (which simply projects demand, with the assumption that supply will show up). And one worry is that rather than a smooth decline, we're pushing ourselves out over a cliff (the "Seneca cliff" where "ruin is much faster than progress").

    Now, I am not know if we will have a cliff type collapse, or if we'll have a gentler decline. The only prediction I have been willing to make is that EIA targets for production growth, which have been so poor as to be offensive. In June 2007 I wrote a letter to my local paper, complaining about a front page story on future oil supply. The EIA simply assumed supply would meet demand, and they were stating our "needs" in 2010 would be 93 million barrels per day (mbd) and 118 mbd by 2030. I questioned, "How in the world will we get to 93 million barrels per day, let alone 118? We must remind ourselves that fossil fuels are a finite resource..."

    The reason I was offended was because in 2007 production had already been flat for two years (82.11 mbd that year). The reality for 2010, according to the EIA's own numbers is that world production for all liquid fuels (including unconventional sources) was still only 84.47 mbd.

    In addition to the U.S. EIA(Energy Information Administration), there is also the Paris based IEA (International Energy Agency) that serves as the energy policy advisor to the industrial world. In 2009 I wrote a piece called "The IEA and World Oil Supply Projections," looking at how the IEA was slowly changing its tune over the course of several years. Although a knowlegeable commenter rightly corrected me that the IEA is actually projecting Demand not Supply, I think this is still a relevant piece:

    The piece above covers the IEA reports from 2005-2009. In the 2010 report, the IEA gives us a shocker, telling us the peak of conventional oil occurred in 2006! Stuart Staniford commented, "Suddenly, the subject of impending peak has gone from not worthy of discussion to in the past already! However, all is not lost: in their projections natural gas liquids and unconventional oil production (tar sands, coal-to-liquids, etc) will cause the total liquid production to continue to gradually increase out to 2035."

    Now, back to the present: it could happen that the recent uptick in oil production becomes a significant trend rather than a statistical blip. If this occurs, the peak of liquid fuels will be delayed and we've kicked the can down the road once again. If it were to happen, it would probably be because enough production in Iraq was brought on line to counteract declines in other regions, and Natural Gas Liquids continued to increase. I am personally doubtful this will occur. The real wild card in all of this is the relationship between oil and the economy, but that's the subject for another post.

    In regards to shale gas:

    Of course, there is the highly controversial aspect of hydro-fracking and other reasons why natural gas exploration and production is extremely problematic. Again, subject for another post, but the question of how much we even allow this process to continue is relevant.

    The high EROI estimate made in the link you provided seems to me unlikely. Even the author of the piece is not sure he believes it: "The EROI seems high to me too. Some of the recent info, e.g. Art Berman's estimates that a typical shale gas well's total production may be only half the earlier predictions, would lower it. ...I'm hoping others will weigh in with more and better data." Check out the comments in that article, especially near the bottom for comments by Dave Hughes. Hughes is a geoscientist who has studied the energy resources of Canada for nearly four decades, including 32 years with the Geological Survey of Canada as a scientist and research manager.

    Art Berman was mentioned above by the author. He is a geological consultant specializing in natural gas, and is a contrarian voice to the mainstream view that we are entering a "golden age of natural gas" due to the shale plays. This just released video presentation (link below)is a bit on the dry side, but full of what I think is compelling data suggesting that shale gas wells tend to deplete very quickly, and are currently uneconomic. “Shale plays are not a renaissance or a revolution, this is a retirement party." "To keep supply flat, producers need to accumulate 40 billion dollars of debt every year." Shale gas is at the bottom of what he calls "the resource pyramid," something we exploit after the easy oil and easy gas is no longer in plentiful supply. When the low hanging fruit of easy oil and natural gas is gone, we then (like any addict) try to go after the harder to get, more expensive stuff like deepwater drilling, tar sands, and shale gas, shale oil, and oil shale. All of this is another sign that we are in the "peak oil zone" as one anonymous IEA official called it (

    After the goldrush - learning from US shale gas experience (Video)
    by Arthur Berman

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