Revkin Interviews Vaclav Smil

Andy Revkin invited me to his on-stage interview [instant replay here] of Vaclav Smil, a “historian of technical advances” and “intellectual agent provocateur”, at a public session of the “Quantum into Chaos Festival” (url) at the Perimeter Institute of Advanced Physics in Waterloo, Ontario near Toronto. Thus off to Waterloo late this morning and back to Toronto this afternoon. Andy said that Smil would be provocative and thought that I would enjoy his presentation. Smil has an interesting online speech from 2006 here in which he severely criticizes many popular “solutions” to present energy dilemmas as mere arm-waving.

There were about 120 or so people in the audience. Andy and Smil were onstage, Andy asked questions and Smil talked. As a blogger with an audience of my own, I thought that I would try to scoop Andy on his talk and thus here is my report on the afternoon.

Question 1 – Andy observed that many present Cassandras (not his term) took the position that the present generation was in a unique crisis, but that many previous generations had also viewed their period as being in a unique crisis. He asked Smil whether we were being excessively “chrono-centric”. Smil observed that he refrained from forecasting because such efforts tended to be wildly off-base. He noted that successive UN population predictions had lowered and that it was not a given that world population would ever reach 9 billion. Smil’s answer, I think, was that the present generation did face unique challenges, but so did other generations.

Question 2- Andy contrasted two states of mind towards present challenges: those who thought that we had already driven over the cliff (and were in suspended animation awaiting collapse, a la Wile E. Coyote, a cartoon character) or those who felt that technological improvements could solve things. Smil asked the audience who had heard of Marcellus shales (in the past 10-20 years, dramatically improved fracking technology has enabled the development of low-porosity natural gas shales, one of the things that has led to low current natural gas prices.) No one had (not counting me, I had). Smil thought that both were right and both were wrong: there were real and thorny energy problems and that technical innovation on the scale necessary to revamp the world’s energy economy would not be quick enough or substantial enough to sustain present lifestyles; while he also thought that there were many plausible changes in lifestyle and adaption that would avoid the catastrophe scenario.

Question 3- what if energy were as cheap as paint e.g. overnight there was some sort of magic photovoltaic that gave cheap electricity? This led into a discussion of China. Smil contrasted the ambitions of China with Japan, a theme that he returned to on several occasions. Japan was his idea of how to live in an energy-constrained world: people careful with their consumption of food and fuel. He said that China had entirely different ambitions: they planned to emulate U.S. lifestyles, viewing the last 2 centuries as a temporary down-cycle, that they intended to live big.

Question 4, 5 – What about climate” Is it a pinch point? Smil didn’t think so. He observed that neither Hansen nor anybody else in 1998 had predicted 10 years of no temperature increase. He thought that other potential world crises needed to remain on the agenda, including pandemics on the scale of the 1918 influenza pandemic and nuclear war (accidental or otherwise), noting the potentially dangerous situation in Pakistan. He noted here that the present US debt dependence on China and the Middle East was unsustainable and questioned how the new health care programs would be funded, given the present inability to fund existing federal programs. Even more borrowing from China?

Question 6 – what policies would he recommend for leaders? He observed that “people don’t like statistics”, but many issues need to be framed quantitatively in order to understand them. He used Japan and France as examples of societies that used half the energy of the US (and Canada) and still had successful and flourishing economies. He observed the rapidity of change: in the 1950s, the majority of French households lacked indoor toilets; and closer to home, that the amount and wastefulness of energy consumption had arisen in a couple of decades – in the 1970s, most Canadian households in his neighborhood (Winnipeg) had one car, while now they had 2.5 or so cars; that the average US new house had increased from 1250 sq ft to 2600 sq ft and the typical custom built house ws 5000 sq ft.

Question 7- Do we need to outgrow the idea of GNP growth? Should we be measuring how well people are doing? They discussed past surveys of happiness – people in the late 1940s and 1950s seemed to be just as happy or happier than their more profligate descendants in the 1990s and 2000s. This led into a discussion of what single policy could change things most – asked of the audience. One person answered – stop eating meat. Smil’s view was that people should eat a lot less meat (like the Japanese) observing the energy intensiveness of beef, in particular (not just direct energy, but also fertilizer).

Question 8 – what about “clean coal” i.e. putting CO2 back underground? Smil thought that this was infeasible on a scale large enough to make a difference. He did some quick calculations from which he observed that putting enough CO2 underground to make a difference would be volumetrically equivalent to present day oil production, which has an enormous infrastructure that has taken generations to develop. He didn’t view this as practical, while, at the same time, observing that governments were going to do it anyway.

Question 9 – what about photovoltaics and wind? He didn’t see them as providing the answer. (He elaborated about this at more length in the 2006 pdf.

Question 10 – So how do we manage with a world population of 9 billion? Smil – live more like the Japanese. As a start, drive Honda Civics instead of SUVs; he didn’t like Yukons or Hummers.

Question 11 – what would the world be like in 2100? He wouldn’t predict. He noted that nobody in 1985 would have predicted that the fall of Russia; the rise of economic China or that the U.S., then a creditor nation, would by 2008 be the largest debtor nation in the history of the world; or that an Afghanistan-based terrorist attack on the US would cause trillions of dollars of expenditure and after-effect turmoil.

Question 12 – something about Paul Ehrlich. I can’t read my notes and don’t exactly remember the answer. It did lead into a discussion of genetically modified plants – in particular, the possibility of self-fertilizing plants that fixed nitrogen and used less water. He observed that eating is our first requirement and that if wheat fixed nitrogen like soy beans, that would have a big impact on agricultural possibilities.

Question 13 – something about ozone. Smil observed that the ozone treaty dealt with a very simple problem and should not be regarded as a precedent for CO2. He said that only two companies made the CFCs in quantity and each of them could make as much money making the substitute, whereas the CO2 situation was obviously different.

Question 14 – what should young people do? Read more. Read more literature. Smil said that he had just re-read the entire works of Zola (cold prairie winters must have something to do with that.) He said that reading transmitted civilization and bemoaned the scientific illiteracy and innumeracy of the present generation. Smil lived in Manitoba, loved the fresh air – saying that the nearest smokestack was in Norilsk. I suspect that I was one of only a few in the audience who knew that Norilsk was a large nickel-copper smelter in Siberia (69N, 88E) and I daresay the only person in the audience who knew that it was almost exactly halfway between the Briffa tree ring sites of Yamal (70E) and Taimyr (102E). Smil said that he hated the traffic between Toronto Airport and Waterloo.

I chatted briefly with both Revkin and Smil after the lecture, then drove back through the traffic that Smil hated, stopping at my nearby Starbucks, happily watching the busy traffic on Danforth Avenue while I sipped.


  1. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 4:07 PM | Permalink

    You may talk about policy on this thread, as long as you avoid naming any individual politicians or political parties. Such comments will be deleted, as snipping takes me a lot more time.

  2. Brian B
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 4:16 PM | Permalink

    Steve I hate to ask you to spend your valuable time on editing but the last third of that post gets kind of hard to digest.

    my notes got worse in the last third of the exchange. Also I lost energy as I wrote up the notes. I’ll take a look when I’m fresher tomorrow.

    • Armand MacMurray
      Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 6:14 PM | Permalink

      Re: Brian B (#2),
      I think that simply deleting everything after

      … Danforth Avenue while I sipped.

      would do the editing trick.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 7:34 PM | Permalink

      Re: Brian B (#2),

      Re: Armand MacMurray (#13),

      Oh I see what happened. There was some scrap trailer text that I didn’t see on my edit screen.

  3. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 4:26 PM | Permalink

    Thanks for all, Steve; leveraging off of Brian B’s comment shows that we out here in ‘flyover’ country *do* on occasion try reading for comprehension.

  4. Brian B
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 4:46 PM | Permalink

    Thanks Steve.

  5. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 4:50 PM | Permalink


    Thanks for the report, the 2006.pdf confirmed my suspicion that solar energy will be the ultimate solution to the peak oil problem, as there is more than enough solar irradiance and sand to create the solar energy to allow mankind’s ongoing progress.

    The question is not one of the existance or direction of this technology vector, but rather its magnitude.
    snip – please avoid this sort of editorializing.

    Thus, solar will be a key part of our energy solution- in 100-200 years.

    Steve: Smil would be the first person to tell you that he is making no predictions about how or whether these problems will be solved other than the answers are likely to be unpredictable on the one hand and that there is a lot of inertia in the system on the other. You’re projecting your own views onto his text – which, as he himself says, is not a prediction.

    • Greg F
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:47 AM | Permalink

      Re: Dirk (#5),

      … the 2006.pdf confirmed my suspicion that solar energy will be the ultimate solution to the peak oil problem, as there is more than enough solar irradiance and sand to create the solar energy to allow mankind’s ongoing progress.

      Sand is not the limiting factor. It takes more then silicon to make solar cells. From page 7 of the PDF:

      In or Se is hardly a solution: copper prices are reaching historic highs and the world does not have enough indium to run a civilization on thousands of square kilometers of panels made from that rare metal.

      Silver is also a limiting factor as the electrical contacts to the semiconductor require it. From page 15 of the PDF.

      Rational allocation of research monies should take the magnitudes of these flows, as well as the typical power densities of these resources, into account: direct conversions of solar radiation, into both low- and high-temperature heat and into electricity would then become unrivaled beneficiaries of aggressive R&D whose commercial success could supply a lasting, planet-wide foundation to non-fossil economies.

      Although he includes direct conversion into electricity as part of the mix I would expect it to be only a minor player. Semiconductor technology is a mature technology and following the good doctors logic we shouldn’t expect any major improvements anytime soon.

  6. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:05 PM | Permalink

    Question 13 – something about ozone. Smil observed that the ozone treaty dealt with a very simple problem and should not be regarded as a precedent for CO2. He said that only two companies made the CFCs in quantity and each of them could make as much money making the substitute, whereas the CO2 situation was obviously different.

    I seem to recall that DOW Chemical just happened to develop a convenient alternative almost immediately. He is right that there is nothing really comparable in terms of CO2 emissions. Which is not to say that there aren’t alternatives to fossil fuels. They just have many obstacles, whether it’s infrastructure, etc.

    I appreciate that he articulated that, too.

    I’m also a little confused why anyone would think not eating meat would make people happier. I would go nuts! 🙂

    Very interesting. Thanks Steve.

    • John M
      Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:24 PM | Permalink

      Re: Andrew (#6),

      I seem to recall that DOW Chemical just happened to develop a convenient alternative almost immediately.

      ‘Twas du Pont.

      • Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 7:01 PM | Permalink

        Re: John M (#9),
        Dow is part of DuPont, but yes it was the DuPont branding.
        The patents on r-12 and r-11 actually ran out in early 50’s.
        There were about 4 companies in the western world making CFC refrigerant.
        They are still being cranked out by the ton in other countries.

        • John M
          Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 8:06 AM | Permalink

          Re: Max (#16),

          Dow is part of DuPont, but yes it was the DuPont branding

          Really? I’ll have to tell my broker, who seems to think they are independent companies.;)

  7. David L. Hagen
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:06 PM | Permalink

    On Question 2: Hall et al. (2009) find that about twice as much energy is used in delivering transport fuels as in extracting and refining petroleum.Consequently to a minimum EROEI of 3:1 is needed by society for transport fuels.
    Chris Hall, Stephen Balogh & David J. R. Murphy, What is the Minimum EROI that a Sustainable Society Must Have? Energies 2009 (2) pp 25-47.
    Almost all biofuels have EROEI of less than 3:1 and must be subsidized by fossil fuels. e.g., Tad Patzek (2008a) found: “If switchgrass planted on 130 million hectares (the entire area of active US cropland) were used as feedstock and energy source for ethanol production, the net ethanol yield would replace only about 10% of today’s gasoline consumption in the US.” Mass and energy balances of the switchgrass-ethanol cycle (submitted for journal publication) July 9, 2008

    Tad Patzek (2008b)found “that the ratio of the output energy of biodiesel to the input fossil energy is 0.73.” Furthermore,
    “Production of corn ethanol alone, with the average overall efficiency of 0.25, is more energy-efficient than production
    of biodiesel from soybeans with the overall efficiency of 0.18” (of the solar energy sequestered in soybeans).
    A First Law Thermodynamic Analysis of Biodiesel Production From Soybean Tad W. Patzek

    Ethanol and Biodiesel do not appear energetically sustainable future fuels. The present ethanol industry is apparently only surviving by tax subsidies. Major alternative fuels are needed to sustain modern civilization.

  8. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

    Thanks to Steve for a very illuminating encounter with Smil. I encountered his works in connection with China’s performance in environmental terms. At a time when political pilgrims were admiring China’s tree-planting exploits, Smil in The Bad Earth (1984) was exposing the gross eco-mismanagement of China by its marxist overlords.

  9. StuartR
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:29 PM | Permalink

    What Vaclav Smil is quoted saying here is rather bright and intriguing and I want to learn more about him, especially after reading the linked PDF where he is quoted saying:

    Speaking first as a historian of technical advances, I must stress that it is
    extremely unlikely that any long-term plans, technical and price forecast and
    global visions, be they offered by extraordinary minds or by iterative expert
    consensus, will come anywhere near the always unpredictable realities.

    I hope there is some further background to the conversation that went on between you three.

  10. bernie
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 5:54 PM | Permalink

    Interesting discussion. How did the audience react to Smil’s comments – which sound eminently reasonable and grounded.

    Did Andy have any comments on his recent DotEarth thread about you?

    Didn’t ask. He was busy; I just said hello and chatted briefly.

  11. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 6:05 PM | Permalink

    “This led into a discussion of future populations, with Smil observing that successive”
    That looks like an unfinished sentence.

  12. Severian
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 6:55 PM | Permalink

    One of the things that always perturbs no end about too many on the radical-environmentalist/leftist side of the political spectrum is that one the one hand, we are allegedly facing these apocalyptic looming disasters but on the other we aren’t supposed to use any “evil” technology, where evil means effective in the most part. No GM crops, no nuclear, no continued use of existing or new fossil fuel technologies, no hydroelectric if it endangers a fish or two. But they put their faith in the pipe dream of wind and solar suddenly becoming something other than niche players, they seem to believe that the solutions to the problems of storage of energy and efficiency will just magically appear. I suspect many of them are sure that these solutions already exist but are being suppressed by evil corporations. Same thing with suddenly wanting every car to be a plug in hybrid or electric vehicle, ignoring the problems with electricity generation and marginal transmission grids. I am all for research and development of electric, solar, wind, tidal, but realize that it will be quite a while before these are more than bit players, and expensive ones at that, which will undoubtedly have their own issues. We need to embrace all solutions, particularly nuclear and GM food crops. It’s an overall lack of serious minded, IMO adult and responsible behavior, an almost childlike belief in miracles and I’d also say a child from a rich, industrialized society who has never really suffered the kind of existential want and privation a large part of the world lives with every day.

    I’ve made the observation many times that no civilization or culture seems capable of surviving prosperity. It seems to allow these kinds of inanities to run loose unchecked, people take their eyes off the ball so to speak when it isn’t a matter of day to day hardship and life or death struggles. Relaxation and freedom from want seem to breed complacency and immaturity.

    • Dagfinn
      Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 10:55 PM | Permalink

      Re: Severian (#14),
      Many environmentalists claim that there is an unprecedented crisis, but seem unwilling to put their thinking in crisis mode. An exception is super-alarmist James Lovelock, who is in favor of nuclear energy. To me, this is logical considering his Ph. D. in medicine. Doctors realize that sometimes you have to amputate. In other words, in a crisis you sometimes need compromise and do things that you would otherwise never do.

      • tallbloke
        Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 10:17 PM | Permalink

        Re: Dagfinn (#26),

        An exception is super-alarmist James Lovelock, who is in favor of nuclear energy.

        If you read Lovelock’s original book, you’ll see that back then he was definitely anti-alarmist. Either the greens got to him, or he’s riding the wave.

    • Craig Loehle
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:27 AM | Permalink

      Re: Severian (#14), You are precisely right.

    • Jeff Id
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:57 AM | Permalink

      Re: Severian (#14),

      Very nice.

    • Joe Crawford
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:40 AM | Permalink

      Re: Severian (#14),

      we aren’t supposed to use any “evil” technology

      Like this cartoon from teh New Yorker? (here)

      • Severian
        Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 4:53 PM | Permalink

        Re: Joe Crawford (#49),

        Heh…that sums it up nicely. One thing I also don’t see a lot of people doing is adequately examining the downside of whatever “green” technology de jour brings with it. I’ve seen people wail and gnash their teeth over the death of birds from oil spills, etc. and certainly that’s a terrible thing when it happens. But then, windmills kill birds (and bats, perhaps even more important to certain ecosystems) by the tens of thousands and no one seems to make a peep. Add to that the effects on people of infrasonic noise, etc. and they have more issues than a quiet nuke plant.

        Also, I seldom see anyone thinking of the effect of using enough of these technologies to actually produce a significant amount of energy. Solar panels, if you use them on roofs in normal construction, as someone mentioned the Japanese doing, that probably won’t make much difference in UHI. But if you build hundreds of square miles of black solar panels in the desert, what does painting the ground black do to temperatures? Nothing good can come from that kind of albedo change, it will impact temperatures and weather for a large area. Same with windmills, if you put enough out there to really suck a lot of energy out of the wind, does anyone think the effect will be nonexistent or easily predictable? The have already been shown to impact radar and can affect storm development.

        None of these may be intractable problems, but to just completely ignore them because they are favored and “green” approved runs the risk of a solution that has far worse problems for humanity than the alleged problem they are used to fix.

        • pjm
          Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:21 PM | Permalink

          Re: Severian (#74), it is interesting that wind power has already been shown to affect circulation, in storm development. I believe convection is a major contributor to the rate of heat leaving earth, and if wind power were to reduce this we might be in more trouble than the worst CO2 related predictions. Of course there may also be no problem – there is an awful lot of energy in wind and we would not be using much of it.

          Do you have a reference on how they affect storm development?

        • Severian
          Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:18 PM | Permalink

          Re: pjm (#81),

          Unfortunately, no. I’ve looked thru my links and such and can’t find one, but I recall reading about it in the same terms you mention. I believe it was an extrapolation/simulation (and as such subject to the same issues of GCMs) but still an interesting potential effect. And one that I seldom hear anyone mention.

          I have seen an interesting article about windmills in the UK built close to housing being shutdown in the winter as the blades were throwing huge, very dangerous ice shards off. Again, in the UK press, so who knows how overblown it was, but I was surprised they didn’t have deicing on the blades.

          Ultimately I believe an integrated, combined approach using every technology where it makes sense is the only way to solve these issues. I also tend to think the market will be the best way to approach this.

    • Mike B
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:23 AM | Permalink

      Re: Severian (#14),

      Severian, ever hear of Joseph Schumpeter? Depressing, but pretty much on the money.

  13. David L. Hagen
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 6:56 PM | Permalink

    The UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC) released its The Global Oil Depletion Report on 8 Oct. 2009. It reviewed 500 studies and concluded that conventional oil production is likely to peak before 2030, with a significant risk of a peak before 2020. Simply maintaining global production at today’s level would need the equivalent of a new Saudi Arabia every three years. It highlights the accelerating decline in production from existing fields. More than two thirds of current crude oil production capacity may need to be replaced by 2030 to prevent production from falling.

    Developing alternative fuels sufficient to meet growing demand while replacing declining production is the greatest challenge facing the world over this next generation.

    • Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 2:27 AM | Permalink

      Re: David L. Hagen (#15), do we really have that much time? I’ve been hearing for the last decade that peak oil was happening between 2005 and 2015, now the timeline is extended to 2020-2030. If this keeps up, by 2030 peak oil will occur by 2070.

      And yes, the Club of Rome, which invented both Global Warming and Peak Oil theories, which are mutually contradictory (the IPCC estimates that we will burn 10 times more oil over the 21st century than the Peak Oilers claim is in the ground), can never seem to pass up an opportunity to get things entirely wrong.

      That the UKERC is now extending the date of peak oil to 2030 proves what I’ve long argued is the fatal flaw in these malthusian projections: they consistently fail and refuse to accurately account for the increases in efficiencies that technology enables, in recovery, processing, delivery and consumption of resources. Why do they fail? For the same reason computer models always fail to predict Black Swan Events: you cannot predict what the future breakthroughs in technology will be, because if you know what the breakthroughs are, and when the breakthroughs will occur, then you know enough to make the breakthroughs happen NOW.

      Just as Craig Venter demonstrated with the human genome project, in which he completed the last 99% of the project in the last year of the program (and two years early), the exponential increases in efficiency which technology advances enable us to crack the power law by intentionally scheduling the most difficult 20% of a problem for the tail end when technology has doubled or quadrupled in efficiency, enabling us to complete the last 20% of the problem at the same cost per percent as the first 80%.

      • David L. Hagen
        Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Permalink

        Re: Mike Lorrey (#98),
        With typical British understatement, the UKERC message is exactly the opposite – ie be VERY CONCERNED. Optimists like CERA predict a plateau after 2020. Pesimists say the peak is already here.
        UKERC is saying the range of the 500 analyses reviewed is primarily from 2009 to 2030. More importantly, they conclude that there is a very significant probability that it will ,b>occur before 2020. Considering it takes about decade to get a plant from planning through to commissioning, that is saying that we are already way past the deadline to prepare for the looming peak and consequent rapid decline.
        The Hirsh Report by
        Robert L. Hirsh peak oil mitigation study to DOE stated:

        * 3. Oil peaking will create a severe liquid fuels problem for the transportation
        sector, not an “energy crisis” in the usual sense that term has been used.. . .
        * 5. In the developed nations, the problems will be especially serious. In the
        developing nations peaking problems have the potential to be much worse.
        * 6. Mitigation will require a minimum of a decade of intense, expensive effort,
        because the scale of liquid fuels mitigation is inherently extremely large.. . .
        If peaking is imminent, failure to initiate timely mitigation could be extremely damaging.

        The UKERC report indicates that we are already well beyond Hirsch’s tolerable 20 year lead time scenario. It warns that we are likely near or at the 10 year lead time that Hirsch projects would cause major economic difficulties. Because of the long lead times and the constrained scarce alternatives, this indicates we are already headed for serious economic downturn with at least a decade of fuel shortages.

        The crunch begins when oil supplies do not keep up with oil demand growth.That happened in 2005 when the 2 million bbl/day annual growth was cut back by Non-OPEC peaking and OPEC cut backs. We have been in a ~ 4.5% fluctuation plateau since then. The 2008 price spike was an initial tremor of what is to come.
        the Oil Watch Monthly by Rembrandt for numerous current graphs.

        Welcome to the brave new world of a world unprepared for rapidly declining light oil production.

  14. Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 7:07 PM | Permalink

    I forgot to add my last through, Does only partial global compliance with international protocols still have the desired effect? What is the status of the ozone hole now? We are well past the “break down time” of the last cfc production.
    I think he is a bit wrong on the CFC issue, it is indeed a test to whether or not an an international treaty is truly effective. And do developing economies follow what is asked of them,or do they simply revert to old technology to build off of.

  15. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 7:37 PM | Permalink

    Another short Sherrington postulate, derived from numerous submissions attempting to improve international treaties, many of which were accepted by this country without most of the government knowing, let alone the populace. It’s hard to find a count, but the Australian Treaty List exceeded 1,000 treaties some years ago, IIRC.

    Postulate. “The success of an international treaty will be in proportion to the amount of intellectual and/or financial benfit to its personal creators.”

    Rider. “The people can get stuffed.”

  16. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 9:15 PM | Permalink

    Online here

  17. srp
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 9:19 PM | Permalink

    It’s unfortunate that climate models are not accurate enough to give useful regional predictions about precipitation, temperature, etc. even conditional on the AGW hypothesis. If they could, the information could be applied to the most practical responses available to climate change–adaptation. In fact, if accurate regional forecasts were available, the amount of public intervention necessary to create adaptation would not be that great; most of the decisions about where (and where not) to build things could be made by private actors pursuing their own self-interest.

  18. Dan Evens
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 9:43 PM | Permalink

    I disagree with Smil’s analysis of nuclear. I’ll just hit a few points, but there’s lots more.

    Nothing to show for it? Um… Ontario gets about 1/3 of its electricity from nuclear. Nothing? Without the nukes, we’d surely be burning a buttload more coal. We surely know it would be possible to increase that fraction economicaly, considering France gets about 80 percent from nuclear. Combined with Ontario’s hydro resources, we’d hardly need anything else. Couple little “peaker” gas fired plants maybe.

    Nuclear makes a tidy operating profit at 6 cents per kwhr, including paying into the fund for disposal and decomissioning. This fund has quite a few billions in it right now. Wind is failing to make a profit at 14 cents per kwhr. Darlington NGS produces 3600 MW, or a bit more than $200,000 per hour, wholesale. It does this with a 90 percent capacity factor, and nearly all downtime scheduled years in advance. Nothing?

    When the NRU gets back on line in the spring, it will return to making medical isotopes. NRU isotopes are used in 34,000 medical procedures a day. This is only one of about four reactors that produce medical isotopes. Nothing?

    There’s lots more. For example, blaming the industry for fast breeders not working. Fast breeders are research reactors. Should we blame automobiles for early laboratory failures of ethanol as car fuel?

    The claim there’s no solution to disposal of the spent fuel is simply uninformed. (Well. I’m being charitable. It’s hard to imagine somebody who calls himself a historian of technical issues not knowing the solution.) The solution is well known and validated by the Gabon natural reactor.

    There’s more, but that seems enough.

    Steve: Lowell Wood at Erice was very optimistic about breeder reactors. He also thought that reactors should be built underground.

  19. chip
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 10:02 PM | Permalink

    Hi Steve,

    I can’t attribute this, but I love it – If God didn’t mean for us to eat animals he woudn’t have made them taste so good.

    • Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:50 AM | Permalink

      Re: chip (#23), I prefer “If God didn’t want us to eat meat, he wouldn’t have invented steak sauce”

      Re: Max (#17),

      What is the status of the ozone hole now?


      • Max
        Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:23 AM | Permalink

        Re: Andrew (#30),
        Interesting, considering the amount of CFC use and production in China and India. So considering that, was the cfc/hcfc reasoning for ozone depletion a myth?
        Re: John M (#44),
        Maybe listed different, but those 2 companies are so intermingled its hard to separate them at the final product level. I think even their board members are shared.
        Re: richard clenney (#45),
        We weren’t rescued by r-134a, it had a huge environmental impact that none of the environmental groups want to talk about. It led to the demise of thousands and thousands of pieces of equipment that ran perfectly fine until r-134a was used in them. All that metal, and energy to produce the replacement machinery , as well as transport, has to come from somewhere.
        On top of that it lead to the end of the use of basic mineral oil in compression system, requiring synthetic polyolester oil. Its’o so green..uh huh.

  20. steven mosher
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 10:06 PM | Permalink

    i would seconded the reccomendation to read more literature but would suggest Pynchon, Lawrence stern, and nabokov.

  21. Michael Jankowski
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

    Do we need to outgrow the idea of GNP growth? Should we be measuring how well people are doing? They discussed past surveys of happiness – people in the late 1940s and 1950s seemed to be just as happy or happier than their more profligate descendants in the 1990s and 2000s.

    I remember reading something in Econ 101 about how people were just as happy in places like Bangladesh as they were in the US. Someone in poverty in the US was likely to be much unhappier than the typical person in a Third World Nation even thought the impoverished person had a far higher standard of living. The reason? We based our contentment and desires on what we saw around us (reminds me of Hannibal Lector talking in “the Silence of the Lambs” about how we begin to covet…starting with things we see every day).

    We’ve got/use/etc a lot more in the 1990s and 2000s than folks did in the 1940s and 1950s, but so do the Joneses. If everyone had a 1400 SF house, we’d be happy with a 1400 SF house. But if a lot of people have a 2000 SF house, then why not us?

    I imagine that if you had an exchange between Japan and the US for a year, those that returned to Japan at the end would find themselves less content with their relatively cramped life over there, while those that returned to the US would find they’d adopted a much more efficient lifestyle.

  22. Ed Snack
    Posted Oct 17, 2009 at 11:35 PM | Permalink

    I believe the comment about meat refers to grain feed beef. If you stick with grass feed it is not only energy efficient, tastes better (or so I reckon), but is better for you having a far healthier ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6 fats. Grain feed beef is the aberration, pushed by countries too cold to grass feed year round.

    With regard to nuclear, I believe that Thorium cycle reactors present the largest potential energy supply currently available.

  23. Raven
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 12:49 AM | Permalink

    Just listened to full video. An excellent talk but a few things I disagree with:

    1) Japanese meat consumption may be low but they consume a lot of fish (unless his numbers included fish). World fisheries could not sustain 9 billion eating fish like the Japanese.

    2) He suggested that the US energy consumption was not related to producing things. This is completely wrong since the US is the largest producer of manufactured goods and China is only expected to catch up by 2020. (see In per capita terms Canada’s manufacturing output is twice that of the US.

    3) There are plenty of smoke stacks in Manitoba – I can think of one directly upwind from the UofM. But his joke was still funny.

    4) I think per capita energy consumption figures are a misleading statistic since different countries have different mixes of industries and some industries are energy intensive which unfairly penalize countries that happen to have many of those times of industries – especially countries that also have a low population like Canada. A more meaningful statistic would be average household energy consumption including any vehicles.

  24. michel
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:18 AM | Permalink

    One of the deeply puzzling things about the AGW movement, and I used to raise this on Tamino before getting identified as a member of the anti-Party clique of right wing deviationists and being banned, is their insistence that current lifestyles do not need to be changed materially in order to reduce CO2 emissions to mid 19C levels.

    It is absolutely extraordinary. They seem to envisage a world in which the emissions have fallen to levels of 1870, but people still live in air conditioned flats and offices in Phoenix (or heated ones in Ottawa), we still have the same number of automobile passenger miles, the suburbs and shopping centers have not changed, the number of commuters has not changed, truck fleets are still being used as mobile warehouses, farming is just as energy and chemical intensive, the airline industry will still exist in more or less its present form….

    All that will have happened is that we will drive hybrids and use windmills instead of coal powered generation.

    Point out to them that this is not going to happen as described, and you get tirades of abuse and denial. So the remark above, live like the Japanese, is very penetrating. Not however like the Japanese of today, with their cars and freeways. Like the Japanese of before WWII. Or maybe the French of 1950, though even that might not be far enough. A very modest lifestyle indeed, and to get there would require huge movements of the population into less energy intensive living arrangements.

    One of two things will happen for sure: either we will emit far more than the targets, or we will live much more modestly and very differently than today. Or both!

    • Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 3:13 AM | Permalink

      Re: michel (#29),
      About retaining lifestyle, look at this real world example:
      My energy use is split up into the following sources:
      25% direct electricity, 25% gas for cooking and heating, and 50% petrol.

      Changing to a carbon free household would mean an electricity increase by me of 300% as my heating and cooking would have to be electric, and my car would have to be electric too.
      Currently 90% of electricity generation in Holland is fossil.

      Al this electricity of course is not allowed to be nuclear. See here the daunting task for energy planners.

      • michel
        Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:17 AM | Permalink

        Re: Hans Erren (#33), Hans, I think it would be, were we serious about actually making the reductions, a bit like the Holland of the war years. It would be cold, and we would think before we cooked or turned on the lights. Have you read the marvellously evocative book by Andreas Burnier, Het jongensuur? Riding in the misty winter evenings on their bicycles out to the country to buy potatoes. That’s how it would be.

    • MikeN
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:03 PM | Permalink

      Re: michel (#29), I had a similar discussion at RealClimate on their thread about a fisherman analogy, and was told that my claims that reducing greenhouse gases would lead to a loss of comfort was wrong, since a Honda Insight has the same space as a Porsche 911.

  25. mikep
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 2:13 AM | Permalink

    The happiness story does not seem anything like as clear cut as claimed. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers from the university of Pennsylvania have done a lot of work on this. They find that rich people are happier than poor people and taht rich countries are generally happier than poor countries. There’s a piece from the NYT here

    And the full analysis here

    Click to access Happiness.pdf

    • Severian
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:43 AM | Permalink

      Re: mikep (#31),

      I notice that by and large the people making the claims about how happy people are in “simpler” (aka poorer) societies and how happy we would all be if we lived the same way are not living that way themselves. They are the more “elite” (self styled) living in rich industrialized countries and they are nowhere near the poverty level even in their well to do Western societies (for example, the average “poor” person in the US has computers, cell phones, cable television, a car, air conditioning, color TV, etc.). These people don’t seem to be too keen on restricting their own lifestyles but seem completely willing to dictate to the rest of us how we should live.

      Yes, nothing makes one happier than tucking their hungry children into bed at night, swatting at malaria ridden mosquitoes (due to the lack of DDT spraying) and wondering how many, or few, of them will make it into adolescence. True bliss I guess.

  26. Stephen Haxby
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 2:38 AM | Permalink

    On the happiness thing, it seems to me that people in the 40s/50s are not the right control group. They may have been as happy, but they were concerned with exactly what we are, ie betering themselves and progress. Which is why we are better off than they were (thanks, Mum and Dad). We should compare happiness to a non-aspirational society. There are a few about. I recall a documentary on a people who were dying of bronchitus because they hadn’t bothered to invent the chimney.

  27. Peter J. Morgan
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 4:01 AM | Permalink

    Those of you who ‘believe’ that ‘oil is a fossil fuel’ are invited to read two papers published in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA (PNAS):
    PNAS August 20, 2002 vol. 99 no. 17 10976-10981 The evolution of multicomponent systems at high pressures: VI. The thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen–carbon system: The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum and
    PNAS September 28, 2004 vol. 101 no. 39 14023-14026 Generation of methane in the Earth’s mantle: In situ high pressure–temperature measurements of carbonate reduction

    The Russians discovered that oil is the product of the high temperature (≈1500 °C), high pressure (≈5 GPa) continuous reaction among calcium carbonate, iron oxide and superheated steam, occurring about 100 km below the surface of the earth, soon after the end of World War Two. Some say that this explains why Russia has come from nowhere to be one of the world’s major players in the oil business.

    Abiogenic oil is not raised by this paper. Please don’t discuss it further here.

  28. hunter
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:04 AM | Permalink

    Russia has been a huge producer of oil since oil first started being an industrial commodity.
    Alfred Nobel was an early player in the Caspian oil basin:
    If oil is abiogenic – a huge if- then our leaders have a lot of ‘splaining to do.
    I think your review of your time with Revkin and Mr. Smil is informative and good reading.

    Steve: for editorial reasons, no further discussion of abiogenic oil here please.

  29. j ferguson
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:01 AM | Permalink

    The interesting thing about the population rate of increase dropping off and perhaps the population itself stabilizing at or below 9 B is that an increase in prosperity is needed in the places with high birth rates. If people can choose between cars, television, maybe the web, and children, they don’t choose children.

    it’s happening in China and India. Africa? How? When?

  30. Kusigrosz
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:45 AM | Permalink

    The population density in Japan (330/km2) is an order of magnitude higher than in US (31/km2), this has a significant impact on transport etc. I think this may tend to make China (140/km2) and India (360/km2) to develop more like Japan than like US.

  31. DaveC
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:47 AM | Permalink

    Just remember, supply-demand is your friend.

  32. Fred
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:52 AM | Permalink

    T Shirt 1: “if god didn’t want us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat ?

    T Shirt 2: “EARTH FIRST. We’ll log the other planets later.

  33. richard clenney
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 8:58 AM | Permalink

    I seem to remember that Freon-12 was discovered to
    be destroying the ozone layer, thus dooming all of
    us to skin-cancer death, around the time that the
    patents on freon-12 were running out; thus , when
    freon-12 was banned??? WHOA! We were rescued by the
    replacement freon-134 just in time!! Aren’t we the
    lucky ones????

    Steve: I’m letting this thread go a little, but I really don’t want to see a lot of complaining.

  34. John M
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:23 AM | Permalink

    With Steve’s indulgence, perhaps we can close the discussion about the history of CFCs (which were after all raised in the original post) with this passage from Wikipedia.

    Regulation and duPont
    In 1978 the United States banned the use of CFCs such as Freon in aerosol cans, the beginning of a long series of regulatory actions against their use. The critical DuPont manufacturing patent for Freon (“Process for Fluorinating Halohydrocarbons”, U.S. Patent #3258500) was set to expire in 1979. In conjunction with other industrial peers DuPont sponsored efforts such as the “Alliance for Responsible CFC Policy” to question anti-CFC science, but in a turnabout in 1986 DuPont, with new patents in hand, publicly condemned CFCs.[6] DuPont representatives appeared before the Montreal Protocol urging that CFCs be banned worldwide and stated that their new HCFCs would meet the worldwide demand for refrigerants.[6]

    Leaving the point-of-view tone of the Wiki article aside, it does seem to match my recollection of the historical events, and it is important to recognize that important commercial products are often protected by a slew of patents, and not just the “composition of matter” ones.

    Finally, it pretty much leaves Smil’s original comment pretty much spot-on. CFC replacements were a lot easier technologically than CO2 mitigation.

  35. richard clenney
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:25 AM | Permalink

    RE: comment 27

    A topic, thorium, that needs to be discussed. If
    you google thorium, be ready for a long sit. I am
    68 yrs, and remember that atomic electricity was
    going to be too cheap to meter! Well a funny thing
    happened on the way to the forum; Both uranium and
    thorium work; BUT, you can’t make bombs from thorium reactors, and (just a guess), the wrong
    people owned the thorium. So, do some reading, and
    tell me WHY we don’t do a Manahatten on thorium?

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Permalink

      Re: richard clenney (#48),

      Thorium reactors produce U233 and U233 can be used to make nuclear weapons, indeed it is as good as plutonium.

    • Geoff Sherrington
      Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 4:18 AM | Permalink

      Re: richard clenney (#48),

      A topic, thorium, that needs to be discussed. If you google thorium, be ready for a long sit. I am 68 yrs, and remember that atomic electricity was going to be too cheap to meter!

      Back in the late 1980s there was a long & thorough investigation into the origin of the “too cheap to meter” phrase. No industry source was found. Indeed, no credible source was found. I suspect that there has been some revisionism since then. Strauss in 1954 is now putative, but his actual wording is general and not specifically about nuclear.

      • Calvin Ball
        Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

        Re: Geoff Sherrington (#101), The “too cheap to meter” thing is ridiculous on its face, and always was. Even with expensive fuel, O&M and capital amortization is more than fuel. We have zero cost fuel sources now, called hydropower, solar, and wind, and none are too cheap to meter.

        That was always at best hype, and at worst, economic ignorance on parade.

  36. Max
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:51 AM | Permalink

    Smil seems to contradict himself with answere to 6,9 and 10. He says live more like Japan, however he seems to be ignorant of how many houses in Japan are grid suppliers via photovoltaic systems. The house I stay at in Japan, has photovoltaic roof tiles, and contributes to the grid during the day, along with every other house in that area, is it new? No that house is 8 years old.
    When he compares energy usage, his reasoning is to basic, he doesn’t figure in climate, land mass and population density.
    Sure in Japan, we put the whole family in one room and heat it with a small kerosene heater to eat each meal. It also only goes down to 5 deg C in the depths of winter. In Western Canada a small kerosene heater run sporadically is not going to make even a modest house livable in sustained -20deg c temperatures.
    Because of population and commercial density, I seldom have to travel more than 2 km for anything I could conceivably want in Japan. If its more than that, the public transit system is good enough due to high ridership through shear population. In North America, Canada in particular, its not out of the question to have to travel solo in a car for hundres of km’s for even the most basic of supplies and needs. The only way to live like Japan is if we all moved to the cities, and moved all the cities within 300 km of each other.
    On top of that, sure Canadians individually might use twice the energy as the Japanese, they also have 5 times the population.

    • michel
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:27 AM | Permalink

      Re: Max (#54),

      The only way to live like Japan is if we all moved to the cities, and moved all the cities within 300 km of each other.

      Yes, and even then we would not make the reductions the AGW movement is talking about. We might be about halfway there. To get the rest of the way…? We would have to do what you say, but then having got the population into the new locations and cities, they would have to basically stop shopping, start walking. And eat whatever was locally in season. And grass fed. And compost fertilized.

      It could be done, we have lived like that in the past, but it would be quite a change, and the bizarre thing about the AGW movement is its denial that such changes are what is required to meet their emission goals.

  37. Max
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:05 AM | Permalink

    BTW, if he thinks everyone in Japan drives civics, he’s in lala land. There are plenty of hummers, bid Dodge trucks, jeeps cherokee’s and Ford explorers driving around Japan. The old Dodge B-van with the camper package is huge hit in Japan for weekend camping trips.
    A lot of people don’t realize the Japanese make a whole lot of cars there that we don’t get here.
    Tons of business execs and cabs there are toyota Centuries, a big luxo-cruiser with 5 litre V-12.
    Its not how big the car is, its how far you have to drive it, and will the vehicle last in the enviroment its subjected to.

  38. Dale R. McIntyre
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:08 AM | Permalink

    Dear Mr. McIntyre,

    Thank you for the excellent review of this interesting event.

    Question No. 3, as posed by Revkin, “What if energy were as cheap as paint?” tickled my funny bone. I can buy gasoline for $ 2.30 per gallon at my corner store. I can’t find paint for $2.30 per gallon anywhere; more like five and ten times that. I’d bet a doughnut that the costs for the environmentally-correct disposal of an empty gallon paint container are more than $2.30 each.

  39. Mike B
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    I’m sorry, but the admonition to “Live like the Japanese” is incredibly lame, especially coming from an alleged “deep thinker”.

  40. Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:02 AM | Permalink

    Dale, Sure we can draw a line at the top, but the distinction gets pretty murky at the sales level. Companies will join sections together for one product and distance each other at the next. Its like dealing with New process. When it comes down the refrigerant they were linked, the rest of it, who gives a damn. I don’t.
    John M, it was longer ago, early 90’s.. Now most refrigerant is branded by Honeywell(allied signal), where its made and who makes it , who knows.
    Nobody asked him about c02 capture and then using it on a large scale for refrigerant? It will probably suffer the same fate as Ammonia, relegated to just large industrial, you can’t patent a natural occurring compound apparently.

  41. Scott Brim
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:31 AM | Permalink

    The CA Crew: …. various musings on nuclear power, the thorium fuel cycle — etc. etc.

    In the United States, the most important impediment to a rapid expansion of nuclear power is its high upfront capital cost, driven by the necessity that an excellent job must be done in all facets and phases of constructing and operating a nuclear plant, a requirement which is not subject to negotiation.
    Pressure from environmental activists, concerns about nuclear waste, the potential for nuclear proliferation, the availability of nuclear fuel, and the burden of regulatory oversight are fairly minor roadblocks to a rapid nuclear expansion, in comparison with the fundamental issue of how much it costs in time and money to get a US nuclear plant initially constructed to acceptable levels of quality assurance and operational safety.
    After regulatory approval has been granted for construction to begin, it typically takes two to three times as long in the US as it does in Asia to get a similarly designed reactor constructed.
    Why is this so? Because the US is no longer an industrial nation, and the worker skill base and the manufacturing base which built the first and second generation US nuclear plants aren’t there any more. The US industrial base for nuclear power will itself have to be largely reconstructed before any kind of an acceleration in plant construction can occur.
    In the meantime, energy investors are being exceptionally conservative in looking at nuclear projects, as well they should be, since too rapid an expansion would guarantee a repetition of the cost control problems and the quality assurance issues that plagued the nuclear industry in the 1970s. By the late 1980s, these problems were largely resolved; but by then, it was too late.
    Two decades later, if we choose to proceed with all deliberate caution, if we let market forces act as the most efficient arbiter of what the proper balance of energy resources should be, then nuclear power will find its proper place in the energy mix without breaking us economically.

  42. Paul Maynard
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:51 AM | Permalink

    Two thoughts

    The “science” of the happiness studies is very dubious absent even. Why not ask a woman in Africa who to walk miles everyday just to get firewood whether she would be happy with cheap coal fired electricity? We are naturally inclined to be inventive
    and progress. We make mistakes like letting rich Eco nuts hijack the agenda but….

    The Japanese are hyperconsumers that have created a society where land is so expensive that they have to live in tiny houses that consume less power. Good to hear about the solar power-what do they use at night? Plus they now manufacture extensively outside of Japan so their domestic power use is reduced. And they smoke like chimneys, drink like fish and still live longer!!!!!!

    Cheers Paul

  43. PaulH
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:56 AM | Permalink

    I agree 100% with Smil’s assessment of the traffic between Toronto and Waterloo. It’s become more congested over the past 15 years or so. There’s probably a Mannian hockey stick in there somewhere. 😉

  44. Steve McIntyre
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 12:04 PM | Permalink

    Enough on ozone and CFCs.

  45. Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 12:07 PM | Permalink

    snip – complaining and politician’s name mentioned

  46. Wayne
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

    Thanks Steve for the initiative and thoughtful summary. I worry about our ability to adapt(or die) when issues are presented mainly as global problems requiring global, absolute and politically linked solutions.

    Mike B, what’s wrong with sometimes eating more “like the Japanese” if slicing your beef for more surface area (more efficient cooking, more surface area for more flavour and value) and mixing it with vegetables reduced your huge obesity rates and related health costs? You could wind back consumption levels to healthier decades for individuals and the national finances.

    Max, the Japanese allow imports of giant (by world standards) vehicles for those who want to stand out. We (Canada, not sure of US details) have effectively banned the import of most of the world’s fuel efficient vehicles since the early 70’s by various non-tariff bariers. My 1972 1050cc Citroen GS 5 passenger, Vancouver-San Francisco 60mph average station wagon was illegal in Canada, partly because it had halogen (not tried and true 1930’s sealed-beam) headlights. Although it is now illegal to import any used vehicle younger than 15 years to Canada, we have so many Japanoid 2 litre diesel campers vans, 600cc turbocharged delivery trucks etc. now running around that the government wants to extend the prohibition to 20 years.
    Lawyer Ralph Nader’s spiking of GM’s market logic engineering response to the VW (Corvair vs Chevette: compare and contrast)must surely have helped make Detroit’s products non-exportable and to the current crisis.

    More hybrid vigour in ideas and willingness to consider them (as promoted on this site) and less reliance on mass mono-culture “next big thing” solutions is the useful lesson of history.

    I wonder where China would be heading now if their best and brightest had not brought back so much cultural by-catch from the intellectual property fishing campaigns of the last few decades?

  47. jlc
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:37 PM | Permalink

    October 17th, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Chip – In the words of an Texas cattleman: “Vegetables ain’t food: vegetables are what food eats”.

  48. jlc
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:44 PM | Permalink

    October 18th, 2009 at 12:49 am

    #4 – not only does Canada have low population density, it is also very large, very cold and its economy is based largely on exploitation of natural resources. Per capita and per household energy consumption are equally meaningless.

    Comparisons are odious.

  49. jlc
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 1:48 PM | Permalink

    Hans Erren:
    October 18th, 2009 at 3:13 am

    At least 400% taking into account efficiency and conversion issues.

  50. leonard o'reilly
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 3:23 PM | Permalink

    I have found that climate blogs are characterized more by their vitriol ( present site excepted ) than their humour, so readers here might be amused by Smil’s comment in the article recommended by SM that “Sorenson’s (1980 ) forecast for energy renewables…. are off by anywhere between two orders of magnitude and infinity.” The IPCC, and such, might take note of this telling example of the perils of forecasting.
    Smil also says of Amory Levins, another seer, that “he retains his aura no matter how wrong he is.” Does that speak to anyone else you may know of in the field of climate commentary?
    His article puts into perspective the difficulties of transitioning from a fossil fuel based economy. More than that, he says that there are no inexpensive, painless means on offer of reducing our dependency on fossil fuels. He more than implies, however, that a collapse of the American “empire”, a la the Soviet Union, might do the trick. Which is cold comfort, for this reader, at least.

  51. richard clenney
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 3:51 PM | Permalink

    Dave in 68; Yes you can make nukes with Th233
    iosotope, (if you don’t like living;)it produces gamma rays, very hard to shield, and near impossible to fabricate. Not practical for terrorists as they can’t hide them. Shorter half-life too. Fission weapons prefer U235 or Pu239. My sources tell me separating 233 is a nightmare. How about thorium reactors burning uranium waste??Also
    thorium waste lifetime 300 yrs?(and only 5% as much
    waste as U or Pu)

    • Dave Andrews
      Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 2:28 PM | Permalink

      Re: richard clenney (#71),

      I don’t particularly want to extend this topic, but I was referring to the U233 that the thorium cycle breeds. It has as good nuclear characteristics as plutonium and the US is known to have experimented with U233 in a number of bomb tests. India may have also done the same.

      To fully utilize the thorium fuel you also need reprocessing facilities and this mix of highly useful fissile material plus reprocessing capabilities mirrors the proliferation problems associated with the U238 – Pu239 cycle.

      Not saying that this is a showstopper, just that the problems need to be recognised.

  52. Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 4:14 PM | Permalink

    Re: Wayne:
    October 18th, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Speaking of the Japanese culture, has anyone been to Uptown Vancouver BC recently? I notice more than one of those high-rise apartment buildings occupied by same on a trip up that way a couple years ago …

  53. jorgekafkazar
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 4:19 PM | Permalink

    I’m not stopping at Starbuck’s any more.

  54. Brian B
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 5:07 PM | Permalink

    Seems to me we have a pretty decent metric on the happiness question already:
    the ratio of Americans, Canadians, etc crossing the seven seas to live out their lives in huts in Bangledesh, Tanzania, etc vs the flow, both actual and desired but infeasible, in the opposite direction.
    Additionally it seems pretty likely to me that anyone used to Western wealth but a tad morose their Egg McMuffin was served a little too slowly might find happiness is measured somewhat differently in the areas of the world where McMuffins are unknown but malaria, schistosomiasis, cholera and drinking from your upstream neighbor’s latrine are the norm.
    In a lot of countries a happy day is one in which a passing soldier doesn’t shoot you for your shoes.

  55. Geoff Sherrington
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 5:38 PM | Permalink

    Re quotes:

    I’ll try to slip this in here, a bit OT, because it’s another good quote.

    From “Earth in the Balance” by Al Gore, page 259, where he quotes with approval Chief Seattle in 1855 –

    “How can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us.”

    Sort of conflicts with some atmosphereic emission tax scheme proposals, eh?

    • MJW
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:45 PM | Permalink

      Re: Geoff Sherrington (#76), Did Gore actually use that “quote” from Chief Seattle in his book? According to, it was invented by a screenwriter named Ted Perry in 1971.

      • Geoff Sherrington
        Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 12:59 AM | Permalink

        Re: MJW (#82),

        Gore’s intro is “One of the most moving and frequently quoted explanations was attributed to Chief Seattle in 1855, when President Franklin Pierce stated that he would buy the land of Chief Seattle’s tribes. The power of his response has survived numerous translations and retellings”. (Quote follows).

        Gore is Hillarious. On p 258 he might be speaking of James Hansen and ilk re settled science, when seeing another Anthony or Steve post.

        “They have a mouth, but they will not speak, they have eyes but they will not see, they have nostrils but they will not smell, they have hands but they will not feel.” These are invented words of imaginary future generations who look at us as having lost lost our “social awareness of the sacred and came to resemble the idolatrous artifacts with which they were fatally enchanted.”

        But then, if we are so bad, there will not be any future generations, eh?

        • bernie
          Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 10:24 AM | Permalink

          Re: Geoff Sherrington (#97),
          Does not this come from the Bible, Psalm 115:

          “They have mouths, but they cannot speak;
          They have eyes, but they cannot see;
          They have ears, but they cannot hear;

        • chip
          Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 1:49 PM | Permalink

          Re: Geoff Sherrington (#97), This reminds me of that classic Harlen Ellison story, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Sums up my feelings about most of Al’s statements pretty well. I was encouraged today to see that Gordon Brown has given us 50 days to save the world. We now have a date after which we can hope (we should be so lucky) he shuts up.

    • Calvin Ball
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:39 PM | Permalink

      Re: Geoff Sherrington (#76), For the record, that quote from Chief Seattle is urban legend. The Chief never said that (or any of the rest of the speech). It was written by some white guy in the 1980s.

  56. alec kitson
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 5:47 PM | Permalink

    Wasn’t exactly revelationary, was it?

    I ‘fess to not knowing the fellow who seemed perfectly pleasant but hardly adrenaline-inducing. I mean, he had a reasonable command of the prevailing wisdoms and clichees, his rendering a bit of a grab-bag, but to this arguably jaded soul it didn’t add up to a heck of a lot.

    You can get away with a lot with one of those eastern European accents (if that was what it was). I wonder if Freud would have gotten where he did if he was from *Swift Current?

    *By the way, that town seemed to me to be mis-named on the one occasion I visited. The people seemed neither particulary swift nor current (chuckle).

  57. Leon Palmer
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 5:59 PM | Permalink

    regarding Smil’s suggestion of “live more like the Japanese”, even the Japanese can’t stand living like Japanese! Look at their declining birth rate, risingsuicide rate, declining marriage rate, rising marriage rate, and rising use of anti-depressants!

  58. Leon Palmer
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:00 PM | Permalink

    Ooops, sometimes I wish I could spell!

    regarding Smil’s suggestion of “live more like the Japanese”, even the Japanese can’t stand living like Japanese! Look at their declining birth rate, rising suicide rate, declining marriage rate, rising marriage age, and rising use of anti-depressants!

  59. Bruce
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:09 PM | Permalink

    “The worldwide amounts of carbon bound in gas hydrates is conservatively estimated to total twice the amount of carbon to be found in all known fossil fuels on Earth.”

    What we should be doing, in States and Provinces with large amounts of current and shail natrual gas is moving to a non-OIL, all NG economy (plus hydro and whatever nuclear you can get away with).

    We aren’t out of hydrocarbons.

  60. Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:47 PM | Permalink

    Enjoyed Steve & Ross starring in “Not evil just wrong” at ANU last night. Well done!

  61. MJW
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 6:50 PM | Permalink

    I just noticed that under the heading “sightings,” the Snopes article mentions Gore’s use of the supposed quotation.

  62. Gavin (not Schimdt)
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:03 PM | Permalink

    Mr. McIntyre,

    Just saw you and Ross debunking Mann’s hockey stick in “Not evil, but wrong” live streaming. Good job! Keep up the good work.

  63. Carlo
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 7:05 PM | Permalink

    Nice, Steve in the movie, Not evil just wrong!
    Great, Steve is human 🙂

  64. Dan Evens
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 8:13 PM | Permalink

    Oops! Sorry, I made a mistake in my earlier post. Ontario gets half it’s electricity from nuclear, not one third.

    And, it was pretty keen to see the two M’s in the movie _Not Evil, Just Wrong_. Steve, I’d be very pleased to see any analysis you might have of the movie.

    • Steve McIntyre
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 8:49 PM | Permalink

      Re: Dan Evens (#88),

      I missed it unfortunately. I’ve been looking around for time delays, but it seems to have been a one-off.

      • Gavin (not Schimdt)
        Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 9:17 PM | Permalink

        Re: Steve McIntyre (#90),

        Not to worry — Believe it or not, I’m pretty sure it will be available at youtube pretty soon 🙂

    • bernie
      Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:26 PM | Permalink

      Re: Dan Evens (#88), I saw the movie tonight. As a movie about global warming, despite Steve’s key contribution, it was weak – though it might be that I was very familiar with most of the substantive points. What there was there had far less impact than Gore’s use of Polar Bears. Most of the small college audience (UNH) appeared to have no understanding of the science at all. So much of the “hockey stick” information just left them with the primary takeaway – the hockey stick is wrong. As a piece of counter-propaganda to those like Gore who are preaching catastrophic environmental collapse it was OK. It certainly leaves one with the feeling that Gore and others do not understand the impact their ideas have on ordinary people either in Indiana or Uganda.

      Steve was very self-effacing but very clear and low key with his description of both the early phase of the Hockey Stick controversy and the 2000 NASA temeprature glitch. Ross looked like a leading man while Steve looked like a slimmed down Sebastian Cabot. James Hansen – well he came off quite badly. The WSJ speaker was pretty good – I missed his name – as was Patrick Moore and Lindzen. Beside Gore, the American environmentalist in Uganda came off the worst – out of touch with the science of DDT and the rest of reality. A well meaning do gooder who is contributing to the delay in the use of DDT to reduce malaria.

      It would have been better, given what it was intended to be, if tightened up from 90 to 50 minutes. As it stands, I do not think it will gain much traction.

  65. Kenneth Fritsch
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 8:23 PM | Permalink

    US Gross Debt 2008 10,024.7bn 72.5% of GDP (EST) (US Debt)
    Japan National Debt 194% of GDP 2008 est) 836,521 trillion yen 2007

    …Note: Japan’s Public sector debt is very high. However, Japan has a high savings rate which makes it easier for the government to finance the debt. 90% of Japanese debt is owned by Japanese individuals. US has a low savings ratio and 25% of US debt is owned by foreigners. Nevertheless the National Debt of Japan is a real burden for the economy.

    How about we do not emulate any current government or culture, how about we consider there are better ways to do this.

  66. John Baltutis
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 10:00 PM | Permalink

    “Not Evil Just Wrong” to provide counter view of climate change

  67. MikeN
    Posted Oct 18, 2009 at 11:04 PM | Permalink

    Regarding CFCs, the developing world was exempt under the Montreal Protocol, and China and India have found it profitable to produce HFCs and then burn them to collect GHG offsets.

  68. Richard Brimage
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 2:55 AM | Permalink

    Daily oil production was 74,298,000 bbs in May of 2005. It has not been that high again in the following 4+ years. Some people think we have already passed peak oil production and will never again produce at that rate.

    • Mike Lorrey
      Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 12:20 PM | Permalink

      Re: Richard Brimage (#99),
      “Daily oil production was 74,298,000 bbs in May of 2005. It has not been that high again in the following 4+ years. Some people think we have already passed peak oil production and will never again produce at that rate.”

      Actually you are wrong. 2005 avg global daily oil production was 84,576,000 bbls. In 2008 the number was 85,408,000 bbls / day.,&syid=2005&eyid=2008&unit=TBPD

      The 2005 avg daily figure was 10 million bbls per day higher than your figure.

      So peak oil did not happen in 2005 although there was a slump over the ensuing two years due to the economic slowdown.

      • Richard Brimage
        Posted Oct 20, 2009 at 2:27 AM | Permalink

        Re: Mike Lorrey (#112), Mike, I suppose it depends on who is counting and how they are counting. The number I used is from EIA Monthly Energy Report March 2008 via a Matthew Simmons speech. I don’t really put a lot of stock in the exact amount and if you read some of Simmons work you will see why. But I don’t think there is really any doubt that we are either at or past peak oil production. It may have been 2005 or we may bounce around that number for a while, but there is very little to indicate we will signicantly exceed it.

        • Severian
          Posted Oct 20, 2009 at 8:23 AM | Permalink

          Re: Richard Brimage (#123),

          I think there are so many other factors to oil production figures in any particular year it’s difficult to assign a drop to peak oil being passed. Geopolitical issues, local governments interference with the process (think Iraq under sanctions with decaying infrastructure, or Venezuelas nationalization of the oil fields and non-payment of debt to the oil companies which resulted in them withdrawing support and equipment maintenance), oil companies (and countries) not pumping when prices are low, and even things like the US government restricting oil exploration and drilling in areas where abundant reserves are known to exist. With all of this going on, it’s about as difficult to attribute the effects of peak oil as it is to tease temperature records out of tree rings, plenty of opportunity for the wrong conclusion to be reached.

          I think rather than production figures a better metric would be known reserves, and even that changes rapidly based on new discoveries.

      • David L. Hagen
        Posted Oct 21, 2009 at 5:24 PM | Permalink

        Re: Mike Lorrey (#112),
        Unfortunately the EIA’s “oils” blurs the issue by combing natural gas liquids etc with “crude oil”. EIA’s “oils” should better be called “total liquids”. The 10 million bbl/day difference you highlight is due to “liquids” that are NOT crude oil.

        See detailed graphs in The Oil Watch Monthly September 2009 prepared by <a href=”Rembrandt at The Oil Drum: Europe

        World liquids increased at 2 million bbl/day per year from 1985 to 2005.
        Then NON-OPEC CRUDE oil peaked in 2004/2005 and has declined since.
        On top of that OPEC cut back its oil production.

        From 2004 to 2009, Global CRUDE oil has “plateaued” between 72 and 75 million bbl/day.

        For further perspectives, see the ASPO Oct 2009 conference in Denver.

        Note particularly the tutorial presentation by Robert L. Hirsch.

        See Matthew Simmons, slide 35 which details the global world crude oil peaked in 2005.

  69. TomVonk
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 3:30 AM | Permalink

    Measure of happiness …
    A French , an American , a Swede and Russian are invited to a “Happiness panel .” to define this elusive notion of happiness .
    The French says : “After a delicate meal of Beef à la bourgignonne accompanied by a primed Alox Corton and a deep political discussion , you finish the evening in a passionate night with your beautiful company . Only this can be happiness .”
    The American says : “There can surely not be a better definition of happiness than working hard (I make 200 000 $ a year and drive a car everybody is jealous of) , coming home and watching the Yankees winning while having one or two beer packs and a hamburger .”
    The Swede says : “The feeling that one enjoys after having given 60% of one’s earning , having supported biofuels , having prevented the hunger of a child in Africa and contributed to save the planet , that is happiness beyond everything .”
    And the Russian says : “I come back from my exhausting badly paid work to the small appartment that I share with my parents of law , eat my cabbage soup and go to sleep . Knocking on my door wakes me up at 3 a.m . I open and 2 men wearing hats and leather coats ask me “Are you citizen Terbinski ?” . And I answer “No , the citizen Terbinski lives next door .” And that my friends is happiness that by far surpasses anything you might think of .”

  70. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 5:08 AM | Permalink

    Hope this isn’t too off-topic:

    Re Chief Seattle and his stirring but alas apocryphal speech (e.g. #94), a full scholarly source is:

    Kaiser, R., “A Fifth Gospel, Almost” Chief Seattle’s Speech(es): American Origins and European Reception, in C.F. Feest, ed., Indians and Europe: An Interdisciplinary Collection of Essays (Aachen: Rader Verlag, 1987).

  71. Brian B
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 9:41 AM | Permalink

    Re #103,

    I think he knows it’s an urban legend which is why he called it “apocryphal”.

    • Mike B
      Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 9:45 AM | Permalink

      Re: Brian B (#104),

      Sorry if I misread it. Without being able to read the reference, I wasn’t sure.

      My apologies, if “dude” offended anyone. 😉

  72. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 10:48 AM | Permalink

    (Feel free to delete if this is too OT Steve)

    Peter Taylor, author of the recently published ‘Chill: a reassessment of global warming theory’ has been commenting on my blog here. An RC reader picked this up and posted a critical comment and link at RC here (comment #304). I alerted Peter Taylor, who provided a detailed response, comment #356, on the same thread here.

    Gavin Schmidt’s usual bombastic ‘responses’ to points in Taylor’s comment which displeased him are probably par for the course, but the two ‘edits’ [snips by any other name] that he has made are interesting.

    1) He has cut out Taylor’s link to his website ( which shows a background in natural sciences at Oxford, a lifetime’s work as an environmental consultant at governmental and intergovernmental level including work with predictive models, and a creditable publication record.

    2) He also seems to have found this sentence too dangerous to be dealt with by the usual outpouring of scorn and green so it didn’t see the light of day either:

    Now I know that Lindzen is regarded as biased by RealClimate, but he was a
    valid member of IPCC and there was certainly no consensus – not that you
    would discover that from the Summary (and why the then President of the US
    Academy of Sciences was incensed at what he called the worst example of a
    corruption of the peer-review process he had ever seen – I give details in
    the book)

    • bender
      Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 11:07 AM | Permalink

      Re: TonyN (#108),
      Standard policy to snip (1) links to blogs and (2) self-promotional ads for book sales. What’s the beef?

  73. Tom C
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 11:25 AM | Permalink

    Michel #29

    Actually, the situation is even more absurd than you portray. If CO2 really began to rise in the late 1900s, that means that the natural uptake mechanisms were exceeded at that point, hence accumulation. To reverse CO2 accumulation it is not enough that we match the CO2 per capita output of the late 1900s, we would have to do about 1/5 that amount, since there are about 5 times as many people now. Yeah, that’s doable.

  74. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 11:54 AM | Permalink

    Have you read his comment, and why shouldn’t people promote their books on blogs if they relate to the subjects under discussion?

  75. JP
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 11:58 AM | Permalink

    Concerning China and demographics; some experts say China will get old before it gets rich.

    Not to jump on the Mark Steyn bandwagon, but the demographics of the world’s 20 wealthiest nations do not look good. Russia, Japan, China, and much of Europe have fertility rates below 1.5 children/female. Some are as low as 1.1 children per female (halving of the population per generation). Even the US has a fertility rate bouncing between 1.8 and 2.0 (that’s even taking into account Hispanics).

    The IPCC temp scenarios are based upon population growth and industrial expansion. If I was a demographic specialist, the last thing I’d worry about is runaway GHGs. I just cannot see the kind of global industrial expansion worldwide with so few children being born into the world. If anything, the wealthiest nations will be redistributing thier wealth to caring for thier growing retirement base. If anything, I wouldn’t be surprised to see GHG concentrations begin to flatten out the next several decades.

  76. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 1:38 PM | Permalink

    This is on the subject of happiness research, a.k.a. subjective well-being research.

    In the vast majority of this research, the survey item that generates the basic dependent variable–the measure of happiness–is “All things considered, how happy would you say you are?” The response categories vary from three verbal categories (e.g. “Happy”, “Neither happy nor unhappy” and “Unhappy”) to a ten-point scale (e.g. where 10 = as happy as possible and 1 = as unhappy as possible). Notice that this elicits current levels of happiness.

    Suppose you have a panel study of households with this question, administered at years t and t+5. Then let HL(t,s) and HL(t+5,s) denote the responses of household s (HL means “happiness level”) to the question at the two years. DL(t,t+5,s) = HL(t+5,s) – HL(t,s) is then frequently taken as the change in happiness level between the two dates.

    Typically, location values (mean, median, etc.) of these DL(t,t+5,s) are very near zero for a population-representative sample of households. This is true even if all of the households have become wealthier between t and t+5. This finding is frequently interpreted to mean that personal wealth doesn’t make individual households happier. Then the theoretical speculations flow.

    The question invokes a default frame of reference. We know this because answers to these questions behave very differently if worded so as to invoke a different frame.

    For instance, suppose you asked the same households this instead, at date t+5: “All things considered, how happy would you say you are compared to five years ago?” Here, the researcher deliberately evokes a “retrospective temporal frame” and a specific standard of comparison (five years ago). The response scale will reflect that and will be expressed in differences rather than levels. For instance, a three point scale might be “More happy”, “About the same” or “less happy.”
    Let’s call this DD(t,t+5,s): The DD means “a direct difference judgment is elicited” as opposed to the DL notation that means “a difference from judged levels at the two different dates.”

    Typically, the finding is that DD(t,t+5,s) has a significantly positive location, particularly if there has been general growth in wealth, wages and/or income between t and t+5.

    This is where things stood about 15 years ago in this kind of research. There were puzzles like this that needed solving. To my knowledge, they haven’t been confronted in a direct way that allows us to say something like “The default frame measures the happiness that should matter to a ‘benevolent utilitarian philosopher king’, whereas the retrospective frame does not.”

    Therefore, I remain pretty skeptical of the policy relevance of happiness research. Does the default frame produce measures that are described by some sensible things, such as current employment and health status? Sure. It is even correlated with unexpected deviations of recent sunshine from the expected long term trend: A student of mine, Cahit Guven at Deakin University, uses this as an instrument (exogenous forcing variable) for default frame measured happiness, and finds that this seems to predict risk-taking and saving behavior. But none of those interesting behavioral facts have much to do with the prescriptive question: Should (a benevolent utilitarian philosopher king) try to optimize some weighted average of default frame happiness (as opposed to something else)? Here, the intellectual ground is very slippery and maybe 1/8-baked.

    I could go on about this, but I’ll leave it here. Be skeptical of these happiness measures for drawing normative conclusions about societies.

  77. SMS
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 1:41 PM | Permalink

    Thank you that was very interesting.
    However, I was kind of glad that it was an interview and I did not have to read it all 🙂

  78. Alexander Harvey
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 3:11 PM | Permalink

    I listened to Vaclav Smil with great interest, and I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say but I also found the experience terribly empty, almost bankrupt. With the exception of Japan he did not seem to give many other examples of nations adapting to meet constraints. Also he repeatedly told of the folly of prediction yet seemed to dabble in futurism when it suited him. I commend the talk for being information rich but the information did not seem to gel into anything of greater consequence. I think that he needed to be pinned down a lot more and the host seemed to have adopted a very lightweight approach. I think it may be this last point that produced most of my disappointment. Vaclav very obviously knows his stuff but there seemed to be little or no shape to the discourse. I guess I just feel a little cheated that a great opportunity (70 minutes to address his audience) was squandered. I do wonder if the host had done his homework. Perhaps it would have been better and certainly more coherent if he had been ask to speak and had prepared and delivered a proper lecture.


  79. Bob_FJ
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 3:54 PM | Permalink

    Re: TonyN 110 & bender 109 quote:

    Standard policy to snip (1) links to blogs and (2) self-promotional ads for book sales. What’s the beef?

    Further to 110, RC allows its favourates to have links to their blogs embeded within their posting name! For example Barton P Levenson.
    I for one have been totally “snipped” at RC from posting scientific information. (that was devoid of insult or opinion).

  80. Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 4:17 PM | Permalink

    To Mike B (#105): yes, I’m saying the Chief Seattle ‘speech’ is bogus; and its bizarre history and internal howlers are fully documented in the scholarly reference I gave (#102).

    And I didn’t mind being called ‘dude’ in the least. Mate, this is Australia – you should hear what we call each other!

  81. Rich Van Slooten
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 4:37 PM | Permalink

    As a retired Chemical&Elect. engr. what impressed me most about the Revkin/Smil interview was Smil’s enthusiastic optimism about man’s ability to come up with solutions to pressing problems esp. when forced to do so. That warms my heart and wished others were equally as enthusiastic. I am particularly interested in applying solar and PV solutions to my residence, although I realize that the power density, storage and conversion issues really only make it attractive for powering small loads, e.g. lighting and small utilities, none-the-less, I am willing to power a fraction of my residential load using that technology. However, I realize that I am more of a unique case since most folks are unwilling to consider that option because it involves more complexity, more systems to debug and troubleshoot, and substantial expense compared to the resulting benefit. Like Smil, I rather enjoy solving problems, rather than strictly talking – or fretting about them.

  82. MJW
    Posted Oct 19, 2009 at 6:21 PM | Permalink

    For anyone interested in the background to the spurious Chief Seattle letter, Google books has most of the paper mentioned by David Elder, “A Fifth Gospel, Almost.”

  83. Posted Oct 20, 2009 at 9:33 AM | Permalink


    He thinks the conditions of this blip in time that future historians will dub as the Oil PRICE crisis that the industrial world has seen for a mere thirty five years is a permanent reality. Of course, it is not, its merely a temporary transitory situation.

    Mankind entire rise above the animal stage has been marked by his harnessing of ever greater amounts of energy per capita. And the steady march forward has continued in the background and will continue to do so, until it bursts forth as the new conventional wisdom. Cheap, clean, energy in prodigious quantities, is coming within but a few decades. And no it won’t be wind and sun.

    Perfected nuclear, controlled thermonuclear, an electrified world, and perfected ICEs will answer our every need fro power and mobility.

    The Earth is mostly empty but the uneducated who study in our Universities don’t know that. There is literally no problem that is not on the verge of solution.

    Pollution: Its solved; all we need do is declare Victory.

    CO2: Who cares? The GHG effect is overrated by about two orders of magnitude transforming it into a mostly benign ‘greening’ activity.

    War: It has always and ever been true.

    Food Supply: Industrialization of bio food calories is but in its infancy. Eating fish is a resort to hunter gatherer lifestyles and can’t be as efficient as agriculture or industrial food production.

    Disease: Auto immune diseases are on the verge of solutions. The breakthrough will lead to control and be as impressive as Pasteur and Koch in eliminating the bacterial diseases in 1900.

    Development: The entire world will be developed in the next two score years.

    • Severian
      Posted Oct 20, 2009 at 10:50 AM | Permalink

      Re: Stas Peterson (#125),

      One of the things you mention, fishing, is a good example of what happens when you practice hunter/gatherer approaches with the kind of ruthless efficiency that modern technology allows. It is easy to do serious damage that way, but what is encouraging is the growth of aquaculture, which seems to finally be getting the attention it deserves.

      But it also brings out the Luddite attitudes that are so common among some, sadly. I see people protesting aquaculture complaining that the fish aren’t as healthy or good as wild, particularly in the case of salmon. Well, which is it, you want the salmon saved, or you want to eat only wild? I’ve had both, wild is better tasting, but farmed fish are good, and available year round. You also seem to see a lot of fish farming in Southeast Asia, I regularly get Basa, a type of fresh water catfish, for very low prices, and the fish is a good mild, flaky white fish suitable for about anything. Anything that makes protein an affordable and replenishable resource is fine by me.

      But on energy, I can’t recall the environmentalist who said this unfortunately, but he stated that it would be a disaster if humanity found a plentiful, cheap, and clean energy source because of what we’d do with it. How do you deal with people of that mindset? That seems to be the mentality that results in the problems we have where efficient nuclear be damned, and coal be damned, the goal is not pollution control, but reduction of mankind’s power and abilities.

      • MikeN
        Posted Oct 20, 2009 at 9:41 PM | Permalink

        Re: Severian (#126), this was the plot of an episode of the X-Files spinoff The Lone Gunmen. They tracked down the work of someone who was killed by a BigOil/government conspiracy that wanted to keep his inventions off the market. They eventually found his 100MPG car, but decided it would be bad for humanity. Too much sprawl.

      • Mike B
        Posted Oct 21, 2009 at 10:37 AM | Permalink

        Re: Severian (#126),

        Severian, I thought you might enjoy this, especially the part about how turkeys raised in a shed might not understand that they are being “abused” in a way that their free-range domestic brethren aren’t.

        • Severian
          Posted Oct 22, 2009 at 9:07 AM | Permalink

          Re: Mike B (#130),

          Excellent article! It mirrors the things acquaintances of mine who have been farmers in their youth have related to me. One big problem is people anthropomorphize animals too much, a chicken or turkey does not think like a person, if it can be said to think at all. I personally have never found anyone who has actually raised large numbers of chickens who has any great love for the critters or mistakes them for having human like needs. A chicken is basically a biological machine developed over thousands of years by humans to turn scrap into protein. A chicken in a small cage where it’s kept warm, fed, kept from predators, seems happy enough to me…if they were stressed their egg laying would suffer, and evil, profit oriented factory farmers would change their process it seems to me.

          Feeding people is and always will be a messy business until the day when we start growing meat in tanks. It goes back to the statement I made about societies not surviving prosperity. Prosperity means more and more people get removed from the day to day necessities of food production, hunting, farming, raising livestock, and then silly, overly emotional attitudes like this take hold. The purpose of farming is to produce the most quality product for the least money to feed the largest number of people. It’s distressing to think that today, a man like Borlaug (who fathered the Green Revolution and is credited for saving a billion people from starvation) would be demonized by green activists rather than praised for his service to humanity. This mindset also applies to people who put preservation of a small fish or such above the needs of people. I don’t think mankind should completely ignore nature and conservation, but human needs come first.

          Penn and Teller did one of their Bulls*** shows on organic produce, with some interesting and amusing results. They took organic and normal products to an organic food market and had people do taste tests, the majority of people preferred the taste of the regular produce over the organic. They also did a test familiar to anyone who’s worked in audio perceptual testing, where they had an organic and non-organic banana, they told the people which was which in this test, and they overwhelmingly chose the organic banana. Only problem was it was the same banana, a non-organic one they’d cut in half. I’ve seen the same thing done in audio where a cheap Japanese integrated amp was A/B compared using a selector switch with an expensive audiophile tube amp. People overwhelmingly preferred the tube amp, describing all sorts of differences in great detail, but the switch wasn’t connected to anything, they were always listening to the cheap Japanese amp. People are funny things.

          As an aside, I hate the term “organic” as applied to food. Organic has a long standing, unambiguous definition, that is contains carbon atoms. All food is “organic” except salt. I don’t like it when well defined terms get co-opted and corrupted for a cause.

  84. MSnow
    Posted Oct 22, 2009 at 1:01 AM | Permalink

    I just watched the whole thing. On the one hand, his correct description of a generation that cannot name a tree or bird or do common work with their hands except text messages but need to read, stands in stark contrast with two educated gentlemen sitting on the stage facing the enormous question, in their minds, of climate change without a clue in their conversation that the whole CO2 driven argument has been shot full of wholes.

    And his big failure was to address that question in the context of one where he hit the nail on the head: How can the economy of a nation that throws out a couple trillion dollars every few months, survive?…let alone throw trillions more at CO2 sequestration, etc. [and all down the drain for no climate gain]

  85. Neven
    Posted Oct 22, 2009 at 3:29 AM | Permalink

    Andy observed that many present Cassandras (not his term)

    Whose term is this? If it’s from a contrarian/skeptic/denier/lukewarmer we have a case of tragic irony here. I mean, how did things turn out for the Trojans?

  86. Posted Apr 4, 2010 at 12:08 AM | Permalink

    You didn’t really just say that, did you?

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