Out On The Kunstler Axis

Both long time readers and new acquaintences who've delved into our archives may be familiar with James Kunstler. I've taken him to task more than once, and thoroughly enjoyed doing so.

What the sane well-adjusted reader, fully engaged in his or her life, may not realize is that Mr. Kunstler is merely the tip of a particularly filthy iceberg. Apparently, peak oil doomsmanship is a growth industry, and our Mr. Kunstler is a latecomer to the ongoing bonanza.

Now, I thought I knew my way around eco-apocalypse as well as the next man, but I must confess to a degree of consternation at the hyperbolic rhetoric gushing from certain quarters these days. It makes Kunstler look like a staid Rotarian. After all, he thinks our retrograde social slide will stop at the early nineteenth century. In Peak Oil quarters, that makes him an optimist! Others (who should know better) are not so sanguine...

"By 2025, we're going to be back in the Stone Age."

That's the opinion of Kenneth S. Deffeyes, retired Professor of Geology at Princeton. Cheerful old sod, isn't he? Sadly, I suspect he's not entirely engaged in hyperbole here. Or is he?

I do have an apology to make...After stating that the world oil peak had already occurred on December 16, 2005, I reported that the Bush administration hoped to double the direct solar electric generation from the present one percent to two percent by the year 2025. My fingers got away from me and typed out: "By 2025, we'll be back in the Stone Age." I'm sorry that some readers thought that I actually meant that we would be wearing furs and hunting buffalo with flint spear points. It's called "hyperbole." Nevertheless, I have been looking into acquiring some property on the Arkansas novaculite belt. Great flint.

His fingers got away from him. Well, I suppose it will all be very funny until someone puts a pistol in their mouth. And as JD at Peak Oil Debunked has pointed out...

Yah, I know how those finger slips go, Ken. It happens to me a lot, but I usually just erase with the delete key and retype. Generally, I don't break the goof out of the body of the main text, and highlight it in yellow with a snappy black border.

Good point about the snappy black border. Still the man is disavowing his earlier remark, no matter how ironically. So if you prefer that your Oil Peak Prophets be certified absolutely irony free, just consider this fellow...

To those sentimentalists who cannot understand the need to reduce UK population from 60 million to about 2 million over 150 years, and who are outraged at the proposed replacement of human rights by cold logic, I would say “You have had your day, in which your woolly thinking has messed up not just the Western world but the whole planet, which could, if Homo sapiens had been truly intelligent, have supported a small population enjoying a wonderful quality of life almost for ever. You have thrown away that opportunity.”

Perhaps he's just certifiable? That was William Stanton, sharing his deep thoughts with us. Charmingly frank, isn't he? Have you noticed how it's always too late for reasonable measures with these sorts of fellows?

Back in the Golden Age, Paul Ehrlich was advocating compulsory sterilization of the heedlessly procreating Indian peasantry. The battle to feed humanity, after all, was over. It had been fought and lost. Harsh measures were called for, since the ultimate survival of our civilization was at stake. I fear that Mr. Stanton puts Dr. Ehrlich in perspective as the whiney little milk-sop bitch he truly is. Check it out...

The scenario is: Immigration is banned. Unauthorised arrives are treated as criminals. Every woman is entitled to raise one healthy child. No religious or cultural exceptions can be made, but entitlements can be traded. Abortion or infanticide is compulsory if the fetus or baby proves to be handicapped (Darwinian selection weeds out the unfit). When, through old age, accident or disease, an individual becomes more of a burden than a benefit to society, his or her life is humanely ended. Voluntary euthanasia is legal and made easy. Imprisonment is rare, replaced by corporal punishment for lesser offences and painless capital punishment for greater.

Whew! A commenter suggested that the above piece of nasty sounds better when read aloud with a German accent. I do believe they're on to something. Ruhig, untermenschen! Heute...England! Am morgen...die ganze welt!

Regarding all those excess people cluttering up the countryside, Ehrlich just wanted to cut their nuts off. Herr Doktor Stanton proposes to kill them outright, albeit painlessly, and only after the optimal amount of their socially beneficial labor has been extracted. Are we making progress here, or what?

A rough calculation suggests that by following these Draconian but simple rules UK population could be reduced by 5 to 10 million during the first ten years, without excessive pain (compared to the alternatives). If this was thought too fast or too slow, there would be scope for modifying the child entitlements. The punishment regime would improve social cohesiveness by weeding out criminal elements.

I should certainly think so. And that social cohesiveness through public flogging bit sounds like a real win/win doesn't it?

UK military forces should be maintained strong and alert, given that other nations working to different scenarios, or to none, would certainly attempt Darwinian piracy on UK trade routes, or mount mass immigration invasions of UK coasts...

Mass immigration invasions? Darwinian piracy? Say what?

"Arrrrr, Jim. Yer wee favorable alleles be smart as paint, lad, just smart as paint. Hie ye o'er here and bowse yer jib wi' auld Long John."

The, um, extended phenotype? Perhaps we should just move on...

What you couldn't know from the excerpts I've fed you so far is that Stanton postulates an economy based on wood burning as its primary power source. It's ever so sustainable, and "greenhouse neutral" too. Too bad it's also freaking insane. For an excellent first hack at his flawed premise, check out the Ergosphere's analysis.

Is 230 tons of wood per capita per year a reasonable assumption, what would it take to get its energy equivalent without burning fossil fuel, and how much land would be required?

Assuming elm wood at 20 million BTU/cord (128 cubic feet), 23% void space and 35 pounds per cubic foot yields a heat product of ~5800 BTU per pound or ~3750 kWh per metric ton. 230 tons per capita per year comes out to 862,500 kWh/capita/year or an energy consumption of 98 kW equivalent. That's average, not peak. This is clearly a very high number, leading to an extremely pessimistic conclusion...

Forests are not particularly good converters of solar energy to biomass; they use a great deal on housekeeping. Grasses are certainly better. But is biomass even among the top contenders? Stanton's productivity figure of 8 dry tons per hectare per year leads to an average power capture of 30,000 kWh/ha/yr or 3.4 kW/ha. This is a pitifully low figure. If the average house has a footprint of 80 square meters, the roof is covered with PV cells at 15% efficiency and each square meter receives an average of 4 kWh of sunlight per day, the roof would produce 48 kWh/day or an average of 2 kW.

A hectare of these roofs would average 250 kW, or more than 70 times Stanton's assumption. A city-full of solar roofs could easily be twenty times as productive as Stanton's proposed energy farms; a hectare could support the complete energy needs of 25 people, and the land Stanton would devote to a hamlet of 100 would be able to support the energy needs of 7500 people using a mere 10% of its 3000 hectares - much of which could be met by the light falling on buildings and roads...It is clear that the assumption of a wood economy is not just unreasonable, it is ridiculous.

Hmm. I wonder what the Engineer-Poet would make of that barodynamic (pneumokinetic?) power plant notion at Cold Energy LLC. Is it just a pipe dream? He has the analytical math skills which I (in all humility) lack.

Regarding Stanton and his ilk, I find that it's almost too easy to laugh at such people. And very much to their credit, most of the people who buy into the peak oil doom scenario find such ideas contemptible. Good for them! But they're still sick with worry about this alleged doom hanging over their heads.

Thirty five years ago I was taught to believe as they do and I'm truly sympathetic to their situation.
It's not especially pleasant to contemplate the wreck of all you hold dear. I know. Having shared their situation, perhaps I'm overly sensitized to their troubles. I'll let you be the judge.

Let me give you just a few examples from the comment section of Peak Oil Debunked, a site that I admire most for going out and digging up, you know, actual facts. But enough with the introduction. Let's meet some worried people...

All the sites you mention are not only inaccurate, they are actually dangerous. Many people (myself included) have been taken in by the 'scientific' language used and wasted enormous amounts of time and energy on worrying and preparing for the 'hard landing' scenario they assure us is inevitable. Because these sites all link to each other it can take a long time before you realise that nobody else thinks like they do. I got caught up in the downward spiral of checking peakoil.com, energybulletin, bloomberg's oil page and several egroups (runningonempty2 & 3, alasbabylon etc.) on a daily basis - this leads to a self-reinforcing belief that the doomsters are right. This leads to a mindset that thinks things like: 'What is the point in trying to better yourself as it's all going to end soon anyway?' I think it is essential that the whole 'peak oil' bandwagon is exposed as a gigantic fraud...

I agree. But it's rather daunting when I realize that this is the same sort of flaccid, half-baked, dismal pseudo-science that I've been railing about for twenty years now. You'd almost think that no one was listening...

I have to say, first off, that I'm like anonymous #2 said. I discovered the concept of PO through one of the scariest doorways possible: LATOC...and let me tell you, to this day i am really grateful to Matt Savinar for the wake up call...the problem with LATOC's approach is that...lawyers present only those facts that support their case and work very very hard to hide or discredit any facts that go against their case...

LATOC almost cost me my job and my family. i was almost literally paralyzed (certainly mentally) for months. like anon #2 i visited dieoff, read the olduvai crap, spent a lot of time on runningonempty. my wife started to find me intolerable, i was unable to get work done at my job, i was neglecting my kid... basically i was of the opinion that we are already totally fucked and there's nothing to do but wait for the carnage to begin.

it took me a long time to get out of the funk, and i'm now significantly more optimistic. deep down inside the fear remains, but i realized that it's not game over yet.

i think this is a bad thing that happened to me. i could easily see people like myself putting a gun in their mouth or committing non-physical suicide such as losing their jobs, health, etc.

i don't want to sound like a JD worshipper, but this blog was a primary reason for me getting out of my funk...i disagree with JD on a lot of points, and don't share his optimism for space power or his disdain for the american people but i do agree with this blog's name more and more.

So JD has helped save a marriage at the very least. Perhaps even a life. That's more than most blogs manage to do. Let's meet another depressed fellow...

I have to agree with Popmonkey. Like him, I came to the notion of Peak Oil via LATOC.

Also like him, I was emotionally paralyzed with fear. He talks about metaphorically putting a gun in his mouth. I very nearly did so literally, and only responsibility to my wife and two young children saved me from that...Fortunately, I started reading some other stuff...

While the doomer sites do get your attention, I fear that they are dangerous. As I said, if it weren't for my kids, LATOC would be responsible for at least one death by now...

There is no question for me that peak is inevitable. On the other hand, I now hold out hope that we can and will be able to sustain worthwhile life on Earth without massive die-offs and collapse of civilization.

Progress, of a sort. I'm somewhat heartened. Certainly, some people will cling to their negativity like gloomy remoras rather than admit the possibility of success. It makes me happy that this fellow was willing to evaluate the evidence dispassionately, and then change his mind. If you spend enough time on political blogs, you begin to doubt that's possible...

I remember when I first came across Peak Oil through the doomer websites, it was like the entire universe had come crashing down. It was the worst feeling I have ever experienced. Because I knew very little about oil and oil-related issues, I just assumed that things like "oil has no substitutes" and "oil creates a phantom carrying capacity" were true.

Luckily I did some proper research and soon realised that there are about a thousand solutions to Peak Oil. The argument that increasing oil prices will make them impossible to implement is utter bollocks.

Music to my ears. A good home research program can have a remarkably calmative effect. Outreach can be helpful too...

I'd like to converse with some of you guys. See, I've been in the PO Doom for about a month now and I had it early in the year as well...it's funny someone talked about offing themself, because I've come close several times now...

If people want to shoot their mouths off and panic the unwary, well, I suppose that's their constitutional right. Caveat emptor, and all that. I would never want to abolish freedom of speech, or even just abridge it a little. And I would certainly be the last man to say that people shouldn't have hobbies. But Kunstler and the other Peak Oil Professional Alarmists offend me.

They deserve as much ridicule (leavened with helpful facts) as we can possibly afford to ladle out. In a nutshell, they are despicable opportunists, battening on the fears of the trusting and credulous. They steal attention from real problems (of which we have no shortage). Ridicule is too good for them.

posted by Justin on 03.14.06 at 04:38 PM


I just don't understand. We managed to go from wood and coal in a few short years yet people believe that we live and die for oil. What is wrong with falling back to wood, coal and hydro? Then there is that little solar/wind/nuclear thing. Living on a farm, we understood how to make ethanol as well. Sometimes I think that common sense died when we all got polio vaccinations.

mdmhvonpa   ·  March 14, 2006 7:10 PM

It's the florinated water dude.

Mark Olson   ·  March 14, 2006 10:12 PM

sorry fluoridated (?).

Mark Olson   ·  March 14, 2006 10:12 PM

And of course there is the totally unexpected 10 billion barrel oilfield which just turned up im Mexico. Heck, based on the numbers when I first started hearing peak oil predictions we should have run out years ago.

triticale   ·  March 18, 2006 11:03 AM

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