Sunday, October 30, 2005

Is US becoming hostile to science? By Alan Elsner
Fri Oct 28,10:13 AM ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A bitter debate about how to teach evolution in U.S. high schools is prompting a crisis of confidence among scientists, and some senior academics warn that science itself is under assault.

In the past month, the interim president of Cornell University and the dean of the Stanford University School of Medicine have both spoken on this theme, warning in dramatic terms of the long-term consequences.

"Among the most significant forces is the rising tide of anti-science sentiment that seems to have its nucleus in Washington but which extends throughout the nation," said Stanford's Philip Pizzo in a letter posted on the school Web site on October 3.

Cornell acting President Hunter Rawlings, in his "state of the university" address last week, spoke about the challenge to science represented by "intelligent design" which holds that the theory of evolution accepted by the vast majority of scientists is fatally flawed.

Rawlings said the dispute was widening political, social, religious and philosophical rifts in U.S. society. "When ideological division replaces informed exchange, dogma is the result and education suffers," he said.

Adherents of intelligent design argue that certain forms in nature are too complex to have evolved through natural selection and must have been created by a "designer," who could but does not have to be identified as God.


In the past five years, the scientific community has often seemed at odds with the Bush administration over issues as diverse as global warming, stem cell research and environmental protection. Prominent scientists have also charged the administration with politicizing science by seeking to shape data to its own needs while ignoring other research.

Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians have built a powerful position within the Republican Party and no Republican, including Bush, can afford to ignore their views.

This was dramatically illustrated in the case of Terri Schiavo earlier this year, in which Republicans in Congress passed a law to keep a woman in a persistent vegetative state alive against her husband's wishes, and Bush himself spoke out in favor of "the culture of life."

The issue of whether intelligent design should be taught, or at least mentioned, in high school biology classes is being played out in a Pennsylvania court room and in numerous school districts across the country.

The school board of Dover, Pennsylvania, is being sued by parents backed by the American Civil Liberties Union after it ordered schools to read students a short statement in biology classes informing them that the theory of evolution is not established fact and that gaps exist in it.

The statement mentioned intelligent design as an alternative theory and recommended students to read a book that explained the theory further.

Brown University biologist Kenneth Miller believes the rhetoric of the anti-evolution movement has had the effect of driving a wedge between a large proportion of the population who follow fundamentalist Christianity and science.

"It is alienating young people from science. It basically tells them that the scientific community is not to be trusted and you would have to abandon your principles of faith to become a scientist, which is not at all true," he said.

On the other side, conservative scholar Michael Novak of the American Enterprise Institute, believes the only way to heal the rift between science and religion is to allow the teaching of intelligent design.

"To have antagonism between science and religion is crazy," he said at a forum on the issue last week.

Proponents of intelligent design deny they are anti-science and say they themselves follow the scientific method.


Polls for many years have shown that a majority of Americans are at odds with key scientific theory. For example, as CBS poll this month found that 51 percent of respondents believed humans were created in their present form by God. A further 30 percent said their creation was guided by God. Only 15 percent thought humans evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years.

Other polls show that only around a third of American adults accept the Big Bang theory of the origin of the universe, even though the concept is virtually uncontested by scientists worldwide.

"When we ask people what they know about science, just under 20 percent turn out to be scientifically literate," said Jon Miller, director of the center for biomedical communication at Northwestern University.

He said science and especially mathematics were poorly taught in most U.S. schools, leading both to a shortage of good scientists and general scientific ignorance.

U.S. school students perform relatively poorly in international tests of mathematics and science. For example, in 2003 U.S. students placed 24th in an international test that measured the mathematical literacy of 15-year-olds, below many European and Asian countries.

Scientists bemoan the lack of qualified U.S. candidates for postgraduate and doctoral studies at American universities and currently fill around a third of available science and engineering slots with foreign students.

Northwestern's Miller said the insistence of a large proportion of Americans that humans were created by God as whole beings had policy implications for the future.

"The 21st century will be the century of biology and we are going to be confronted with hundreds of important public policy issues that require some understanding that all life is interconnected," he said.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

How to loosen American grip on our energy?
>by Linda McQuaig
October 24, 2005

When it comes to oil, the Middle East is where the action is. Or as Dick Cheney once put it — before he was vice-president and became careful about saying such things — the Middle East is “where the prize ultimately lies.”

Outside the Middle East, generous oil endowments are rare. Interestingly, Canada is among the well-endowed. With our small population and relatively abundant reserves, we are one of the few western nations with the potential for something the U.S. yearns for: energy independence.

Oil is the lifeblood of the modern economy. It's the most effective and flexible form of energy, so we could count ourselves lucky up here.

Too bad, then, that we trusted our fate back in the early 1990s to a small team of negotiators appointed by the Mulroney government.

Sadly, in the course of negotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement, these Canadian negotiators acquiesced to Washington's demands for guaranteed access to our oil. They agreed to Section 605, which prevents us from cutting back our oil exports to the U.S. The section also prevents the U.S. from cutting back its oil exports to us, but they don't export oil to us.

This has potentially ominous implications for Canada.

The world is rapidly running out of easily accessible oil. Supplies of affordable oil will therefore be more precarious in the future. A recent report by the U.S. Energy Department's National Technology Laboratory bluntly noted: “The world has never faced a problem like this.”

Of course, oil contributes to global warming, so it's important we reduce our consumption. But, until we move to an alternative or learn to live with less, oil remains crucial to our way of life.

Yet, despite looming oil shortages, Canada is blithely exporting roughly 70 per cent of all the oil we produce each year to the U.S., rapidly depleting what's left of our easily accessible oil. Under NAFTA, we can't cut back that proportion, unless we cut our own consumption.

Meanwhile, Canada is also an oil importer. The eastern and central parts of the country, including Ontario, rely heavily on imported oil.

So, if there were international oil shortages, many Canadians would suffer. NAFTA would prevent us from redirecting oil headed for the U.S. to destinations in Canada, no matter how great the Canadian need.

If this doesn't amount to handing over too much control over our oil to the U.S., what would?

The Mulroney government presumably surrendered this control in exchange for what it said was a guarantee that our goods would have access to the U.S. market — a guarantee which, we were told, was Canada's reason for signing NAFTA. But the final deal contained no such guarantee, as Canadian critics noted at the time, and as the ongoing softwood lumber saga underscores. So we not only gave up control over our oil, it seems we gave it up for, well, nothing.

Originally published by The Toronto Star Linda McQuaig's column usually appears every Monday.
Burgers, gin, meth: It's our toxic drive
>by Heather Mallick
October 23, 2005

So many people are fat now that they're getting close to a majority. It seems odd that they need defending. But I recoil at the venom shot their way. Here's an antidote they may or may not want to take up for themselves.

If the recent public tarring and feathering of Kate Moss for her personal Bolivian Marching Powder festival is cruel and hypocritical — and it is — then surely we should defend the fat. For them, food is just another drug.

I had been puzzling for years about people in the Western nations who cannot refuse the dubious pleasures and benefits of the heavily processed, over-fertilized and pesticided fat-thick food products sold to us in TV ads and surrounding us in fast-food joints. Wendy's, McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, Subway, Pizza Pizza, Taco Bell — they line the streets.

As I watch TV ads in which fake steam rises from what is intended to look like huge chunks of lobster in white sauce but is more likely Elmer's Glue over Styrofoam with a vapour machine working overtime, my stomach heaves. I block my eyes. Wouldn't eat that if you paid me, I say, but I would if I were exhausted from my minimum-wage job, facing a hungry family and longing for something quick and tasty. Cheap salt and grease is ideal if you don't have time for sanity and nutrition and lack the drive to boil and mash a huge waxy turnip and sprinkle it with nuts and seeds. Who among us does?

Fat people haul around their Kummerspeck, the German word for “grief bacon,” or weight gained from emotion-linked overeating. Kummerspeck is a byproduct of addiction, no different from the megalomania of the cokehead or the violence of the drunk.

Obesity is one of the reasons for the wave of diabetes hitting Canadians now. That disease is another reason not to be fat. But fat people aren't ashamed because they think passersby are secretly blaming them for increasing health-care costs with their lighthearted approach to insulin. Rather, they are haunted by self-blame for having violated our aesthetic norms. We don't like the look of fat people. Neither do they.

But they have the misfortune to be hooked on a drug whose side effect comes fast and isn't aesthetically pleasing. Other drugs' side effects are less obvious.

Many fine minds, from Nietzsche to theorist Terence McKenna, have studied the use of intoxicants to take the human into another state, ideally of pleasure but often just another state for the sake of it. Taking drugs, legal or otherwise, drinking alcohol and coffee, or using other means like sex or extreme sports is part of the “toxic drive.” I have written about this before, as it seems to explain an increasing number of things in our lives. American literary theorist Avital Ronell was the first to use it, although she bows to Heidegger, and who doesn't, I ask.

The human animal is conscious and is conscious of its consciousness. Out of sheer mischief, we want to play with it, or take a vacation from ourselves. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't twang a chord somewhere on the toxic drive.

Americans deplore the toxic drive even as they press on its pedal and speed away. They are the world's biggest consumers of everything. They swallow medicaments like booze and Rolaids, drugs for diseases that don't exist (like social anxiety disorder), drugs for real diseases while abhorring preventive medicine, drugs for fleeting pleasure like cigarettes, heroin, cocaine, crystal meth, crack, Ecstasy and caffeine. Then they take quieting drugs to sleep it off. “Give us long rest or death, dark death or dreamful ease,” wrote Tennyson, the patron poet of downers.

Rush Limbaugh takes OxyContin in Elvis-like proportions and balloons accordingly while excoriating drug users. He adores Ashley Smith, the Atlanta widow taken hostage by a mass murderer who read to him from The Purpose-Driven Life. But it turns out that she and Rush have much in common. She gave crystal meth to her hostage-taker (she was trying to kick her own addiction) and then she read to him. He mellowed and really got into it, as meth users do about everything.

Tony Blair is addicted to coffee to the extent that it is affecting his heart. Bill Clinton likes to think in retrospect that he would have shunned Monica Lewinsky, but he wouldn't. Sex is an almost irresistible drug. Rumour has it that a scared President George W. Bush is drinking again. Frankly, I would too if I had failed as badly as he.

Food is Americans' favourite intoxicant. Not only do they eat extreme food (deep-fried turkey, anybody?), but they eat it in massive portions. In eating contests, people regularly ingest 40 pounds of something horrible like hot dogs and cream pie. Eerily, they are proud to win. I call that addiction. Mr. Bush, a former alcoholic, mocked Karla Faye Tucker as he signed off on her execution. She had murdered while in a horrific drugged state. But Mr. Bush's drug is legal and hers wasn't. Then he heads off to a barbecue where he and his friends consume a whole cow. Beef and booze are okay.

But we cannot ignore the fact of human pleasure. Distinguished social scientist Charlie Brooker concedes that diets save lives. But are they lives worth saving? “Would you rather live to be a wizened 500-year-old [praying] mantis? Or die fat, young and merry with caramel smeared round your mouth?” It's a fair question.

Wealth has brought the Western world to a fantastic level of intoxication. Yet we are unhappy. All in toxicology makes us soar; afterward, we feel wretched. But let's not claim that addiction to bad food is worse than any other form of enslavement. Love the drug you're with.

Heather Mallick's column is in The Globe and Mail each
Saturday. It appears on Sunday in

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sunk-Cost Effects Made Ancient Societies Vulnerable to Collapse
Scheffer, Marten
Coauthors: M.A. Janssen, T. A. Kohler

Judging by the variety of explanations proffered in the literature, societies apparently collapse for a variety of reasons. In an influential review, Tainter (1988: 39-90) finds that published explanations for the famous collapses of the Classic Maya, the western Roman Empire, and many other less famous episodes such as the demise of the Chimu of Peru or the Chacoan system in the U.S. Southwest tend to fall into 11 major categories, with resource depletion or deterioration one of the most commonly adduced causes (see, for example, Hodell et al. 1997, 2001; Weiss and Bradley 2001). Another common explanation is insufficient response to circumstances, or “failure to adapt.” Tainter rejects both such explanations. Resource-degradation explanations beg the question as to why “societies sit by and watch the encroaching weakness without taking corrective actions…. As it becomes apparent to the members or administrators of a complex society that a resource base is deteriorating, it seems most reasonable to assume that some rational steps are taken towards a resolution…. If a society cannot deal with resource depletion (which all societies are to some extent designed to do) then the truly interesting questions revolve around the society, not the resource. What structural, political, or economic factors in a society prevented an appropriate response?” [1988:50; emphasis added].

As to the possibility that societies fail because they are inherently fragile, or static, or incapable of shifting directions, Tainter (1988:54-61, 89) considers this too not so much an explanation as something that, if true in particular cases, must be explained.

SUNK-COST EFFECTS: INDIVIDUALS AND GROUPS In this paper we seek to unite these two explanations in a model that suggests why and under what conditions societies faced with resource degradation might “fail to adapt.” We are not peddling a new universal theory for societal collapse; we do hope to insert into the anthropological conversation on collapse a mechanism—little noticed to date—making some societies more vulnerable to collapse under certain conditions. Our model, which we illustrate with a simple mathematical characterization, is based on a well-documented systematic deviation from rational decision-making known as the “sunk-cost effect” (Arkes and Ayton 1999). Rational choice theory tells us that prior investment should not influence one’s choice between options. Only the expected future costs and benefits of the current options should influence one’s decision. (Of course, prior investments may affect the knowledge and experience of the decision maker, but such effects can be included in the rational choice theory explanation of decision-making.) Numerous studies (Arkes 1996; Arkes and Ayton 1999; Teger 1980) nevertheless demonstrate that humans do consider prior investment in deciding what course of action to take.

Most sunk-cost research is focused on individual decision-making. The main explanation of observed escalation of commitment is self-justification (Brockner 1992). The idea of self-justification is that people do not like to admit that their past decisions were incorrect, and therefore reaffirm the correctness of those earlier decisions even in the face of evidence that the outcome was unsuccessful. One might expect that such irrational behaviour could be corrected in groups. Groups, however, actually tend to hang on to a given mode of behaviour even more than individuals. This may be largely due to a general tendency of individuals to agree with peers as demonstrated in classical experiments (Asch 1955) A SIMPLE MODEL FOR RESOURCE DYNAMICS UNDER HARVEST In conclusion, there is abundant empirical evidence that humans become increasingly unlikely to abandon a (failing) course of action to the extent that they have more existing investment in it, and that this effect tends to be amplified by group processes. We propose that this dynamic may lead to the postponing of small adaptive adjustments until more dramatic changes become necessary. To see how this effect might lead to collapse of settlements, suppose that the dynamics of the local renewable resources (R) used by a settlement of humans (H) can be described by a classic model of logistically regrowing resource exploited by a consumer such as:

We will not consider human population dynamics in detail, but simply assume that the population in the settlement tends to grow if resources are abundant, but decrease if the resource level falls below a certain critical limit (RC) when individuals quit the settlement in search of better opportunities. We may now analyse the dynamics graphically through a ‘slow-fast approach’ (Rinaldi and Scheffer 2000), if we consider the dynamics of human settlement size (H) to be slow relative to the dynamics of the resource. This appears to be a reasonable assumption for many agricultural societies where production may vary greatly from year to year, as they do in prehispanic Pueblo dry-farming regimes of southwestern North America (Van West 1993) from which our examples will come.

Plotting the critical resource level (RC) below which humans quit the place together with the resource equilibrium curve we can explore the expected effect of investment in fixed structures (either temples, other public structures, or housing) on the dynamics of settlements (fig. 2). The sunk-cost effect implies that the critical resource level (RC) tolerated before abandoning the site should decrease if more has been invested in fixed structures. Thus, if not much has been invested in local settlements this level will tend to be high (fig. 2a) resulting in a stable equilibrium at the intersection of the two zero-growth isoclines. If sunk-cost effects cause people to leave only at a lower resource level this equilibrium shifts to higher population densities (fig. 2b). At even stronger sunk-cost effects the intersection is in the unstable part of the resource curve (fig. 2c). In this case the settlement will grow until point F2 is reached and the resource crashes, followed by abandonment of the settlement. Eventually the resources will recover and new settlements may be set up in the same area, or nearby, resulting in a cyclic development. Inputs from outside the region denoted by parameter i in equation (1), for example by trade, will shift the curves in these figures to the right. The system may reach higher population levels due to such external inputs, but the qualitative impact of the sunk-cost effect remains the same.

Obviously, conditions are never constant and the deterministic model of equation (1) may exaggerate the importance of sunk costs in leading to settlement abandonment or more dramatically, societal collapse. One may alternatively interpret fig. 2c as a system that becomes vulnerable due to increasing settlement size. Disturbances such as floods, droughts, or conflict with neighbouring groups may push the system over the edge leading to a collapse. The effect of adverse events in this model can most intuitively be visualized by means of stability landscapes (fig. 3). Stochastic events that reduce resource abundance (e.g., pests, fires, droughts) may have little effect in small settlements but in large settlements can easily bring the system across the border of the attraction basin of the over-exploited state, resulting in a crash. Thus the model predicts that sunk-cost effects can lead to growth of settlements to a point where they are about to overexploit their resources. At this point resilience (the “basin of attraction”) becomes very small and adverse stochastic events will tend to induce collapse.

Evidently, the actual value of the parameters in such abstract models will be difficult to assess in practice, but analyses with various minimal models of this form (not shown) indicate that the behaviour occurs over a wide range of parameter values and alternative models. For instance, we analysed an alternative model in which human migration dynamics are included explicitly and the critical point for leaving a settlement depends on realized consumption (C) rather than resource level (R). This yielded the same qualitative results. We also obtained similar results from a more elaborate model including the economics of societies and the dynamics of investment in settlement structures (Janssen et al. 2002). It thus appears that the prediction is quite robust against details of the models used: societies that invest heavily in structures, monuments, or even equipment and facilities for very specific extractive activities become liable to collapse through sunk-cost effects from resource overexploitation.

IDENTIFYING SUNK-COST EFFECTS IN THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL RECORD In our original publication (Current Anthropology, 2003) we extensively scrutinize evidence for this effect from prehispanic Pueblo (Anasazi) populations, who constructed many hamlets of just a few households, but also much larger villages some of the largest non-earthen structures built in the U.S. before the Chicago skyscrapers of the 1880s (e.g., Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico; Lekson 1984). The sunk-cost hypothesis predicts that people will continue to invest in construction at large settlements even into periods of scarcity, whereas construction at small settlements should be more confined to periods of relative abundance, given the slighter investment in local facilities. Using tree ring analysis data from wood recovered from the buildings at the archaeological sites, we showed that, as expectedpredicted by the sunk-cost effect, construction in hamlets is restricted primarily to years in which productivity is at or above the long-term mean, whereas construction in villages persists under highly variable (and even poor) conditions.

This and other observations we analysed strongly suggests that indeed people with large investments have, as a result of those investments, a tendency to rather rigidly attempt to maintain a previously successful way of life in areas and times when they are experiencing severely reduced returns on those investments—even to the point where they make additional investments in trying to maintain what perhaps ought to have been perceived as a lost case. As a result, local depletion becomes more severe than would have been the case, had they chosen to leave earlier, or otherwise changed the nature of their adaptation. In turn the final collapse appears all the more dramatic, given the more impressive nature of the final structures left behind in a desolate landscape.

Certainly, more archaeological records would need to be scrutinized to discover how general sunk-cost effects might be in inducing vulnerability to collapse in prehistoric societies with large structural investments. However, the strong empirical foundation in social psychological work and the fit to these Puebloan data encourage us to suspect that these effects are quite general. An attractive aspect of this model is that despite its simplicity it covers the three major ingredients that have been reappearing in the “collapse literature” for decades: the role of adverse events, the impressive size of collapsing settlements, and signs of overexploitation of resources during terminal occupations.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The king of real estate's cashing out
Tom Barrack is selling most of his U.S. portfolio. Maybe you should be nervous too.
October 22, 2005: 6:05 PM EDT
By Shawn Tully, Fortune Senior Writer

NEW YORK (Fortune) - Tom Barrack, arguably the world's greatest real estate investor, is methodically selling off his U.S. real estate holdings as prices drive the market to nosebleed levels.

He likens the current real estate market to a game of polo.

"I feel totally safe playing polo on a field full of pros," says the bronzed 58-year old. "But when amateurs are all over the field, someone can get killed. They have more guts than brains. They charge after every ball and don't know when to hold back."

It's the same with U.S. real estate right now. "There's too much money chasing too few good deals, with too much debt and too few brains." The amateurs are going to get trampled, he explains, taking seasoned horsemen, who should get off the turf, down with them.

Says Barrack: "That's why I'm getting out."

Investors take heed. Barrack may be an amateur at polo, but when it comes to judging markets, he's the ultimate pro.

Arguably the best real estate investor on the planet, he runs a $245 billion portfolio of trophy assets, from the Raffles hotel chain in Asia to the Aga Khan's former resort in Sardinia to Resorts International, the largest private gaming company in the U.S.

Barrack's Colony Capital, one of the largest private equity firms devoted solely to real estate, has racked up returns of 21 percent annually since 1990, handing investors, chiefly pension funds and college endowments, 17 percent after all fees.

Barrack bought the Fukuoka Dome, Japan's Yankee Stadium, in part because he calculated that the titanium in retractable roof was worth as much as the purchase price.

His strategy is to buy classy but neglected properties anywhere in the world where prices are low. Then, he'll pour in capital to fix them up, and resell in them in five years of so with their pedigrees fully restored. Says his friend Donald Trump: "Tom has an amazing vision of the future, an ability to see what's going to happen that no one else can match."

Right now, Barrack's view of the U.S. market couldn't be clearer: It's a great time to sell, and a terrible time to buy.

In fact, he sees signs of the tech bubble mentality in real estate. Too much capital is chasing real estate, he explains, with hedge funds, private equity groups, and rich investors all bidding on the same properties. "They've driven prices to the point where the yields on high-quality properties are like the returns on bonds, around 5 percent or 6 percent," says Barrack. "That's too low."

And he sees the bubble deflating soon. Barrack thinks the catalyst will be a trend few others are talking about, a steep rise in the price of building materials and labor. "Construction costs have spiked 20 percent in the past nine months," he says. The reasons: Shortages of labor and materials like lumber because of the building boom, and increases in the price of oil, needed to produce everything from plastic piping to insulation to shingles.

The slump will show up first in speculative hot spots like Miami and Las Vegas, he says, where condo developers are preselling their projects for what looks like big profits. When they actually build the units over the next year or two, he predicts, they will end up spending more then the units are now selling for.

At that point, says Barrack, the developers will try to raise prices. "But most of these buyers are speculators," he says. "They will either sue the developers to get the original price or take their deposits back and walk away." The developers will then put the units back on the market, and the glut of vacant condos will drive prices down. "It's the busted deals caused by construction costs that will cause the turn in the market," he says.

So Barrack is buying just one type of property in the U.S.: Casinos. And in contrast to most gaming titans, he's doing it on the cheap.

Colony paid just $280 million for the 3000 room Las Vegas Hilton in 2003, one-tenth of what Steve Wynn paid to build his new casino, which has roughly the same number of rooms.

The reason Barrack likes casinos is that he's licensed to operate casinos in all the major markets, while most other private equity firms and other financial players don't have licenses. Hence, they're locked out of the market, and can't bid against Barrack. For Barrack, casinos are a safe, exclusive preserve, far from the frenzied melee that's makes every other part of U.S. real estate such a dangerous place to play.

For now, Barrack is getting off the field. But when the din subsides, and the amateurs depart, look for Barrack to ride back in, mallet cocked, ready to play again.
Oil Forecasting Legend Discusses Peak Oil, Share Prices

By Michael J. DesLauriers
19 Oct 2005 at 05:13 PM EDT

TORONTO ( -- When Henry Groppe shares his opinion about the oil patch, investors would be well advised to pay attention. Groppe has 55 years experience in the business and his list of clients includes not only some of the biggest oil companies in the world, but governments as well. Groppe, Long and Litell are known to be among the most accurate forecasters of oil and natural gas prices in the world.

Groppe attributes his success to methodology, “Our approach is to do detailed analysis from the bottom up, to look very carefully at all the producing history and producing trends and recognize then these two controlling fundamentals of depletion and the rational progressive nature of exploration. That has always given us a good approach to accurate forecasting and enables us to forecast major changes in direction and that's what’s most important.”

In a recent interview Henry Groppe shared some of his views on the major issues surrounding these key commodities.

Prices/Peak Oil

Unlike some other well-followed thinkers on the subject, Groppe doesn’t see prices exploding to over $100 a barrel, nor is he quite so concerned about the reserves of OPEC members such as Saudi Arabia.

Groppe believes that, “we are at the point where production is peaking and the price required to restrain consumption to match this future available supply is in the 50-60 dollar range on an annual average basis…This or next year might very well be the all time peak year in world liquid petroleum production.”

His view is that, “it’s going to be essential to achieve reductions in consumption because we're forecasting no continual increase in total world oil supplies in the future.” Groppe estimates that, “a price range of $50-$60 a barrel is going to be required in order to in effect cause no growth in total world oil consumption. That we think will be the composite of continuing but slower growth in transportation fuel use of oil, because that consumption grows essentially with the vehicle population in the world. With higher prices there will be pressure toward more fuel efficient vehicles and we’ll see actual consumption decreases in fuel oil where all you’re after is a source of heat, and that’s the way the system will balance itself.”

Groppe finds himself sort of in the middle in terms of the prevailing views on the future, both optimistic and pessimistic. He stated that, “Matt Simmon's view is that we're just on the verge of seeing very significant depletion decline rates and total world oil production will then decline precipitously and were approaching the end of the world economy as we've known it. Major oil companies take the view that it will be relatively easy to continually expand oil production, specifically, they all agree that world oil production can be expanded 50% in the next 25 years and we disagree very strongly with both of those viewpoints. We think there will be a flattening of total oil supply and the high prices needed to constrain consumption to match that available supply.”

Saudi Arabia

Because outsiders can’t verify the reserve figures of OPEC countries, many analysts wonder whether the published figures can really be backed up. With Saudi Arabia’s largest fields going into decline, the question is: can the oil be replaced and production levels be maintained? Groppe has an answer:

“Saudi Arabia is the largest exporter in the world, I went to live and work in Saudi Arabia in 1948, I know it very well, I follow it very closely. They did a very careful study to develop a long-term business plan for the kingdom and concluded that, and put it in place in 1994. The study reported that roughly 8-9 million barrels a day of oil production is something that they could comfortably sustain for several decades and that’s the balance of the resource base and all the other resources needed to develop and maintain oil production as you’re having to replace and flush over fields with new smaller fields. They've been on that path since 1994, producing in this 8-9 million barrel a day range and we think they'll be able to comfortable sustain that for many years to come.”

“We have six major exporting countries in the world today: Saudi Arabia, Russia, Venezuela, Iraq, Iran and Nigeria. Together they account for over 40% of total world oil supply and security and stability concerns are growing continuously in everyone of those. Its impossible to predict when disruption might occur and in which country but I think that they're equal risk across the board and all of my comments about future oil prices are based on the assumption there are no disruptions, the probability is high that there will be.”

Canada/Oil Sands/Shale

Groppe sees Canada as the most favourable place to invest for energy and sees the country as being of strategic importance going forward. He noted that Canada provides, “something like 14% or so of our total gas supply and with our production having peaked some years ago and declining, that’s been very important to us. In fact over the last 12 or 14 years if Canada had not had the ability and willingness and infrastructure that allowed them to increase their gas exports to us about 500%, we'd have had a gas crisis for many years.”

Despite some concern amongst investors about the increase in CAPEX on a lot of oil sands projects due to rising input costs and technical and logistical considerations, Groppe is convinced that, “even with these increased prices we think the economics of oil sands production in this $50 - $60/barrel range are very favourable. There will be continuing work on the part of all the oil sands producers to use energy more efficiently.”

With high oil prices always come unconventional methods of meeting the world’s consumption needs. One play on that is shale and the share prices of related players have been doing very well. Groppe, however, is not a believer, at least not for the time being. According to him, “We have enormous resources of shale in the western part of the U.S. The difficulty with it is that it's a very dense rock with the oil held in that, it almost looks like a piece of a formation in a typical oil field where if you looked at it, you’d never dream that it could produce oil. It looks like a rock you’d pick up off the ground. To recover it you have to mine that rock, then you have to pulverize it and with heat, drive off the contained oil. In the process that volume of rock is expanded perhaps as much as two-fold, so you've got a huge disposal problem. A lot of work has been devoted to trying to develop in-situ methods but so far none of those have been very successful, so we doubt this is going to be very significant in the next 10-15 years.”


From an investment standpoint the answer still seems clear – energy stocks should continue to move higher despite corrections and volatility along the way. Groppe thinks investors need to hold their ground and not be phased by short-term price swings such as those we’ve experienced recently. His advises that, “if you believe in these fundamentals and the type of future pricing environment that I’ve described you need to ignore these short-term variations in equity prices with the fluctuations in oil and gas prices. I've given you my view on the average annual long-term prices, but since you have both of these very important industries [oil and gas] essentially operating at capacity and you've got all kinds of unpredictable events that occur all year long...there will be significant continuing volatility from this point forward and that just needs to be ignored as long as fundamentals remain intact.”

Groppe has 90% of all his equity investments in energy, and 65% of that is in Canadian energy stocks.
U.S. material wealth leads to clutter

By Joseph B. Verrengia, AP Science Writer | October 22, 2005

BOULDER, Colo. --Karen Lowe looks a little lost, even in her own apartment. Board games and puzzles teeter over the hamster's cage. A green metal desk spills toys and papers like a jackknifed truck in what should be the dining room. Upstairs, a computer shoots wires like kudzu around her bedroom.

Lowe's home convulses with clutter. The chaotic accumulation of stuff is more than a quirk in her otherwise orderly life as a software engineer.

The mess has become her shameful secret.

Most friends have never visited her apartment and she lives in fear someone might drop by. Worse yet, her daughter Elphey, 12, is developing the same unkempt habits.

Ashamed and seemingly paralyzed, Lowe finally hired experts to help get her unruly habitat under control.

Her story offers hope to the tens of millions of Americans like her who live under the anarchy of their possessions.

To many observers, clutter reflects the mind-set of the modern household -- overburdened, disorganized and compulsive. To others, clutter is a broader symbol of a ravenous culture dependent on easy credit, piling up debt and consuming a lion's share of the world's resources without considering the consequences.

"People's homes are a reflection of their lives," says Los Angeles psychologist and organizational consultant Peter Walsh. "It is no accident that people have a huge weight problem in this country, and clutter is the same thing. Homes are an orgy of consumption."

The obesity analogy isn't a joke. While personal spending drives much of the U.S. economy, the resulting clutter from all that shopping is so pervasive that some researchers wonder if it might have a deeper, biological component, similar to overeating.

Their speculation borrows from evolutionary theory.

Modern humans developed some 100,000 years ago as hunters and gatherers living in fundamentally harsher circumstances. Today, we are surrounded by abundance, but our bodies have remained genetically programmed to eat everything in sight and store calories to survive winter, drought and famine. To some nutrition experts, it's a primary reason two-thirds of Americans are overweight.

Similarly, our forebears saved anything that could be materially useful because they had to make everything from scratch.

Clutter emerged alongside industrial specialization and mass production in the 19th century, and it was then that the biological need to save everything morphed into a desire to acquire.

Suddenly, the rising middle class was buying items once reserved for royalty. Tea sets. Mantelpiece figurines. Forks used only to eat fish.

And the opportunities to acquire have only skyrocketed. The old corner store stocked fewer than 1,000 items. Today, a Wal-Mart SuperCenter covers a quarter-million square feet -- that's nearly six acres -- and carries 130,000 products.

Yet scientists have difficulty quantifying clutter. It is a private problem that most people -- like Lowe -- sweep under the bed and shove behind closed doors.

On cable TV, at least three reality shows are devoted to clutter management. On the Learning Channel, "Clean Sweep" employs psychologist Walsh; it has filmed more than 200 episodes unloading people's junk.

Fifty cities in 17 states have chapters of Clutterers Anonymous, a 12-step recovery program.

For some, clutter results from more than rampant shopping. It suggests widespread social discontent.

"People hold onto stuff like their kids' old clothing as a way of holding onto the past," Walsh says. "Or they keep things they think they might need someday as a way to control the future."


"Might need someday" is a common refrain for the 35-year old Lowe.

Paperwork, toys, cookbooks and clothing spread from one room to the next.

"We put off housekeeping to spend time on just about anything that we like better than tidying up," Lowe concedes.

The National Study Group on Chronic Disorganization, an association of professional organizers, has established a household clutter assessment scale.

At Levels 4 and 5, people face eviction for filling their refrigerators with old newspapers and blocking fire exits with rubbish. Often, these hoarders need psychological treatment.

Psychologists estimate that 3 million Americans never throw anything out -- even old newspapers and yogurt cups -- in a twisted logic of perfectionism and fear. These hoarders have a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Too often, they wind up entrapped and injured by their own junk.

Hoarding research focuses on changes to a region of the brain connected with decision-making, problem-solving and anticipating rewards.

At UCLA, patients receive a radioactive form of the sugar glucose before being examined by positron emission tomography. The PET scanner's color-coded images show which brain areas use the most glucose and are working hardest.

In this small experiment, the hoarders have lower activity in a certain part of the brain when compared to other patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder. They also had lower activity in a related region of the brain when compared to healthy volunteers.

But how does the brain react at the moment of truth, when a person must decide whether to throw something away?

At Connecticut's Hartford Hospital, patients reclined in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, which images brain function by tracking blood flow.

On a video link, psychologist David Tolin held up their junk mail and asked whether to save it or run it through a document shredder. The hoarders' brains showed activity spikes in one part of the brain.

"Their brains screamed that they were making an error," Tolin said. "So they put down the mail and clutter builds up."

Not everyone who lives in a cluttered home is a compulsive hoarder and people who are messy might not need a brain scan. But increasingly they are seeking professional help.

Lowe contracted with Aricia LaFrance, a suburban Denver psychologist and organizational consultant. She describes Lowe as a Level 2 on the household clutter scale, but warns she could get worse.

"She says her mother is this way and now her daughter is this way. So there is a cycle that we need to break," LaFrance says.

The purge requires three consecutive August weekends with Lowe doing "homework" on closets and junk piles during the week.

An entire afternoon is reserved for Elphey's room. At 12, her Lil' Bratz dolls mingle with teenage hip-hugger fashions that cascade in knee-deep waves from her bunk bed across the floor.

Elphey retreats to her top bunk and pulls a leopard-print blanket over her head. Her mother stands on the bottom bunk and, resting her chin on the top mattress, speaks quietly to the curled shape.

After several minutes, Lowe starts back downstairs. Elphey slams her bedroom door with such force that the bannister shivers. Her mother winces.

"She's going to work on her closet," Lowe explains. "But she doesn't want anyone to watch."

Social forces contribute to clutter, too.

The chief culprit: Easy money. Americans use 1.2 billion credit cards and carry an average total of $8,562 in consumer debt.

A surprising villain: Technology. Just consider how the entertainment industry has lurched from record players to 8-tracks, cassette tapes, CDs, VCRS, DVDs and now digital downloads.

One area where technology should reduce clutter is documents, but the paperless office has not materialized. Lowe and LaFrance agree to combine file boxes and digital storage, and they banish the file cabinet to the alley along with the desk.

Cooking trends spawn drawerfuls of specialized gizmos. Does anybody really need both a tomato corer and a tomato slicer?

Lowe balks at discarding several bottles of fruit-flavored syrup -- mango, kiwi, raspberry -- that cost $10 apiece.

"I MIGHT make an Italian soda," she protests.

"Or," LaFrance counters, "you COULD just go to Starbucks and buy one."

By September, Lowe's apartment is ready for company. The brown floral print sofa sports a snappy denim blue slipcover. The hamster has been moved. Monopoly and Clue rest neatly on the living room shelves. Instead of the monster desk, a blonde wood table and chairs gleam beneath the dining room chandelier.

Elphey has donated three huge trash bags of clothing. Together, she and her mother have hauled out dozens of bags and boxes.

They admire the front closet as if it was an oil painting. The coats hang straight. Snowboots are matched on a rack, ready for winter.

Suddenly, the gnarly mountain biker in Apartment 17 staggers past Lowe's open front door, wrestling the hideous file cabinet with the faux oak veneer.

"Hey, look what I found out in the alley," he announces. "Got to get organized."

© Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Heeding the Law of the Land

By Kenny Ausubel, AlterNet. Posted October 14, 2005.

Bioneers founder Kenny Ausubel says we are living on the cusp of either an Age of Extinctions or an Age of Restoration.

[This is the opening speech of the 16th annual Bioneers Conference, taking place this weekend in San Rafael, Calif. and 16 remote locations across the continent.]

A friend of mine in Texas had a hobby of doing grave rubbings. She favored old, out-of-the-way cemeteries, the final resting places of the notably not rich and famous. She would place a large piece of thin paper over the tombstone and rub it with charcoal to take an impression. My favorite was one that was roughly chiseled, obviously home made. The epitaph said simply, "I told you I was sick."

That's what the Earth is telling us.

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita may have finally sounded alarms loud enough for the country to hear. The message is crystal clear. When we fight nature, we lose. The disconnect between the state of nature and the nature of the state is producing a state of emergency. The first homeland security comes from environmental security. The law of the land must become the law of our land.

Katrina also unmasked the corrosive injustice that poisons us as surely as the pollution unleashed by the storm. It's an open secret that poor people and people of color are consigned to live amid the worst environmental hazards of industrial civilization. As E.L. Doctorow said, "We have two types of citizenship in the United States: common and preferred."

While an inept, cynical government staged damage-control press conferences, a new Underground Railroad provided real damage control. A fiercely compassionate person-to-person daisy chain surged with the loving determination of friends and relations, and the kindness of strangers. It's largely the American people and local heroes who salvaged the disastrous government response from utter disaster.

This extraordinary public response signified a larger trend. Even as our institutions are failing, people of good will everywhere are rising in waves of caring, conscience and kindness. Our true social security is woven in community.

But the choice we face is stark: an Age of Extinctions or an Age of Restoration. Which do we choose?

The mission is daunting. Katrina and Rita are just coming attractions for the new world disorder. The violence of these storms should come as no surprise. Over the past twenty years, the force and duration of hurricanes have doubled as a result of global warming. There is a certain poetic justice that these ill winds souped up on fossil fuels struck right at the matrix of the petrochemical industry.

Meanwhile, half a world away, American troops fight for more oil in a hopeless war that only deepens our dependency and binds our ties to anti-democratic regimes. No wonder they call oil the "devil's tears."

For once, we got some real reality TV. We saw the poorest people, dazed and traumatized, trapped on the roofs of their flooded lives. These images are familiar to us from impoverished nations: refugee camps, broken safety nets, and indifferent, incompetent governments.

When we see these images from what we politely call lesser-developed countries, we know what it means. It means people live with the daily hardship of collapsed infrastructures. They live with environmental degradation. They are resigned to inequality as a way of life. The people struggle under corrupt ruling elites of big corporations, crony politicians and the military. Citizens face government secrecy, contempt for the rule of law, the loss of civil and human rights, and rigged elections. Families live with the austerity and instability endemic to an insolvent government indentured to global finance capital.

In the words of the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas: "As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances there is a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such a twilight that we must be aware of the change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness."

These once faraway images have now tumbled off our TV screens and onto our streets. History teaches us that the demise of empires can come startlingly fast.

Behind this disorder, however, is a purposeful ideology: the dismantling of the public trust for private profit. In fact, the real issue has never been about smaller government. It's about whose interests government serves. The ethic: You're on your own. The vision: Replace FEMA with Wal-Mart. The mission: the care and feeding of corporations. The canvas: globalization. The strategy: "economic shock treatment."

The desperation and fear created by catastrophes such as political upheavals, wars and natural disasters provide perfect political cover for radical social and economic engineering. It presents itself as the conflation of democracy with so-called "free trade." In the Soviet Union after the collapse, this experiment resulted in an authoritarian oligarchy. In Iraq, as journalist Naomi Klein put it, the neo-conservative promise of a free-market utopia unbound transmogrified into a corporate dystopia "where going to a simple business meeting can get you lynched, burned alive or beheaded."

The Asian tsunami provided the next opportunity. The relief aid from the World Bank and IMF came not as grants but as loans. It's not helping the recovery of the 80 percent of victims who comprise small fishing communities. Instead it's supporting the expansion of industrial fish farms and the Club Med tourism sector.

Naomi Klein calls it "disaster capitalism." It's no aberration. In 2004, the White House created within the State Department a new office that drew up elaborate "post-conflict" privatization plans for up to twenty-five countries - nations that are not yet in conflict.

Now disaster capitalism has come home to the Gulf Coast. This is the world the people of the majority world call the Fourth World War.

But the reality on the ground is that the wheels are coming off the globalized race to loot the commons. Simultaneously, a uniquely diverse and pervasive resistance is arising around the world. "The globalization of dissent," Arundhati Roy calls it. Improbably, it first pierced the myth of globalization's inevitability in Mexico on New Year's Day, 1994, the day the North American Free Trade Agreement took effect.

On that day in Chiapas, armed with a few AK-47's and fake wooden rifles, a ragtag army composed mostly of Mayan Indians wearing ski masks declared autonomous zones and burned land records. Calling NAFTA a "death sentence," some of the world's most ancient indigenous survivors rejected the privatization policy that was about to extinguish even their precarious threadbare subsistence and nominal rights. These Zapatistas challenged the authority of national government officials, whom they called globalization's local "company managers."

Their message was simple: Ya Basta: Enough is enough. They refused to be history. They said they took up weapons only to be heard. They wore masks to be seen. They were willing to die to defend their lands, culture and traditions. They chose dignity over oblivion.

Fourteen days after the armed struggle began, the rebels declared a ceasefire. They said their intention was never to replace one ruling power with another. They declined to form a political party. Mexican civil society arose spontaneously and called adamantly for peace from both sides, and for justice. The Zapatistas seized the moment to transform guerrilla war into guerrilla theater. The word became their weapon. Their words resonated in perfect pitch with a nascent global democracy movement.

They identified themselves with a movement of "one no and many yeses." The "no" was to the concentration of wealth and the distribution of poverty, to the whole world becoming one company town. "In the world we want," they said, "everyone fits. In the world we want, many worlds fit. A world capable of containing all the worlds. The struggle has many paths and it has but one destiny: To be one with all the colors which clothe the earth."

"The path we have chosen," they said, "is just one, not the only one. We invite people to do the same, not to rise up in arms, but to struggle for a truly free and democratic government that can fulfill the aspirations of each and every person."

Be realistic: Demand the impossible, the saying goes. Impossibly, the Zapatista uprising helped topple Mexico's corrupt seventy-five-year single-party rule. It placed the rights of the indigenous at the center of Mexican politics for the first time since the Conquest 500 years ago. As Zapatista spokesman and military leader Subcommandante Marcos said, "It is not necessary to conquer the world. It is sufficient to make it new."

The Rand Institute warned that in this new kind of war - netwar, the war of the network - "The war of the flea can quickly turn into the war of the swarm." That swarm has magnified into the "other superpower," quite likely the biggest movement in the history of the world. Paul Hawken calls it "humanity's immune response to resist and heal political corruption, economic disease and ecological loss." It is a quest for justice, for freedom, for dignity. It is a quest for human rights and the rights of nature.

As Naomi Klein wrote, "This is a global call to revolution that tells you not to wait for the revolution, only to stand where you stand, to fight with your own weapon - a video cam, words, ideas, hope. Yes, you can try this at home."

What we the American people need, what the land needs and what the world needs is to reclaim democratic governance and restore the public trust. We have a lot of work to do. We need to reinvent our infrastructure to harmonize with nature's infrastructure. We need to align business with biology. We need fairness and equity and good jobs. As Paul Hawken wrote, "If we are to save what is wild, what is irreplaceable and majestic in nature, then ironically we will have to turn to teach other and take care of all the human beings here on earth. There is no boundary that will protect an environment from a suffering humanity."

As those holding power well know, the creation of wealth is largely dependent on public policy and the public purse. We must change public policy to serve the common good. Imagine creating a Green Deal, a green public works program to jump-start the restoration. We can launch it just by shifting the current existing subsidies to speed the transition to renewable energy, ecological agriculture, and a robust public health system based on wellness, disease prevention and the restoration of the ecosystems on which all health depends.

With a Green Deal, we can reboot a flawed domestic economy that the IMF now warns is heading for a "wrenching correction." We can reverse what Warren Buffet calls our "sharecropper society." We can attend immediately to our crumbling, misbegotten infrastructure, to which the American Society of Civil Engineers just gave a near failing grade of "D."

By doing all this, we will dramatically enhance our national and environmental security. We will catalyze a vast jobs-creation program of meaningful, living-wage work. We will spur countless new businesses and technological innovations that can be disseminated worldwide to spread the wealth.

These kinds of favorable government policies have made Germany and Japan the world leaders in wind and solar energy. Toyota and Nissan are posting huge profits while Ford and GM credit ratings have sunk to junk-bond status. Global business is already moving steadily into clean technology investments, which are expanding exponentially. Ironically, a growing sector of the US business community is chafing at our government's retrograde policies while it watches other countries seize the lead.

What does restoration look like? The South African government started a series of programs in 1995. After the Working for Water program hired unemployed people to clear thirsty alien trees from important watersheds, rivers began to run again that had been dry for forty years. Working for Wetlands is restoring marshes to purify polluted water. Working on Fire sends crews to prevent and control wildfires. Working for Woodlands is reforesting subtropical thickets to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and support biodiversity. These programs serve as job training and often hire the poorest of the poor. This is what restoration looks like.

As David Suzuki says, "The real bottom line is the biological bottom line. We are animals who live within the exquisite confines of the air, water and land where life exists. It's the biosphere that is the source of everything that matters to us including the economy." This biological bottom line offers us the happy marriage of economy and ecology. In great measure, solutions are already present.

Across the country, communities, cities and states are rising up with one "no" and many "yeses." States are voluntarily banding together to cut carbon emissions, install renewable energy sources, and reduce and eliminate toxic chemicals. One hundred thirty-two mayors came together this summer to share practical urban solutions to mitigate global warming at the local level and reinvent their infrastructures. Over 395 communities across the political spectrum have passed resolutions denying the Patriot Act's intrusion on civil liberties, and 280 more are developing them. These are not left-right issues. This is about our common survival, our quality of life, our freedom. This is about the future of our grandchildren and the land that will care for them. This is about what we love. As Pete Seeger said "The world is going to be saved by people saving their own homes."

This movement, this new superpower, has been called the "dreaming revolution." That's what we are here to do together: re-imagine the world. We're dreaming a world where many worlds can fit. It is at once a new dream and an ancient dream.

The Lakota prayer says it with simple elegance: "All my relations." We are learning the hard way that all life is connected, that we are all connected, that we are all related. The scientists are confirming what the poets and mystics have known all along: that we are all one. As Leslie Gray, the Native American psychologist and teacher, puts it, "In a universe of beings intimately related, the biosphere is our family, and that family has family values. The family values of this American land are gratitude - respect for nature's cycles - the sacred - harmony - and above all, reciprocity - don't take something without giving something back. What needs to happen is a return to these traditional American values."

We come together to give thanks, to celebrate, to walk in beauty. What we hold sacred is life itself. It's time for the law of the land to return as the law of our land.

Author and filmmaker Kenny Ausubel is the founder and co-executive director of Bioneers.
Has the Age of Chaos Begun?

By Mike Davis, Posted October 8, 2005.

While we wait for the oft-predicted tipping point in the war on Iraq, an actual tipping point has been creeping up on another front -- climate change.

The genesis of two category-five hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) in a row over the Gulf of Mexico is an unprecedented and troubling occurrence. But for most tropical meteorologists the truly astonishing "storm of the decade" took place in March 2004. Hurricane Catarina -- so named because it made landfall in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina -- was the first recorded south Atlantic hurricane in history.

Textbook orthodoxy had long excluded the possibility of such an event; sea temperatures, experts claimed, were too low and wind shear too powerful to allow tropical depressions to evolve into cyclones south of the Atlantic Equator. Indeed, forecasters rubbed their eyes in disbelief as weather satellites down-linked the first images of a classical whirling disc with a well-formed eye in these forbidden latitudes.

In a series of recent meetings and publications, researchers have debated the origin and significance of Catarina. A crucial question is this: Was Catarina simply a rare event at the outlying edge of the normal bell curve of South Atlantic weather -- just as, for example, Joe DiMaggio's incredible 56-game hitting streak in 1941 represented an extreme probability in baseball (an analogy made famous by Stephen Jay Gould) -- or was Catarina a "threshold" event, signaling some fundamental and abrupt change of state in the planet's climate system?

Scientific discussions of environmental change and global warming have long been haunted by the specter of nonlinearity. Climate models, like econometric models, are easiest to build and understand when they are simple linear extrapolations of well-quantified past behavior; when causes maintain a consistent proportionality to their effects.

But all the major components of global climate -- air, water, ice, and vegetation -- are actually nonlinear: At certain thresholds they can switch from one state of organization to another, with catastrophic consequences for species too finely-tuned to the old norms. Until the early 1990s, however, it was generally believed that these major climate transitions took centuries, if not millennia, to accomplish. Now, thanks to the decoding of subtle signatures in ice cores and sea-bottom sediments, we know that global temperatures and ocean circulation can, under the right circumstances, change abruptly -- in a decade or even less.

The paradigmatic example is the so-called "Younger Dryas" event, 12,800 years ago, when an ice dam collapsed, releasing an immense volume of meltwater from the shrinking Laurentian ice-sheet into the Atlantic Ocean via the instantly-created St. Lawrence River. This "freshening" of the North Atlantic suppressed the northward conveyance of warm water by the Gulf Stream and plunged Europe back into a thousand-year ice age.

Abrupt switching mechanisms in the climate system - such as relatively small changes in ocean salinity -- are augmented by causal loops that act as amplifiers. Perhaps the most famous example is sea-ice albedo: The vast expanses of white, frozen Arctic Ocean ice reflect heat back into space, thus providing positive feedback for cooling trends; alternatively, shrinking sea-ice increases heat absorption, accelerating both its own further melting and planetary warming.

Thresholds, switches, amplifiers, chaos -- contemporary geophysics assumes that earth history is inherently revolutionary. This is why many prominent researchers -- especially those who study topics like ice-sheet stability and North Atlantic circulation -- have always had qualms about the consensus projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world authority on global warming.

In contrast to Bushite flat-Earthers and shills for the oil industry, their skepticism has been founded on fears that the IPCC models fail to adequately allow for catastrophic nonlinearities like the Younger Dryas. Where other researchers model the late 21st-century climate that our children will live with upon the precedents of the Altithermal (the hottest phase of the current Holocene period, 8000 years ago) or the Eemian (the previous, even warmer interglacial episode, 120,000 years ago), growing numbers of geophysicists toy with the possibilities of runaway warming returning the earth to the torrid chaos of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM: 55 million years ago) when the extreme and rapid heating of the oceans led to massive extinctions.

Dramatic new evidence has emerged recently that we may be headed, if not back to the dread, almost inconceivable PETM, then to a much harder landing than envisioned by the IPCC.

As I flew toward Louisiana and the carnage of Katrina three weeks ago, I found myself reading the August 23rd issue of EOS, the newsletter of the American Geophysical Union. I was pole-axed by an article entitled "Arctic System on Trajectory to New, Seasonally Ice-Free State," co-authored by 21 scientists from almost as many universities and research institutes. Even two days later, walking among the ruins of the Lower Ninth Ward, I found myself worrying more about the EOS article than the disaster surrounding me.

The article begins with a recounting of trends familiar to any reader of the Tuesday science section of the New York Times: For almost 30 years, Arctic sea ice has been thinning and shrinking so dramatically that "a summer ice-free Arctic Ocean within a century is a real possibility." The scientists, however, add a new observation -- that this process is probably irreversible. "Surprisingly, it is difficult to identify a single feedback mechanism within the Arctic that has the potency or speed to alter the system's present course." An ice-free Arctic Ocean has not existed for at least one million years and the authors warn that the Earth is inexorably headed toward a "super-interglacial" state "outside the envelope of glacial-interglacial fluctuations that prevailed during recent Earth history." They emphasize that within a century global warming will probably exceed the Eemian temperature maximum and thus obviate all the models that have made this their essential scenario. They also suggest that the total or partial collapse of the Greenland Ice Sheet is a real possibility -- an event that would definitely throw a Younger Dryas wrench into the Gulf Stream.

If they are right, then we are living on the climate equivalent of a runaway train that is picking up speed as it passes the stations marked "Altithermal" and "Eemian." "Outside the envelope," moreover, means that we are not only leaving behind the serendipitous climatic parameters of the Holocene -- the last 10,000 years of mild, warm weather that have favored the explosive growth of agriculture and urban civilization -- but also those of the late Pleistocene that fostered the evolution of Homo sapiens in eastern Africa. Other researchers undoubtedly will contest the extraordinary conclusions of the EOS article and -- we must hope -- suggest the existence of countervailing forces to this scenario of an Arctic albedo catastrophe. But for the time being, at least, research on global change is pointing toward worst-case scenarios.

All of this, of course, is a perverse tribute to industrial capitalism and extractive imperialism as geological forces so formidable that they have succeeded in scarcely more than two centuries -- indeed, mainly in the last fifty years -- in knocking the earth off its climatic pedestal and propelling it toward the nonlinear unknown.

The demon in me wants to say: Party and make merry. No need now to worry about Kyoto, recycling your aluminum cans, or using too much toilet paper, when, soon enough, we'll be debating how many hunter-gathers can survive in the scorching deserts of New England or the tropical forests of the Yukon.

The good parent in me, however, screams: How is it possible that we can now contemplate with scientific seriousness whether our children's children will themselves have children? Let Exxon answer that in one of their sanctimonious ads.

Mike Davis is the author of "Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu" (The New Press) as well as the forthcoming "Planet of Slums" (Verso).
The Heat Death of American Dreams

By Ed Merta, AlterNet. Posted October 12, 2005.

Overshadowed by last month's hurricanes was the news that global warming is likely to accelerate much faster than feared, and it's already begun

A number of news reports and commentary on Hurricanes Katrina and Rita have linked the disasters to global warming. Almost nobody noticed a crucial scientific finding, two weeks earlier, that foreshadows disasters on a far greater scale in the decades to come.

According to August 11 articles in the magazine New Scientist and the British newspaper the Guardian, a pair of scientists, one Russian and one British, report that global warming is melting the permafrost in the West Siberian tundra. The news made a little blip in the international media and the blogosphere, and then it disappeared.

Why should anyone care? Because melting of the Siberian permafrost will, over the next few decades, release hundreds of millions of tons of methane from formerly frozen peat bogs into the atmosphere. Methane from those bogs is at least twenty times more potent as a greenhouse gas than the carbon dioxide that currently drives global warming. Dumping such a huge quantity of methane on top of already soaring CO2 levels will drive global temperatures to the upper range of increases forecast for the remainder of this century.

According to the most recent forecast by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), compiled in 2001, human industrial emissions are on course to raise global temperatures between 1.4 and 5.8 degrees Celsius by the year 2100. The IPCC models didn't account for methane releases from the Arctic, nor did they consider other natural sources of greenhouse gases that could be released by human activity. The agency judged Arctic methane releases to be a real but remote possibility, not likely to emerge for decades. Now we find that it could very well be happening today.

The news of melting Siberian permafrost means, in all likelihood, that global warming is accelerating much faster than climatologists had predicted. The finding from Siberia comes amidst evidence, presented at Tony Blair's special climate change conference last February, that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could be in danger of disintegrating -- another warming-induced event once thought to be decades or centuries away.

Meanwhile, according to a September 29, 2005 report in the Guardian, scientists at the University of Colorado, Boulder's National Snow and Ice Data Center have measured a drastic shrinking of ice floes in the Arctic Ocean. Arctic waters are now expected to be ice-free well before the end of this century.

How many more milestones will there be? The prospects of a worst case scenario, with a temperature increase approaching or exceeding 5.8 degrees Celsius, are increasing dramatically, with all the attending disasters that would entail -- inundated coastlines, extreme storms and drought, disease pandemics, collapsing agriculture, massive environmental refugee flows.

And how far will it go? Climate forecasts have long noted that every increase in global temperature heightens the odds of runaway global warming, beyond any human control. Continued overheating could unlock more methane from Arctic regions beyond Siberia. It could cripple the vital ability of plants and oceans to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere, turning them into gushing sources of new CO2 that accelerate the superheating even further. The ice caps that help cool the Earth by reflecting sunlight into space could vanish. In the end, the relentless rise in temperature could induce a cataclysmic venting of billions of tons of methane from the oceans.

A paper by British scientists Michael J. Benton and Richard J. Twitchett, published in the July 2003 issue of Trends in Ecology & Evolution, shows how this could happen. 251 million years ago, at the end of the Permian era, a release of carbon dioxide from volcanic eruptions apparently heated the Earth's atmosphere by about 6 degrees Celsius.

This initial increase in temperature triggered, in turn, a massive release of methane from Arctic tundra and the oceans. Research by Jeffrey Kiehl and others at the National Center for Atmospheric Research at University of Colorado, Boulder, tells us what happened next. According to their paper in the September 2005 issue of the journal Geology, the Earth's annual mean surface temperature rose by an additional 10 to 30 degrees Celsius.

The result of this runaway global warming was the greatest mass extinction since life emerged from the sea -- 95 percent of all species in existence died. That from an initial temperature rise only 0.2 degrees Celsius more than what the IPCC says could occur by the end of this century. We now know that human industry is causing in our lifetimes the same kind of methane release that triggered the Permian extinction.

The news from Siberia means that putting a brake on climate change in our lifetimes, or our children's, is impossible. If the entire human race miraculously slashed industrial carbon dioxide emissions today by the most drastic feasible amount, the temperature would continue to increase for decades, maybe centuries, according to IPCC forecasts.

The Arctic methane driving the atmosphere toward runaway warming would thus continue to spew from the permafrost. In any case, the reality of human behavior is that we will almost certainly not cut our carbon emissions to zero, so long as current politics and paradigms endure. Unless something changes in the global zeitgeist, nations will debate and muddle along, and maybe eventually adopt some further showpiece compromises like the Kyoto protocol, and we'll tell ourselves it's enough.

By the time political and economic elites realize the ghastly scope of what's happening, the truly catastrophic changes in our climate and biosphere will probably be unfolding already.

It seems likely that we are staring down the barrel of the full force, worst-case scenarios studied by the IPCC and other research organizations. The future foreseen in those scenarios is hidden amidst a mind numbing tedium of graphs and scientific jargon. The language is bland, almost routine. Implicit in the abstract language, though, are real events and consequences that will devastate the lives of real human beings, on a scale no one has ever seen. Katrina was a harbinger. The future will be far worse.

To imagine what it might be like is to invite charges of fear mongering, because it violates the scientific ethos of caution, restraint, and neutrality, the political and cultural norms of can-do optimism. But we've reached the point now where we have to start envisioning what we will face. We have to see the data and projections in human terms, if we hope to be ready for what our children and their children will have to endure. We have to start thinking clearly about what the numbers might mean.

For decades, the right derided environmentalists as doom-sayers. Environmental organizations themselves often hesitated, for fear of losing credibility, to put their case in stark, apocalyptic terms. It may not be politic to say so, but growing evidence suggests that the worst-case forecasts are coming true. The ability of our planet to sustain life is beginning to disintegrate.

The collapse will accelerate and intensify with each passing year. At some point, the cataclysm that ended Earth's Permian era, 251 million years ago, will repeat itself. During the decades or centuries of its recurrence, we will see the end of technological progress, the destruction of our civilization, and quite possibly the extinction of our species.

Preventing that outcome will, and should, override any other political and social issue. Quite literally, nothing else matters now. Every policy, every issue, must be viewed in terms of how it contributes to human survival. The impractical and the impossible are now imperative, whether we know it or not. We will have to eliminate carbon emissions. All of them. Post-carbon energy sources will be crucial to the eventual recovery of our climate, centuries or millennia from now.

In the meantime, the environmental collapse will continue regardless, over many human generations. Human societies face the task of riding it out as best they can, minimizing the death and misery their inhabitants must endure. In the end, they will have to redefine civilization.

It's time for progressives to face what's coming. Normal politics isn't enough anymore. Once, the left sought justice and plenty for everyone in the world of material abundance created by the Industrial Revolution. The task now is to save something decent and humane as the former things pass away.

What do we need to do, here and now? How can we do it? What comes next? Let the conversation begin here.

Ed Merta is a freelance writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

US 'concerned by China missiles'

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has expressed concern about China's growing missile capability.
Mr Rumsfeld was speaking on the final day of his trip to China before departing for South Korea.

In a speech, Mr Rumsfeld said China was expanding the reach of its ballistic missiles beyond the Pacific region to cover most of the world.

He also called on the Beijing government to be more open about its military spending.

"China of course is expanding its missile forces and enabling those forces to reach many areas of the world, well beyond the Pacific region.

"Those advances in China's strategic strike capability give cause for concern, particularly when there is an imperfect understanding among others about such developments," Mr Rumsfeld said.

"As a result, a number of countries with interests in the region are asking questions about China's intentions."

'No first strike'

During his talks with Chinese officials, Mr Rumsfeld was told that China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the event of a conflict.

US officials said Gen Jing Zhiyuan made the remarks when Mr Rumsfeld paid an unprecedented visit to the headquarters of China's nuclear arsenal.

There have been concerns that China might use nuclear weapons if the US intervened in a conflict with Taiwan.

BBC Beijing correspondent Daniel Griffiths says Mr Rumsfeld has spent much of his first visit to China highlighting Washington's fears about Beijing's rising military power.

But he adds that despite these concerns, US officials say they have received positive signs from the normally secretive Chinese military.

On his first visit to China since taking office in 2001, Mr Rumsfeld met President Hu Jintao and Defence Minister Cao Gangchuan.

President Hu urged better military ties with the US.

In a meeting with Mr Rumsfeld, Mr Hu said that although the military relationship had improved in recent years, there was still room to expand.

They also discussed US President George W Bush's visit to Beijing in November and plans to increase military educational exchanges.

Spending downplayed

US officials said Mr Rumsfeld was the first foreigner to visit the Strategic Rocket Forces, at Qinghe outside Beijing, and that previous requests to go there had always been denied.

He was given a briefing on the command's structure and training, but not given details about missile numbers.

Gen Jing, quoted by US officials, denied that Chinese missiles were targeting any country.

He also appeared to disavow a statement in June by Gen Zhu Chengzhu that China would have to respond with nuclear weapons if targeted by US forces in a crisis over Taiwan.

During his visit, Mr Rumsfeld has repeatedly questioned China's military spending.

China's official military budget is this year set to be $30bn, but the Pentagon said in June that the real figure was $90bn.

China has consistently increased its defence spending since the 1990s, but Chinese officials say the increase is needed to modernise its armed forces and pay better salaries.

China also says its budget is dwarfed by US military spending, which last year totalled $440bn.

$440 billion? That's insane.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Published on Monday, October 17, 2005 by
The Mindless American: A Tragedy In The Making
by Doug Soderstrom

As a result of nine-eleven’s jarring impact upon our nation, journalists have discovered a near paranoid rise in retaliation against individuals attempting to expose governmental malfeasance. Increasingly government officials have begun punishing individuals for nothing more than reasoned attempts to inform the American public concerning: How the military has systematically abused (tortured) foreign detainees; How the government intentionally withheld evidence suggesting that an attack upon the United States by Al Qaeda had been eminent; How the military has begun to wage war upon soldiers who, in good conscience, have come to believe that it is wrong for them to kill in a war that, according to international law, is illegal, one that, the reasons for going to war, were fabricated by the President of the United States; How the United States has a sixty-year history (1945- 2005) of assassinating foreign leaders who have chosen not to support the government’s foreign policy goals, initiating the overthrow of duly-elected foreign democracies, while simultaneously supporting brutal authoritarian dictatorships all in order to fill the coffers of America’s military-industrial complex, an egregious imperialistic force with but one goal: To take command of the world economy.

As a result, many of these individuals have been incarcerated, accused of being a traitor, of having sided with the enemy, told that their career will be destroyed, and threatened with extended imprisonment. Accordingly, on September 21, 2005, U.S. immigration officials banned Robert Fisk, an internationally renowned British journalist, on his way to deliver a speech in Santa Fe, New Mexico, from entering the United States of America due to incisive criticism of the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq war. No doubt such a scenario has, and is, being repeated many times over in our country. A rather sad fact for a president who has chosen to make such a big deal about the oft-quoted ideals of “freedom and democracy!”

But even more shameful is the fact that there are people who seem not to care that such things are taking place in our country; a rather ignorant crowd of jingoes more comfortable choosing to sit back pretending that everything will be just fine, a people with apparently little regard for the facts. As a behavioral scientist, I am grieved at what appears to be a near pandemic of disinterest in what is happening to our country.

Given the election of George Walker Bush as our president, our country made it quite clear that it is pleased to have as its president a scoundrel, a true terrorist, one more than willing to bully the rest of the world, as opposed to having chosen a real man, one that humanity might embrace as a man of true character (someone like Jimmy Carter), an individual committed to doing what is best for the world (rather than what is most profitable for those running the petrol, armament, pharmaceutical, and construction industries), one with a desire to do what must be done in order to create a more humane world, one of peace, justice, and love. Although we claim to be a Christian nation, having chosen George Walker Bush to be the leader of our nation is a scandal beyond belief, one that mocks the very name of one whose life embodies that which we have been said to believe.

However, now that I am well into my seventh decade of life and very near retirement, I have come to the conclusion that the world basically sucks, that there are few who seem to have the investigative courage to take a good hard look at things that, if discovered, would no doubt destroy one’s image of a land that can do no wrong, one that they believe has somehow received the eternal blessing of God. So I must ask: How is it that we have become such a mindless nation, a society populated by deadheads, folks who seem to have little desire to look beyond the thinly-veneered surface of life?

As a behavioral scientist, it appears that a vast share of folks in our nation have chosen to relinquish a quality no doubt essential to authentic human life….. an existential responsibility to think for themselves, an ontological need to discount the petty concerns that drive the minds of those directed by triviality. It seems that such individuals have become so fantastically preoccupied with, essentially enamored by, the norm of what others think, they have effectively relinquished, through a process of cognitive foreclosure, the capacity to think for themselves. Having become so extremely alienated from the core of their own being, they have little choice but to follow the crowd’s madding need to forge a symbiotic attachment to, in essence relationship with, a society, that for all practical purposes has become the basis of their own identity, the bedrock of their very being. Having done so, the image they have forged for themselves (who they believe themselves to be) has become every bit as fabricated, every bit as disconnected from reality, as their image of society. So in wanting to have at their disposal a more a positive image of themselves, they have been left with little choice but to construct a glorified image of society; an image of what they wish society would have been rather than what it has, in fact, turned out to be. Something like having chosen to have built an ego-incased frame constructed upon the shifting sands of inane social rumor and outright public lies…… truly a flight of fancy bordering on the absurd!

Very few would disagree with the proposition that in Hitler’s Germany there was a determined effort to brainwash the people so they might support Mein Fuhrer’s efforts to conquer the world. However, what if one were to suggest that much the same is occurring in the United States of America, that there has been a determined effort through the socializing influence of our schools, the government, the mass media, the churches we attend, even that of our own parents, to pressure us into believing (just as Hitler) that our country has received the blessing of God, and because of this, we therefore have not only the right, but more importantly, through the use of military weapons, a divine responsibility to see that the world acquiesces to our needs and expectations. Just as Hitler in the 1930’s prepared his countrymen to accept the authoritarian control of the Nazi government, much the same may well be occurring in the United States. Just as Hitler indoctrinated his people to believe that Germany had the right to conquer the world, George Walker Bush “in the name of freedom and democracy” may well be doing the same (preparing the American people to support his administration’s imperialistic drive to dominate the world).

Behaviorally, it is clear that citizens, from cradle to grave, are primed to conform to the dictates of those in power, instructed never to question the validity of what those who would like to take control of our lives have to say. Most Americans have no idea; that what we are fed by the news media (televised and paper-print news) is nothing more than a portrayal of what powerful corporations (those who pay the salaries of those who run mass media) want us to believe, that what happens to pass as education is as often as not mere propaganda (e.g. that Americans are the good guys and their enemies are, without exception, always the bad guys), that what we learn in church may have very little or nothing to do with the truth, that what our parents teach us may be nothing more than an accumulation of their own personal biases…… no doubt a rather subtle modification of what they were taught by their parents. And through such a process, governments and nations around the world wield control as to what their citizens, believe, value, and do.

And, of course, in our own society, the primary way most of us are controlled, the way the vast majority of us are forced “to tow the line,” is through the ominous threat of being fired. Something like this: If you are interested in keeping your career on track, that you would like to keep your job, then you ought to consider the following in order to assure your employer that you deserve the right to keep your job; get married and have a couple of kids, become a member of a social club (such as the Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, or the Rotarians), be a good capitalist, be a patriotic citizen who loves his country, and make sure that you attend a local church so that everybody will know that you believe in God almighty. However, if, for whatever reason, you decide that you would like to become a rebel, that you would like to begin thinking for yourself, then you’d better brace yourself for trouble, because there is a reasonable likelihood that you will be fired! You see, in America, there is a rule of thumb concerning the working world which basically says that those who do what they are told to do are likely to keep their jobs, whereas those who tend to think for themselves, tend to buck the system, (tend not to do what they have been told to do) end up jobless, powerless, and left to fend for themselves on the mean streets of society.

But why? Why does such a thing occur? Why would America the beautiful, land of the free, do such a horrible thing to its own citizens? The answer is quite simple: Knowing that knowledge is power; the secret is control, controlling the out flow of information, making sure that citizens know no more than they “are supposed to know,” making sure that they remain relatively uninformed, making sure that they are given “just enough” that they will go along with, peacefully accept, the premise that they are well informed, that they have a good idea of what is going on. It is necessary then that the government keep the people from learning the truth. Keep them from even wanting to know the truth. Put the fear of God into them to the extent that they will never question what they have been told to believe. You see, those in power may say that they want their citizens to be educated, to be well informed as to what is going on, however, such is simply not the case. Ask yourself this question: What happens to those of us (teachers, preachers, philosophers, writers, journalists) who do not “tow the line,” those intent upon proposing alternate ways of looking at the world? Look at what happened to Jesus Christ, Martin Luther King, Mohandas Gandhi, even Socrates. I mean, really now, who among us wants to be crucified, assassinated, forced to drink hemlock……. wants to risk the possibility of losing one’s job, the ability to put food on the table for one’s family? However, just in case you do not believe me, try this on for size…… the next time you go to work tell the boss that you are an infidel (that you have grown up and no longer believe in God), that you have decided to become a socialist (that capitalism essentially sucks), that you no longer give a shit about your country (that you have decided to become a rebel, an actively-participating antiwar protester), and then see what happens. Do you get the point?

There are many (Robert Fisk, Cindy Sheehan, Sybil Edmunds, Bunnatine Greenhouse, Coleen Rowley, Captain Ian Fishback, Col. Anthony Shaffer, Kevin Benderman, Jeremy Hinzman, Brandon Hughey, Camilo Mejia, among others) who have illustrated the courage to risk their jobs, their careers, their reputations, their marriages, their wealth, imprisonment, and, in some cases, even that of their own sanity. But the sad fact is that for every hero out there, there are literally thousands of citizens (each who no doubt consider themselves to be conscientious, hard-working individuals who have a sincere belief in God and a loyal commitment to their country) who yet, for whatever reason, detest men and woman such as these who have shown the moral gumption to put their lives on the line for no other reason than to make a stand for that which is right, a willingness to tell anyone, everyone who is willing to listen, that it is a far better thing for one to have sacrificed his own life so that others might see, than to have chosen to remain silent ensuring the blind pretense that all is well, that there is nothing to worry about, that Big Brother will no doubt take good care of us as long as we simply keep our mouths shut and do exactly as we are told.

Postscript: The most dangerous thing one can do is to tell the truth…… the sentence for which, one way or the other, is always death!

Doug Soderstrom is a psychologist in Wharton, Texas.
Peak Oil For Dummies

How to explain the concept of peak oil to the math-ophobic, bypassing theories such as Hubbard's Peak:

Posted by JDW on Clusterfuck Nation

Deb --- I think the best non-mathematical explanation for PO that I've run across used the metaphor of an enormous tree loaded with fruit.

At first, you can stand still and not even stretch your arms and grab your fill -- hell, the fruit is so abundant on the surface that it's practically falling into your bag as you stand in one spot near the trunk. It takes only the energy of one fruit to harvest many.

After a while, you've gotten all that easy surface fruit in your spot, but you can still stand on tip-toes and get more or move away from the trunk towards the big branches -- but now it takes the energy of two fruits to harvest fifty, and requires a little more looking.

Soon, a ladder is required, and climbing the ladder, and handling your collection sack -- and it takes the energy of five fruits to harvest twenty five. Now the fruit is dispersed through the larger volume of the tree branches and you are having to move the ladder a couple times to collect those twenty-five fruits.

And, before you know it, other people have noticed how fat you've gotten on all that rich fruit, so while you've been picking, others have begun picking too -- and now there's not much readily accessible fruit at all, though you can clearly see that the tree is still loaded with it, up on top and in the higher regions.

The problem is that now it's taking you almost one fruit's worth of energy for every four you harvest, and those are still the accessible ones.

It's starting to look like about half the fruit is left, but it's the hard half - and you're starting to realize that the only way you're going to ever get some of that fruit would be to chop down the tree entirely. There are many individual fruits here and there, but moving your ladder and climbing it takes so much energy that it's barely worth harvesting them.

At some point, it will cost you more than a fruit's worth of energy to harvest a fruit -- which is when you have to quit, unless you can enslave others to harvest your fruit for you until they revolt or drop from exhaustion and hunger.

That's peak oil without much math -- most people seem to have some experience with how quickly an apparent windfall situation can turn into shortage when the cost of gathering approaches the benefit of what's being gathered.

Anyway, it has worked for me. I can't remember where I saw it, but it has been helpful in explaining PO to the mathophobic.

Needless to say though, your mileage may vary.