"The action I am taking is no more than a radical measure to hasten the explosion of truth and justice. I have but one passion: to enlighten those who have been kept in the dark, in the name of humanity which has suffered so much and is entitled to happiness. My fiery protest is simply the cry of my very soul. Let them dare, then, to bring me before a court of law and let the enquiry take place in broad daylight!" - Emile Zola, J'accuse! (1898) -

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Are We Gasoholics, Corporate Sock Puppets and Dupes, Or Just Plain Stupid? Fueling the Post Petroleum Paradigm…My Position.

My challenge is to frame this post in such a way as to communicate the issues of “Oil Speculators” and a paradigm shift in American Energy Policy in such a way that everyone can grasp the basics and begin the process of “mental brain bathing”, the opposite of “Brain Washing”.

The initial problem is the fact that the words “Oil Speculators” conjures up for most people a vague feeling that somehow they are bad, and that is about as far as it goes. Don’t feel bad. I watched the Senate Commerce Committee get a lecture from George Soros on: Oil prices: A Warning that speculators could trigger a stock market crash” and a majority of the Committee’s body language said they:

(1) resented the lecture and would be more comfortable attacking Soros (tough task as he is more mentally agile than the entire panel put together), and

(2) had only a marginal glazed-eyed grasp of what the hell he was talking about. That should come as no surprise. Because one has the title of Congressman or Senator does not confer an individual an automatic IQ elevation, wisdom of insight or erasure of ignorance. Though we hope for better; we are as a people self-delusional when it come to the FACT that these folks are no brighter than you or I and are as capable of being down right ignorant and stupid when it comes to some things, currently too many things.

Let’s see if we can get a handle on this “Oil Speculator” thing by way of analogy. Oil is a big gambling enterprise. The Speculators at the table are “Oil Card Counters”, currently winning big time, and you and I, the pump plundered consumers, are the Casino Owners, not empowered by “Our Congress” with the right to shut down the “Oil Slick Card Counters” like they would be at any table in Los Vegas; so you and I, the house, get to pay, and pay and pay!

Now have you got the picture?

The Speculators are the high roller players and we get to cover and pay off their bets, whether we like it or not.Now you can say all you want to about approving more off shore drilling and raping the Alaskan landscape, ( the 62% of you who have recently said you would support that proposition need to understand that all that is going to do is sully the environment while padding the pockets of the US Oil Industry without one cent of savings for you and I), rolling back Federal and State Gasoline Taxes, (typically called a “holiday”, as it would only be a temporary measure both entities addiction needy of those revenues), engage in advocacy of pursuing “alternative energy sources”, (and I am with you all the way on that one…so long as it means real intensive long range action and not just polite, proper, appealing lip service political buzz word bullshit…I warned you I was going to attempt to communicate this matter so you could understand it), and this road will be long and hard road with pitched battles the entire length as the Petro Kings fight for survival on their terms. That means hooray for them and screw us!

We can confine ourselves in a sort self-assigned exile to our homes spending vacations in the back yard barbequing and sucking down beer to down our self pity and sorrows, avail ourselves of public transportation, until it falters, stressed under the increased pressure of numbers, car pool, aggregate shopping trips, pay the increased price of everything impacted by the sky rocketing pre 4th of July oil prices, (and that is everything); we can bitch, moan and complain, but in the end the answers lay in:

(1) Congressional Action, preceded by them finding where they left their balls, regulating and shutting down speculator market manipulations…(that will still leave “true” foreign speculators to be dealt with by the respective countries, and there is a greater awareness, understanding and willingness to do so,

(2) building a “serious” national program and policy of alternative energy sourcing that abandons “the-all-the-eggs-in-one-basket-fossil-fuels” addiction and fashioning a diverse sourcing portfolio approach which would include, but not limited to, Renewable: Wind Power, Local Hydro-Electric, Geo Thermal, Natural Gas,, Solar Energy , Wave Energy, Tidal Power, Fusion, Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, And Synthetic Fuels, DNA modified microorganisms to make fuel putting bacterial gas in your tank, and

(3) sending the internal combustion engine to the bone yard of history, the last vestigial appendage of the Industrial Revolution; it must be replaced and the nation that accomplishes the task will control the destiny of this planet for centuries to come. The project must be pursued with the zeal of “putting a man on the moon” and the energy of waging a world war.

The engine must drive our automobiles, trains, trucks, ships and aircraft. And it can be done…we can think anew; we can act anew. We have the power and the intellect; all we need is the will and commitment.

We can build it; we can own it; we can control it and we can fashion an American economic Renaissance in the process. If we set the goal and serve warning that we are indeed going to change the world; the Oil companies and Petro Chemical Industry will have adequate time to refashion themselves and transition into a new location in the economy. If they do not; they will perish in their own greed as they would have our standards of living perish in their profits. The choice is theirs.

But you cannot transform this nation when the national treasury is being spent in war upon war that feeds the Oil enemy that we must defeat. The Hybrid car, hybrid fuel cell automobile should be viewed as only short-lived transitional, almost novelty, temporary popular solutions.

We can refashion this planet, improve it, refurbish America, create jobs, develop the research facilitates of this nation, private, public and our University Centers if we can only pluck our heads out of the sands of the Middle East, snap out of our “ass exposed” Ostrich Syndrome. We need to pursue a new dream, a new vision.

I am not going to suggest that the road will be easy only that it is necessary. Petro-blackmail must come to end, and for those Americans who want us in control of things; here is the ideal project for you. There will be Nay Sayers and prophets of doom and gloom who will be sucked in by every corporate attempt to resist change until catastrophe is at hand. They will argue or discredit every move as injurious to workers when they mean their comfortable corporate balance sheets. There will be economic displacement. Inevitable as it will be, having served notice of new future, transitional measures can be under taken and the work force can be adapted for inclusion. What will happen to the “Old” Gas Stations? They will disappear as we know them and can be adapted to serve new needs.

The exploration and placing online of new alternative energy sources will bring new challenges and problems to overcome. We are already aware of those components; we simply have not taken the matter seriously enough to invest in the technological solutions. Just imagine turning the landfills and garbage dumps of America into fields of energy generation. It can be done; it should be done; it must be done!

America Needs to Wake Up To Reality…Quickly.

It does not matter: (1) how much Kuwait or Saudi Arabia increases their oil production because in the grand scheme of things it is a pittance and is already spoken for and market speculated. It will not move the pump price one iota demonstrating the absolute idiocy of the media hype. (2) Increased off shore drilling and Alaskan drilling will not correct the pump price it will only fuel the profit frenzy of American Oil Companies.

We are at the mercy of our enemies and the unregulated speculators who reaping such obscene profits, that they can afford anything without being burdened as we who are being raped by them on a daily basis. They care not one wit for the economic domino effect dragging the majority of America down. They are making theirs and they will be collecting the dividends for years to come.

You can talk and squawk all you want about the development of alternative energy sources as something we must get busy at studying and developing. It is already too late; it should have been done years ago. Our dependence on oil must end. The internal combustion engine must be sent to the bone yard as the very first step on the production/technology side.

There is no denying that Oil fuels the modern world. People die for it every day. No other substance can equal the enormous impact which the use of oil has had on so many people, so rapidly, in so many ways, and in so many places around the world.

Oil in its various refined derivative forms, such as gasoline, kerosene, and diesel fuel, has a unique combination of many desirable and useful characteristics. These “included” availability in abundance, a high net energy recovery, a high energy density, ease of transportation and storage, relative safety, and great versatility in end use.

Oil is also useful as more than an energy source. It is the basis for the manufacture of petrochemical products including plastics, medicines, paints, and myriad other useful materials. Finally, the asphalt "bottoms" from refineries have converted millions of miles of muddy trails around the world into paved highways on which transport vehicles fueled by oil run. While I am not going to assert that all of these petroleum based applications be replaced by some other source, I am going to assert that as a matter of sound managed, regulated economic policy that even these applications should have multiple source bases so that no one “necessity” of society can be utilized as a platform of economic and speculation blackmail and extortion.

Alternative energy sources must be compared with oil in all these various attributes when their substitution for oil is considered. While none appears to completely equal oil, in a large measure, due to a lack of serious thought, research planning and development, one could hold I suspect that no other source for the moment in our ability to conceive of what is possible, does not dissuade me from my argument as it is at the moment foundationed upon the development of multiple alternative energy sources, not the replacement of one primary source with a new primary source. I am opting to getting away from the “all the eggs in one basket”, the fossil fuel basket, syndrome and envisioning a portfolio approach of multiple sources which automatically stymies the would be monopolists.

But oil, like other fossil fuels, is a finite resource. True, there will always be oil in the Earth, but eventually the cost to recover what remains will be beyond the value of the oil. Also, a time will be reached when the amount of energy needed to recover the oil is equals or exceeds the energy in the recovered oil, at which point oil production becomes no more than a break-even, or a net energy loss situation. We are not required to wait around until that day approaches and the emergency arises and the world is thrust into panic.

Oil being the most important of our fuels today, the term "alternative energy" is commonly taken to mean all other energy sources and is used here in that context.

Realizing that oil is finite in practical terms, there is increasing attention given to what alternative energy sources are available to replace oil. The imperative to pursue alternative energy sources is clearly established by two simple facts. The world now uses more than 26 billion barrels of oil a year, but new discoveries (not existing field additions) in recent years have been averaging less than seven billion barrels yearly. The peak of world oil discoveries was in the mid-1960's. Inevitably, the time of the peak of world oil production must follow, with most current estimates ranging from the year 2003 (Campbell, 1997) to 2020 (Edwards, 1997). Significantly, all estimates of production peak dates are within the lifetimes of most people living today, and that to me says is probably past the time to act already.

The amount of energy an individual can directly or indirectly command largely determines that individual's material standard of living. This, of course, also applies to nations as a whole. To provide adequate energy for future generations introduces the concept of sustainability. What significant energy sources can be drawn on indefinitely?

"Sustainable" is a popular and pleasant word, but when it is used it needs to be clearly defined and placed within certain parameters. The term "sustainable growth" is popular with Chambers of Commerce as well as with corporations, but if this means increase in use of any resource, including land for more people, more water for more people, and more and more food, or more "things", then the term "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron (Bartlett, 1994). Growth in terms of numbers of anything cannot be sustained indefinitely. Sustainable growth in terms of better medical care, improved sanitation, and other related qualities of life, and of intellectual endeavors, among other things, is possible, and should be a continual goal.

Any consideration of "sustainable" must also be framed in the concept of a fixed size of population. People use resources. And all energy resources, even solar energy, are limited (Hardin, 1993). The problem of population size is politically sensitive and therefore largely avoided in discussions. But the energy problem cannot be sustainably solved if the demand target is a continually growing population. It is important to keep this overriding fact in mind. Eventually it will have to be faced. In defining a sustainable society, it is also necessary to determine what a reasonable standard of living is to be achieved. This does not lend itself to an easy definition as various cultures have differing views.

In considering what significant (in terms of quantity and quality) sustainable alternative energy sources may exist, the factors of population and living standards must be addressed. These matters are beyond this discussion, which simply presents the basic facts of alternative energy sources. How these sources, with their advantages and limitations may be applied to society at large is here left for economists, sociologists, and politicians.

Energy interchangeability. There is much casual popular thought that energy sources are easily interchangeable. "When we run out of oil we will go to alternative fuels." "We can run our cars on solar energy." Such statements are legion.

But the transition to alternative fuels will not be simple or as convenient as is the use of oil today. It will involve much time and financial investment. Energy carriers in terms of varied end uses and ease of handling and storage are not easily interchangeable.

But, oil prices are still almost 40% higher than they were at the beginning of the year and, increasingly, this surge is being correctly blamed on speculation by large investors, including hedge funds and banking giants.

They are being accused of pushing commodity prices way above the level they would trade at to satisfy supply and demand trends, and that is a FACT!

Let us just briefly examine some alternative energy sources as to their advantages, limitations, and their prospects for replacing oil in the ways and great volumes in which we use oil today. Alternative energies closest to conventional oil (from wells) are first considered, and then our energy horizons are expanded. Remember all comments below reflect the current state of the art and that advances are made and technologies to overcome perceived short comings of the moment several of these fuel sources, if not all become pratical components in a portfolio strategy.

Natural gas. Natural gas is methane (CH4) which commonly has minor quantities of noncombustible gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen associated with it. Natural gas is termed "associated gas" when it occurs with oil, or "nonassociated gas" when it is not found with oil. Natural gas is derived from organic material and can be formed at essentially normal atmospheric temperature (such is the origin of "swamp gas" and the gas associated with garbage dumps, now in places used for fuel to generate electric power). This is area under active investigation.

In terms of energy, one cubic foot of gas at one atmosphere has 1000 Btus. Fifty-six hundred cubic feet (157 cubic meters) of gas has the same energy equivalent as one barrel of oil. Natural gas is the cleanest burning of the fossil fuels, and for that reason is the fuel of choice over coal for electricity production as boiler fuel and in gas turbines. Natural gas can be used as a substitute for gasoline or diesel fuel in internal combustion engines, and is so used in a few places.

Natural gas is commonly moved by pipeline. It can be shipped in cryogenic tankers but this is expensive and does not lend itself economically to large scale transport, whereas oil is shipped economically worldwide. Natural gas can be converted to a liquid (GTL--gas to liquid), and such conversion plants are being built in areas not served by pipelines (e.g., the North Dome Field of Qatar). The end product is a high grade substitute for gasoline. However, the volumes of GTL which can be produced are modest and somewhat more expensive than gasoline.

Natural gas is more widely distributed than oil. But estimates are that in total its energy in reserves is equal to or slightly less than that in world oil reserves. Natural gas (and in GTL) is an alternative energy to petroleum, but natural gas is also a finite fossil fuel.

Geothermal energy. This is heat from the Earth. In a few places in the world there is steam or very hot water close enough to the surface so that the resource can be reached economically with a drill. The steam, or hot water flashed to steam, can turn a turbine, turning a generator producing electricity. At best, because of the scarcity of such sites, geothermal energy can be only a minor contributor to world energy supplies, and the product is electricity, which is subject to limited end uses.

It should be noted that all electric power geothermal generating site reservoirs are now declining, because the geothermal requirements to produce electric power draw down the reservoirs faster than their recharge ability.

Some projects are now reinjecting water from the condensed steam back into the reservoir to see if this problem can be mitigated, but results so far are inconclusive. However, when lower temperature reservoirs are used for space heating, with a more modest demand on the reservoir using down-well heat exchangers or ground to air heat pumps using the natural heat flow of the Earth, geothermal energy appears to be a renewable energy source.

Other biomass fuel sources have been tried. Crops such as corn are converted to alcohol. In the case of corn to ethanol, it is energy negative. It takes more energy to produce ethanol than is obtained from it (Pimentel, 1998). Also, using grain such as corn for fuel, precludes it from being used as food for humans or livestock. It is also hard on the land. In U.S. corn production, soil erodes some 20-times faster than soil is formed. Ethanol has less energy per volume than does gasoline, so when used as a 10 percent mix with gasoline (called gasohol), more gasohol has to be purchased to make up the difference. Also, ethanol is not so environmentally friendly as advocates would like to believe. Pimentel (1998) states:

Ethanol produces less carbon monoxide than gasoline, but it produces just as much nitrous oxides as gasoline. In addition, ethanol adds aldehydes and alcohol to the atmosphere, all of which are carcinogenic. When all air pollutants associated with the entire ethanol system are measured, ethanol production is found to contribute to major air pollution problems.

With a lower energy density than gasoline, and adding the energy cost of the fertilizer (made chiefly from natural gas), and the energy costs (gasoline and/or diesel) to plow, plant, cultivate, and transport the corn for ethanol production, ethanol in total does not save fossil fuel energy nor does it's use reduce atmospheric pollution.

Hydro-electric power. Originally thought of as a clean, non-polluting, environmentally friendly source of energy, experience is proving otherwise. Valuable lowlands, which are usually the best farmland, are flooded. Wildlife is displaced. Where anadromous fish runs are involved as in the Columbia River system with its 30 dams, the effect on fish has been disastrous. Only to a small extent is hydro-electric power truly renewable. This is when the "run of the river" without dams is used, as, for example with a Pelton wheel. If reservoirs are involved, in order to provide a dependable base load as is the case of most hydro-electric facilities, hydro-electric power in the longer term is not a truly renewable energy source. All reservoirs eventually fill with sediment. Some reservoirs have already filled, and many others are filling faster than expected. A dam site can be used only once.

We are enjoying the best part of the life of huge dams. In a few hundred years Glen Canyon Dam and Hoover Dam will be concrete waterfalls. And, again, the end product is electricity, not a replacement for the important use of oil derivatives (gasoline, etc.) in transportation equipment.

Solar energy. This is a favorite possible source of future energy for many people, comforted by the thought that it is unlimited. But, quite the contrary is true. The Sun will exist for a long time, but at any given place on the Earth's surface the amount of sunlight received is limited--only so much is received. And at night, or with overcast skies, or in high latitudes where winter days are short and for months there may be no daylight at all, or available in small and low intensity quantities. Direct conversion of sunlight to electricity by solar cells is a promising technology, and already locally useful, but the amount of electricity which can be generated by that method is not great compared with demand.

Because it is a low grade energy, with a low conversion efficiency (about 15%) capturing solar energy in quantity requires huge installations--many square miles. About 8 percent of the cells must be replaced each year. But the big problem is how to store significant amounts of electricity when the Sun is not available to produce it (Trainer, 1995), for example, at night. The problem remains unsolved. Because of this, solar energy cannot be used as a dependable base load. And, the immediate end product is electricity, a very limited replacement for oil. Also, adding in all the energy costs of the production and maintenance of PV (photovoltaic) installations, the net energy recovery is low (Trainer, 1995).

Wind energy. This energy source is similar to solar in that it is not dependable. It is noisy, and the visual effects are not usually regarded as pleasing. The best inland wind farm sites tend to be where air funnels through passes in the hills which are also commonly flyways for birds. The bird kills have caused the Audubon Society to file suit in some areas to prevent wind energy installations. Locally and even regionally via a grid (e.g. Denmark) wind can be a significant electric power source. But wind is likely to be only a modest help in the total world energy supply, and the end product is electricity, no significant replacement for oil. As with solar energy, the storage problem of large amounts of wind generated electricity is largely unsolved. Wind cannot provide a base load as winds are unreliable.

Wave energy. All sorts of installations have been tried to obtain energy from this source, but with very modest results. Piston arrangements moved up and down by waves which in turn move turbines connected to electric generators have been tried in The Netherlands, but the project was abandoned. Waves are not dependable, and the end product is electricity, and producing it in significant quantities from waves seems a remote prospect.

Tidal power. It takes a high tide and special configuration of the coastline, a narrow estuary which can be dammed, to be a tidal power site of value. Only about nine viable sites have been identified in the world. Two are now in use (Russia and France) and generate some electricity. Damming estuaries would have considerable environmental impact. The Bay of Fundy in eastern Canada has long been considered for a tidal power site, but developing it would have a negative effect on the fisheries and other sea-related economic enterprises. It would also disturb the habits of millions of birds which use the Bay of Fundy area as part of their migration routes. Tidal power is not a significant power source. The end product is electricity

Fusion. Fusion involves the fusion of either of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium or tritium. Deuterium exists in great quantities in ordinary water, and from that perspective fusion is theoretically an almost infinitely renewable energy resource. This is the holy grail of ultimate energy. Fusion is the energy which powers the Sun, and that is the problem. The temperature of the Sun ranges from about 10,0000C on its surface to an estimated 15 to 18 million degrees in the interior where fusion takes place. Containing such a temperature on Earth in a sustainable way and harnessing the heat to somehow produce power has so far escaped the very best scientific talent. However, even if commercial fusion were accomplished, the end product again is electricity, not a direct convenient replacement for oil.

Hydrogen and fuel cells. References are sometimes made as to using these for energy sources. Neither is a primary energy source. Hydrogen must be obtained by using some other energy source. Usually it is obtained by the electrolysis of water, or by breaking down natural gas (methane CH4). Hydrogen is highly explosive, and to be contained and carried in significantly usable amounts it has to be compressed or cooled to a liquid at minus 2530C. Hydrogen is not easy to handle, and it is not a convenient replacement for pouring 10 gallons of gasoline into an automobile fuel tank.

Fuel cells are being developed for use in transportation (automobiles, trucks, buses, etc.) but fuel cells have to be fueled with hydrogen. Fuel cells are not a source of energy in themselves, but are a possible ultimate substitute for the internal combustion engine. However, putting the infrastructure in place to effectively and economically produce and store hydrogen on the widespread basis as oil and its derivatives are today, is an enormous, costly, and long term task. The ultimate result can hardly be as versatile and convenient as is the use of oil products today around the world.

Ocean thermal energy conversion (OTEC). Within about 25 degrees each side of the equator the surface of the ocean is warm, and the depths are cold to the extent that there is a modest temperature differential. This can be a source of energy, using a low boiling point fluid such as ammonia which at normal atmospheric temperature of 700F (210C) is a gas, colder water can be pumped from the deep ocean to condense the ammonia, and then let it warm up and expand to gas. The resulting gas pressure can power a turbine to turn a generator. But the plant would have to be huge and anchored in the deep open ocean or on a ship, all subject to storms and corrosion, and the amount of water which has to be moved is enormous as the efficiency is very low. How to store and transport the resulting electricity would also be a large problem. OTEC does not appear to have much potential as a significant energy source, and the end product is electricity.

LS9's world headquarters looks like a dorm room on move-out day. The reception area at the biotech company's San Carlos, California, digs is stark white, unashamedly bare. No one has bothered to spring for prints or posters for the walls, not even from Ikea. Haphazard stacks of boxes line every corridor. It's no surprise LS9 doesn't put much of a premium on appearances--after all, its most important employees are patented microbes too small to be seen. "This is where we grow the bacteria," says Steve del Cardayré, the company's vice president for research and development, leading me to a lab space no bigger than your typical college double. He points to a vat containing an oatmeal-like slurry--carbohydrates derived from plant matter that feed the microbes. "After they're finished growing, all we have to do is take the mixture out and spin it, and density makes it separate into its components."

The most important of those components is 21st-century black gold: a compound chemically identical to the diesel fuel that powers millions of U.S. cars and trucks. LS9 leads the newly emerging pack of companies that, with DNA-engineering technology, are custom-creating potentially lucrative species of bacteria that can manufacture fuel on command. LS9's biggest competitor, Emeryville, California-based Amyris Biotechnologies, recently started making bacteria-based diesel in addition to its longtime focus on developing a bioengineered malaria drug.

And biotech's big daddy, Craig Venter, a champion of modifying microorganisms to make fuel, has entered the fray; his latest brainchild, Synthetic Genomics, plans to create bugs that excrete hydrogen and ethanol--though, due to the complexity of engineering completely new organisms, the company likely won't produce any fuel for years. But LS9, founded in 2005, has a head start on its rivals--and is closest to putting bacterial gas in your tank.

As crude-oil prices have risen toward the $100-per-barrel mark, the arguments for alternative fuel sources have grown stronger. "What intrigued me was the strong economic case for bacteria fuel," says LS9 president Robert Walsh, who joined the startup after 26 years at Royal Dutch Shell. Because the fuel produced by LS9's microbes is virtually pump-ready--requiring only a simple cleaning step to filter out impurities--making bacteria fuel uses 65% less energy than making ethanol, which needs extensive chemical processing that drives up its price and damages its good-for-the-planet cred.

LS9's finished product also has 50% more energy content--a gallon of bacteria fuel would last your car about 50% longer than a gallon of ethanol. "LS9's fuel has a number of advantages in terms of cost, security of supply, and impact on the environment," says Noubar Afeyan, CEO of Flagship Ventures, one of the VC firms that contributed to the startup's $20 million of funding in 2007. "It offers a commercially attractive path to sustainability."

That path began unexpectedly at Codon Devices, Harvard geneticist George Church's rapid-DNA-synthesis company. Church and his lab staff had regular brainstorming sessions in which they liked to muse on out-of-the-box applications for the technology they'd developed, which allowed them to redesign the genomes of existing organisms with a few mouse clicks. One day, someone suggested engineering a bacterium that could make fuel, since the lab had just been awarded a Department of Energy grant. "We're dependent on petroleum, so we don't need some alternative to petroleum. We need a way to make petroleum itself," del Cardayré says. "Biology can do it. Over the course of billions of years, cells have figured out that hydrocarbons are a good way to store energy."

We now live in very fortunate times. In the combination of the versatility of end uses, energy density, ease of handling and storage, and being now able to produce it relatively inexpensively and in great volume, there is no energy source comparable to oil. But living in a chiefly petroleum fueled economy and in a fossil fuel economy in general, we are living off our capital, which is unsustainable.

In a very perceptive volume for the time it was written, British physicist C. G. Darwin (1952) recounts the several "revolutions" which have taken place in the progress of human history, such as the most recent one, the Industrial Revolution. He states there is one more revolution coming:

The fifth revolution will come when we have spent the stores of coal and oil that have been accumulating in the earth during hundreds of millions of years...it is obvious that there will be a very great difference in ways of life...a man has to alter his way of life considerably, when, after living for years on his capital, he suddenly finds he has to earn any money he wants to spend...The change may justly be called a revolution, but it differs from all the preceding ones in that there is no likelihood of its leading to increase in population, but even perhaps to the reverse.

There is a popular belief that somehow technology can indefinitely rescue the human race from whatever predicament it may get itself into--solve all problems. Pimentel and Giampietro (1994) have warned:

Technology cannot substitute for essential natural resources such as food, forests, land, water, energy, and biodiversity...we must be realistic as to what technology can and cannot do to help humans feed themselves and to provide other essential resources.

Bartlett (1994) has observed:

There will always be popular and persuasive technological optimists who believe that population increases are good, and who believe that the human mind has unlimited capacity to find technological solutions to all problems of crowding, environmental destruction, and resource shortages. These technological optimists are usually not biological or physical scientists. Politicians and business people tend to be eager disciples of the technological optimists.

This is not to say that technology cannot continue to produce many good things in the future. But we must not confuse technology which uses resources with creating the resources. The world is finite; there are limits. Nature has given us a great inheritance formed in the Earth by myriad geological processes over millions of years consisting of a huge variety of resources, including, importantly now, fossil fuels. This is a nonrenewable bank account against which we have been writing larger and larger checks as the needs of an increasingly industrialized growing world population have been supplied.

But eventually this account will be exhausted, and we will have to bestir ourselves to get out and live on current income, the first need of which apparently will be to replace oil. How many people can a renewable energy resource income support? And what will be the resources we will use to do this?

Cohen (1995) has discussed this, as is the title of his book, "How Many People Can the Earth support?" But, perhaps the question should be phrased "how many people should the Earth support?"

The optimum size of this population can hardly be estimated now with any great degree of accuracy, but some suggestions have been made. Pimentel and Pimentel (1996) believe that a world population of two billion might be sustained in some reasonable degree of affluence. Other estimates have been made and it is significant that most of them determine a figure which is substantially smaller than is the size of today's population.

Trainer (1995), in a comprehensive study of renewable energy sources, has made a well-supported clear statement:

Figures commonly quoted on costs of generating energy from renewable sources can give the impression that it will be possible to switch to renewables as the foundation for the continuation of industrial societies with high material living standards. Although renewable energy must be the sole source in a sustainable society, major difficulties become evident when conversion, storage and supply for high latitudes are considered. It is concluded that renewable energy sources will not be able to sustain present rich world levels of energy use and that a sustainable world order must be based on acceptance of much lower per capita levels of energy use, much lower living standards and a zero growth economy.

Transition to an entirely renewable sustainable energy resource economy with resulting changes in lifestyles is inevitable. Will it be done with intelligence and foresight or will it be done by harsh natural forces? This is one of the main challenges which lie before us.

It seems likely that a sustainable energy mix will be broader that it is today where oil and natural gas make up more than 50% of our supplies. And energy in total will likely be more costly than our energy bill today. The transition to this wider diversity of energy sources will proceed slowly and probably be somewhat provincial depending on what regional resources are available.

Energy is the key which unlocks all other resources, and it will continue to be the key to human physical prosperity. It is significant that both the per capita use of oil, and the per capita use of energy in total both peaked in 1979 and have been falling ever since (Duncan, 2000). We may already be seeing the beginning of the fifth revolution to which Darwin referred.

The British scientist and statesman, Sir Crispin Tickell (1994) has clearly summed up our situation:

We have done remarkably little to reduce our dependence on a fuel [oil] which is a limited resource and for which there is no comprehensive substitute in prospect.

The challenge of conversion to alternative energy sources with the concurrent problems of population size and stabilization, and adjustment of economies and lifestyles is clearly at hand. A realistic appraisal of the future encourages people to properly prepare for the coming events.

Delay in dealing with the issues will surely result in unpleasant surprises.

Put an end to speculation and speculators by opening your mind and having the guts to get rid of politicians who act as though we are stupid.

Let us get on with the task of moving orderly into the post-petroleum paradigm.