The markets probably teach all of us some lessons every day. Take the lesson of supply and demand. If demand drops then supply increases. With this, costs come down thus increasing demand. And so on. As teachings describe it to us.

Let’s look at oil. Since 2008 the price of oil has dropped then stagnated. Contrarily to this the supply continues to increase. Are people getting smarter and switching to renewable energy? Well no. Demand for oil continues to climb at 0.7% each year. Simply put the oil producers want their profits now. That is, they keep increasing supply with the expectation that demand will follow their lead. This doesn’t really follow the teachings.

With oil (and coal and natural gas) being non-renewable energy sources then eventually producers will have no more supplies to sell. This also challenges the teachings. That is, even if demand increases or remains the same. Even if prices go astronomical. There will be no supply to balance it. At whatever cost. What do the markets teach us about this?
Pioneering Spirit


The Earth’s heat balance has contributions from two significant sources of input; radiation from the Sun and heat radiating out of the Earth itself. Putting one’s hand on the ground will not detect the heat from the Earth; about 100 milliwatts per square metre. But stand near an active volcano and you will quickly detect the vast amounts of energy at play. All that ready energy could be accessible if we can figure out how.

Thor in Iceland may be showing the way. This experimental deep drilling project has pierced the Earth’s crust down 4659 metres. That’s down to where the Atlantic Ocean’s mid-ocean ridge is apparent. At that depth and location there’s a very high pressure and a very high heat. Plans are to draw 20 megawatts of energy from the well to provide for much of the requirements of the local population. Of course Iceland has a very unique geology and a very small population so Thor is a practical solution. If it all works out.

Energy from the Earth is already a specialty of Iceland. All of its electrical power comes from either dams or geothermal vents. No non-renewable fossil fuels for their power production. Similarly photovoltaic farms grace amenable deserts in other countries. Still, worldwide, 86% of primary energy comes from fossil fuels. Humans have to be a lot more inventive if we want to keep civilization at its current high level and possibly grow it.
HS Orka

Crash Diet

There’s an interesting and direct correlation between a country’s standard of living and the waist size of its citizens. As the standard goes up so increases the waist size. And that increase in waist size is mostly an increase in stores of energy, of fat. A need to preserve energy is reasonable if we live in a feast or famine scenario. But a higher standard of living should mean there’s little chance of famine. Or is there?

Venezuela used to be a darling of the oil exporting countries. With high oil prices its citizens enjoyed a very high standard of living. Recently though the low oil prices and poor management has changed the standard. How do we know? Well, people’s waist lines are shrinking. By one account there’s observation of a 8kg drop per person over a year. That’s almost 10% of a typical body. It seems that the reduction in the standard of living has people immediately entering a famine state.

With help, Venezuelans should return to a higher standard of living. And likely increase their weight sizes again. But what if no help was available? What if there was a general lowering of the standard of living across the world? Such as with a drop in supplies of energy. Would there be a general reduction in everyone’s waist size? Or would our baser instincts take over?

Food for All

Invite guests over for a meal. Being polite, you dine them with great gusto. Your table provides an abundance of food of all types; cooked, raw and manicured. You spend a few hours chatting and eating then say goodbyes. Afterward the clean-up begins. You save a lot of the excess food left on the table. With plastic containers and a large fridge little gets sent to the compost and your meal is fairly benign.

But as an industry, food provisioning can do with great improvement. Nearly one in four of the calories of food produced ends up being discarded, mostly due to the producer to retailer link. World-wide that’s 1.3 billion tonnes of wasted food. If the average energy content of the food is 10 000J per gram then that’s about 1.3e19Joules of food energy wasted. And that’s only the food’s energy content. It does not include the seeding, fertilizer, watering, reaping and transportation. Why do we let this industry operate this way?

Just imagine if a quarter of all agricultural land was returned to its natural condition. If the production of fertilizer and farm equipment was dropped by a quarter. And if food was again sanctified as the essential that it is. Maybe this could get us back to being a responsible partner on this shared planet Earth.


The impact from a human living off the land shouldn’t be that great. After all, once upon a time we had no consumer durables and most everything we acquired directly aided our moment by moment effort for survival. At that time fewer than a million people traipsed over all the land. A million people spread all over Earth’s land mass wouldn’t have had much of an effect.

Today we’ve turned the tables on being subsistence survivors. Readily available energy allows everyone to have copious quantities of consumer durables. And mechanization enables food for all; at least if we distribute it fairly. Yet the crux of these benefits lies with the accessibility of cheap energy. Our food production needs mechanization. It also needs fertilizer. Lots and lots to the amount of hundreds of millions of tonnes. Bread, a standard for many people’s meals, has had its fertilizer production assigned with 43% of its total greenhouse gas emissions. Mostly from the energy used to make the fertilizer to grow the bread’s grain. Seems we can’t even make bread for our table without the energy use having a side effect.

While the end of accessible, cheap energy may ameliorate the production of greenhouse gases what would it do to the dining experiences of over 7 billion people? Could seven billion people return to a subsistence hunter, gatherer state? Do you want to compete with your neighbor so as to catch and eat that mouse that just went by?