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Friday, August 21, 2009

How to Make Astroturf

In case you've ever wondered what the key ingredient is in Astroturf, it's oil - so it's fitting the American Petroleum Institute has leapt to the front of the pack with artificial citizens rallies to fight even the ridiculously inadequate bill in the US Senate that seeks to reduce global warming a little, not too much really, just turning down the thermostat a little and turning on a fan to make sure nobody loses their job, and no corporation loses money. But of course, not losing money is never enough to keep stockholders happy.

So here's some commentary on API's no-longer-secret strategy memo, along withe memo itself, from FrogBlog correspondent (and otherwise legitimate journalist) Rex Weyler. We've added some pictures for your reading pleasure.


How the oil companies fund Disinformation

You likely already know that this sort of organized disinformation campaign goes on constantly, but here are the oil companies -- Shell, Halliburton, Chevron, Conoco, Exxon, General Electric, BP, Petrobas and other funders of the American Petroleum Institute -- organizing "Energy Citizen" rallies of employees to kill climate change legislation in the U.S. Right now, 2009, 4 months before the Copenhagen climate conference that is so critical to the future of human society.

This is the sort of anti-science, anti-truth, self-serving, money-grubbing denial that is leading human civilization to the brink of disaster. And here it is, in their own flaming, twisted words.

Notice, for example, when they say the legislation will push oil to $4 per gallon, they don't mention that the Heritage Foundation study that concluded this (itself funded by the same oil companies) said "$4 per gallon by 2035." The memo is chock-full of such deceit. (Of course you probably also know that oil will be far over $4 / gallon due to oil field depletion rates that are double what the companies were saying a year ago). Lies on top of lies.

Note the warning at the end: “Please treat this information as sensitive and ask those in your company to do so as well… we don’t want critics to know our game plan.” Well at least one oil executive ignored this warning and leaked this memo to our friends at Greenpeace. You can go to the Greenpeace site here if you want to sign on to their letter to the companies, or write your own.

So here is the full text of the email from the American Petroleum Institute (API) to its members:

Dear API Member Company CEO/Executive,

As I have outlined in the past few editions of the weekly"Executive Update," API is coordinating a series of "EnergyCitizen" rallies in about 20 states across the country during the last two weeks of Congress's August recess. Most of these will be held at noontime, though some may be at different times in order to piggyback on other events.

Thanks to the leadership of API's Executive Committee, I am pleased to report that we have strong support for this first-ever effort moving ahead. Now we are asking all API members to get involved.

The objective of these rallies is to put a human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy and to aim a loud message at those states' U.S. Senators to avoid the mistakes embodied in the House climate bill and the Obama Administration's tax increases on our industry.

Senate Majority Leader Senator Harry Reid reportedly has pushed back consideration of climate legislation to late Septemberto allow Senators time to get their constituents' views during the August recess. It's important that our views be heard.

At the rallies, we will focus our message on two points: the adverse impacts of unsound energy policy (e.g., Waxman-Markey-like legislation, tax increases, and access limitations) on jobs and on consumers' energy costs. And we will call on the Senate to oppose unsound energy policy and"get it right."
Recent opinion research that Harris Interactive conducted for API demonstrates that our messages on Waxman-Markey-likelegislation work extremely well and are very persuasive with the general public and policy influentials. After hearing that Waxman-Markey-like legislation could increase the costs of gasoline to around $4 and lead to significant job losses, these audiences changed their opinions on the bill significantly.

[Oops, wrong poll.]

Opposition to the bill within the policy influentials cohort grew 23 points, from 40% to 63%; with a19 point increase in those who now "strongly" oppose the legislation. The data clearly demonstrate the softness of support of the current approach and very strong opposition when people are educated about the potential job losses andenergy cost increases. Our expectation is to translatepeoples' real concerns for job losses and increased energy costs to all unsound proposals (e.g., Waxman-Markey-like legislation, tax increases, and access limitations).

We have identified 11 states with a significant industry presence and 10 other states where we have assets on the ground. We also have attracted allies from a broad range of interests: the Chamber of Commerce and NAM , the trucking industry, the agricultural sector, small business, and many others, including a significant number of consumer groups, which have pledged to have their membership join in the events in states where they have a strong presence. We also are collaborating closely with the allied oil and natural gas industry associations on these events.

While such efforts are never easy and the risk of failure is always present, we must move aggressively in preparation for the post-Labor Day debate on energy, climate and taxes. The measure of success for these events will be the diversity of the participants expressing the same message, as well as turnouts of several hundred attendees. In the 11 states with an industry core, our member company local leadership-including your facility manager's commitment to provide significant attendance is essential to achieving the participation level that Senators cannot ignore. In addition, please include all vendors, suppliers, contractors, retirees and others who have an interest in our success.

To be clear, API will provide the up-front resources to ensure logistical issues do not become a problem. This includes contracting with a highly experienced events management company that has produced successful rallies for presidential campaigns, corporations and interest groups.

It also includes coordination with the other interests who share our views on the issues, providing a field coordinator in each state, conducting a comprehensive communications and advocacy activation plan for each state, and serving as central manager for all events.

We are asking all API members to assist in these August activities. The size of the company does not matter, and every participant adds to the strength of our collective voice. We need two actions from each participating company.


Please provide us with the name of one central coordinator for your company's involvement in the rallies. (We will look to this person as your representative to assist the overall effort.) If you will let me know ASAP, we can be in touch quickly and provide that person with additional details about the project.

Please indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies. (Unfortunately, we are already experiencing some delay from your regional people since they are not yet aware that headquarters supports the effort.) I believe that expression of support to your company leadership is a fundamental predicate to organizing quickly and achieving success in this endeavor.

The list of tentative venues is attached. Please treat this information as sensitive and ask those in your company to do so as well, as some of these places may be subject to change, and we don't want critics to know our game plan. You can assume with confidence that the advocates for Waxman-Markey-like legislation and the critics of oil and gas are going to be very active, particularly during the August recess.

Once the list of venues and exact rally dates are determined, we will contact your company's coordinator to distribute the information internally and to coordinate transportation to the venues, if required, for your employees. In the meantime, your company's coordinator could assist us by telling us in which of the venues listed below your company has facilities or employees who can participate.

I look forward to working with you to make the August rally project and the other advocacy steps we are undertaking to deliver the policy outcomes we support with measurable results. Don't hesitate to call me with questions.

All the best,


Jack N. Gerard
President & CEO

Tentative Venues: Houston TX, Perry GA, Detroit MI, Roswell NM, Greensboro NC, Farmington NM, Ohio (venue being finalized), Greeley CO, Nashville TN, Indiana (venue being finalized), Bismarck ND, Tampa FL, Sioux Falls SD, Greenville SC, Anchorage AK, Joliet IL, Charleston WV, Fairfax VA, Philadelphia PA, Lincoln NE, Missouri TBD, Arkansas TBD

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Prius Fallacy - Rex Weyler

A FrogBlog exclusive! Rex Weyler, co-founder of Greenpeace International, on why your best ride down the Energy Decline Curve is the car you already own:

The Prius Fallacy
Rex Weyler


This chart shows gasoline consumption per capita declining in Cascadia – Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. Such graphs are sometimes used to support the idea that we are gaining transportation efficiency with new cars such as the Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid. People point out that “switching to a Prius” could cut gas use by 70% and so forth, which would certainly be a good thing.

However, to analyse this correctly, one must make a full accounting both of energy use in general and the specific “solution” proposed. Will buying a Prius or other hybrid help stop global warming and save the planet? Let’s have a look. Here are some of the factors:

1. The above graph shows oil consumption per capita declining in a particular region (Cascadia) since the mid-1970s. This may simply reflect the fact that per capita oil consumption has declined globally since 1979, the peak year of global per capita oil use. This has been known for some time. Lester Brown mentions this in his 1981 book, Building a Sustainable Society. I have done my own calculations, confirming that 1979 stands as the year of peak petroleum use per capita. Total oil consumption increased, however, since we have added some 3 billion people to the planet since the mid-1970s.

2. Note the sharpest decline here is approximately 1976 - 82, which correlates with the OPEC oil embargo and the ensuing global recession. The decline in this particular graph also correlates with a severe Washington State recession in the early 1980s.

3. The recent decline on this chart reflects the fact that global oil production has been flat since 2005, so global per capita use is declining faster than ever, since population continues to grow at about 1.1% per year. The most recent steep decline in oil consumption per person correlates with recent oil price increases and now a global recession.

4. Global oil production has peaked, so this decline in petroleum use per capita will continue independent of all technical efficiencies gained in car design.

Thus, there remains considerable doubt that this chart's shape (or future shape) can be correlated to Priuses and other automobile designs. But there is more.

Full energy accounting

To determine if buying a new Prius (or any other mechanical efficiency) reduces global petroleum consumption or carbon emissions (and if so, by how much), one must perform a full life-cycle energy and carbon accounting for the Prius.

There are three classes of energy that a vehicle consumes in its lifetime: 1. “Embodied energy,” required by material mining, manufacture, shipping, and automobile infrastructure; 2. vehicle operation, and 3. disposal & recycling.

Depending on the model, 10-40% of the energy an automobile uses in its lifetime is “embodied energy” consumed before it is purchased to build the car alone. For a Prius, the manufactured embodied energy is about 25% of the vehicle’s lifetime energy use. On top of this, one must consider automobile infrastructure. No studies that I know of have yet allocated the embodied material and energy of the highway, service, and parking infrastructure to individual vehicles, but for a full accounting, this must be considered. Our highway system is not just a financial subsidy to the automobile industry, it is also an energy cost subsidy, the energy to mine, move, and assemble the resources to build the highways.

The actual energy cost of a new vehicle – hybrid or pure gasoline style – depends on the vehicle lifetime and the full materials and energy costs. New high-tech steels and alloys used in a Prius require more embodied energy to produce and to recycle than conventional steel. Other factors include high-energy-use products such as batteries and electric motors.

The point is, basing a car purchase decision solely on fuel economy will not tell you the full energy cost of that vehicle.

The critical factor is total throughput of material and energy. A new car of any kind requires mining, shipping, manufacture of exotic alloys, batteries, plastic, shipping of parts, assembly, and finally, shipping the vehicle. A new Prius equals more demand on the planet, less perhaps than a Hummer, but orders of magnitude more than a bicycle or even a reasonable public transport system shared among millions of commuters.

Here are some other significant factors

5. Exported emissions: A Prius is not likely manufactured in the region it is purchased (even if some part of it is). Most of the Prius' embodied energy is accounted for around the world in mining, manufacture, and shipping of the materials, parts, and the finished car. On a global scale, North America has exported a large portion of its carbon emissions. So, for example, to accurately compare “China's” emissions to US or Canadian emissions, we must consider the portion of China (or India, or Mexico) emissions that are actually exported North American emissions, because we are consuming the products associated with the energy use that created the emissions. A product's total energy cost is global.

6. More cars. Any new car – Prius, Hummer, Smart Car, whatever – is one more car that the biosphere has to supply with materials, energy, and waste sinks. The old car is now a cheap option for someone down the economic line. Now there are two cars instead of one. The more ecological car is the one you already have. The most ecological car is no car. Get a bicycle, or walk. But buying a Prius is a little like recycling on the Titanic.

7. Rebound effect: Historically, mechanical efficiencies gained by industries have not translated into less throughput of material and energy, but more. Why? Because when we gain efficiencies, consumer items become cheaper, so more people consume them. This well-known phenomenon in economics is known as the efficiency “rebound effect.” It may appear counter-intuitive, but industrial efficiency results in more consumption, not less. The “gain” is not given back to the earth, but rather it goes to (a) corporate profits and (b) consumer savings, rarely, or never, to less consumption.

A modern example is the fact that computers never saved paper as we once believed they might. Computers led to greater paper consumption. In 1950, humanity used about 50 million tons of paper per year. Now, in the computer age, we use 250 million tons per year. Computers made it cheaper launch more activities that consumed more paper. Typical rebound phenomenon.

And then, there is still more to consider:

8. Substitute consumption .. The profits and savings earned by efficiency are used for other material and energy consumption. The corporate managers get bigger bonuses that go into private jets, yachts, summer homes, cars (Priuses!) for their kids, and so forth, all costing energy. Consumer savings go into the same types of things. Saved money from the more efficient car, is spent on holidays, a second car .. more consumption.

Historically, all efficiency gains translate into greater aggregate consumption. Why? because our economics is dependent upon consumption, not restraint. When the economy discovers an efficiency, it takes the gain as profit. We don’t return the gain to our abused planet.

And since humanity is in aggregate overshoot, all these efficiency gains that yielded greater consumption have increased human overshoot, not reduced it.

There is much more to fully accounting for our so-called global warming “solutions,” but the above outline describes the critical point: To analyse a “solution” one must do the full accounting. If we account for only a part of the process, we are easily misled into false solutions.

For example, science has known for over a century that industrial CO2 in the atmosphere would cause global warming. Svante Arrhenius wrote about it in the 19th century. James Lovelock had the data in the 1960s. Nevertheless, after decades of science, protest, innovation, international negotiations, speeches, handshakes, and treaties, human CO2 emissions continue to increase at about 3% per year. Our emissions have showed not a waver of slowing down (except by recession, barely). Our “solutions” so far haven't added up to anything remotely promising. The entire Kyoto process was probably a net carbon emitter just in the airplane travel. Will the Prius, or windmill, or next technical solution do the trick? Not without a full ecosystem accounting.

This full accounting appeared as one of the main points from Herman Daly's work, as well as the work of Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen, Howard Odum, Hazel Henderson, Donella Meadows, Robert Costanza, Charles Hall, and other biophysical economists, who pioneered this common sense approach. The critical factors were worked out long ago, and the accounting is not particularly complex, it is just inconvenient for our industrial producers to face, and few consumers want to pay full cost if they can avoid it.

Consumption drives our economic system, so until we convert this system to something biophysically accountable, a system that rewards restraint, human enterprise will likely keep making these sorts of miscalculations about solutions to climate change and ecological destruction.

A good solution

In 1980, farmer/author Wendell Berry wrote an essay, “Solving for Pattern,” that outlined the features of “a good solution.” I consider this essay on the A-list for the 21st century. He showed that many problems we face today are the consequences of previous “solutions” that focused on an isolated, short-term gain. Toxic pollution, dying rivers, and nuclear waste provide examples.

Using farming examples, Berry demonstrated how a good solution preserves the “integrity of pattern,” improves balance and symmetry, and addresses the health of the whole system. A false solution treats symptoms and only in a narrow focus. All problems are parts of a whole, and all systems are contained in larger systems. A good solution maintains the integrity of the larger systems.

In this way, a good solution solves multiple problems, and avoids “magic bullet” solutions that fail to account for their full impact. For example, a nuclear “solution” to an energy need creates new problems: radioactive fuel transport, public health, waste, security, decommissioning, accidents, insurance costs, evacuation plans, radiation exposure, and so forth. “In a biological pattern,” Berry writes, “the exploitive means and motives of industrial economics are immediately destructive and ultimately suicidal.” A genuine solution does not pollute or destroy a watershed, for example, to mine gold or generate power.

Real, integrated solutions tend to localize, accept limits, and use resources at hand. However, genuine solutions exist only in actual proof and cannot to be expected from absentee owners and absentee experts. People who will benefit from success or suffer the consequences of failure should guide local solutions with real work that fits the scale of their communities. Genuine solutions appear in harmony with a specific place, maintained with local knowledge. A solution, says Berry, “should not enrich one person by the distress or impoverishment of another.” The scale of a solution proves critical. Solutions that require massive, expensive, imported infrastructure often cause more problems than they solve.

Healthy, integrated solutions distinguish biophysical order from mechanical order. A mechanistic plan often works “on paper” by ignoring related systems. In crafting solutions, consider wisdom, not just calculation. Well-designed solutions maintain natural, organic pattern. Human communities exist only within large-scale layers of organic systems, with natural cycles and laws of material and energy exchange.

Systemic solutions satisfy multiple criteria. They consider form as well as function; they are healthy and pleasant to live around. On the other hand, large scale industrial solutions often create toxic waste, degraded environments, depressing work, designed obsolescence, and so forth, all in the pursuit of solving one single criteria: wealth for the owners of the firm. The service or product provided is a secondary purpose. The stated and actual primary purpose of modern corporations is the consolidation of cash wealth.

Avoid “going for broke” with single plan that could have large-scale negative impacts, but rather, design many small-scale solutions that can scale up and down, prove out, adjust for those that don’t work well, and augment those that do. Berry writes: “to have a lot of power should not make it impossible to use only a little.”

A good solution does not assume “More is better.” The growth solutions that do make this assumption destroy communities, families, cultures, and environments. Large-scale, centralized solutions allow wealth to be concentrated, but do not necessarily achieve optimum, systemic health. “The illusion can be maintained,” Berry points out, “only so long as the consequences can be ignored.” Thus, a series of village scale power systems that can be operated by village skills is more stable and more sustainable than a massive corporate industrial power system with invasive environmental disruption and long transmission lines that cut through wilderness ecosystems.

Human solutions do not endure without human input, energy, organization, maintenance, and so forth. Wendell Barry points out that the integrity of human artifacts depends on human virtues: accurate memory, rigorous observation, insight, inventiveness, reverence, devotion, fidelity, and restraint. Here Berry emphasized “restraint above all.” We must learn to resist the temptation to “solve” problems by accepting “trade-offs” and bequeathing those to posterity. A good solution, Barry wrote three decades ago, is “in harmony with good character, cultural value, and moral law.”

All proposed “solutions” to our ecological challenges should be assessed using criteria such as these.

The Action Plan for reversing overshoot in a biophysical system is fairly simple: Shrink and restore:

1. reduce consumption ( in nature this is done by limiting population, and learning to manage on limited nutrient, material, energy throughput). Growth is not a solution for this.

2. Restore the ecosystem, or at least don't destroy the natural ecosystem. (In nature, this is done through symbiosis). We need to reduce our ecological impact, not grow it.

Bonus comment from Dr. Albert Bartlett:

"Smart growth is better than dumb growth, but they both destroy the environment."

More growth equals more well-to-do people, more homeless people, more employed people, more unemployed people, higher average salaries, more people living below the poverty line, more traffic congestion, higher parking fees, more school crowding, more crime, more unhappy neighborhoods, more expensive government, more tax revenue, higher taxes, more fiscal problems for state and local governments, more tax limitation measures, more air and water pollution, higher utility costs, less reliable utility service, less democracy, more congestion on busy city streets and crowded highways, more unmanageable costs of maintaining public infrastructures, higher food costs and more destruction of the environment.

These problems can’t be solved by a nickel’s worth of “Smart Growth” tacked onto to billions of dollars worth of urban sprawl.

After maturity, continued growth is either obesity or cancer."


Rex Weyler lives in Vancouver. His ecological essays appear on his website “Ecolog
and the Greenpeace International site, Deep Green.


Addendum from David Shipway on the hidden costs of cars in general:

Ecology teaches us to look at a species not in isolation but in context. The personal automobile needs a very special environment to operate in. The embodied energy in road systems catering to the hundreds of millions of private automobiles is gargantuan. Here for one example is a new pre-stressed concrete bridge in the SF Bay area, being built with gravel mined by Orca in Port McNeil:

Even when not being used, cars often occupy a special habitat niche constructed especially for them:

and in suburbia they occupy a substantial amount of personal housing that is better than that used by 3 billion of the world's humans:

I'll leave it to mathematicians to allocate a portion of this embodied energy in road infrastructure and special habitats to each automobile.



Note from the lily pad: the HTBAF point of view is that Used is the New New: if you must buy something at this late stage of civilization, take from the waste stream and buy used whenever possible. But much better than deciding between your existing car, a used car, and a hybrid or plug-in (assuming you have the money after shifting to part-time, going underwater on your house, taking a bath on your mutual fund, and paying interest-only on your credit cards) is to choose between your existing car and a bus, bike or pair of feet (webbed preferably). The real point is to get ready for what's coming, and the New Normal isn't going to include driving, unless you're Donald Trump's chauffeur.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How to Boil a Frog Free Goodie Release 6/24/09 - Sittin' in the Garden Edition

Hi All,

This week we’ve got the first of 2 mini-interviews with David Strahan, author of the excellent book “The Last Oil Shock”. This week David talks about whether the developed world has really become more energy efficient, a key question if we want to hang onto the world-view that technology will save us. (HINT: I’m growing veggies in my backyard.) Check out David’s take on the subject at

Our Book o’ the Update is “Peak Everything” by Richard Heinberg, a must-read overview of our current situation that goes way beyond just limits to our global oil supply (topping out now) into all energy sources, topsoil, forest, fish, phosphates, you name it, we’re using it up at unsustainable rates. Richard’s work is key to understanding that this is NOT JUST A BUNCH OF ISOLATED PROBLEMS you’re seeing on the news everyday. We’re looking at a systemic problem (too many people, too little planet) and all the symptoms are going to hit us at once: sniffles, aches, fever, insomnia, indigestion, gout, itching, swelling, shrinkage, annoying hair growth and a bunch of other things for which there is no easy remedy. That’s the real Domino Theory we need to learn about, and Richard’s book is a great place to start. Check it out at

Once again we’re replacing all 5 Essential Articles with new ones, to keep up with those dominoes. Note there’s an emotional progression of these articles – sort of like the flow from “Death Proof” into “Planet Terror” – so read all 5 in one sitting if you can put down the iPod/laptop/TV remote/Crackberry that long.

Up first is “An Inconvenient Talk” by Chris Turner, which tells the story of Calgary-based geoscientist Dave Hughes and his mission of spreading the basic facts about peak oil. Why this article isn’t on the cover of, say, everything, escapes me.

Move on from there to “What You Don’t Know Makes You Nervous” by Daniel Gilbert. You’ll find that, no, it isn’t just you - we’re all stuck in a kind of nervous ambivalence, knowing we should change our behavior but not doing it because maybe – just maybe – we won’t have to. So the question becomes, after you read this article, will you take action? Still not convinced?

Then move on to “Too Big to Fail: Ecological Ignorance and Economic Collapse” by Chip Ward, as he explains the cycles of the economy by looking at Nature…and takes you into your feelings. Continue that journey with…

“Solastalgia” by Sanjay Khanna, who wants to come up with a better name for what we’re feeling than “I-know-I-shouldn’t-drive-and-fly-and-consume-mass-quantities-of-conveniently-packaged-stuff-because-I’m-killing-the-polar-bears-and-my-great-grandchildren-but-it’s-too-hard-to-change-and-we-all-die-anyway-itis.” She got it down to 4 syllables, and came up with some good insights on how to get to action too. So now that you’ve felt your feelings, finish off with…

“Family Farmers: The Return” by Herve Kempf. A good career reminder: the real green jobs of the future are going to be in growing green stuff! Lawns are so 20th century. Zuke flower salads from the backyard are in! All these fine wordsmiths await you at

After all that reading, it’s time to move on to our Essential Movie, and not only is it free, but I guarantee it will dazzle you. It’s “The History of Oil”, written and performed by Robert Newman. Witty, beautifully shot and entirely powered by guys on stationary bikes, this is one of the most brilliant pieces of entertainment I’ve seen in a long time. Just click on and sit back for an hour of something I wish there were a lot more of. For more on this extraordinary comedian, songwriter & activist, visit

Our Essential Funny Web Short is called “Stop Pollution”, an animated featurette with penguins & polar bears, who by the way will soon be indigenous to Cleveland. Waitin’ for you at

We’ve also replaced all 5 Essential Links because there’s so dang much great stuff happening online right now.

Start with The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement, if you’re looking for a new and extraordinary kind of commitment to saving Humanity. HTBAF the Movie advocates a voluntary restriction to one child (and adoption after that) – here’s the next step beyond!

Next is the GrowthBusters website, brought to you by Friend O’ the Frog Dave Gardner. Like HTBAF, this is both a website and an upcoming film!

New Society Publishers is a local publishing house with an amazing catalogue – a must-browse!

World-changing has a great motto – “Change your thinking” – from that all else flows. The link on our site goes to a page that has a video on urban eco-villages, which turn out to be nothing like what I had in my head. Check it out and then cruise the site for a zillion free resources.

The Green World Campaign. Plant a tree for a quarter! 2 bits! Best bargain on the net! And all of this awaits you at!

We’ve got a couple of different Actions o’ the Week. If you happen to be lucky enough to live in and around lovely Vancouver, BC, check out the summer courses being offered at Langara College by Village Vancouver – just click on to see what’s happening on the skill-building front. (If you live elsewhere, try googling Transition Towns to see what’s available in your area.) Or if you’re in the mood for some trouble-making, try out to sign up for civil disobedience or action offsets!

And don’t forget to check out the first review of HTBAF the movie at Not bad for a movie nobody's allowed to see yet! Thanks to FOF's Bart Anderson at and Kathy McMahon at for spreading the word about the movie!

And, as always, please spread this email to others who are not yet Frog-aware, and discuss with them some of what you see and read here. What you do matters!

Till next time,

Jon & all his friends at
Frequent updates on Twitter – follow “howtoboilafrog” for our news haikus!
HTBAF on Facebook!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

First Review of How to Boil a Frog the movie!

Thanks to for reviewing the rough cut of How to Boil a Frog! Now to raise half a million bucks to get it to a theater near you!

Published Jun 11 2009 by Energy Bulletin
How To Boil A Frog (film review)
by Amanda Kovattana

A lively film promoting activism via video that is in itself a sophisticated example of the medium. With a personal narrative from author/activist Jon Cooksey, this is a rapid fire account of five problems that are bringing the human race to the brink of disaster due to ecological deterioration of the planet. Using a available low budget props high in visual humor, Cooksey outlines the impacts of population overshoot, habitat destruction of the natural world, increasing human wealth causing disastrous consumption and further destruction, peak oil and global warming.


Peppering his demonstration with illustrated factoids, easily understood metaphors and bathroom humor, his change of costumes and local are inter-cut with a series of visual cues referencing boomer culture from pong to disco. The humor keeps the viewer from too much despair at his state of the planet address, yet doesn't flinch from the dreadful facts of our abuse of the oceans with an assault of plastic, the rate of development in China and the disastrous reduction in forest and water supply due to resource depletion. Accompanied with magic marker charts to illustrate the point of overshoot when we should have leveled off our consumption and growth (in 1987), he follows with a "Red Asphalt" attempt at warning us of what will happen if we continue business as usual. Cooksey firmly establishes that we must understand that there are definite limits to what the planet will bear.

He follows with five solutions urging viewers to forget about a techno fix and work on shrinking our consumption to fit these limits starting with ourselves first. Beginning with cultivating a change of heart about how we live, his solutions include reducing energy use, growing food in our own backyards (he demonstrates in his own yard from scratch) and activism using youtube interviews to embarrass corporations that are causing harm into changing their evil ways. Convinced of this David and Goliath approach using nothing more than a digital camera, Cooksey delivers his main message "make friends, make fun, make trouble". And he is infectious in this energy. Everyone can be a youtube star and show and tell what they've done. Such is the appeal of a visual medium, that it can both showcase your personality and your accomplishments. The beauty of How To Boil A Frog is that it appeals to our altruism without seeming holier than thou.

It is worth noting that this is one of the few films of the "change the world" genre that actually states that we can't live as we have been doing and must transition to another way of life. The fast pace of the explanations and quick cultural references may go over the heads of an over 50 audience, but it is perfect for the video generation.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

What This Is Not

Frogs are excellent at facing reality. If you jump from one lily pad to another, and you don't quite make it, you're in the water. You don't think to yourself: "Hey, this water is sort of like a lily pad, except it's wet, and blue, and I'm drowning." You swim (breast stroke, of course) and get on the lily pad. Then you eat a fly, because, hey, it's been a long morning.

Also good in fruit shakes.

You homo sapiens sapiens, however, seem to be having a problem seeing things as they are. For instance, there's been much talk about whether and how much the current financial crash is or could be like the Great Depression of 1929. Here's a hint:

This is not 1929.

Frogs on the fly line.

The Great Depression happened because of a combination of things. The victors of WW1 tried punishing Germany, and rediscovered the Golden Rule. The Bankers orchestrated a crash, taking their money out first. Playing around with the Gold Standard was in there somewhere. And of course, Herbert Hoover's frocks caused a style panic. In other words, people caused the Great Depression.

Hoover posing as the President's wife.

And what "solved" the Great Depression? People running out and buying washing machines? The New Deal? Improved health from eating 5 cent apples? World War 2? No, it was none of these things. It was this:

Black gold. Texas tea. Bush blood.

It was oil production. By 1930, it was starting to spurt out of the Texas dirt with an EROI of 100:1. Production rose exponentially from that point, allowing the US to kick Nazi butt in WW2, while Hitler scrabbled all over Africa trying to find himself some oil he didn't have to make out of Ruhr coal or gay people. FDR could've spent 12 years doing the hula and the US economy would've still recovered because resource throughput is what drives GDP.

Does this shape look familiar?

Frogs don't live long enough for me to repeat all the great work that Friend o' the Frog Charlie Hall has done establishing this fact, but the sum total is that GDP snakes around the oil production line. Example: Oil goes to $147/barrel, economy crashes. Oil demand crashes, oil price falls, economy shows signs of recovery. Sound familiar? But first, what else this is not:

This is not 1979.

Note, this is NOT the kind of bug you can eat.

The temporary dip in oil production in 1979 was a result of the Iran-Iraq War, also called the America-Wins-Either-Way War, but only by Don Rumsfeld. This was purely a result of politics and too many former oil workers now being busy blowing each other up. It bears no relation to the real, permanent, GLOBAL decline we are about to go into.

Plateau extended slightly by economic crash, but you get the idea.

Absurd? The International Energy Agency doesn't think so. France's national oil company Total doesn't think so. And what happens when oil peaks, besides GDP heading downhill?

This is the scary part.

That's right. The so-called "Green Revolution" that allowed exponential growth in the human population, was mainly based on fossil fuel inputs. So as the oil and gas supplies peak and decline (already in progress), our food supply will decline, and so will the supply of humans. (A double tragedy if you're a cannibal.) So, finally, what else is this not?

This is not 1999.

As in time to party like it's.

We're in the midst of a massive onset of sadness and anxiety. That's just the truth. Things aren't working out the way humans imagined, which is sad, even if you guys didn't imagine very well. We can even sense this out on the pond, especially because the water is full of Prozac, which does make missing the lily pad mildly calming. The tendency will be there to cover up all that upset with alcohol, drugs, sex, exercise, work, or, if you're poor, mud.

The Mud People of Bonnaroo. But they're crying on the inside.

Don't run away from this. Go visit the Peak Shrink and come to grips with it. It's not 1929, 1979, or 1999, but it IS 2009. And there's a lot you can do for yourself, your family, and your community if you start taking care of things right there on your own lily pad. Gotta go. My lunch is buzzing.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Bill Rees on "Uneconomic Growth"

How to Boil a Frog is proud to welcome guest blogger Bill Rees, co-creator of the Ecological Footprint, to the lily pad. We supply the flies, he supplies the wise! In the following post, Bill discusses the recent calls for a steady state or even negative growth economy, vs. the conventional wisdom that growth is the universal solution to our problems.

We have to be clear on what we mean by growth and shrinkage. When I refer to growth and the need for retraction, I am referring to energy and material throughput (resource consumption and pollution production). This is what must decrease if we are to achieve sustainability. For example, we need a 95% decline in fossil carbon use by 2050.

Theoretically, of course, one could have continuous income growth even as total throughput declines. This is the dream of those who claim the economy is 'decoupling from the environment' or 'dematerializing' (or in a more restricted case, 'decarbonizing').

The problem is that there are very few data to support the notion that dematerialization is actually taking place. There is some separation of GDP growth from consumption/pollution in rich countries but much of this disappears when trade-corrected to account for the embodied energy/matter in trade goods and the off-shore migration of energy intensive industries.

Thus, until there is real decoupling, the best way to reduce throughput is through a planned equitable descent.

Even in a planned decline, it is possible to have growth industries and sectors--e.g., as we phase out cars, the construction of rapid-transit vehicles takes off; as we dump carbon-energy technologies, we create a future for renewable alternatives. In short, forward-looking entrepreneurs and investors might still buy into this. (Most resistance to change comes from those with the greatest stake in the status quo).

As ecological economist Herman Daly emphasizes, we should distinguish between development and growth. Development is getting better; growth is simply getting bigger.

If something sucks, there is no point in growing it.

On the other hand, moving forward by shrinking equitably, creating a secure (but smaller) economy for all and a stable ecosphere is clearly development, but it is development without material growth.

Corollary: It is arguable that, globally, throughput growth is actually creating more unaccounted costs than benefits, in which case we are in a period of uneconomic growth. In other words, today's form of growth is counterproductive--it is actually disdevelopment that destroys the ecosphere while increasing inequity.

The problem is that 'we' (the already rich) pretend not to notice because we receive most of the benefits and the poor are suffering the costs. The rich also make the decisions, so uneconomic growth remains the flavour of the era.

There are two approaches to addressing the potential catastrophe on the horizon. Approach 1 anticipates the problem and gets a head start on remediation and adaptation. Approach 2 is more reactive to catastrophe as it unfolds. The assumption of Approach 2 is that we can bring more people on side to cope with change as it occurs. This is post hoc remediation and adaptation.

I am less comfortable with Approach 2 because it invites uncertainty and tipping points, pushing systems to the point of no return while society is unprepared. In other words, I'm not convinced that approach 2 would allow for the accumulation of resilence in the socio-political system.

It makes more sense to me to be proactive.


Thursday, March 19, 2009

Today's Scariest Graph ever


Click to enlarge

This is Nate Hagen's graph of the future of net energy returned to us from oil production. The whole volume is the oil we'll get...but the green part is the stuff we actually get to keep after subtracting the energy we used to get it. Sort of like deciding to stop looking at gross sales as an indicator of how well your business is doing, and instead looking at net profits. And discovering your net profits will fall off a cliff in 10 years, and be zero in 14 years.

But that's not net profits. That's our energy supply. The same energy supply we're planning to use to run almost everything we do and ALSO use to build a new, alternative energy supply. Eventually. Except, 14 years from now (or a bit sooner? a bit later?), we won't have much left to do it with.

Read this post and tell me why this net energy curve isn't the number one topic of discussion for anyone who likes Civilization As We Know It. I can't figure it out.

ADDENDUM: A response from Nate Hagens:

People in [the] science community don't like conclusions or speculation not based on data. These are interpretations, based on firm principles but no data. The fact that we cannot afford the price that natural gas drillers need to procure supply in future and that drilling rigs have dropped more than 50% and counting IS concerning people a great deal, but they are more concerned about their own jobs and own companies' prospects. Electricity/diaper shortages in 2014 are so far in the future [as] to not be on folks' front burner.

And most in [the] energy/policy community look at resource - theoildrum and ASPO and others have at least forced the dialogue to go beyond that to flow rates (resource per unit time), but net vs gross is still an esoteric discussion - primarily because it's complicated and has no swift incorporation into a decision. There is still a (rather large?) camp that believes technology is NOT losing [the] battle with depletion and that EROI could increase again in future (certainly for coal). Current break even prices for main 3 fossil fuels would suggest it a great deal sooner than even I originally thought.

The reality is that nat gas and oil will probably have 'fat tails' meaning there will be a sharp drop in production followed by long period of leveling off - EROI will not be too meaningful in this environment because the majority of costs for this oil will have been spent, just lifting and transport remaining. But on NEW oil and gas is where the problem lies. I could write pages and pages on the issues involved, but in a sentence - yes it's scary. Because these decline curves don't occur in a vacuum - real human reactions will accelerate (or hopefully slow) them.


NOTE: Nate & Charlie Hall are continuing work on this issue. Charlie supplies global EROI figures, which are declining over time. See also Charlie's article on the minimum EROI needed to maintain civilization in the HTBAF Essential Articles section.

BONUS: A reply from Charlie to Nate's inquiry about how it's going on coming up with new global EROI figures:

World EROI for oil and gas is calculated but not yet published. It was (roughly) 36:1 in the 1990s dropping to 19:1 in 2006. We have the first draft of our North American gas paper with Murphy/Friese done. I have papers on these things and things related to it in press in BioScience and American Scientist.

The problem with what you say Nate H for gas is that new wells tail off so enormously in first 1 or 2 years.

God protected us by making oil hard to extract. But not gas. So evidence for existence of God from petroleum sector is mixed.