Censorship: I’m guilty as charged

Paul Raven @ 05-03-2012

So, I stand accused of censorship by someone whose comment I declined to approve on this post. I figure anyone willing to throw around accusations of censorship is probably a big fan of radical transparency; hence, by way of amelioration, here is the digital papertrail for the full exchange. (Email headers available on request; they’re all archived. I’ve been doing this for a while, and some lessons get learned early.)

Unapproved comment left on The Future Always Wins, 8:27am PST, 24th February 2012:

  • Comment author name: “xd”
  • Comment author email: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com

Comment body:

wow. The video is so full of holes it’s unreal.

1. US oil production isn’t in permanent decline. Decline halted seven years ago.
2. Roads aren’t only made of asphalt. They’re also made of brick and/or concrete.
3. She says one year’s worth of oil is the same as fifty years of fifty nuclear reactors and yet she then says later than you need 10,000 nuclear reactors to cover one year’s supply of oil. So which is it? Sloppy math.
4. She points out that 95% of transportation energy depends on oil and there are substitutes in other areas. OK. Electric transportation works though is expensive. Electric transportation is also at least twice (and some would argue four times) more efficient than oil based. Thus we need HALF the current oil use to provide the same motorized transportation. Not to mention substitution to mass transit or bicycles. Or living closer to work.
5. She says that when you are using more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains, it will no longer be done. Wrong. We will use more energy to get a barrel of oil out than it contains if you can sell it for more than you can sell the energy used for extraction for.

I could go on, but why bother. The whole thing is ludicrous and full of holes if you think it through. Most people won’t though.

Which is not to say peak oil is a big joke. It’s not. If we don’t make necessary substitutions in time AND depletion is fast enough then we will see severe dislocations in the economy and perhaps large sections of the global economy collapsing accompanied with mass starvation. It is that serious. BUT there are solutions if we get our heads out of the sand.

Email from: paul.raven@futurismic.com

To: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com

Email body:

Hi Dan (I’m guessing that’s actually your name, so apologies if not!);

Thanks for your comment on the There’s No Tomorrow post from a few days back; I’d like to ask you to resubmit it with links or citations of your refutations, most importantly the one re: halt in discovery decline. Not picking on you individually here, but as I said in the post, I’m all done with hosting claims without citatitions after years of debating this stuff on Futurismic and elsewhere, but if you’ve got real data, I genuinely want to see it! (I work in infrastructure futures, so it’s not just point-scoring or pettiness; I need and want to see references when it comes to energy supply and consumption!

Re: your other points:

2 – well, yes, but ask any driver whether they’d rather drive on brick or concrete or asphalt. The former don’t handle heavy or fast traffic at all well; the latter is a crucial component of a car-based economy.

3 – I don’t see that those statements are necessarily mutually exclusive, as one is durational (50 reactors over 50 years) while the other is a straight like-for-like without temporal constraint; I’ll concede it’s poorly stated, but then it’s aimed at a lay audience, and the assumption (on both sides of the debate!) regrettably still seems to be that talking down to the public is the way forward.

4 – I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this one; can you expand?

5 – Oh, I fully agree that scenario might well occur, yes. But in my opinion that possibility only serves to validate the complete insanity of our hunger for petrochem, and the dichotomy as seeing it as anything other than one very out-dated energy source among many more suitable alternatives. It’s an issue of myopia, I think; same reason so few people save for the future, even though they know they should. If it’s there to use, we use it, and we only start thinking about alternatives when we’re down to the vapours. :)

Like I say, would love you to resub the comment with a cite for the first point so we can have it up there for everyone to engage with. In the meantime, thanks again for taking the time to drop by. :)


After that, heard nothing. Until this evening, in fact, when this arrived:

  • Email via Futurismic contact form from: ~ELIDED~@hotmail.com
  • Subject: censorship

I’m going to respond to this in chunks; blockquoted material is courtesy Mr Browne:

I made a post taking apart the peak oil spiel using logic. You chose not to publish it.

Actually, you made a comment poking at the peak oil spiel using uncited claims, in direct contravention of my explicit request in the post in question for all debunk-type responses to include links and citations, and I emailed you politely to ask you to expand it to meet my criteria for publication.

Here’s the thing: if you don’t publish posts that don’t agree with your position you are effectively part of a “groupthink” and not coherent.

No, here’s the thing, my friend: you roll up to my blog and make an [an/pseud]onymous comment that completely ignores not only my request in the post body that counterarguments should contain citations, but also my clearly linked and labelled comments policy (which clearly and explicitly reserves me the right to publish – or not – any damned comment I so choose), using an email address that either doesn’t work or doesn’t exist (or that you just don’t check, perhaps); when said comment isn’t published, the same anonymised identity emails me to accuse me of censorship and groupthink.

Censorship I’ll cop to; says right there in the comments policy that I’ll do it, and even suggests as to what might provoke me to do so, and this is a classic case thereof. I’ll publish any comment that comes with data or research to back it up, though. Have a trawl through some old posts on this very site if you don’t believe me.

As to groupthink, here’s the definition from Merriam-Webster’s:

a pattern of thought characterized by self-deception, forced manufacture of consent, and conformity to group values and ethics

As I have a horse in the race, so to speak, I’ll leave the general public to decide which of us - if either – has earned that badge.

From that point of view you have no scientific validity and your blog is a waste of time reading.

So, hey – don’t read it. After all, my loss, right? If you wanna comment here, you play by house rules… and I’m all done with apologising to folk who want me to further their own agendas to the detriment of my own. My house, my rules. Suck it up.

To be doubly clear: the editorial policy of this blog is that climate change is demonstrably occurring, and demonstrably linked to human activity, with emphasis on the combustion of fossil fuels. Counterarguments are genuinely welcome, but without citations or references to back up what you say, you’re just another pseudonym with an unfounded opinion. The burden of proof lies upon those making extraordinary claims counter to the collective opinion of the vast majority of experts in the field. That may not seem fair, or nice. But that’s just the way it is round here.

Your First Amendment (or local equivalent) rights remain intact; the glory of the internet is you can set up your own soapbox for virtually zero cost and say anything you like to the whole damn world.

But this is my soapbox. Here, what I say goes. I stand by every word I’ve written here, under my own legal name. I stand by and take ownership of my errors as well as my successes. If you want to prove me wrong, then you do it with facts and citations (and you prepare to have their veracity probed); if you’ll spar with honour and integrity,  I’d be glad to enter the ring. If that doesn’t suit you, you should feel free to go elsewhere.

I’m all done with “balance”. You wanna throw around accusations of a lack of scientific validity, then be prepared to play the game that scientific validity hinges on: citation, citation, citation.

The ball appears to be in your court, Mister Browne.

Post-postal: is the Iceland volcano the death-knell for physical mail?

Paul Raven @ 19-04-2010

Jeff Jarvis suspects that the ongoing and aviation-distressing plume of volcanic ash currently drifting over Europe may accelerate the demise of good old-fashioned physical mail networks:

Right now, it is impossible to get a document to or around Europe with speed. People can’t fly. Mail can’t fly. Even when the air clears, there’ll be diminished faith in the ability of the post office — not to mention FedEx, DHL, and UPS — to make speedy delivery of documents. Any company or agency with an ounce of strategic sense is creating a plan now to convert to digital. It is speedier (instant!) and more certain (guaranteed) and cheaper (free) and even earns green points (no dead trees, no fuel, no fumes). What’s not to love?


So what does this do to the post office? In Europe, it’s going to be deadly expensive. The first-class mail that supports postal services around the world will be bound to shrink. Prices will then have to rise, forcing demand to shrink more.

Meanwhile, without air freight — or with the risk of it disappearing for days, weeks, months, even more — more goods will have to be moved by train and truck, raising demand there and thus raising prices of ground transport for the mail.


When first-class mail declines, the horrendous losses at our U.S. postal service will accelerate, forcing decisions that the government — as is its habit — would like to put off for a few years. There will be less first-class profit to subsidize the delivery of media (another nail in the coffin of magazines) and advertising (another reason to jump to digital) and parcels (opening up more opportunities for private competitors).

The delivery industry could be disrupted as profoundly but much more quickly than media. I’d sell stock in FedEx. If I thought the postal service would collapse, I’d buy it in UPS. I’m not sure about Amazon. You might think that Cisco would be a big winner but I’ll bet on Skype and hope it goes public soon. Of course, short every airline. That sound you hear is dominos falling.

Hmmm. Time to start up that peer-to-peer distributed delivery network?

It’s not just a big disruptive factor for the mail industry, either: all of a sudden, Brits are being reminded uncomfortably of just how dependent on air travel they’ve become. Their response? Start comparing the “rescue” plans (mobilise the Royal Navy!) to Dunkirk, of course. How better to cope with staring down the barrel of continuing economic decline than harking back to World War Two’s fading sepia-tinted glories, right?

More seriously, this is a great time for people everywhere to start thinking hard and pressuring their governments (or themselves) to invest in sustainable mass transit infrastructure that can’t be knocked out of kilter by clouds of dust… or shortages of fuel, for that matter (different cause, very similar effect). If you wanted a sketch or case study of what encroaching Peak Oil might look like from an economic, social and political perspective, watching the UK headlines right now is the closest you’re going to get without burning your fingers. Don’t just sell your UPS shares – sell all the ones you have in airlines, too. Reinvesting in transcontinental high-speed rail might be an option, and dirigibles are very Zeitgeisty (if only in fictional worlds)… but the future don’t got a lot of (civilian) contrails in it no more, mister.

I’ve got five bucks and a slightly-broken swivel chair that says John Robb is grinning a huge I-told-you-so grin right now. Does anyone want to open a book on the odds of the UK government bailing out the aviation sector? Because they’ve got their caps in their hands already

Peak Uranium? Our nuclear future might be shorter than we thought

Paul Raven @ 18-11-2009

Billet of highly-enriched uraniumWe’ve all heard of Peak Oil (even if there’s some doubt about whether we’ve heard the truth over when it’s going to actually kick in), but there’s no need to worry – nuclear power will step in to fill the gap, right? [image courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Well, not for long, perhaps, at least according to Dr Michael Dittmar and his new analysis of the global nuclear industry:

the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more.

That means countries that rely on uranium imports such as Japan and many western countries will face uranium shortages, possibly as soon as 2013. Far from being the secure source of energy that many governments are basing their future energy needs on, nuclear power looks decidedly rickety.

But what of new technologies such as fission breeder reactors which generate fuel and nuclear fusion? Dittmar is pessimistic about fission breeders. “Their huge construction costs, their poor safety records and their inefficient performance give little reason to believe that they will ever become commercially significant,” he says.

The upswing of Dittmar’s research is that it provides a good reason for the nuclear powers of the world to continue using their military weapons-grade stock for civilian purposes… I can’t find the link, but I read somewhere recently that something like 10% of the US energy grid is powered by decommissioned warhead material already. Swords to ploughshares, indeed.

Of course, as with any matter pertaining to energy generation these days, there are disagreements as to the validity of Dittmar’s research; a commenter at the Technology review piece linked above points to this response in the Wall Street Journal:

Worries about long-term uranium supplies surface every so often; talk of a global nuclear revival fans the flames. So what’s the score?

The International Atomic Energy Agency and Nuclear Energy Agency figure there’s enough uranium to power existing plants for 100 years. Granted, there are some supply-side issues. About 40% of current uranium supplies come from stockpiles and old weapons—not from uranium mines—so new sources need to be developed soon to avoid “uranium supply shortfalls,” they say.

Nuclear power’s growth will nearly double the world’s appetite for uranium by 2030, says the IAEA/NEA “Red Book,” but there should be enough in the ground to go around…

So, once again, the problem for a layman like myself (in the absence of access to the evidence, plus the time and expertise to do the research) is deciding whose version to believe. I rather suspect this issue will increase in visibility in the coming years, so I’m going to withhold any judgement for now… though I will note that both Peak Oil and Peak Uranium are being downplayed by those non-governmental organisations whose power and influence will wane and disappear in sympathy with the availability of the resource which they manage. Cui bono, and all that.

Krugman on slowing pace of change

Tom James @ 12-08-2009

changeNobel economics laureate Paul Krugman, speaking at Worldcon, holds forth on the slowing pace of change:

“The pace of change has actually, generation by generation, been slowing down,” he claimed. “The world of today is not as different from the world of 1959 as the world of 1959 was from 1909.”

So let’s say that you travel 30 years into the future and find yourself in a shopping mall. You’ll be astounded at the “great gizmos” that are for sale there, but you’ll still be able to recognize it as a shopping mall, said Krugman. On the other hand, lots of trends are likely to come to a head over the next few decades, including climate change and peak oil, and they could result in a drastically different world.

It kind of makes sense. In the Western world technology – specifically consumer electronics, medicine, communications, and computers – have developed enormously in the past 40 years, but cultural and social change has been less pronounced. We still live a fairly automobile-centric, consumer-based, culturally egalitarian lifestyle[1] that would have been recognisable to someone living in 1959.

But Krugman points out that this could change in the future, with climate change, peak oil, disruptive biotechnology, radical life-extension, resource wars, AI, and the changes in attitudes and culture that these thing could lead to.

[1]: I think that we (i.e. the Western liberal democracies) are certainly a more culturally egalitarian society (with greater gender equality, gay rights, and less racism) than we were in 1959, but I’m not entirely sure that 1909 was substantially more racist, homophobic, and sexist than 1959. Question: did our *culture* (as distinct from technology) change more between 1959 and 2009 than between 1909 and 1959?

[from iO9][image from kevindooley on flickr]

Will peak oil solve global warming?

Paul Raven @ 08-06-2009

desert oil rigHere’s a contentious idea from the intersection of climate-change pragmatism and free-market ideology: what if Peak Oil is a no-brainer no-effort fix for global warming?

The drop in oil prices since last summer doesn’t affect the validity of the Peak Oil hypothesis. Peak Oil only says that the rate of oil extraction is peaking, not that the price will never go down. In fact, the peaking of oil supply will result in the same boom-and-bust cycle that characterizes real estate markets, as Henry George noted over a century ago. Real estate speculators will hold land off the market in anticipation of a future price rise, just as the oil companies sit on those untapped offshore oil reserves. The amount of drilling and exploration has actually dropped considerably in response to the lower prices, which means that when demand gets back to Summer 2008 levels the price rebound will be even more vicious.

And if a fluctuation of a few percentage points in demand can cause oil to fall from $140 to $40 a barrel, imagine what will happen when the supply falls by half or more over the next generation!

Now, I’ll confess to having a fair degree of faith in truly free markets, but I’m not convinced that the energy markets as they stand under the current geopolitical and economic climate are currently anywhere near as free as they’d need to be to self-regulate effectively; I only need look at my gas bills for the last couple of years to find evidence of that. Nor am I convinced that the reduction in carbon output resulting from declining oil reserves and the escalating prices thereof would be sufficient to pull retrieve our bacon from the campfire quickly enough to prevent significant change to the environment. [image by Janz Images]

That said, the idea of market forces working hand in hand with scarcity to wean us off of our oil dependence is seductively appealing. So seductive, in fact, that I’m inclined not to trust the idea on that basis alone. But the notion that using less oil derivatives will become a matter of simple economic logic for businesses and end-users alike? That seems like common sense, as well as the only way we’ll break the addiction. Hell knows that explaining the consequences of failure hasn’t had much of an effect as yet.

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