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Toby Hemenway @ PV1 - "Backing Away From the Energy Cliff"

Posts: 3374
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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Me again!

So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.

I will share them here with you!

Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.

My next notes document is Toby Hemenway. The topic this time was "Backing Away From the Energy Cliff"


Toby Hemenway: Backing Away From the Energy Cliff

Congratulations for making it this far - it’s been a bit of a marathon, but I’m having such a good time. (ed: not enough people here!)

pic: “you are here” at the peak of a peaked curve.

I’m here to give you a permaculture tool kit for getting through the next few decades.

We visited Butte Montana, home of “the richest hill on earth” where they pulled copper and other metals

Huge chunks of copper just lying around, at first.

Pic: the Berkeley Pit of Butte, Montana. Giant pit, a mile across. They abandoned digging down when the ore was less than 5% copper. When they shut the pumps off, the pit began to fill up with incredibly toxic water. Now it’s a toxic mess and the government spends huge amounts of money to pump that and keep it out of the drinking water.

Oil is similar. at first, you could find it just coming out of the ground, like the LaBrea tar pits. Then you just need simple oil wells. Now we are into that area of diminishing returns.

“We’re still hunter-gatherers of energy.”

How about energy farming? Well, here’s the Ivanpah Solar Project, they destroyed 5.6 sq miles of desert to make it.

I’d like us to look more along the lines of energy gardening versus energy farming. When we’ve got thousands of square miles of rooftops and parking lots where folks would love to have shading roofs over their cars.

Apple wants to build a new “data center” (server farm). Well, that would take 6.5 sq miles of solar panels.

Pic: the peak oil curve

In 2008, people insisted that the graph of oil sources be reality based. They revised their graph, but put in a rising line (of barrels per day) and called it “unidentified projects.”

Another graph, you can see the growth of onshore unconventional and offshore deepwater. The production from onshore conventional has been chugging along steadily.

There’s something new called sea floor processing. That machine goes down 5-10,000 feet into the ocean, with a bunch of other machines. The drawing looks like something on the surface of the moon. This sort of thing is super loud - loud like a jet liner. This messes with fish and whales in a big way.

The Energy Return On (Energy) Investment has been dropping for some time. It was 100:1 back in 1930, 25:1 in 1970, today ? maybe 3:1. Tar Sands and Oil Shale is even less than that. Mearns calls this the energy cliff. Bad news.

How much of GDP do we spend on energy? Comparing global GDP to what we spend on energy, the percentage is growing significantly.

“The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function.” Dr Albert Bartlett
You should watch his video on population growth
Pic: graph of world population growth.

Imagine you have a bacterium that doubles every minute. At 11AM you drop one bacteria in, and the bottle will be full at noon. At 11:54 AM, the bottle is only 1.5% full. Then 3%, then 6%, then 12%, then 24%, then 50% full and at noon - full. When do you think the bacteria would realize that they were running out of space?
Wonderful news! 3 new bottles have been discovered! 12:01pm bottles 1 and 2 both full 12:02 all 4 bottles full.

We used as much oil between 1950 and 1960 as in all the years previous. It doubled again to 1970, again to 1980, to 1990, to 2000. Then, the consumption growth slowed a bit.

www.theoildrum.com has this next graph, that shows how much steeper the down curve is from the up curve on peak oil.

We rely on energy density. 1 liter of gasoline has 8.9 kWh in it. A 120z PV panel must run for 73 hours (14 days of US average sunshine) to produce the energy in 1L of gasoline.

Every American has the equivalent of 100 “energy slaves” meaning human equivalents doing work for you. Generally a person does 250 watts of work in an hour. A gallon of gasoline has 33,700 watt-hours

Transformity and energy quality (new term derived by an ecologist) Howard T. Odum
-to feed a person takes 300 trout a year (thought experiment, stay with me)
to feed 300 trout takes 90,000 frogs
to feed them takes 27 million grasshoppers. Whoah, there are losses at every conversion step.
those will eat 1000 tons of grass
that grass absorbs 72 trillions joules of sunlight. Serious quantities of energy embedded in a human.
the body of a human being contains about 1 million joules of energy.

If you convert energy from sunlight, there are huge losses along the way.

transformity means the amount of energy of one type needed to make a unit of energy of another type.

it takes 20K joules of sunlight to make 1 joule of wood energy.

plants have transformities of 7K to 30K; coal is 40K; crude oil 53K, gasoline 66K; coal based electricity 200K; cement production 20 million (it takes a LOT of energy to make cement); high level services need billions (health care, finance)

Can solar PV replace oil? Another thought experiment.
the total solar energy that hits the earth each year is HUGE. 3850 ZJ/year A staggering amount of energy.
we use 0.539 ZJ/year
the earth’s biomass captures 1.8 ZJ/year (so, we need to capture 1/4 as much as all the plants in the world?)
transformity of PV is 170K, so we would need 91,630 ZJ sunlight to get this - 24 earths. 24 times what we get.

I like to think of transformity as a tool to help us see things.

We could replace all of our energy needs if we could build 300K wind turbines per year for 10 years. This would cost 1.2 trillion dollars a year. The global GDP is about 6 trillion.

Looking at population, that third rail topic. Three graphs, oil production, wheat production, population growth all seem to follow the same curve recently. In 1840 they discovered massive guano deposits on islands off of Chile, the Chincha islands.
1870-1910 they used saltpeter from Chile
1909 the Haber-Bosch process invented to use natural gas to pull nitrogen from air. 2% of all the world’s energy is currently used to make ammonia fertilizers.

Population correlates with food production.

3 steps to the green revolution: food from oil
first, increased fuel for the Haber-Bosch process, second, more fertilizer needed by high-yield strains, third, 50 fold increase in pesticide use because those high octane plants attract pests like you wouldn’t believe.

Diversity creates stability. In nature, we have dynamic stability. There are 3 key reactions to disturbance. 1) persistence - how long a system preserves critical processes before shifting. 2) resistance - how long a variable can remain unchanged 2) resilience - how quickly the system returns to a healthy steady state

Resilience is different from the other two. The first two are strong until they fail. Resilience is what we need.

Fortunately, we have an immense toolkit, (PERMACULTURE!) with many recipes for every situation.

Permaculture helps us come up with a plan. Each situation has its own patterns. Those patterns guide us in designing appropriate recipes.

Permaculture is NOT a set of recipes. Permaculture helps us choose and design recipes. Don’t just use the techniques, plan it out.

Transition Towns is an application of permaculture to energy.

Henry Mintzberg says strategy is a pattern in a stream of decisions.

Strategy is a plan for reaching a solution to a problem, ***, or need.

To make good decisions, we need good data. For example, food miles are kind of bogus. Only 4% of the energy in food is spent in the transportation of it. 84% of the energy expenditure is in the agriculture sector.

Zones, sectors, needs and yields analysis can also be applied to energy.
Posts: 261
Location: Vermont, annual average precipitation is 39.87 Inches
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"To make good decisions, we need good data. For example, food miles are kind of bogus. Only 4% of the energy in food is spent in the transportation of it. 84% of the energy expenditure is in the agriculture sector."

Oh, I like that data! Given the choice between grass fed lamb from New Zealand vs. New England I'd still go with New England because I live here. Given that information, I'll may feel less guilty about pushing the edges of strawberry season by buying the ones from Florida or California before they are available here.

Thanks for posting these notes! I'm enjoying reading through them and picking up little tidbits for my own notes.
Julia Winter
Posts: 3374
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
hugelkultur urban chicken food preservation bike bee
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You are welcome! Taking notes keeps me engaged, it only made sense to share them.
Posts: 171
Location: Deutschland (germany)
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Thanks a lot, can't give you an apple, but you deserve it.
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