Shuck and Jive

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Time to L.E.A.R.N.

One of the most important websites for our time is The Oil Drum: Discussions About Energy and Our Future. Each day you will find informative articles about energy and economy from energy professionals with a wide variety of viewpoints and expertise.

Today, there is a short article by mechanical engineer, John Howe, Equating Economics, Energy, and Growth. He lays out his case in five points, then directs us to his acronym, L.E.A.R.N.

Here are his five points:

A. Nothing of Substance Moves or Grows without Energy

Oil is presently the world’s primary source of energy, providing 40% of all energy and over 90% of transportation fuel. (Fuel is another term for energy.)

B. World Production of Pre-stored Oil has Peaked

This oil represents millions of years of conveniently stored solar energy and photosynthesis.

Conventional (light and easily accessible) oil reached a maximum of over 75 million barrels per day in May of 2005. All liquid fuels including tar sand oil, heavy oil, deep off shore oil, polar oil, natural gas liquids, and bio fuels peaked at about 85million barrels per day in the third quarter of 2008.

These numbers are historic facts as presented by the International Energy Agency and our own Department of Energy. (

C. We Live in an Economic System Entirely Dependent on Growth

Our prosperity needs the promise of a future return of principal PLUS interest to justify the investment of present principal. This worked well for the last one-hundred years as long as there was always an excess of cheap pre-stored fossil energy available to “fuel” the growth.

D. The Crux: Now that Pre-stored Energy, Represented by Oil, has Peaked and is in Terminal Decline, Growth and our Economic System Cannot Continue

Civilization and our cheap-energy lifestyle are on the verge of collapse. The longer we deny the situation and try to perpetuate the past party, the more severe will be the crash and fewer will be our options.

E. One Source of Confusion is the Hidden Price of Oil

The price of oil only reflects the delicate balance of multiple transactions between consumers and oil producers. If consumers have declining wealth to offer from past, stored wealth then there is less real value to support ever-increasing costs to produce remaining more-expensive oil.

He advocates an acronym, L.E.A.R.N.

• Localization,
• Education,
• Adaptation of solar power (in its several varied forms),
• Rationing (of remaining fossil energy starting with gasoline), and
• Negative population growth (on our terms rather than waiting for more abhorrent catastrophes).


A one-page acronym to define five actions necessary to avoid societal collapse because of the imminent decline of finite fossil fuels:

LOCALIZE agriculture, energy production, social services, essential manufacturing, etc. All will have to regress to a limited “twenty-mile radius” community. This will not be a choice. The inevitable curtailment of transportation fuel will reduce future travel. Intercity light rail will be impossible without energy.

EDUCATE yourself and others. We passed peak oil in late 2008. Natural gas, coal, and fissionable uranium are not far behind. Without ever-increasing energy, real growth, including a debt-based financial system based on future principal plus interest, cannot continue. Recognize the fallacies of bogus solutions like: “There’s plenty left”; “The scientists will save us”; “We can efficiency our way out of our dilemma (not if we don’t reduce consumption)”; “Biofuels, including waste, cellulosic ethanol, and grease will suffice” (at the expense of food). The honest facts must reach the public, the media, and decision-makers even in the midst of denial. Start with,,, etc.

ADAPT to a very limited solar-electric future as our only hope of perpetuating any semblance of the brief fossil-fuel age. This vision could be sustainable, clean, and far superior to our ancestor’s harsh existence. A solar-electric sequel could integrate with waning fossil fuels and all other energy sources such as limited hydro or geothermal into a modern electrically-based system and allow individuals to take control of their own production with PV. Also included are wind and concentrated solar.

RATION all fossil fuels starting immediately with gasoline. This is the only way we can reduce consumption on a controlled basis without increasing price-competition and conflict over the remains. Rationing is probably our best chance to buy time for mitigation and give our kids a chance for the remnants of the party.

NEGATIVE population growth. This is the toughest and most critical issue. With peak oil we have passed peak growth. Our short cornucopia of excess resources (including fossil fuels and all natural resources) has ended. We have far too many people in the US and the world for a sustainable civilization. If we don’t get the correct facts out and convince people to begin negative population growth, mother nature will reduce population in her own cruel ways. See,, and others.

We all need to understand and project this acronym.


Whether you agree or disagree with all or some of his points, I suggest checking out some of the above links and adding The Oil Drum to your list of daily reading.

I think there is a role for faith communities in this discussion. Our churches need to be centers of education and social support. If things start shaking, people will be looking to their local churches for assistance, guidance, and community. Before that happens, at the bare minimum, it would be psychologically helpful if people were aware of what we could be facing.

I also think it is crucial for faith communities to engage folks regarding energy, the economy, and the environment in a positive, creative way. We need to dream of a post-carbon future. Awakening the Dreamer is the title of a symposium we are hosting September 26th. Join us or host one in your neighborhood.

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