Economics can’t trump the laws of thermodynamics

Or, in MoQ terms, the higher levels exist on the basis of the lower, and when the lower levels hit a boundary, so do the levels above.

The inorganic level is about physics and chemistry, geology – this is the realm of Peak Oil analysis.

The social level is the realm of human institutions – eg agricultural systems and most commercial activity.

The highest level would include the ‘laws’ of economics.

Now if Peak Oil establishes a boundary at the foundation, then it doesn’t matter what happens ‘in theory’ for the higher levels – they’re going to hit a wall.

A quote from M King Hubbert:

“The world’s present industrial civilization is handicapped by the coexistence of two universal, overlapping, and incompatible intellectual systems: the accumulated knowledge of the last four centuries of the properties and interrelationships of energy; and the associated monetary culture which has evolved from folkways of prehistoric origin”.

If you listen to the economists, there is no problem – an alternative to oil will be found once the price goes up.

The physicists and geologists say: there is no alternative.

Three men are shipwrecked and washed up on a desert island, a physicist, an engineer and an economist. Once they have dried out and come to their senses, rubbed the salty grime from their eyes and looked up at their surroundings, they see that there isn’t much on their island. Lots of rocks, the occasional palm tree, a passing bird, and – miracle of miracles – a crate of tinned food. But!.. no tin opener.

Each man comes up with a way of getting the food out of the tins, appropriate to their training.

The physicist says “I know from my study of the law of gravity that if I climb that tree and drop rocks onto the tin, that the force exerted will be sufficient to split the tins, and then we can eat the food.”

The engineer says, “No, no, I’ve got a much better idea. If we use the branches of the tree as a lever we can swing rocks against the tins, and that will make things much more accurate.”

Then the economist joins in: “Hold on a second. First, let’s assume that we have a tin opener…”

Half time 05/06

If you’re worried by my musings about WW3, take solace in the record of my football predictions, most of which are already proven false!

Here is what I wrote, with half-time comments in italics:

Champions: Chelsea. Only question is whether they go unbeaten or not.

Beaten by ManU, but otherwise all too predictable

Order of Top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, ManU.
I think it quite possible that ManU might drop out of the top four if they have a season like last one. I also think Liverpool might come second (and be the main challengers to Chelsea in the coming seasons).

Arsenal’s poor form has been the biggest surprise; they’ve struggled to replace Vieira and Campbell has withered. They will come back, but whether they get to 4th I’m doubtful. Liverpool will be second – and they will be the main challengers to Chelsea. I’m really impressed with Benitez. As for the Imperial Lord Ferg – ah well, for everything there is a season.

Dark Horse (ie might get into the top 4): Tottenham.

Europe: Tottenham, ‘Boro.

Right on Spurs, wrong on Boro – although they will do well in the Uefa cup I think, and recover in the second half of the season.

Good seasons for Man City, Birmingham, Blackburn and Pompey.

Badly wrong on Birmingham and Pompey – and I’m most surprised about Birmingham. I thought Bruce had sorted out their defence – now they’re kack. Redknapp won’t be able to keep Pompey up.

Bad seasons for Newcastle (unless they get Owen), Charlton and Fulham.

Newcastle got Owen, so I think they should get a Uefa cup slot. If they sort out their defence with someone to replace Bramble they might even press for the fourth position. Right about Charlton and Fulham though.

Nothing happening at Aston Villa.

Other than a takeover. I rate O’Leary as a manager, but I wonder if he will survive.

Relegation: Wigan, WHM (shame) and WBA. Which means I pick Sunderland to survive out of those four. Those having bad seasons might have terrible seasons allowing one of those to escape.

Couldn’t get more wrong, could I? Sunderland will be relegated, Wigan and WHM won’t (which pleases half my family as they are WHM supporters). So who will join Sunderland? Pompey and… er…. probably WBA but I hope not… hope it’s not Everton either…. that will be an interesting fight, probably going down to the wire with half a dozen teams at risk.


And what about the Burley/Woodward combination at Southampton? I think that has all the makings of a great team – if Woodward can keep his ego in check for long enough.

Singing love songs to Jesus

A few years ago I remember talking to my spiritual director about my “relationship with Jesus” which I thought was non-existent. He (wisely) said that these things balance out over time – that growth is about ascending through the Trinity, spending some time with the Father, then the Son, then the Spirit – and then doing it all again.

I’m getting to know Jesus a bit more – largely thanks to James Alison – but also thanks to exposure to some nice friendly evangelicals – a number of whom even pay me the courtesy of reading my blog (smooch) – who have definitely ‘loosened me up’.

So much so that my Christmas morning sermon concluded with Matt Redman’s ‘Heart of Worship’, which was really good

“I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You
All about You, Jesus
I’m sorry Lord for the thing I’ve made it
When it’s all about You
It’s all about You Jesus”

It took my mother-in-law, commenting favourably on these words, to point out something that should have been obvious to my Anglo-Catholic heart. What is the point of being the Bride of Christ if you cannot sing love songs to your beloved?

Innocence after Peak Oil

Some thoughts prompted by the readings today for the Feast of Holy Innocents (Mt 2 and 1 Cor 1)

A couple of years ago, Rowan Williams preached on these texts and made the point that sometimes our wisdom has perverse consequences – in this instance, the Three Wise Men have set off a chain of events leading to the slaughter of all the male infants in and around Bethlehem. For once, I’m not convinced that Rowan has the right interpretation, however right that specific point might otherwise be.

In Scripture, wisdom as such is not a problem – and for the three it is certainly not a problem as it is how they are enabled to follow God’s will – so long as it is made distinct from the wisdom of the world. This is what follows from Paul’s arguments in 1 Corinthians 1. God has taken what the world despises and used it to shame the the strong – the structures of what the world values have been overturned – and so the Christian follows the one executed in shame, for that symbolises the arrival of the Kingdom. Yet that Kingdom, whilst rejecting worldly wisdom, is itself the rule by Wisdom, Sophia, the one who plays at the feet of God when the world is created.

This is the Word through which all things are created, and as such the one whom we are to follow. Consequently, we are to be in this world as He was to the Father from the beginning – playing at his feet. Consider a child opening up carefully wrapped presents at Christmas time – no care for what is being torn – simply a joy in what is being discovered. This is how we are to be.

Yet how can we do that in the face of the reckless hate displayed by such as Herod? For his actions have hardly vanished from our world. We are still surrounded by tragedy – how can we retain our child-like joy when the child-like are abused all around us?

We are to be perfect as our father in heaven is perfect – which Christ teaches us in the context of saying that God sends rain upon the just and the unjust. In other words we are not to judge. We are to forgive our brother seven times seven times. We are not to be scandalised by the evil that we see – and it is only by avoiding scandal that we are enabled to retain our humanity. We are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves – in other words we are to look clearly at the nature of the world we live in, with all its horror and the slaughter of innocents – yet we are not to give in to a despair, a weary cynicism, a bitterness which poisons all life. We are to love the world as the Father loved it, and as his Son loved us.

For to let go of the innocence – to take offence at the evildoer, to not love them – this is the Sin against the Holy Spirit, this is the refusal of forgiveness which destroys human community.

The perspective which Peak Oil opens out for us offers a vision of tremendous human suffering – the consequences of accident and malice, human greed and need – and the pressure to lose our innocence, to give in to the fantasies of the ‘die-off’ crowd and prepare for the apocalypse with relish – it is in this situation that our innocence is most essential. It is the retention of our innocence – our refusal to be scandalised by human wickedness – this is the struggle for our faith in the coming years.

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod,
though they had done no wrong:
by the suffering of your Son
and by the innocence of our lives
frustrate all evil designs
and establish your reign of justice and peace;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
(the collect for the Feast of Holy Innocents)

And the darkness comprehendeth it not

Someone said to me the other day (possibly quoting Washington Irving?) that you need a small child to teach you the meaning of Christmas.

This is true.

You also need one (or, better, two) to distract a father from his pessimistic preoccupations.

I wish you all a blessed feast of the Incarnation of our Saviour.

(Time to wrap some presents)

Some grounds for post-Peak optimism

There are lots of depressing things to ponder. There are also some grounds for optimism about the long term future of our civilisation.

1. Food – you don’t need fertiliser to feed the present population (or something like it) – see the Cuba experience;
2. EROEI – we have established technologies that have significantly positive EROEI – notably wind and solar;
3. Waste – western society is profoundly wasteful, and there is a lot of fat that can be relatively painlessly trimmed away (have car pools for example; insulate our homes; switch lights off when we’re not in the room…);
4. Accumulated capital – the fossil fuels haven’t just been used for Christmas lights – we also have accumulated an awful lot of wealth (like electric trains, internet=telecommuting etc) and a lot of knowledge (like the importance of hygiene);
5. Finance and law – the doomer perspective that capitalism is a Ponzi scheme established by fiat money is profoundly mistaken;
6. State power – the UK has resources to significantly moderate the impact of an oil price shock, eg by lowering the very high taxes on petrol (which will minimise the immediate economic problem), and it is also financially solvent. There are also existing plans for rationing essential goods, and the experience of WW2 is a good folk memory for enabling that to happen effectively. Unfortunately these items don’t apply to the US;
7. War – the conflict over the resources will concentrate our minds very swiftly. It’ll be horrible, but working together – which the war will demand – will be the only way through. That will be a good thing;
8. God – come let us return to the Lord, for he has torn us and he will heal us.

Bach, God, atheism

Good post at Samizdata here about Bach’s religious inspiration. There is also a particularly wonderful reactionary rant in the comments with which I have a great deal of sympathy.

“What was peculiar about the period c.1800-1950 was the attempt to assimilate this perceptual disorder [atheism] to the cults of democracy and materialist science– as if methods of studying the nuts and bolts of sublunary life could somehow become an alternative to religious rituals, and as if all men (a fortiori, women) were equally fit to govern themselves and others. These top-down doctrines never captured the innermost hearts of ordinary men, and are now evaporating– alongside much else that was ‘modern’ 100 years ago– as the natural piety and humility of Man reasserts itself.”