June 11, 2006
On Oil Tar Sands Production Costs

Extraction of oil from the tar sands of Alberta Canada costs only $23 to $26 per barrel and so production is expanding rapidly.

Production in Alberta is up 61 percent over the past four years. This year, Alberta's oil sands are expected to produce 1.2 million barrels a day, roughly equal to the production of Texas.

...

However it's extracted, all bitumen has to be transformed into oil in a process called upgrading. There are several different steps in upgrading, all of them using a lot of energy, usually natural gas. It costs $23 to $26 a barrel - depending on the project - to produce light oil from sticky goo of the oil sands.

Tar oil production will almost triple in the next 10 years.

CALGARY, Alberta - A massive rise in crude production from Canada's oil sands region over the next decade will nearly triple the area's call on strained natural gas supplies, Canada's national energy regulator said Thursday.

Production from the oil sands of northern Alberta is expected to rise to more than 3 million barrels a day by 2015, according to a study by the National Energy Board, triple last year's output.

Production might rise as high as 5 million barrels by 2020.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers’ forecast two weeks ago was higher than NEB’s at 3.5 million bpd by 2015 and 4.9 million bpd by 2020. Both said getting the increased oil production to markets must keep pace.

Sounds like a lot right? Well, world oil production is currently 81 million barrels and most of the fields have peaked or will have peaked by 2020. More conventional Canadian production is declining just like American conventional production is declining. So even the optimistic forecast of an increase of almost 4 million barrels a day is not enough to make much of a dent in total world oil supply.

I'm curious about production costs of alternatives for conventional oil since so many oil fields are in decline and more are peaking every year. Coal-to-liquid (CTL) looks like the most likely alternative for liquid fuels at perhaps $40 to $45 per barrel. Biomass ethanol is another possibility that will become more competitive once cellulosic technologies become cheap enough to use to break down the cellulose in trees and bushes. Oil shale is another possibility and oil shale might turn out to be only slightly more expensive than tar sands oil extraction..

My guess is that CTL can scale much higher than tar sands oil and eventually oil shale might supass tar sands in daily production as well.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2006 June 11 11:31 PM  Energy Fossil Fuels


Comments
Patrick said at June 12, 2006 12:31 AM:

Have you thought of the phenomenal environmental impact of tar sands?

http://www.oilsandswatch.org/


Best wishes,
Patrick

---
PhD Candidate
Environmental Policy
Fletcher School, Tufts

remo williams said at June 12, 2006 3:47 AM:

Have you thought of the phenomenal technological impact of accelerating technology on reversing environmental degradation?

http://www.singularity.com

Best wishes,
remo

Jake said at June 12, 2006 7:33 AM:

They should be using nuclear power to do all oil conversions.

Phil said at June 12, 2006 2:10 PM:

The problem with this sort of analysis is that they are burning cheap oil to produce more expensive oil. As we turn to more and more difficult-to-extract resources, so the costs will rocket.

What matters is not fudged dollar figures but Energy Return On Energy Investment. People who merely cite dollars (figures usually pulled out of thin air with all sorts of hidden assumptions) without doing the energy arithmetic are missing the point completely.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2006 4:14 PM:

Patrick,

Yes, I've commented in the past that the shift to tar sands, coal, and shale will have bad environmental impacts. But that is where we are headed because the alternatives cost more.

Jake,

I think the French nuclear power company (forget its name) proposed putting a nuclear plant on top of the Alberta oil sands as a way to reduce the use of natural gas for that purpose. Then natural gas could displace other more polluting fossil fuels for things like electric generation. But until the cost of natural gas goes much higher do not expect that to happen.

Remo,

Environmental clean-up technologies will be great when they come. But we have to breathe lousy air for quite a few years before that happens.

As for the Singularity: I think it might make competition both extremely intense and amoral. Do not feel assured you will survive.

Paul Dietz said at June 12, 2006 4:36 PM:

The problem with this sort of analysis is that they are burning cheap oil to produce more expensive oil.

This criticism seems obtuse. These schemes produce more oil than they consume (although not more non-oil fossil inputs, of course). If you are refering to the oil embodied in the capital goods, this is typically a small fraction of their cost, even at today's oil prices, so the 'hidden' oil is also much less than the oil produced.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2006 5:19 PM:

Patrick,

To clarify: I'd pay higher prices for electricity in exchange for lower emissions. Ditto for other forms of energy. But the electorate is already upset with the prices of energy now, let alone with even higher prices that would come from tougher regulations.

Granted, the regulations are getting tougher gradually. So there's some support for tougher emissions regulations. But the relative prices of energy sources are driving us toward coal, oil tar, and oil shale.

I'd prefer that we would accelerate the development of cleaner energy technologies and I've repeatedly argued for this. But even when the political system intervenes on that score it does so with a hodge podge of subsidies in the form of tax breaks and requirements for usage of particular energy forms. This is not an effective way to accelerate photovoltaics and battery technology research.

The energy/environmental problem can be approached a few ways:

1) Tax dirty energy forms. Not going to happen.

2) Tax or regulatorily restrict emissions. Happens some. Not going to happen a lot more. As energy prices rise the public becomes less concerned about emissions and more concerned about prices.

3) Subsidize purchases of cleaner energy forms. I think this is a very cost inefficient way to accelerate the cleaner alternatives and tends to get hijacked by powerful interest groups (farmers and ADM for example).

4) Fund research into cleaner energy forms. I'd raise photovoltaics and electrochemistry research funding by an order of magnitude if it was up to me. I wish more environmentalists made this an important issue.

5) Require purchases of cleaner energy forms. This is happening with state mandates on electric power utilities. Probably better than item 3 since it tends to leave the choices up to the electric power companies. Solar or wind? What kind of solar? The states tend to let the technically competent big corps decide how to do it.

remo williams said at June 12, 2006 5:56 PM:

"Environmental clean-up technologies will be great when they come. But we have to breathe lousy air for quite a few years before that happens."

But the air continues to improve, even under the Bush Administration. People forget what the 70s were like:
http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/2006/econ-emissions.html
(scroll down to 35 year trend lines)


"As for the Singularity: I think it might make competition both extremely intense and amoral. Do not feel assured you will survive."

I'm not even sure I'll survive my daily jog today. The point is that we are clearly on an accelerated path which looks like it will continue another 20 years even if not 40. It also reminds that the costs of solar power have been cut 50% every decade since the 60s and that it looks like another 50% cut might be coming in just 6 or 7 years.


aa2 said at June 12, 2006 9:13 PM:

Good points Randall about tar sands. It seems tar sands will be part of the equation for how we do a soft landing on oil.. but not huge. Maybe 10 million barrells globally in 2020. So maybe 10% of global production. An important piece nonetheless.

I was reading on green car congress what may have huge potential for scaling.. And that was coal-liquification used by China. Which the Japanese were prodividing technology to the Chinese.. hoping to reduce global oil demand. Shale oil seems promising because of the reserve size estimates.. however it seems that technology is not so far along as tar sands or even coal to oil.

aa2 said at June 12, 2006 9:19 PM:

Jake wrote, "They should be using nuclear power to do all oil conversions."

Yes they should.. but Canadians neaerly go into anaphylactic shock at the mention of the words nuclear power. So they are burning natural gas, adding to the environmental impact and cost.

Randall Parker said at June 12, 2006 9:50 PM:

aa2,

Yes, I see CTL happening several years sooner than oil shale. I suspect that before making big CTL investments the big money is still waiting to see the answers to a few questions:

1) Will the high oil prices lead to a delayed yet big decrease in demand for oil that lowers prices?

2) Will the high oil prices lead to so much exploration and use of enhanced recovery techniques that conventional oil production resumes an upward growth fast enough to allow a return to the previous trend in oil usage growth?

3) Will non-fossil fuels energy sources scale up rapidly?

High prices are concentrating a lot of minds and motivating a lot of changes in business decision making. If oil prices remain high then I'm expecting a big rush to develop CTL starting within a year.

aa2 said at June 12, 2006 10:23 PM:

You are right, the oil companies are afraid to do mega investments in risky ventures. Because their leaders have been around in years past when oil booms, quickly turned into oil busts, leaving billions in stranded investments. The longer oil stays high in price, the more adventuresome they are becoming however. As evidenced by the scale of the tar sands development.

I expect to see coal to liquid going in China.. once they move beyond trials of things they do things on a scale that have global implications. And can move quickly without as much regulation.

I also don't expect to see oil prices come down much. As factors have been bearish for oil over the last few weeks.. yet the price has barely moved down. So if we see any problems it could start moving upwards again. In other words this price seems to be demand driven. With growing amounts of people in the third world consuming oil, any new supply or any lowering of price seems to get eaten up by them.

Yet another factor to consider is that some of the oil majors aren't replacing oil as fast as they are depleting their own reserves. I think this will lead them to take swings on new mega development.

Phil said at June 13, 2006 12:31 AM:

A massive rise in crude production from Canada's oil sands region over the next decade will nearly triple the area's call on strained natural gas supplies, says Canada's energy regulator.

http://www.planetark.com/dailynewsstory.cfm/newsid/36632/story.htm

There may be a time when we all question the wisdom of burning natural gas to produce oil.

I don't know the answers, but sure have a heck of a lot of worrying questions...

Phil

Bob Badour said at June 13, 2006 7:08 AM:

aa2,

While I don't have a particularly high view of my fellow Canadians, I think your comment "Canadians neaerly go into anaphylactic shock at the mention of the words nuclear power" falls ludicrously wide of the mark.

The fact that Canada has as many nuclear reactors as it does when it could easily supply all of its electric needs with hydroelectricity refutes your assertion.

Until not so long ago, the folks in Alberta considered natural gas a waste byproduct that they simply burned off at the well-head. From that mindset, using natural gas would seem like putting a waste to productive use. If keeping the natural gas off the market props up the price of crude, so much the better from their perspective. After all, they are not developing the tar sands to save you money but to extract your money.

aa2 said at June 13, 2006 8:33 AM:

At one point Canada was relatively pro-nuclear power which is why we have the plants in Ontario. But over the last while the religion of econutism has taken over for most people. And nuclear is all but unthinkable. Ontario itself needs a new generation of electrical plants built to supply the growing demand.. And the obvious choice is nuclear. Especially considering Canada is a great producer of uranium and are a world leader in nuclear technology. Yet we are falling behind as we can't build at home to get the expertise.

Here in BC the province has decided the next generation of electrical plants will be privately owned coal plants. And will sell power to the crown utility. Which is better to me then damming another river and destroying its eco-system.

PacRim Jim said at June 13, 2006 9:39 AM:

It costs the Saudis about $5 per barrel to extract oil. They could easily make tar sands uneconomical.

Randall Parker said at June 13, 2006 4:43 PM:

PacRim Jim,

But can the Saudis ramp up production? Accleration of the rate of extraction in a single oil field beyond some point will damage the field and reduce total production potential. I do not understand petroleum geology well enough to explain why but I believe those who say that is the case.

The Saudis would have to bring new fields on line in order to majorly increase production. But in order to do that they'd have to find new fields. What if Matthew Simmons is right and they do not have big untapped reserves.

The disagreement between economists and petroleum geologists is going to get resolved in another year or two. Can the oil industry greatly increase regular oil production given high enough prices? So far we've had several years of increasing prices and the big production push hasn't happened yet.

Prices bottomed out in 1998 at about $12 a barrel (this is from memory) during the Asian economic crisis. Actually, I'm not far off. See here and here for a couple of historical oil price charts adjusted for inflation.

Bob Badour said at June 13, 2006 5:41 PM:

aa2,

Your own reaction suggests that Canadians are more hydro averse than nuclear averse. The primary objection to nuclear in Ontario is the cost. It costs way more to generate electricity using nukes than using water and gravity. Ontarians object to paying a tax just for Canada to score points as a nuclear proliferator.

Paul Dietz said at June 13, 2006 6:03 PM:

I do not understand petroleum geology well enough to explain why

It has to do with two-phase flow (oil and water) through a porous medium (the formation). If the flow is pushed too hard the interface becomes unstable and the water flows around some of the oil, leaving trapped pockets that can't be extracted.

aa2 said at June 13, 2006 8:53 PM:

The cost of nuclear probably was more then hydro in the last generation of plants put in, during the 80's. Especially once you factor in the costs of regulatory delays and regulatory changes. But this generation of nuclear plants is by far cheaper then hydro-electric. Especially because the easy hydro sites have been mainly done.

I hope Ontario does eventually go nuclear.. they keep delaying the decision to build new plants. However they can only really delay so long. In fact they might already have serious supply issues a few years down the road. Even if they approved and started construction of plants today, it is still going to take years before those plants start putting power on the grid. Because population growth and per capita electrical use keeps moving upwards relentlessly.

Patrick said at June 14, 2006 10:14 PM:

Remo,
Ah, yes, human faith in technology (the best laid plans of Icarus comes to mind). Supporters of the Enlightenment in the 18th Century claimed that scientists would soon be able to look into the future and see what course of action is best for humanity. This faith is embedded within the general discourse of capitalist modernity where nature and society are seen as separate, and nature is considered a commodity that can be appropriated and controlled through expert knowledge and modern administration. I for one, have far more respect (humility) for the complexity of coupled human-environment systems. My field of expertise is the dynamics and inderpendencies of complex systems (physical, biological, social). We may think we have the answer but (as a student of the Santa Fe Institute which has pioneered the study of complex systems--note that this includes AI, machine learning and nanotechnology), I would simply be more cautious. In Toward a Rational Society (1970), the German philosopher Juergen Habermas describes the colonization of the public sphere through the use of instrumental technical rationality. In this sphere, complex social problems are reduced to technical questions devoid of political, ecological, ethical considerations. So that which is inherently political becomes depoliticized and mechanized. The solution is sought instead in technological innovation, which establishes a hierarchy of knowledge placing scientific knowledge in pole position. The year 1900 was a year of absolute clarity for science—the President of the Royal Society affirmed that science knew more or less everything there was to know. World War I got in the way, however, and World War II shifted scientific interests (not to mention the paradigm shifts that took place with in science itself). Technology is not an apolitical tool. And to think this technology would just be shared by those who control it for the betterment of humanity is an opinion that doesn't take history very seriously. Having lived and worked in Africa for ten years, I would simply beg to differ and be more humble.
Cheers,
Patrick

remo williams said at June 17, 2006 5:42 AM:

Patrick:
1) The 18th Century philosophers in Western Europe would have been impressed that average GDP/capita in Western Europe shot up from $2000 to $30,000 in today's dollars. Life expectancy rose from 35 years to over 75 years. China flatlined until the late 20th century due to a lack of technological innovation.

2) I'm not sure what you mean by "having the answer." There are many future answers to present and future questions.

3) Global warming alarmists assume that the stunning rate of technological progress will soon stop, yet they never explain why. The same global warming alarmists who insist we are fried by 2100 because models tell us this are the same ones who doubt the very clear trend of technological progress will continue. Isn't England supposed to be completely under water by now?

4) History has progressed toward widespread , faster communication. 600 million Chinese are expected to have cell phones by 2010. If that isn't technological diffusion, I'm not sure what is. And Africa is benefiting from technological diffusion as well, seen recently by the spread of HIV drugs. Of course, this will progress faster if dictators step out of the way.

Patrick said at June 17, 2006 7:18 PM:

Howdy Remo,


>"The 18th Century philosophers in Western Europe would have been impressed that average GDP/capita in Western Europe shot up from $2000 to $30,000 in today's dollars."

Maybe, and maybe not. Speculation. Either way is fine by me. I'm not arguing against technology! At no point have I made an absolutist argument. If you re-read my previous note, you'll remember that I simply express concern over placing too much faith in technology as the ultimate panacea (by citing a book like the singularity). But if you really want to talk economics, then lets talk about the Gini coefficient as well, shall we? At no point in history has the divide between the wealthy and the poor been so staggering. I could quote you figures with respectable references but I'll assume you're already well aware of this. I would therefore hesitate to use aggregate macro-economic indicators in this argument. So yes, per capita income rose in Europe. But tell, what has been happening in Africa for the past 20 years? So much for technology as the solution.


>"Life expectancy rose from 35 years to over 75 years. China flatlined until the late 20th century due to a lack of technological innovation."

Again, have I made any comments that are logically incompatible with these two sentences? I think not.


>"There are many future answers to present and future questions."

Exactly, and "The Singularity" is for sure not the only answer.


>"Global warming alarmists assume that the stunning rate of technological progress will soon stop, yet they never explain why."

You'll have to take that up with the alarmists as I'm not familiar with the argument. However, let me draw on the arguments of a respected colleague:

**I have learned (the hard way) to be skeptical of technological forecasts by technologists and of economic forecasts by economists. Most past forecasts using this technique have ranged from bad to very bad or even downright silly. The exceptions are rare. And one of the most common mistakes of forecasters has been, and evidently still is, to assume that (selected) past trends will simply continue indefinitely. In general they don't. Progress occurs irregularly, in fits and starts. A period of rapid progress is generally followed by a period when nothing much happens, at least along the trajectory in question.

**It must be said: technology is not a living organism. Technological progress is not like the growth of an organism or a colony of organisms such as yeast. Contrary to the views of a number of sociologists and social critics of science from Mumford to Ellul, Schumacher and Toffler, technology is not ‘self-generating’ or progressing by its own internal dynamics. It is not autonomous “recognizing no-self-limiting principles”. It is not an uncaused cause. Moreover, technological progress is not necessarily exponential. Nor is it inevitable. Moore's Law is not a law of nature, any more than Say's Law is a law of economics. It will end someday. A barrier does not imply a breakthrough.


>"The same global warming alarmists who insist we are fried by 2100 because models tell us this are the same ones who doubt the very clear trend of technological progress will continue. Isn't England supposed to be completely under water by now?"

First, there is a difference between these so called alarmists and the scientific community/literature. Because some media hype and doomsday scenario doesn't come to pass, we ignore all other scientific conclusions that have since been borne out by extreme events in the past 20 years? Is it a surprise that the warmest fourteen years EVER recorded on Earth in the past 650 thousand years have happened in the past two decades with 2005 being the warmest on record? And for your information, several islands near New Zealand and Australia (eg Tuvalu), have actually been evacuated because of the rise in seal level--thus creating some of the first environmental refugees. So just because we're not talking about Western Europe, then who cares, right?

Here's a few technological predictions for you: It was expected (in 1982) that the envelope curve for speeds achievable by manned spacecraft would approach the speed of light and controllable energy would approach infinity. Robert Prehoda, the technocratic author of “Designing the Future” thought that, by 2000 humans with mortal illnesses would be able to have themselves cryogenically preserved until some future century when they could be revived and cured. In the 1950s and 1960s virtually every aerospace forecast took it for granted that air travel would be supersonic if not hypersonic and that humans would be established on Mars and possibly the outer planets by 2000. Didn't happen, did it? But that doesn't mean I'm throwing out all technological innovations that did happen such as the PC and hybrid cars!


>"History has progressed toward widespread , faster communication. 600 million Chinese are expected to have cell phones by 2010. If that isn't technological diffusion, I'm not sure what is."

Again, have I made any comments in my previous note that suggest I don't believe technological diffusion is possible at a rapid pace? The diffusion of innovation in social networks is a prime area of study in the field of complex systems dynamics. So to repeat, my concern has to do with the use and access to technology. Cell phones are not exactly a direct threat to US national security. Do you really think the US would pass off sensitive technology to the Chinese? Particularly if that technology provides important leverage at the international level--political and economic?


>"And Africa is benefiting from technological diffusion as well, seen recently by the spread of HIV drugs."

Yes indeed, and they're also "benefiting" from technology from the lucrative industry called small arms and light weapons.


>"Of course, this will progress faster if dictators step out of the way."

Yes, that and the West's economic dominance, eg, subsidies, tarrifs, debt etc.


Cheers,
Patrick

remo said at June 18, 2006 4:08 AM:


Patrick, writing below a few of your points,

----
If you re-read my previous note, you'll remember that I simply express concern over placing too much faith in technology as the ultimate panacea (by citing a book like the singularity).
----
You clearly downplayed the amazing impact technology has had on people's lives where it was allowed. That is, a 15 fold increase in material goods and life expectancy that has doubled. You quoted one source, so I quoted one that reminds exponentially accelerating technology does not look like it will end soon.

-----
But if you really want to talk economics, then lets talk about the Gini coefficient as well, shall we? At no point in history has the divide between the wealthy and the poor been so staggering. I could quote you figures with respectable references but I'll assume you're already well aware of this. I would therefore hesitate to use aggregate macro-economic indicators in this argument. So yes, per capita income rose in Europe. But tell, what has been happening in Africa for the past 20 years? So much for technology as the solution.
------
Thanks to the rise of SE Asia, S. Korea, China ans India, the difference in wealth actually decreased in the past 40 years. The only places not gaining are where despots rule in Africa. Botswana has a GDP/capita of $10,000. Why didn't Western dominance stifle them or over a billion Chinese and Indians? A horrible disease called AIDS originated in Africa completely independent of Western influence yet Western companies are manufacturing the life saving drugs that are finally being distrubuted to thoes inflicted. Is the West responsible for South Africa's stance that HIV doesn't cause AIDS and therefore new technology (pills) is not required?

----------
**I have learned (the hard way) to be skeptical of technological forecasts by technologists and of economic forecasts by economists. Most past forecasts using this technique have ranged from bad to very bad or even downright silly. The exceptions are rare. And one of the most common mistakes of forecasters has been, and evidently still is, to assume that (selected) past trends will simply continue indefinitely. In general they don't. Progress occurs irregularly, in fits and starts. A period of rapid progress is generally followed by a period when nothing much happens, at least along the trajectory in question.
-----------------

The forecasts by economists have certainly been more accurate than ecologists. "England submerged by 2000,... millions starving in the industrial world" What happened? The snorkel business in England is down while weight around the world is on the upswing as Im sure you have noted. Progress has been smooth over the longer run as we can see by it not being affected by either the Great Depression or two world wars. The cost of solar power has decreased 50% every decade since the 1960s and is on track for not only this decade but the 2010s.

------
It is not an uncaused cause. Moreover, technological progress is not necessarily exponential. Nor is it inevitable. Moore's Law is not a law of nature, any more than Say's Law is a law of economics. It will end someday. A barrier does not imply a breakthrough.
--------
It has been exponential for over three hundred years if you look at productivity rates. If one examines computational power, we see an exponential spanning back decades. It may end someday, but the computer industry see no end in sight.


---------
First, there is a difference between these so called alarmists and the scientific community/literature. Because some media hype and doomsday scenario doesn't come to pass, we ignore all other scientific conclusions that have since been borne out by extreme events in the past 20 years? Is it a surprise that the warmest fourteen years EVER recorded on Earth in the past 650 thousand years have happened in the past two decades with 2005 being the warmest on record? And for your information, several islands near New Zealand and Australia (eg Tuvalu), have actually been evacuated because of the rise in seal level--thus creating some of the first environmental refugees. So just because we're not talking about Western Europe, then who cares, right?
-----------
Some warn (as they did in the 1980s) that we have "10 years left to correct our way." Nice to always get a 10 year extension every few years. Al Gore and many others have certainly been alarmists as they 1) assume little technological remedy is possible 2) extrapolate trends out 100 years and 3) take the worst case scenerio of the extrapolation. Why is it OK to extrapolate chaotic systems 100 years out but be highly skeptical of extending a decades long computational smooth exponential another 20 years? The logic completely escapes me. I'm sorry some off New Zealand are moving, but Im a little more worried about the millions of Africans who will die of Malaria this year.

--------
Here's a few technological predictions for you: It was expected (in 1982) that the envelope curve for speeds achievable by manned spacecraft would approach the speed of light and controllable energy would approach infinity. Robert Prehoda, the technocratic author of “Designing the Future” thought that, by 2000 humans with mortal illnesses would be able to have themselves cryogenically preserved until some future century when they could be revived and cured. In the 1950s and 1960s virtually every aerospace forecast took it for granted that air travel would be supersonic if not hypersonic and that humans would be established on Mars and possibly the outer planets by 2000. Didn't happen, did it? But that doesn't mean I'm throwing out all technological innovations that did happen such as the PC and hybrid cars!
-------
Simpy not true that virtually every aeorspace forecast took it for granted that all air travel would be supersonic by 2000. And if predicted in the 1950s, that was not a bad prediction as we will likely see this by 2020 based on actual design plans. Of course people can make inaccurate predictions, but what is the argument for computational power, a critical factor in further progress, of stagnating by 2020?

---------
Again, have I made any comments in my previous note that suggest I don't believe technological diffusion is possible at a rapid pace? The diffusion of innovation in social networks is a prime area of study in the field of complex systems dynamics. So to repeat, my concern has to do with the use and access to technology. Cell phones are not exactly a direct threat to US national security. Do you really think the US would pass off sensitive technology to the Chinese?
------------
Yes, you indidicated technology would likely be available for everyone. If you look at Chinese nuclear missiles, you find that they are near replicas of advanced US technology. Technology diffuses, as does every single piece of hardware the US has tried to block.

--------
>"Of course, this will progress faster if dictators step out of the way."
Yes, that and the West's economic dominance, eg, subsidies, tarrifs, debt etc.
---------

You really think Western 'dominance' and tarrifs , not allowing dictators to scoop up yet even more African debt relief to line their pockets are responsible for most of Africa's low economic level? We see a similar phenomena among oil states where the governments have contempt for their own people and pocket the profits of oil, etc. It is the countries with the least amount of ties to the industrialized world where we find the most poverty.


Patrick said at June 19, 2006 3:36 PM:

Hi Remo,

Thanks for your reply.

===
You quoted one source, so I quoted one that reminds exponentially accelerating technology does not look like it will end soon.

---
Perhaps that's what they said before the great depression, the Titanic's collision and burst of dot com bubble. Yours is a ceteris paribus assumption--which is fine. We just don't make those assumptions in complex systems. Technological innovation is non-linear--and that goes in both directions. Diamond's "Collapse" has some interesting examples.

===
Thanks to the rise of SE Asia, S. Korea, China ans India, the difference in wealth actually decreased in the past 40 years.

---
Would you mind sharing the reference(s)? I'd like to follow-up on related socio-economic measures of my own for comparative purposes.

===
The only places not gaining are where despots rule in Africa.

---
There was this thing called the Cold War where US and Soviets put the first generation of despots (with enough small arms to last them 100 years) and created some conditions that continue today.

===
A horrible disease called AIDS originated in Africa completely independent of Western influence yet Western companies are manufacturing the life saving drugs that are finally being distrubuted to thoes inflicted.

---
You do know such drugs are a multi-billion dollar industry for the West, right? Even the generic drugs (which had to have a huge campaign) continue to provide huge sums of income.

===
Is the West responsible for South Africa's stance that HIV doesn't cause AIDS and therefore new technology (pills) is not required?

---
You expect me to say yes?

===
The forecasts by economists have certainly been more accurate than ecologists. "England submerged by 2000,... millions starving in the industrial world" What happened?

---
Again, you're selecting cases (and there are plenty) to discredit the entire scientific literature and consensus. Anybody can do that.

===
The snorkel business in England is down while weight around the world is on the upswing as Im sure you have noted.

----
I'm not sure I follow, weight as in obesity? If so, the figures are true for the West (especially the US), and not necessarily for highly indebted poor countries--particularly for women and children. And if you are talking about obesity, isn't that the result of technology? Mass production, distribution (and export) of fast food?

===
Progress has been smooth over the longer run as we can see by it not being affected by either the Great Depression or two world wars. The cost of solar power has decreased 50% every decade since the 1960s and is on track for not only this decade but the 2010s.

---
I'd be curious to know how you define progress, for who, compared to what. Is military Keynesianism progress? Windpower prices have also decreased. Now, do you see any wind/solar power farms in developing countries? No, you see old technology that many developed countries no longer use.

===
It has been exponential for over three hundred years if you look at productivity rates.

---
This is again a skewed reference that draws on macro aggregate spatial figures. Just because technological progress means it has been exponential in THE WEST doesn't mean this holds true for the rest of the world. The very opposite can be true.

===
If one examines computational power, we see an exponential spanning back decades. It may end someday, but the computer industry see no end in sight.

---
Have a look at how much it costs (per hour) to connect to the internet at cyber cafes in developing country and compare that with purchasing power parity. The digital divide is not closing. So of course you're going to make the above statement if you're lucky to be in/from the West and/or comparatively well-off.

===
Some warn (as they did in the 1980s) that we have "10 years left to correct our way."

---
Again, please refer the source of this claim. Is it from a peer reviewed journal like Nature? We're going in circles again. You take an alarmist claim and then discredit anything else related to climate change.

===
Nice to always get a 10 year extension every few years.

---
That's rediculous. Go to any respectable talk on climate change and you get figures going back 650,000 years. No one looks at just ten years when looking at climate change--maybe environmental variability, but not climate change. Again, have a look at the more respected scientific journals. I have a feeling you keep on citing alarmmist claims from the mass media which are hardly connected to scientific research.

===
Al Gore and many others have certainly been alarmists as they 1) assume little technological remedy is possible 2) extrapolate trends out 100 years and 3) take the worst case scenerio of the extrapolation.

---
I guess you haven't watched "Inconvenient Truth". You'll know that all three points you make above are factually wrong if you've watched the documentary.

===
Why is it OK to extrapolate chaotic systems 100 years out but be highly skeptical of extending a decades long computational smooth exponential another 20 years? The logic completely escapes me.

---
Again, no respectable article would get published in peer reviewed journals by extrapolating from 100 years for climate change analysis! I would really suggest you read more scientific literature and less mainstream media--Nature is a good place to start.

===
I'm sorry some off New Zealand are moving, but Im a little more worried about the millions of Africans who will die of Malaria this year.

---
That's below the belt. Have you worked in the field in Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Somalia? I have, your comment is poor taste. I'm working on a project that draws on patient non-adherence indicators as early warning alerts for multiple drug resistance in TB and soon Malaria. Partners in Health (PIH) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have both expressed support for this project.

But again, Remo, I refer you to the respectable scientific literature--you are aware, I hope, that climate change is responsible for local increases in temperature in East Africa (which is why Mt. Kilimonjaro also almost no snow left). The increase in surface temperatures means that mosquitos can now propogate in higher altitudes--this means Nairobi is soon going to be as malaria prone as Mombasa. So, this little tar sand excercise (which is where this discussion originated in the first place) would only contribute to more GHG and CO2 emissions and climate change. The oil sands are the single largest contributor to GHG emissions growth in Canada. While the emissions intensity of producing oil sands has decreased substantially, i.e., 26% over the past decade, the rapid rate of new development has more than consumed these gains.

Have a look at the massive Caterpillar trucks they use and in particular the fuel efficiency of these trucks. Also, have a look at the energy/heat needed to separate the tar from the sand. Approximately four tons of material (two tons of soil and rock above the deposit and two tons of oil sands) must be mined to produce one barrel (159 liters) of synthetic crude oil. • Extracting a barrel of bitumen using surface mining requires:

o Two to five barrels of fresh water;
o 250 cubic feet of natural gas, enough to heat Canadian home for almost 1.5 days.

Guess what? 2.7 million barrels per day are projected for 2015. There are no industry-wide figures for how much water the companies use, though some contend that at peak production, the sites will use 350 million cubic meters of water a year -- roughly the amount of water used by a city of 2 million.

You call this technological progress? It's a man-made disaster. If you want to sit and wait for technology to catch up in order to undo all this, well that is of course your choice.

===
Yes, you indidicated technology would likely be available for everyone. If you look at Chinese nuclear missiles, you find that they are near replicas of advanced US technology. Technology diffuses, as does every single piece of hardware the US has tried to block.

---
Yes, I'm well familiar with the arms race--not the most environmentally friendly of technological excercises. But if you'd like to continue along those lines, not everyone has access to military satellites that could prove very useful in better resource management.

===
You really think Western 'dominance' and tarrifs , not allowing dictators to scoop up yet even more African debt relief to line their pockets are responsible for most of Africa's low economic level?

---
Oh boy. Remo, if you re-read my note on this I agreed with you and added this little thing called international trade ("free" trade) to the equation.

===
It is the countries with the least amount of ties to the industrialized world where we find the most poverty.

---
Ever heard of the term Highly Indebted Countries (HIC)? Some of the poorest and yet very much tied to the industrialized world through ridiculous debt servicing.


I want to apologize as I will not be able to continue this crazy discussion.
So with this, I leave you the last word and wish you well.

Cheers,
Patrick

Engineer-Poet said at June 19, 2006 9:24 PM:

Egad, that's obfuscated!  Would you mind setting off quotes with <i>, <b> or <blockquote> tags to achieve greater clarity?

remo said at June 20, 2006 8:49 PM:

Ill try to clean it up a little

1. If you look at the dot com 'collapse' or Argentina's financial 'collapse' one sees a quick rebound. Diamond also completely ignores technological improvements/solutions in his chapter about what he considers is a real possibility of collapse of the entire world.

2. There are several articles which have been published recently about the rise of India/China. This reall makes sense since countries with 1 billion people are growing 2 to 3 times as fast as wealthier nations like the US, EU and Japan.

3. Im not saying that the US and USSR among others havent propped up despots although even there the history is mixed.

4. many AIDS drugs going to Africa are made in Brazil and India. The Gates Foundition is sending billions of dollars to help pay for those drugs as well. The larger point is that technology will save millions from death, and a vaccine isnt that far away.

5. The doomsday scenerios of the 70s were promoted by The Club of Rome, high profile ecologists like Earlich and even President Carter who explained to the American people we'd be "out of oil in 10 years." Oprah mentioned that 1/3 of Americans would be dying of AIDS by 1990. Case after case of false alarms.

6. Progress is seeing fat Chinese instead of millions starving during the Great Leap Forward. Progress means that Chinese live into the 70s rather than the 40s. Poorer countries are definately using fairly new technology as well as somewhat older. Part of the problem is a lack of democratic influence in a country like China. Unlike the US, the CCP can mostly ignore environmentalists.

7. The rate of productivity has been FASTER in parts of the world where it is allowed to be used. This is what has propelled China's 9% growth for 25 years. Look at China again for diffusion: almost no TV in the early 80s, but 25 years later hundreds of millions have private cell phones.

8. To see how fast the digital divide is closing, again look at India and China to see the exponential growth there. An amazing jump from 2000 to 2006 and it will keep going. Do a google search for 200 and 2006, and you can easily see the boom.

9. The "10 years left" claim was a fad around 1992 and was used recently by the climetologist who said he was silenced by the Bush Adminitrsation. Unfortunately, Nature articles sometimes are deeply flawed. There was an article in the late 80s with poor modeling that showed AIDS spreading far worse than it actually did. Should never have been published.

10. I have seen excerpts of Gore's propaganda film and of the clips I saw , he is assuming no technological change. This is common among those writing about climate change for popular audiences. Just look in the index of many books to see what is left out.

11. I am sure I read far more scientific literature on a daily basis than you do. I think many here have degrees in science.

12. I said nothing "below the belt." I am sorry that some have to move. But my real concern is millions dying of Malaria every year. I didnt imply you didn't have the same concern, just pointing out that there are problems and then there are PROBLEMS.

To the alarmists, there is always doom around the corner. They usually have two short-comings in common: They almost always fail to consider technological change and/or do not understand basic economics.

Chester said at September 10, 2008 10:54 PM:

It's bio-fuels dude. Specifically, Sea Asparagus. It can be irrigated with salt water. You don't have to worry about scarce water. You don't have to worry about stealing land from food production. Pick a desert next to the ocean, and start growing your own bio-diesel.

Dan Victor said at March 4, 2009 10:11 AM:

One of most energy saving practices available is not being considered here. Think of the energy consumed by each American. Americans have 4 % of the world's population but consume 25% of it's energy. We should stabilize the US Population. By allowing our population to reach 575 million by the end of the century as forecast by the Census Bureau, energy use in this country will essentially double along with resource extraction and consumption, waste production, water consumption, land consumption, quality of life reduction (crowding)etc. Most of this population increase as we know is from immigration. Immigrating from a third world country or a second world country to the US increases the energy use drastically by the human who immigrates. The only group that can change immigration policies is Congress. However, big business interests and open borders, open society interests are more interested in achieving their own agendas making this a tough thing to accomplish without a nationwide push by US citizens. I'm sure it's not all gloom and doom but it will be more crowded.

World wide, population could be theoretically stabilized if humans waited until they were 25 to reproduce and each couple only had two children on average. Think of the benefit in all areas of planet earth this would afford.

It cost nothing to dream.

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