Are We Limited
or Limitless?

While doing research on the topic of oil refining, I found a blog by a geology graduate student, Derik Andreoli. Derik’s blog, The Seventh Fold, is subtitled, A Critical Commentary on our Energy Future. What I found interesting was the depth of his writing on oil chemistry, the topic I was researching at that moment. It was part of the Peak Oil 101 section of his site.

Andreoli believes that there is a limit to what man can achieve. The name of his web site is taken from the story of a time when he was challenged to take a single piece of paper, fold it eight times, and then attempt to tear the folded paper in half. He was not able to do this, because doubling the paper eight times creates 128 layers to tear, an impossible task. He uses this illustration to highlight his belief that the production of oil, natural gas, and coal, the “global life support” system, social support system, debt, and equity markets are all approaching the seventh fold. Andreoli says, “There is still room for optimism, though. Thoughtful conservation, ethical consumption, and voluntary social reorganization offer the possibility of a better tomorrow and a solution to each of these seventh fold problems.”

Andreoli does not identify himself on his site. Others do, in comment posts from 2010, when he first launched the site. He does present a sizable “about the author” page, the first paragraph of which states that his analysis “is rooted in the theories and concepts of ecological economics and ecosocialism.” Near the end of this page Andreoli says, “If we continue to believe that business-as-usual can be sustained, we will blindly run full speed into these physical constraints, and the impacts will be devastating. Alternatively, we can choose to accept the limits imposed by nature and adapt our economy and our society to operate within them in a socially just manner.”

Business-as-Usual ≠ no Innovation

I believe there is a flaw in Mr. Andreoli’s logic. He believes that we cannot sustain a business-as-usual (BAU) model. The problem with that approach is it assumes that a BAU model does not incorporate innovation. The fact is that business only has two ways to grow, innovation and marketing (as our good friend Peter Drucker teaches us). Without innovation, business does not grow. In fact, evolution and adaptation is innovation in the natural world. Species that fail to adapt fail to prosper; species that adapt prosper. The assumption that business-as-usual means no innovation and no change is faulty.

One only needs to look at innovation in the petroleum industry to understand that innovation is what is going to sustain our energy supply past the seventh fold. We get greater yields out of every barrel of oil than we did ten years ago. Our vehicles get more power and greater productive work (as measured in mileage) than they did ten years ago. If you actually look at the quantifiable measures of all kinds of industry, the trends are positive.

The problem is that this kind of improvement comes at an economic cost, and only with a cultural effort. Our behaviors through the 1990s and 2000s showed that the more efficient our machines got, the more demand went up. And not only here, but across the globe, as people all over the world saw their standard of living improve. Did the gap between the high and low in “wealth” increase? No doubt. But didn’t the bottom rise?

Here is a point to ponder:  As the people with no money are brought into the modern world, are they replaced with more people who do not participate in the modern economic world? If true, does that mean there is always a bottom, and is that bottom “zero” money? Finally, is someone who has never needed money before now poor? Could they be wealthy by their own measurement?

Beware the Hidden Context

Mr. Andreoli did not complete his subsections on Peak Oil 101. He presents only half of the story, the half that supports the notion that there is a finite reserve of oil, and that we have discovered all there is to be. However, the sections on production and refining are blank. Why? Perhaps this is because the author hit a finite reserve in writing ability or research time? Except for the news feeds on the home page—which are nothing more than links to web-based stories that support the notion of limited reserves—there appears to be no evidence of other activity on the site since November 2010. Perhaps the author has nothing more to say on the subject? It would be a pity if that were the case.

But no, Mr. Andreoli, as a PhDc (PhD candidate), continues to write, just not on his own blog site. In fact, he has much more to say as the Senior Analyst at Mercator International, LLC., and as a Logistics Management Magazine columnist. There, Mr. Andreoli is in a position to present his rooted theories and concepts of ecological economics and ecosocialism, while wearing a suit.

Still, I don't believe that Mr. Anderoli's view of "theories and concepts of ecological economics and ecosocialism" discredits his opinions or analysis.  It does add color and texture, not bad as long as the reader and consumer of Mr. Anderoli's work is aware of the viewpoint.    His latest article about the Keystone XL pipeline is very well thought out, and a balanced analysis of the situation.  In fact, it touches in depth on some of the micro-market conditions of lower than national average diesel costs and the impact NAFTA provisions have on the short term crude trade balance with Canada.  The idea of using rail shipping capacity to substitute for the missing pipeline capacity is a grand solution, one that this railroad fan is already looking at to see if it is a practical solution.

Half Full or Half Empty?

History is an impressive tool for persuasion. History is the recordings of man, and as such, History as Truth is dependent on three factors:

The complete and accurate recording of the facts as they happen.

The complete and accurate presentation of the recorded history.

The willingness of the student to consider all the facts presented and search for the facts not presented, in order to understand history.

Getting to the truth of history is difficult.

Until such time that we have a material, omnipresent collector of events, man will never accurately collect the complete history of any event. We cannot know the thoughts of the actors unless they tell us their thoughts. Human witnesses provide fallible recording. Photographs capture split-second images, but cannot provide audio or time representation of the events. Video blends time and sound, but is limited by what it focuses upon and by the length of the recording.

The victors write history. Actually, the storytellers write history, and the best storytellers get to write the best history. History professors choose what to present and what not to present, deciding which facts are relevant and which are not. A writer does the same, omitting what does not drive the story. Photographers and videographers choose what to capture in frame—and what not to. Editors and producers alter the story by their cuts. Storytellers shape our history. To assume that all of them do so without the intention of influencing it is a mistake.

Which leaves us with the final point of dependency of history - the willingness of the user to examine all the facts, those presented and not, and then engage in critical thinking to decide the history's context, evaluating the efficacy of the application of that history to predict the future. The buck stops at the point of the user.

Guard Against Influencing, or Being Influenced, Erroneously

Many writers use quotations from other authors, or quotations by famous or influential people, to introduce or make a point. This device lends credibility to the point the storyteller is making.

All writers use it, even great independent thinkers. If you read the writing of reason-based independent thinkers, you will find that the use of the thoughts of others is more of a foundation, a fulcrum, to level off of in the exploration of new thinking. They take the observations of others and use that understanding to introduce new ideas and new contexts. They quote the source to honor it, allowing that they got their idea from the work of someone before them.

Herd thinkers use quotations too. They will use quotations as justification for their viewpoints. They use the quotations, sometimes out of context, to make their points. Why? Perhaps they do not have the ability to persuade otherwise. Perhaps the argument, under the hard light of complete and exhaustive scrutiny, cannot survive the test. In some cases, it is a cynical approach, gambling that the readers do not possess the discipline and determination to seek out the truth, that the readers lack critical thinking ability.

Look at the material you see every day. How much contains original thinking? How much depends on the selective presentation of what others think, packaged in the quotations of notable and famous (or infamous) people? Ask yourself, is this attempting to influence me? In what direction?

In the world of today, information is folded well beyond the eight-layer fold limit Mr. Andreoli posits in his blog introduction. The doubling of information rolls along at a pace that resembles Moore’s Law on steroids. Think of the number of people who now write on the Internet, not only those who write columns like this forum, but those who comment on them. Think of the expanding number of still and video cameras on cell phones, how easy it is for people to post the images. The first requirement of history, the gathering and recording of the facts, is alive and healthy. No matter how governments and authority figures wish to contain and control the collection and recording of history, the growth continues to be explosive.

The interconnected data world removes the barrier to access that has existed for much of modern history. The information, in the raw, is there. Poor cataloging and chaotic organization are a problem, of course, and will continue to be. Perhaps the greatest good that Google provides is the ability to search for information.
Still, the fundamental requirement for understanding history is critical thought. It is the user’s responsibility to determine the extent to which his thoughts are being influenced, and to determine the motivation behind the influence.

To guard oneself from erroneous influence, one must study the facts and engage in critical thinking. That requires pigheaded discipline, determination, and courage. One must be present in the moment of understanding. And, one must possess the knowledge to make judgments and the power to obtain the facts, in order to determine the good or ill intentions of the material presented.

Even as you read what we write here, challenge what we post and propose.  Engage in critical thinking; trust but verify what is presented as fact, as foundation.  That is the only way that you develop your own knowledge, sovereign of thought, free of erroneous influence.

Are you being influenced erroneously? If so, what are you going to do about it?

There is no limit to what we can accomplish. Those who attempt to convince you otherwise are wrong.

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