Energy Independence is a Dumb Idea but not Because We Will Run Out of Oil

Update: One more sentence has been added to Charlie Munger’s quote.

Over at the Farnam Street blog, Shane Parrish has a post titled “Energy Independence is a Terribly Stupid Idea.” I agree. But, apparently not for the same reasons that Farnam Shane Parrish or Berkshire Hathaway Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger does. (But, hey more people follow that blog than mine and there are lots of really good things said about the site; so I must be wrong.)

Parrish quotes Munger extensively from comments made at the Committee of 100 U.S.-China relations conference. Munger says,

In trying to get energy independence we would have destroyed our safety stock of oil within our own borders.

Oil and gas are absolutely certain to become incredibly short and very high-priced. And of course the United States has a problem and China has a worse problem….Every barrel that you use up that comes from somebody else is a barrel of your precious oil which you’re going to need to feed your people and maintain your civilization.

Perhaps Munger is right. But, a bit of skepticism toward his cynicism might be in order.

Resources are not resources until humans decide that rock or that bit of goo can be used for something; the Stone Age did not end because people ran out of stones. I would agree that it is wiser to purchase something from somewhere cheaper than it is to get it locally. That’s not natural resource conservation that’s making your resources (your time and money) work smarter.

English: The cover of the second edition of Th...

I commented on the blog but it seems that the comment didn’t pass the spam filter possibly due to the high number of links provided. So I have provided my comment and the links for further reading are here:

The end of our resources has been foretold before. In 1865, the British economist, Stanley Jevons predicted the end of coal. In his book, The Coal Question, he wrote that Britain’s easy ride was over and soon coal, which, powered their industrial revolution, would be gone. It was “physically impossible” to continue. Therefore Britain needed to decide “between brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity.” William Gladstone, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, found Jevons’ argument so compelling he begged Parliament to pay down their national debt while they still could.
The ink had barely dried on Jevons’ book when the output of coal rose and the price fell. The first oil well was sunk in Pennsylvania six years later. Today, Britain still produces coal.

Some further reading:

Peak Everything?Reason Magazine

Wrong about running out | The Rational Optimist

The dash for shale oil will shake the world – Matt Ridley

The Limits of The Limits to Growth – Reason Magazine

Where’s the Peak for Oil Reserves? – The PERColator

The R/P Ratio

Political Peak Oil –

Peak Oil Panic –

Apocalypse Not: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Worry About End Times | Wired Science |

Everything you’ve heard about fossil fuels may be wrong – War Room –

New drilling method opens vast oil fields in US : PERC – The Property and Environment Research Center

U.S. Oil Output to Overtake Saudi Arabia’s by 2020 – Bloomberg


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World War Zzzzz

World War Zzzzz[1]


The beans (seeds) on a coffee plant do not ripen at the same time. Coffee is a labor intensive crop. (Photo credit: Howard F. Schwartz, Colorado State University,

A world food crisis brewing and we face a horrific future unless something can be done.

No, it is not that more people die of hunger around the world than from malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV-AIDS combined—that is old news. Push aside that every day about one billion people go to bed hungry because they cannot afford to buy 1800 calories worth of food. It is not that one billion people have no access to electricity for refrigeration to store food and prevent spoilage. And, no it is not the people are, gasp, eating non-organic GMO food and living longer. Lots of Americans will care about this crisis (with the exception of Mormons, Rastafarians and Seventy Day Adventists).

Due to a pandemic sweeping through the world, we might have to go without our usual cup of joe or pay much higher prices.

Coffee production is a $15 billion industry employing more than 26 million people in 70 countries. According to the International Coffee Organization, in “coffee-year 2009/10” global consumption totaled around 134 million 60 Kg bags—nearly 18 billion pounds of coffee—that would be about 1 billion espresso shots every day. In the U.S. coffee contributes nearly $18 billion to the economy.

Coffee was first discovered in what is now Ethiopia in the 13th century though it was probably known and used by nomads of the region for thousands of years before. It spread through the Arab world in the 1500s and crossed over to Europe a little more than one hundred years later. The first coffeehouse opened in London in 1650. Commerce received a jolt when people switched from alcohol (a depressant) to caffeine (a stimulant). Coffee houses became enlightened meeting places where, as the Economist magazine noted, “[F]or the price of a cup of coffee, you could read the latest pamphlets, catch up on news and gossip, attend scientific lectures, strike business deals, or chat with like-minded people about literature or politics.”

Tom Standage writes that not everyone approved of this new drink; critics said, “Christians had abandoned their traditional beer in favor of a foreign drink…”

The culprit behind the coming pandemic is coffee rust caused by a fungus (Hemileia vastatrix) that attacks coffee plants (Coffea spp.), withering the leaves. The less popular robusta coffee plant (C. canephora) resists the fungus better than the more popular arabica coffee plant (C. arabica). While robusta coffee beans have 67 percent more caffeine than arabica beans (which some coffee drinkers count as a plus), it is has a more bitter flavor (which counts as a minus with many coffee drinkers). Arabica coffee accounts for about 70 percent of the global market.

The rust was first discover near Lake Victoria in eastern Africa in 1861. It was found in Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) in 1869 and caused the British to change their beverage as the crops there shifted from coffee to tea. Ever wonder why the British are tea drinkers? Blame the coffee rust. The rust spread to Brazil in 1970 and has been moving through the coffee producing countries of the western hemisphere ever since.

Forecasters project next year’s crop to be 50 percent less. The typical control methods of windbreaks, fungicides, and removing diseased and the surrounding plants have not been effective enough. According to the International Coffee Organization, “On average, over 50% of the total [prime] coffee growing area in Central America has been affected by the pest.” Mexico also has problems with coffee rust. Only Colombia’s farmers have rid that country of the fungus by planting hybridized coffee plants, which are crosses between arabica varieties and robustas.

Two things have increased the rust’s reach: global warming and growing coffee plants in full sunlight. The warming climate has moved the reach of the rust higher up into the mountains where it had been too cool before. Farmers have also been bringing the historically shade-grown plants into open sun to increase the bean production but increasing sunlight also benefits the rust’s production—by a factor of up to ten—according to some research.

As noted above, Colombia’s coffee crop is largely rust free, according to Rachel Tepper writing in the Huffington Post. Conventional breeding by Colombia’s Cenicafé, a research group funded by Colombia’s coffee growers, has produced two crosses between robusta and aribica: “Colombia” and “castilla” varieties. “The results are striking: in 2011, more than 40 percent of all Colombian plantations were infected with coffee rust. As of 2013, Cenicafé puts that number at 5 percent.” The article gives no clue as to the resulting taste of the new coffee varieties.

Whether coffee drinkers will accept these new varieties remains to be seen. Conventional breeding involves crossing and backcrossing varieties and introduces thousands to hundreds of thousands of new genetic combinations, which could affect its taste. Dr. Kevin Folta, an expert in Molecular Biology with the University of Florida, Horticultural Sciences Department, has an excellent chart showing “Standard cross-breeding” rearranging 10,000 to 300,000 genes “depending on the species.”

The taste of these new crosses may or may not be popular among coffee drinkers. To have no change in a heritage varietal’s taste would require transgenic breeding (in other words, GMO). Researchers have identified nine genes as rust resistant in two of the twenty-five species of Coffea. Rather than rearranging 10,000-plus genes, the transgenic rDNA method would place 1 to 3 of these genes into the gene sequence, hugely lowering the chance of a taste change.

Transgenic breeding may not even be tried. For one thing, it is quite expensive. One expert says the research and regulatory hurdles add up to approximately $30 to $60 million with a far–from-certain reward, given that many growers use organic methods and are opposed to rDNA crops.

Others, such as Cathy Coatney, writing on the Biology Fortified website, point to the success of the “Rainbow papaya,” which she says, “saved the Hawaiian papaya crop in Hawaii.” “The time is now for transgenic coffee,” she says “Even if it is only used as a temporary relief until better growing practices can be implemented or the fungus can be put under control, there is a clear need for GMO coffee.”

I just want my Arabica beans. I have tried tea, yerba matte, and robusta; give me Arabica or give me zzzzzzz.

References/Further Reading

APSnet. (n.d.). Coffee Rust. Retrieved from APSnet:

Chenwei Lin, L. A. (2005, November). Coffee and tomato share common gene repertoires as revealed by deep sequencing of seed and cherry transcripts . Retrieved 2013, from U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute for Health:

Coatney, C. (2013, June 22). Coffee the next crop to be saved by Transgenics? Retrieved July 2013, from Biology Fortified, Inc.:

Folta, K. (2012, June). What is “Genetically Modified”? and the Frankenfood Pardox . Retrieved June 2012, from Illumination:

International Coffee Organization. (n.d.). Coffee leaf rust outbreak. Retrieved ffrom International Coffee Organization:

Standage, T. (2013, June 22). Social Networking in the 1600s. Retrieved June 23, 2013, from

Stephen A. Ferreira, E. P. (n.d.). Hemileia vastatrix: coffee leaf rust (Plant Disease Pathogen). (U. o. Hawaii, Producer) Retrieved July 12, 2013, from Crop Knowledge Master:

Tepper, R. (2013, April 30). Coffee Rust Eradicated In Colombia’s Growing Regions, Marking A First For Latin America . Retrieved July 11, 2013, from Huffington Post:

The Economist. (2003, December). Coffee-houses: The internet in a cup. Retrieved July 2012, from The Economist:

[1] Other possible titles:

  • The Coming Coffee Apocalypse
  • Coffpocalypse 2013
  • Coffeetastrophe 2013
  • World War Coffee
  • Decaffeinate Me
  • Holy Cappuccinos, Batman! This is a Cafftastrophe!
  • I’ve Been Dropping Caffeic Acid Since I was 16
  • Give Me Arabica or Give Me Zzzzz

[2] According a 2013 survey by the National Coffee Association, “83% of the U.S. adult population now drinks coffee.” Those drinking coffee daily was 63%.



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Jury Selection. Again.

In 2011, I was part of a host of people considered to sit on a jury. Considering that the trial for the killing Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman has just ended in a Not Guilty verdict, I thought I would share how the process appears to work in Lake County, California.

Jury duty in Lake County, the “City” of Clearlake branch. Before entering the building’s main room, I have to put my stuff through a x-ray machine. This screening requirement is fairly recent.

One woman says, “I’ve never seen a superior court run like this. I’ve lived in rural places all over they country. I’ve never seen anything like this before.” I overhear a discussion between the bailiff and a deputy sheriff, I’m part of the second slug of people being voir dired for a trial that’s expected to take nine weeks to complete. About 100 of us file through the double doors into a courtroom approximately 20′ by 40′. We quickly outgrow the audience seats and overflow into the jury box, and finally into the defendant and prosecution desk areas. We would sit in Judge Hedstrom’s seat if there weren’t a barrier.

Despite the large number of people in the courtroom, when the clerk calls the roll it seems that more than two-thirds of us didn’t show up.

From the discussions around me it’s easy to learn that none of us thinks jury duty is worth the inconvenience of the process. There are thousands, if not millions, of people yearning to have this opportunity to exercise a freedom that is unique to democracy: the ability to face your accuser, the right to trial by a jury of your peers. That doesn’t mean it’s not an inconvenience and a royal pain in the ass. So, the jury of your peers does not come to the proceedings wanting to listen to any bullshit; knowing they are going to listen to bullshit

To demonstrate that our day hasn’t been bureaucratically wasted, they waste more of our time showing us a video on why jury duty doesn’t bureaucratically waste our time. The video says this is about ‘justice.’ Justice? Really? No, not really. It’s about who tells the best story. “We trust in the community to make the right decision,” intones the narrator. The video gives us groundrules of how our State’s judicial system works:

  • Jurors cannot ask questions during the presenting of the case by either the defense or the prosecution.
  • Jurors cannot research facts around the case.
  • Jurors are vessels into which the defense and prosecution pour their crap and their opinions.
  • “Sit down, shut up, stay awake, listen to the bullshit stories these people tell you” seems to be the purpose of a juror.
  • Then finally when the important time that questions could be presented is over, you deliberate as a jury and discuss the crap that each side presented. Would told the most compelling lies?

Toward the end of the video the narrator intones, “The jury has reached a verdict. Justice has been served.” Really? They reached a decision, that’s all they did, they made their best guess from the stories each side tries to tell, nothing more.

After a fifteen minute recess, we file back in and Judge Hedstrom swears us in and begins the void dire process. JH lays down the ground rules. He admonishes us not to discuss this case with anyone. This is a criminal trial. Another group of prospective jurors will show up between 2 and 2:30. JH may dismiss some of us to go to a trial set to begin in Lakeport at 1:15. This drill is expected to take six days (eg WTF – two weeks).

JH now starts the “Queen for a Day” hardship excuses. Sole providers living paycheck to paycheck, vacations, caregivers, job requirements, medical procedures, doctor’s appointments, I’m no doctor but I’m pretty sure one fellow who may be mentally challenged has curly white hair and a ten-day growth of salt & pepper beard, says he’d not be a good juror ‘the guy’s guilty.’ JH tells him that this isn’t the time for that part of the voir dire proceedings (though JH doesn’t use “voir dire”). When JH finishes asking about hardships, he calls names of the people who have claimed hardship, has them stand, and dismisses them. “You are free to go.”

JH dismisses some 20 people. They file out and the courtroom thins considerably.

The judge reads accusations against the accused: rape, lewd and lascivious acts, threats on a girl under 14 years of age which took place on 21 Sept 2005., 1 Nov 2007, 20 Dec 2008. 289pc. Statutory rape? 288.b1PC. Lewd and lascivious act with a minor. 269A1 PC – Rape of a minor 261A2 – Rape. 269A5 PC – Rape. 667 PC

After reading the twelve (by my count) felony charges, JH starts questioning those of us empaneled as to whether we can be impartial. Those that say they can’t be impartial are asked, “Do you know the facts of this case, do you know the defendant, do you know the defense attorney, do you know the prosecuting attorney, what is the nature of the case that causes you believe that you could not be fair and impartial? Those who might be prejudiced in this case are told to report to the jury commissioner at 1:15.

Our mentally challenged fellow says, “The guy sounds like a pervert.” The audience groans.

A slight woman with short-cropped gray hair says she’s a retired nurse is on chapter of Women Against Rape. She brings her story to the court but would like to think she could be fair.

Others carry angst of not knowing, hoping they can be, fair and impartial and raise the point for the court to consider. Sexual traumas run deep in the psyche. Four women had been abused. One man with a gray beard and salt and pepper hair says he had a good friend wrongly accused that nearly destroyed his friend’s reputation and life.

At the beginning of The Brass Verdict, Michael Connelly‘s fictional character Mickey Haller sums up trials:

Everybody lies.

Cops lie. Lawyers lie. Witnesses lie. The victims lie.

A trial is a contest of lies. And everybody in the courtroom knows this….


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