Friday, December 19, 2014

The Invasion Of Corporate Journalism

Over the past decade or more an invasion has been taking place, one that threatens not only ourselves, but the ones doing the invading as well. It’s the creeping invasion of corporate journalism into the regular media.

                  In the United States (I haven’t been able to find and comparable Canadian figures. What little I have found suggests data is similar.) the number of journalists has declined 17% between 2004 and 2013, while the number of public relations specialists has increased by 22%. (see The median income for journalists is $35,600, while the median income for public relations specialists is $54,940. (see ) It’s no wonder then that as more and more journalists get laid off as the result of downsizing or newspapers folding that they are migrating to corporate journalism. Even those who still have jobs within journalism have been leaving seeing no future for them.
                  In sort of a mirror image of them, public relations and communications agencies along with a growing number of companies have been setting up fully staffed newsrooms, which mimic those of regular media. These newsrooms seek tell favorable stories about themselves or their clients.
                  So what exactly is corporate journalism and how does it differ from regular journalism. Regular journalism seeks to report on events and examine/investigate issues independently of businesses and other organizations, including government. On the other hand corporate journalism seeks to report on events and examine issues in a way that is favorable to business. Corporate journalism will seek to restrict access to information and individuals, while regular journalism will seek to get around this. When a bad event happens, corporate journalism will seek to downplay or suppress it.
                  There has always been a struggle between journalism and advertising. If you’ve ever read 19th century newspapers you see this readily. There are ads that mimic regular news and regular news that amounted to advertising. In the 1920s most financial journalists were on the take. They were paid to write favorable stories about certain stocks. However, standards were evolved to try to keep advertising and journalism separate.
                  Over the years various organizations such as government agencies, businesses (railroads, airlines, insurance companies, manufacturers), museums and clubs have produced their own magazines for public consumption. All had an obvious bias.
                  Today things have gone further. In Richmond, California the local newspaper has been replaced by an online paper financed and run by Chevron Oil. It’s slick and polished and slants news in favor of Chevron. According to Grist, “’s a Chevron propaganda rag that’s run and written by the company’s flacks.” (see
                  In September Money And Markets, the online newsletter of Weiss Research, complained about how Apple has the investment media eating out of its hands. The media just fawns over the latest product release from Apple and have become part of Apple’s marketing machine. I’ve noticed that even the non-investment media also seems to have been drawn into Apple. This is without Apple having to shell out a dime for such publicity. (see
                  Writing in The Dark Side Of Corporate Journalism, Arthur E. Rowse said, “Today’s media complex is drunk with economic and political power. Making money seems to come before making sense of the world.”
                  The downside of all this is that the media gets corrupted into being the mouthpiece of business (and government and organizations), undermining freedom of the press. Issues, like climate change, corporate donations and pay inequity either get ignored or downplayed as real discussion gets suppressed and fluff gets passed off as journalism.
This is not only bad for the public, but also bad for business. If only an approved view is what gets talked about weaknesses get brushed aside, which can ultimately prove fatal. One of the prime reasons corporate journalism tries to mimic regular journalism is that regular journalism is trusted and while businesses is not. Yet the process ultimately undermines the trust and credibility of regular journalism. What creates trust in regular journalism is freedom from outside interference.
                  Can corporate journalism and regular journalism co-exist? Yes, but not at the expense of regular journalism. I’ll have more to say on this in the future.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Getting Ideas

A problem many newcomers to journalism in all its forms have is where to get ideas? Ideas are all around all you have to do is catch them and refine them.

                  Ideas can come from your own life or the lives of friends and family or from complete strangers. They can come on your way to work, to the grocery store, while walking or cycling. They can come while lying in bed or in the shower. Ideas can from virtually anywhere.
                  I remember once reading an article in Writer’s Digest about Joyce Verrette,  who got the idea for her bestselling novel Dawn Of Desire from a dream. The idea for The Scarsdale Diet, another bestseller, came from a few lines in either a newspaper or a magazine and turned into a best seller Herman Tarnover and Samm Sinclair Baker. Other writers had read that same article and ignored it. T.v., the Internet, even movies can be another profitable source of ideas.
                  An old standby for more than one magazine was to sit down with a newspaper and go over it. They’d get hundreds of ideas. I managed to get a few ideas myself this way. Thanks to reports in some regional papers, I was one of the earliest to report on the quagga mussel and the round nose goby, both invasive species to the Great Lakes.
                  Other ideas come from personal experience. Over the course of 15 years (1995-2010) I was on and off caregiver for my parents when first my mother and then, after a 5 year break, my father came down with probable Alzheimer’s. That led me to article on Alzheimer’s for Canadian Living in 2008. Naturally, when I received the assignment, my father’s condition worsened making writing it even more of a challenge than I expected.
                  Some ideas come from going about your everyday business. I recall one writer, who regularly passed equestrians, I believe. One he stopped to talk to them and eventually turned it into a specialty. While out cycling one day I saw a river otter and another time, while walking my dog near my home, saw a beaver. I turned these sightings into a couple of news items on returning species.
                  My interests have been another source of ideas. I turned my love of postcards into a few articles and my love of trains led to numerous articles over the years and eventually to becoming a contributor to Trains Magazine for a while before bowing out.
                  So open your eyes and ears and be ready to jot down an idea or two or three. You’ll be surprised at what you might come up with.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Through The Valley Of Dispair - Suicide

Why do people, like Robin Williams and Matthew Warren, who seemingly have everything going for them commit suicide? And journalists are not immune from this either. Ernest Hemingway committed suicide as did a young t.v. journalist, who did so live. Basically they were all mentally ill in one form or another. And mental illness is as real as a broken bone, Alzheimer’s or heart disease.

I know as I was suicidal from age 8 to 43 and still have the occasional suicidal thought.  As mentioned in a previous post I have what is now known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. I had difficulty focussing, was immature, impulsive, hyper-energetic and anxious, among other things. I developed a track record of failure at school, in making friends and in coping with life.

I was constantly criticized by my parents, teachers, classmates, my church and others. I was punished a lot at school by the strap, by standing out in the hall, by writing lines and at home by being beaten with a belt, not to mention being physically and emotionally bullied. I pleaded with my mother to praise me for the one thing I did right and not the nine things I did wrong, but she never would. 

I was sent to a variety of psychologists and psychiatrists, most of whom needed professional help themselves. One of them was arrested for something two or three years after I last saw them.
I was hurting so much that by age 8 I was asking God to take my life away. It’s not that I really wanted to die, but rather I just wanted the pain to end. So how did I manage to turn things around and what can you do to help someone in a similar situation?
Fantasy was a big help initially. Later it became a crutch. In my fantasies I was successful, I was the hero, I righted the wrongs done to myself and to others and I got the girl.
I took steps to get out of myself by taking day and overnight trips and by becoming active in the community. This boosted my self confidence and helped give me a sense of purpose and accomplishment.
Writing was both a help and a hindrance. It was great to be published, but frustrating as I really needed structure to succeed and freelancing doesn’t provide it.
I went from being a high school dropout to being a university graduate with an overall average of 74%, higher than anything I was ever able to accomplish in public school. However I was not able capitalize on it and soon fell into a cycle of hope and despair.
Caring for my parents, both of whom had probable Alzheimer’s helped to break the pattern as it forced me to think outside myself. An even bigger help was meeting my wife, who gave me encouragement, guidance and acceptance. She helped me to realize that just because someone is angry with me doesn’t necessarily mean they hate me, just my behavior.
Last, but not least my Christian faith has been a big help and comfort to me, although the church and most Christians have not. My faith gave me a sense of acceptance and belonging. After all if God can accept me and love me in spite of myself, then so can I.
However, none of this would have worked if I hadn’t been willing to change, albeit somewhat reluctantly at times. I have also never been one for holding grudges or seeking revenge and I usually managed to keep a sense of humor.
I still have the occasional suicidal thought, which I overcome by thinking of things I have be thankful for, like my wife and having enough to eat. I also distract myself by such things as going for a walk or reading.
While I have not sought professional help as an adult in retrospect I probably should have and kept at it until I found the right therapist. Aside from taking Ritalin as a child, I have not taken any medication due to bad reactions and as I haven’t needed it. That isn’t to say that some might find medication very useful.
I’ve learned to be patient with myself. Change takes time and effort. I reward myself occasionally for positive change. I’ve found looking at myself in a mirror and thinking or saying out loud positive messages helpful. Smiling even when I haven’t felt like it, is a surprising help.
If you suspect someone maybe suicidal ask them. If they aren’t you won’t be putting the thought into their mind and if they are you asking them just might save their life.
And by all means, if you feel you can, befriend someone who is suicidal and/or mentally ill. It could be good for both of you, but check your motives and know your limits. Do not let the sick person dominate you. Be encouraging, be patient and keep a sense of humor. And if you’ve bitten off more than you can chew don’t walk away and not take action. Try to get the person some help.
While I still struggle, I’m a happier, more relaxed and more stable person than I have ever been in my life.

Friday, August 15, 2014

A Writer's Reference Library

What’s in your reference library? There are basics that we should all have, like dictionaries and thesauruses. Beyond that it depends on our own individual needs, specialities and tastes. If you speak and write in more than one language you’ll probably have reference books to reflect that. Alas I only speak one language.

In my library I have six dictionaries: five American and one English, plus two combination dictionary/thesaurus, one American and one Canadian. Dictionaries are among my most used books. I also have five straight thesauruses. A thesaurus comes in very handy when you’re at a loss for words or rather tired of using the same word or words over and over again. J. I. Rodale’s The Synonym Finder is or was supposedly the largest, most comprehensive thesaurus then in print (1986).
One of my favorite reference books, which I recently acquired, is The Barnhart Concise Dictionary Of Etymology: The Origins Of American English Words. I’m fascinated by the origin or words, as I mentioned in a previous blog. From time to time I pick up the book and just look through at the various word origins.
And no journalist’s reference library would be complete without good old Strunk & White’s The Elements Of Style. It’s a small little book, which packs a lot of punch. For example it has sections on using the active voice, omitting needless words, placing yourself in the background and words and expressions commonly misused, like “Thanking you in advance.”, unique and farther, further.
About 1987 I bought Funk & Wagnall’s New Encyclopedia at IGA. It came out two or three volumes at a time. It was fun collecting them as I soon discovered that sometimes one IGA would have some volumes that other IGAs didn’t have yet. Today all the IGA stores I bought the encyclopedia at are closed. I also bought for a time the annual year books as well the two volume dictionary, which is still heavily used, and the atlas. I still refer to them from time to time and still prefer a physical set of encyclopedia to an electronic set.
When my local library owned it, I used to periodically borrow A Treasury Of Great Reporting edited by Louis L. Snyder and Richard B. Morris. While published in 1949, it is still a classic book on reporting with the earliest example dating from 1587. Surprisingly it does not mention the Titanic or the assassination or the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, it does cover the American civil war, World Wars I and II and numerous other stories. It is chiefly American focussed with a few English stories.
Other reference books I have for writing include: various versions of the Bible,  Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules Of Writing, The Huffington Post Complete Guide To Blogging, Facing The Line: Writers On Life And Craft, The Business Writer’s Handbook Ninth Edition, James J. Kilpatrick’s The Writer’s Art, The Handbook Of Good English and another old standby H. W. Fowler’s A Dictionary Of Modern English Usage, which although dated (The edition I have came out in 1952.) is still very useful.

Monday, July 14, 2014

On The Origin Of Words & Phrases

As a writer I love words. I find them fascinating although, I confess, I am not crazy about Scrabble. It stems not only from my being a writer, but being a not so great speller, my interest in dinosaurs and my love of history. I have 14 dictionaries and thesauruses in my library. This includes a recently acquired The Barnhart Concise Dictionary Of Etymology: The Origins Of American English Words.

A favorite word of mine as it has a nice sound is “hooligan”. It origins seem somewhat unclear. The Barnhart Concise Dictionary Of Etymology reports that it may have come from a fictional Irish family named Hooligan in a music-hall song of the 1890s. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary claims it comes from Patrick Hooligan a thief living in London in the 1890s. It may also have originated with the name of a London street gang of the 1890s.
Whatever its origins it has come to mean, according to Wikipedia “...a person, usually young, who belongs to an informal group and commits acts of vandalism or criminal damage, starts fights, and who causes disturbances but is not a thief.” It also refers to violence in sports.
Here’s one word I was surprised to learn how old it was – humankind. I thought it was a fairly recent invention, but apparently it dates from 1594, according to the online version the Merriam -Webster’s Dictionary Other sources give a later date of 1635-1645 from the phrase human kind.
A phrase I’m interested in since it involves my name is peter out or petered out. According to The Phrase Finder (  the phrase originated as a mining term in the mid 19th century in the United States. It’s earliest known use is in an article in the Milwaukee Daily Gazette, December, 1845 about an old prospector whom was comparing his dwindling life circumstances with his diminishing finds of lead sulphide. The site says there were other records of the use of peter to refer to dwindling mineral reserves in the 1840s in the United States.
The site discusses several possible reasons why peter was used in mining of which a reference to saltpeter (potassium nitrate) they believe is the most likely.
Some words have stayed the same, but the meaning has changed. One of the most notable is “gay”. Gay originally referred to joyous or merry, but has since, at least in North America, become primarily associated with homosexual.
The word man has undergone a similar change. Originally it meant all of humanity, but has since come to mean just male. Originally too man had prefix in front of it to denote a male, but only woman has retained its prefix. An article on IO9 ( mentions how quickly the use of man has changed. In the original Star Trek series in 1960s said, “to boldly go where no man has gone before”. Twenty years later in the revised Star Trek the phrase had been changed “to boldly go where no one has gone before”. This was not a reflection of political correctness, but rather of changing meaning. There are still some people today who insist on using the term “man” to mean all of humanity, but for the most part that meaning of the word is now archaic.
It is this changing and introduction of new words and phrases and meanings that continue to attract me to the language.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Goodbye Magazines

Is it time for writers to give up on magazines? A growing number, including myself, think it has. In a nutshell many feel they’re not worth the hassle and the low pay.

                  When invented in the 19th century magazines were cutting edge. They were a step up, so to speak, from newspapers. They provided a more in depth look at various subjects. They educated people about Some specialized on certain subjects. For example when the electric railway industry blossomed a century ago trade journals were created for it providing useful news and information. They were also a place where novels were serialized and provided an outlet for short stories. Today, for the most part, this is long gone.
                  In the 20th century one thinks of such great magazines as Punch, National Geographic, Life, Mc Calls, to name a few. Here in Canada we had Saturday Night. Macleans and Chatelaine. Magazines were a must read. Today magazines, like newspapers, are under siege from t.v. and the Internet. Simply put magazines are not keeping up, although they certainly are trying.
                  From a writer’s point of view magazines have gone from good to bad to horrible. Where to start? Well the pay hasn’t increased since about the 1960s or maybe the 1970s and yet demands on writers have. Most magazines now want all rights and some are demanding a waiver of moral rights and they aren’t paying for these extra rights. Prior to this writers could make badly needed extra money by selling an article to one magazine and then turning around and selling it to one or two or even more other magazines. The acquisition of all rights kills this. Most contracts in the past were negotiable today they’re take it or leave it.
Some publications pay on publication, which leaves the writer stuck if they don’t run it, as two such publications did with me. Try going into a store and taking something, like a stove or even a bag of chips, and saying I’ll pay for if I use it. Some magazines are now passing on some of their costs to the writer, without increasing the pay, like, for example, demanding that you cover them in the event of a lawsuit.
                  Then there are the insane things some magazines do. Writer’s Digest, which proclaimed itself the leading magazine for writers, for years had a one or two page rambling form rejection. This continued after one writer did an article on the check list form rejection.
                  Too many magazines talk down to writers, like calling the writer by their name, but signing their reply with something like “The Editors” or “Editorial Staff”. Another way is for some to use a condescending tone, treating a professional writer like an idiot.
                  And how do you deal with this? I queried a magazine I’ve written for several times proposing to do a piece on the 100th anniversary of the extinction of the passenger pigeon. The editor told me it would be more appropriate for their online site, whose editor told me it would be more appropriate for the print magazine. Scream!
                  Then there was one editor who wrote an article for a major writer’s magazine complaining about the poor writers he was dealing with. However, when I checked out the magazine I found they paid poorly, demanded all rights and paid on publication. In my view the editor got exactly what the magazine deserved.
                  This isn’t to say that writers’ are perfect. We aren’t. Even the best of us make mistakes, as do the best editors. And there are too many amateurs, in the negative sense of the word, who are willing to write for free, who fail to study the publication and who can barely put two sentences together.
                  What is badly needed is a good shakeup to bring magazines kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Pay needs to be substantially increased, contracts need to be made more equitable to the writer, writers need to be treated with respect and a system of cultivating new quality professional writers needs to be put in place. Until that time comes writers will continue to abandon magazines and content will suffer.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Drawing The Line

Legend has it that at the siege of the Alamo in Texas Colonel William Barret Travis drew a line and asked all those who were with him to cross it, while the rest could leave. Only one man had the courage to hang back and leave. As journalists we all must know when to draw the line and when to hang back rather than cross it.
Hopefully one line where we’ll hang back is when a potential employer wants us to work for no or very little pay. I used to hear a lot about these work houses where writers were invited to bid on a project with the obvious objective to pay the writer as little as possible. Hopefully they have gone away, but somehow I doubt it.
There are others who will ask writers to work for nothing, while everyone else gets paid. Here’s a link to Harlan Ellison on paying the writer. Ellison rightfully says that too many amateur writers who are willing to write for free undermine the professionals.
Hopefully we’ll hang back on employers who treat us shabbily, who demand all rights for little pay, who pay on publication and who demand that we reimburse them in case of a lawsuit. Generally speaking these are amateurs and if we’re trying to be professional we should ignore them.
Hanging back from other lines very much depends on our own values. As a Christian I won’t write for pornographic publications or those which deny the reality of climate change or who are outright anti-God. In writing I won’t take God’s name in vain or use Christ’s name as a swear word. I also won’t use such words as nigger, Paki, fagot or fatso as they are very disrespectful. In fact I generally avoid swearing, except if I were to quote someone. However, I don’t consider the term “bull shit” to be swearing or using the word “shit” instead of euphuisms like “pooh” or “defecation”. To me these are fluffy nonsense.
As webmaster of Peter’s Place Of Freelance Journalism I take bigger liberties than as a writer. Why? For one thing my site is aimed at all journalists and not just those who consider themselves Christian and for another if I limited it to just those media that upheld to certain restrictive values I’d probably end up with just a few hundred links instead of a few thousand. So therefore I include links to pornographic publications, those that promote freer sexual values than I hold, to publications that pay on publication and demand all rights. I also link to media promoting other faiths, including atheism.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some media where I’ll draw the line and hang back from. There are. I will not knowingly link to media that out and out promote satanism, racism, pedophilia or are anti-environment.  I also will not knowingly link to any extremist media.
The bottom line is all of us as journalists must know our own lines to hang back from otherwise we fail both ourselves and our audience.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Peak Oil Part III

There is a tragic story of a town house being on fire. The smoke detector went off the parents got up and went downstairs where a fire has started. The parents come downstairs with their young son. The child, seeing the fire, gets scared, escapes and runs upstairs and ducks under the bed and is killed in the fire. The media is like that child. We see the triple issues of peak oil, environmental degradation and depression, get scared and run and hide. And journalists aren’t the only one, politicians, businesses and individuals just don’t want to deal with this.

Your typical non specialized news media have general news reporters and specialized reporters for such things as sports, business, crime, health, entertainment and politics (federal, provincial/state and local). Totally ignored and considered optional at best is the environment, which includes energy. (In all fairness energy is also included in business, but there it is treated strictly in terms of money and growth.) Heck lotteries receive far more coverage than energy and the environment. Yet our economy and our very lives depend on a healthy environment and good supply of clean energy.

News tends to be framed in terms of whether it is good or bad for the economy, it’s impact on congestion, the number of jobs it will create and whether it promotes growth or not. Energy use is usually ignored and the environment, if considered at all, tends to be secondary to economic growth and jobs. Journalists, like most everyone else, put economic growth and job creation ahead of everything else, including our very lives. Basically short term thinking with no thought or care to the consequences of our behavior.

A good example of this is that auto shows are covered in depth, while bicycle shows, if covered at all, tend to be covered only briefly as form of recreation or entertainment. Another example boat shows also are covered in depth and while boats are recreation they’re big business. New and wider roads are primarily viewed in terms of their impact on congestion and on growth as well as how much they will cost. The underlying assumption is they’re good. The long term impact on energy and the environment is totally ignored.

I saw a technology piece on t. v. recently telling how, among other things, that we will soon be able to have our refrigerators communicate with us to tell us we’re out of milk, for example. The implication was that this was a good thing. No questioned otherwise or what its total impact would be.

When we want to journalists can do an excellent job of investigative reporting. Take for example Paul Bliss of CTV, who uncovered the Ornge scandal. Ornge, for those unfamiliar with it, is an Ontario air ambulance service and the scandal basically involved overspending. Bliss did an excellent job of uncovering and reporting on this. Now where are the Paul Blisses on energy and the environment?

In all fairness good reporting does take time, space and money. However, it also takes good imagination. If we change our priorities the time, space and money are there. It would mean cutting back on sports and entertainment, including stories about lotteries and recreation. Notice I said cut back, not cut out.

A good first step would be for the major media outlets to assign a reporter to cover energy and the environment. Another first step would be to start asking the hard hitting questions that need to be asked of things, like should we be doing this or that and what are the energy and environmental costs of doing or not doing something rather than just looking at the short term economic costs and benefits. It should also be a requirement for journalists to take courses on science, energy and the environment.

Other steps walk, bicycle and use public transit to get to and from work and on our jobs as much as possible. Where a car or a van is still required car share. Use motor vehicles that are as energy efficient as possible. Do what we can to make our homes and places of work as energy efficient and as easy on the environment as possible. All this helps our pocket books as well as helping ensure we’ll still be able to eat, drink and breath tomorrow.

We, as journalists and as a society, need to start putting life ahead of short term gain and pleasure, and we need to do it very soon.

Here’s a link to an update on an earlier blog on newspaper paywalls. Some newspapers are now removing them as being counter productive:
“Paywalls Come Tumbling Down”

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Peak Oil Part II

When I was a child I read a children’s story about a circus train. The giraffe chewed a hole in the roof of one of the passenger cars. The giraffe and all the other animals in that car got out and up on the roofs the train. They danced and played until they came to a tunnel. Then one by one they were forced back through the hole of the car they had come from. This being a children’s story no one was hurt. However, in the real life story of hitting declining oil production millions of people will die and many others will be very seriously injured.

Just think of how VERY oil dependent we are. Phones, computers, food and beverage packaging, rugs, storage boxes, medicine, clothing, furniture, pens, etc. are all made with oil. (Plastic comes from oil.) We use mechanized agriculture, which uses pesticides and fertilizers. We use oil for transportation. Even the lowly bicycle needs oil for lubrication and manufacture. Yes we do recycle far more than we used to, but it takes more energy to recycle things than it does to simply reuse them. For example a glass bottle can be reused an infinite number of times unless it broke, versus a plastic bottle than can only be used once.

So you can see by this that it will be VERY difficult to get off oil (and natural gas and coal). But get off it we will. We won’t have a choice. We should have started 20 years or more ago. Actually we shouldn’t have wasted as much oil and gas as we have, but we did.

So what will a post peak oil world look like? It depends on how quickly we face up to the problem and start reducing our energy use. The longer we delay the worse it will be.

The worst case scenario would be billions of people starving to death, losing most if not all of our technology, modern medicine, communications and transportation, losing clean running water and electricity. Our homes and businesses would be heated by wood, if at all. Our food would be locally grown, some of it where the suburbs now are, and we would be an agrarian society, dominated by feudal lords. However, it would be cleaner and quieter than today.

Another possibility is that we decide to deal head on with the problem and rapidly reduce our energy demand, which may allow us to continue to heat by oil and gas and keep at least some of our technology and modern medicine, communications and transportation, as well as electricity and clean running water. This would buy us time while we develop alternative and more efficient forms of energy.

Since the first part of my look at peak oil was posted I’ve learned about two realistic alternative fuel possibilities. One is using thorium in place of uranium for nuclear power plants. It’s very common and is safer than uranium and cannot be made into a bomb. I understand that it could be used in Cando reactors without much problem. (See Thorium Video I and Thorium Video II")

Another alternative fuel possibility is something called sun-gas. Basically it uses parabolic mirrors for high heat in a chemical reactor to make solar fuel cells. (See http://Sun-Gas I) These would produce about 20% less greenhouse gas emissions than natural gas. (See Sun-Gas II) Since it would be fuel cells solar power would be both storable and transportable. Sun-gas may be rolled out as early as next month in some western American states.

So what to do? Here are steps you can take both individually and collectively where you work, play or worship. You can start talking and thinking about it. Write your elected representatives to ask them what they’re doing to prepare. Write businesses to urge them to reduce their oil and natural gas use. Urge your place of worship to start dealing with the issue. Start growing at least some of your own food. It’s healthier and you know where it comes from. Walk, bicycle and use public transit whenever possible and if you’re already doing it do so more. If you have a motor home get rid of it the same goes if you have more than one car. Reduce heating oil, natural gas and electric use. Add insulation to your house or business. Learn new skills. Reduce using plastic as much as possible and start reusing things.

And if things don’t get as bad as I and other fear they could using less energy and making yourself and your business reduces your costs and your impact on the environment.

I know this is scary (It is for me.), but forewarned is forearmed. In time we’ll make it.

Here are some links to useful sites:

Sectors Of The American Economy Most At Risk From Peak Oil

Winning The Oil Endgame

Former BP Geologist On Peak Oil

Preparing For A Post Peak Life, part of There are three videos totalling about 60 minutes. The first 8 minutes of the first video explains things in a nutshell. There information on peak oil on this page. It is run by André Angelantoni, whose biography can be read on the site.

Part three will look at specifically how journalists are part of the problem and how we can be part of the solution.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Peak Oil Part I

There’s an old saying with regards to falls from great heights that it’s not the fall that kills you, but the sudden stop at the end. Well for roughly the past 65 years we’ve been falling without realizing it and we’re about to reach the sudden stop at the end. What I’m referring to is the era of cheap oil, which is about to come to an abrupt end. Notice I did not say the end of oil, but the end of cheap oil.

Originally there were an estimated two trillion barrels of oil in the ground. Of this we’ve used roughly half. No problem you say we’ve still got at least 50 years before we have to start worrying. Wrong. What we’ve used is the easy to get at and cheap to produce oil. Think Saudi Arabia, Texas and southern Alberta. It costs roughly $10 a barrel or less to refine. Compare this to off shore drilling, the tar sands and the oil shale, which cost roughly $70-$80 a barrel or more to refine.

Peak oil also means peak production. Production is believed to have peaked about 2008 and has now plateaued. Currently we use between 80 and 83 million barrels of oil per day. That is about where production is at. It is expected to start declining as early as next year. (see The Guardian ) And we will never use all the remaining oil because it will be too costly to extract in terms of both money and energy. As one person so aptly put it, the human body is made up of roughly 70% water, but all we need to do is to lose 15% of that and we die.

Here’s a short video on Peak Oil - How Will You Ride The Slide? The comment above comes from the comments to this video.

There are some who say that new extraction technologies allow us to get more oil from existing wells. That is certainly possible as an article in the May, 2013 issue of The Atlantic shows the Kern River field in California was estimated to have just 47 million barrels of recoverable oil left in 1949 after 50 years of extraction. By 1989 945 million barrels were removed and an estimated 647 million barrels remained. By 2009 1.3 billion additional barrels of oil had been extracted and an estimated 600 million barrels remained. The field will inevitably run dry, but the question is when.

Others point to oil shale and claim that could save the day. Well the Bakken field in North Dakota deplete fast and estimates I’ve seen say this field could peak between 2017 and 2020. Unlike conventional or offshore fields shale oil fields do not plateau, but immediately start dropping once they reach their peak of production. So they could at best give us roughly an additional 5 or 6 years before the consequences of peak oil truly set in.

There is also the possibility that methane hydrate (crystalline natural gas) could take us off oil and coal and thus save our economies. However, there are major problems with this. It is found in low concentrations on the continental slopes. Since it is in a form similar to dry ice that means it has to be mined rather than drilled. Then there’s the problem of transporting it to shore. Finally it’s very costly.

The Japanese have been working at this for the past twenty years and estimate that it will take at least another ten years to finally bring this to production. So assuming they are right that would still leave a gap of as much as ten years between when oil production starts to decline and when methane hydrate starts to take over.

Again I refer you to the article in The Atlantic on this issue.

One thing that will definitely delay the consequences of the permanent decline in oil production is a new great depression. As I’ve discussed in previous blogs (see The New Great Depression) we’re facing a debt bubble, which is about to implode and will begin to happen this year. It will trigger a world-wide depression that will, unfortunately, be worse than the 1930s depression. If the depression suppresses oil demand deep enough and long enough it could delay the fall in production by perhaps as much as twenty years.

Let’s say that the depression reduces world demand from the current 83 million barrels a day of oil to 63 million barrels over 15 years. In 15 years time as global economies recover and oil demand starts to rise again we could find that we now have a permanent maximum production of say 70 million barrels of oil a day and declining. If we haven’t begun to take serious steps to wean ourselves off oil we will once again be facing very serious trouble.

What to do about peak oil, how to cope and the post peak world may look like is the subject of my next blog post in about a month’s time.

Copyright 2014 Peter D. A. Warwick