Did you know energy is free, and Peak Oil is not dead? That comes from a French expert in technology, energy, and climate, Jean-Marc Jancovici. Jean-Marc co-founded Carbone 4 consultancy, and The Shift Project. He advises, writes books, and lectures mostly in French, but his ideas resonate with American writers like Richard Heinberg.
We have a special treat for you this week: the world premiere of an English language in-depth radio interview with Jean-Marc Jancovici. Jean-Marc is well known in Europe and beyond. He a Professor, an author of several books, the latest being “Sleep quiet until 2100, and other misunderstandings about climate and energy” (French only, translation pending?). Jancovici is also a member of ASPO France, the Association for the Study of Peak Oil.
In a Foreword to the book by Bernard Durand, Jean-Marc writes
“The only question, so to say, is when the peak occurs (and should we trigger it for environmental reasons, or wait for it to happen for other reasons?), at what level, and with what consequences. The oil production of the North Sea peaked in 2000, and the world production of conventional oil (everything except tar sands and shale oil) peaked in 2006, so this is no virtual process!”
JEAN-MARC ON YOU TUBE
The only other English language presentation by Jancovici that I could find is this You tube video: “Can we save energy, jobs and growth at the same time?” posted January 30, 2018.
Here are some of my notes from that video, and we discuss these things in this radio interview:
Jean-Marc says people have no idea what energy is, or confuse it with their electric or gas bill. “Energy is by definition in physics what quantifies change”. “Energy is what enables you to change the environment, by definition“.
THE MACHINE AS ENERGY CONVERTER
“Using energy” is an incorrect expression. “Because of the law of conservation, ‘using energy’ is actually extracting energy from the environment and using it to put a converter into action.”
The first energy is chemical energy, where food is converted by our own body to enable us to do thing. Now we add oil, gas, waterfalls, uranium, wind…the “converter” is called a “machine”. Therefore using more energy really means “using more machines”. These machines create greater flows to change the environment.
Our bodies can only produce about .5 kWh (one half kilowatt hour, or 100 kWh per year with bodily mechanical energy) – an amount Jean-Marc says is ridiculous. One liter of gas has 10 kWh of direct energy, or 2-4 kWh power through machines, which is about 100 days of human labor in a single liter of gasoline.
Energy + machines = transformation of the environment.
Even a slave will cost 10 to 100 times more than having a machine. That is why slavery has disappeared, not any moral reason. Machines are cheaper and easier.
In reality, the average French worker (he says) has the mechanical equivalent of 500 slaves, while upper class incomes may have 1,000 or more slaves.
“TELL ME HOW MUCH ENERGY YOU USE, AND I WILL TELL YOU THE WAY YOU LIVE.”
– Jancovici on Radio Ecoshock
“All resources are free”. He says we did not create the oil, gas, or coal. We “found it”. Like solar, or wind, it comes free.
“I don’t believe a single second that we are going to keep the standard of living that we have today on Earth, with seven billion people, and just renewables. You can just forget that. It will never happen. Never. We can live only with renewables with five hundred million people, and the standard of living two centuries ago. And we know, because we have already had this experience once. That we know is possible.”
“Because the energy at large doesn’t grow, anything that someone wins is something someone else will lose.” Jancovici paints a rather Darwinian world, where we expand when there is energy, and decline when energy declines. This makes us a secondary agency, not only to machines, but to energy itself. To maintain billions of us, we seem to have become fossil fuel parasites.
A few weeks ago I spoke on radio with Dr. Tim Garrett from the University of Utah. He has also calculates, and even expressed in a physics formula, the direct relationship between energy and wealth, or call it GDP.
Jean-Marc says: “We can live only with renewables with five hundred million people, and the standard of living two centuries ago.” Is half a billion people our real target to be a sustainable species? Is there any way to get there in time, that isn’t horrible? You can explore more ideas on the real “sustainable population” on Earth at Jack Alpert’s site too.
Richard Heinberg has shown, in books like “Snake Oil“, the American shale gas industry is less a production system and more a financial Ponzi scheme. Even from the business press now, I hear growing fears that the towering pyramid of bank and stock loans to keep drilling hundreds of thousands of wells will eventually collapse. Jean-Marc has been saying the same in Europe.
THE MYTH OF “CLEAN” ELECTRONIC LIFE
Jean-Marc and his group are working on a report about the true cost of “saving energy” by working and living online. He says it’s a myth that electronic life doesn’t use energy and materials. Just Producing a laptop means emitting half a ton of CO2 into the air.
This is affirmed in a new study just published at the end of October 2018 by Radio Ecoshock guest Camilo Mora. It shows that the energy required for the virtual currency “Bit coin” alone can push global warming above 2 C in a couple decades! I’m contacting Dr. Mora in Hawaii to get the details on that science.
In our interview, Jancovici says the world communication and IT sector is an “emission enabler”. The IT/telecom system amounts to 4% of the world’s emissions (currently equal to emissions of world truck fleet) – but IT emissions are growing at 10% a year! Don’t forget a lot of those server farms and “clouds” are feeding straight off coal fired electricity! There is more to come on this from Jancovici, and I’ll keep you posted.
PEAK OIL = BREXIT?
Jancovici says in our interview and elsewhere that “Brexit” (the exit of the UK from the European Union) was the result of decreased energy supply to Europe. Coal production in Europe has been in decline since the 1980’s – and it’s not easy to import massive quantities of coal. Just building new coal ports takes more than a decade. Formerly, 60% of the natural gas for Europe came from the North Sea wells. But North Sea production peaked in 2005. Britain’s short life as an energy exporter has ended, and now the search for more energy resumes.
Jancovici is in favor of nuclear power (and France gets up to 75% of it’s electricity from nuclear). He thinks nuclear power will give a softer transition to the coming energy crunch. I disagree.
CLIMATE AND PEAK OIL
It’s been a long time since anyone raised again a race between declining availability of liquid fossil fuels (“peak oil”) and climate change. Since America increased it’s production, and other countries may also find frackable oil and gas deposits, the presumption is we will have enough energy to power our way directly into catastrophic climate change. In other words, we have been presuming that climate change “wins” the race to crash our civilization, and likely the world population. What does Jean-Marc think? He gives the example of scissors on your finger: one blade is energy supply, the other climate change, both pinch.
Jean-Marc’s latest book is “Dormez tranquilles jusqu’en 2100, et autres malentendus sur le climat et l’énergie“. That is loosely translated as “Sleep quiet until 2100, and other misunderstandings about climate and energy”. In our Radio Ecoshock interview Jean-Marc gives us an introduction in English to that work.
DOUBLE CLIMATE SCIENCE NEXT WEEK
Millions of us in the West of North America, Scandinavia, and Russia went through a summer of fear and smoke as record forest fires filled the air. Was that a burst of carbon to the atmosphere and what does it mean? Next week I’ll ask a widely known expert, Professor John C. Lin from the Land-Atmosphere Interactions Research Group at the University of Utah. Then we are off to England for another deep science interview with Dr. Edward Hanna from University of Lincoln. There is something going on over Greenland that can steer hurricanes into coastal cities in the United States and Canada. Oh yeah, and summer pressure in Greenland can rain-out the UK and Northern Europe and change the sea level. Be sure and tune in to Radio Ecoshock next week.
WHISTLING PAST THE GRAVE YARD: ECOSHOCK HALLOWEEN
Sometimes a phrase can appear out of the fog. This week it is an old English/American saying: whistling past the grave yard. There are two way to interpret this phrase. Wiktionary.org gives two definitions, and consider these as reactions to the horrors of climate change as well:
To attempt to stay cheerful in a dire situation; to proceed with a task, ignoring an upcoming hazard, hoping for a good outcome.
To enter a situation with little or no understanding of the possible consequences.
This came to me reading Tweets about Donald Trump. A Tweeter named Puesto Loco said Robert Mueller should tell the voting public if current candidates are suspected of crimes or even treason. If not, says Puesto, Muller “whistles past the future graves“.
Isn’t that what we do, as we drive around and shop? As we vote for climate deniers, because we like their other policies? As we whistle along through these fossil-powered illusions, the “future graves” may be millions on the other side of the world, or our descendants, or maybe ourselves.
Hey, it’s a Halloween horror show! Thank you for listening to Radio Ecoshock. Please continue to support my research and radio interviews with a donation of any amount.
I end the show with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins “Whistling Past the Graveyard” (Album “Portrait of a Man” 1994, written by Tom Waits in 1978).