The Roman Philosopher Lucius Anneaus Seneca (4 BCE-65 CE) was perhaps the first to note the universal trend that growth is slow but ruin is rapid. I call this tendency the "Seneca Effect."

Friday, November 11, 2022

How to talk about the gas crisis at a party

This is a real conversation that took place a couple of weeks ago although, of course, it is revised and rearranged in this written version. The protagonists are me and a friend of mine, Antonella. Imagine us holding glasses, at a party. 

Antonella: Ugo, you know, I was visiting a town on the coast, last week. They want to install a big regasification plan, there.

Ugo: I heard something about that.

A. The people, there, don't want the plant. They say it is dangerous. What do you think about that?

U. It might be dangerous, in some circumstances.

A. Yes, but do you think it is a real danger?

U. It is a long story.

A. But we need to do something. don't we? If we need energy, we need to import gas.

U. Really, it is not so simple.

A. Ugo, you never tell people what you really think. For once, could you tell me what's going on?

U (after having taken a deep breath). The situation is critical, to say the least. We won't be able to have new regasification facilities in Italy before 2023, if we are lucky. And even those planned won't be sufficient to replace Russian gas. Even if we were able to build more, liquid gas coming from overseas is much more expensive than Russian gas, and not infinite, either. If the war doesn't stop, we won't have sufficient gas to heat homes and to power the electric grid this Winter. And the Italian industry won't be competitive in the world market with the coming gas prices. That may mean a collapse of the economy, social disorders, and even mass starvation. And because of the leaks of methane, natural gas is worse than coal in terms of damaging the climate.

A ....................

U ...................

A. Of course, we can use hydrogen, right?

U. ............

She walks away, glass in hand.

I wrote a similar post about climate a few years ago, with the same person as the protagonist. 


  1. Is natural gas worse than coal because of the leaks? Could you be more specific?
    Thanks, Etienne

    1. Yes, because of that. I added it to the text

    2. See also this study by the Energy Watch group:

  2. "U. And even those planned [regasification facilities] won't be sufficient to replace Russian gas...."

    "...You know, Love, Russia's gas is a story by its own.

    In the 1970s, a very long gas pipeline has been constructed to bring Russia's gas all the way to Western Europe.

    If you have lived yourself in the Soviet Union at that time, you have never dared saying a word about that, or else - because the world then has been told - the fair deal is no more than - natural-gas-for-wheat...

    Finite Soviet natural gas exported, practically-unmetered - or massive starvation comes to Russia...

    Today, there is very little Russia's natural gas remaining - so we camouflage that with War...

    This is not something new, darling - when British coal started severely depleting, what's called the WW I has been started.

    When the US oil started severely depleting, what's called the 1973 October War between Arabs and Israel started...

    From that point on - Iraq, an oil rich nation somewhere on the map, for example - has hardly lived a year in peace, going from war to war...

    To have such a pleasant party, my dear - War must be going-on somewhere else - so finite natural gas, oil, coal are burned to fuel that war - and you, me and the world discussing it - in peace.. .

    See! Consider it a Musical Chairs Game - they play it and the world discussing it..."

    So, don't worry too much about natural gas, oil or coal - listening to useless peakoilers saying non sense..."

    "Energy, like time, flows from past to future"


    1. " To have such a pleasant party my dear, war must be going on somewhere."
      Physics guy, " ... thermodynamics etc."
      Anyway, maybe, the best comment I've ever read.

    2. Agree. Not sure if it is true, but wonderfully written

  3. I hope Antonella walked away deep in thought, and not with desire to escape a nasty man.

    Every truth passes through three stages before it is recognized. In the first stage it is ridiculed, in the second stage it is opposed, in the third stage it is regarded as self-evident.

    Where is Antonella in all that?

    Will she return with more questions or will she flee the party?

    1. She is a truly brilliant lady. Unfortunately, she is embedded in an information system where these data do not appear.

    2. Let me add that she is not just brilliant, she is also able to ask questions on important matters. Something that most people can't do. But, again, most people are embedded in an "information soup" that contains very little that's really nutricious, but plenty of rotten morsels.

    3. I hope she bought a blanket, a parka, boots, and arctic cap the day after. But probably not.

  4. Most people in the west have been led to believe since birth that infinite growth can occur on a finite planet. From to teachers to family members etc. it is instilled that one can live 100 years and accomplish anything and everything beyond their dreams with hard work and determination.

    Wanting more and more is the human condition. To tell someone who has been primed their entire life that the trend of 'more' has hit inflection point and 'less' is the new trend forever, this feels like a deep betrayal to painful to explore.

    Most people I know are in two camps. 1) Fossil fuels are evil, renewable energy is gods gift, we will transition seamlessly and resume infinite growth. 2) There are X hundred or thousand of years of fossil fuel left for us, renewable energy transition is a hoax being perpetrated on us by evil people. We just have to get rid of the evil people to resume infinite growth.

    As complex systems start breaking down as deindustrialization gets underway, I'm not expecting any searching for truth or moments of clarity from most people. Maybe some. Expecting an epidemic of finger pointing and stomping on the social contract.

    Throw in very long lasting asymmetric WWIII resource wars and we'll have ourselves a party.


  5. I'm surprised to learn natural gas is more damaging to the enviroment than coal especially given how it's always touted as being a tranisition fuel and a way for us to reduce our carbon emissions. I suppose it comes down to how many methane leaks there are,how much worse methane is than carbon dioxide and if coal has any other pollutants. I know methane is a stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide but then I've also heard it doesn't stay in the atmosphere as long. Is there any reading you recomend on this?

    1. The story has become political, with the EU having officially declared that natural gas is a "sustainable" energy source. After that, anything goes, and you'll find plenty of obfuscation in the media about natural gae emissions, with the "fact-checkers" weighing in to defend the orthodoxy.

      It is a complex matter, because you have to consider several parameters, some of which are scarcely known. But you can check a good study by the German group "Energy Watch" that quantifies the story. According to them, natural gas can be 40% worse than coal in terms of emissions.

      As usual, nothing you read in the media can be trusted.

  6. Years ago knowing that fossil energy is finite made me as an honest broker express opinions that were unpopular. People don't like what is true if it challenges their reality. Long ago I realised that the whole construct was heading for the cliff with no brakes. Should I scream louder or use my energy to make alternative arrangements? I think after the vitriol Cassandra must have become hard of heart.

    1. The wise man cultivates discretion (never said by Lao Tzu)

  7. From the moment the war started in earnest, I instantly foresaw the economic cataclysm it entailed, and I still have to pinch myself that it is still to this day, not properly understood.
    This collapse sure ain't shaping up to take even a minimally 'graceful' form the way things are going ...
    Italy can at least consider itself lucky to have a warmer climate than most ...

  8. Funny. Reminded me of a recent news story from here in Australia where the CEO of an energy company "resigned" after telling the new government he couldn't make a gas plant run on 30% hydrogen. I imagine the conversation went like this:

    Energy Minister: We want you to make the plant run on 30% hydrogen to meet the green energy targets we promised the public at the election.

    CEO: That's impossible.

    Energy Minister: Let me rephrase that. Make the plant run on 30% hydrogen or you can look for another job.

    CEO: Good luck with that. See ya.

  9. People always crave hope-ium, 'Tech of Science' is the new god that will save us from having to live within the physical limits of the planet's resources - preferably within sustainable [circular] economies if we want the children to have an equivalent future. The widespread delusion of even intelligent people is inexcusable given that when I was in school in the 80's I knew fossil fuels were a finite resource and we were burning through them as if they were renewable. Since I was a mediocre student, I think this information was available and obvious as well as properly taught to kids, but they grow up and insist on still believing in magic.

    Italians should retire in Sicily & the south in general if they can, to need as little heating as possible, in the same way that wealthy americans move to Florida.

  10. At parties, I usually just try and blame any gas crisis on the dog.

    1. and how many human being's would we lose if we must make a renewable energy transition from the ground up and it must be before 2050 other wise climate change will kill us all off it is impossibe we won't make it at our current traject we are to slow

  11. are we gonna make it with renewable energy alone ? or can we get gas from putin again after the war ?

  12. Don't panic everyone.
    Governments with soveriegn currencies will print money to give to oil companies so they can squeeze the 1.4 trillion barrels left out of the earth, take on the debt, then just write it off before starting again. Everyone else will freeze/starve/get bombed out of existence. The soveriegn countries will become totalitarian oligarchies, protesters will be destroyed, and everyone else will pretend everything is ok, driving electric cars to the shopping malls.