Ed Ellingson's Blog

About Ed Ellingson

I’ve updated my company website, http://www.zerrecon.com so that it has all the business information, and this site is just for family stuff and fun interests.


Ed Ellingson

Regarding the energy aspects of this blog, I’m an engineer who has spent all of my working life on utilizing energy for people, but have lately developed a concern for “peak oil” and the changes we seemed poised to make as energy becomes more expensive.  This is certainly complex, and I don’t pretend to know all of the answers, but I do have a certain insight that I think is important.

That insight comes from having lived through much of the transition from human and horse-powered farming of the 1940’s to the extremely mechanized farming of today, with it’s reliance on fossil fuels.  All of the things that we went through during that period seem to be the things that are revisited as people talk about our brave new sustainable world; things like eating organic and local, personal gardens, wind power, using less energy, recycling, even just reducing.  Most of the things that are talked about as our future are really things of our recent past.  I believe that to look to the future we need to look seriously at this recent, fossil fuel driven, past.  “Fracking” has changed the short-term outlook on energy supply, but the fundamental problems still exist.

I think it’s important for the people who have lived through this to tell their stories.  The kids today don’t understand what it was like when your individual power output was important, or to live through a Great Depression.  If the stories aren’t forthcoming, ask for them.  Some of these folks need to be prodded a bit to tell their stories, possibly because some of these stories aren’t very pleasant.

As an engineer, I think I have a different perspective and that’s the reason for my writing this and going out and giving presentations.  I’ve worked in utilizing energy for 40 years now and have a good understanding of what it takes to make things and do things, how to compare alternatives, and how to analyze investment opportunities.

The message I’m trying to convey in this is that everything is changing; some things have already changed.  If you have some rules you’ve acquired, rules like, “things will get better,” “housing values will always rise,” “the standard of living will continue to improve,” “we might hit a bump here and there, but the stock market in general will always rise,” “I’ll live longer than my parents, and my children will live longer than me,” these rules have very likely been turned around.  We need to come to grips with this, because that’s the new reality.  It’s difficult; it’s complicated.  I I’m still struggling to come to grips with the coming changes, what the major ones will be, how they will play out, when the key events will occur.

That’s why I’m writing this.

Look through these pages.  Try to understand what life was like before fossil fuels had their affect.  Try to understand the changes that we went through during this heyday of fossil fuels, and then try to imagine what will happen when there isn’t enough fuel to go around.

Let me know what you think.

Edward F. Ellingson

9 Comments so far
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I was led here by your posting on the LinkedIn Oil Drum Readers’ Group. I like your historical perspective, putting the present in context.

Your latest post, “We’re already in the transition”, resonates with me. I’ve been following the Transition Initiatives movement for a while, and am now involved in starting an initiative in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles, where I live. (There are others in the L.A. area, some a few years old.) I’d be interested in your take on Rob Hopkins’ work and other positive responses.

In case you haven’t seen it, I recommend Chris Martenson’s Crash Course (chrismartenson.com), for another good perspective on the situation. In particular, he gives a good account of the fundamental limitations of the debt-based economy.

Finally, there are many economists who have been working on systems that aren’t fundamentally tied to growth; look at names like Hawken, Daly, and especially Schumacher and his followers.

Speaking of Schumacher, check out the recent posts on thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.

Comment by Don Dwiggins

I’m just getting some time now to respond to your question about the “Transition” movement. I like the movement, and am impressed that people have thought about the coming changes and are making a positive response to it. Still, I have some misgivings about it. I haven’t sorted this through in my own mind yet, but let me give you some thoughts.

1. Taking some positive steps can help people realize that they can do it, and give them a little faith in themselves when things get tough. I grew up doing a lot of physical labor on the farm, and I know I could go back to that sort of lifestyle if I had to. Not many people have the sort of experiences that could give them this confidence. Even if we’re just taking some baby steps now, that’s a good thing.

2. It’s really hard to change to a simpler lifestyle on your own. I think of the school picture of my grandmother in 1903; the little girls in front are not wearing shoes. It’s pretty hard for one family to change to a lifestyle where they simply cannot afford to give shoes to their children, when “everyone else” can. Is it child abuse to deprive your kids of shoes and make them work in the fields? Might you be locked away as mentally unstable? Yet if “everyone” is in the same boat, going barefoot (or wearing homemade clothes, or working hard, or having homemade toys, or sleeping 10 people in a room) is OK.

3. Even groups of people have a difficult time living a pre-fossil-fuel lifestyle. The Amish communities come to mind. They have trouble within the groups deciding how much of the fossil fuel world to embrace and what to reject. Outside of their own community they are certainly looked upon as out-of-mainstream.

4. It takes a really long time to change the infrastructure. We can’t just wait until there’s a gasoline shortage and then start building electric cars. Could we possibly build 100 million battery-electric cars in the next 15 years? That’s a little over 1/3 of our 246 million cars on the road. How long would it take to build 50 nuclear power plants? 15 years? 25 years?

5. If we do set out to change the infrastructure, the obsolete items are worthless. If we really set out on a course to make battery-electric cars, that pretty much means that gasoline-engine cars are worthless, that gasoline stations are worthless, that factories to make gasoline engines are worthless, etc. How do we handle something that significant?

Comment by edellingson

We have spent the last 100 years replacing manual labor with petroleum, especially in local economies and on land.
This has caused the land to be devoid of eyes and hands to care for it, while making us dependent on corporations for ‘food products’ instead of ourselves for food, while also destroying jobs for millions of people and communities which supported those people’s work.
I recommend these two articles also:


from Soul of Capitalism:

As technology increasingly displaces labor in production processes, the depressing pressures on wage incomes intensify while the wealthy minority accumulates a still greater imbalance of power. The economic danger is an eventual failure of available demand when workers lack the incomes to purchase what the economic system can produce. When these conditions develop, the government will face unbearable pressures to enlarge the welfare state and to intervene more profoundly in the free-running economy.


Comment by auntiegrav

Thanks for those good links.

Here’s a new one: Tipping Point: Near-Term Systemic Implications of a Peak in Global Oil Production
An Outline Review
David Korowicz
Feasta (go to: feasta.org)
& The Risk/Resilience Network
15th March

Comment by edellingson

I agree with Don about Chris Martenson’s Crash course. It is very good, especially if you download and use the worksheets to evaluate your situation.
Most people who are familiar with the current status of peak oil and peak economics can probably skip to the last episode of the crash course and watch the summation.

Also recommended is Dmitri Orlov’s talk here: http://vimeo.com/5699779

Comment by auntiegrav

I´m also an energy engineer and have worked all my life in an energycompany in Stockholm mostly with district heating. And in the last couple of years I have become more and more concerned with the the tree E Energy, Economy and Ecology. I have joined ASPO Sweden to inform about our situation.

Comment by Bengt Randers


Do you have any comments on the energy situation in Sweden? How are people there responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

I live in Wisconsin, an area that does not have any fossil fuel sources, or uranium. We therefore import virtually all forms of energy, and people are concerned about gasoline shortages.

Comment by edellingson

Hi Ed, It’s Dan again…
I’ve been spending some time here:
F.G. is about a total picture of transitioning people to living differently in many ways, with the focus there on economics initially, and the psychological links we follow from our dependency on credit and the monetary values we hold as morals. Check it out sometime.

Comment by Auntiegrav

Hi, Ed! Our discussion yesterday got me thinking and frankly, scared me. I don’t think the general population even has a clue we are in a “situation”. I think what you are doing is marvelous; good luck and I hope things turn around before we’re 100 years old. But, only people can do that; it just won’t “happen”.

Comment by Karen Rechlicz

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