While We Wait…

I had planned to drop a rather large post today on the thorny topic of collapse. But it’s important enough that I should not rush it and make sure it has all the key pieces I want to convey, and that no sloppiness on my part results in misinterpretations that I later regret.

So what shall we do instead? Hey, I know! Have I mentioned the free textbook I wrote? A few times? Are you getting tired of my plugs? Apologies if so, but what feedback I have received thus far encourages me to believe that it’s a valuable contribution to the world and not intrinsically a flop. People are loving the margin notes, somewhat to my surprise.

However, in order to have a meaningful impact, I would want to do substantially better than the (currently) 7,000 site visits and 3,000 PDF downloads. Sure, many textbook authors might jump for joy at such numbers in less than two months. But millions of people would likely appreciate the message and have enough background to get something out of reading it. From the statistics, it is clear that even most Do the Math visitors have themselves not checked it out yet. I get that it’s a textbook, so: ugh. Who wants to take on that kind of chore? But A) it’s free, B) people report being surprised at how readable it is, and C) the intro provides a graphic (below) that offers a few reading paths that may make it less daunting.

Suggested reading paths through the textbook

Also, no one has yet submitted a review on Lulu. Even if you have not ordered a print copy, the free PDF material is the same so that a review on Lulu based on the electronic version would be perfectly appropriate. Here is the corresponding to-do list to help encourage a larger readership:

  1. Check out the PDF online.
  2. Download a local copy for keeps (from same site).
  3. Tell others about it who you think could be interested (tweet, facebook, e-mail, etc.).
  4. Consider helping others appreciate the pros and cons of the book by reviewing it on Lulu.
  5. If using it in a classroom context, also consider reviewing for the Open Textbook Library.
  6. Leave feedback for me on any errors or suggested improvements so the next release is better.

Hopefully, you’ll have the bandwidth to do something on the list while waiting for the big post next Tuesday. Thanks so much for your support!

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18 thoughts on “While We Wait…

  1. I'm eagerly awaiting my print copy. I will try to leave a review on lulu when it arrives.

  2. Review to Lulu posted:

    In the history of working on the environment a few books stand out as clarifying our understanding so there's a before and after that book. "Limits to Growth" and "Sustainability Without the Hot Air" are two examples. Tom Murphy's book is another.

    Tom approaches the most relevant issues around energy from basic, simple scientific principles. Mathematics is the science of nature. This book doesn't hide the math. It teaches it. Tom doesn't just present facts and figures. He shows what's going on. There are meaningful quantitative answers to will ethanol help, can hydroelectric help much, and what about fusion. He puts it all together so we can compare them. His passion to understand and support others learning comes through on every page.

    Tom also clarifies that the numbers are only input to our choices, which rely on our values. Absent a book like this, we can only guess on hunches. This book enables us to think and act effectively.

    The book is readable, though structured as a textbook. It functions as a book to read. You can gloss the math parts in your first pass and still get the main ideas, though it takes more work than watching a TED talk. It will also affect you more.

    What would you rather focus on more than our environment?

  3. The reason we need to get off this planet is not to solve overpopulation, because it can't. It is to give freedom a chance to continue, because once a China-style high-tech autocracy happens planet-wide then it is basically indestructible. The vast distances of the Galaxy give us a chance, but we need to go high tech as fast as possible. Luckily you anti-nuclear folk are losing the debate.

    • It may actually be the opposite: that the vast distances prohibit any such move. I probably can't convince someone who believes strongly in a space future of my view that it is grossly unrealistic. So I'll terminate here rather than enter an unproductive exchange.

  4. So there, I left a review of your book on the Lulu site. My print copy was shipped on April 2 and seems to be taking quite a while to get here in Canada, I guess because of all the Covid delays. I read the pdf version on my computer but am waiting for the print version to work through the problems.
    I love the footnotes, they don't break up the reading and are a perfect way of introducing related little stories and comments. I do this all the time when I am talking to people and they get mad about it.
    One thing I would like to see is an updated version of your "Nation Sized Battery" post such as a "Nation Sized Li-ion Battery", you must have done the calculation and seen what the world is facing.
    I have been doing calculations like you do for years and really enjoy it. I have a hard time conveying the message that whether Climate Change is real or not we are going to have to convert to renewables eventually and a lot sooner than everyone thinks and the sooner the better so that we can have a little bit of gasoline left over to do a few things that are very hard to do with electricity (1).
    While waiting for your next post I am thinking of calculating the size of power line that would be necessary to deliver the electricity equivalent of 1M barrels of oil per day that is delivered by one of the pipelines that have been hacked or potentially shut down due to environmental concerns.

    (1) last week I pumped about 10 cubic metres of water from a creek into water tanks that were located 50 feet vertical and 600 feet horizontal from the pump location in the creek. I used a 3.5 hp pump and less than 1 gallon of gasoline. I can't imagine trying to do it without fossil fuels. You would get really tired just encouraging your servants to do it in a timely fashion.

    • Great—thanks for the nice review. Lulu can be sluggish, but it sounds like shipping is your real problem: that's a long wait—especially in our world of next-day expectations. But like your gas pump analogy, it probably still beats walking!

    • Yeah – hard to fathom doing manual labor when fuel is so cheap – a couple of bucks in this case vs about 1.5MJ of work (lifting 10 tons about 15m) – so about 400W for 1 hour – assuming you had a 100% efficient pump. That's something a trained athlete could manage. A reasonably fit person maybe 2 hours – a very good workout. By comparison – 1 US gallon has about 130MJ of chemical energy – so the overall conversion efficiency was a bit over 1%. It's amazing how we think of our system as "efficient" in terms of how many acres a single farmer can now manage when we're burning 10 calories of fuel in the process of getting the sun to give us 1 calorie of food.

      Of course besides manual pumps, there are also hydraulic ram pumps that can use the creek's flow to pump a smaller flow uphill. Maybe a bit fiddly to set up (depending on the available fall in the creek) and slow, but perhaps in a constrained future that might be an option.

  5. Tom, fantastic to see you're back on the same topic. I immensely enjoyed the do the math posts and was wondering if you changed your mind since. I'm downloading the pdf tomorrow to start reading the book. I came back to your site a few times over the years to see if you were still alive and posting.

  6. Nope, not tired of the plugs. And currently, I'm among the uncounted, as I have not downloaded nor purchased.

    But, despair is unwarranted. There's 0.00% chance I'll forget. I mean, I sustained my weekly habit of checking this blog through the hiatus, just in case you started up again. So sometime reasonably soon, the book will become a birthday present or whatever, and I'll read it.

  7. Dr. Murphy.

    I first found this blog while searching for data on pilot light gas consumption, immediately before your Eclipsed post. While you went silent, I read all of your other posts, along with the comments. I was quite impressed. Two weeks ago I read your text book…in two days. I only perused the equations and end of chapter questions/problems, but, as one quite familiar and also quite troubled by many of the same things you are, let me say this…you absolutely nailed it!!! The book is well written, well presented, and in the language of math and science to boot. The only similar book I've read is David J.C. Mackay's Sustainable Energy-Without the Hot Air, (I've seen his TED talk as well), but I do not remember his book addressing the breadth of topics as your book does. I also think Richard Heinberg and John Michael Greer currently do, and have done, a pretty good job of writing about our predicament. Greer's The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered, was impressive.

    Thank you again for your altruistic efforts to make a difference and let the world know that the wolf is alive and well and at the door. I did post a review. You are familiar with William Catton's works?

    • Wow; a two-day read! I accomplished similar feats in various proofreading stages, but I knew the content and concepts pretty well! Thanks for the kind words (and Lulu review), and for the favorable comparison to MacKay, with whom I had the pleasure of spending an afternoon once in Pasadena. I agree that Heinberg and Greer are gifted communicators (Greer's Elegy for the Age of Space is one of the best things I have ever read), and again thank you for grouping me with them. I am glad the book is landing well with some folks. Let's hope many more become aware of it and internalize some of the lessons.

  8. I've ordered the "Low Tech Magazine" book through Lulu and it took quite a long time coming, several months as I recall. I'm in Canada as well. As I understood at the time of ordering, the book isn't sent to print until the order is placed for it. May be different for this one. I'll will be ordering it later today as well as grabbing the pdf. Love the math!

  9. Dr. Murphy,

    Thank you for putting together such a wonderful and thorough work on these first principle matters of energy, economics and society.

    I have been thinking about a particular issue lately with energy systems lately related to energy density and was wondering if you might be able to help me? In the case of replacing 18 wheel long haul freight or a gas plant with a less energy dense source of energy, If I am right, it always requires more structure in terms of steel, copper, ect and total volume of material to use a lower density energy system. Doing the calculations of the raw weight and volume of lithium ion batteries to power a 18 wheeler the same distance as standard diesel tank can or the amount of steel scaffolding structure to hold the amount of PV or Concentrated Solar collection area to replace a natural gas power plant becomes quite absurd. Because the total amount of materials is required is much more following what seems like some sort of square-cube law for the size of a system a (recursive?) problem develops? When you talk about transitioning an entire economy to a less energy dense source, you end up with all these little systems requiring more mass and materials, but because more mass and material is required you need more energy to gather the increased mass which necessitates more energy gathering systems than you had before, just to accommodate the increased demands on materials. Maybe this isn't one, but it feels like a snake eating is own tail type problem and I can't seem to work my way through it. Are there any laws or concepts for this phenomena explained anywhere?

  10. Dr. Murphy, thanks for this; I've downloaded a copy and will discuss it on my blog once I have the chance to read it closely.

    More generally, it's great to see you blogging on energy topics again. With the price of oil ratcheting upwards and decisionmakers once again utterly clueless about energy issues, it all seems highly reminiscent of the early days of the peak oil movement fifteen or twenty years ago; I hope some of the mistakes made back then can be avoided this time around.

  11. Hi Tom,
    I haven't had a chance to read your textbook, but if you know of the site Naked Capitalism – http://www.nakedcapitalism.com – that would be the perfect place to plug your book, if you can get talking to Yves or Lambert Strether about it (the latter in particular, may enjoy discussing this with you).

    Would love to see you do an interview with them, and have that up on their site – plugging the book, too!

  12. Steve Keen is a Post-Keynesian economist who has also in the past looked to properly incorporate energy and physical into economic modelling – I don't get to follow his writing as much these days, as it's behind Patreon – but I'm sure he may be interested to interview and help plug your textbook (would regularly be very busy though):

  13. Tom, is an e-book formatted edition in the pipeline, or feasible? I tried to use the PDF on my Kindle because it's so much better for reading in bed or on the sailboat, but it didn't work well. This is pretty normal for PDFs, since they don't reflow and we can't alter the page size.

    I'll have a bit of a dig around and see if there's a way I can contribute in this direction, but I thought it worth checking in case you were already onto this.

    I have ordered a couple of copies from Lulu. Thank you for setting this up. I wrongly assumed the shipping to Australia would be absurd. It was in fact very reasonable.

    Thanks again,

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