Sunday, June 5, 2022

Robert Bryce Discusses Current Events with Doomberg

Nope, we're not in Kansas anymore.
This weekend Meredith Angwin (Shorting the Grid) sent me a Robert Bryce podcast addressing many of the energy concerns that I worry about. Bryce is an American author and journalist who writes about energy, politics and other topics. In this particular episode he interview a green chicken named Doomberg.

Doomberg is the nom de plume of one of the most successful new publications on Substack. In this episode, Doomberg’s famed green chicken icon explains the power of anonymity in a time of cancel culture, why politicians prefer platitudes over physics on energy, China, supply chains, the many problems with cryptocurrency, the “profound wave of onshoring” about to occur, and why “there’s going to be a lot of suffering” around the world in the coming months.

Doomberg self-identifies as a small team of consultants that come from industry. "We collectively have decades of experience in the heavy industry, commodity energy sectors. Doomberg is the anonymous publishing arm of that bespoke consulting firm."

The podcast was so insightful I wanted to share some excerpts in the hope that it might stimulate some thinking. Near the beginning Robert Bryce asks what it is about how being Anonymous that helps Doomberg get their message out.

Doomberg: When you write about provocative things, one of our objectives is to be provocative without being polarizing. That’s becoming harder and harder to do in our culture. It’s just a fact of life. And to the extent that being anonymous allows people to or forces people to attack your ideas, as opposed to attacking the person, right? That’s another huge benefit of being anonymous."

Bryce: Let me jump into this piece you wrote February 25. It’s time to get serious about energy. And this is the day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, trying to get serious about U.S. energy policy and preserve our place in the geopolitical order or be forced to stop play acting as a superpower. 

The laws of physics make our cards transparent to our political enemies. And it’s all too easy for them to call our bluff when they know in advance what we’re holding. So my question here is, why is it so easy or so facile for Pelosi or Joe Biden or John Kerry, who just about two weeks ago said, "Oh, we’re going to decarbonize our entire electric grid, and we’re going to do it in 13 years." Why is it so easy for them to demagogue about energy? Or why do they have such a predilection about it?

Doomberg: Honestly, I chalk it up to shocking ignorance on the part of the people who end up in positions of power. And we have a phrase that we’ve coined, which has kind of gotten popular, which is in the battle between platitudes and physics, physics is undefeated. And this actually dovetails on something that you said about your career and that I think makes Doomberg unique. You have reporting background, we have decades of experience in heavy industry. But we are freed from heavy industry and freed from the confines of corporate public affairs teams that far too often shackle the the executives who who know enough and articulate enough to make the case for energy policy. 

So if you’re working at an Exxon Mobil or you’re working downstream in chemicals at a Dupont or pick your favorite major and you’re an executive, the last thing you’re going to do is go on social media and engage in the tug of war. They’re more interested in stock options, you know, RSU units, not getting cancelled, toeing the company line, letting the professional PR people within their company handle that aspect of the dirty part of the business. Because we’re freed of all of that, we occupy a pretty unique, you know, overlap in the Venn diagram between detailed industry experience, deep background and finance, and an ability to jump into the arena of content creation and effectively compete. And very few teams have all three of those. 

There’s a lot of content creators who come from academia or who come just from finance. We have all three, we have finance, we have industry expertise... I’m a PhD scientist, and I lead many hundreds of PhDs on research programs in renewable energy, on traditional energy, pick your favorite material science development. Very few people who are creating content today for the world of consumers have that kind of background and are willing to share it. And so our political class unfortunately lacks that background. 

What does John Kerry know about the physics of life? Nothing. John Kerry is the product of elite school systems, who, you know, I’m sure he’s a frequent attender of very well fed cocktail parties, and gets all kinds of applause for spouting platitudes. Why wouldn’t he keep spouting platitudes, it’s worked for him for the first, you know, six or seven decades of his life. Eventually, if you speed headlong into the wall of physics at 60 miles an hour, are you going to crash? And we’re going to do that. It’s unfortunate. We are optimistic about what happens after that. But the path function needn't be this terrible. It just seems like we are on an irreversible course to make all the wrong decisions and let physics teaches what’s what the true constraints are.

* * * 

:57 Food crisis

After explaining why the impact of food shortages in the U.S. will not be devastating here in the U.S., Doomberg expresses extreme concern about other parts of the world:

Doomberg: The farmers who are on the brink are the people in South America, and Sri Lanka. India is having crop failures... there’s going to be a lot of suffering in Africa. So the price spike in fertilizer for the subset of farmers who are sort of cash based accounting, and that’s, you know, the majority of them, they’re gonna use less fertilizer. They’re gonna use more manure, they’re gonna have lower yields. They’re gonna have more crop failures. There’s gonna be less food. We believe the behavior in the US that will avert a food crisis here will only make it worse over there.

...And here’s the scary part, Robert, We have outsourced a lot of the heavy industry, mining and things like that to countries that are going to be on the brink. And we’re seeing it already in the copper mines in Peru and Chile. They’re critical inputs into the electric revolution, that are dependent upon these societies being fed and we’re seeing food riots early on. What are we going to see in the fall?

...Their currencies are hyper inflating. Yeah, that’s what happens. Because they can’t afford to pay for the imports needed to run their societies. And it’s tragic. People are going to starve in vast numbers. And we wish this wasn’t true, as we as you quoted in that piece. Never have we been more convinced we're right and more disappointed that we’re right. It’s not a happy prediction. 

* * * 

From here Doomberg explains how much fertilizer we use to grow corn for ethanol or soybean oil for renewable diesel. But once again, there are limitations. The more fertilizer we use for running our cars, the less that is available for the rest of the world. Bottom line: "These are all just trade offs. We could pay a little bit more at the pump and feed the world. Or we could pay a little bit less at the pump and starve the world." 

THERE IS A LOT MORE. If you want to listen to the podcast or skim the transcript, Check it out HERE.

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