October 24, 2007
Elaine Meinel Supkis
One of the readers of this news service is the Howe Engineering Company run by John G. Howe, an inventor/developer of an array of interesting products and systems. He kindly sent me a copy of one of his books, 'The End of Fossil Energy', 3rd edition. This book is a great reference source for information concerning the Hubbert Oil Peak in a digestable, easy to use form. I highly recommend this book. John and I talked on the phone last night and I would like to share this conversation with everyone.
Oil rose above $92 a barrel for the first time in New York after the U.S. accused Iran's military of supporting terrorism and stepped up pressure on foreign companies to cut ties with the Middle East oil producer.
If the US hasn't already slid into a recession, this news certainly will push it there. Like clockwork, for the last 40 years, war and sudden oil price hikes have marched hand in hand. When the wars recede, oil prices drop and all seems well yet again. Every time there is war and oil is either rationed or shoots up in price when there is no rationing, people are shaken out of their slumber and begin to worry about the Hubbert Oil Peak.
The latest threats aimed at the Iranians has now caused oil to climb to new heights. Disruptions of Iranian and or Iraqi oil caused the last two big spikes in inflation. Each time this happens, we see renewed interest in the concept of the Hubbert Oil Peak. As soon as these wars and threats end, interest in peak oil collapses. Mr. Howe, a 72 year old engineer in Maine, decided in 2002, as we rushed to war with Iraq, to educate himself about peak oil and he produced the first edition of 'The End of Fossil Energy' just in time for us to go into another war/oil spasm.
This book is only 163 pages long but inside the covers, he covers a tremendous amount of ground swiftly and cleanly. It is designed to be more a text book than a rant. It doesn't focus on the politics or cultural aspects of oil pricing and oil use. It is mostly reams of hard data and a clear assesment of hard facts. When arguing about peak oil or discussing alternative fuels, this book is an excellent reference tool. I could open it up and flip to any chapter or any page and find lots of good information, easy to locate, easy to read and quite understandable for non-experts while not simplistic.
Mr. Howe doesn't try to debunk everything or explain everything simply because that would make for a 600 page telephone book-sized tome. This book was designed and published by his daughter who runs McIntire Publishing. She made it a good size for carrying in a briefcase and the typeface is fairly large which I greatly appreciated since my eyes are getting old. I could read it easily without glasses. This also makes it easy to use as a reference book, one can glance at a page and locate information swiftly.
The layout of the text and the inclusion of specific boxes of information in bold type also makes it easy to leaf through the book and locate important information. I appreciated this feature and wish to commend the editor/publisher who did a good, professional job. Indeed, part of this book review is my feeling of awe at the capability of a family to produce such work which led me to make a phone call last night.
The Howes are a classic example of the 'Can-do Yankee' ethos. The hills and valleys of the mountains that run between the Atlantic and the Hudson Valley are the cradle of the US industrial revolution. The first power source used by the first factories here was the running water from mountain streams. Small towns became industrial cradles as farmers harnessed water power to pulleys and belts and began to use the rotational powers to move weaving machines and other equipment they created. The inventor took off, everyone wanted to be an inventor and a wild array of inventions, schemes and systems were created by former hard-scrabble farmers.
Part of the process for inventing things is to have time to tinker with stuff, the freedome to control and profit from one's tinkering and to have the tools that encourage tinkering. Namely, in the Northeast, we have grim winters that shut down everything even today with snowplows working sometimes nonstop, all commerce and activity can come to a total halt!
Back 200 years ago, winter was the time to work on new projects, messing around with things inside while Jack Frost painted the landscape white. When I called Mr. Howe to ask him about his own activities, this was because he sent me his web links that showed a wide variety of solar-powered farm and travel devices he created and now uses...in the far north! Not in California or Arizona, in Maine!
Like myself, Mr. Howe and his wife both are devotees of using solar energy. The sports car is a harbinger of things to come: vehicles will drastically shrink in size over the next 30 years. But aside from using a car that has batteries the runs from charge to charge, having it collect energy as it sits or is used is a tremendously good idea. Of course, all his vehicles are retrofits but they show how this system is easily workable, not a dream but a clear future reality.
The tractor amuses me no end. I use tractors a great deal and I laughed when I saw his tractor.
This concept vehicle is an easy way to venture into a post-petro-fuel sustainable future. Like the other projects on this website, it represents a viable, convenient path to transportation independence from centralized, commercial power sources and petro-fuels.
The 15 mph top speed is incompatible with petro-fueled vehicles but fun, clean, and far better than walking, riding a bike, or keeping a horse, especially for transporting two or three people plus a small load.
The on-board, 2500-watt,120 VAC inverter makes this vehicle a mobile power plant. Any number of conventional tools, appliances, and residential or farming needs from pumps to lights to a chain saw can be powered on-the-spot.
My husband and I use chainsaws a lot and I loved this picture and asked him about these vehicles and the auxilary electrical generators. 'Do you have to set the solar panels on top of the tractor to different angles?' I asked Mr. Howe.
'No', he said. 'After experimenting with this, I decided it was easier to simply move the tractor into a position where it would get the most sun.' He said the increase in sun amps was only slightly better if one got the ideal angle and position for the panels so it simply was a matter of turning left or right rather than angles. He also said his farm is rather flat so it made no difference in the long run.
We live on a mountainside and driving my tractor back and forth to hay the fields means it is always tilted towards the sun. Mr. Howe told me he has a You Tube movie up showing him using his tractor doing farm work.
The first thing I noticed was how the solar panels were a real cool shade! I wear big hats while mowing and the sun beats down on my head. Not to mention working in the rain! So the panels are multi-tasking! I enjoyed seeing him hay his fields: we do this only in the hot summer days when it is very dry. I am very concerned, as Mr. Howe is, about how we can harvest or hay fields using equipment in the far future. This tractor prototype shows how this can be done.
My husband used to be a fanatical downhill skier. In the Northeast, we seldom have powder like in the Rockies, we have this hard surface of freeze/thaw snow that is very slippery and hard to grip. I don't ski myself but used to sled down the mountain here as my son did, also, to go shopping or to school and the sleds would fly down the mountain on this glass-like surface!
So we watched with great interest as Mr. Howe explained how he engineered a new type of skis. He is very technical about his approach, using physics as well as an intimate knowledge of his materials, to make custom skis in the barn attached to his house. This movie shows the process quite well. The Howe family loves to ski and in the classic New Englander-inventor style, they have started a good, capitalist business using their intelligence and skills and now have two men working to produce these skis. Bravo! This is the American Spirit and I hope we all understand, all we must do is be able to think, tinker and do things if we want to succeed. There is no cause to despair or to think Americans can't do this anymore.
Mr. Howe's book isn't a vanity publishing project, by the way. He is quite serious about this and has worked hard to make connections and spread the information. For example, he gave a large number of books for free to Representative Bartlett, a Republican who is the first Congressperson to talk about Peak Oil on the Congressional Record. This Representative then had his aides pass it out to all of Congress.
'I didn't hear back from any of them, ' sighed the intrepid engineer from Maine. I laughed and said, 'They all know about Peak Oil, we discussed this outside of Congress back under Jimmy Carter.'
He agreed that they didn't want to talk about it for political reasons: this would rile voters. But that was yesterday. Today, oil is shooting up in price so suddenly, everyone is worried for the amount of oil being pumped this year, for the first time, is now dropping. Saudi Arabia has assured Bush that he would increase production but instead, it has been dropping. This is highly significant. A number of scientists and people like Mr. Howe and myself feel we are at or very near the Hubbert Oil Peak.
Rep. Bartlett will be giving another Peak Oil related presentation to the US Congress this month. The most likely times are in the evening of Monday April 11th or Thursday April 14th. The exact time may be known on Friday. The speech will be more solutions orientated.
The last speech was held in a special night session of Congress with very little attendance. The speech received almost no mainstream media coverage. However US residents can now approach their congressperson and ask them what they think we should do about the matters raised in the Congressional record, March 14, Items 54 and 55.
The fact that Congress will gleefully show up in full and give big, bloated speeches about all sorts of trivia, then run away when anyone needs to address pressing, dangerous issues, irritates me. Congress has taken precious time to debate Rush Limbaugh's stupid radio show, MoveOn ads or who killed whom 100 years ago but not to discuss our budget deficits, our wars that are bankrupting us or Peak Oil. Ignoring the important things is easy if one is distracted by silly things.
Then there is California: land of disasters. It is the reverse image of the Northeast. There, the people have sudden freak outs and disasters that hit with little or, in the case of earthquakes, no warning. In between, life is ridiculously easy. So there is a 'what me worry?' ethos there. In the NE, we have to plan for winter and work hard in summer to prepare for winter, those of us who don't live in climate-controlled environments. I lived in a tent here for 10 years. Winters were a gigantic challenge and I had to scramble to survive for many months of the year. Nothing was easy.
But this also the goad to invent, to create and to plan ahead! Easy energy has sapped our willpower and our ability to cope with things. Having lived with virtually no modern energy systems for many years, I know that it isn't impossible, nay, it can be FUN, coping with harsh conditions using all sorts of ingenius methods or tools! People fear the end of cheap energy. But is simply means we must use our brains a bit more and be more creative.
And change the way we live. After speaking to the Howes, I have full faith that we can do this. With a lot of 'can-do' energy replacing cheap oil.
Mr. Howe is available for not only press conferences or lectures but also one can buy his book for only $10. His email address is Or readers can order this book from Amazon.com. And John would love to hear from any readers. He is a very interesting person to talk to.