Category Archives: peak oil

>Fuel Follies

>First we have this astonishing news:

The world may have no more than half a century of oil left at current rates of consumption, while surging demand from the developing world threatens to create “very significant price rises” before substitutes like biofuels can serve as viable alternatives, the British bank HSBC warns in a new report.

“We’re confident that there are around 50 years of oil left,” Karen Ward, the bank’s senior global economist, said in an interview on CNBC.

The bank, the world’s second largest in assets, further cautioned that growth trends in developing countries like China could put as many as one billion more cars on the road by midcentury. “That’s tremendous pressure on oil to power all those resources,” Ms. Ward said.

This is nothing new, indeed, back in January I wrote about this based on a New York Times Magazine article on offshore oil wildcatters. Basically, every last drop of oil on earth has been mapped. We know where it is — all of it. There will be no new oil discoveries. What the challenge is, and has been, is getting to it. The easy oil is gone — long gone — and what remains is either politically difficult to tap (because it’s in places Not America governed by people hostile to us) or technologically difficult to tap (because it’s miles under the ocean or trapped in sand and shale.)

But none of that matters. Even the stuff left in places Not America and the tiny bit that remains in America is not sufficient to fuel our nation, let alone the globe. So I don’t for the life of me understand why anyone thinks it makes sense to continue on our merry way gobbling gasoline like it grows on trees. I think if people really understood the folly of our ways they’d be ditching their gas guzzlers and demanding alternatives yesterday. We’re just delaying the inevitable.

So I’m not entirely encouraged to read this story from last week’s New York Times:

Start-Ups Work to Reinvent the Combustion Engine

[…]

As the first mass-produced electric cars hit the streets, Pinnacle is just one of several start-ups backed by prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists aiming to reinvent the century-old internal combustion engine. The big promise: vast improvements in fuel economy and reduced greenhouse gas emissions at a lower cost.

Nothing demonstrates capitalism’s failure as a driver of innovation more than venture capitalists backing start-ups reinventing the internal combustion engine. I mean, dudes: you’re like three decades too late.

It’s like a real-world example of what Doug at Balloon Juice was talking about yesterday:

They kid, but this illustrates (1) that our Galtian overlords aren’t inventing perpetual motion machines, they’re finding new ways to overcharge people for fruit and (2) that this is one market that’s not all that rational…

Capitalism has failed but in the age of Peak Oil, what will replace it? Thugocracy? Neo-Feudalism?

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>Because Our Other Wars Are Going So Well

>I can’t pretend to speak knowledgeably about what’s happening in Libya right now. I just know when I hear we’re dropping milion-dollar bombs on a poor country while our infrastructure crumbles and we tell teachers and kids they must sacrifice so we can give millionaires tax cuts… well, something has gone horribly wrong.

I know lots of liberals on The Twittah say this is the right thing to do. I heard Howard Dean on Thom Hartmann’s show last week say we couldn’t sit by and let those fighting for democracy get slaughtered by Qaddafi. But of course we are standing by while those fighting for democracy in Yemen and Bahrain are slaughtered by their regimes, so there goes that claim.

All of this just seems so media-created. It’s hard not to watch the breathless coverage of bombs bursting in air and the ghastly-green night-vision images and not remember the media’s wicked stiffy for carnage in Iraq. It’s a sickness, and I don’t have the cure.

One of the best things I’ve read on Libya is at Pastor Shuck’s place. This is yet another oil war, he says, another burp after our global petroleum feast. The pantry is about empty but instead of using what time and resources we have left to grow new food, we decide to bully anyone else who comes near the pantry door.

This, in the same week that Japan suffers a nuclear meltdown, while a 100-mile long oil slick has been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico near the site of the Deepwater Horizon rig. Oh great diviner Pat Robertson, what could the Almighty be trying to tell us? Pray tell, what?

I’m just tired of it, I really am. Is our default solution for every problem to drop bombs? (And by “our” I mean the West, not just America.) Call me a tree-hugging DFH spouting crazy liberal stuff like “war is not the answer,” I’m just feeling like we’re in a tailspin and I’d rather we devote our energy to getting off the oil tit. Three trillion dollars wasted in Iraq would have been more than enough money to put a solar panel on every roof in America, upgrade the electrical grid, and put an electric car and charger in every garage.

I mean, I know that’s not the final answer but it would have been a start, and for crying out loud we have to start somewhere. Maybe someday we’ll have the hydrogen fuel cell thing figured out, or we’ll be masters of efficiency, hell maybe we’ll have figured out a way around the Laws of Thermodynamics. The point is, we don’t need to have the entire puzzle figured out to start putting the first pieces together.

We have to start somewhere. We have to make those first steps. Fighting wars to preserve a dying industry and a doomed way of life just strikes me as the kind of thing kids will read about 100 years from now and wonder, “Gee how could they have been so stupid?”

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Filed under alternative energy, Libya, peak oil, war economy

>“The Terrible Disconnect”

>Sunday’s New York Times Magazine has a sobering article on the coming end of oil. Actually, it’s supposed to be a profile on the modern day deepwater “wildcatters,” the optimistic geophysicists who have mapped all the oil in the globe and get to spend $100 million drilling an exploratory well miles and miles beneath the ocean floor to find if their guesstimate is correct.

But it’s hard to see the glass half-full after reading stuff like this:

The possibility of a boom commands particular attention now, because the industry’s faith in a limitless future has begun to diminish. The International Energy Agency — which had until recently been optimistic about oil — concluded last fall that the world has very likely already passed its peak oil production.

“The deepwater was one of the last big exploration plays on the planet,” says Gerald Kepes, a partner and head of upstream and gas at PFC Energy, a consulting firm. “We’re now looking at the second half of the global deepwater play. You can see the end of it, maybe 25 years from now.”

This should be sobering news to everyone who still thinks opening ANWR to oil drilling will make a hill of beans worth of difference to anyone. There are 650 billion barrels of oil left in the world that we can actually pull out of the ground. We know where it is. Some of it is in war-torn areas like Angola, some of it is off-limits to us in places like Russia. Most of it is so far under the ocean floor that it’s extremely dangerous and expensive to tap. The Deepwater Horizon accident of 2010 gave a lot of folks their first clue how hard it is to drill far below the sea floor.

This is nothing new, nor is this the first time I’ve written about it. But it’s not something we’re talking about. And there’s a huge disconnect among the American people who hear stories about massive oil finds off the coast of Brazil and think, “see? We don’t have anything to worry about!” What they don’t realize is that these wildcatting geophysicists have known about that Brazillian oilfield, it’s been mapped out for years. The news is not that we found it, the news is that they were able to tap it without blowing the oil platforms to kingdom come. Again: we already know how much oil is left in the world and we know where it is.

Even our optimistic wildcatter is a little frustrated at how uninformed the general public is:

“It’s frustrating to me,” Farnsworth told me. “It’s never going to change, but the general public always thinks, I should be able to get a gallon of gasoline, and it should be damn cheap, and whether I choose to drive a 10-mile-per-gallon car or a 40-mile-per-gallon car should have no impact on that price. We know how hard it is to explore for oil, and we know how hard it is to get it out of the deep water. And there’s been this incredible disconnect, which might have been lessened by the spill, between what people think it takes to get gasoline in their car and what we do.”

Americans need a wake-up call, but unfortunately politics has colored how we talk about oil in this country, and we have some incredibly irresponsible people who want to see their party in power who are not being honest with the American people about this stuff. If you know there are only 650 billion barrels of oil left in the entire world and you know that we know where it is and the issue isn’t finding it but figuring out how to get at it, wouldn’t you start cutting your use? Finding alternative energy sources? Instead of telling people we need to “drill here drill now, dagnabbit!” — which we are already doing — wouldn’t you be telling people, “we’re running out let’s find out how we can switch to something else and conserve what we’ve got left”?

In fact, power players like Newt Gingrich notwithstanding, that is in fact what we are doing. Yesterday’s article made reference to a TED talk by geophysicist Richard Sears, former vice president for exploration and deepwater technical evaluation at Shell Oil, and now a visiting scientist at MIT. “Planning For The End Of Oil” is a quick talk, and I highly recommend you watch it here:

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

According to this, our use of carbon-based fuels is steadily declining, and has been for decades. Not just since the current economic downturn, but since 1985. This was fascinating to me. Despite what political partisans on the right are saying about how we can drill our way out of this mess (we can’t), the global economy is steadily transitioning away from oil. Oil is playing a less significant role every year.

In fact, says Sears, we have been “de-carbonizing our energy systems” for generations.

This is a very hopeful message to me because it tells me despite the rhetoric, we can and will innovate. I love it when Sears says “the Stone Age ended not because we ran out of stones.” The human experience is one of constant innovation and change, it’s in our very DNA. We cannot drill our way out of Peak Oil but we can innovate and, indeed, that is exactly what we have been doing.

Pastor John Shuck has been talking about Peak Oil over at Shuck and Jive, most recently in his What is Peak Oil and Why Should the Church Care? post. I agree with Shuck that we need to do more to educate the public, to remove that “terrible disconnect” that Farnsworth referred to between what consumers think about our energy supply and what reality tells us.

But that said I have a huge beef with a big contingent of the Peak Oil crowd. I know a lot of these folks, many are good friends of mine, but I see them spreading a message of fear that shuts people down and weakens the message. I know people who have bought farmland off in the country and are preparing for the coming Peak Oil Apocalypse by hoarding seeds and planting fruit trees. Their vision of the future is one of fear and food shortages as all transportation comes to a grinding halt.

I just don’t buy it. And I don’t think you can educate people about the reality of peak oil when you’re spreading a doom and gloom message about how our future looks like Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” or “Mad Max.” In fact, I think that’s counterproductive. When you have one side saying, “ZOMG we’re all gonna die we’re dooooomed,” and another side saying, “all we need to do is drill in ANWR and build some more refineries,” which side are you going to gravitate towards?

I see a terrible disconnect on both sides of the argument. But in the middle is the reality of geophysicists like Richard Sears and Jim Farnsworth, people who know how much oil is left and exactly where it is, and how expensive it is to reach. People need to understand we have reached the limits of what is available but there are vast new energy resources out there of the non-carbon variety that we have just begun to tap. And we started on that path decades ago, long before Al Gore had a slide show or the Bush Cheney Oil Wars or any of that.

People need to understand the reality of our energy situation. They need educating. And they need a positive message, not one of fear.

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>Tennessee Tea

>Come and listen to a story ’bout a man named Greg:

Eastern Indiana Man Taps Into Backyard Oil Well

SELMA, Ind. — An eastern Indiana man is capitalizing on high crude oil prices with a backyard oil well that produces three barrels of crude a day.

Greg Losh said the oil his well produces comes from the Trenton oil field that fueled the growth of east-central Indiana cities more than a century ago.

He said it costs about $100,000 to drill an oil well, but that at today’s oil prices, it’s worth it.

There goes the neighborhood.

Okay, let’s do the math: three barrels a day at $129/barrel is about $14,000 a year, which means he’ll have paid off his well in …. a little more than seven years a year.

I guess that’s not too terribly bad, considering the well also produce natural gas which he uses to heat his home. Oh, wait:

Greg Losh’s rig produces three barrels of crude oil a day, though he told FOX News that he hasn’t started selling it yet. For now, he and his partners are keeping it in storage containers.

Geez, dude, what are you waiting for? Some “Max Max”-dystopia where it’s kill or be killed for the juice? And you have partners? So that $14G isn’t even all yours? Yikes. Doesn’t seem worth it to me.

This story got me thinking, though. I have an oil well in my backyard. Well, technically, it’s on my roof. I could put a solar array on my roof, power my home, and sell what’s left to NES. There’s already a framework in place to buy this energy through NES’ Generation Partners program. I may not get $14,000 a year for my troubles, it’s true, but then it wouldn’t cost me anywhere near $100,000 to install, either. Plus, I wouldn’t have to look at this out my kitchen window.

On top of that, I’d be generating clean energy and helping build the new energy economy. I don’t have to pay to store or haul barrels of crude, and I don’t ever have to worry about my well running dry.

I think if I were our friend Greg I’d leave the oil in the ground and invest in solar panels on the roof. Just sayin’ ….

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>Peak Oil Is Here!

>Not that we should be celebrating or anything:

Fears emerge over Russia’s oil output

By Carola Hoyos and Javier Blas in London
Published: April 14 2008 22:10 | Last updated: April 15 2008 15:43

Russian oil production has peaked and may never return to current levels, one of the country’s top energy executives has warned, fuelling concerns that the world’s biggest oil producers cannot keep up with rampant Asian demand.
[…]

Leonid Fedun, the 52-year-old vice-president of Lukoil, Russia’s largest independent oil company, told the Financial Times he believed last year’s Russian oil production of about 10m barrels a day was the highest he would see “in his lifetime”. Russia is the world’s second biggest oil producer.

Mr Fedun compared Russia with the North Sea and Mexico, where oil production is declining dramatically, saying that in the oil-rich region of western Siberia, the mainstay of Russian output, “the period of intense oil production [growth] is over”.

The Russian government has so far admitted that production growth has stagnated, but has shied away from admitting that post-Soviet output has peaked.

Viktor Khristenko, Russia’s energy minister who is pushing for tax cuts that could stimulate investment, said last week: “The output level we have today is a plateau, stagnation.”

Russia was until recently considered as the most promising oil region outside the Middle East. Its rapid output growth in the early 2000s helped to meet booming Chinese demand and limited the rise in oil prices.

It’s all over but the crying, people. Get ready for some really hard times, and I don’t mean the modest recession we’re seeing now, I mean some Depression-caliber save-that-ball-of-twine kind of belt-tightening. Our government and our media won’t tell you this, but I will.

If only, instead of throwing billions into an Iraqi quagmire to save our energy bacon we’d instead invested in a new energy future, maybe something that involves concentrated solar power or hydrogen fuel cells or who knows what else.

But we put an oil man in the White House. What did we think he was going to do? Stupid, stupid, stupid.

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>Open Spigots

>Remember when having a president with ties to the Saudi Royal Family was supposed to be a good thing? Remember this?

Gov. George W. Bush of Texas said today that if he was president, he would bring down gasoline prices through sheer force of personality, by creating enough political good will with oil-producing nations that they would increase their supply of crude.

”I would work with our friends in OPEC to convince them to open up the spigot, to increase the supply,” Mr. Bush, the presumptive Republican candidate for president, told reporters here today. ”Use the capital that my administration will earn, with the Kuwaitis or the Saudis, and convince them to open up the spigot.”

How’s that working for y’all? How’s Mr. Personality doing keeping gas prices low? Not so good, huh? Seven years and two wars later:

OPEC on Wednesday rebuffed calls from President Bush to increase oil output, instead citing “mismanagement” of the American economy as a major factor driving prices up.

Record prices are suddenly creating the sharpest tensions in years between the oil cartel and the United States, the world’s largest oil consumer. Two days after the president called for more oil on the global market, OPEC members, meeting in Vienna, chose to leave their production levels unchanged, declaring that the market has plenty of oil already.

The cartel’s president blamed financial speculators and American economic problems, which have helped lower the value of the dollar, for the high oil prices. After the meeting, oil prices settled above $104 a barrel, a record.

While it’s true that everything President Bush touches turns to shit, I don’t entirely blame him for this one. It’s entirely possible that OPEC can’t raise production because they’re already operating at peak capacity. OPEC admitted as much in December 2006. We’re talking blood and turnips here, people.

Still, it’s a little ridiculous that our Administration has failed to anticipate this turn of events. And for this, I blame the Republican Party.

Democrats saw this coming 30 years ago. Jimmy Carter saw it coming, Read his brilliant speech from July 15, 1979:

We are at a turning point in our history. There are two paths to choose. One is a path I’ve warned about tonight, the path that leads to fragmentation and self-interest. Down that road lies a mistaken idea of freedom, the right to grasp for ourselves some advantage over others. That path would be one of constant conflict between narrow interests ending in chaos and immobility. It is a certain route to failure.

[ … ]

To give us energy security, I am asking for the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history to develop America’s own alternative sources of fuel — from coal, from oil shale, from plant products for gasohol, from unconventional gas, from the sun.

I propose the creation of an energy security corporation to lead this effort to replace 2-1/2 million barrels of imported oil per day by 1990. The corporation I will issue up to $5 billion in energy bonds, and I especially want them to be in small denominations so that average Americans can invest directly in America’s energy security.

Just as a similar synthetic rubber corporation helped us win World War II, so will we mobilize American determination and ability to win the energy war. Moreover, I will soon submit legislation to Congress calling for the creation of this nation’s first solar bank, which will help us achieve the crucial goal of 20 percent of our energy coming from solar power by the year 2000.

Sigh. Read the whole thing. It’s really sad that Ronald Reagan dismantled this vision. He removed the solar panels from the White House roof and decided this country didn’t need energy independence, that conservation was for sissies. The Reagan Revolution chose the path of self-interest, the path of constant conflict and narrow interests. They chose the certain route to failure.

And here we are, 30 years later, with gas prices hitting a new record, beating the last record from 1981.

I guess no one — or rather, almost no one — could have anticipated this.

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Filed under Jimmy Carter, OPEC, peak oil, President Bush

>Musings On $100/Barrel

>Those futures traders are so cute! It’s just like playing Monopoly:

Crude oil futures for February delivery hit $100 on the New York Mercantile Exchange shortly after noon when a single trader bid up the price by buying a modest lot and then sold it immediately at a small loss. Prices eased somewhat in later trading, settling at $99.62.

But while the trader was apparently looking for vanity bragging rights, the spike in crude prices of $3.64 for the day reflected deeper worldwide trends, including the surge in energy demand from China, India and the oil-producing countries themselves.

Aww. Bless his/her heart! I tell ya, that’s one for the grandkids, alright! Or maybe, one for eBay:

Of the trader who sent oil to $100 in New York on Wednesday, Mr. Gheit added, “He’s probably going to frame the ticket and sell it on eBay for $100,000.”

Sure, why not? It’s not like this stuff matters, or anything. It’s not like what happens on the New York Mercantile Exchange has any effect on real people. It’s all fake, right? Free hand of the market, wheee!

Am I the only one thinking these Wall Street folks are as out of touch as the Washington press corps?

Anyway, those annoying Henny Pennies over at Peak Oil have been sending me dire “How to survive $100/Barrel” screeds for months. Now that it’s actually here, I thought I’d see what they have to say:

$100 oil in itself is no big deal – its 1% higher than $99 oil. But it serves as a milestone reminder that the future is likely to be less ‘easy’, and perhaps dictated by new rules. Questions abound: will high prices bring about more production? Will high prices begin a “hoarding” phenomenon among exporters and producers? Will $100+ oil spur energy alternatives with the scale and quality of energy dense crude oil? Is this even possible? Will society start to realize the dichotomy between natural capital and financial capital? Will $100 oil reduce demand in developing countries? Will OECD oil-importing countries (like the US) take the lead on changing the cultural carrot of consumption that drives energy use?

That last question is the biggie. That “cultural carrot of consumption” keeps our economy afloat. Everything is predicated on getting people to buy an increasing amount of stuff, and the juice driving this engine is oil. As people pay more for oil, they’ll buy less stuff.

If we had half a brain we’d be preparing for this bumpy road, maybe figuring out how to use less oil and investing some serious time and money into non-carbon fuels, the ballyhooed “Apollo project for energy.” That would be nice but it won’t happen. Because our government is run by the oil companies, and they have no interest in transitioning the economy away from a centralized resource they control from oil field to gas pump to an energy source that everyone has access to, like wind, solar or even biofuels.

Because we’re about to get our asses kicked in a hellacious recession, which means oil prices will stabilize, temporarily, as we go into panic mode. By then we’ll be thinking $80/barrel is a steal, in the same way that I filled up on $2.86/gallon this morning and fleetingly thought it was a bargain.

And then things get worse:

There is absolutely no reason why oil will stay at $100 a barrel or anything close.

To emphasize how well the world’s economy is doing at the minute, the Journal points out that the IEA in Paris sees world oil demand in the fourth quarter rising by 2.3 million b/d over last year to nearly 88 million b/d.

What they don’t tell you, however, is that in August 2007 world production (all liquids) was estimated by the IEA to be 84.6 million b/d down by 854,000 b/d from August 2006. In 2006, and so far in 2007, world production has been just about 85 million b/d, some 3 million b/d less than we are forecast to consume in the current quarter.

We could of course take the extra 3 million b/d out of the world’s stockpiles, which would then be dropping by 90 million barrels a month — not really a long-term solution. Will OPEC bail us out with a 500,000 b/d increase in production? Could be, but considering that 140,000 b/d of that increase is supposed to come from Venezuela, where production has been stagnant for years, I wouldn’t count on it.

So there you have it. From the perspective of imminent peak oil, $100 oil is not something to weather for a while. It is merely a milestone on the way to still higher prices. The Journal’s bold conclusion that we can handle $100 “quite well” may be perfectly true, until you ask “then what?” and the only possible answer is higher and higher prices.

Somewhere the bubble will burst, for at the close of every day, the world’s oil reserves are 85 million barrels smaller and smaller and smaller ….

And somewhere a NYMEX trader has a souvenir of the day the big unraveling began.

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>Apocalypse Wow!

>It’s the end of the world as we know it, if some folks have their way. On the Conservative Christian end we have church leaders like Pastor John Hagee, convinced we must restore the Jewish people to the Holy Land so Jesus will return on a white cloud:

Pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and a world-reknowned TV evangelist, [Pastor John] Hagee organized the lobbying blitz (the second in two years) to try to exert political power in Middle East policy, including consideration of a pre-emptive strike on Iran.

Scary stuff, especially when you remember that Pastor Hagee has the ear of the White House, and he’s leading them right where they want to go. Hagee wrote a book about how an invasion of Iran was prophesied in the Book of Esther, and he’s doing his darnedest to make sure it happens on his watch. Yikes.

On the left side of the aisle, I’m getting inundated with scary e-mails warning of a pending apocalypse due to Peak Oil, President Bush’s Presidential Directive #51, FEMA’s REX-84 plan, etc. Either way, civilization as we know it is over, get yourself educated on permaculture, buy some land out in the country, move to Canada. etc.

Someone pass the popcorn.

Once upon a time we had crackpot evangelists predicting the end of the world at every turn. The Jehova’s Witnesses have made nine apocalyptic predictions, none of which happened. Maybe they’ve given up. In the ‘80s one Christian leader said the Africanized or “killer” bees dominating the news at that time were a sign of the Rapture. This year we had some Christians saying the massive, worldwide die-off of honeybees are a sign of the Apocalypse.

Anyone remember Edgar Whisenant and his “88 Reasons” why the Rapture would be in 1988? And 1989 … and 1993 and 1994 … Give it up, buddy.

I love my liberal friends but I wish they’d quit telling me all the reasons why Peak Oil is real and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it. The world has run out of oil, they say, and because the world is dependent on oil, there will be massive riots, food and water shortages, chaos in the streets, etc. It’s “Mad Max” without a cute guy in leather. These are some of the most hopeless voices of despair I’ve heard; at least the Christians are telling me I can get to heaven if I repent.

Now I’m getting hysterical e-mails from friends telling me about how President Bush is going to declare martial law, after finding a reason to invade Iran. Excuse me if you’ve heard this one before … in Oct. 2006 (the John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007) … in 2005 (bird flu) ….in 2004 (elections cancelled) … in 2002 (internment camps) … Etc. etc.

I no more buy these dire predictions than I believe the Rapture is imminent, or would be if only we’d invade Iran, prompting nuclear annihilation so the handful of Jews left on the planet could return to the Promised Land … and convert to Christianity. Apocalypse, fuck yeah! It’s the awesomest!

Tell me, does any of this make sense to anyone? Who thinks that Mr. Commander Guy Of 27% has enough support anywhere in this country to seize control of the government and declare martial law, rounding up the liberals and placing them in internment camps? That’s just silly.

I think we’re so programmed for fear in this country that we’re starting to go a little nuts. The news media is telling us to be scared of everything, including our shadows. I mean, for crying out loud, two weeks ago I saw a TV news report warning in ominous tones how running might be dangerous for your kids! Running!

Come on, people. Calm down. The apocalypse ain’t comming any time soon.

And if I’m wrong, you are all free to mock me until the end of day(s).

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