Peak Oil Rock & Roll

SUBHEAD: "We’re on the back-side of the peak (Hubbert’s Peak) And it’s fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ down (fossil fuel production)".  

By Dan Allen on 21 January 2010 in Energy Bulletin - 

Image above: Igor, a former reactor shift supervisor at Chernobyl Nuclear Plant in better days. He still misses operating the reactor. From (

We are the ‘Lonely Ions’ – a rakish punk/acoustic-type musical outfit based in NJ. We are dedicated to the illumination of basic scientific principles via sonic blasts of 1 to 2 minute duration.

There are two human musicians in the band – ‘Dr. Atom’ (aka Dan Allen, high school teacher) and his brother, ‘Mikey Ion’ (aka Mike Allen, ornithologist).

The all-original songs were written for Dr. Atom’s high school Chemistry class & are sometimes performed live therein. Dr. Atom sings in a fake British accent because pretending to be someone else makes his barely-competent live performances less embarrassing for him. (The accent in these songs is basically a double imitation: Dr. Atom imitating Joey Ramone who was imitating late 70’s British punks.)

Three peak-oil/energy relevant songs are included here with lyrics: Americium, Peak Oil Blues, and Energy Matters. I also give a brief commentary on each song to improve your listening experience. Rock on.

Find more The Lonely Ions songs at Myspace Music
What do you do with a poison that lives for a thousand years in the heaping piles of rusting barrels in a decommissioned reactor core? What can you do?
Americium, americium, americium
Deadly actinide with a patriotic name Legacy of the nuclear age Will long outlive our civilization What can you do?
Americium, americium, americium
Its gamma rays will fall upon the decaying fragments of the concrete walls and the vines that try to grow upon what remains of what we were. What can you do?
Americium is one of the long-lived, ultra-toxic radioactive actinide elements populating the spent fuel of our current nuclear reactors. It’s deadly for thousands and thousands and thousands of years – during which time it needs to be baby-sat to keep it in one place. Note: Civilizations don’t last that long, people. At some not-too-distant time people are gonna stop being able to take care of it, and it’s on its own – free at last. Horrible, horrible freedom.
Image above: The Chernobyl control room 25 years later. From (
So at what point were we planning on dealing with the massive amounts of ultra-toxic spent-fuel of the current nuclear reactors?

Will it go away if we ignore it? (Well yea, if you live in geologic time -- which we don’t.)
Will the not-yet-developed 4th generation nuclear reactor technology (that could potentially ‘defuse’ the waste) be beamed down to us from a more advanced civilization? (…Fingers crossed.)
So then what were we thinking?

The first rule of growing up: don’t shit in your own bed. Nuclear waste is one of our still-not-potty-trained Industrial Civilization’s shameful defecations. There are scores of others – CO2 being the Big One. …We’re up to our necks, people. And it’s rising fast.
We had us some fun, burnin’ it up like a billion little suns Turning it day from night, yea we did it up right It was a hydrocarbon party that was ragin’ for generations But the Sun’s coming up now and, man, it ain’t pretty
We’re on the back-side of the peak (Hubbert’s Peak) And it’s fallin’, fallin’, fallin’ down (fossil fuel production) And we better start facing up to it (economic contraction) Living on the backside of the peak
We had the power of the gods and the mind of a child Energy-dense and pound-foolish – it’s a dangerous combination Building towers to the heavens, digging pits halfway to hell Moving mountains, oh we had so much energy to burn
We sucked the rivers dry, ravaged the forests, emptied the oceans of fish We wrecked the climate, wasted the soil, and perpetrated mass extinctions Wow, what a gas! What a gas! …but we’re out of gas now (mournful sigh)
Now and then it’s instructive to sit back and say, ‘What exactly have we accomplished with all this ancient sunlight we found – these miraculous, energy-dense fossil fuels?’

Well…you can think of a whole bunch of good things we got from fossil fuels: lots of scientific knowledge, some comfortable low-labor living for a lot of people, some neat techno-gadgets, The Ramones, etc. (But then again, you can think of lots of good things we had before fossil fuels: strong communities, intimate personal knowledge of the natural world, Mozart, etc.)

Unfortunately, it’s a lot easier to come up with a list of very bad things we got from fossil fuels: fragmented communities, degraded ecosystems, an over-crowded global civilization on the verge of catastrophic collapse, possible destruction of the entire biosphere (if/when the climate flips-out). Looks like a pretty huge net loss, huh?

It can make you sad. Did it really need to happen like this? Are we really that dumb?
So this kid puts up her hand and says with a smirk on her face, “What’s with all this energy nonsense Why should I care about ∆H?”
I can understand molecules and atoms Liquids and solids, solutions and gases I’m perfectly fine with stoichiometry But why in the world should I care about energy?
And I say… Energy (oh!), energy (oh!), it matters! Energy (oh!), energy (oh!), it matters a lot!
Without energy, how would matter change? How would atoms and molecules Form & then rearrange?
It’s the difference in potential energy Between fossil fuel and their combustion products That has created and powers Your industrial society
Energy – it matters!
Indeed it does. If you want to understand a civilization, you’d do well to look at their energy use – where it came from, how much they used, what they used it for, and what was sacrificed in order to get it. That tells you a lot of their story right there.

We were ‘lucky’ enough (cough) to find gobs of cheap fossilized sunlight right under our feet. We went hog wild with it and sacrificed the biosphere in the process.

That’s a great story. Woo hoo.

Video above: "Russia Today" interviews Prof. Christorpher Busby. From (


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