Thursday, December 7, 2017

Movement Economics

image stolen from linked article

This is part 3 of my (hopefully) 3-part series on movement and energy economics. If you're starting here, maybe check out part 1 and part 2 first.

Sorry for the long lead-up to today's post, I really wanted to spend enough time presenting one of Katy Bowman's messages: how you move affects the entire earth because any movement you don't do needs to be done by someone or something else.

I've had that topic in my mind for a while, and then I read this article by Gail Tverberg which was a new way for her to present her research. If you are a follower of Gail, you probably are tired of seeing the same plots every post, but it does help you really learn the topic, she always tries a new way to present the same information.

One argument that she always repeats is that (inflation adjusted) $20/barrel oil is the sweet spot for economic growth: if oil gets below $20 then it's not cost effective to drill and extract more oil and supply goes down. If it goes about $20 then "non-elite" workers can't afford the products that come from oil so the demand goes down driving us into a recession.

Contrary to what you hear on the mainstream news, we aren't going to run out of oil.  There's tons of it (burning it may be bad for the climate, but that's not the point here). As we burn through the easy oil, we just need to work a bit harder to get the stuff that's harder to extract. Economist and Peak Oilers use that as an argument for ever increasing price of oil. That is, we won't run out of it, it will just get more expensive as it's harder to extract.

But, as Gail has shown many times, once prices go up above $20 the economy tanks until prices come back down. The world economy can't support expensive oil. She makes great arguments about debt, complexity, and non-elite workers, and I'd like to add one more: it's just another manifestation of the conservation of movement that Katy always talks about.

Oil is simply stored energy from the sun. It came from decaying plants and animals that lived millions of years ago. Those plants and animals collected their energy from the sun: plants through photosynthesis, animals through eating plants. Collecting that energy required movement just like you have to move to get your food (unless you 1-click order your subscribe and save from Amazon). So oil really represents the stored movement of the earth from millions of years ago.

Just like me outsourcing my movement to another place on the earth when I buy pre-washed tomatoes, I'm also outsourcing my movement to the past when the truck that brings me the tomatoes burns fuel.

When oil becomes too expensive to extract (above $20) it can be viewed as the movement we need to put into the system to get the oil is greater than the stored oil we get back. At some point it's just not worth it to get the oil. Lots of people call this the EROEI (Energy Returned on Energy Invested), but through Katy's lens I can see this as another example of outsourcing our movement. At some point we just don't get enough back from the work we put in.

As someone who's always worried about the next financial crisis (but not clever enough to short the system), this is a sobering thought. We have been able to progress from the stone age by pulling stored movement out of the earth. We have all gotten lazy and weak (even as part of our epigenetics as a species) because we've been relying on the cumulative history of the earth's movements to provide us energy so that we don't need to move.

There will come a time when we can no longer extract that movement and we'll have to go back to doing things for ourselves. Will we be strong enough to live that kind of life?


row 500 / run 400
crawling lunge
10 KB swings or snatches
double KB overhead lunge
10 TGUs or windmills
10 goblet squats
5 pull-ups or push-ups or dips


power snatch 5-3x5


5 push-ups between strength sets

Group Workout

4 rounds:
5 barbell overhead squat @ 70% of weight used for power snatch 
5L, 5R kettlebell snatch 


5 minutes of the following complex with a kettlebell:
R - swing, clean, snatch 
L - swing, clean, snatch 


100 russian twists


Sign up for classes

Strength Metrics

Get Xero Shoes